The Price of Fame; The Cost of Fame
Some years ago – back around 1975, to be precise, which reminds me how remarkably young I once was; not too young to be about certain business, but just plain young, which is easy to forget – anyway, in 1975 I was named Comics Editor of Field Newspaper Syndicate. Field was then the second-largest of the syndicates (today, in the style of the day, it has been merged via News America and North America Syndicates into King Features and Hearst Entertainment), and it was an awesome job.
Looking at submissions and dealing with cartoonists and developing features and assisting with promotion – all promised to be exciting activities to me. Even the nitty-gritty work of naming characters looked challenging. The work of an editor can indeed be creative. One can look like a traffic manager (oh, those cartoonists’ deadlines!) but we see ourselves as conductors of symphony orchestras: a lot of behind-the-scenes work.
The company moved me to Chicago. situated me in a fancy office, surrounded me with framed originals by my new wards – Milton Caniff, Johnny Hart, Brant Parker, Mell Lazarus, Hank Ketcham, Reg Smythe – and the president handed me my first assignment. AI Andriola (“Kerry Drake") was asking for a bigger share of his pie, meaning he wanted his assistant paid less, or else paid from the syndicate’s share.
Nice creative work.
Now I had known Al for years, but what I didn't know was quickly learned. He was not always the easiest person to work with; he didn’t draw "Kerry Drake,” and maybe never had; neither had he created the strip, which was anonymously written for years by Allen Saunders (there once was an actual agreement signed by the syndicate protecting his facade); and so forth. When he accepted the “Reuben" award—the “Oscar” of the National Cartoonists Society – in 1970, he stood as a man who hadn‘t created, written or drawn his strip . . . but accepted the award without a word of thanks to anyone else who did. Well, that's fine; some backstage info. I had my job to do.
l’ll fast-forward. When the dust settled, I discovered one of the finest cartoonists in the field: the real artist of “Kerry Drake." l was able to extract from Andriola the excruciating concession of that artist receiving credit on the strip. I have a recollection that the ghost's financial status was bolstered rather than trimmed, but I took some pride that justice was done – recognition was paid.
The cartoonist's name was Sururi Gumen, and he remains to today the finest cartoonist I have never met. He is a modest man, painfully shy, and his name on the strip was not the result of a desire to hog the spotlight. He was engaged in workmanlike drawing for years before without fanfare and in fact continued in like fashion for years after.
But his work itself is anything but workmanlike. I am happy to shed light on the years of his anonymous work, and to attest to his personal modesty, but the pages in this book say all that need to be said about Su’s talent. He has a terrific grasp of his characters' personalities – expressions, emotions, reactions. His knowledge of anatomy is flawless; I always liked his figures in motion and tension, and the way he draws hands is masterful. Composition: Su’s panel arrangements are always clear and forceful; he spots blacks wonderfully, and has an instinct for leading the reader's eye through his panels. He is a cartoonist’s cartoonist.
Once I settled into my job – when the wrestling-matches the president wanted to avoid were finished – working with Su became an editorial joy. Actually, I can't say "working" with him because there never were any problems with deadlines, or suggestions about technical aspects like reproduction or encroaching details in the days of diminishing printing standards. He always knew what to do . . . and do it superbly. In fact, one of the joys at that office became opening his envelopes and marveling each time at the mastery of technique and solid strip-work. lt seemed to come so easy – I have used the word “instinct," but of course it’s more: such great work is the result of hard work, never-ending study, and a constant excitement about the work at hand.
I, for one, am excited that Sururi Gumen has returned to the drawing board since "Kerry Drake" went the unfortunate way of most adventure strips several years ago. Enjoy “Wonderguy" for the innovative premise and the fresh story; and enjoy, too, the masterful artwork that will carry you through it.
Nice creative work from one of the unsung masters of comic art.
(Reproduced from the foreword of the graphic novel, Wonderguy.)
My Dad, SURURI GUMEN
During my dad’s stint as ghost artist on KERRY DRAKE since 1955, there were brief periods when he solely did the penciling, or when he didn’t draw the strip at all (most notably, when he was recruited to draw and ink another strip by Alfred Andriola—and Mel Casson-called "lT‘S ME DlLLY"). Mostly, he did the entire artwork . . . save for, at times, inking the faces and hands, when Alfred Andriola would usually put his stamp of cartoony, Chester Gould-inspired features on the new characters he would often design.
I remember growing up reading the "KD" script prepared on yellowish newsprint, cut to simulate actual strip originals, laid out with balloons and rough sketches . . . professionally done work. Alfred Andriola always passed himself off as the writer to my dad, but over the years there would be telltale signs, such as not completely erased notes with headings of "Al—," as if the writer would write these notes to himself! It
wouldn't be long before my dad discovered the real identity of his fellow ghost . . . and it was chilling to see years later, reproduced in a trade magazine article featuring Allen Saunders, a sample of the very yellowish newsprint that this great writer would use for his own strips.
Toward the end of KD's run, Alfred Andriola mysteriously offered to share his credit (after my dad was suddenly dropped on the ruse that the syndicate was completely taking over the strip, and was subsequently sought desperately when the new artist didn't work out), and would go on referring to my dad as his ”assistant" in the press (even though, by then, the completed artwork would be sent through the mail, and the two men were barely on speaking terms).
What a load of laughs it was to grow up with all this KERRY DRAKE drama, when my dad would be constantly peeved at Alfred Andriola! Sort of like a poor man's ”Phantom of the Opera" . . . especially the ”poor man" part, as here was a boss who would give Scrooge a run for his money. But it takes two to tango – why did my dad stick for so long with a man whose greatest talent seemed to be in hiding behind the talents of others? (There were ghost letterers, too!)
The security of a regular income, especially when there's a family to support, is not an easy thing to come by for an artist. And my dad is saturated with that "Old World humility"– not in keeping with Calvin Coolidge’s wise words touting persistence, and not talent, as the key to success.
To illustrate, my dad made a rare, serious attempt in the late 60’s to break the KD hold, by preparing samples for MAD Magazine . . . one of the few superb outlets that provides a regular income for a non-superhero style comic artist (as the artists who have been working there for a few centuries know). The guys at MAD went nuts! They invited him to the office introduced him with brouhaha to the usual gang of idiots . . . but MAD wasn’t just a closed shop to artists in those days, it was almost hermetically sealed. (Perhaps a little warier than usual at that time, as excellent caricaturist Bruce Stark was let in a crack, and apparently didn't prove up to the MAD snuff.)
That was the last time my dad tried MAD. To him, "no" meant "no."
Seemed like there was a bad economic time at Marvel during my dad’s one and only visit, and DC was almost going to try him out when the rug was suddenly pulled (there was reason to believe Alfred Andriola was consulted as a reference). By this time KD wasn't paying the bills, and it was "el cheapo” Charlton comics to the rescue! Naturally, this barrel-bottom company had its setbacks, such as the slapdash coloring and miserable reproduction. And the twelve dollar page rate for penciling, inking & lettering was ridiculous for even those days. (Charlton just couldn’t afford any more, according to man-in·charge Sal Gentile … but when my dad expressed his dissatisfaction, he got the special top rate of fourteen bucks – alone among Charlton artists.) But it was Charlton – and DAVID CASSIDY comics – that sent my sister to college.
Years later, after a long time of half-heartedly preparing samples for CRACKED, my dad got an immediate response. The magazine’s then-publisher gleefully declared, "Now we can race with MAD!" That was wishful thinking on his part, especially with weird business practices, but at least my dad was respected to the point of commanding a truly top rate – badly needed leverage in dealings with Alfred Andriola.
Once KD folded (at, practically, the moment of Alfred Andriola's death … the syndicate didn’t even care to finish the current story), and the trust had faded from the CRACKED relationship, my dad approached (what was at the time) the biggest New York rep for advertising storyboard work, and was instantly taken aboard their team of crack pros. Finally he got some recognition in that world as a master artist, and made the big bucks, which nicely capped off his commercial art career.
Which brings us to the WONDERGUY comic adaptation…
(The foregoing was excerpted from the foreword of the graphic novel, Wonderguy.)