Today I am pleased to present this interesting interview with veteran Artist Lou Manna, who has worked on a on many notable comics over the years including early work on Thunder Agents and All-Star Squadron to his present work on The Phantom and Soulcatcher series.
Special thanks goes to FBU guest correspondent Clayton Neal who conducted this interview.
Clayton Neal: Looking back, what was it that got you hooked on comics? Do you remember what title it was?
LOU MANNA: I can remember the issue! It was Superman #161, the one where he goes to war and Ma and Pa Kent die. I was amazed that could happen in a comic book! And seeing the beautiful Curt Swan's art got me hooked. It was all DC from there. I remember going to the corner store and an issue of Batman with Ace the Bathound, so from then on I was a comic book junkie!
There was a cool old store where the guy had boxes of comics he sold for five cents each. I bought a lot of DC's Superman and Batman, and in a few years I had a pretty good collection. I discovered Marvel's Spiderman a few years later, and then things really started opening up for me.
I have been collection comics since I was 8 years old. Thank God for comic shops! An old man like me going to the 7-11 to buy comics might look a bit odd.
CN: When did you realize that you wanted to be a comic book artist?
LM: When I was 8 or 9 years old, I started to try and draw Superman and Batman. I would do these little comics on loose leaf paper with crayons. When my Dad would come home from work, I would sell them to him for a quarter. From there, I just tried to copy my favorites like Gil Kane, Buscema, Neil Adams, and many others.
I spent years making the same mistakes that most others who want to draw comics make. I had no knowledge of anything about the comic business. I would see the finished product, but didn't know what all went into the production.
CN: Was it easy for you to break into comics?
LM: Not at all! Well, in one way it was, but in another it was not! When I first started to show samples, I was so naive. I took the samples to DC Comics, and Jack Adler would be very patient with me. He would explain that I needed to work on drawing hands, so I would do that, go back the next month, and he would say “Ok, the hands are good, but the buildings are bad, work on that. This went on for a few years. I was always sure that the next time I went in, would be the time he would say “we have work for you”. This went on for about 3 years, but I was learning as I went along, since I had no formal training.
Finally, Dave Manak and Dick Giordano liked my samples. And were going to give me a werewolf story to do. The fact is, I showed them my samples and went home, thinking the same rejection was happening. They called me and asked “Where did you go?” and then they told me that they had work for me. They said I could go back in the next day, and that is where it began.
I spent two years training on mystery stories, and really learned a lot about the business. I learned to draw a lot of things that I would never want to draw on my own. It was great training because it taught me that there was more to comic art than just drawing muscle men. I also learned about story telling, from there I got a bit lucky.
My friend, John Cardona, was a great artist in school, and we would always draw pictures and show each other. One day he introduced me to his cousin, Jimmy Janes, who was working for Warren. I showed him my work, and he saw potential. I started doing some layouts for him, and from there, he got me the Legion of Super Heroes assignment. I did a lot of work there, layouts and pencils that he would go over and fix, that lasted about a year. I met Rich Buckler through Jimmy, and did some layouts for him on the Hulk, All-Star Squadron, and other books that he worked on.
I went and got Spiderman from Mark Gruenwald, and was supposed to become the artist on the Web of Spiderman, but that fell through, so I went back to DC where I felt more comfortable.
CN: You were rejected a number of times by DC, did you submit to other companies?
LM: The funny thing was, I got rejected by DC for three solid years. I just happened to go to Marvel Comics with Jimmy Janes when he was dropping off his work. Mark Gruenwald came out to say “hi”.
He looked at my work, brought me in and gave me a Spiderman script—just like that! They never used it, but I got paid for it, and did a few small jobs for them. A Rogue story, I think, so that was weird!
There were a lot of companies in the 80's that you could submit samples to. Some rejected me, and some gave me work. I was one of the first American artists that worked for a British company when I did Sunrise for Harrier Comics in 1983. Most British artists came here, I did the opposite! Also, Grant Morrison had a back up story in it, so how weird is that?
CN: I am interested in knowing what your feelings are about the past “ages” of comics. We have all watch the medium evolve, but not everyone thinks that is such a good thing.
LM: Well, what the artists today are doing is really amazing work. But there is something about the look of the older comics that stays with me. Today the art is so much better. The coloring, the writing, are excellent, but a lot of todays books get lost in the process. The coloring is by computer, and in many cases so dark that I can't see the art underneath.
The silver age to me was the most exciting, a combination of the age and the times. I remember when certain comics came out, they were so mind numbing to me: Neal Adam's Batman, Wrightson's Swamp Thing, Colan, Kane, Kirby, Aparo, all a big part of my youth, so I am bias for that time and style. I'm not taking anything away from the greats of today. Hitch, Davis, Garcia Lopez, Hughes, and so many others, I don't see it as “bronze age, silver age, etc., but as a evolution of comics and the medium.
40 years ago, His Name was Savage, to me was the first mature graphic novel, but it goes unrecognized. Today there is so much product, that you really have to stand out to make a difference.
CN: I know that Salem Saint James, the comic you produced, was set in the World War 2 era. And some of the work you did for DC included both Infinity Inc and the Young All-stars. Am I correct in assuming that you really have a fondness for the golden age?
LM: Not so much the golden age, but I do like that period of time. I was born in the 50's, but I think the art deco of the 30's and 40's—the cars, the clothes, just the feel of that time period makes for some great backgrounds. And as for bad guys, you can never have enough Nazis to beat up on.
I set Salem in the 40's because I like that innocent time, and because he would fit more as a private eye than in todays time period. Now having said that, if I continue doing a new Salem book, I have thought about bringing him into the modern times. But I do like the early golden age stuff. Only the very early Captain America, Superman, and Batman, but after the first few books, the golden age really wasn't so golden. The art was crude, and it wasn't until the early 50's when it got a lot better. As the second generation of comic artists came into the field.
CN: Can you tell us what you are working on now?
LM: I am doing a set of sketch cards for Moonstone, a few small indy projects, and I just started to work up a Phantom story that I will be writing and drawing.. Plus a few pet project graphic novels that I am also working on now, I try to work on something new each week, so I take in a lot of small assignments, commercial work. I just finished a 50 page book for a school system in Chicago, and a logo design. So as long as people need work, and I think I can do it, I am always open to new projects. It helps to be able to do a few different styles, and not just comic work, because that expands both.
I have always has such a weird journey in comics. Not always easy, not always fun, but I got bit by the comic bug when I was young. It is something I could never see myself giving up. Even when I worked for corporations as a creative service manager, I always had time at night to do some comic art. I would run home and eat dinner, then go to the studio to work on something. Anything to keep my hand in it.
Now that I do this full time, the stakes are much higher, but the rewards are so much sweeter when you finish up a book and the client is happy.
I look at the road I started on, and the road to get there--- I am a lucky guy!
CN: And we are lucky you granted us this interview! Thank you Lou!
And I second the thanks to both Clayton and Lou for the interview! - Jim
You can check out more of Lou's art at: http://www.louismanna.com/