ARCUDI: You moved then on to your relationship with the Firesign Theatre after the bootleg stuff.
STOUT: That came about at roughly the same time. A friend of mine, Dave Gibson, the guy who published the notorious Spirit bags, got permission from theFiresign Theatre to collect a series of Firesign newsletters called The Mixville Rocket and publish them all in one book. Dave asked me if I would do the cover. I drew a cover that to me epitomized visually what the Firesign Theatre meant to me aurally.
As I recall, the “Mixville” font and design came from “Superboy”, probably because of my associating Mixville with Superboy’s Smallville.
I saw the Firesign Theatre as an aural version of Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad comics. Instead of having eyeball kicks, they had all of these little, subtle, layered gags for your ear.
ARCUDI: You’re going to have to explain “eyeball kicks.”
STOUT: It’s a Kurtzman expression. In the early Mad comics, you’d have your normal funny story going on. But in addition to the main story being told there would also be all of these little gags that both Wood and Elder would stick in the panels that had nothing or little to do with the story. Corny gags, funny signs, running gags, funny little characters and people commenting on what was going on. Will Elder, especially, was the master at this. Kurtzman called those “eyeball kicks.” The effect of the eyeball kicks was that you could read the story once, and then you could read it again and catch something new. In fact, every time you read it you’d see something new because those guys packed each panel with so many funny little items and gags.
So, the Firesign Theatre was the first, and to my mind the only, comedy group that produced comedy for records that once you heard it the first time, you could go back a second time and a third time and a fourth time and get new stuff each time you listened to it because their material was so densely packed with comic information. It wasn’t like listening to Bill Cosby or even Richard Pryor. They’re really funny the first time but you can’t listen to their records five times in a row and find something new and funny revealed each time. I thought here’s a chance to sort of reflect in art what I got from them.
ARCUDI: I guess maybe I should explain that Firesign Theatre was a comedy group.
STOUT: They were a comedy group based in Los Angeles, an outgrowth of an experimental radio show that was live from the Magic Mushroom, a Los Angeles rock nightclub. The show began as Peter Bergman’s show. He pulled friends into it and it evolved into a four-man comedy group (Bergman, Phil Austin, David Ossman and Phil Proctor) that produced record albums. They also did live performances, too, of some of their material. It was definitely a phenomenon of the pop culture of that generation, really extraordinary stuff.
At their peak, the Firesign Theatre were considered The Beatles of comedy. I can’t emphasize enough how huge they were in their realm. When Monty Python’s Flying Circus was first exposed to an American audience, they were initially considered the British Firesign Theatre.
At that time, each successive LP sold more than the prior one. They peaked in sales withWe’re All Bozos on This Bus. Then the guys made a grave tactical error. They released Dear Friends as the follow-up to Bozos. Dear Friends was a mishmash of old stuff and lots of Shakespeare satires and take-offs. It was not typical of any of their prior work. It disappointed fans and sold poorly, really damaging their career at a crucial time when they coulds have made the leap to television that way that Monty Python had. In addition, like in a rock band, the guys were starting to get tired of each other.Phil Austin complained to me that he knew the guys so well that he knew what they were going to say before they said it.
The Firesign split into two factions: Proctor & Bergman and Austin & Ossman. Both produced comedy LPs. I drew the ads for an incredible Austin & Ossman live show, Radio Laffs of 1940, one of the best things any of the Firesign guys ever did.
But Dear Friends and the split between the guys had done its damage. They lost most of their career momentum as a team.
I worked on my very first movie with the Firesign Theatre. I created props and set dressing for their movie Everything You Know is Wrong. I also appeared as an extra. in the blue moss party scene. It was great fun! We made the film in a kind of backwards fashion. They recorded the LP first; then, we shot the film to the soundtrack. The movie is now available on DVD.
In creating the cover for the Mixville Rocket, I got to meet the Firesign guys, sit in on some of their recording sessions and watch the process of how their stuff came about. We became friends. The Firesign really expanded my comedy horizons when one night Phil Austin invited me over to watch a 16 mm print of the Preston Sturges comedy The Great McGinty. Harry Shearer was there that night, as well as Peter Bergman. It was my first exposure to Sturges and I wanted more. His movie Sullivan’s Travels is in my Top Ten List of the greatest films of all time.
I was very happy that the Firesign not only knew about Kurtzman but considered Harvey a seminal influence on the group and their humor. They loved my Mixville Rocket cover and asked me if I would do their next album cover, which was In the Next World, You’re on Your Own. I did a double front cover for it, so it didn’t matter which way the record was placed in the rack – each side was a front cover.
I did it in that same style, just really packed with all kinds of comic information based upon all of the stuff that was in the album. That was my first exposure to Columbia Records and Nancy Donald, who was the art director at Columbia at the time. The Firesign guys fought Columbia’s resistance to using me. Columbia asked, “Who is this kid?” I was unknown in the mainstream music world (I kept my work on bootlegs a secret from the legitimate record companies). Columbia asked, “Does this kid know anything about what it takes to make a commercial album cover?
One example: I knew to always put the title and recording artist’s name at the top of the album cover, so that it could always be easily seen in a record bin.
Nancy was delighted with what I brought in and Columbia was relieved. She began to give me other work. That Firesign cover gig launched my legitimate album cover career.
I did lots of work for Firesign. I’m still getting T-shirt royalties from the guys. Not too long after working on Everything You Know Is Wrong, I got hired to work on Conan the Barbarian. John Milius was the director. We were sharing offices with Steven Spielberg. Kathleen Kennedy was our receptionist when I began. Talk about being in the right place at the right time…my film career shot off like a rocket. I was suddenly part of a very exclusive club — the club that nearly everyone in or outside The Biz wanted to be in. It caused a little friction between me and Firesign. I still loved the guys but my film career was leaving their own film career aspirations (especially Phil Austin’s) in the dust. Phil and I then had an argument in regards to T-shirt royalties. We had a joint copyright agreement with the work I did for them back then. We split the royalties five ways (between me and the four guys).
The T-shirts were so successful that we were being ripped off by a midwestern T-shirt company. We sued and won — but Phil did not want to give me my fifth of the settlement. He insisted that he came up with the ideas for the T-shirts (which he did — but I drew them and added my own touches), so the settlement should be all his (or shared with the other three Firesign guys; it was never clear). I insisted on my share, which really pissed him off. In actuality, the copyright on the work was shared by me and the Firesign Theatre. I had 50% ownership, so I could have asked for half the settlement — but I didn’t. I only asked for a fifth, which I thought was fair. Phil had to give in (without my participation, there would have been no settlement), but it soured our relationship for several years. I am so happy that, eventually, we patched things up. I love those guys.
ARCUDI: Other work besides Firesign Theatre?
STOUT: Yeah; I did a cover for a group called Smash, for Capitol. Obvious Jack Kirby influence on this one. I recall having to threaten the art director to get paid.I think Bill Wray may have helped with the coloring. That color scheme doesn’t look like one of mine.
The Beach Boys’ L. A. Album cover for Columbia consisted of postcards for each song, each created by one of L. A.’s best illustrators. I did “Goin’ South”.
I drew a lot of Columbia stuff that didn’t make it to the final pressing, like covers for Chicago and jazz great Dexter Gordon.
I did one cover in a quasi-Little Annie Fanny style for a group called the Bliss Band, which Skunk Baxter (from Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers) produced.
The Bliss Band sounded very much like Steely Dan. Excellent album. Their leader, Paul Bliss, is now the keyboard player for The Moody Blues. For the release of the album, Nancy Donald and Columbia threw a huge party which included a full-sized recreation of my cover and Mexican food for all the attendees.
ARCUDI: The Rhino stuff came later, but this seems as good a time as any to talk about it, especially since we can talk about your cover for that Beatles compilation with Mark David Chapman on the cover. Did the relationship that you had with Rhino grow out of that, or did it grow more organically out of later professional work?
STOUT: No. It came out of a completely different place. It somehow came out of my being a comics fan. Here’s what happened: There was a guy who wrote regular letters to comics, and his name was Fred Bronson. He was based in Los Angeles. His letters were regularly published in the Flash and Green Lantern letters columns, mostly the Julie Schwartz books. It was an easy name to remember and kind of stuck in my brain. Cut to: five years later; I’m reading the L.A. Free Press or some local music magazine, and there was a really good article, review or letter in reference to The Yardbirds. It was signed Harold Bronson. By that time, I had forgotten “Fred” but I remembered “Bronson.” I thought, “This is the same guy who was a comics fan. Hey, he’s a Yardbirds fan just like me!” So I wrote him a letter. It was a case of mistaken identity, but Harold Bronson, the Yardbirds fan, was happy to find another Yardbirds fan. We got together, we met and we hit it off.
Harold was, at the time, working in the music industry in two functions. During the day he worked at Rhino Records, which was a very hip, funny record shop in Westwood. In the evening, he would do interviews and write reviews and articles for rock and roll music magazines. This was the hey-day of that occupation; for every new release the record companies would throw a gigantic spread, an enormous feast with all kinds of food and entertainment and stuff. Harold would invite me along because he knew I liked (and needed) to eat and loved free food.
Eventually, I went along with Harold on some of the interviews as well, because a lot of the management of the rock musicians wanted to start controlling the photographs of them that got out to the public. They wouldn’t allow photographers at the interview sessions. I would come along and do drawings of the guys.
ARCUDI: Like a courtroom artist.
STOUT: Exactly. They thought that was really cool to see someone sit there with a blank piece of paper and minutes later during the course of the conversation there would be a drawing or picture of them. They thought that was great; they had no reason to object to that. So I got to meet a lot of different rock stars that way. The drawings would often be published along with Harold’s interviews. My most memorable interviews were with Arthur Brown and BeBop Deluxe.
Then Harold and his fellow co-worker at the Rhino Records store, Richard Foos, got an idea. They were frustrated musicians. They thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to put out our own record?” So they did it – and it sold out! They put out another – and it sold out, too! They did wacky stuff. One of very first things they did was a 45 of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, except played on kazoos. Well, it was a local smash. That one sold out, too, and got a lot of airplay. This was so fun, so cool.
When they did their first record, they called me up and said, “We want to put out a record and call our company Rhino Records. Could you do us a logo of a rhino to put on the record label?” So I did a cartoon rhino, which became the Rocky Rhino that everyone associates with Rhino Records, the very first Rocky Rhino.
He was on the label of all their early records. And that was the acorn from which the mighty oak tree of Rhino Records, as we know it today, grew. I did a lot of their early covers since we were both heavily into music and humor.
Rhino always had this sort of humorous, wise-guy attitude toward the record industry; it was a natural that they would eventually sign on the Firesign Theatre. We re-used a T-shirt design I had done for the Firesign Theatre for one of their the album covers:
I also adapted the Mixville Rocket design into an album cover for their Firesign album Lawyer’s Hospital. Firesign rewrote the word balloon dialogue for the cover of that one. That was how Rhino, and Firesign Theatre, and I all got reconnected.
ARCUDI: Obviously, before we move on you’re going to have to elaborate about inking a Jack Kirby Demon issue.
STOUT: Mike Royer was Jack’s inker at the time and wanted a vacation. He called me and asked if I’d help him out. I knew Mike because he was the inker previous to me with Russ Manning on the Tarzan strips. Mike also sold me my first airbrushes and compressor. I jumped at the chance to ink Jack Kirby. I thought the experience would be great. I’d never seen Kirby’s pencils, either; I was dying to see what he penciled like. I figured they’d be really loose, because I’d heard how fast he was. I drove over to Mike’s house in Whittier where I set up in his studio. I inked side by side with Mike as we listened to tapes of old radio shows from Mike’s collection.
I was astounded to see that Jack pencils were really very tight. Everything was there; it was just beautiful, beautiful stuff. All I had to do was cover it with ink and that was it. Maybe use a ruler here and there. I learned a lot about storytelling looking at Jack’s stuff; not so much from the action stuff, but in the way he handled his quiet passages. He was a real master at evoking a quiet, interesting psychological mood with his characters in a way that made them seem like real people. There’s a quiet dignity to that work that I think speaks a lot about what Jack was like as a person. None of that stuff ever felt like it was just a job to him, from the reader’s point of view. It all felt that he was personally and passionately involved.
Mike gave me a choice. I could either ink a Demon or a Kamandi. I chose TheDemon because I like monsters. There also were fewer machines in TheDemon than there were in Kamandi. I find drawing technical stuff slow and tedious. I’ll do almost anything to avoid using a ruler. With The Demon, it was mostly organic stuff. If there was a castle, it was a crumbling castle. So The Demon was the obvious choice. I think it was The Demon #15. That was so cool getting to ink Jack’s stuff.
I learned from Mike, too. Mike Royer is an amazing inker (I consider Mike and Joe Sinnott to be Kirby’s best inkers). I’ve never in my life seen a guy with such machine-like control and precision. In one robotic sweep of his brush Mike could smoothly ink a perfect arc of a line that spanned nearly the entire width of a page. I learned more about dedication and perfectionism from Mike and I picked up more than a few licks from him about lettering as well. Royer lettered for Russ Manning and continued that task on all of Kirby’s books. Mike also taught me valuable collectors’ tips, like the importance of stocking pristine batches of multiple copies of your own work.
My work wasn’t as crisp as Mike would have liked it. He was too much of a gentleman to say so, but the slight winces I caught as he visually scanned each finished page of mine and the occasional whirr of the electric eraser over my crudities both served to keep my ego in check. I’d done a pretty decent job, but it wasn’t perfect!
I had other involvement as well with Jack. I was doing a lot of advertising and package design and illustration at the time for Mattel. They called me in wanting me to do a whole batch of packaging for this new series of toys that were superhero-esque. I looked at the style samples for the stuff they wanted me to do; they had doctored copies of Jack Kirby’s comic book work. Basically, they wanted me to ape Jack Kirby.
Jack had recently moved to our neck of the woods from New York, actually up near where my mom lives. I looked at this stuff and said, “Why don’t you go to the source and just get the guy who created this entire style?” As a moral human being I just couldn’t take this kind of work away from Jack. I knew that it was going to pay so much better than what Jack was making in comics. Why shouldn’t Jack get the work? He originated that whole style. He should be getting some of the benefits from that. I said, “Here’s Jack’s number. Call Kirby and give him the job.” “Are you nuts? Do you know how much money you’re turning down?” “Sure; I know what you guys pay me. Please…call Jack.”
I couldn’t believe they expected I would readily steal from Jack Kirby. I didn’t take the job and, again, emphasized that they call Jack. Eventually, I saw that Mattel came to their ethical senses and did the right thing: they hired Jack.
Months later I ran into Jack at Comic-Con.
“How did that Mattel gig work out for you?”
Jack’s eyes went wide.
“YOU?” he exclaimed. “You were the guy who got me that job?”
Jack’s eyes welled up with tears.
“When I got that call I was at rock bottom; I had no work. We had just moved to L. A. I didn’t have any clients or publishers here and didn’t know how I was going to support my family or make our house payments. That call from Mattel came in and saved my life. Not only was it work, but I never made so much money in my life. Comics never paid that well. Thank you, Bill. You saved me.”
He paused, thought and looked back up at me.
“But why didn’t you take the job? It was a lot of money.”
“I would have felt horrible. It would have been like stealing from one of my heroes. You deserved that job more than anyone, Jack.”
I’ve been on the opposite side of that situation. Sadly, several of my “fans”, protégés and guys I thought were my friends showed no such ethics towards me. Some have actually stolen (or tried to steal) work from me. What’s that old saying? “No good deed goes unpunished.” But they have to live with themselves; I don’t.
ARCUDI: Did you meet Jack through Mike Royer?
STOUT: No. I think the first time I met him was at a comic book convention where he appeared as a guest. It may have been a local L.A. convention, or it may have been the very first San Diego Comic Con; 1969, I believe. I know we were together at that first San Diego ComicCon, as we were two of the guests, along with Mike. We all did a chalk talk together. People asked us to draw stuff on these big drawing pads; we’d just do them on the spot. “Draw Thor!” And I’d say, “Oh, sure.” It was weird – I’d never drawn Thor in my life, except when I was a teenager! We would draw the character and then give the drawing away to whomever had suggested the character to draw.
I got to know Jack a little better back in the day because Jack and I were then both from Southern California, so we got invited to a lot of local shows. After The Demon I worked on had been published, I figured it was finally okay to tell Jack that I had ghosted some of that issue for Mike. His only reaction was, “You must be good; I couldn’t tell the difference.” We saw each other off and on at conventions, and occasionally at social outings. His wife Roz had a private birthday party for him for one of Jack’s major landmark birthdays. I can’t remember if it was the 60th or 70th. I stood up and told Jack about what his work meant to me in my life and stuff.
It took me a while to warm up to Marvel back in the mid-1960s because it was so radically different in its visual style as opposed to the work that was coming out of DC.
ARCUDI: And you were still conservative.
STOUT: And I was a conservative. It was so different from everything I’d seen from D.C., which was really slick stuff. And here was this Steve Ditko guy drawing what I considered to be cartoons of people. And the Kirby stuff seemed unruly compared to the sublime sophistication of Infantino. But I began to look at them and to read them; it was Jack’s and Steve’s great stories and the way that they visually told them that really sucked me in and made me appreciate their art. Soon I became a huge collector of all of this stuff. I just fell in love with that whole type of storytelling, with Jack’s style and with Steve’s style. They became huge influences on my work, augmenting what I’d learned from Kane and Infantino. I tried to combine the best of all of the above, which was a really odd combo. I’m still trying to.
The thing I really loved about Ditko is that he drew the weirdest comic books that have ever been drawn. There were these “hot” artists later, not to take anything away from them, I’m thinking of Neal Adams and Frank Brunner in particular, who did these wild comic book pages where the panel borders would bend and twist so that if you stood back the whole page made a giant face or something. They would do everything they could to make their comics weird. But then here was Steve Ditko; he would work within a standard six-rectangular-panels-per-page-grid comics format and do stuff ten times weirder than that other stuff that tried so hard to be weird!
When I got to New York to work with Kurtzman and Elder, I immediately looked up Steve Ditko in the phone book. There it was…”Ditko, Steve – Artist”. “He really exists!” I never called him, of course. I was aware of his need for privacy, plus, I just didn’t want to bother him or take him away from his work. Jonathan Ross and Neil Gaiman made a great documentary:Searching for Steve Ditko. Check it out!
It was like Ditko was tapping directly into some God-knows-what portion of his inner spinal fibers to produce these mind-bending images that I don’t think anybody has topped to this day.
ARCUDI: No. And that’s interesting, because if you’ve ever met Steve, he’s an ultra-conservative Libertarian.
STOUT: That kind of makes sense to me. Because if you look through history, you’ll find that most of the real twisted or weird people had very conservative appearances or backgrounds. It’s all about repression. I mean, look at Ted Bundy. Look at the Victorians; groups like the Hell Fire Club. Dick Cheney, Richard Ashcroft – totally sick.
ARCUDI: But you don’t want to equate Steve Ditko with a Ted Bundy.
STOUT: Ditko, no. The others, yes. What I’m saying is that I think creativity can be a great avenue of escape for the repressed.
ARCUDI: Before we get into the movie poster stuff, we have to talk about the bootleg records. How did that start?
STOUT: My favorite record store in Hollywood was a little shop called Record Paradise. I used to buy all of my records there. One of the things they carried in the store were bootleg record albums. Bootlegs, for those readers who don’t know, were usually made thusly: A person would go to a rock concert, bring a little Sony tape recorder, record the concert, the next day go to a pressing plant and then press 100 to 500 copies of the concert based on those tapes. Pretty crappy sound quality usually, but it was a kind of cool souvenir remembrance of the concert.
Initially, they were just sold on street corners. At first, bootleg albums had white covers rubber-stamped with a title. Guys would have a bundle of them under their arms. “Hey, you want the new Led Zeppelin concert?” “Sure!” They were ten bucks.
Bootleg albums became suddenly much more prominent when Rolling Stone reviewed the Rolling Stones bootleg LIVEr Than You’ll Ever Be, claiming it was even better than the official live Stones release at the time, Get Your Ya Yas Out. To this day, there has never been a better version of “Midnight Rambler” than the one on LIVEr.
Soon, Record Paradise began carrying bootlegs in their bins. I had just been to a Led Zeppelin concert; I knew there was going to be a bootleg of it — I saw lots of guys taping the show! I was really looking forward to it. The record came in and I went, “Oh, man. This cover’s so bad. The band deserves better than that. I wish they’d gotten me to do the cover.” A guy tapped me on the shoulder and he said, “You wanna do bootleg covers?” I go, “Yeah.” He handed me a little note-sized sheet of paper with a date, an address, and a time. He said, “Meet me there. Be alone.” Then he disappeared. He left the store. I thought, “Well, this guy’s mysterious!”
At 8:00 PM on a Friday night I stood at the corner of Franklin and Las Palmas – not the best neighborhood in the world, but not as dangerous as it is now. This coupe with smoked windows pulled up; the windows rolled down just a crack and some fingers pushed out a sheet of paper. I took the sheet of paper; it said, Rolling Stones Winter Tour followed by a list of songs. A voice inside said, “Same place. Same time. Two weeks.” Then they drove away. I went, “Huh.” I drove home and I drew my first bootleg cover.
It was an homage to Robert Crumb’s Cheap Thrillscover, with a comic illustration for each of the songs.
I changed the title from Winter Tour to All Meat Music. I went back two weeks later, Friday, eight o’clock. The car drives up, the window cracks, and it’s like mailing a letter. I stick the art through the slot and a $50 bill came out in its place; then they drove away. Eventually the bootleggers felt that they could trust me and I started to meet them face-to-face. We became good friends. Their company was called Trademark of Quality, or TMQ. I began to slowly hold them to their name, pushing for an increase of quality in the product they were putting out.
There was one bootleg I did for The Who, called Who’s Zoo that John Entwistle, the bass player for The Who, saw.
ARCUDI: That’s the Animal Crackers cover, right?
STOUT: Yeah. I made it look like an Animal Crackers box. John looked at the tracks and thought, “Oh, my god. I didn’t realize we had so much stuff that has never been collected on an album.” So John put out Odds and Sods, a legitimate Who release of rarities and collectibles. Just a couple of years ago when The Who were about to re-release Odds and Sods on CD as a newly re-mastered version with bonus tracks, they asked for permission to use my Jack Kirby-style Who bootleg cover as the image on the CD’s picture disk. I was like, “Whoa. Of course!”
ARCUDI: In spite of the fact that you were mimicking a lot of stuff, I think that cover especially, Tales From The Who, not the Jack Kirby one, that’s where you start to see the Stout style really start to gel.
STOUT: I think you might be right. Not so much in the earlier boots, except maybe the first. That other Who LP was drawn Kirby-style because I had just inked a Jack Kirby Demon. Usually you can tell what I was working on at the time with the bootleg covers, because they tended to reflect whatever I happened to be doing at the time.
WILLIAM STOUT: Yep. My dad was Mormon. He had to convert to Catholicism to marry my mom. I was born in Salt Lake City on the way back to L.A. from Idaho, which was where my dad was from.
ARCUDI: You grew up where?
STOUT: In Los Angeles, in a little town called Reseda, the absolute hottest part of the San Fernando Valley. One year, Reseda had the record for the highest temperature in the world. I think it was 137 degrees. I remember doing something I’d always heard about on that day: frying eggs on the sidewalk. [pause] They actually wouldn’t fry on the sidewalk, but they fried quite well on the hot black asphalt of my street.
STOUT: Yeah, the Valley was really interesting back then. It was rural. There were a lot of wild parts. I was right next to the L.A. River where I could go down and catch crawdads, fish and bullfrogs. We regularly had toad invasions — they’d suddenly appear by the hundreds on the streets and yards in our neighborhood — and I caught buckets of crawdads in the L. A. River, which was just a block away from my house. I would also play in the storm drains that were a prominent location in Them).
There were all kinds of open fields with a huge variety of bird and other wildlife that is now all gone. I’ve been a nature nut all my life.
ARCUDI: What do you think was the initial inspiration for you to start putting pencil to paper? Do you really have any clear recollection of that?
STOUT: It was the response I got from my mom and dad, the magic that by producing drawings I was able to make them laugh. That spurred me on and gave me a curious comfort. Later on it was the response I got from my schoolmates and some of my teachers — not all of my teachers, though. I was in an experimental education program for “gifted” kids. I had several teachers in fifth grade. One of them, Mr. DeRoo, gave me a “D” in art!
ARCUDI: But they were mostly positive experiences you had at school?
STOUT: Absolutely. In fact, my dinosaur book, THE DINOSAURS – A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era, is dedicated to one of my other fifth grade teachers, Mr. Elliot Wittenberg, my favorite teacher in elementary school. I believe he was the one who actually put me on the path to art. One time he caught me drawing in class when I should have been listening. He took what could have been a negative and turned it into a positive.
Instead of getting angry with me for not paying attention he looked at the drawings and asked if I had any more at home. Gary Best, my best friend at that time, piped up and said, “Oh, man. Yeah. You should see it. He has a whole book full of his monster drawings at home that he’s drawing.” Which was true. I had a Cub Scout scrapbook full of monster drawings: Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman; that kind of stuff. Mr. Wittenberg asked me to bring it in the next day. I bashfully agreed. About five or ten minutes later, I realized that he thought the book was going to be full of dinosaurs — not movie monsters. So after school that day I spent the entire rest of the afternoon and evening filling the remainder of the book with dinosaur pictures so that he wouldn’t be disappointed. I brought it in the next day. From that moment on he gave me all kinds of extra-curricular artwork to do in class. I really credit him with putting me on the path to being an artist.
ARCUDI: Especially gearing you towards dinosaurs.
STOUT: More so, really, in human anatomy; he knew I wanted to be a doctor, so he had me drawing cross sections of the human eye and ear, the skeletal system, the muscular system…I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was teaching myself human anatomy.
I still love drawing monsters. Terra Nova Press has published two sketchbooks of mine just on monsters; two more are in the works (There are now six Monsters Sketchbookvolumes).
ARCUDI: Now this was from going to monster movies?
STOUT: Going to the movies, and having a mom who was a total monster movie freak, having a dad who was a big sci-fi movie fan. When I say we went to the movies a lot, I mean typically three times a week, sometimes more. Sometimes five. That was back when they showed double bills, newsreels, trailers and loads of cartoons before the feature films. So, that’s six to ten movies a week at our local theaters. Then, on Saturdays, my mom would drop off my brothers and I at the Reseda “walk-in”, where we’d see two more movies.
My mom loved horror movies and musicals. My dad loved science fiction movies and westerns. I saw everything in all four genres.
ARCUDI: That’s a combo: Horror movies and musicals! I’m sure that people have commented how unusual that is, to have a mother interested in horror movies.
STOUT: That was her escape from her tough Dickensian life when she was a little kid. She didn’t have the most idyllic childhood; she’d go to the movies to get away from life and to experience another world on the screen.
ARCUDI: As you got older other outside influences of art began to enter into your life. Who were your earliest art influences?
STOUT:For one year, when I was in third grade, my family lived in the oil-producing town of El Segundo — my mom referred to it as “El Stinko” because of the smell emanating daily from the oil refinery. The aroma never bothered me. I played in the gigantic sand dunes that were between El Segundo and the Pacific Ocean. I chased huge jackrabbits and was chased myself by gigantic tumbleweeds. I spent most of my free time at the El Segundo Public Library where I would bury myself in William Scheele‘s three prehistoric life books — one on dinosaurs, one on prehistoric mammals and one on prehistoric man.
I spent nearly all of my free time, as I did while living in Reseda, at the public library. Bill Scheele’s books were wonderful; they were filled with really lively charcoal drawings. I consumed those drawings with my eyes. I later met and became good friends with Bill and his sons.
It was while I was living in El Segundo that I began reading Classics Illustrated, which often led me to reading the original novels the comics were based upon.
This was also the time when the Shock Theater package arrived to television, my first exposure to the classic Universal horror movies)
The first actual artists, though, that I really started to copy and who dramatically affected my art were Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane. I was a big silver age D. C. fan; I loved Kane’s Atom and Green Lantern, and I loved Infantino’s Flash and Adam Strangestories, especially when they were inked by Murphy Anderson. I thought those guys were the best things going in comics. Really good choices, as it turned out. When I started drawing my own comics, I used to swipe their work a lot. I was in junior high, about 14 at the time.
ARCUDI: Had you conceived of a career in comics at that point? Or was it just for fun?
STOUT: No, I did comics for fun; I was determined to be a doctor. I was a science/math major all the way up until my last year of high school. Actually, that really helped me as an artist. I continued to do all of the drawings of the muscle system, the skeletal system and the circulatory system that I mentioned earlier and got a pretty early introduction to human anatomy when I was a kid.
ARCUDI: I’m curious where the doctor came from. Was this purely your intent, or was this something that your parents had sort of nudged you along in?
STOUT: Nope. My parents were smart enough to never push me in any career direction. It’s to their credit that when I switched from medicine to art as a career choice, they didn’t totally flip out.
ARCUDI: That begs a question. What changed your mind?
STOUT: It was moving to a new school for my last two years of high school. We moved from Reseda, where I’d spent a year at Reseda High School, a terrific high school with outstanding teachers, to Thousand Oaks High School, which was absolutely abysmal when it came to education. I had a couple decent teachers, but for the most part the teachers seemed to be there only because they were on tenure. They certainly didn’t seem to care about teaching the kids. It was an atrocious school system as well. Reseda was in L.A. County and Thousand Oaks was Ventura County. In Thousand Oaks we were forced to have the same teachers all year long instead of breaking up the year into two semesters with a new set of teachers and classes each term like they do in Los Angeles. So, if you had a bad teacher, you had a bad teacher for an entire year, and man, I had a lot of bad teachers at T. O. High.
That experience really turned me off to the academic learning experience, plus, I felt I wasn’t getting taught anything. I thought I’d be at a distinct disadvantage once I got to college, having spent the last two years falling behind at this horrible school. T. O. High tried to enforce school spirit. Attendance at pep rallies was mandatory. The school authorities used to penalize me for not going to the pep rallies! I had no interest in their sports programs whatsoever, so I would spend that time in the library studying, learning, trying to educate myself — and I got detention for that!
I thought, “My god! If college is going to be anything at all like this, then ‘Include me out,'” as Jack Warner once said. I thought, “What else is there that I like to do? Well, I like to draw.” I started investigating going to art school. There were basically two art schools at the time in L.A. In reality there were three at the time (Otis was the third) but the two that really meant anything were the Chouinard Art Institute, also known as California Institute of the Arts (CalArts); the other was the Art Center College of Design. My aunt, Phyllis Benson, God bless her, lived nearby. She was both a math teacher and an art teacher. I had her for algebra in junior high; outstanding teacher. She was nice enough to take me on tours of both schools. She kind of nudged me toward Chouinard, which turned out to be a fabulous choice, the perfect choice for me. I think that at that time it was probably the best art school in the country. Chouinard had a completely different approach from Art Center. Art Center was a sort of art factory — “You must all draw this way!” — that produced hundreds of versions of the same illustrator; every graduate had the same distinct Art Center style: very competent and commercial. It almost guaranteed you a fairly good income as an illustrator. Whereas at Chouinard, the faculty took a look at what you were doing as an artist on an individual basis and then gave you the tools and showed you the thought process you needed to become better in the direction you were heading. They didn’t push any one style on anyone. They were more focused on developing your individual potential as a unique artist. The wisdom at the time was that if you graduated from Chouinard you either became a gas station attendant or world famous.
ARCUDI: That was forward thinking, especially for then. To this day a lot of art schools still follow the other approach.
STOUT: Oh, the old Art Center method is so much easier to teach. Here, don’t think — just draw like this. Another reason I chose to go to Chouinard was that one of my junior high school art idols went there — Rick Griffin went there for a short time.
For those who don’t know, Rick Griffin was one of the original Zap comix guys and the creator of Murphy the Surfer for Surfer magazine. Murphy was culturally gigantic in mid-1960s Southern California. I’ve lost count of how many Murphys I drew on my pals’ notebook covers.
The scene at that time I entered art school was exhilarating. You have to understand this was Los Angeles in the late ’60s/early ’70s, an unbelievable time to be going to a progressive art school. The music scene alone was so inspiring. I entered Chouinard during the Summer of Love, 1967. That year saw the release of Sergeant Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, the first two Jimi Hendrix albums, the first two Doors albums, the first two Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention albums; three albums each from the Mamas and the Papas, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Donovan and Otis Redding; Aretha Franklin‘s first two seminal Atlantic LP’s, two albums each by the Hollies, Animals, Spencer Davis, Small Faces and The Kinks; debut albums from Buffalo Springfield, Traffic, Pink Floyd and Big Brother and the Holding Company; Disraeli Gears by Cream, Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane — and I haven’t even touched the slightly more obscure stuff! This all came out in just that one year! The live music scene itself was just as extraordinary. One of the concerts I saw opened with Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, followed by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, followed by the original Steve Miller Band with Boz Scaggs; the headliners were The Who. Each band played two sets each. It was $2.50 in advance; $3.00 at the door. The place was only half full and I could get as close as I wanted to the stage. It was like that week after week after week.
ARCUDI: You got a scholarship to Chouinard, right?
STOUT: Yes, I got perfect scores on my SAT’s. It never felt that way, but in retrospect, my family was desperately poor. The SAT scores and our financial situation qualified me for a full California State Scholarship to the university of my choice. I chose Chouinard. Much to the horror of my classmates, I might add, who said, “You idiot! You could have picked Yale or Harvard!”
Better Chouinard for me than Harvard or Yale. Let me set the scene here: The animation department at CalArts was being taught by Disney’s Nine Old Men (Terry Gilliam, also from Reseda, attended Chouinard prior to me), considered the nine greatest animators who ever lived, were teaching animation there. On a drop-in basis, we’d get people like Man Ray and Chuck Jones giving impromptu lectures in our patio, was well as structured lectures, like a debate between a Communist and a John Bircher. The first Scientologists often dropped by in an attempt to recruit followers.
The fashion department was led by eight-time Academy Award winner Edith Head.
Harold Kramer, the first president of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles was the head of the Illustration department. After graduating, I studied privately with Hal for about twenty years, right up until his death.
The brutal Bill Moore was generally considered the finest design teacher in the world. I couldn’t understand a single word he said.
Don Graham taught figure drawing and composition to the Disney animators beginning in the 1932. He was one of my most beloved instructors at Chouinard.
The Ceramics department was so renowned that collectors came from all over the country for the annual Chouinard ceramics sale. Singer-songwriters Scott Walker and Jackie DeShannon both attended CalArts prior to my arrival there. Ravi Shankar headed up the music school.
I believe that at that time Chouinard was the finest art school in the country — if not the world). Chouinard was vital. To a kid who had grown up in a pretty cloistered, white bread conservative existence it was a taste of heaven. Taste… hell, it was a thousand course banquet, and all you could eat!
ARCUDI: So at this point you’re in Chouinard for a semester where you now have perceived of yourself as an artist and you’re beginning to conceive of a career in the art world.
STOUT: Only in the vaguest form. At my university I chose to major in illustration. I wanted to become a professional illustrator. I had never done professional illustration so I really didn’t know what that entailed other than the fact that I wanted to draw pictures for stories. Fortunately, at Chouinard they had this option within the illustration department. If you got any professional work while you were in school, you could turn that in in lieu of your homework. By my second year there I was getting professional work. By the last two years, nearly everything that I turned in was professional work. It made the transition from the academic school world to the real world very easy. By my fourth year I was champing at the bit to get out because the school time was taking away from my earning time. I’ve always had my eye on the buck.
ARCUDI: [Laughs.] O.K. We’ll get to that in a second. But I wanted to back track a little here because I wanted to talk about Those Loveable Peace-Nuts, which is one of the very first underground comics, right?
STOUT: Yes. One day there was a commotion in the school patio. I said, “What’s going on?” Some students said, “Oh, General Hershey Bar‘s here.” I asked, “Who’s General Hershey Bar?” I looked across the school patio and saw these two anti-war protest characters dressed up as generals. Instead of epaulets, though, they had little plastic jet planes on their shoulders. It was very absurd street theater kind of stuff. One guy called himself General Hershey Bar. The other was General Waste-more-land(real names: Calypso Joe and Tom Dunphy).
They were looking for a cartoonist because they wanted to create and sell their own comic book. I was the only guy at Chouinard who was known for loving and drawing comics, so those two characters were pointed my way. On the spot these guys proposed that I draw a comic book of their political views and adventures. They wanted it done in Charles Schulz‘s Peanuts style. Instead of Peanuts they wanted to call it “Peace-Nuts”. They would write it, I would draw it. I thought that might be fun to do. This was a Thursday and they wanted it Monday. I penciled, lettered and inked the entire book that weekend. Nevertheless, I still found time to add bits of my own humor to the book which the Generals loved. My jokes softened some of the harshness of their political message. As you can see below, my art is extremely crude in this book (crap lettering, too), which eventually was called Those Lovable Peace-Nuts.
I learned a really valuable business lesson, too, from this book. When they pitched it to me they said, “We’re going to write it and you draw it; we’ll divide the profits up by thirds. You’ll get a third of all of the profits.” Some of the cartoons ran in the Los Angeles Free Press. The comic, one of the very first underground comix, was printed quickly. This was during 1967’s “Summer of Love”; the generals did not want to miss out on sales at all of the love-ins, hence their haste. When it came time to divvy up the profits, there were none. I was told, “Hippies don’t have any money, so we’re giving way the comics for free.” Well, one third of nothing is nothing, so they kept to our agreement, a valuable business lesson learned early on: When it comes to sharing royalties, always have a per-piece minimum.
Boy, the shit storm that rained down on me after that book came out was unbelievable!
ARCUDI: At school?
STOUT: I got flack from my academic instructors who were Berkeley radicals for not remaining true to my conservative beliefs; their integrity surprised me. The other problem arose because my father worked in the aerospace industry; he totally blew it. He believed that by my having this comic book published with my name on it that he was going to be investigated and that he would lose any security clearance he had working on government projects and jobs and that he’d be fired. I was like, “Dad — It’s just a comic book!” To me it was just a job. This was my first exposure to the reality that we do not really have a free press in America. This became even clearer when I was living behind the Iron Curtain in Yugoslavia (while working on Conan the Barbarian).
ARCUDI: So you were a conservative?
STOUT: At the time. My father was a hard-core conservative Republican, and I was raised in a fairly conservative area in Reseda. A few years after my parents divorced we moved to Thousand Oaks. The second largest organization (after the Mormons) in Thousand Oaks was the John Birch Society. I was living in the Thousand Oaks area when the first Black family moved to T. O. They immediately had a huge cross burned on their front yard lawn. Disgusting!
So, I spent all of my early years living in hotbeds of conservatism. I had never really even been exposed to any other kind of ideology or thoughts. And so here I come to art school, and my academic classes are being taught by ’60s Berkeley radicals. It’s the first time I had ever even heard leftist ideas. I was like, “Whoa! I never knew people even thought this way.” I was delighted. I thought it was really fascinating that there were other ways to think. My father was totally offended with a lot of the liberal and radical academic ideas I was bringing home. I used to bring my dad’s conservative arguments back to the classroom. It created quite a stir and ruffled a few feathers. I just found it all interesting!
ARCUDI: Perhaps not this “Peace Nuts” experience in particular, but do you think the schooling and being exposed to those ideas are what ended up turning you around and making you the bleeding heart liberal that you are today?
STOUT: I see myself as a ferocious independent. I actually describe myself as a Teddy Roosevelt conservative. Teddy Roosevelt was a huge conservationist, fiscally responsible — the two are not mutually exclusive despite the rants and disinformation from Big Business — and a Republican at the same time. Or I might be considered a Barry Goldwater Republican. Goldwater was a free, independent thinker; the logic of having gays in the military and the decriminalization of drugs were no-brainers to him. He didn’t always feel compelled to tow the party line and neither do I. Although I’m a registered Republican, I am absolutely appalled by the Old Boy cronyism and absolute lack of morality within our current administration (this was during the reign of W). These are dark times, my friend (Little did I know they would get a whole lot darker). I sincerely believe Cheney and the boys are set to destroy this country, our Constitution and what they mean both to us, the world and democracy in general. Within the last year I’m ashamed to say they’ve been frighteningly successful with their rape and pillage agenda with nary a peep from our deliberately dumb-downed public.
When Ronald Reagan became the governor of California our state had the best educational system and record in the country. By the time he left office, we were third from the bottom. As President he proceeded to do the same for our educational system on a national level.
ARCUDI: Why, do you think?
STOUT: Two main reasons. One, a lot of uneducated people means more fodder for the factories, more disposable, replaceable workers for his buddies, the big corporations. But I think the single biggest reason is that a stupid populace, untrained in critical thought is much easier to manipulate than a smart one. And the wealthy will always find a way to make sure their kids get a good education. Reagan was a guy who publicly railed against Big Government — yet he quadrupled the size of our federal government while he was in office! Nobody seems to notice this apparent contradiction. Now our current chief moron has expanded government even more with his ridiculous creation of the Office of Homeland Security. Hey! Isn’t that what the FBI and the CIA are for? It’s a wacky world, my friend, when Clinton, a Democrat, severely reduces the size of our government while the chiefs of my party, the Republicans, are apparently doing their damnedest to bloat it back up in a way that would embarrass a Macy’s float. Man, don’t get me started…
ARCUDI: You talk about doing a lot of professional work in college for credit. Where did that start and what sort of stuff were you doing?
STOUT: We had a job bulletin board at school. Companies who were looking for artists but didn’t have a big budget, or companies that were were just being benevolent and wanted to give students work — those were the days — would post job offers on this bulletin board.
One afternoon I spotted a really intriguing proposition on the board. This local publishing company was having a contest among artists to do the cover for the first issue of a new magazine called Coven 13, a pulp magazine with short stories about witchcraft, the supernatural, werewolves, mummies, vampires — that kind of stuff. Fiction. I have to say that now because fundamentalist Christians get on my case and call me a Satanist for doing anything affiliated with something with the name “coven” in its title, or with witches. My first cover had both! When I saw this announcement I thought, “Wow — That’s right up my alley. I love monsters.” I submitted three entries and one of them won (two were pretty crappy. I got lucky with one, though).
The publisher’s editorial offices were just a block away from my school so I went up to visit them. I asked to see what kinds of illustrations were going to be inside the magazine. They showed me these incredibly god-awful drawings that their art editor had done. Just horrendous. I said, “How about hiring me to do the interiors as well?” They gave me a couple stories to see what I would do. They liked the work, so I started doing all of the interior illustrations to the magazine as well. I created the covers and interior illustrations for the first four issues. That was my first major professional launch. It was great for me; it was a national magazine distributed all over the country. It proved I could meet deadlines and act like a professional. It was very exciting. To hold that first issue in my hands was an incredible thrill.
ARCUDI: The covers were painted, right?
STOUT: They were oil paintings. My work in oil was really hit and miss back then. I think I really lucked out on that first cover. The deadlines, I remember, could be brutal. For one issue they were so intense I ended up working a whole string of all-nighters. For one story I drew an illustration of a guy in an old-fashioned nightgown and cap holding a candle in a little candleholder, creeping down the stairs, looking all afraid. I was inking it with massive amounts of pen lines. I was so exhausted and so tired and so sleep-deprived that I kept falling asleep in between pen strokes. I’d be inking this thing, nod off and then wake up, keep inking, nod off, wake up, and keep inking. At one point I nodded off and when I woke up I realized that just before I had nodded off for some damn reason I had inked a Superman “S” insignia on the guy’s chest. I had had a wild, sleep-deprived hallucination that suddenly made me think I was drawing some Superman illustration.
ARCUDI: I wonder what Freud would say about that — Superman’s insignia! Had you pretty much ruled out working in comics at this time, or were you still thinking about it?
STOUT: Oh, I loved comics. I was still collecting them, still buying them. I thought that was certainly an area where I could make some money (Ha!).
I was also a big Edgar Rice Burroughs fan. I contributed illustrations to a magazine called ERB-dom, published by Camille Cazadessus. I’d drawn a whole bunch of pictures for a Burroughs book that had just been published for the first time entitledI Am A Barbarian. It was about Caligula, told from the point of view of Caligula’s personal slave.
I sent them off to the magazine, they got published, and I got a phone call from Russ Manning asking me if I’d like to assist him on the Tarzan of the Apes Sunday and daily strips. This totally blew my mind — I was a huge Manning fan. I loved Russ’ Magnus Robot Fighter comic. I was a big fan, too, of his adaptations of the Burroughs novels into comic book form. I thought he’d done a great job. I remember when the first one came out I was totally shocked because his Tarzan looked exactly the way I’d envisioned Tarzan when I read the novels. So I started commuting south several times a week to Modjeska Canyon, where he lived. It took me at least an hour and a half to drive there, even driving 95-100 miles per hour (which one could do back then). But it was a tremendous learning experience. I inked for Russ and I colored the Sundays as well. He wouldn’t let me letter, though –my lettering was too lousy.
ARCUDI: Was the extent of it, at least early on, inking? Or did you do some of the background drawing as well?
STOUT: I never really did any of the drawing for the strip. It was all Russ. I was inking, coloring, learning more about the importance of deadlines and making those frantic Fed-Ex runs. Russ taught me the craftsmanship of inking and he exposed me to my first Japanese prints, which he discovered while his naval unit was stationed in Japan. They became a huge influence in my art, my color and design.
The best thing he taught me, however, was how to be a good dad. He was a tremendous father. He had two kids. I learned a lot from watching how he worked with his kids. It was totally the opposite from how my dad raised me.
ARCUDI: So he worked at home?
STOUT: Yes, he had a home studio in a separate building from his house, just a few feet away.
ARCUDI: I don’t want to overstate this, but it sort of seems that Manning had a sort of paternal relationship with you. He seemed to guide you more along the lines of art, and sort of educated you, as you said, to be a good father and stuff. Did he fulfill that role even though you were in your 20s?
STOUT: Yes, my early 20s. I don’t want to get too Freudian here, but I think subconsciously, because my father left our family when I was 14, for decades I looked for father figures. I responded to certain types of people, which is dangerous in the film industry. If the wrong people can read that about you, they can really exploit you and hurt you. But I’m the daddy now. I also have to comment that Russ never consciously taught me about parenthood. That was a bonus, a job perk — something I just observed about him on my own. We were there to work.
ARCUDI: What kind of approach did he take towards the work? Did he take it very seriously?
STOUT: Russ took his work very seriously. He was really proud of what he did. I inked the strip, but he would never let me ink the figures or heads of Tarzan. He always had to be the inker of Tarzan himself. I think he was tremendously underrated as a writer, too. I think he was one of the all-time best writers in comics of that genre.
He partially looked upon the strip as a moral responsibility. He introduced — in a subtle way, not with a sledgehammer approach — moral dilemmas and their appropriate solutions in the strip. He also had an enormous respect for the history of comics. He was a big Harvey Kurtzman fan, which people don’t realize. He had all of the Kurtzman E.C.’s. He of course liked Burne Hogarth‘s work (Burne later became a good friend of mine), but he was an even bigger Hal Foster fan. Russ was the one who really turned me on to Harold Foster’s work.
ARCUDI: As Foster went on to do Prince Valiantfrom Tarzan, did Manning have any of his own material, independent of Burroughs, that he wanted to do?
STOUT: Russ went on to Star Wars, which I think he enjoyed even more than Tarzan, because Russ was first and foremost a big science fiction fan. In his high school days his nickname was “Moon Boy.” The kids used to ridicule him. “Hey, you think men are going to land on the moon? What a fool, Moon Boy.”
There were some interesting things that came about while I was working for Russ. At one point he offered me a Brothers of the SpearSunday strip. I did a sample Sunday page of that. It didn’t go anywhere. Russ was disappointed that it didn’t look just like his stuff; I was determined that it wouldn’t. Russ was editor for a while for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. when they were publishing their own comics. I didn’t do any art for those, except for some ghost inking for some friends who were having deadline problems. But I did some writing which I was paid for.
ARCUDI: That was your first writing experience?
STOUT: Except for CYCLE-toons, that was the first time I got paid for it.
ARCUDI: How did you working for CYCLE-toons come about?
STOUT: When I was working for Russ, sometimes I’d remark, “What I’d really like to do is…” then I’d tell him about some comics project. He’d say, “Either do it or don’t talk about it. Otherwise I don’t want to hear about it.” He made me a little angry at first. Then I thought, “He’s right. Talk is cheap. Until you’ve done it, it’s all bullshit.” At a certain month at that time in my life I was financially down. I really needed some kind of work — any kind of work. I knew that Petersen Publishing was in Los Angeles. They and Gold Key/Western Publishing were about the only two companies that published comics in L.A. I knew I wasn’t going to get any work from Gold Key. They were too… well, you know. My God, they had Russ Manning, Dan Spiegle, Alex Toth, guys like that. Why in the hell would they want to hire me?
I looked at the Petersen cartoon books and thought, “Well, I could probably do this stuff. It’s black and white; I don’t have to worry about the color. I’ll go down and see if I can meet the editor and get some work.” Well, I tried to do it through the proper channels, which was a huge mistake. I went through their employment office, their personnel department. They had me filling in lots of forms and stuff — nothing that had anything to do with whether or not I could write or draw comics. I’m thinking, man, I just want to do comics. I want to talk to the guy who publishes or edits the comics and get right to work. But there I was, filling out past work history, describing my jobs in restaurants and sandpits and all that other stuff.
At the same time, I was tripping on LSD. I hadn’t intended to be on acid for the job interview. The week before I had made my appointment to see the head of personnel. The day before the appointment, I had taken some acid for recreational purposes. It turned out to be pretty intense stuff; I woke up the next day and I was still tripping! I had this job interview at ten in the morning. I thought, “Wow, this is going to be interesting. The absurdity of me filling out all of these forms when I just wanted to draw comics was not lost on me during this particular mind state. Finally at a certain point in the process in this interview I said, “Look. All I want to do is draw some cartoons. I’m not looking to become an employee here. I’m not looking for medical. I’m not looking for any of that kind of stuff — paid vacations, nothing. I just want to draw some comics.” I think about that time, or maybe a little sooner, she realized I was not their normal applicant.
ARCUDI: Maybe because your eyes were spinning around in your head?
STOUT: Yeah. I probably had pupils the size of hubcaps. She said, “I think I know just the person you need to see.” She gave me Dennis Ellefson‘s phone number. Dennis was the editor for Cycle-Toons. I don’t think I went over that day, because I was in no condition to drive; I had walked to the interview. But I saw Dennis the next day and brought my portfolio.
He had just been turned on to underground comics, and he really responded to a portfolio sample that was in a Robert Crumb-like in style.
He gave me a four-pager to do on the spot. I was really stoked. I did it and brought it in. It was completely not in the Crumb style that he liked; he was a little miffed by that. But he gave me some more work.
I wanted to write my own stuff. The first stuff that I did either he wrote or other writers wrote. I kept submitting scripts. I learned a lot from Dennis about editing; he was really able to see where I had padded my stories. He was always able to cut out the fat and get right to the heart of the story. Generally back then if I submitted a six-page story it would be cut down to three or four pages. And it would be much better for that. Dennis’ editing was a great way for me to learn what was needed in storytelling in the comics medium and what was not.
Dennis was really great for me in that he also let me experiment. I tried all different kinds of art styles when I was working for him. I didn’t have to stick to one style, which I would have if I had been working for, say, Marvel or D.C. It allowed me to grow as an artist and find out what I liked doing and what I didn’t like doing. One of the ironies of working for Cycle-Toons, though, was the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about motorcycles. I couldn’t ride a motorcycle and I had never actually drawn one in my life. I certainly didn’t own one. The couple times I’ve been on motorcycles I’ve crashed them. Dennis gave me a quick crash course in drawing motorcycles and then suggested that I go to the toy store and buy a model kit and draw from that, which I did. I ended up being one of the main artists in the book! Because I knew nothing about motorcycles, of course, the stories I wrote generally had very little do with motorcycles. Motorcycles were a sort of a necessary afterthought for me. But it was fun, really fun. I think I was making $90 a page: script, pencils, inks, lettering.
Later, I brought Robert Williams and Alex Niño in to the pages of CYCLE-toons and CAR-toons, which Dennis also edited. They both did some great stuff there.
ARCUDI: And at one point you went off to New York to work with Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder on “Little Annie Fanny” for Playboy. How did that come about?
STOUT: I was in the middle of what I consider to be the peak of my Cycle-toons stuff. One of the reasons I was peaking was because I had just discovered the original Mad comics. I was especially enthralled with Kurtzman’s work, Will Elder’s work, and Wally Wood’s work. I went nuts over this stuff. I wanted to do work like that more than anything. So I did a Cycle-toons story called “Motor-Psycho!” in which I aped Kurtzman’s, Elder’s and Wood’s styles; three different styles all in one story.
When it was published, I sent a copy off to Kurtzman. About a week or two later I got a letter back from Harvey asking me if I’d be interested in coming to New York and assisting him and Elder on “Little Annie Fanny”. It blew the top of my head off. I couldn’t believe it. At that time there were three people I wanted to work with more than anything: one was Kurtzman, the other was Will Eisner; the third was Alex Toth.
I immediately called Kurtzman and said, “Yes. Of course!” That was quite an adventure. It was in 1972; they flew me out and I was initially put up in a hotel in Englewood, N. J., not far from where Willy [Elder] lived.
I ultimately moved to Fort Lee, N. J., to my own apartment, which was right across the street from the George Washington Bridge. Just a walk across the bridge was Manhattan. It was an astounding time to be there. I was there for the very first EC Convention. Because of that, besides working with Kurtzman and Elder, I got to meet and become friends with Roy Krenkel, Al Williamson, and George Evans. I also met Wally Wood for the first time
ARCUDI: These were all names that you were familiar with because you had an early exposure to EC stuff?
STOUT: Yeah. Legendary names… in my mind, at least.
ARCUDI: When you were a kid, or a little bit older?
STOUT: The very first time I ever heard about EC’s I think I was about 15 years old. There was a kid in my junior high who found out I collected comics. He asked, “Do you have any EC’s?” I said, “Yeah. I got lots of D.C.’s.” “No”, he said, “EC’s.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. I saw my first EC a year or two later. My friend Fred Romanek had some. They didn’t make much of an impression at first because it was so not superhero, and that’s what I was into – superheroes. But when I started drawing my own stuff, I fell under the influence of Frank Frazetta. I found out that Frazetta had done work for EC I went, “Really? God, Frazetta did comics? I’d love to see what that looked like!” I started to hunt them down.
As I picked up the Frazetta EC comics, I was exposed to Al Williamson’s stuff.
And I couldn’t ignore Wally Wood’s stuff.
I was like, Oh, my god. These guys are astounding! And so I got them all, all of the EC New Trends. Eventually, in a very short time, I amassed, through cash, but mostly through trade (trading art for comics) a complete collection of the EC New Trends, which I still have to this day.
The EC’s were a huge influence on me. I was just consuming all of the Mad and all the Kurtzman stuff – everything! And here I was in New York with a chance to meet all of these guys. Jack Davis! Bill Gaines! Marie Severin! It seemed like everybody was there except Frazetta, whom I talked to on the phone. It was very, very exciting. Williamson, Krenkel and I especially became fast friends.
I just loved those two guys to pieces. Al invited me out to stay with him a little while and visit, which I did. I got to meet Reed Crandall, who was working in Al’s studio.
After that, every time I’d go to New York, my wife and I would look up Roy and take him out to lunch.
ARCUDI: So what happened?
STOUT: My job on “Annie Fanny” wasn’t the most creative job in the world. The job came about because Hugh Hefner wanted a greater output of Annie strips. Kurtzman and Elder used to have guys like Frank Frazetta, Arnold Roth, Russ Heath and Jack Davis helping them to put out more strips. That bothered Hefner, though, because he could always spot their individual art styles; as well as greater output, he wanted a consistent style and sheen to the strip. I was hired to speed up production of “Annie” without my own work or style showing through. Kurtzman would pencil the strip, I would transfer his pencils to a board, and then using Kurtzman’s color guides, I would watercolor the final strip, taking it to about a halfway finished point. Then I would hand it to Willy Elder; he would finish it. In that way, the strip had a very consistent look because it was Will Elder’s style on the complete final sheen of the strip.
ARCUDI: You were doing a lot of the actual work, but very little creative work?
STOUT: There was almost no creative input on my part. In fact, I tried to put in some stuff and it really backfired. I can’t believe how arrogant I was to think that I could come up with gags for Kurtzman and Elder. Here I was in my early 20s. Unbelievable. I’d hear the whir of Willy’s electric eraser and just cringe. Oh, my god! Not only did my gag not work, but I was costing them time. I was supposed to be saving them time for pete’s sake. After I had worked on two episodes it was clear to both Kurtzman and me that this was not the job for me. Kurtzman took me aside and said, “Bill, you’re too creative for this. You’re going to go on to do great stuff, but I can feel you champing at the bit to do your own stuff. This is not the job where you get to do that.” I said, “I know.” And we mutually agreed that I return to Los Angeles. We stayed best friends up until he passed away. Whenever Harvey came to L.A. on Playboy business he’d call me up and we’d get together and have dinner or visit the Playboy Mansion.
ARCUDI: It’s interesting that Harvey didn’t see that at the beginning when he saw your stuff. Obviously the reason he wanted you is because he saw that you were so good.
STOUT: Thank you, but I think he originally just saw a guy who was really good at aping styles, one of my fortés during the time in question. I was known in L. A. as the guy who could mimic any art style. In fact, I got my first movie poster work because of that special ability of mine. It was for a film called S*P*Y*S. National Lampoon artist Rick Meyerowitz had done the poster, but had blown the caricatures of Elliott Gould and the girl, Zou Zou. He refused to correct it, so the poster came to L.A. They called me up; I think Robert Williams told the agency that I could duplicate anybody’s style and that I was good at likenesses. One of Robert’s friends, David Reneric, was an art director at the ad agency, Seiniger & Associates. Dave called me and had me do a patch-over; I did an exact Rick Meyerowitz version of Elliot Gould – but I made it look like Elliott Gould, of course, and drew a new version of the girl that looked just like the actress — but in Rick’s style.
This interview of William Stout by writer John Arcudi originally appeared in 2002, split between a huge issue of The Comics Journal and TCJ‘s internet site. The full interview will be reprinted here on this site in installments annotated by Stout. Except for the following paragraph, Stout’s annotations are in italics.
“Movies are someone else’s adventures. Wouldn’t you rather spend those two hours having your own adventures?” It really stopped me. I thought about all that time I had spent in the dark living someone else’s dreams and adventures. —Stout, reflecting on an observation by the brother of an art school pal.
Of the next-generation alumni who learned so much so avidly from E.C.’s rich lines of comics—Bernie Wrightson, Michael Kaluta, John Pound, Mark Schultz, and numerous others—none has really reached into so many of the treasuries of artistic and illustrational traditions beyond comics as has William Stout. He truly has taken his good wherever he found it, in children’s books, scientific and nature illustration, the pulp adventure and SF series, comics, animation, fine vintage-illustration, movie posters, album covers; and he has shown the acuteness of his hand and eye in every one of these fields. He has proved a multifarious designer and visionary at home in various media and genres, even as a conceptualist and planner for all four Walt Disney theme parks.
Like the Beatles’ “White Album,” Stout’s The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era appeared in 1981 as a stylistic tour de force, bringing to bear on the saurians influences from Alphonse Mucha, Frank Frazetta, Arthur Rackham, Al Williamson, Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Zdenek Burian, Charles R. Knight, and other masters of prehistorica and fantastica; and this new book in turn inspired Michael Crichton’s novel, Jurassic Park (see the last page of the Crichton book).
Stout’s Argus-eyed work was such a labor of love and a groundbreaking conceptual and technical masterpiece as to gain him instant esteem as an artist’s artist.
Closely following this was his 1984 Children’s Choice Award-winning book, The Little Blue Brontosaurus, revealing a sculptural and expressive gift for characterization that put him at once into the top fields of animation, as this ill-distributed, now all-too-scarce book became the basis for The Land Before Time.
Character design, set and costume design and storyboarding for three Conan movies (One of which, Red Sonja, started out as a Conan movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger was so appalled by the screenplay he threatened to quit the film if his character was called Conan. “It would kill the franchise,” he said) and more than fifty other feature films, including Predator, Invaders from Mars, Masters of the Universe, Buck Rogers, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Return of the Living Dead, as well as poster-work for Wizards, More American Graffiti, and more than 100 other films or TV series continued to evidence his very supple sense of intriguing structure as well as nuanced coloring and realizable design of materiel for scenes to be constructed and shot. His fine-art fantasy work has in a way been even more wide-ranging than his commercial work, touching on the precious and opalescent watercolor effects of Sulamith Wulfing (with her poetic angels and fairies evident in part in his “Angel of the Moon”), the good-humored grotesquery of John Bauer (earthy little trolls and gnomes that remind one also of Brian Froud’s sources), and the palpable gentleness of Edmund Dulac’s dreamlike watercolors.
But Stout has never affiliated himself single-mindedly with any source or style: his protean sense of approach has always obliged him to rethink a new way to recast classic themes. Frequently this takes the form of “stylistic quotations,” borrowing some famous predecessor’s eyes and hands more or less as an oblique homage.
“Fairy Tales,” for instance, Stout’s Rackham-esque watercolor of a butterfly-nymph bringing a blush to a close-cuddling snail, is an excellent example of his puckish humor and marvelous filigree of natural detailing: there is no question that Rackham’s poetic and dreamy stain-effects and woodsy grotesquery are the exactly right setting for this bit of whimsy.
Likewise, Stout’s covers for underground comics like Slow Death and especially for alternative-press comic titles like Alien Worlds evoked the
sure and voluptuous linework of Maurice Whitman (this comment was the first I’ve heard of Whitman) from Planet and Jungle Comics — wonderfully luminous and painterly effects for the medium of comics, in which not just color but line work also is often rather perfunctory. Unlike the norm in most comics, Stout’s work clearly shows painstaking studies to master anatomical form, not just for the human species but also for every natural creature he has represented: skeleton, musculature, scales, fur, proportionality, all bear the authority of a seasoned and sympathetic eye.
No less is true for his grasp of the entire natural setting of life, the flora and rockforms, the patterning of clouds far overhead. Trickles of water, the meandering line of a rivulet or the difficult perspective of a rockbound waterhole, nail the authenticity of a scene even though one has to know the whole thing is sheer invention; even his trees and ferns show remarkably original staging and rhythm, as he inserts these things as virtual botanical portraits into a scene where they perform a subordinate role quite flawlessly.
Stout’s self-published series of 50 Convention Sketches reveals a stupendous freshet of figures, creatures, poses, styles, all in all making him a more than worthy successor to the burgeoning imagination of fantasy art’s Great Beginner, Roy Krenkel, a past master at setting the stage.
Stout has a wealth of technical finesse and stylistic repertory to draw upon, like a musical polymath who takes up whatever instrument may please him, to put it to virtuosic use. His realistic scenes of natural life — skuas for example, perching atop an outcropping of rock whose rash of speckling shows how it became over generations their own avian architecture, or his “Giant Petrel” nesting on its bed of shells (reminiscent of Albrecht Durer’s magnificent “Hare” in its khaki tones) or a pod of southern right whales (“Eroica,” an ambitious 2 ft. x 4 ft. oil) — evoke the poignancy of nature in its isolation from man.
Or, to reach to the other end of his spectrum of sensibility, even his satirical work, such as “The Evolution of a Mouse”
or his Firesign Theatre album covers, displays a flawlessly black-humored sense of form and timing or spacing.
His self-collected portraits of the sad end of the overstuffed has-been Mouse, Mickey at 60 — with the Disney icon enduring a proctological exam, and with five flawless variations on Edward Hopper’s poetic delineations of banal modern life — reabsorbs a classic comic character into the cultural media of our considerably more cynical time.
It is clear from Stout’s comic dinosaur roughs that he drew a great deal of inspiration from Walt Kelly’s marvelous characterizations, not just from Pogo but also from The Glob. Stout’s fantasy work shows marvelous incursions of mood, humanizing perfectly what is less than human or other than human — ”The Watcher,” for instance, shows a troll sitting in his parka, wistfully studying in solitude the chimney smoke from a remote human dwelling — and luminous idiosyncrasies, such as the peculiar crook in a swimming dragon’s neck. Indeed, virtually every dragon that has left Stout’s hand has perfectly captured the sullen and bilious temperament so typical of this hermitic species. If Stout is truly possessed, we can readily guess the species of the spirit.
Inkwork. Stout’s earliest work, for the hot-rod subculture and underground LPs, was heavily influenced by comics, most of all by Mad’s singularly dense clash of icons and the byplay of counterpoint-commentary. For a time, in fact, he worked with Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder on Playboy‘s Little Annie Fanny, although the job bound his imagination in to much too mechanical strictures.
His covers for the Firesign Theatre’s albums displayed a perfect mastery of such comic orchestration and a balance of semirealistic and caricatural rendering that was the equal of Wally Wood’s or Howard Nostrand’s. The black-and-white work Stout did for The Dinosaurs although bold and dramatic showed repeated influences from the sinuous forms of Art Nouveau, and sometimes recapitulated the epic style of classical illustration’s most outstanding conduit to modern fantasy art, Roy Krenkel. No one of course could have synthesized these influences without also drawing upon Al Williamson’s masterpiece in dinosauria, the utterly evocative and visionary retelling of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” for Weird Science-Fantasy #25. But Stout’s line is typically more bold or voluptuous, less spidery and poetic like Williamson’s Daniel Vierge, Joseph Clement Coll and José Salinas-influenced touch.
There is no question that, just as dinosaurs have populated his best painted work, so too they have inspired his richest inkwork: his Dinosaur Sketchbooks contain not just richly detailed panoramic scenes but also splendid thumbnail sketches, preliminary poses with all the electric energy of the first glimmering of an idea presenting itself to his squinting mind’s eye.
Stout’s extremely rough or provisional drawings often do not have the finesse or quavering micro-seismology of Krenkel’s or Williamson’s inquisitive penwork — needless to say, this kind of tentative work for which the pencil is more natural is absolutely forbidding for a penman, and few indeed are the Heinrich Kleys or Colls who make such decisive and surgical strokes — but no matter, we are still privileged indeed to see such twilight-inklings of figures and forms that have not ventured all the way into the anteroom of full-glare consciousness.
In his self-published 50 Convention Sketches series, Stout has shown a forthright indebtedness to Krenkel and Frazetta and the generally machismo-thematics of the more popular fantasy-art world. Stout’s trees, ferns, toadstools, rock pinnacles, and other natural formations point back to those earlier hands and styles, but there is nothing in this repertory that he has not entirely digested into his own version. Stout’s sense of spaciousness, of vignetted elements taken as the whole of a subject, are a touch he has in common not just with Krenkel but also with Moebius: an elegance of placement, a sublimity of distance and proportionality. Stout’s quality of line may vary from a screen-wire hatchwork to a very fine integration of penstroke with the texture, fracture and stress of a subject. Clearly he has his own striking sense of dramaturgy for dragons and saurians and other fantasy-lore; his feminine anatomy has as a rule been less florid and hyperbolic than Frazetta‘s but always elegantly and effectively posed. In volumes 5-8 of his Convention Sketches Stout has offered a brief selection of Pablo Neruda’s most iconic poems, translated by himself and illustrated to a perfect pitch.
The projected book, Stones of the Sky, I will venture sight unseen to call a masterwork. The translator’s deft wordings have a graphic tracery of their own and stand in an exquisite duet with the pictorials.
Paintings. Stout’s earliest published color-work after his juvenilia for the digest Coven 13, his Prehistoric Worlds portfolio, was essentially tinted drawings, a method of conversion into color that was quite common then in fantasy art publications and of course remains so even now in comics. The Dinosaurs therefore revealed a whole palette of techniques, from wet-in-wet watercolors to viscous or stiff oils, that before then had no public evidence.
His nature paintings have rightly earned him a place among our most accomplished realistic fine artists, being set on permanent display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Museum of the Rockies, the Orton Geological Museum, Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The San Diego Natural History Museum and the San Diego Zoo). His sketches and paintings from his various trips to Antarctica were gathered into an exhibit, Dinosaurs, Penguins and Whales: The Wildlife of Antarctica, that originated at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in 1991 and toured for seven years afterward, as a 45-painting one-man show.
His dinosauria I believe are clearly his masterworks, showing epic conceptions of a finely evolved and detailed phase of the earth’s life. He inveigles drama and mood into these prehistoric settings, often by bold spectra of colors but sometimes in spectacular strokes like the arch an Elasmosaur’s neck makes as it darts for its minuscule prey.
His “Spinosaurus aegyptiacus” won a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators recently. He has a great adeptness at putting just the inkling of an expression on the great saurians, an oblique and subtle (or winking) anthropomorphism that makes the creatures’ alienness that much more piquant. His recent limited edition Iris-giclee prints of four dinosaur settings — ”Riders on the Storm” and “Polar Predator” most outstandingly — display a consummate sense of orchestral color and poetically precise timing in gestures.
Likewise with his portfolio of scenes from The Wizard of Oz, all fresh takes on the now-iconic L. Frank Baum/John R. Neill characters. Oz I have to say seems nonetheless far outclassed by the classical tenor of the dino-portfolio, as a pacific and esthetic vista on a violent era. It is sobering to think how many CEOs and attorneys identify with the meat-rending tyrant-lizards in such paleozoic scenes; live by the talons, die by the talons.
The release of The New Dinosaurs at the end of 2000 showed decisively that Stout’s vision of this epoch had become an authoritative registry for new work in this field of scientific research. Important new species simply could not seem real until Stout had put his visual imprint on them. His masterwork of two decades before could not thinkably be left without updating. The kind of genius for organic splendor and concretization that Zdenek Burian had brought to paleontology a generation ago — or Charles R. Knight before that — Stout was able to ply in an utterly cogent and animating way. Unlike Burian and Knight, Stout has competition galore in the current crop of paleo-illustrators — John Sibbick, Doug Henderson, Mark Hallett, for instance — but still his work shines with iconic form, color and life. His millennial perspective on the evolution of life’s fragile and exotic forms has naturally enough made him a fervent and engaged environmentalist, a field-researcher as well as a superb studio-talent. And this can hardly be underscored boldly enough: Not only has Stout been determined to delve into the understanding of experts in the fields of paleontology, paleobotany and ecology of Antarctica — to prepare himself thoroughly in an intellectual or scholarly way for the remarkable landscape of the South Pole, and even more so for its physical rigors and extreme dangers — but he has also become an activist on behalf of environmentalism and political conscience. His remark about not being content to live out someone else’s dreams is the logic of his personality, an audacious and authentic individual.
Stout has professed to be no genius: He has worked on projects with artists he considers genius-caliber, such as Jean “Moebius” Giraud (and Ron Cobb and Van Dyke Parks. I was quite embarrassed when Giraud labeled me as a genius. I am nowhere near his caliber of brilliant creativity), and regards himself as merely a hardworking talent who puts in 12-hour days seven days a week and feels driven not just to keep himself busy but also to strike prudent deals and savvy contracts and keep an eagle-eye on the shape of his career (not always successfully, I might add).
For most mere artisans who are merely industrious, even prodigious efforts do not yield anything remotely like the grandeur, grace and shock of lively forms that one sees in Stout’s art. I am told by classical musicians that the public has been greatly oversold on the virtues of hard work and rehearsal: that a Heifetz or a Horowitz merely practiced enough to keep the edge keen, not as consumingly as someone still striving to arrive at his proper virtuosity. Bill Stout’s abundance of superb work may just show that he has the kind of genius that is a slave driver to itself, and does not like to let itself coast or glide. Someday, when a suitable art book confirms and consolidates what his wondrous cluster of work has already shown in the format of trading cards, the fantasy-art public will learn to appreciate how some people may be the beneficiaries of other people’s demons. (I would recommend Fantastic Worlds – The Art of William Stout as the “suitable art book” John Arcudi alludes to.)
The Gate (1987) Starring Stephen Dorff (True Detective) Kids, left home alone, accidentally unleash a horde of malevolent demons from a mysterious hole in their suburban backyard. This was my sons’ favorite horror film growing up.
Frailty (2001) Starring Bill Paxton (also this film’s director; from Aliens, Mighty Joe Young, Impulse, Near Dark), Matthew McConaughy and Powers Boothe. A mysterious man arrives at the offices of an FBI agent and recounts his childhood: how his religious fanatic father received visions telling him to destroy people who were in fact “demons.” Great unexpected ending.
Viy (1967) A young priest is ordered to preside over the wake of witch in a small old wooden church of a remote village. This means spending three nights alone with the corpse with only his faith to protect him. Those three nights are scary as hell in this eerie Russian fantasy/horror film and the main reason for watching this movie. It’ll raise the hackles on the back of your neck.
The 27th Day (1957) Starring Gene Barry (War of the Worlds). Aliens take 5 people, give them small capsules which can kill mankind without additional damage, with the understanding they will colonize Earth only if they use the weapons. A fascinating what-would-you-do-in-this-situation movie.
Endangered Species (1982) Alan Rudolph (director and Robert Altman protegé); starring Robert Urich, JoBeth Williams (Poltergeist), Paul Dooley (Monster in the Closet, Wimpy in Popeye, Breaking Away), Hoyt Axton (Buried Alive, Gremlins) and Peter Coyote (E.T.). A retired New York cop on Vacation in America’s West is drawn into a female sheriff’s investigation of a mysterious series of cattle killings (Remember when cattle mutilations were in the news? I do). My friend Bob Foster turned me on to this interesting little sci-fi /horror film.
Impulse (1984) Starring Tim Matheson, Meg Tilly (Body Snatchers), Hume Cronyn (Shadow of a Doubt), Bill Paxton (Aliens, Frailty).
Twilight Zone-like sexy thriller. Suddenly, folks in town ain’t what they used to be. They’re all acting on impulse. Why?
The Hidden(1987) Starring Kyle Machlachlan (Dune), Michael Nouri, Clu Gulager(The Return of the Living Dead) Law abiding people suddenly become violent criminals. A cop and an odd FBI agent race for answers in this quirky sci-fi thriller.
Attack the Block (2011) Directed by Joe Cornish (director of The Kid Who Would Be King, wrote Adventures of Tintin and Antman) A teen gang in South London defend their block from an alien invasion. It turns out the aliens picked the wrong neighborhood to attack. A fresh, tense horror/comedy (mostly horror).
Vampire’s Kiss (1988) Starring Nicolas Cage, Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2, Running Man), Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Bride) and Elizabeth Ashley. After an encounter with a neck-biter, a publishing executive thinks that he’s turning into a vampire. One of the wackiest roles of Nicolas Cage‘s eclectic career — which is really saying something!
Night of the Juggler (1980) Starring James Brolin (Capricorn One, WestWorld), Cliff Gorman, Mandy Patinkin (Princess Bride) and Dan Hedaya (Blood Simple, The Hunger, Endangered Species). A tough, New York City ex-cop relentlessly searches for his kidnapped teenage daughter whom is held by a twisted psycho after mistaking her for the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Incredible chase in the beginning. Watch for Mandy Patinkin in an early role as a Puerto Rican cabdriver who tries to help Brolin‘s character stop the creepy kidnaper (Gorman). Not the nicest portrait of New York City. This might be a tough one to find; no DVD release as far as I know.
Tomorrow, I am going to begin posting the interview writer extraordinaire John Arcudi did with me for that big special volume of The Comics Journal many years ago. This time I will annotate it and it won’t be broken up like it was when it was originally published (part in print; part online).
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) Janet Munro (Katie O’Gill), Edward Judd (X the Unknown, First Men In The Moon), Leo McKern (X the Unknown, Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother). Hysterical panic has engulfed the world after the United States and the Soviet Union simultaneously detonate nuclear devices causing a change to the nutation (axis of rotation) of the Earth. This is a great, very adult sci-film that I somehow missed until recent years.
The Stranger Within (1974) Written by the great Richard Matheson; starring Barbara Eden, George Grizzard (star of twoTwilight Zones: In His Image, The Chaser) An expectant mother begins acting strangely and doesn’t know why. Gradually she starts to realize that her bizarre behavior is being controlled by her unborn baby.
The Rapture (1991) Michael Tolkin (writer-director; The Player; Escape at Dannemora); starring Mimi Rogers and David (X-Files) Duchovny.
This unique movie does not go where you think it’s going.
Grabbers (2012) When an island off the coast of Ireland is invaded by bloodsucking aliens, the heroes discover that getting drunk is the only way to survive. Hilarious thriller; great monster.
Nightmare Alley (1947) Starring Tyrone Power (in his best role ever), Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray (The Leech Woman), Mike Mazurki (Murder My Sweet).
The story starts out with a geek (in the original sense of the word) running loose at a sleazy carnival. Creepy as heck and wait until you see what develops out of all this.
Point Blank (a 2010 French film; not the John Boorman/ Lee Marvin movie) Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche) is a nurse who saves the wrong guy — a thief (Roschdy Zem) whose henchmen take Samuel’s pregnant wife (Elena Anaya) hostage to force him to spring their boss from the hospital. A race through the subways and streets of Paris ensues, and the body count rises. Can Samuel evade the cops and the criminal underground and deliver his beloved to safety?
Dagon (2001) Directed by Re-Animator‘s Stuart Gordon, this film combines two H. P. Lovecraft stories: “Dagon” and “Shadow Over Innsmouth” and has what may be the longest chase sequence in cinema history. A boating accident runs a young man and woman ashore in a decrepit Spanish fishing town which they discover is in the grips of an ancient sea god and its monstrous half-human offspring (based on designs by Bernie Wrightson).
The Stuff (1985) Written and directed by the always surprising Larry Cohen, and starring Michael Moriarty, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Mira Sorvino, Danny Aiello, Brooke Adams (cameo) and Eric Bogosian. A delicious, mysterious goo that oozes from the earth is marketed as the newest dessert sensation, but the tasty treat rots more than teeth when zombie-like snackers, who only want to consume more of the strange substance at any cost, begin infesting the world.
Body Snatchers (1993) Written and directed by Abel Ferrara and starring an extremely chilling Meg Tilly, with Gabrielle Anwar and Forest Whitaker. This is the second sequel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was brilliant to have this sequel take place on an Army base, where everyone dresses and pretty much looks the same, making it even harder to distinguish the pod people from the normies.
Raw Meat (aka Death Line; 1972) Starring the great Donald (Halloween) Pleasance. There’s something pretty grisly going on under London in the Tube tunnels between Holborn and Russell Square. When a top civil servant becomes the latest to disappear down there, Scotland Yard begins to take the matter seriously. Helping them are a young couple who get nearer to the horrors underground than they would wish. One could view this as a tragically sad romance film, rather than a horror movie. “Mind the door!”
Hi Friends and Fans (and those who are both), Sequestered away and you don’t know what to watch? Well, here you go; try some of these relatively obscure horror and fantasy films: LIST #1
Grave of the Vampire (1972)
Starring William Smith; David Chase (creator of The Sopranos) screenplay.
Killer opening: Vampire tears off teen’s car door, snaps guy’s spine over a tombstone and rapes the boy’s girlfriend. She gives birth nine months later and breast feeds blood to her infant who grows up to be William Smith.
Dead and Buried (1981)
Ronald Shusett/Dan O’Bannon screenplay (the guys who wrote Alien); starring James Farentino, Melody Anderson, Jack Albertson and Robert (Freddy) Englund. This film is like great Twilight Zone episode with an unforgettable opening sequence.
Body Melt (1993)
Wild ass Australian movie; Residents of peaceful Pebbles Court, Homesville, are being used unknowingly as test experiments for a new “Body Drug'” that causes rapid body decomposition (melting skin etc.) and painful death.
On Borrowed Time (1939)
Starring Lionel Barrymore, Cedric Hardwicke, Una Merkel and Henry Travers.
Death (Hardwicke) is trapped in a tree by a grandfather (Barrymore) to save the life of his grandson. Terrific fantasy film.
Olsen & Johnson, Martha Raye, The Harlem Congaroo Dancers, Hugh Herbert, Mischa Auer, Shemp Howard, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Slim (“Flat Foot Floogie”) Galliard.
Hellzapoppin’ is the closest you’ll ever see to having Kurtzman & Elder screwball humor in a live action movie (especially the first third). And don’t miss the Congaroo Dancers sequence, the greatest jitterbugging ever put on film.
Once Upon a Time (1944)
Starring Cary Grant, James Gleason, William Demarest, Janet Blair and Kirk (Superman) Alyn.
An enchanting show biz fantasy that even involves Walt Disney — with perhaps the most shocking Cary Grant moment ever put on film.
The Fall (2006)
Tarsem Singh directed this dream project, shooting it in 28 different countries over the course of four years. It’s Singh’s masterpiece and you don’t get to really know what the film’s actually about until the movie’s very end. The movie has Lawrence of Arabia‘s scope and grandeur, Terry Gilliam‘s fantastic unpredictability and Eiko‘s unbelievably gorgeous costumes. See it on a huge screen if at all possible.
Murder, He Says (1945)
George Marshall (director); starring Fred MacMurray, Marjorie Main
One of the greatest screwball comedies ever made. I believe this film was Harvey Kurtzman‘s source and inspiration for naming the Frazetta-Williamson-Krenkel bunch The Fleagle Gang. The song sung throughout the film is the same tune as the National Public Radio theme song(!).
Black Sheep (2006)
An experiment in genetic engineering turns harmless sheep into bloodthirsty killers that terrorize a sprawling New Zealand farm.
Growing up on the family sheep farm was idyllic for smart, sensitive Harry Olfield, except for some knavish mischief from cocky brother Angus, until their dad has a fatal accident. Fifteen years later, Harry has finished sheep-phobia therapy and his schooling and returns. Angus buys him out, all ready to present the genetically engineered Oldfield sheep he bred with a ruthless team. When environmentalist Grant steals a discarded embryo, which has sharp teeth, he gets bitten by it, and thus the first to be infected with predatory hunger and a mechanism that turns any mammal into a ravenous werewolf-like creature.
They must survive both the bloodthirsty sheep and their creators.
Silent Partner (1978)
Starring Elliot Gould, Christopher Plummer, Susannah York. Curtis Hanson (L. A. Confidential) screenplay.
A timid but really sharp bank teller (Gould) anticipates a bank robbery and steals the money for himself. The bank robber gets blamed. When the psychopathic crook realizes he’s been fooled, he tracks down the teller and engages him in a cat-and-mouse chase for the cash. This won the Canadian version of the Oscar for best screenplay. It’s full of unexpected twists and turns.
Tell No One (2006)
Phenomenal opening set-up. The pediatrician Alexandre misses his beloved wife Margot, who was brutally murdered eight years ago when he was the prime suspect. The story amps up when Alex receives a mysterious e-mail of a live Metro feed. Suddenly his wife walks out of the Metro crowd and up to the Metro camera. She looks directly into the camera and whispers, “Tell no one”.