Stout annotations are all in italics.
SUPERHEROES AND WORK-FOR-HIRE
STOUT: 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).
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.
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.
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.