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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Fourteen

Stout’s annotations are all in italics.

You’ve had a commitment to the environment from at least the early ‘70s on and probably earlier on in your life, right?

Stout Slow Death cover, inspired by a Kurtzman Two-Fisted Tales cover

It ties somehow into this whole dinosaur thing, which has come to sort of possess your life.

STOUT: In some ways dinosaurs are a symbol of the environmental situation.

ARCUDI: Exactly, given the extinction theme. Those things sort of came together when you got the opportunity to go to Antarctica and embark on your latest all-consuming career project: depicting the history of life in Antarctica. Is it something that was symbolic in your mind and came together, or is it just coincidence that dinosaurs are a part of that, too?

STOUT: Here is how that all came about. In as many areas of disagreement I had with my father, there was one really valuable thing he passed on to me. My father had a great love of nature and of the outdoors. Every year he’d take my brothers and me up into the High Sierras. We’d go trout fishing and camp out. It gave me a great love of the wilderness, the land and its creatures. I’ve always been nuts about animals and nature anyway.

When I was a teenager, although we really had our differences with each other, I remember one specific event with him with crystal clarity. My father never admitted to being wrong about anything. But this one time he did, he said, “The one thing I feel really ashamed of is what my generation has done to the land and how we’ve left it for your generation.” He said, “I’m deeply sorry about that.” That had a real impact on me.

I’ve always been aware of the land and the animals and the life that we lose each year. I’ve mainly contributed in the most typical way: writing checks to groups like Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy. I got a chance to go to Antarctica in 1989 as a tourist. One of the main reasons I wanted to go was that I discovered that The Antarctic Treaty was due to expire in 1991. It’s an extraordinary treaty that came out of the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58. That was a year of international cooperation among the world’s scientists. It was so successful that President Eisenhower wanted to come up with some way to continue this amazing international scientific cooperation; hence, the Antarctic Treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty, among other points, basically states that no country owns Antarctica; all wildlife is protected; there is no commercial exploitation of the continent – no mining, no oil drilling; there’s no nuclear waste storage there; There’s no nuclear testing. It’s one of the most extraordinary documents in world history. It went into effect in 1959.

Once you’re down there, it’s really amazing; you see how artificial all of the conflicts are that are happening in the rest of the world. Because here’s a place where thirty-nine nations, although they may be fighting north of the Southern Ocean, in Antarctica, everyone’s cooperating just fine. You begin to see how the war situations, the battles and the conflicts are all artificially promoted and produced. This treaty was due to expire in ’91, and ironically it was the Americans, the originators of this remarkable document, that were going to keep it from being re-signed. That’s because George Bush was the president at the time. He’s a Texas oilman; he wanted to keep the continent open for drilling.

ARCUDI: We have to make it clear that of course this is the first George Bush; King George the First.

STOUT: Yes — not Dick Cheney‘s front man. I thought, if I don’t get down there soon, if they don’t renew that treaty, I may never have a chance to go down there as a tourist. So I went down on a cruise ship with the American Museum of Natural History in 1989 to Patagonia and Antarctica. I wasn’t prepared for how spectacular this place was – the most spectacular place I’ve ever seen on the planet, and I’ve pretty much been all over the world. Now – not to dilute my noble intentions — there was another reason I wanted to see Antarctica that at least relates somewhat to our Comics Journal audience. I had read H.P. Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness. The whole novel takes place in Antarctica. Lovecraft painted such a haunting and realistic picture of the place that I was just sucked right in. I compared his writing with maps of Antarctica and saw that he had used actual places. Intellectually I know that the guy never went there, but boy, he really did his homework. Because of him, Antarctica held this mystical quality that still haunts me today.

Hellboy pin-up depicting Stout, penguins, Hellboy and a Lovecraftian monster from At the Mountains of Madness (Collection of Guillermo Del Toro)

ARCUDI: What you’re saying is that that mystical quality came through when you saw the reality of the place – its actual landscape?

STOUT: Absolutely. The place had an extremely profound effect on me. So profound that I thought I couldn’t return home and face my kids without doing something to try and save that continent from despoiling and exploitation. While I was on the ship I found out about a group called The Antarctica Project (now called the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition or ASOC). They’re a low overhead umbrella organization helping to coordinate all of the activities of environmental groups like Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy, to make what I call Antarctica: the first World Park (some groups have described it as a “World Commons”).

That idea of Antarctica being the first World Park really excited me. I thought, “What can I do on behalf of Antarctica, on behalf of the treaty?” I reasoned, quite rightly, I think, that one of the main reasons there was no public resistance to Bush’s plan to drill and mine down there was that like almost everyone I talked to before going on the trip, the general public figured that it’s nothing but a bunch of snow and ice down there. Why save it? My plan became a scheme to show Americans that Antarctica is much more than just snow and ice, that it is an incredibly beautiful part of the world with a spectacular array of wildlife, diverse species living in a variety of ecosystems.

ARCUDI: So you want to save it because it’s pretty?

STOUT: It is beautiful and that’s often the key to getting backing from the public. But if you investigate a little and do a little science homework you’ll find that disruption of Antarctica and its ecosystems would be catastrophic to life on the rest of the planet. Sadly, that’s not as sexy a message as saving seals with big sad eyes or whales or penguins. You’ve got to put on your political hat here. In doing so, I thought I’d put together a show of 45 paintings for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County depicting this diversity of wildlife in Antarctica and at least make people in southern California more aware of what we risk losing. Then my devious little promoter brain thought, “Now, to really make sure that everybody sees this show, I’ll include the prehistoric life of Antarctica so that every kid with even a passing interest in dinosaurs will grab their parents and take them to this show.”

Lower Cretaceous Antarctica by Stout

As soon as I got back from my first trip to Antarctica, I flew to Columbus, Ohio to the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State and got a crash course in Antarctic paleontology from Dr. David Elliot. I noticed in studying prehistoric Antarctica, the same names kept coming up over and over again. There are just a special handful of people who do their studies down there. I contacted each of these scientists and became friends with them. To create reconstructions of prehistoric life in Antarctica, my process was to draw sketches of a particular creature, then contact the person who had actually found the fossilized animal and run the sketches and my ideas for the pictures past him or her, involving them in each step of the production of the painting so that it would be the most accurate piece possible.

Triassic Antarctic Thecodont (Crocodilian ancestor) by Stout

I did five large sample paintings and showed them to Dr. Craig Black, the director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. I got his okay and go ahead to do the complete show, 45 paintings, for the museum. They then indeed held the exhibition in Los Angeles.

“Fantasia Antarctica” by Stout

The Museum’s Special Exhibits Department then traveled the show around the U. S. and the world for about seven years. Mikhail Gorbachev personally requested that the exhibition come to Moscow. It profoundly changed my life and the direction of my career.

For those two and a half years it took me to paint the show, I pretty much dropped out of the entertainment business. Obviously this had a dramatic effect on my bank account. I was making less than 10% of what I was making prior to that, but I was never happier in my life than when I was doing these paintings. I really felt for the first time in my life that I had finally graduated from that Pinball School of Career Planning. I had a direction; I had finally come home. I felt these paintings were something I could do for the rest of my life and really be happy and satisfied. This was real Fine Art — not commercial art. Other guys run out and buy Corvettes at that age. My midlife crisis resolved itself in a much more positive and productive way, a way that’s completely in-sync with my personal philosophy regarding the earth.

ARCUDI: Which is…?

STOUT: We have not inherited this planet from our parents; we are borrowing it from our grandchildren. That philosophy drives most of my politics, actions and decisions.

ARCUDI: The Antarctica project wasn’t just that one show. Your dedication to that project didn’t end with that one show. You went back to Antarctica again a few years later, right?

Post-show painting of Fin Whales by Stout

STOUT: As soon as I finished my first Antarctica show I knew I wasn’t finished with that subject.

ARCUDI: We should mention the name of that show, shouldn’t we?

STOUT: Dinosaurs, Penguins and Whales: The Wildlife of Antarctica. As I finished that show it I felt like I’d come home; I was doing something that I really wanted to do a lot more of. I said to myself, “Why stop? Why not continue to paint on the same theme?” I got the idea of doing a book, which, when it’s finished, will be the first visual history of life in Antarctica from prehistoric times to the present day; one hundred oil paintings and fifty drawings. It’s never been done – and after all this work on it, now I know why!

After I completed the first show I discovered that the National Science Foundation has a program called the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. I believe I found out about this program from fellow Chouinard graduate and brilliant photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum. It’s a competitive grant program; every year the NSF picks one or two artists, writers, or photographers to go to Antarctica and live. The NSF gives them full support. What the artist, writer or photographer has to do in return is come back and produce something that conveys information about Antarctica to the public. That could be a book, a series of articles, an exhibition, a video, a comic book, a children’s book. I was awarded that grant for the 1992/1993 Season. They gave me a year’s advance notice, so I was able to really prepare for the trip. That lead-time was important because one of the things I had asked for in my grant was the chance to scuba dive underneath the Antarctic ice.

ARCUDI: Why did you want to do that?

STOUT: I felt that the scope of my book wouldn’t be complete without showing the diversity of life on Antarctica’s nutrient-rich shores. All of the Antarctic scientists I talked to said that it was the most spectacular diving in the world. Life under the ice is incredibly rich and diverse. I also found out that it indeed is the best diving in the world. In the Great Barrier Reef or in the Bahamas, on a good day visibility is 120 feet. In Antarctica diving visibility on a good day is 800 feet – clearer than the air I’m looking at right now in Pasadena. You don’t feel so much like you’re diving; it’s more like you’re flying through thick air. It’s absolutely unbelievable.

ARCUDI: But it’s really cold.

STOUT: It is cold: 28 degrees. Our more astute readers will say, “How can that be? 32 degrees F is the freezing temperature for water.”

ARCUDI: Salt water, right?

STOUT: Right. Salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water. But you dress appropriately. To do dives under the ice I put on Patagonia extra heavy weight long underwear. On top of that I put on a Thermalite jumpsuit, sort of like an astronaut suit; after that I’d put on my dry suit, which is the opposite of a wet suit. The wet suit uses your body heat and the water to keep you warm. Antarctica is too cold for that; you wear a dry suit. It allows you to do that cool James Bond thing – do a dive, come out of the water, unzip your suit and reveal your tuxedo.

ARCUDI: For all of the soirees at McMurdo Station.

STOUT: Party Central.

ARCUDI: We may have gotten ahead of ourselves but anyway you probably want to go back to the point where you started training for the scuba diving.

STOUT: The National Science Foundation told me that I had to contact James Stewart, not the actor, but the head of the dive program in Antarctica.

Jim Stewart, Antarctica OAE (1927–2017)

He’s a great old time diver (OAE is an honorific term in Antarctica. It means “Old Antarctic Explorer”. You cannot give this name to yourself; it must be bestowed upon you by others. Jim Stewart was a genuine OAE). He created the dive-training program for the Navy SEALs, an amazing guy.

I found it thrilling and hilarious whenever I was around the older divers in Antarctica, listening to their tales. Always, at one point in their conversations, they would start taking off their clothes to show each other their massive shark bite scars!

He said in order for me to dive in Antarctica – and mind you, I’d never done any scuba diving in my life at that point – I’d have to get Open Water certification, Advanced Open Water certification, Medic First Aid certification, Rescue Diver certification, Dry Suit Diver certification, and Ice Diver certification. So thank God I had a year to do this; my very last dive to complete my certifications was made just two weeks before I left for Antarctica. It was really intensive training, especially when I became a rescue diver. That certification made me a really good diver.

My first Antarctic dive is probably one of the most astounding memories of my entire life. I was sitting on the edge of the hole – they’ve cored out a hole with a big drill through the ice; the ice is 12 feet thick – and I’m looking down into the water. Because diving is ordinarily a stressful activity, ice diving in Antarctica is exponentially stressful. And dangerous: A 22-year-old diver had died during a dive the previous year when he got a carotid squeeze from a too-tight dive suit neck line that resulted in his losing consciousness. He rocketed upwards, cracking his skull on the concrete-hard underside of the sea ice. So as a diver, before your dive you don’t do much of anything. You have dive tenders to check all of your equipment for you and put your equipment on you so you don’t have to think about anything except for the dive, which is –

ARCUDI: …Enough.

STOUT: I’m sitting there with my feet dangling in the water; I’m looking down and I make a remark that, “I thought our first dive was going to be a deep dive,” because I can clearly see the bottom from where I’m sitting. The tenders asked, “How deep do you think that is?” I said, “Well, it looks like it’s about 20 to 25 feet deep, 30 at the most.” The tender said, “You’re looking at a 100 feet bottom.” The water was so crystal clear – it was just extraordinary. I get all of my stuff on and there’s a rope called a “down line” that goes from the top of the hole down to the sea bottom. I start going down the rope through the ice. Intellectually I know this is not happening, but I swear to God that the tube I’m descending is getting narrower and narrower. I’m getting more claustrophobic going down this twelve-foot tube of ice. The sides of the tube are like milk glass, really extraordinary. I finally clear the bottom of the ice; this enormous vista opens up for me. I can see forever. The visibility is astounding. As I said, it felt like I was flying, hovering in thick air. There is so much to see; I’m trying to take it all in – I’m just on total sensory overload, just short-circuiting all over the place. I felt like the fetus baby in 2001: A Space Odyssey on Jupiter, just trying to take all this stuff in.

At the same time, this was a test-dive for me; I’m supposed to be diving responsibly and doing all of this stuff that the other diver on the bottom is telling me to do. And at the same time as that, my brain is completely shorting out from the input, from all of this spectacle. This goose egg-sized and egg-shaped creature floats past me. It’s clear like a jellyfish; it’s called a ctenophore, a comb jelly. It’s got psychedelic rainbow track lights that are zipping up the sides of its body. I’m seeing this ten-foot jellyfish drifting by in all of its different colors. It was just unbelievable. At the same time, I’m thinking, “Oh, yeah. You’re supposed to be following particular instructions and functions as a diver.” It was absolutely exhilarating.

I was surprised, too, by the cold. The things that get coldest first and fastest are your fingers because you’ve got an enormous amount of surface area surrounding your fingers. Just before you make your dive, the gloves are the last things that you put on. The tenders pour hot water in the gloves, you plunge your hands into this water, they snap the top of the gloves around your wrists and your gloves seal tight. You make the initial part of your dive with gloves full of hot water. The only area of you that is really exposed to the icy water directly is parts of your face, because you’ve got the mask over most of your face. You’ve got a hood over most of your head and the hood also covers your neck and the underside of your chin. Mostly, what are exposed are your lips and your cheeks. I thought that would be really painful, but in actuality I found it exhilarating. It felt like my skin was sizzling from the cold – not an unpleasant sensation at all; an extraordinary feeling, although in a very short time my lips were frozen numb. I couldn’t feel my regulator – my breathing apparatus. Every once in a while I’d taste saltwater; I’d know that my breathing apparatus had drifted out of my mouth without my realizing it; I’d just mash it back in.

OK. This seems like the most appropriate spot to tell my best Antarctic scuba dive story. When I wanted to make a dive and the conditions were right, I would tag along with a small group of Antarctic marine biologists and dive with them. On one occasion, we stopped to make a dive in what’s called a “seal crack”. That’s a fissure in the ice that seals surface out of. Two divers went in. They shot out of the water about two minutes later followed by an angry Weddell’s bull seal. That was his crack!

We moved to another location. The two divers went in. They emerged a little over half an hour later.
“How was it?” I asked. “Is it worth suiting up?”

“It’s cathedrals of ice.”

I immediately suited up and went in with two female divers.

It was truly fantastic. Underwater I could hear the Weddell seals communicating with each other. They sounded like a combination of Japanese Taico drums and electronic synthesizer rising and falling trills.

One diver signaled to me that she was cold. She went back to the fissure hole and got out.

I didn’t want to be the last diver down there, so I made my way over to the down line. It was heavily flagged so that it would be difficult to miss. I went up the line hand over hand until I reached the under surface of the ice sheet. But instead of the hole I had entered from, there was just a thin crack in the ice just big enough to fit my fingers. What had I done wrong?

I went back down to the bottom and tried again. Same thing.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “Is this my worst nightmare come true? Trapped beneath the Antarctic ice?”

I checked my air; I still had another half an hour (I had become really good at “sipping” my air, using very little of it during my dives).

I swam over to the remaining diver and explained to her using sign language of the difficulty I was having. She pointed to where I had been, then made a broad “No! No!” gesture, then pointed in a different direction. I swam in that direction — and found my entry hole! I was elated.

Here’s what had happened: The divers I was with were making four or five dives each day (I was just doing one per day). In doing so, they had become a bit cavalier in regards to watching the down line. The ocean current had taken our down line from the wide entry point of the crack down to the narrow sliver of the crack — with no one noticing.

I did seven dives total down there. I feel really privileged. I am on the extremely short list of people who have scuba-dived in Antarctica [pause]. I also made the very first telephone call from Antarctica. AT &T were testing their new satellite equipment down there and offered me the chance to speak to my wife.

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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Thirteen

Stout annotations are all in italics.

One of the things that has kept me from doing superhero comics is being associated with a character. I don’t want to have to draw that character for the rest of my life. I see that happens at comic book conventions. I bet Bernie Wrightson’s really sick of drawing Swamp Thing (I talked to him about it; he was). I don’t want to get into that rut.

I’ve had the story idea for this superhero miniseries for many, many years now. That’s one of the main things that’s kept me from doing it. Whereas dinosaurs, there’s such a diversity of dinosaurs and there’s a richness to them. Plus, they keep discovering new dinos and new stuff about them. I don’t really get too tired of drawing dinosaurs. For one, I don’t do it all of the time. I recently illustrated Richard Matheson’s first children’s book: Abu and the 7 Marvels. That’s out now.

I just finished translating a book of Pablo Neruda poems: Stones of The Sky; I’m doing a mystical comics-style illustration for each of the poems as well (those illustrations have all been completed).

Stout Neruda Illustration

ARCUDI: And that’s what struck me odd when you said you’re a big fan of superhero comics. Because I always got the sense that at no point in your career were you ever thinking, “I want to take over the Fantastic Four.” Is that accurate?

STOUT: That’s really accurate. For one thing I know that Marvel wouldn’t give me a piece of my version of the Fantastic Four. I love superhero comics and that whole thing, but I’m also a businessman. That’s definitely one of the hats I wear. If I do something that enhances the value of something, I expect participation in that. I know I’m not going to be allowed to get that doing the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man.

ARCUDI: Just ask (well, you can’t ask him any more) but just ask Jack (Kirby).

STOUT: Great example.

ARCUDI: Who – you can see an argument for who actually created the Fantastic Four, but who elaborated upon and improved throughout a career on it.

STOUT: Did Jack get a piece of the Hulk TV show?

No – he didn’t. There’s all kinds of properties that Jack was involved in the creation of that he was excluded from participating in their profits. Look at that recent issue of Comic Book Artist, with the big article on Tower Comics. The Tower comics that Wally Wood created, the rights to all of his characters were purchased for two grand – and Wally wasn’t even the guy who got the two grand! That makes me ill. That really makes me ill. Wood or Wood’s estate should still own all that stuff.

ARCUDI: And Woody of all people, a man most outraged by interference and… The reason that Heroes Incorporated came into existence in the first place was to have a property that he had control over. Of course, it was unsuccessful for him. And even Tower came into being for that same reason. But a shit load of good that ever did him, unfortunately.

STOUT: I think guys like Wally Wood and Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman and John Stanley and Carl Barks should be officially considered national treasures. Guys like that should never have to wonder where their next buck is coming from for the rest of their lives.

ARCUDI: Well, at least Eisner doesn’t. Eisner was a very good businessman. He made sure he kept a firm hold on The Spirit.

Eisner Tribute by Stout

STOUT: Thank God for that. Because I’ve worked for so many years with the Hollywood sharks, I’ve picked up a lot of business savvy that I apply to my illustration and comic book work. I try to share that information with other artists and I freely share it, because I think the more that they are informed… They have a choice of whether to use that information or not, but if they don’t know how they’re being screwed or what their choices or opportunities are, then they’re never going to get to exercise them one way or the other. At least when they make a bad decision that’s based on good information they have only themselves to blame. They’re not really being taken advantage of except by their own stupidity.

ARCUDI: A lot of these companies are giving equity in creative properties. I think that comes from people like Neal Adams. Maybe he was more antagonistic.

STOUT: Yeah. Neal definitely pushed the envelope. So did Frank Miller. I applaud those guys. But we should all be more like that. And it has little or nothing with the size of your reputation. At the business talks I give to artists people invariably say, “Well, you can ask for that. You can get your original art back. You can ask that because you’re William Stout. You’re famous.” I go, “No. I was asking for that when I was a complete unknown; from the word go. When I was making four bucks an hour I still asked for and demanded that and if they wouldn’t give it to me I’d walk.” So it really has little to do with fame. Obviously, fame gives you more leverage. But even when I didn’t have that leverage I was like that.

ARCUDI: You were one of the few guys who actually got his artwork back from Disney.

STOUT: I’m really proud of that particular negotiation and my other negotiations with The Mouse. I actually like dealing with their attorneys (up until recent years; the business has become incredibly nasty). They’ve all been pretty decent, straight ahead people. It probably helps that we speak the same language and that I understand the problems of where they’re coming from and that I can come up with creative solutions to solve those problems and make both their life and the deal go through a little easier.

ARCUDI: I don’t know how many other artists ever got any of their work back from Disney.

Disney licensed Stout & Steinmeyer’s Mickey at 60 character from them for use in the Comedy Warehouse at Walt Disney World.

STOUT: I might have been the only one – I don’t know. But they weren’t going to get me to do the art in the first place if they wouldn’t return my originals. As I explained to them, they could turn around and sell the originals for more than they paid me to do them. I don’t work for free.

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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Twelve

Let’s backtrack a little to segue into this dinosaur thing and see if we can work Roy Krenkel into this, too. You had done a show of your prehistoric work in 1977, right?

STOUT: That was my first one-man show. It consisted primarily of the pieces that I’d done for Don Glut’s book, The (revised) Dinosaur Dictionary.

ARCUDI: I’m sure you had a lot of influences, but you said that you became pretty good friends with Krenkel, and he, of course, was a huge [Edgar Rice] Burroughs fan. I know that even at that time you were working to make your dinosaurs accurate. But how much of an impact did the way Krenkel staged some of this stuff have on the way you would stage your drawings? You know Roy’s stuff… It’s not just a dinosaur standing there. It’s a whole dramatic scene. 

STOUT: Through osmosis and careful study I picked up an enormous amount of information on how to both stage and design. Roy was really good at designing vignettes as well as full-picture scenes. He told me he learned an enormous amount about design and composition from studying Titian. I absorbed as much from Roy as I could. Another thing I was trying to absorb was the way that both Krenkel and Frank Frazetta conveyed an atmosphere – that almost tangible romanticism of theirs. They really captured that rarified exoticism of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the slightly harsher decadent drama of Robert E. Howard in the way they portrayed things, designed things and presented things.

Krenkel and Frazetta were sort of doorways to the past for me as well. I became so enamored of their work I needed to find out where it all came from. That led to an investigation of all of the different artists that influenced them who in turn became even bigger influences on me than both Krenkel and Frazetta. I became hugely affected by a lot of the great turn of the century artists and illustrators: Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Charles R. Knight, J. C. Leyendecker, [Norman] Rockwell, Dean Cornwell, N.C. Wyeth – all of them great turn of the century artists. 

ARCUDI: Now, you continued to do film work after you did THE DINOSAURS – A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era book?

STOUT: The film business is hard to get into, but it’s even harder to get out of unless you deliberately sabotage yourself by not showing up or doing horrible work and insulting people. Even then…

 I found myself in a business that was both enticing and repulsive at the same time. I met Rod Stewart back in 1968 when he was with the Jeff Beck Group. Rod once described certain ex-wives or ex-girlfriends as being 51/49. The film business is like that. Fifty-one percent of it is the best time you’ll ever have. Forty-nine percent is the absolute worst. The more distance there is between you and the girlfriend (or in my case, between me and the film business) the larger the 51% appears to loom, until you’re thinking, “No. It was really more like 80/20 or 85/15.” So you agree to take on another film, and the first day back you remember, it hits you, and you realize, “Damn! I forgot! Half the time spent over the next year or so on this project is going to be about the worst time I’ve ever had in my life.” 

ARCUDI: Let’s return to your illustrations for the newly revised Dinosaur Dictionary. When you started doing that, you said it was your mission to make this stuff as accurate as possible, to not just throw it off.

STOUT: I was going to be the first, and maybe the only person, to ever depict the dinosaurs that I was illustrating for Don’s book. It dawned on me that because of that I had this enormous responsibility to the public to make it as accurate as possible. My picture might visually define that animal for quite a long time. I started to consult with the best paleontologists. I joined the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in the late ‘70s so I could have access to all current information, which changes at an amazing rate. It especially started changing in the late ‘70s.

The first picture Stout created for THE DINOSAURS – A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era

As I drew the dinosaurs, I began to think about their settings. They needed to be accurate as well. That got me involved in researching paleobotany – prehistoric plants – and paleoecology. At the time I started doing this, around 1976-‘77, very little was known about paleobotany, because plants and soft material fossilizes very poorly – if at all. There wasn’t a whole lot known. However, at that time, there was an enormous breakthrough when the paleobotanists said, “You know what? Leaves don’t preserve very well nor stems and all of that stuff; but pollen is small, hard and compact.” So they started looking at microfossils; they found pollen all over the place. Suddenly, where they only had the sketchiest bits of information, whole forests were springing up. They discovered all kinds of plants that existed in prehistoric times by studying the pollen. I was the beneficiary of this knowledge. Suddenly I was able to foliate my dinosaur worlds with all of this new information. 

ARCUDI: The interesting thing to me is that although you do see some dinosaurs cropping up earlier in your work, until The Dinosaurs prehistoric animals were just a small part of your overall career. Did you think you were going to end up having the kind of commitment to paleontological reconstruction in 1977 that has ended up consuming your life as it is right now?

STOUT: Not at all. That certainly was not my goal. I was a subscriber to what I call the “Pinball School of Career Planning” – I just bounced from job to job, project to project without any rhyme or reason or guiding direction other than I knew I wanted to do stuff that paid well. That’s why I ended up doing movie posters, and why I ended up in film. Even though the film business didn’t pay well initially, I saw that by pursuing a certain job niche within the industry, that of production designer, I would be making pretty decent money eventually. As far as a career doing dinosaurs, man, that was… The books initially started as just some more freelance jobs for me – the Dinosaur Dictionary, and THE DINOSAURS – A Fantastic New View of A Lost Era. I had no idea what an impact those books would have on my career.

ARCUDI: Well, and on you personally.

STOUT: And on me personally.

ARCUDI: You say it started as a job, but clearly that book is not just a job. I mean, you look at that stuff and clearly there’s a lot of care and, let’s say the word, “love” put into a lot of those pieces.

STOUT: When I say it started as a job, at that point in my career I was in a position where I could pick and choose pretty much any of the work that I cared to do. I was being inundated with offers of every kind of work every week, sometimes every day. I felt like a little king deciding which of the subjects to favor. I gave tons of work away to friends. I don’t recall being paid anything for the 45 illustrations I did for The Dinosaur Dictionary. So yes, the dinosaur stuff was a job. But it was also…

The only jobs I chose to do at the time were the jobs that really excited me and that I was really passionate about. I did feel a responsibility but there was an excitement, too. I was the conduit to the public of all of this arcane knowledge that the scientists were discovering about dinosaurs that was only getting to the public, at that time, in little trickles and dribs and drabs. Here was a chance to put all of that new information – the fact that dinosaurs weren’t stupid, that they weren’t slow, that they were fairly intelligent, that they moved rapidly, that they possibly were warm-blooded and may have been covered in feathers – put all of this information into one book, one source for everyone. That got me really excited. I was in the right place at the right time and I had the opportunity to do it all in a very entertaining way. It was a groundbreaking book with a lot of “firsts”: the first picture of dinosaurs having sex; the first pic of a dinosaur pooping; some of the first illustrations of dinosaurs with feathers; the first illustrations of dinosaurs caring for their young. My idea of pterosaurs picking out the parasites from a Tyrannosaurus rex‘s mouth has become an accepted part of the paleontological canon.

ARCUDI: This was a huge undertaking, really. You were doing roughs initially to showboat the book, but then when it came down to drawing the stuff, you had to decide on all of the different techniques you wanted to use. Tell me about the thought process of why you chose to go with one style for this piece, another style for this piece, charcoal for that, watercolor for that.

STOUT: It was initially so that I wouldn’t get bored — and to expand my skills. I had a fear that if I did everything the same style I’d be so sick of that style by the end of the book that I’d never want to touch that style again and that I’d burn out before I’d finished the book. Plus, I was still somewhat in an experimental mode, and I had this huge passion for the turn-of-the-century children’s book illustrators. One of my goals was to see if I could do illustrations in those styles. It helped to keep the project exciting for me, jumping from style to style to style. Let me try to do N.C. Wyeth here. Now I’ll attempt Arthur Rackham. How about Edmund Dulac, or maybe the Detmold brothers. What would an Andrew Wyeth dinosaur illustration look like?

It might look like this…

I figured if I kept everything interesting for me, it would have the same effect on the public, as well. They would look at this book and never get bored. 

ARCUDI: Was it as capricious as you make it sound? For instance, you look at the two mating dinosaurs done more or less in a Mucha-esque style.

Alphonse Mucha-esque dinosaur illustration by Stout

Did you try to choose a style that would match the mood of the piece?

STOUT: Oh, certainly. And that comes from my training at the Chouinard Art Institute. I never ever tried to force one style or approach to solve everything. I always let the problem dictate the style and solution. I’ve done that all through my career, which is why there’s such a variety to my work.

The dinosaur book was the same way. For that particular piece you mentioned, the dinosaurs mating, I thought this could be really gross or coarse if done improperly; it had to be handled very delicately. So I went back to Mucha and I also went to Edward Detmold, who does stuff that is so light and so airy it looks like it can float off the page like a feather. I attempted to do that.

Dinosaur sex; a young lover with a patient older female

In my own interpretation, as soon as I finished the picture I thought, Wow! I think I’ve done it. Of course, when I go back and compare my piece to the Detmold illustration that inspired it, my thing looks ham-fisted as hell. But that’s how you grow. You aim for 100 and you hit 70 or 80; maybe the next time you’ll hit 85.

ARCUDI: It’s interesting that you mention Detmold as an influence, because I think a lot of people have heard of Dulac and Rackham, but remarkably, for some reason, because the Detmold brothers were so good, they’re names you never hear. 

STOUT: They were astounding. Really, really tragic lives. 

ARCUDI: In any event, The Dinosaurs was a huge undertaking. Just a little later you did at least the cover and the frontispiece for The Little Blue Brontosaurus, right?

STOUT: For that one I did the cover, designed all of the characters, the frontispiece, the back cover, the endpapers, and then did the layouts for the whole rest of the book. The finished art from the layouts were painted by Don Morgan, who ghosted Pogo for Walt Kelly the last several years of the strip. 

ARCUDI: Only you and Alex Toth, I think, have ever propounded that philosophy, saying that each problem deserves a different approach for a solution. Creative problems, if they were approached that way more frequently you’d have… I guess that’s why there are so few geniuses in life. Little Blue Brontosaurus bears a not so…

STOUT: …more than a passing resemblance to The Land Before Time. My friend, producer Robert K. Weiss (he produced The Blues Brothers movie and other comedies) called me one afternoon. He knew about the dinosaur film I had written for Jim Henson. I was in the middle of designing it. He told me, “Bill; they’re ripping you off. I just came from Kathleen Kennedy‘s office. I just saw The Little Blue Brontosaurus on top of Kathy’s desk.” That hurt. Kathy and I had been friends. She had done me a favor, though, and in Hollywood everyone keeps careful track of favors. My not suing Kathy and The Land Before Time production — even though I knew there was a contingency fund that was kept for just such a situation — was my way of paying back that favor.

I love irony — when it happens to someone else. Ironically, I was hired to create some of the advertising for The Land Before Time, the film that killed my own movie I had been making with Jim Henson.

Talk about bittersweet…

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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Eleven

Stout’s annotations are in italics.

Living in Madrid was incredible. I made friends with lots of German and Swiss Lufthanza flight attendants who were living in my high rise apartment building (Apartamentos Villa Magna). They always invited me to their rooftop parties. They had German sausages flown in for these get togethers.

As happened in Yugoslavia, I ended up with a lot of Communist friends, too. They were not the bogeymen of American propaganda. I discovered that just as there were all kinds of Democrats and Republicans, there were all kinds of Communists, too. I was surprised at first, but then it made total sense.

Each Friday at 6:00 PM I would dash over to the local comic book shop, Totem. The owner would close the place up, only allowing comics professionals inside the shop. I got to meet many of the best Spanish comic book creators. We would talk comics, comics, comics. Then, at 8:00 PM we would walk a couple of blocks to a nearby cafe restaurant.  The owner was a big comics fan. He would have a long table all ready for us. He comped us all of our food and drinks the whole evening into the wee hours. It was incredible!

I happened to be in Madrid for an annual national comics awards presentation. The cream of Spain’s finest comics creators were all in attendance. I got to meet them all. My favorite guy was Carlos Giménez. I consider him the Will Eisner of Spain. At that time, he had two autobiographical comics graphic novels out: Barrio and Paracuellos (there have since been many additional volumes of each title). Paracuellos was about his growing up in a Catholic orphanage during Franco‘s rule in Spain. Barrio was about his becoming a young comic book artist in Franco’s Spain. They were brave, honest books. In response to his books, Carlos’ Barcelona studio was bombed by Franco supporters.

Those books were so compelling that I translated both of them, word by word. Later, I tried to convince American publishers to reprint his works in America. Eclipse was the only company that was interested. I designed a cover and wrote an introduction. I got Will Eisner to write a foreword — but it just didn’t happen…at that time. In 2016 — 36 years later — the book was finally published by IDW.

The publisher used my cover design, my color for the cover, my cover lettering and Will’s foreword — but not my intro. They never told me about the book nor sent me a copy. Apparently, no good deed goes unpunished — or unrewarded!

I had a Spanish friend who was nicknamed by women I knew as The One. He was relentless in his sexual pursuit of women. He was terribly attractive and he knew it. He had his look and his moves honed to perfection. He wore tight, sexy jeans. He had lightly sandpapered the part of his jeans that covered his penis, to make that region stand out. He quickly became my friend when I started picking up hot, young female tourists and bringing them back to my apartment and up to my apartment’s roof, where there was a swimming pool.
I found The One amusing at first. But underneath that overly produced and planned image of his was a really good guy, actually. When he found out I would be leaving Spain, he arranged a wonderful, very Spanish, very mysterious farewell party for me. He purchased a powerful bottle of an extremely alcoholic moonshine drink called aguardiente. He brought a stone bowl to prepare the beverage. There is a traditional, mysterious chant that is recited during the making and serving of the drink.

“With this bellows I will pump, the flames of this fire which looks like that from Hell, and witches will flee, straddling their brooms, going to bathe in the beach of the thick sands. Hear! Hear the roars of those that cannot stop burning in the firewater, becoming so purified.And when this beverage goes down out throats, we will get free of the evil of our soul and of any charm. Forces of air, earth, sea and fire, to you I make this call: if it’s true that you have more power than people, here and now, make the spirits of the friends who are outside, take part with us in this Queimada.”

The aguardiente is set on fire during this ritual. It burned seemingly forever, making me wonder just how much alcohol was in that stuff (I later learned: over 50%)! When it was ready, The One ladeled the aguardiente into special cups — and it was still burning within each cup! I felt very honored; it was an incredible, touching night. I bailed at 5:30 AM, as I had to be at work on Conan at 7:00 AM. The part was still going strong when I left, making me wonder, when do the Spanish sleep?

STOUT: So, there I was, working on Conan the Barbarian during the day, and every other spare moment I was doing preliminary sketches for the illustrations for my dinosaur book, THE DINOSAURS – A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era.

It soon became readily apparent to me that I was not going to be able to accomplish both the movie and the book and do both projects justice. I announced to the production that I was going to have to leave the show to finish my dinosaur book. I told them, “It’s only going to take me a couple of months; I’ll come back well before shooting.” A couple months turned into two years once again. Shooting came and went. God, I got really desperate calls from overseas to come back to the film. I could tell one producer was in tears on his call to me. But my attitude was – not the most professional attitude for a filmmaker – that this is Robert E. Howard’s and John Milius’s Conan, or even Ron Cobb’s Conan, but this is my dinosaur book. So I stuck with and finished the book. Much to his faith and credit, after the book came out line producer Buzz Feitshans hired me to do storyboards for First Blood.

Because of Conan and First Blood, my film career was pretty much launched.

ARCUDI: You’ve worked on a lot of films that never got made. Probably the most famous one was the American Godzilla.

STOUT: That was in 1982 and ‘83. I spent close to two years on that one. That’s another thing about the film business: for every project that goes past the initial okay point, maybe one percent gets to production. And out of those that go to production, only 10% of those ever make it to the theaters. There’s no guarantee that even if your project does get lucky and green lit that anyone is going to see it, which can be pretty damn frustrating. There are also what I call the “X-factors” in making films. You can write the best script, hire the best director, do your best design work, but since film is such a collaborative process, there are any number of other links in the chain that can completely screw up the final product. You can do all of your best work and have it messed up by lousy editing, bad photography, a miscast actor or crappy music. This process of movie making is so difficult that when I see a good film to me it’s like an absolute miracle. I know that somehow this thing was able to make it through this treacherous gauntlet to survive with its integrity somewhat intact. Then when I see pictures like Brazil or Moulin Rouge, which are not only great films but movies in which the people involved – primarily the director in those two cases – took so many risks at so many levels, I am literally moved to tears of joy and astonishment. I have an inkling as to what the filmmakers went through to achieve what they accomplished.

ARCUDI: Maybe this is a sore subject, but on Godzilla you did a redesign of the Godzilla character for your American version, right?

STOUT: Yes. Godzilla was a fabulous project. Fred Dekker had written this spectacular screenplay that read like a really good Spielberg film. Steve Miner, who had done the Friday the 13th movies, was producing and was also going to direct it. This was before he did House, Soul Man or The Wonder Years. He turned out to be a really fine director. This was my first film as a production designer. I was originally hired to do presentation paintings for the project.

Preliminary charcoal drawing made prior to the painting

I did one big presentation painting and then Steve needed storyboards done to get a realistic effects budget. If you hand 10 effects companies the same script, they’ll have 10 different ideas of what those effects are going to look like – and 10 different bids. But if you hand them storyboards, then we’re all pretty much on the same page. So I began doing storyboards for the film.

Around the time I was doing that, I got a visit from Mentor Huebner, one of the greatest storyboard artists who ever lived (Trivia note: Mentor’s wife Louise was the Official Witch of the City of Los Angeles!). He did a lot of the Hitchcock films [like] North by Northwest, and Bladerunner…just a spectacular guy; over 200 films to his credit.

Storyboard panels by Mentor Huebner

He looked at what I was doing and said, “These boards are so detailed – you know what you’re doing here? You’re really designing the film.” I was drawing fairly large, detailed boards because of the nature of the film and because the boards were also part of Steve’s presentation to the studios. I was designing all of the sets and drawing the set dressing, suggesting costumes and everything else.

“You should ask to be the production designer.”

I thought about what Mentor said to myself: “God, he’s right.” I approached Steve and asked him if I could be the production designer. He gave it some thought and he did his homework. He called people I’d worked with and came back to me and said, “Yes; if you hire a strong art director, you can be the film’s production designer.” I was really excited. It was an astonishingly swift rise, to go from storyboard artist to production designer in just two years.

If I haven’t explained in prior blog entries, a production designer is the director’s eyes. He is responsible for everything you see on the screen, except for the performances of the actors. As production designer, I’m in charge of all the set designs, costumes, props, special effects, hair, make-up, storyboards, special make-up effects and set decoration.

I ended up storyboarding about 85% of the film; another 10% of the film was boarded by my studio mate Dave Stevens and his friend Doug Wildey (the creator of Jonny Quest), who I hired to help me out and speed things up. Rick Baker was on board to do the large robotic heads of Godzilla. From my designs, Steven Czerkas made Godzilla’s armature and then made a fully functional stop motion animation puppet.

New Godzilla meets old Godzilla

Dave Allen was going to do the stop-motion animation. At the time, there wasn’t any CGI to speak of – certainly nothing efficient or affordable. It was a first-class crew all of the way with a great script on top of it. The story had a lot of heart. Beginning with the Golden Gate Bridge, Godzilla attacks San Francisco and ends up dying on Alcatraz.

And, it was all going to be in 3-D, initially (we eventually dropped doing it in 3-D because of expense issues). Obviously, there were effects in almost every shot (that’s why the whole film needed to be boarded). Obviously, it was going to be a very expensive film. So this expensive film was being pitched right at a time when there were four hugely expensive films that had just bombed dramatically – one of them being Heaven’s Gate. The studios mistakenly lacked confidence in Steve as a director who could pull off a picture like this. You can’t blame them; he didn’t have the track record he’s got today. It was a great project that should have been made but sadly never was. I’d still sign on to make Steve and Fred’s movie today in a heartbeat.

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Peter Green, The World’s Finest White Blues Guitar Player; 1946 – 2020

From my forthcoming book, Legends of British Blues:

Peter Green (Peter Allen Greenbaum)
Main Instruments: Guitar, vocals, harmonica
Born: Bethnal Green, London, England: October 29, 1946
Died: Canvey Island, UK; July 25, 2020
Recommended Cuts: “The Supernatural” (John Mayall); “I Need Your Love So Bad”, “Black Magic Woman,” “Rattlesnake Shake,” “Oh Well, Parts 1 and 2” (Fleetwood Mac)

Peter Greenbaum‘s brother taught him his first guitar chords. By eleven he was teaching himself, scoring gigs at fifteen and calling himself Peter Green. After playing with various bands, in 1966 Green played and recorded with Peter B’s Looners, where he met drummer Mick Fleetwood. Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers but when Eric returned, Green was out. When Clapton left for good to form Cream, Mayall humbly asked Peter to return. Producer Mike Vernon was horrified when Mayall arrived sans Clapton to cut A Hard Road (1966), until Green began to play. In 1967, Peter left Mayall to form his own blues band, taking Fleetwood and bassist John McVie with him. Jeremy Spencer was added on guitar. Their name, “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer” was (thankfully) shortened to Fleetwood Mac. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac stayed on the UK LP charts for over a year. “Black Magic Woman” (1968; UK #37; covered with great success by Santana) was followed by 1969’s “Albatross” (UK #1), “Oh Well” (UK #2), and “Man of the World” (UK #2). Green peaked with Mr. Wonderful (1968; UK #10) and their masterpiece Then Play On (1969; UK #6), with Danny Kirwan completing a hot three-guitar front line.

On tour in 1970, after Green binged on drugs at a Munich commune party, he became very religious, appearing in long, flowing robes. Green’s band refused his request to donate most of their money to charity. What seemed like a bad LSD reaction was, sadly, undiagnosed mental illness. In 1970, Green left the band after releasing his eerie, autobiographical song “The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown)” (1970; UK #10). He recorded the unfocused jam LP The End of the Game (1970), then just stopped playing. In 1977 Green pulled a shotgun on his accountant, who was trying to deliver a royalty check. Peter went to jail, then to an asylum. He underwent electro-convulsive therapy prior to finally being properly diagnosed with and treated for acute schizophrenia.

In 1979 Peter recorded the mediocre LPs In the Skies (1979), Little Dreamer (1980), White Sky (1982) and Kolors (1983 ). Over a decade later Nigel Watson and drummer Cozy Powell helped form the Peter Green Splinter Group, releasing nine CDs (1997–2004). A tour and new LP were halted when Green suddenly moved to Sweden. In 2009 he began touring as Peter Green and Friends. Despite a career marred by mental illness and drug abuse, Peter Green (in his prime) is considered by discerning fans as the greatest white blues guitarist ever.

Trivia: During Green’s “lost years”, it was rumored he was a hospital orderly, a gravedigger, a Cornwall bartender and an Israeli commune member. After his 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, he jammed with Carlos Santana on “Black Magic Woman.” He sold his iconic 1959 Gibson Les Paul to Irish blues guitarist Gary Moore. B.B. King said, “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard. He’s the only one (white blues guitar player) who gave me the cold sweats.”

A personal note from Bill:

I am devastated by the loss of Peter Green. He is my all-time favorite white blues guitar player and singer. I was hoping he would live long enough to see his portrait and bio entries in Legends of British Blues. I regret never having met him. I have wanted for years to tell him how much his music meant to me. Track down and purchase the big box set that contains all of his recordings with Fleetwood Mac up to Then Play On; then buy Then Play On, one of the most incredible blues LPs ever to come out of England — or anywhere. The CD version was expanded with vital extra tracks.

I will miss Peter forever. Thank God we have his recordings.

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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Ten


Ron Cobb’s Conan logo

ARCUDI: The work that you did for Conan the Barbarian… your storyboards were done in a comic book format.

Stout with Conan storyboard pages in Zagreb. Photo by Carl Macek.
Stout Conan storyboard page

Did you get that job on the basis of your work in comics? Or was that another coincidence?

STOUT: Kind of/sort of. It was a series of coincidences. My friend Bob Greenberg was working for Ed Pressman, the original producer for Conan. Bob knew I was a big Conan fan. I loved all of the [Robert E.] Howard stories, and the Frank Frazetta covers, and Roy G. Krenkel drawings. Bob said, “Man. You really gotta come by and see what Ron Cobb is doing on Conan.” It blew my mind that Ron was designing Conan. I mostly knew him for his brilliant political cartoons; I couldn’t wait to see what he was doing on Conan. I was aware that he had designed some of the creatures in the cantina sequence in Star Wars and that he had designed a lot of Alien. Before [John] Milius was attached to Conan the Barbarian, back when Oliver Stone was going to direct it, Ron had been working with Milius on a mountain man movie, Half of the Sky. As John wrote more and more of Conan the Barbarian, Half of the Sky slowly began being Conan-ized, until John finally realized that he wanted to direct Conan. He brought Ron with him over to Conan and made him the production designer.

In regards to visiting the Conan offices, I told Bob, “God, I’d love to – except, man, I’ve never been busier in advertising.” I was doing so many movie posters…it was unbelievable. There was just no time to come up for air. Finally, I got a break – but I didn’t go over to the Conan offices. Instead, I went to the ABA (the American Booksellers Association), which is the national book fair where every publisher in the United States gathers in one spot. It usually used to be in New York or L. A., sometimes Chicago or Vegas. It’s every publisher and editor in the United States, all in one big room. It was a great place for illustrators to get work. You bring your portfolio and walk from booth to booth, show your work and get hired. It was in L. A. that year at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

I had my portfolio with me, and who should I run into but Ron Cobb himself. He said that I was his first choice of someone to work with on the film. I don’t know how he was aware of my work, or whether it was just my portfolio that impressed him on the spot. But he said he had an arrangement with Milius, who by then was the director of the film, that whoever Ron hired John had veto power over and whoever John suggested for the art department, Ron had veto power over. So I had to show my stuff to John Milius. Ron asked me if I would come by the office and drop off my book. I said, “Sure. Sounds great.” It sounded like fun.

Cobb and Stout were the Conan the Barbarian art department for the first two years of pre-production. Photo by Carl Macek.

I was a huge admirer of Ron Cobb’s work. He did most of the important underground political cartoons in the ‘60s for the L.A. Free Press. Amazing artist and an amazing mind — a true genius. He invented the ecology symbol and donated it to the public domain. That original ecology symbol cartoon by Ron is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian.

I went in on a Friday. I was going to drop off my book, but Milius was actually there; I just handed it directly to him. I watched him look through it. He remembered the Harlan Ellison story I had illustrated for Heavy Metal called “Shattered Like A Glass Goblin”.

Toby Bluth, brother of Don Bluth, modeled the main character of “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin” for Stout.

He had really liked that story when it appeared in Heavy Metal. I also had my work from my recently published Dragonslayers portfolio with me, and he really liked that, too.

He handed me all of my stuff back and started to walk out of the room. John’s a really dramatic, bigger-than-life charismatic guy. As he’s walking out of the room, over his shoulder he grunted, “Hire him!” Just like out of a western. I was directed to talk to Buzz Feitshans, the show’s line producer. Our receptionist was Kathleen Kennedy, if you can imagine – a couple of years later she produced E.T.! I talked to Buzz who told me what they were going to be paying me to do the film’s storyboards. I nearly fell off my chair laughing; it was about 10% of what I was making in advertising.

I’d been doing advertising for a while – for over 120 movies. I thought, “This might be fun for a couple of weeks. I’ll get to see how movies are made.” Well, the two weeks turned into two years. I later found out that new talent is always hired for just two weeks. They want to find out whether or not you’re an asshole. If you’re not and you deliver good work, your employment gets extended. If not, you’re let go with no hard feelings from either side. The Film Biz is quirky. That guy you fired just might be a future employer in The Biz, so you can’t take the chance of offending him. It was an interesting time to get into making motion pictures. John and Buzz were just finishing their production duties on 1941, which Steven Spielberg directed. Buzz was going crazy, as Steven kept adding more shots to an already over-budget, over-time schedule movie.

We were all sharing offices. Ron Cobb and I would work on Conan during the day, and then put down our pencils at 6 p.m., and walk across the hall to Steven’s office. I’d watch them kick around ideas for Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was just one big, exciting, happy family there. We were in those offices for a good chunk of a year, maybe less. Then we moved to Dino DeLaurentiis’ offices in Beverly Hills. That was a whole other experience meeting the DeLaurentiis family and dealing with them as producers. At first I had a lot of animosity toward them; I didn’t respect the films they were putting out. Later, though, I learned to love and appreciate the international crews they put together. They made me feel very much a part of their family.

After a year or so, we took off for Zagreb, Yugoslavia. I began living in Zagreb, with the intention of making the film there.

I started to learn Serbo-Croatian and made a lot of great Yugoslavian friends; I just loved the heck out of Zagreb. I found it the most romantic city in the world, even more so than Paris. Because of its sad and violent history, there was a layer of sadness over the city that added to and deepened its romantic qualities. I met a beautiful woman named Vesna at a discotheque. We began a relationship. It was she who was teaching me Serbo-Croation and giving me an insider’s view of the delights that Zagreb had to offer, and educating me culturally as well.

Stout in his Zagreb office

It was my first time living behind the Iron Curtain. I was startled to learn that this Communist country had a much greater freedom of the press than in the United States. I could buy any American magazine on their newsstands: Playboy, Time, Newsweek, etc. – but also available was an equal array of Communist magazines; complete freedom of information. Go ahead; try to find a newsstand in the U.S. that carries an entire rack of Communist magazines. They did not fear a healthy marketplace of ideas and free discussion. I must emphasize that this was Yugoslavia — not the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia was not aligned with either the Soviet Union or Red China. Its citizens were allowed to travel and vacation outside of their country. My eyes were really opened to one of the great American myths that we’ve all been spoon-fed since we were kids. As a staunch conservative, as a strong advocate of our Constitutional guaranteed free press, I was shocked. See how this all sort of relates to undergrounds?

Marshall Tito was the last of the great WWII leaders. I was living in Zagreb when he died. He was Yugoslavia’s Abraham Linclon. Before Tito took over Yugoslavia’s five states and united them, Yugoslavians were killing more Yugoslavians than Nazis. Tito united those five states to defeat the Nazis. His death was HUGE. The entire country mourned. I felt embarrassed that President Carter did not travel to Yugoslavia for Tito’s funeral. All of the other world leaders were there.

I had a front row seat to history. I watched as Yugoslavia immediately began to unravel, foreshadowing the tragedies to come.

After several months the producers decided they couldn’t make the movie in Zagreb – it became Madrid, Spain instead (In actuality, moving to Madrid was the conniving plan of our film’s accountant, an uptight Brit who owned property in Madrid and just wanted to get back to where he could work from home and be with his family. I think the locations we found in Yugoslavia were much better — and less frequently seen on screen — than those we found in Spain). They gave me the choice of either coming with them to Spain, being paid and sitting around for a month while they set up our offices and things, or I could take that month and go without pay and spend my time in Rome, Italy.

I chose Rome. I knew eventually I was going to be in Spain, but I’d never been to Rome. I got to spend a month or two in Rome. Every morning the daughter of our set decorator would come by on her motor scooter; she’d pick me up and take me to a different art museum, the zoo, or a different park or a different Michelangelo sculpture. Then she’d take me back home where her mom would make me a nice Italian lunch. It was a pretty idyllic situation.

Italy and Italian culture blew my mind. On the bus trip from the airport to downtown Rome I never saw so many beautiful women in my life, so much so that I began to think that the Rome Chamber of Commerce deliberately lined the streets into Rome with gorgeous Catholic schoolgirls. The Italians I met kept trying to sexually hook me up with young women. Parents encouraged me to date and have sex with their beautiful fourteen-year-old daughters. That was not considered unusual in the least. If you were married, you were expected to have a mistress (or mistresses). It was not considered a big deal; it was normal.

Sometimes I would spend the evening watching Italian TV with our set decorator’s family. We watched a very popular TV show one night. It was a family variety show hosted by a transvestite. As some disco music began to play, six gay guys approached what looked like a gigantic martini glass full of eith liquid mud or chocolate. A woman arose from the brown mud. She was singing to the disco music. As she sang, the six gay guys began pouring milk on her, washing away the mud from her body until she was completely mud-free and totally nude. This was all considered normal entertainment for an evening family variety show in Italy. It really shined a light for me on how uptight Americans are in regards to sex. Kids, Mom, Dad and me — we all enjoyed the show. By the way, this gorgeous Hungarian-Italian blonde disco singer-porn star, Ilona Staller, a.k.a. Cicciolina, was elected to the Italian Parliament a few years later. She was married to artist Jeff Koons from 1991-1994.

I met a gorgeous Thai stewardess on the bus going from the Rome airport to the center of Rome. We began dating. She was funny; no matter where I took her to eat, she always ordered a pork chop.

My life is full of astounding coincidences, one of which happened late one night in Rome. I had been out partying and drinking one night. It’s easy to get lost in Rome, especially at night; lots of little side streets and narrow walkways. I was a bit tipsy and walking in what I felt was the general direction of my hotel. It was very late and I was pretty much the only guy on this particular street as far as I could tell. Then, at the end of the street in the direction I was heading, I saw the figure of a man walking toward me. As we got closer, he began to look more recognizable. Suddenly, I shouted, “Benjamin!”

It was Benjamin Fernandez, who had been our art director on Conan when it was back in Zagreb.

“Bill!” he cried with a big smile on his warm Spanish face. “What are you doing here in Rome?”

I explained. He then blew my mind with a job offer.

“I’m making a movie with David Lean. Would you like to join me?”

David Lean? Holy shit! He directed Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai. What an opportunity! But I felt I had to stay loyal to Ron Cobb and John Milius, so I passed. But what are the odds of me running into my pal Benjamin late one night on the deserted streets of a city the size of Rome — and getting offered work on a David Lean movie?

At the end of that time I went to live in Madrid to continue pre-production work on the film. I got very familiar with Madrid; I usually bopped over to the Prado each day during lunch to look at paintings and pick up girls. About that time, something else reared its head.

Before I had left for Yugoslavia, a friend of mine, Byron Preiss, who had published a lot of my work, was visiting my studio. I had just completed a whole bunch of pictures for Don Glut’s Dinosaur Dictionary. Don had asked me to do five pictures for his new Dinosaur Dictionary, because he wanted an illustration for every listing in the book; that five turned into about 40 or more. So I had all of these dinosaur pictures laying around my studio. Byron was visiting and he said, “If you could do your own book on anything, what would you do?” My lightning response was, “I have no idea.” He saw the stack of dinosaur pictures, and he said, “Well, would you like to do one on dinosaurs?” Thinking Byron was just being conversational, I said, “Oh, sure. That’d be fun.” Well, a couple of months later Byron phones up and tells me we have a book deal – Bantam wants to do our dinosaur book. I suddenly had a gigantic book project dropped into my lap. So I’m thinking, I can do this. I can design a motion picture and write and draw a dinosaur book at the same time.


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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Nine

This part of the interview has been lost, so I’ve tried to reconstruct it just from the title it had been under.

STOUT: I got out of the movie poster illustration business at just the right time. I was there for its last Golden Age…then two things happened to destroy it.

Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California had (still has?) this nasty habit. Each year, they’d find out what the most lucrative field of commercial art was. Then, they’d train all of their illustration students to focus on that particular field. Those students would then graduate and flood the market. To get recognition and jobs in that market the graduates began to drop their prices in order to compete with the others and score the jobs.

One year Art Center focused on movie poster illustration and flooded that one time lucrative market with illustration graduates. They later killed two more of my biggest sources of income in the same way: Theme park design and Concept Design for Film.

I had been away from the movie poster illustration business for awhile when I was making Conan the Barbarian. I came back to my main poster art employer, Seiniger & Associates to make some real money (When I had left the poster biz to work on Conan I had been making $5000 per week doing movie advertising. On Conan I was paid $500 per week). I was shocked by how much that biz had changed in such a short time. When I had left Seiniger, I was charging $3000 for a color comprehensive (a comp is art that is in between a rough and a finish). The young illustrators working for Seiniger were now charging $50 per color comp! They had totally screwed up the market for everyone — and themselves.

The second big bomb was the arrival of PhotoShop. There used to be a couple dozen or so artists hired to do multiple comps and roughs for each movie poster. Now it became one person taking a handful of roughs and doctoring them in PhotoShop to quickly make several dozen variations. Loads of artists were fired or were just not hired anymore.

Plus, PhotoShop began to be used to make the final posters using photographs instead of art. The uneducated studio heads knew that a photo of Harrison Ford was, indeed, Harrison Ford. They couldn’t understand that Drew Struzan working from a photo of Harrison Ford could deliver a portrait of Harrison that looked more like Ford than the reference photo.

Suddenly, movie posters became very boring. A new poster phenomena popped up and was used over and over and over again: Two faces (the film’s actor leads), half in shadow, half in light. I can’t begin to count how many posters used that boring format. And it’s still being done.

I went back to freelancing in other areas and making movies. Slowly but surely with each film I began to raise my rates so that eventually, the movies were paying me what I used to make in movie advertising.

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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Eight

ARCUDI: A little bit later you did movie poster work – Wizards, Rock and Roll High School. That came about, as you just said, because you were able to do those patches for that other poster.

STOUT: It wasn’t a poster, but prior to S*P*Y*S I drew the newspaper ad for Linda Lovelace for President. The producer who commissioned it wanted the ad drawn in political cartoonist Herblocks style. He paid me $400 cash upon delivery. That was a lot of dough back then, when my rent was just $80 a month.

Actually, getting into movie poster art was a slightly more intricate path than that. S*P*Y*S came about because I was able to duplicate styles.

My second one sheet was my poster for the film Wizards.

I had been working for an ad agency that had me doing comics-style stuff. They got a chance to compete for doing the poster for Wizards, so they called me up. I thought, “A poster for an animated film? Awesome! That sounds great to me.” I was aware of Ralph Bakshi. I knew he’d done Fritz the Cat. I said, “Well, let’s see the movie.” And they said, “No. We’re not going to show you the movie. You won’t do as nice a poster if we show you the movie.”

Instead of showing me the film they got me a set of really crummy frame blow-ups of some of the characters. I said, “Wow. This is what I’ve got to work from?” They said, “This is what we want you to do. Do the movie poster as if it’s your own movie. Draw these characters as though they’re your characters.” I agreed, and that’s how I drew the poster for Wizards.

I was in this interesting movie circle at the time. I was doing work with Roger Corman, so I got to meet directors Joe Dante and Allan Arkush in their formative years. I knew a lot of the people doing a lot of the work for what was known later as the Brat Pack: John Milius, Steven Spielberg, Brian DePalma and George Lucas. I was good friends with Charlie Lippincott and Mick Garris. They had just been hired by George Lucas to oversee the merchandising of a new film that he was about to released called Star Wars. I went over to visit those guys; they were in this little office. It was the two of them plus Mick’s wife at the time, Kelly; she was the receptionist/secretary. It was like being on the beach with three friends watching a tsunami heading your way. Three people to handle the entire merchandising for Star Wars!

They hired me to do the very first commercial merchandising, a series of twenty-two Coca-Cola cups for Burger King.

One of Stout’s Star Wars cup illustrations

George Lucas is a very loyal guy. Any time any comic-style work would come up, George would make a call and have me hired. American Graffiti was being re-released. George wanted a new ad campaign for American Graffiti. He insisted that the ad agency, that was reluctant to hire me because they’d never worked with me before, hire me to do a whole bunch of caricatures of the cast of American Graffiti, plus a new movie poster.

ARCUDI: What year was that?

STOUT: Star Wars came out in 1977, so the re-release of American Graffiti would have probably been in ’78. That launched my movie poster career, which I was really eager to get into because at that time – it’s not that way any more – movie posters were the highest paying job in illustration. It paid huge, huge dough. Suddenly I was right in the center of that world. I remember during one week in the late ‘70s looking in the Los Angeles Times and finding eight of my movie posters in the movie calendar section.

ARCUDI: That’s pretty cool.

STOUT: It was awesome. I needed a pitchfork to count the dough.

ARCUDI: You told me this once before and I found this really interesting that when you worked on the Rock and Roll High School poster and other posters for Roger Corman, that you actually worked directly with Corman?

STOUT: Yeah. I love Roger. He’s an amazing guy. He was very up-front about everything, which was basically… “We’re not going to pay you much, but you’re going to get the chance to do what you want to do.” That’s how Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Alan Arkush, Ronnie Howard and Martin Scorsese got to make their first movies (I highly recommend the documentary on Roger Corman, Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. Go buy it now!). They didn’t get paid much to direct, but they got the chance to make their movies. Plus, Roger did always pay. He didn’t pay much, but you never got stiffed. And, unlike many of the big studios, he always paid off on points if you had participation points in a film’s profits.

His movie posters were the same way. He’d hire young people to do his posters. Obviously, they had to be competent. But traditionally, when I would do movie posters, the agency would have me do a whole series of roughs. I’d get so much per rough. From the roughs they’d select a couple of ideas to do as comps – comprehensives – sort of in between a rough and a finish. So I’d do maybe more four or five comps. Then if they liked some of those comps, sometimes they’d have me do a color comp, which was like the poster in color but not quite as finished as a finish but more detailed than a rough. Eventually we’d go to a finish. I got to bill for each of those different steps.

I always made more money from my roughs and comps than from my finishes. At that time I’d rather not do the finish. I had to work slower on a finish and there was the added pressure of it having to be perfect, whereas with the roughs and comps I could just bash ‘em out. Roger Corman didn’t want to spend that kind of money on a movie poster – so I would just show him a thumbnail sketch. He was very lucid visually; he could look at a thumbnail, completely understand it and go, “Yes, Bill. That’s what I want. Go to finish.” So he cut out all of those other steps, saving himself a ton of dough.

I’ll never forget his instructions to me for the Rock ‘n’ Roll High School poster.

“Bill, you can do anything you want — as long as it looks like Animal House.”

Okay, so I didn’t make all that much money from Roger doing a poster for him, but there was a tremendous exhilaration in working with him. A lot of times, doing all of those steps for the other agencies resulted in a loss of energy and enthusiasm when it came time to do the finish – I’d already drawn the damn thing dozens of times! But with Roger, going right from a rough to a finish, all of the energy was poured into the final illustration. I’m one of those guys who hates to draw the same drawing twice, which is why I never got into animation. So, yeah. Roger was great. From rough to finish and boom. And I got paid upon delivery. With Roger it was fun and I made a little money. With the others, it was work but I made a ton of money.

ARCUDI: Since you were making so much money doing these movie posters, did you pretty much abandon comics?

STOUT: It was a really easy decision to make. Let’s see… Do I do this underground comic where, with all of the money spent on reference material, with all the research and work I put into it, I am basically making about five bucks a page; or do I do this movie poster where I’m making $200 an hour?

ARCUDI: You were a single guy then, though, right?

STOUT: Yep. I was a single guy, rent was a little over a hundred bucks a month in my rent-controlled apartment.

ARCUDI: You should have stuck with comics.

STOUT: I should have taken all of that money and invested it in real estate…

ARCUDI: Well, yeah. No kidding.

STOUT: …instead of buying art books.

ARCUDI: So you seem to have been, at that point, working exclusively at movies, not a lot of comics work, really, in between ’78 and now, really.

STOUT: First at advertising movies, then at actually making movies. Those, surprisingly, are two separate worlds. I wasn’t doing a lot of comics work, but I still managed to do something in comics each year.

ARCUDI: Is that true?

STOUT: They may be hard to find, but if you dedicate yourself to some searching, that stuff turns up. I made a checklist recently of all my comics and comics-related work. I thought it would end up being about two or three pages of listings – the list ended up running over 60 pages! (I am near to completing a book for Flesk Publications that will compile all of my comics work, excluding the undergrounds, which will be a separate volume. It looks like it will be the same size as Fantastic Worlds — a huge book). I never stopped drawing comics. There were long spaces between each endeavor. It’s one of the reasons I kept doing covers – to keep my hand in comics. I did lots of covers for the undergrounds.

ARCUDI: I was wondering if it had something to do with the disillusionment, because earlier you talked about how, when you saw your first underground comic you thought, “My God. You can do anything with underground comics.” Did you think, “This is comics’ coming of age? We’re really going to see something happen.” And then of course, that’s not what happened.

STOUT: The blossoming of comics as a mature national art form got co-opted by the guys who were doing stuff for Marvel and D.C. They looked at underground comix and said, “Oh, we can do anything.” So what did they do? The same old juvenile crap they had been doing but with tits and ass – extremely adolescent garbage; nothing adult about it at all. Insipidly puerile. People began to associate that with underground comix. They totally missed what was going on in the undergrounds, the main point of those books. Sure, a lot of undergrounds had sex, but there’s always something thoughtful going on beneath the sex, some comment about us or our society – or really great humor. They weren’t just jack-off books, which is what a lot of those New York idiots were doing.

ARCUDI: It seems to me that you really saw it as a way to put forth a political agenda.

STOUT: A way to put forth every agenda. Not just political, but a way to function and communicate graphically as a mature art medium in an adult way; to express adult concepts, ideas and dilemmas. That’s what excites me about the alternative comics scene now. We’re at a real crossroads here in the world of comics. Currently the numbers of the regular comics have dropped so low they’re basically at the same level as the late ‘60s/early ‘70s underground books. There’s virtually no difference from a numbers/business standpoint between the two (actually, underground comix pay me twice as much as what’s been offered to me by D.C…What’s wrong with that picture?). So if an artist has a choice between expressing himself personally with whatever he wants to do and working for Marvel or D.C. drawing someone else’s characters – characters that the artist will never own – why on earth wouldn’t they be doing their own stuff? There’s no point that I can see in working for Marvel or D.C., really. So many of my friends in the comics biz have not been properly rewarded for the characters they created for those two companies…characters that have made those companies a fortune. Their contracts are ridiculous; I won’t sign them.

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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Seven

Stout’s annotations are in italics.

This next paragraph got me into a lot of trouble. I lost friends and jobs over it.

STOUT: Marlon Brando
said something that really opened my eyes in an interview for Playboy back in the early ‘60s. The interviewer commented about a particular movie being great art; Brando stopped him and said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “No. Come on. Movies aren’t great art.” The guy said, “What? No. What about…?” He named some movies that are generally considered to be really great films. Brando replied with something like, “No. Come on. Great art; we’re talking a Beethoven symphony. Or Michelangelo’s Pieta; Leonardo da Vinci and his paintings – Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Has there ever been a film that even comes close to that caliber of artistic achievement?” And I wondered if he might be right. Like I said – it’s called the movie business; not the movie arts.

Brando talked about acting. He said, “Why would you ever revere an actor? It’s not the actor who is great. It’s the material. It’s Shakespeare that’s great. That’s great art. Just because I can say his words well doesn’t make me great.” Brando was discussing the relativity of quality. Has there ever been a movie that even comes close to being Great Art on Brando’s terms? There are great movies, terrific in relation to other movies. But in terms of the quality of greatness Brando was discussing, I’m not sure it has happened yet. I don’t know…maybe Shawshank Redemption. As much as I love King Kong, does it come up to the best works by Shakespeare or Beethoven? I think it may have to do with the nature of the medium…at least as it is today. I hasten to add that even with this awareness I still aspire to never do less than my best work while making films.

When Jurassic Park was in pre-production, I had lunch every two weeks with the film’s production designer, Rick Carter. We had become friends. My Antarctica one man show was up at the Natural History Museum of L. A. County and Rick was quite gracious with his praise for my show. I fed him loads of stuff to put into Jurassic Park. At one of our lunches, I stupidly and arrogantly I brought up this Brando thing. I think I really hurt Rick when I recounted (and at the time agreed with) Brando’s professing that movies were not Great Art. I was such an asshole. It was a very, very thoughtless thing to bring up. That was our last lunch together and it ended our friendship (though I still love the guy and what he’s done). I wish with all my heart that I could take that conversation back.

ARCUDI: You think comics have the potential to be great art?


ARCUDI: To be the Sistine Chapel?

STOUT: Up with Mozart, the Sistine Chapel and all of that stuff Brando named. I think the potential is there much more than with motion pictures.

ARCUDI: Your assertion is that the best comics are made by a single cartoonist?

STOUT: I think overall, yes. There are real exceptions to that. When you get a writer as good as Alan Moore, you can team him with an artist and he’s going to inspire that artist to do even better work than the artist normally does. I think in music, The Beatles together overall produced better stuff than they did apart. Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In film, that’s much, much harder to accomplish, because it’s not one or two guys making it.

ARCUDI: Or four loveable moptops.

STOUT: It often takes over a thousand guys to make a movie (much more than that now). On the movies I’ve worked on, I’ve had 1200 people working under me alone – just as the production designer. That doesn’t even count the actors or the production staff, editing, camera or anybody else. The chances of the planet’s aligning within those twelve hundred people and that everyone does their absolute best work to their ability and somehow it all pluses itself and creates a great film – you’re more likely to win the lottery ten times consecutively. That’s why seeing a good film always surprises me and seeing a great film completely amazes me. I know what the odds are against the filmmakers. On top of that, if you roll 50 sevens in a row and make a great film, that still doesn’t mean you’ve made a successful film. It can still bomb at the box office. The success of your picture can be affected by something as uncontrollable as timing and the public mindset. Or the studio can completely botch the promotion – look at Iron Giant.

When Masters of the Universe was released, I watched the box office returns very carefully. It did alright in its first week. Typically, after the first week there’s a drop-off in attendance. But with Masters, the second week box office was even better than the first week’s. That almost never happens. Then, the third week did better than the second and the fourth did better than the third! “My god!”, I thought — “We’ve got a massive hit on our hands!” Then, the film got pulled from the theaters. Why in hell would they do that? I later found out it was because the studio that made the film, Cannon Films, had just gone bankrupt. They couldn’t afford the costs of advertising and keeping the movie in the theaters. So, there’s another example of how a film’s success can be thwarted.

ARCUDI: To put you on the spot, if comics can be great art is that what you’re setting out to do with this superhero book?

STOUT: Certainly; that’s my goal. I’m not saying that I’ll accomplish that goal (Although I have what I think is a very strong and surprising concept and structure for the series, I currently feel I lack the writing chops to achieve what I would like to achieve). I quite frankly don’t think I come even remotely close to having Beethoven or Shakespeare potential. I’m just not that brilliant or deep. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try. And not just with comics but with everything I do.

ARCUDI: But are you slumming by using a superhero as your focal point?

STOUT: That’s just a passion that I’ve had ever since I was a kid. There’s an operatic, bigger than life, mythological aspect that the superhero genre has that I still find very appealing and certainly challenging to me as an artist and writer. Jack Kirby certainly understood that nature of superhero comics. Superhero comics get looked down upon, especially by the general public – but not comic fans. Obviously, the fans have a great love of the genre. But is it possible to take a genre that is considered sort of silly and frivolous by the art literati and produce something that is substantial and speaks to the human condition and is of lasting value (Obviously, this interview was conducted well before the dominance of superhero movies in our current culture, and before the release of terrific superhero films such as the Dark Knight trilogy, Logan, Doctor Strange, Joker, Into the SpiderVerse and the Captain America movies.)?

ARCUDI: At this point in your career, or at any point in your career over the last ten years or so, is there any temptation – because after all the bigger companies have some of the best toys, right? They’ve got Batman and they’ve got Superman. You said you started out with the Atom and the Flash, but is there any temptation to go in and play with those toys and say, “You own them, but I want to play?”

STOUT: Yes there is. I was asked (and I’ve agreed) to do a Batman story for Batman Black and White.

I have no illusions about owning Batman. I know that DC or Time Warner owns Batman. There are other aspects, perks and rights for which I can negotiate, though. I’ve always liked Batman. I’ve never really done a mainstream popular superhero, so it will be a challenge. I’m going to do a black-and-white story; I think black and white is really appropriate for Batman. I’m not pretending that this is going to be “Great Art” with this one. I’m going to do an enjoyable Batman story, a real detective story.

Batman convention sketch by Stout

ARCUDI: But you’ll still approach it with the attitude of producing the best Batman story that you can produce…

STOUT: Yeah. And I’m going to do it in a way that is different from any Batman story that I’ve ever seen; it will require reader participation and involvement (My story was scheduled for the second Batman Black and White book, which was cancelled. I wrote my story but never did a final draft or drew any of the pages).

I was knocked out by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. I thought he did a tremendous job of rethinking that character and the Joker.

ARCUDI: It is Batman so it’s Frank Miller. But you have no illusions about that being great art necessarily?

STOUT: Oh, God no. But I think Dark Knight was a major step toward us all getting there. I don’t think Dark Knight is Shakespeare and I think Frank would agree with me that it’s neither Shakespeare nor Mozart, but I think by rethinking the superhero genre as an adult he it pulled that genre up to the next level. He put us a step closer towards doing something that’s more adult, more complex and more interesting within the superhero genre.

ARCUDI: Hmm. Okay. All right.

STOUT: You saw the public’s reaction. When Dark Knight came out, for the first time people who had never entered a comic shop began venturing inside these shops saying, “I love this book. This is great. What do you have that’s like it?” And, of course, there wasn’t anything like it. We’re catching up now, though.

ARCUDI: Some would say in the 1980s that presumably the superhero book was coming of age, which is sort of an oxymoron. But right now, there seems to be a new opportunity to really break free from the idea that comics are for children. And the alternative market, some of the stuff is very exciting.

STOUT: Oh, it’s really exciting. Not just the writing itself. It’s the art, too. You don’t have to draw the “Marvel Way.” You can paint your strip. You can do it as wood block prints. You can do it as an etching. It doesn’t matter. You can do it in any style. There are comics with a beautiful primitive style. There is stuff that’s really elegantly drawn. There is stuff that harkens back to the ‘30s or the ‘20s. It’s just completely open. In a sense, I think it is the fruit born from the underground comix movement’s seeds.

ARCUDI: And in a way, I think the undergrounds were fruits born – especially some of the covers – of the EC seeds, in a lot of ways.

STOUT: Yep. We consider Harvey Kurtzman the godfather of the underground comix movement.

ARCUDI: In that way, he’s a grandfather to what’s happening right now. I’m thinking that something’s going to happen to crunch this, though, because that seems to happen with every generation.

STOUT: Well, when I talk to people about it, I say, “Enjoy it while it lasts, because nothing good lasts forever.” I’m a pretty optimistic person, but I’m realistic as well — no Golden Age ever lasts. It’s that way with radio stations, with comics, with any sort of media.

ARCUDI: Do you have any favorites of the alternative stuff right now that you care to mention?

STOUT: Oh, man. Almost everything my two sons show me. They’re really selective. They don’t show me anything but the very best stuff: Barry Ween, Akiko, Bone, From Hell, Cave-In, Eightball and Jimmy Corrigan – stuff like that. I’ve become a big fan of the works created by Seth, Darwyn Cooke, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Chester Brown and Joe Matt. The art skills of my pals Mark Schultz, Mike Mignola, Mark Nelson and Frank Cho are out of this world, continuing, in a way, the EC tradition of terrific comic art. And it’s hard to beat writers like you, Moore, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison.

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The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Six

Stout’s annotations are in italics.

ARCUDI: Talk to me about BeatleSongs.

STOUT: My concept and art for the cover of the 1982 Rhino LP BeatleSongs is hands-down my most controversial record album cover, more so even than the bootlegs.

This press release that follows was requested by Rhino Records from me at the time in response to the avalanche of press inquiries that resulted from the release of BeatleSongs, the retail and public outcry over and rejection of the record, the recall of the album and the death threats to both Rhino Records and myself that followed the LP’s release.

The BeatleSongs Controversy
by William Stout

Recently there has been a tremendous amount of controversy over the new Rhino Records release of BeatleSongs, an innocuous collection of novelty songs by fans of The Beatles about their heroes (examples: “Ringo For President”, “My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut”). The controversy stems from my cover for the LP, a group portrait of fans at a Beatlemania convention.

Depicted is a complete range of Beatles fans: a wide-eyed nostalgic, there because of her affection for the lovable mop-tops and their music; the greedy dealer who could care less about The Beatles (but cares lots about money!); a guy who had his 15 minutes of fame because he looked like Ringo Starr; a little girl too young to be a First Wave Beatles fan but who doesn’t want to miss out on any of the fun; a guitar player hoping some of the magic will rub off on him if he owns an original piece of a Beatles instrument; and the rest of the assorted folk who make up these friendly gatherings.

The fans stand behind a large banner embellished with lettering that reads “We Love You Beatles!” The banner is being held by two young men.

One of them is Mark David Chapman, the alleged (“alleged” because at the time this was written there had not been a trial) assassin of John Lennon.

Because of this, many stores are stocking the record in your good ol’ “plain brown wrappers”. These are the few stores that haven’t refused to stock them at all.

I will not attempt to explain the black humor behind the cover concept because attempts to dissect such humor always evaporate that fragile vapor of funniness.

Instead, let me give you my serious reasons for producing what Cashbox magazine described as “the sickest cover design concept seen in quite a while”.

When I had decided that the cover design was to be a scene at a Beatlemania convention, the thought of putting Lennon’s alleged assassin on the cover streaked through my mind.

“My god,” I exclaimed to one of my studio mates, “wouldn’t that be the absolute worst in bad taste?”

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized one terrible truth: in the darkest depths of the thing called Fandom, Mark David Chapman is the ultimate Beatles fan. He collected (and in his mind — according to psychiatrists at the time — he became) one of The Beatles. Chapman completes the range of fans shown on the cover.

This observation compelled me morally to include Chapman and present him as a cautionary warning to hardcore fans everywhere (it was only the hard-core fans who recognized Chapman — the president of Rhino Records didn’t even realize whose idiot grin that was). It is my sincere hope that fans who might see a bit of Chapman in themselves reevaluate their obsession in terms closer to reality. At the risk of sounding obvious to non-fans: Musicians aren’t really gods here on earth in human form. Show these people you admire respect by purchasing their products but not by intruding upon their lives — their fair share of breathing room.

Now I have to confess that in my art school days John Lennon was my guide to sartorial splendor and that to this day I maintain a complete collection of his recorded works. But I never believed that the arrogance of an intrusion by this fan would enhance his life.

The folks most upset by the cover, of course, are the humorless lot that do see a bit — or more? — of Chapman inside their own obsessive little heart-of-hearts.

The rabid would-be Chapmans can take heart. In an unprecedented move by a previously brave little company, BeatleSongs is being reissued with the back cover of Beatles paraphernalia now as the front cover image. I have refused to alter Chapman’s face as requested by Rhino records so my art will not appear on the back cover — nor anywhere else within the album’s new packaging.

The BeatleSongs cover was created out of anger, a sense of loss and a sense of John’s own sardonic humor.

A friend of mine went into a six-month depression upon the assassination of John Lennon. When I showed him the BeatleSongs cover, he looked at it and replied with a statement that puts to rest in my mind any arguments over taste: “It’s so true.”

2008 update:
In retrospect, this 1982 release that I wrote seems extremely self-absorbed and overwrought. I don’t know — maybe it had something to do with the death threats! I still love the cover, though, and consider it one of my best works.

Because the LP was pulled from circulation and the remaining covers were destroyed, BeatleSongs has, of course, become a collector’s item, regularly changing hands in recent times for about $250 each (I stashed away two boxes of them in anticipation of their collectability).

Over the years I heard through some pretty reliable sources in the music industry grapevine (since I never have personally met her I don’t know whether this is actually true or apocryphal) that when Yoko Ono was shown the cover she broke into a smile and said, “John would have loved this! This was his favorite kind of humor!”

Here’s a BeatleSongs Cover Identification Guide:
Back row (from L to R): A fan wearing The Walrus costume from Magical Mystery Tour; Self portrait by William Stout, wearing a Help! scarf; winner of the Ringo look-alike contest; giant beetle; Beatles balloons with caricatures from The Beatles TV cartoon show; convention security cop.

Front row (from L to R): Nowhere Man, clinging to the fat ass of Mark David Chapman (the fan who collected one of The Beatles); neo-hippy prepubescent second generation Beatles fan dressed in 60s flower power garb; female John Lennon fan (somewhat similar in features to Stout’s wife) clutching two Beatles dolls; baby fathered by one of The Beatles (or so claims the memorabilia dealer); avaricious Beatles memorabilia dealer; male John fan in John’s In His Own Write period garb; hippy in Sgt. Pepper uniform; someone’s dog.

Items of interest on the floor (from L to R): Copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (found on Chapman at the time of his arrest); Beatles bass drum head; sheet music; Beatles collector cards; yellow submarine; half-eaten hot dog; acid sugar cubes; matchbox, pills and joints; cracked Beatles LPs and 45s; old issue of Rolling Stone; John’s glasses as they appeared on the ground at the time of his assassination; hypodermic needle; The Beatles’ infamous “butcher cover”.