The introduction by Steve Englehart was reprinted from the 1979 Comic Art Convention program.
Gary Groth: Give us a little of you background, before you got into comics. I'm not sure of your age, but it seems to me that you entered comics at an older age than most of the young guys.
Marshall Rogers: Yeah, and I feel real fortunate about it. It helped me keep a little bit better perspective. Had the comic book companies accepted me when I first tried to break into comics in 1972 (I was 22 at the time; I'm now 29), I would've literally sold my soul for a chance to work in comics. By the time I did get it, I had more time behind me, hence a more mature outlook, a little bit better view of what was going on around me. So I didn't get sucked into the thrill of working on a comic book, which had been a very long dream. (I drew comics as a kid. I retraced Jack Kirby drawings galore, put 'em together in packages, and blew them up manually but putting a grid over the smaller drawing and then transcribing line by line to a larger grid.) So, coming in a little bit later in life, I felt I had a little bit better perspective on what was happening around me to the comics industry... what the companies were taking from me. And it helped me say, "whoa, wait a minute, something's going on."
I guess the first real background that would actually pertain to my art style would be in high school, where I took up mechanical drawing, and did quite well. I've always had an ability to grasp the mechanics of laying out lines, etc. And then, when I graduated high school, two things helped me decide to go to college. One, my parents wanted me to go to college, learn a profession, make a million dollars, and live happily ever after. And being a good little kid at the time, I said, "Okay." But I think more than anything else, Viet Nam was a very real thing at that time, and [going to college] was a sure way of staying out. Then the first lottery happened, and for the first time in my life I won something by losing. My number was, like 349, somewhere around there, and I knew unless it was a full-scale war when everybody was going, I wasn't going anyplace. And that sort of helped me start to say, "Wait a minute, I'm not really happy following architecture." I had gone for architecture; that I figured would keep my parents happy, because it's a legitimate profession, and would allow me some artistic outlet as I worked. Well, I quickly found out that the world wasn't ready for another Frank Lloyd Wright (who was an artist in his work), and I would end up doing parking lots and designing heating / cooling systems. I had wanted to draw and be imaginative. And then there was one last stumbling block, and that was calculus. I went to the calc teacher and I said "Why?" and he said, "Because." And I said, "Forget it." I just couldn't grasp those weird theories that were running around. I need a little bit more solid foundation. I started to get real antsy, extremely irritable, and I finally ended up talking with a guidance counselor who helped me get some perspective on myself. One of the major helps was that he gave me a series of relation tests, where there was no right or wrong answer but there was a list of 80 everyday activities. How many times I like to go and see a movie. How many times I like walking out in the countryside. And there were five answers, from "like a lot" to "dislike completely." It then related your likes and dislikes to other people in professional fields, in a percentage ratio. I had three categories that were very high, up around the 90% bracket. "Artist" was one, "photographer" was another, and I don't really remember the third; then there was a good 20-25% difference before anything else came in at all. So I said, "Yeah, that's right; I enjoy drawing a lot more than most other things." And I knew comic books was what it was: I could draw and act and direct. It also seemed to be the easiest obtainable. It was a one-man operation per se. So it seemed the easiest hill to surmount.
So in the end of 1971, I left college and returned to New York, where I'd grown up, only to find my father was transferred -- John's Manville [where my father worked] picked up lock, stock, and barrel and moved to Denver, Colorado, which threw my mother into a tizzy because, to her, the chick deserts the nest, and in this case the nest was deserting the chick. Bit it was also a great experience because I was put out on my own and had to really start fending for myself right in the beginning. That helped me get that better perspective I was referring to a little bit earlier, when I finally did get into the companies. And that was '71.
At the end of my days in college I had done an armload of samples. Just before that, I had read this little page by Joe Kubert, "So You Want to Be a Cartoonist." I had misinterpreted some of his materials that he had said the artist used. I ended up working on double-weight bristol board -- real heavy stuff, illustration board -- and I did a 52-page story. So I literally walked into Marvel with a load of pages dragging one side of my body down. I was practically touching the ground, trying to carry them along. John Verpoorten was there at the time, and The Mountain just looked down on me and said, "No." And that was the response for years. I kept on trying until late '73.
Gary Groth: They looked at your work...?
Marshall Rogers: Oh yes, they looked at my work; I went to both DC and Marvel. And I've looked at the work since then -- I still have all those pages -- and I wasn't ready for comic books at the time. But I had always felt that, given the chance, I could really produce. And I found that to be true. Some early samples I had shown for The Batman were good: they were strongly designed. That's what Vinnie Colletta and Marie Severin had originally seen in my work. That got me my first job; it wasn't really the drawing ability as much as my design capabilities. And thank God for those two people. They gave me the opportunity to really start working. And once I started working, just the amount and the fact that it was actually my living and I was eating off this kept producing is where the actual drawing style really started developing. I had to stop thinking about how other artists approach a figure, and I had to just do it on my own, because at that point I was doing both Detective and Mister Miracle, and it was non-stop, I had to start culling from myself, rather than thinking of somebody else.
Gary Groth: Between the time that you went to Marvel and DC in 1971, and the time you got work in '78, I think --
Marshall Rogers: '77.
Gary Groth: What improved you other than just practice? Was there a particular approach?
Marshall Rogers: No, not really. Age and not trying to make drawing super-heroes the only thing in my life and just expanding myself a bit during that time. Around '72, after the comics kept rejecting me, I met a couple of young artists who were trying to break into the field also, who suggested I try some men's magazines. Real low-grade schlock sleazo magazines that had illustrations to precede the stories. I went down with some sample work and I was able to get a job, so I was able to start actually drawing. The type of illustrations were completely opposite to the foundation of comics, but it did give me a chance to start putting bodies together and to get some experience behind me.
Gary Groth: Were you essentially a paid artist throughout all those years? Is that how you earned your living?
Marshall Rogers: Well, no, for the first couple of years I bounced in and out of a shipping clerk job, and then there was some retouch work for DC. A couple of old Batman stories for their Golden Age revival, back when they were 25¢ and they had a nice package where they included reprint stories. But still, the majority of the money was coming in from men's magazines. At the time, I had about $1000 -- maybe $1500 -- outstanding for published and unpublished material that I had already submitted to the magazine. Then they went bankrupt on me, and left me in the hole for that. But I guess karma is constantly working; an old high school buddy of mine who had a million-dollar scheme -- he has a million-dollar scheme every two weeks -- approached me with an idea where he needed four or five illustrations. Along with the deal came a house to live in for free for the winter. My lease was running out and the men's magazines had just gone bankrupt on me -- so that was the next move for me. I moved out to a place called Easthampton which is the end of Long Island, lived in that house for the winter for free. Of course, the million-dollar scheme never got off the ground because after doing the illustrations manual work was then necessary to put the package together and neither of us was interested in doing that. That following summer I became a beach bum, basically, and just forgot about comics for a while. I worked in a hardware store for six or seven months, then started fooling around with the boss's girlfriend/mistress; he was married but didn't appreciate the fact that I was seeing her, so I was canned from that job.
For the next few months I lived on unemployment, and, at that time, I started picking Seaboard/Atlas comics off the stands. They caught my fascination because they seemed to be a new company who was looking for experimentation rather than following the old, traditional formulas. So I said, "Hey! That's for me." I bopped down to the City, talked to an editor there, but my samples weren't exactly what the editor was looking for. So, I didn't get anything the first time. I came down two or three more times to talk with them, and there had been some changes in the editorial department, and with the editorial changes I was given a couple of very small assignments. One was to design a costume for a kung-fu character they were going to establish, and another was to do a couple of illustrations for a back-up feature in a black-and-white monster book. The kung-fu costume I designed was rejected because they said "It was too good," which meant, I felt, the costume was too intricate to draw over and over. The black-and-white illustrations were used. One appeared in the back of the black-and-white monster book on a little game-page they called "Dr. Frankenstein's Brain Twisters." But, in talking with Seaboard more and more, it became obvious that they were no longer interested in experimental types of books that had originally excited me. They seemed to be going more and more for the Marvel formula, and I started to realize that my work wouldn't be accepted because it didn't adhere to the established formula.
Gary Groth: You would say, in general, that Seaboard's aspirations were no higher or different than Marvel's or DC's?
Marshall Rogers: Well, that's what it seemed to me. When I had first gotten interested in them, they were doing the Scorpion, which I thought was quite a bit removed from your traditional Marvel or DC comic book. So, they gave me some hope that I would be able to do a little unformularized work and where I felt my creative imagination could be used to its best advantage.
Gary Groth: This was around what time -- '75?
Marshall Rogers: Well, this would be more like '76. I spent a good couple of years away from comics and during that time I painted a small bit. I had met a friend who was a cook, and he wanted to do a "Hobbit" cookbook. He knew some people at whichever company is the official publisher of Tolkien. So I did a cover of a Hobbit working away, putting together this meal. I also played with some odd commissions here and there. I would paint Sesame Street characters, Disney characters, whatever murals parents would like to see on their little kids' walls.
When I was first starting out I had always copied some other artist. The styles were first an imitation of Jack Kirby, with a bit of storytelling in the work, but I was very young and fresh. Then Neal Adams was the hot thing and I tried to imitate Neal. But in trying to imitate Neal, I started to pick up his storytelling style, and that didn't quite make it either. But then just being removed and playing on my own I started to feel that there was more to comic books than just drawing. And then when I saw what Walt Simonson was doing, I said, "That's what I think comics is about."
Gary Groth: "Manhunter," you mean?
Marshall Rogers: Yes, "Manhunter," absolutely. Great comics, it was another one of those teams that just make it perfectly. I enjoyed the art and the stories immensely. Walt's style was so graphic that it was easier for me to understand his style of drawing and imitate that. So along with a very strong Walt Simonson influence, and Howard Chaykin influence, I did up some new samples more strongly based on storytelling. That's what I started to show at Marvel. I went back to Marvel in late '76, and Dan Adkins talked to me that time; he then brought out Marie Severin. In January '77 they gave me my first assignment -- they started me working out of the British department, doing splash pages for the middle of their stories that they cut in half for the British books. Then after that, I was doing British work and splash pages and doing some illustrations for the American books.
Marvel had an opportunity for me to work on an American book, I think possibly Iron Man. But they needed the job quickly, and I didn't have a phone at the time -- starving young artist, etc., etc. They were very nice and sent me a registered telegram, to say, "hey, we have this job for you." But I was extremely wrapped up in some problems and working on a job that I already had, and that was money immediately that I still needed. I was living check by check at that time. I didn't get a chance to get down and respond to them for about two days. And by that time the job needed to be filled, so I missed the job, unfortunately. And then Marie suggested that I just take a walk across the street and show Vinnie Colletta what I was doing. I did, and thank God for Vinnie, because he saw the potential that was there. He liked my strong design influence, and started me out on my first American strip work -- the dog story which was originally slated to appear in the back of Kamandi called "Tails of Canterbury." Kamandi was going to be scrubbed, then it wasn't, but they decided to make it the full book, all Kamandi, so they had this back-up story that they needed to place someplace and it ended up in Weird War.
Gary Groth: You said "dog story?"
Marshall Rogers: Well, I call it a dog story. It's called "Tails of Canterbury," and it's going along the Kamandi premise, that the society in the future is animals, intelligent animals. It was basically English bulldogs in London, a short little six-page story that was very fun to work on. I really got off on doing some of the design work on it. And very surprisingly, some of the stuff they let go through this time, because I was just a young kid, and it was only a Weird War book, so I was able to draw outside the border: I did one panel of the major dog character looking through this old large arch window that had a rounded top, and the top jutted out of the top of the panel. But when I started doing the Batman work, and started drawing outside the border, all hell broke loose. "You can't do that! This is comic books! No liberties -- draw within the confines of what we tell you!" But in those early days, it was a lot of fun.
Gary Groth: How did you come to do the black-and-white Colleen Wing and Misty Knight story?
Marshall Rogers: Well, I had talked with John Warner and Chris Claremont at conventions, and they liked what I was doing. They had seen samples and saw what I was doing for the British books, and we agreed to do a story. Chris wanted to do a Misty Knight-Colleen Wing story, and I said, "That sounds fine." He told me he wanted to do an oriental setting; I said, "Great! I would like to do Hong Kong, and Junk City, and that type of story." So he said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I like that idea too." At that time John didn't have space in the book. But it was a project we said we wanted to work on. I'd gone over to DC and I don't know exactly where I was in DC at the time, what stories I was working on; it was before The Batman, but I know I was working for Julie Schwartz at the time, so it was around the Calculator series. I got a call from John Warner saying, "Are you still interested?" So I explained to Julie that I had a verbal commitment with John and Chris to do a story, and that I felt obligated to meet my commitments. He was very understanding about it. So I walked back across the street and worked out those two storylines with John and Chris, did up the story, and then came back to Julie, because I was having a very good time working with him, and ended up being handed The Batman.
Gary Groth: Before we get into your specific work in comics, I wanted to talk about your influences a little bit.
Marshall Rogers: Sure.
Gary Groth: You mention Walt, Howie, Neal -- anyone else inside or outside of comics?
Marshall Rogers: And Jack Kirby. Jack is the strongest influence No two doubts. When I tell that to people, they look at my drawing style and say, "Huh?" But it's not the drawing style. No one should really be influenced by another artist's drawing style. If you want to draw, you should learn the basic fundamentals. Understand how the body's put together, the proper proportions, the dynamics of the body, and then develop your own style, whichever you work easier in.
But what Jack did was he said, "Comic books are dynamic. Comic books are fun. Comic books should tell a story." That to me is what makes Jack Kirby king; he knew how to give a full world, he knew how to pull the reader into Jack Kirby's world. Whenever I read a Jack Kirby book, I allowed him to just guide me along. He was the tour guide and I was just going along for the ride. He understood the dynamics, and he understood the flow, and that's what I feel I picked up from Jack Kirby. My dynamics are different, my flow is different, but it was all Jack saying, "This is the way comics should be done." Then, any outside influence, I really can't say. Everything I've ever seen has influenced me. Everybody I've ever read has influenced me to one degree or another. It's either "Yeah, I really like that," or "No, I wouldn't do that." But I'm a culmination of everything I've seen before, and it all comes out.
Gary Groth: What about people like Eisner, Cole, and Steranko? Did they have any influence as far as storytelling goes?
Marshall Rogers: Well, I had not really been aware of Will Eisner and his Spirit stuff per se, because when I was growing up, my comic book reading was very limited. I wasn't in an area that had a vast selection of comics and of comics material. So I never came across The Spirit until well into trying to break into comics -- before I actually did break into comics, but around that time. But when I did read that stuff, I said, "Wow. Another master. Another one who knows this medium." The people that know the medium are the people I admire. And it's a storytelling medium as far as I'm concerned. Entertainment is what comics is about.
Gary Groth: It's a great feeling to discover something like that.
Marshall Rogers: Oh yes, it is. He literally blew me away. I made a point of reading his two-part interview [Journal #46-47] and I felt, once again, "...the guy knows where he's coming from. And he understands his medium." Will Eisner is up there in my book.
Gary Groth: A tremendously knowledgeable guy, and helpful...
Marshall Rogers: Yes, and he seems like a very warm person.
Gary Groth: Okay, we were at the part where you were at DC. Now, how did you get hold of Batman? That's a major strip and you were a pretty new artist...
Marshall Rogers: I was a young whippersnapper -- not particularly age-wise, but within the industry, absolutely. I had finished doing another back-up job, and it was time for me to do something else. And what was available was the back-up on the Calculator series, the back-up in Detective. Now, I don't know exactly what heads were involved, but I assume it was Vinnie going up to Julie and saying, "I have this kid who is good," and Julie saying, "I have this six-page Calculator story I want somebody to work on." And I was handed the assignment. I did the last two in the series, and then all five characters who had fought the Calculator before were to appear with The Batman for a full-length Batman tale, fighting the Calculator. Since I had done the last two, and I was available to do a job, it was decided that I would do the Calculator story. So, I was handed it, and I was thrilled, beyond words. I was ecstatic. The Batman was probably one of the first characters I had read, and I've always seen The Batman my way. The Batman you see on the pages is the Batman I had always seen, no matter who the artist was, in my youthful imagination. So I did the job and I brought it back down, and the reception around DC wasn't good. As a matter of fact, there was a possibility that it might not have seen press.
Fortunately, the deadline was so close, they didn't have the time to get someone else to do it, and Vinnie Colletta and Julie Schwartz were two people who did like it. And they pushed for me. And they pushed a lot. And they wanted to see the job go because even though the drawing was crude, they thought that the storytelling and the little visual bits that I put in there were more than adequate to bypass the crude drawing at the time, and they wanted to see it printed. It did see print, and because of it I was handed the Englehart stories. It was really just a fluke, being that young in the industry and getting that assignment.
Gary Groth: Who objected to the story and on what grounds?
Marshall Rogers: Well, yeah, I do know who objected, and it was someone up at DC. I don't think it's really necessary to get into who it was. But the objection was based on the actual drawing ability in the work. It was still crude and fresh. And the body wasn't put together completely properly. For instance, the drawings of forearms looked for a long time like the wrists were completely broken. The connection wasn't proper. And the torso didn't work into the pelvis completely proper. That was the objection -- that the drawing ability didn't have the total knowledge behind it. That was basically it.
Gary Groth: So you did five or six Batman stories...
Marshall Rogers: Well, I worked on six Batman stories by Steven Englehart, and then two more by Len Wein, and two by Denny O'Neil. The two by Denny were sort of two sides of the coin. One was in the regular comics format, and the other was the text job -- I refer to it as a text job -- where Denny wrote a little novelette and I did accompanying illustrations to go along with the story.
Gary Groth: Let's talk about which writers you like working with most.
Marshall Rogers: Okay. The name that blares out in my mind is Steve Englehart. I've immensely enjoyed working on Steve's stories, because Steve is a master who also understands his medium. He knows how to write a comic book story. He goes in and says, "Okay, here I'm working on Doctor Strange, and Doctor Strange works this way." He figures out what the character is about, how the character works. Then he went over to DC and said, "Okay, now I've got The Batman. The Batman and Doctor Strange aren't the same. The Batman works this way." And actually, on the first script, along with it came a little half-page written directly toward me. Steve had seen some of my work. I was still very young and fresh at the time, but he also saw the potential in there and saw that I put work into my jobs. He was happy that we were teamed together, and he was very hopeful that he would get a competent art job on it. He described to me how he envisioned The Batman. And as I was reading that paragraph, I'm saying, "Yeah, this guy knows The Batman, just like I know The Batman." Our feelings of the character were exactly the same. That's a dark, batlike creature who lurks through those shadows. And his costume is designed, and his whole function is, to instill terror in the hearts of evil-doers. So, then, getting into the body of the script, was where I understood the knowledge of Englehart. All the Batman stories were all there for me. Steve wrote complete scripts, a la DC, then turned them over to Julie Schwartz, who turned them over to me. Steve and I never collaborated on The Batman. He gave me everything in the script. He gave me the pacing. He gave me the mood. He gave me the settings. He gave me the movement of the characters. He didn't ask The Batman to do something that The Batman wouldn't do. He kept the character within its context of being a bat. And I said, "Okay. That's solid." Now, what I'll do, is I'll change the camera heading -- I'll give it a little bit weirder touch. I'll maybe break one panel down into two or three where we'll see reaction of the characters together. I'll zoom in on the eyes so we get a feeling of something going on. That was my contribution to the script. But Steve gave me a solid Batman story -- he really just wrote a complete scenario. And with the story that complete, I could do no less than give him complete mood and atmosphere to the story.
Gary Groth: How responsible was Steve for the storytelling as opposed to how much you were responsible?
Marshall Rogers: There we would have to go 50-50. I can't take any more credit than Steve, and Steve can't take any more credit than me. At that point, it became a pool. As I was trying to explain, it was all there, and I just gave it a different camera angle and extended it a bit more -- gave it a little bit more flow from panel to panel because I was willing to pull the panels out into three or four panels rather than two. Steve kept it within the confines of what most artists are used to working on, so there was the limited amount of panels. But within those, he made it all work. So I just took it and pulled it out into a more continuous flow. All was there to begin with, I just showed it visually.
Gary Groth: How detailed was his script? Did he say approximately what size the panels were supposed to be, the configuration?
Marshall Rogers: That was up to me; he did give me panel breakdowns and what he saw happening within it, but that's where I would deviate. Everything that was there visually Steve asked for, but again, just a different angle. If Steve wanted three panels working across the page, set up precisely so that it moved from panel to panel, I would say, "Okay, well, his intention is to go along with the flow of the story visually." Now I found out Steve is a very visual person, also. One of the reasons I feel he worked so well in comic books is because he also understands the visual side of the medium. And if he specifically asks for something visually I would try to adhere to it, and if I didn't adhere to it, I would try to give him a little bit more. I was able to give him another twist... just a different train of thought. So, to be honest -- and I really don't remember -- it became a pool, but I really feel that it was just a Rogers/Englehart production.
Gary Groth: So this was just one of those rare and gratifying times when the artist and writer meshed beautifully?
Marshall Rogers: Yes. Absolutely. We meshed so well that we became fast friends. Steve and I never met until the stories were completely done. We sat down and talked. We talked about the medium, the character, etc., and found out that we were very much on the same wavelength. And became friends.
Gary Groth: If you were given unlimited freedom to do Batman, how would you do him?
Marshall Rogers: In essence, what you saw in the comic books.
Gary Groth: Your work with Englehart?
Marshall Rogers: Right. I would like to do stories without the restrictions that the comics books do impose. I would like to be able to not have to worry about a punch issue. There would be no obligatory punching, no jumping, no action just because it fits into the formula. If there's a reason for action, there would be action. If there's a reason for characters just moving around and talking, there will be moving around and talking. What I would like to do is have reason and intent behind every panel and try to give the best possible complete story.
Gary Groth: From Steve's issues, Len's two were the next?
Marshall Rogers: Well, actually, there had to be a fill-in issue, a reprint issue, between Steve's story and Len's stories, just because of deadlines.
Gary Groth: How does Len's approach differ from Steve's?
Marshall Rogers: I'll have to get into the two different approaches, DC style as compared to Marvel style, because when Len and I worked on the Batman Detective job, it was "Marvel style," where Len gave me a synopsis, and then I was to go on home, do up the visuals, and then come back and he would script it. Which is a process that I found I don't really like. I like to be able to play off of what's actually being said, so I can show reactions, emotions, etc. In talking with Steve, he understood that, but from the writer's side, he likes to play off those same things, when he sees the visuals, so it's two sides of the same coin. But I didn't like the Marvel-style working too much, just because I had no idea what the emotions were going to be. You can say something is going to happen, but until you actually read what's being said, you don't know exactly how to show the expression along with it.
Gary Groth: How complete and detailed were the plots that Len gave you to work from?
Marshall Rogers: Too complete and detailed, as far as I felt. I'd always felt that when working in Marvel-style, if that's really the way it was going to be, just give me an idea of what is going to happen, and let me pace it out, because the artist is the visual person. He understands the visual movements. If there are specific bits in there of, say, two characters playing off each other, the writer should make a note, "I would like to see this." But the artist should really be given free rein. But Len gave me too much to allow any freedom of the actual story pacing. I became very restricted. I didn't have those words and emotions to play off of, but I had these blank things that I had to try to make work. But it was full, and I couldn't expound upon it at all.
Gary Groth: Are you less pleased with the stories Len did with you than the stories Steve did, in terms of their final end product?
Marshall Rogers: The final end product, I was not as pleased with; I didn't think it had as much of the proper Batman character. The mood and the atmosphere weren't there, the mythos of The Batman wasn't there. The solidity of the character wasn't there. I didn't like it when Batman saw Silver St. Cloud on another girl's face. Bruce Wayne could've seen Silver in another girl's face; but I feel The Batman is a character who's single-minded: when he puts on that cowl, he becomes The Batman. The purpose of The Batman is to preserve law and order, and truth and justice and the American way, and to stop evil-doers from infecting society. And that's his sole purpose. Now, maybe every once in a while, while there's a dull moment, The Batman can be up on the top of a rooftop, his actual life may pass through his thought process, but it really wouldn't be for any amount of time. The Batman and the Joker are -- once again -- two sides of the same coin. But The Batman knows how to control himself -- the Joker doesn't, he just goes hog-wild. As such, I don't think the strong solidity of the Batman character came through.
Gary Groth: So there were aesthetic differences between yours and Len's interpretation of The Batman.
Marshall Rogers: Right. And many people have come up and said, "Hey, you know, we liked that Clayface story." And I was taken back a bit. I know that it's a good comic book job. But I want to transgress comic books, what's considered a good comic book job today, and give solid entertainment. It's my theory that this is an entertainment.
Gary Groth: What are your criteria for good entertainment?
Marshall Rogers: The only correlation I'd be able to make in answer to that question will be a little rap that I've worked out in talking at conventions, etc., and that's...
If you look at the pages of the '40s, you can see that the creators were having fun. Those pages, while being very crude in both the writing and the art, have a certain magical quality that says, "Hey, we're having fun doing this." And everybody was paid a little bit better; it was a fresh new medium, experimentation was allowed, there were no formulas to adhere to. Today, in the '70s, I look at a comic book, and I know the inside story of what's going on within the industry. But I can't help to read, off the pages, that "Hey, were a very repressed lot, and we're not having very much fun. We have to do this job, we have to work 12 hours a day, and we have to just bust our backs, so we can't have any fun, we just have to produce it." Now, of course, as in everywhere, there are certain exceptions to the rule. There are some real gems that do come out, but it's basically the people that put a lot of medium, and they want to see something coming out of it. I give each and every one of those people a very large kudo, because that's what I feel is really needed. We have to feel good to turn out a product that is fun to read.
Gary Groth: When you say that you find people are sort of depressed about things, are you talking about the art or the writing or both?
Marshall Rogers: I think it's both, and in fact, I feel it's a package in toto. Of course, there are exceptions. I mean, it's not every rule, but we have so much out there today, and not even half as much as was out there in the '40s, but it just doesn't have that same enthusiasm of, "Hey, we're having a good time."
Gary Groth: To what would you attribute the lack of vitality and excitement?
Marshall Rogers: Oh, wow. That is multi-faceted. There's no singular answer for that. A lot of things, and I really don't know where to start. I may just as well jump right into it, and I'm going to hit on the work-made-for-hire. Back in the '40s, they didn't know better; in the '70s, we know that all our creations are being taken from us and the companies are getting the sole benefits of it with a very mediocre kickback to the artists of American reprints pages, which are a joke. The companies, under this work-made-for-hire rule, obtain all creators' rights from the artist -- that, in essence, is what this work-made-for-hire is all about. It reverts the creators' rights from the "artist" (and when I say "artist," I mean writer, penciller, anybody who is creating something) over to the company. When the company is acknowledged as the creator, they receive the royalties, and anything that comes from the revenue of the work.
Now, they supposedly give American reprint rates, but that's really a joke. In the text job that I had done, there was going to be a wraparound cover. This was going to be a giant Dollar Book with no advertising, so it was art on the cover, and art on the back [cover] of the book. Normally, a cover rate at DC is $125 when I was working for them.
Gary Groth: A complete cover?
Marshall Rogers: Complete cover -- idea, pencils, and inks. DC also pays for cover ideas. So it's more than just the actual work, they give you some money for an idea. That was the book that [contained] the text job that Denny O'Neil and I had worked on, and DC decided, rather than have me do a complete wraparound cover, or new art for the cover and the back, they were going to run on the back one of my interior pages, from the graphic text story. I'm still carrying around in my wallet, to this day, a check for $7.50 that they gave me because they considered that cover a reprint. So instead of getting $125, I got seven dollars and fifty cents. I refuse to cash the check, just for the joke value of it through the years.
Gary Groth: I'm glad you mentioned Denny's text story; I wanted to ask you a little about how you did that. I thought it was futile to try to integrate all that text with the art, but I thought it worked about as well as it possibly could have. Can you give your view on that?
Marshall Rogers: Sure. I walked into Julie Schwartz's office one day, and he said, "Hey, would you be interested in working on a slightly different project?" I said, "Well, what are you talking about?" He said, "You remember the Adam Strange stuff that Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson did back in the '60s, where there was text and an illustration, text and an illustration?" I said, "Sure I do." He said, "Well, I got Denny O'Neil to write a text story; would you like to do the illustrations for it?" I said, "A challenge -- just what I love." So I was handed the job, and Denny had written the story completely, it was turned over to me, and I was told that I had 15 pages to play with, and I could do whatever I want. So I went gung-ho into it, tried to work it out the best that I could. Unfortunately there were some productions problems -- I was given master sheets of the copy, that was supposedly the printed text size for the original pages that would be shot down with the original art for the job. Unfortunately, they picked a typeface that was a little bit too small. When it got down to actual production, they found that they had to beef up the type... enlarge it. So they redid the copy, and it took up more space than I had allotted for it. Consequently, some of the illustration got lost beneath some of the copy. Also, some of the copy got slightly changed from page to page. So that everything wasn't reading out on the page where I had illustrations. Also, the production department got real bitchy. The wouldn't give me a negative lettering... white on black. There was a very crucial area that it was important that there be white on black lettering because it was a whole different time sequence, a flashback. And there was a small blurb on a preceding page that was to serve as a lead-in from one scene into the flashback scene that should've been white on black. It would've worked a lot more effectively had it been done that way, but with the same type of printing throughout the whole job -- it didn't make that transition. Then, after the job was done, Jeanette Kahn had been very interested in the project as it went along, and I went in and talked about it and we both agreed that there were some highlights to it, but there were also some fallacies to it. It was an interesting job, it made it in some places, and in some places it didn't. It's actually a very difficult format to work within. I would love to give it another shot at some point, because it is a challenge, and it's nice to have your abilities taxed to the limit.
Gary Groth: Am I right -- and I'm probably not, so correct me -- am I right in assuming that you sort of approach these things as challenges and experiments and that you don't have a goal as to what exactly you want to do and you are sort of feeling your way out?
Marshall Rogers: Yes, basically, I try to go in with a completely blank mind to each new story, each new project. I say, "Okay, now, what's my approach going to be on this?" The starting point is always storytelling. How are the art and the words going to work so that the reader gets the best impact from the story? Entertainment, once again. How good is the entertainment value going to be? What do I need to do as an artist to bring across that entertainment value? I'm now working on the Don McGregor job [Detectives, Inc.]. I went into that knowing that Don is a very wordy writer., and knowing the types of stories that he likes to write. So I kept that in mind and my approach is a lot more like a movie soap-opera type of approach, allowing Don's writing to come out to its full extent. I'm not going to try to challenge his words, because if you have the art trying to compete with the writing, or the writing trying to compete with the art, I feel things can get too difficult. With the McGregor job, I had decided to go in and allow Don's writing to come out, and only try to play off his writing so that it became once again a full package.
Gary Groth: From what I've seen of the book, Don had written less than he usually does. Is that true or could that just have been the pages I saw?
Marshall Rogers: Well, I did put one restriction on the job: I said I'd be willing to work on the job more than happily, because Eclipse Enterprises is a terrific publisher from the artist's point of view. They only ask for first North American printing rights, and then anything after that has to be renegotiated with Don and myself. So every time that job sees print, the creators are going to see some royalties from it. That's going to be part of my Social Security, my retirement fund, my vacation plan. They approached me with the right frame of mind, and I want to jump on that type of project. But the one restriction I put on the job was, I had Don write a complete script. We weren't going to work Marvel style, for the reasons I explained earlier in this interview. I like to see what's being said, so I can play the characters' reactions and emotions visually off of what's being said.
Gary Groth: It sounds to me like you work largely on an instinctual level. For instance, I think that when Steranko did a book, he methodically planned everything out. He had a goal in mind as to what effect he wanted, and every panel planned out and so on.
Marshall Rogers: Right, absolutely.
Gary Groth: It just strikes me that you might work on a more instinctual level, such as with Denny's story, where you looked upon it as a challenge, and you weren't quite sure what the effect would be, but you attempted...
Marshall Rogers: There is a lot of instinct in there. Jim also has a lot more years of experience behind him, so he knows how to put that together. Also being the writer/artist, you can solidly plan all that out, like Jim has the ability of doing. I do work very strongly on instinct, what I think is going to work, what I feel is going to bring across the story, but I also have to go in without any preconceived plans, because I'm working from another person's thought processes. And it's my job to bring these thought processes across visually.
Gary Groth: Well, for instance, when you worked on Steve's scripts, did you lay out the whole book on notebook paper first, page by page?
Marshall Rogers: Well, actually, the way I approach a story is, I go in and read the full script. I want to understand what's going on. I have to know myself. Then I go through and reread it, and if any strong visuals pop to mind, I'll jot little notes to myself. Anything that is really strong. Then I'll go back a third time and actually lay out the story, on layout bond, in original page size. Very quick doodles, doodles that no one is able to understand except Rogers, and then plot out the rest of the book, working around any key visuals that I have come across. And then I will finally go through and transpose it into more intelligent drawings on a lightbox.
Gary Groth: What is good storytelling and what is bad? Are there any particular panel progressions that you think are particularly effective?
Marshall Rogers: Within the Englehart work, I felt all that pulled off very well, and there's nothing that comics to mind that I would particularly like to change at this point.
Gary Groth: Are there certain things that drag the eye from panel to panel that you consciously do?
Marshall Rogers: Oh, yes. I'm very conscious of eye movement, and I try to purposefully make the reader's eye move from panel to panel, encompassing the art and word balloons. I end up placing all my word balloons, and I design them, right into the panel along with everything else. I try to make it so that there's an easy flow for the reader, so he can move through panels where I want him to move through easily, and then I'll make him come to a screeching halt. I think one of the things that Jack Kirby did to me as a young reader was, he set up visually, and then he would blow me away with a terrific stop that [made] you say, "Oh, wow!! Look at that!!" and the eye stopped. Then, he would set you up with another little visual lead-in, and then he would give you another terrific mind-blowing illustration where you had to stop and say, "Wow! The King strikes again!" I try to work along those lines, where we get a little bit of a lead-in, and then a nice dynamic shot -- or, it doesn't necessarily have to be dynamic, either. It's just [a matter of] where I'll try to stop the reader's eye. I try to lead the reader in from the left side of the panel, and make the art work out the right side, until I want the reader's eye to stop -- [then] the art opens up on the left hand side and stops on the right, so the eye says, "Hey, wait a minute, stop there," gets the impact of that, and then moves on.
Gary Groth: Is this a sort of self-taught visual sense, or have you studied psychology of eye movement and forms and so on?