The Comic Book Show #18
Dallas Fantasy Fair, Nov 1990
Hosted by Keith Colvin

This interview has been provided courtesy of The Comic Book Show, hosted by Keith Colvin and produced by Kevin Gould. For the audio (coming soon, when I can find the disk space to upload and store a 13MB mp3 file on the web) and transcript below, I used the uncut version of the interview, because the conversation before and after the "official" broadcast interview was simply too interesting to omit.

Marshall Rogers: Hello there.

Keith Colvin: Howdy. Glad to have you on.

Rogers: Thank you. Boy those things are bright.

Colvin: Yes they are. Yes they are. Let me get the fan boy stuff out of the way. Man I love your stuff!

Rogers: Well thank you.

(Both laugh)

Colvin: What do you want to talk about?

Rogers: Oh, that's a good question. Um...

Colvin: Use it as your personal forum. Use it to promo whatever you want coming up...

Rogers: Well there's nothing I really want to hype. I'm not doing anything independent. With new family responsibilities, I've had to go more commercial...

Colvin: ...yeah...?

Rogers: I'm working for the mainstream companies. Why don't we just sort of do an overview...

Colvin: ...OK...

Rogers: ...of what's been what and um... (pause)

Colvin: Do you want to start at the beginning? Which would be...? I'm not familiar enough with...

Rogers: Well at the beginning was after many years from, say, '77 to '76 of attempting to get into the books. I probably got my first break and within a short time within a year and a half I got a chance to do the Batman which...

Colvin: ...I know. That's what I...

Rogers: ...which is what put me basically where I am today, because I'm still riding on the fame of what I did with the Batman stuff.

Colvin: Well, in that particular time frame, when was that, about '78 to '80?

Rogers: Yeah, that would be '78 to... Yeah, I guess so. The end of '80. Well, the beginning of '80, I guess.

Colvin: Well, that time for me as a comic fan was not a particularly fertile time for comics.

Rogers: I think that's a lot of what it's about. It's being at the right place at the right time. At the time that I got the Batman stuff, there wasn't very much enthusiasm going on and when I had finally gotten my break after about five years of trying and attempting and also having some... See, I didn't start working until I was 27 years old, so I had a lot of stuff in me that was just waiting to come out and I was fortunate enough to be given material that was lush with atmosphere and mood...

Colvin: ...Oh yeah...

Rogers: ...and the Batman has always been a favorite character of mine. So it all just sort of came churning out...

Colvin: I can still see your sweeping Batman panels and pages and the most disappointed I remember being in that time period was I got the new Detective... Was it Detective?

Rogers: Yes, it was Detective.

Colvin: Yes, it was Detective. I got the new one. I was so pumped up. I looked at the first two pages. It was so good and I turned to the third page and there was a printing error and all the color was smeared...

Rogers: (laughs)

Colvin: ...And you don't know how distraught I was that I couldn't see it all, like you wanted it to be seen. (Stage hand approaches) Yes sir?

Stage hand: Are you miked already?

Colvin: Yes, I am.

Stage hand: Ok. Before we start, I want to check him a little bit. (technical details omitted) Marshall, do you want to stay in the position you are now? When you talk to Keith are you going to move? I just want to try to get a good shot.

Rogers: Well, I think I might be a little better off about there I guess. Yeah. (moves cigarette pack) Let's get the temptation out of the way. I'm a smoker, ...

Colvin: ...Oh, OK... (both laugh)

Rogers: there will be some hand gestures, but I'll try to keep them low, also.

Colvin: Larry has a lot of shots with me doing this. (gestures off camera)

Rogers: And just for a little bit of in-between, I'd sort of like to hit the fact in, let's see, in '78 I was involved in an ad-hoc committee or guild for comic book creator's rights.

Colvin: Is that the one that was formed for Steve Gerber's...?

Rogers: No, I think a lot of things happened around simultaneously at that time. The crux of the situation was the U.S. rewrote their copyright laws to bring them up to world standards. It was only in 1977. At that time, they also included a paragraph in there which is called the "work-made-for-hire" clause. What that did was it stated in black and white what had always been the rule of thumb and norm for the publishing industry.

Colvin: Except for comics...

Rogers: No, including comics, that the publishers owned the creator rights to work being published. And that's how Siegel and Shuster lost Superman. That's how Bob Kane lost Batman. And that was the norm that all the companies were working under, that when you turned work turned work in it belonged to the company. And prior to '77, the companies were keeping everything, the physical artwork and the printing rights. Since then, things have changed around and the physical artwork is being returned, under the condition that it is...

Colvin: ...copyright noticed...

Rogers: ...copyright noticed, exactly. That all printing rights belong to the company still and all characters belong to the company, but at least the physical artwork is returned to the actual artist, because he can't be considered the creator, since the work-made-for-hire says that the creator's rights, which are royalties, ownership, reprints, is the property of the companies. And this is what, for instance, Michael was talking about... (Stage hand approaches)

Stage hand: Go for it?

Colvin: Oh, sure. We're having a great conversation.

Stage hand: This way we get some of this on the air or there's not enough time to do the interview.

Rogers: OK... (laughs)

Stage hand: You've got fifteen minutes or so to play with.

Colvin: We'll see where it goes from there. By all means, don't wait for me to ask a question if there's some direction you want to go in.

Rogers: OK. And then we'll go off into talk about what I did outside the mainstream of comics which will come around to Cap'n Quick and a Foozle.

Colvin: And I noticed your doing the new Justice League?

Rogers: Yeah. And what I've done is after working for a good part of the 80's for the independent companies, Eclipse Comics specifically. It sort of culminated with Cap'n Quick and a Foozle which I'll go into later on. But when that did not take off, to be financially successful, I had to return to mainstream to keep myself and my family eating. So I went back to the mainstreams, but nothing permanent yet. We'll talk about looking for a place...

Colvin: All right.

(final preparations before aired interview)

Keith Colvin: We're at the Dallas Fantasy Fair with Marshall Rogers, comic artist, comic creator. Thank you for coming down and spending some time with us.

Marshall Rogers: Thank you.

Colvin: We want to do a little overview, a little history of Marshall Rogers in comics. I want you to walk me through it, the early 70's, mid 70's, trying to break into comics. Tell me about it.

Rogers: Well, after deciding that I didn't want to pursue architecture, which is what I had gone to college for, and seeing that there really wasn't room in the world for another Frank Lloyd Wright, trying to be an artistic architect, architecture has become functional. And what I really decided I wanted to do was entertain people and comic books have always been a major love of mine through my growing years. And I decided that what I really wanted to do was draw comic books or work in the comic book field. So I left college and tried to break into the comic book field. Showed samples for many years, about five all told, with a hiatus here and there. I was a beach bum for half a year and worked in a couple of hardware stores, months on and off. But I finally decided to try to get back in around late '75 and after a couple more months of showing samples, my work started to get enough of a professional edge that I got my first opportunity and my first chance in comic books. And that was working for Marvel comics, working for their British publications.

Colvin: Oh.

Rogers: And I did that for about nine months. Work that was never seen in the United States. And it wasn't really going anywhere for me to get a chance to do American work, so I took a chance and went over to DC comics, showed some samples there of what I had been doing and a couple of ideas that I had and Vinnie Colletta, who was then the artistic director at DC Comics, liked what he saw and gave me my first American work.

Colvin: Which was...?

Rogers: Which was two short stories called Canterbury Tale. It was originally slated for the back of Kamandi comics. But Kamandi comics, I think either folded or changed their format, so they didn't use the back-up story, and it ended up appearing in Weird War. And then after they liked what I did there and gave me another short story. And after about three or four months, I was given a short story in the back of Detective Comics, where characters, who did not have their own titles at that time, fought this villain that was created for this purpose. And it was the Atom, Green Arrow, Elongated Man, Hawkman, and the Black Canary. And there were five short stories where they each fought this villain called Calculator and were defeated. And then the idea was for a final confrontation between all these characters, plus the Batman, to be in a full length Batman story. So I had done the last two of these short stories series and the artist who was working at the time, Ernie Chan, was no longer going to draw Batman. He was going back to Marvel to work on Conan and they didn't have an artist to do the Batman stories. So, because I had done the last two, they gave me a full length assignment. I was in the right place at the right time. Well, the work wasn't very well received at the offices of DC. Julie Schwartz, who will be the first to say he doesn't know artwork, didn't see any problems with it, but there were other people that weren't too happy. But deadlines required that the job be printed, because they did not have time to get anybody else to do the job. It saw print and the fan-mail reaction was so good, that two months later I was given the regular assignment to draw Detective Comics, which was the Englehart series, that I've actually made my reputation off of. And it just sort of went from there.

Colvin: Your art style in those early days, is that a style that you worked on, or is that what just came out because you were there at the moment?

Rogers: Well, it was very contrived in the beginning. In going through the many years of delivering samples and trying to get work, I went through a number trying to find my stylization. I went through a number of different periods of emulating different artists. Whoever was hot at the time is who I would try to emulate. Neal Adams is the first name that comes to mind, because Neal was gigantic in the industry at that point and there were any number of people trying to emulate his style also. But I've never been that realistic in my rendering and finally, when Walter Simonson and Howard Chaykin started getting work and they were doing a different type of finishing in their pencils, I was able to emulate that stylization much easier than Neal Adams' super-realistic style. So that was the period that I, or that was the style I was using when I finally had my first samples accepted. After about three months of getting regular work, maybe a little bit more, I could no longer look at what other people were doing, because it took too much time to go and research and I had to just learn to draw on my own. And that's where my real stylization started to develop. When I didn't have time to see how someone else drew a hand, I had to learn how to draw a hand myself.

Colvin: You spent some time studying art or architecture...?

Rogers: Well, I've always done well in art through high school and I did have two years of architectural training, but that's drafting. It's not rendering of a human figure. I went and took, every so often, I wasn't a regular participant, a semester of anatomy classes at night school. But really, for the most part, it's self- taught and it was on-the-job training. A lot of my stylization developed where I would have a panel where something was being said and I wanted to have a strong emotional reaction, and I would key in on just the eyes in the panel. Well, one of the reasons that I keyed in on just the eyes was because then I could spend some time to learn how the eyes worked. And I would go back to anatomy books, and reference the eyes and have the whole time of a panel to spend drawing the eyes. Or if I had someone pointing, it was just the hand pointing, it was for that same reason. It gave me the time to learn what the hand was about and how to draw the hand. And that also helped to develop my stylization.

Colvin: For me, the late '70s were not a particularly fertile time and I can always conjure up an image of a swooping Batman or the Marshall Rogers' Clayface issue, if I remember correctly, that was...

Rogers: Yeah, that was sort of the end of the period for me.

Colvin: Uh huh. How long were you on that run of... Detective Comics, wasn't it?

Rogers: Yes, it was Detective Comics and I'd say a little bit over a year, because the books were on a bi-monthly schedule, meaning that they were published every other month. And, let me see, there were six Englehart stories that I did, the first one I had done that got the mail reaction, and then two Len Wein stories and a Denny O'Neil story, so we're talking about, I guess, maybe a year and a half, at the time.

Colvin: You got to work with some really good writers then.

Rogers: Yes, I did. Yeah. And I was very fortunate. You know, I think all of the comic book industry, the business, is, on the professional side, being at the right place at the right time. During that period that you mentioned, the late '70s, there was a lull in excitement, I think, coming out of both of the companies. There wasn't a lot of enthusiasm on the creative end, I don't feel. And there's a couple of reasons why, that we could go into, that led to it, but having spent so long trying to break into the industry, I had a lot of enthusiasm built up inside of me. And getting a chance to finally work on The Batman, one of my longtime favorite characters, I really just sort of let it all out. I did everything I ever wanted to see The Batman do, I drew The Batman how I always wanted to see him drawn. Neal Adams probably came the closest to the character, as I had imagined the character, but there are still stylization differences between Neal's and my work. And so I really just got a chance to do what I'd always wanted to see for myself. And I think my enthusiasm is what caught the attention of the number of people that did pick up on my Batman work, which wasn't a great number at that time, because sales in general were fairly low. But for those that were reading, I did get a good reaction.

Colvin: Now, you say that this is a slower type period. After your enthusiasm wore off, would you say that precipitated your involvement with the creator's rights issues?

Rogers: Well, actually, what was happening, I think the creator's rights issues were a part of the reason for the decline in the enthusiasm with the creators. In '77, America brought it's copyright standards up to world levels, but at the same time, they included a phrase in the copyright laws called the "work-made-for-hire" phrase. And what that did was it put in black and white what had always been the rule of thumb of the industry. And it said, in essence, that the comic book publishers owned the creator's rights to work being published. That meant that they owned the characters that they were printing. They had exclusive rights for reprints and that the artists that were actually involved in creating the material did not. And that each time a job was done, there was a one time payment and then any time after that that the company saw fit to reprint the art, whether in context to the full story or out of context just for advertisement or for licensing and merchandising, the companies got the royalties. And it created a turmoil, I would have to say, within the artistic community in the comic books. And not just the comic books. It was widespread, because photographers, for instance, were also affected by this work-made-for-hire clause. So within the general artistic community of the United States, there was a lot of commotion in trying to strike this work-made-for-hire clause from the new copyright laws. Unfortunately, it didn't come to any fruition. The work-made-for-hire clause is in the current copyright laws and it's still the rule of thumb in the business. Now some things have changed, because of the discontent that was being voiced at the time. Both companies now do give royalties for books that have higher sales figures than "x" amount of copies and it varies from company to company and from market to market. The companies also pay when a publication goes into a reprint and there will be a royalty scale for that also. So things today are much better than they were in the late '70s. But the companies still do own the characters that they have owned since the beginning of the publishing industry and there are now also independent companies that allow artists to own their own creator rights.

Colvin: Well, that's what I was fixing to ask you about. In the early '80s, you went into independent comic publishing. Is that correct?

Rogers: Yes, that's right. I finally came to a point that I was going to make a change in my career. Number one, I wanted to be able to expand myself artistically more by inking my own material. And DC wasn't really interested in having me do that. They wanted me to be a penciller. They wanted me to be a cog in their machine and to keep on turning out the work on a monthly basis for them, which is what the companies are about. But I needed to be a little bit more independent, so I chose to look someplace else and I felt that it was time to put my foot where my mouth was, is what it ended up coming down to. But I felt that I had to go work for some independent companies that did give me creator's rights. And I worked for Eclipse Publishing and I created, in tandem with Steve Englehart, Scorpio Rose and Coyote and after doing that I also helped to visually... develop, that's the word I'm looking for, a character called Doctor Orient. I had a friend, Frank Lauria, who has written any number of Doctor Orient novels for different publishers, but he'd always been interested in the comic book art form. And when he had a chance to bring his character to the comic book pages, working with me, he was thoroughly enchanted by the idea, so I helped to develop visually that character, which was a backup in Scorpio Rose. And then I finally got a chance to create, develop, and put out some fantasy work that I'd always wanted to do, which was creating Cap'n Quick and a Foozle. But given all ideal situations, even the best of ideas are not always either at the right time or not ready for the market that's available. So unfortunately, Cap'n Quick and a Foozle didn't go as far a I'd like to see it go.

Colvin: Was it personally satisfying for you?

Rogers: Oh, extremely so. I was getting tired of the sex and violence that's so preeminent in comic books today, and while it's not blatant, it's very underlying. And I wanted to do a comic book that a parent could sit their young child down on the knee and read the comic to the child and the child on one level could enjoy what was there and the parent on another level could enjoy what was there also. When I first realized the double level that Warner Brothers cartoons worked on, it really blew my mind, because as a kid, when I saw them on television, they were ha-ha, funny-funny, slapstick comedy. And then when I would start to rewatch them after, you know, twenty odd years behind me, I also saw a whole different level that the comedy was working on. And so that's what I tried to put into Cap'n Quick and a Foozle. And after the very serious slant that The Batman and the other comic book work that I was doing had started to wear thin on me, I really wanted to do some humor, because I get emotionally involved in the work that I do. That's one way I bring life to the characters that I work on. And all this seriousness and straightforwardness and all the heart thumping that was going on in the work that I was involved in, I needed to have a break. I needed to get light, I needed to get silly, and Cap'n Quick did that for me.

Colvin: And now, we're working on some projects with DC?

Rogers: Yes. After Cap'n Quick and a Foozle didn't go as far as I would have liked it to go, I had to reevaluate my situation and I felt that it was necessary for older responsibilities. By this time, I now have a family and I needed to be concerned about them. Being no longer the carefree single, and I didn't care if I didn't eat for a day or two or even a week, I couldn't do that to my family. So I had to get a little bit more serious and back to what would be considered a little bit more serious story lines. So I had gone back in the late '80s and started to work for the mainstream companies, DC and Marvel, where the page rate, which is the basis for pay for artists, is better. And since Marvel and DC are now paying royalties, it became more economically feasible for me to work for them more, so...

Colvin: Still consider yourself a freelance creator, though?

Rogers: Uh, yes, at this time. I work between the two companies. I do work for each of them. But again, I think economics are going to get me to put my eggs into one basket at this time and make a choice between the two companies. DC has got a little bit more balance on the scale right now, but you never know what the future is actually going to hold.

Colvin: Marshall Rogers, thank you for spending some time with us.

Rogers: Thank you.

Colvin: And we'll be right back.

(Entire crew claps; aired interview fades to black)

Rogers: Hope that worked out OK.

Colvin: Yeah, that was great. Thank you.

Rogers: Very good... And rip it up! (laughs)

Colvin: Um... The Justice League America issue with the Beefeater...

Rogers: Yes.

Colvin: Just hysterical. Do you like Michael, I mean, John Cleese?

Rogers: I love John Cleese.

Colvin: Oh, I'm rolling in the store, because I can hear her going, "Basil! Basil!"

Rogers: Yup.

Colvin: "Mr. Faulty! Mr. Faulty!"

Rogers: And Faulty Towers is one of my all-time favorite situation comedies.

Colvin: Oh God. "OK?"

Rogers: So when that came about, I was in seventh heaven. I enjoyed that. As a matter of fact, that's one of my responsibilities standing right over there.