Monday, June 2, 2008

JLA Satellite Interview with Frank McLaughlin

As soon as I heard the legendary writer/artist/inker Frank McLaughlin was going to be at the 2008 New York Comic Con, I told myself I would not leave there until I had gotten a chance to, at the very least, shake his hand and thank him for so much great work over the years, most especially as half of the team of "Dillin & McLaughlin" that was akin to "Lennon & McCartney" to me growing up.

I ended up with a lot more than that--I got a sketch from him for my Aquaman sketchbook, got him to sign my copy of JLA #161 (along with the cover's penciler, Rich Buckler), and got him to agree to do an interview with me for JLA Satellite!

I called Frank on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and we got to talk about one my favorite subjects: The Justice League!:

JLA Satellite: What was it like to work with Dick Dillin? Did you interact much with him?

It was really a pleasure working with Dillin. I would talk on the phone with him occasionally--I rarely went in to DC, we had a messenger here, and they used to take stuff back and forth every day, so we didn't have to go in.

That's why I never really got to see him--he would go in infrequently. Of course , the editor, Julie [Schwartz] didn't care; as along as we got the work done.

JLA Satellite: When Steve Englehart had the book's page count increased, they asked Dick Dillin, and he said 'no problem'; was that a problem for you, having to produce that much more work in the same period of time? That was a lot of work for you, too!

FM: My contract called for x amount of pages per week, and if it wasn't JLA, then it was something else. Dick, I don't know how he did it--he put a lot of work into his drawings.

He would take the logo, the JLA logo, every single tiny bit of it, and trace it onto the page, in pencil, and I had nothing to do with it--they [DC] would just put a paste-up right over it. I don't know why, all he had to do was an outline to indicate where it was. But no, he did the whole thing.

And it being a group your drawing, there's a lot of stuff in every panel.

JLA Satellite: Yeah! I'm looking at these pages, and there's so much stuff in them, and then you've got Gerry Conway and these other writers saying "This time, we're going to guest-star these fifteen other people."

FM: The life of a writer--I get upset when a writer tells me he's got Writer's Block; he can write something in two minutes, and takes an artist two days to draw it.

No kidding, one time we were doing a book for Dell [Comics]--Dick, myself, a guy named Maurice Whitman, a terrific artist--we all shared a studio with some other guys and we had this book that was late.

We had to get it on the train the next morning, and we had three or four pages to finish up.
I think Vince Colletta had started it, and he couldn't finish it, so he called us, and Dick said yeah, we'll take it on.

It had to do with two armies fighting each other, I forget the title, it was a movie book, and we split up the pages, and there was one page that was going to take up most of the night--Dick couldn't do it, Whitman couldn't do it, they were working on the other stuff, so I wound up with this one page.

It was a scene of an army on horseback, get this--going across the desert with swords and shields and flags and--oh, christ, it wasn't drawn that well, I don't know who drew it, but he got about halfway in and you know, just kinda [makes 'whoosh' sound] dropped it in, you know?

It took me hours and hours to do this one panel--it was the whole page, or 2/3rds the page, and the book was very late. It was supposed to go the engravers as soon as they got it in their hands.

Well, I finished it with about an hour to go, and I was punchy by this time. So just for the hell of it, in back of the army, there was a hill, I drew a Sherman Tank--there was a gun, a turret, a flag, just for the hell of it.

This is supposed to be the 1500's.

JLA Satellite: [Big laugh]

FM: I was being a wise-ass. But guess what? Nobody caught it. We got a call from the publisher--"What the hell are you guys doing?!?" They didn't even look at it, it just went right to the engravers. But it did get caught--the engravers must have caught it.

JLA Satellite: Oh, I wish they had printed that! If you had told me they had printed that, I would've been like "I gotta go find that book!"

FM: Dick Giordano has the original art, it's been whited out, but I bet if you hold it up to the light, you could probably see it.

JLA Satellite: Getting back to the JLA, one thing I wanted to ask you about, I have seen very little Dick Dillin pencil work, if any...

FM: Yeah, I don't think there's any.

JLA Satellite: How complete was his stuff to ink?

FM: Very, very complete. Occasionally you'd have to leave something out where he overworked it, but that was rare. I would change little things that I thought needed it--very, very little. He did all the heavy lifting.

And I liked it doing it, and he liked what I was doing, which meant more to me than anything else. Julie Schwartz was not an editor for an artist as much as he was for a writer; he would look at stuff and say "that looks great, see you next week" or something like that. He would act gruff but he was a softie. Good editor.

We worked exclusively for him for a long time.

JLA Satellite: How did you end up inking the JLA book?

FM: Dick Giordano and I worked at Charlton, and then Dick decided to take a shot at being an editor at DC.

So I inherited the studio [in Connecticut], and we were working on DC books, and Charlton books, so we were up to our, you know, in work.

JLA Satellite: [laughs]

FM: One of the books Dick was working on was a JLA, and he decided to give it up. We had worked on it together, though he was doing the lion's share of the work.

And when he gave it up, he told me Julie would like me to continue on it, and I said ok, and I went in to see him, and I signed a contract.

JLA Satellite: Did you prefer penciling or inking, since you could do both?

I was under contract to ink so many pages a week, and it was a good deal. It's not that I can't pencil, its just that there's so much work inking--I was doing that [JLA], I was doing The Flash, a lot of things.

I would get called up by an editor who would say "I got a pencil job that wasn't what I expected it to be, can you...?" I was a doctor, know what I'm saying?

I was erase it, redraw it, and then ink it, and then the penciler wouldn't get any more work.

JLA Satellite: Why did you leave relatively soon after Dick Dillin passed away, and the book was given to George Perez?

FM: I did one or two issues, and then I said to Julie "you know, I think I'd like to move on." I was so used to what Dillin and I were doing together. I moved on a did a lot more other stuff.

It was a good change of speed at the time, inking groups was fast becoming not a favorite--there's too many people in there!

JLA Satellite: What are you working on now?

FM: I'm involved with Comic Mix; it's website with free comics, done by professionals. They've got five or six titles up there now, mostly reprints--stuff done by Mike Grell, Tim Truman.

But the stuff that's being produced as new stuff, which is what I'm working on now with [Dick] Giordano is called White Viper; and that should be starting up now.

JLA Satellite: Are you penciling it and he's inking it?

FM: The other way around; I'm writing it--actually I'm plotting and writing it with my daughter Erin, and Dick's penciling it. Boy, he's doing a bang-up job, too.

Talking to Frank was like sitting back and having a beer with a really cool uncle; albeit one that just happened to work on The World's Greatest Superheroes for almost a decade straight.

I thank him so much for all his great work, and for taking the time to talk to me for the blog. Thanks Frank!


Diabolu Frank said...

Is "White Viper" up yet? I couldn't find it...

Unknown said...

WoW! Great interview Rob. I love how you find these guys and get stories from them. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Great interview! Mr. McLaughlin had a hand in a great many comics I have read over the years. I'd like to thank him for all those hours of entertainment!


Mister Bones said...

Woah, this is awesome. Good stuff!

Anonymous said...

Nice job, Rob - thanks, Frank!

Here's some penciling by him, on his cult character:

-Craig W.

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