FANZINE #6: THE MIGHTY LOU MANNA, A BLUE RIBBON ARTIST
“So, here’s the story after I drew Blue Ribbon #14, Rich Buckler asked me to do additional issues.
Rich encouraged me to plot out a few issues and stan Timmons would write the dialog.
Of course, the line went belly up and nothing came of those plots.
I tried to keep it in the same vein as the 80s dialog and plot for those times simple story simple art don’t know if any of you will like it but it gave me the chance to fill in a gap in my career. If you all like it may be in between I can get to the other plot one day as well. The pages will be available minus the dialog and grays on eBay soon or email me if you’re interested in purchasing them, contact Lou at email@example.com
So let’s step back to the ’80s”
Now, how could you read that and not have a lot of questions? Lou was nice enough to answer them right here in the Shield G-Man Club Fanzine!
Shield G-Man Club: When did you discover comics?
Lou Manna: I was eight years old. I saw a Superman comic Issue 161 Superman goes to war and ma and pa Kent died. I was amazed at the Curt Swan art and the story I was 9 years old and that was a turning point, A bit later I bought Batman issue 158 Ace the super bat hound, and that was it for me. I started to buy all the DC superhero titles and much later got into Marvel as well. But that was the start for me, I started to try to copy what I saw on paper, so bad but I kept going, making little comics on paper I would sell for a quarter to my dad when he came home from work.
SGMC: How did you meet Jack Adler?
Lou: After many years of trying to work up a portfolio of work to show around, I was about 22 at the time I just called DC comics and asked if I could come up and show my work to an editor. I live in Staten Island N.Y. so it was only a ferry and a train ride to the DC Comic offices. When I got there the receptionist told me to go in and down the hall. I did, and went right into Carmine Infantino’s office.” Who the hell are you?” he said surprised. Suddenly a hand grabbed my arm and took me out of there fast. It was Jack Adler. Calm and cool he took me into the bullpen and sat with me pointing out mistakes but in a constructive way.
Lou: Well, from then on, I asked him if I could show him more work as I did it. He said yes and each month for about 3 years I would go to see him and he would point out things, you know the hands are bad, work on them. I would go home and work on the hands. The next month I would show him hands and he would say good, but the buildings and backgrounds need work and I would do buildings for a month and bring them to show. Then faces etc. And this went on for a long time He really took time to spend even a half-hour to less to point out all the things I was doing wrong. I am self-taught so that can be a good thing or bad depending on how you take it. It really is more a story of never giving up and if you work at something you love you can achieve what you are searching for. Also never be afraid to show your work good or bad to people the worse they can do is not like it but take what they say and use it to make the work better. So many artists are good but never get the work off the table because they are afraid of being rejected. I know I was and it took me some time to push through that.
SGMC: Why did he take such an interest in your development as an artist?
Lou: Not sure if it was so much, he took an interest but more that I think he could not bring himself to say no each month I called and I guess he was impressed that after about a year of this I still was not giving up. I was very naive and maybe he felt sorry for me I never asked him and after I started to get work, I really never had much contact with him after that. He may have retired by then or I was not going into the DC offices much after I started to get assignments. Whatever it was, and time had dulled some of the circumstances from those days, but whatever it was I am very grateful to Jack for taking the time to steer me in the right direction.
Lou: I can’t even imagine an editor in today’s comic world to even take a call or for that matter, call back a comic artist much less a total newcomer coming in from nowhere. It’s a whole different ballgame today. In some ways, it is easier to get noticed with all the comic con’s and portfolio reviews and self-publishing, but going in cold, not happening today.
SGMC: How did Dick Giordano end up getting you work at DC?
Lou: Actually, it was Dave Manak at first after Jack, I guess I was in and out of the offices and Jack may have introduced me to Dave and Dick. I got into the new talent showcase books and drew a title “Sundog” written by a great underrated writer Stan Timmons who he and I have had a 40-year on and off working relationship on T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents and many other starts and stops he wrote the Web, Jaguar and other titles for Red Circle. He and I also had a bible we did for a pitch for a Spy Smasher series that I thought was excellent on his part. DC and Dick liked it a lot. We even had Jim Steranko, who became a friend of mine (that’s another wonderful story) to say he would supply coves for the series, but it fell into comic book limbo where a lot of great ideas go to die. I still have the series bible and would love to revisit it or rework it. It was really a great series by Stan.
Anyway, Dave and Dick were editors of the line of mystery books, and one day after I don’t remember maybe a year. I showed Dick some samples, he had a phone call so I picked up my work and left. When I got home that day my wife said did, I go to DC? I said yes, she said they called you and we’re looking for you and wanted to give you work. I was shocked! I called Dick back and he said where did you go? We have a script for you. I said you’re kidding I so used to being rejected I just figured it was just another office visit. I asked if I come back tomorrow you have a script for me. I’ll be there. On the way there I said to myself I hope they don’t give me the Atom or Flash or Wonder Woman something I was not into. Well, I got something the next day…a werewolf western!!! But I was so happy to get something. Went home drew it brought it back to Dick and Dave and he took it apart I thought to myself this is it I blew it. But Dick was as nice as Jack was and told me to go home redo it. I did and from then on, I had a 2-year run with mystery stories some were never published some were but it was great training and taught me how to tell a story, even the ones that are the hardest to do. Dick and I became friends as well and I would meet him maybe every month or so for lunch and to shoot the breeze. He tried to get me everything from Batman to Challengers of the Unknown to Shazam; all fell through for different reasons. But I thank Dick and Dave for their support and push start as well.
Lou: John and I grew up in the same neighborhood and we were childhood friends, we both had a love for comics and he was really into it as well as a really good artist he went to the school of Art and Design and he would give me some tips on what he learned that week. In fact, I still have the drawing board that I bought from him when he gave up art and tried his hand at acting.
SGMC: How long were you two friends?
Lou: Since we were about 12 years old. I had not seen him in years even though he also lives in Staten Island. But that’s life. He passed in March of 2009.
Lou: One day I was working in my friend Joey father’s grocery store in the neighborhood where we lived and John comes into the store with some comic art, he said it was his cousin’s samples and he was almost ready to get work and maybe I should meet him and show him my work as well. So, he set up a meeting with Jimmy and he looked at my stuff and it was crude, but he liked it enough and he and I did hit it off, Jimmy is a very calm and cool guy and nothing fazes him. at about the same time he started to get some work from Warren and Bill Dubay, Jimmy’s finished pencils are so clean and sharp and mine are a sloppy mess. But as good of a finisher he is, Jimmy likes to work at a slower pace. I am the opposite I work fast I always did. I have laid out as many as 10 pages in a day and penciled and inked maybe 4 a day even these days I can work pretty fast. Now you have to remember the hardest thing I feel to do in comics is actually laying out the script and making it flow and be clear with your storytelling. Once an artist sees something, anything down on paper he can see what works what don’t and how to make it better. So, what I lacked in drawing I made up in storytelling and pacing. So, Jimmy saw that and we started to work together. First on Warren stuff, the Rook, Vampirella, and a few other titles. One day he tells me he got the assignment for DC’s the Legion of Super Heroes and would I help him with the book. Of course, it was great. A main DC title. Of course, it was a lot of work and a ton of characters but we did about a year of them and Secrets of the Legion mini, again a lot of work but fun we also did a Marvel team-up Spiderman mockingbird.
Lou: That’s how it started, I did that for maybe 2-years and we did a few other projects and actually started a small studio on Staten Island, around the time I was doing the Legion layouts I was doing the first start-up of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and space giants and other stuff.
SGMC: What was the relationship between Jim Janes and Rich Buckler?
Lou: Jimmy and Rich were friends how I don’t remember but I remember Jimmy telling me Rich was looking for an assistant after George Perez left him to go on his own. Jimmy called and asked me to come to his house and meet Rich. So, I went to meet this big comic star artist I asked Jimmy where Rich was and he pointed down and said there and Rich was asleep on his floor.
Lou: Rich woke up and took a look at my work and gave me a World’s Finest script to break down and from there I did a batch of stuff with him All-Star Squadron, What If?, World’s Finest. A few more. Rich had other guys working for him as well. He was very busy all the time and needed a lot of guys to pitch in. One night there were about 6 of us in a small room passing back and forth All-Star Squadron pages to finish for a morning deadline. But I do remember working on the first 5 or so Issues of that title. I loved the Jerry Ordway inks over Rich’s stuff.
SGMC: What happened with Jim Janes?
Lou: Jimmy and I had a falling out and I lost track of him, he then moved out to California to work in animation he did call and ask me if I was interested in coming out to California. But besides being a freelance comic artist, I got a job as an Illustrator for the U.S. Navy Resale on Staten Island, later a Creative Service manager for JP Morgan Chase and finally a graphic specialist for Accenture so moving could not work and I had a family to feed so that was not something I could consider. I lost Jimmy for a long time and now we Facebook each other or call once in a while, it would be nice to do some work together one day again, you never say never in this business. He did ink a Phantom piece I did for a commission and we did discuss maybe doing something one day. Jimmy did compliment me and say he was proud of me and that he thought I did well and made a career out of those beginnings. He said I still was the fastest artist he ever saw. I think Kirby and Kubert may have been much faster and of course so much more accomplished and all-time greats
Lou: As I said Rich saw my work liked it and started to feed me work, I helped him get an apartment in Staten Island in a friend’s house and later actually recommended him to John Carbonaro for the editor’s job at Red Circle when John was looking for a big name to edit for them. Before John got fired, he did have a lot of pull at Archie.
SGMC: You had a long history at DC, how did you end up working for Mark Gruenwald at Marvel on Spider-Man?
Lou: Strangest story in my career, Jimmy was doing the Marvel Team-Up Spider-Man book and I went to Marvel with him to drop off the story, Mark came out and Jimmy introduced me to him and said Mark take a look at Lou’s work if you don’t mind. Mark did and went inside, he came back out a few minutes later and took me to meet Tom Defalco, (30 years later Tom writes a Phantom story for Moonstone, and I got the chance to draw it… full circle) Tom liked it and gave me a Spider-Man script to work on right then and there it could have not been any easier than that, and the one time that things worked out so easy. I did the book they liked it they took me to meet Jim Shooter I got the Strange Tales issue 101 Captain America story where Kirby drew the Cap and the Human Torch and Jim showed me how he likes his books to look
I took a publicity picture and was going to be announced as the new Web of Spider-Man artist, call us Monday for a new script. Well, Monday turned into never as the script had to go to contract artist and I was not office stuff and it was quite a while later when I did a Rogue story for Marvel Superheroes. I just felt more comfortable over at DC I knew more people there. Although I did go up to Marvel early in my pro career met many times with Marie Severin who was the sweetest woman in the world, she was to me at Marvel what Jack Adler was at DC. She would come out to the reception area, look at my work, and go and get me to pencil copies to study. One time I went with my friend Marty and Marie said I should draw Conan more like my friend over there. He got a bit insulted but he had the cheekbones that Conan had and I guess that s what she meant. Wonderful woman and not just to me she helped many young artists over the years.
Lou: Jimmy Janes had a small studio that was in a building my family-owned, so in there were Jimmy, Rich Buckler, Denys Cowan was there just starting out as was Mark Texeria, Javy Saltier, Pat Gabriele and myself. John was there one day with his friend Pat, John and I got to talking and I could see John was a nice guy a bit of a lost soul but not a bad guy, in fact, a really sweet man. We hit it off and became friends as well and that’s where I got to do the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for him as he was starting out.
SGMC: What did you do at JC Comics?
Lou: We all pitched in I did the plotting and pencils for the first story inked by Mark, Tex painted the cover and I laid out and plotted the second story, then we went to color when John made a deal with Archie, I recommended Willie Blyberg to ink my pencils as I felt he had a Wally Wood look to his work I used to see in the Comic Reader Magazine. John was very good with taking my advice on certain things. I wish he would have listened to me a bit more. He got taken by believing in too many people and that led to his having a very hard time with the books. I got him, John Workman, as an editor as well. And on the Red Circle stuff, it was I who told John to try to get Jim Steranko to do some covers which Jim did a few beauties. I had a full-time job as well as freelancing so It was not easy for me to go into the city to work with John in the Archie offices but he and I had an understanding that I was on his side and was not the type of guy who was looking to cash in on his goodness and was actually trying to keep some of the people away from him. John hated to say no to people and if you had that type of personality you could be taken advantage of.
Lou: John had the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents which he owned and we did the first two books to get them off the ground. John met with Goldwater and offered to do the Archie MLJ characters, they agreed since the characters were not being used. So, they figured what did Archie have to lose.
SGMC: How did you transition from JC Comics to Red Circle?
Lou: John asked me to plot and draw the first black and white Thunder Agents revival (actually some of the pages we used were incorporated into the story were samples I had done for other characters and we were able to use some of them especially some of the Lightning stuff and a few of the Dynamo pages) but they worked into the story so that was ok. As the books were coming out, I remember the first issue selling about 40,000 copies, not bad for an indie book. We had plans to cross them over with the MLJ characters and such, but by the time John got settled in and I actually did a few ads for the book inked by Mike Gustovitch, John got pushed out at Red Circle and Rich took over, even though I helped recommend Rich and helped him out, all I got published was one issue the Web Jaguar team-up. Although I was plotting out several issues and other titles I was asked to work up. The Mighty Crusaders being one of them. But as I did actually have plots for issue 15 and 16 of the Blue Ribbon series it never came to be, which is why I just found those plots and felt it would be nice to complete the missed opportunity. By then Rich was in over his head trying to get the books on schedule and keeping everything going as well and the line had too much stuff going on and was dropped by Archie. Too bad I liked working there and the owners and Victor Gorlick were all super nice guys.
SGMC: What happened between John Carbonaro and Richard Goldwater to cause John to get fired?
Lou: I’m not sure what it was but John was a great guy a little at times an easy mark from less than honorable people and I can only guess that maybe there were some problems with work or delivering work or payments that artists were getting before turning in work John told me but I think it was more of him being pushed out by some of the very same people he helped get the job, egos, etc, although John did not have a big ego, he had beliefs in what the characters were and should be and maybe that’s where they butted heads,
Lou: Exciting times for sure, we all were happy to finally get some extended work and to be a part of the laying down a new foundation, looking back it would have been smarter to go slower and not launch so many titles in such a short time. Slow and steady might have helped out the line, John and Rich I think we’re no longer talking and it was tough to be friends with both of them at the time, But I had a soft spot for John I saw him as being a gullible guy who the sharks took full advantage of. So, I sided with him and probably cut out getting more work from Rich after that. Rich was sharper as far as how to be the main guy and John deserved better. Same with the lawsuit against John for the rights to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. A guy came to my house once and asked me to side with him and if I did, I could get some work with the Deluxe titles. I would not do it and chased him out and that was that for me with the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents as well. But I slept well at nights and being a friend to me is more important than going against one. Years later John and I got together In Staten Island and he and I worked out a deal that would bring back the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents again in 4 separates 48-page graphic novels and the firth one we would tie it all together. I was going to draw it and I did actually a few parts on one and another separate Dynamo story. I was going to either fund it or get the funding we were all set I was working on them and John gets a call from DC Comics and makes a deal with them. I understood it. It was a Giant company and less risk, but it did not work out so in hindsight it might have been better for him to go the way we originally planned it. He had total control with me but at DC they wanted to modernize them and John liked them as traditional characters.
Lou: Well I knew about them as a fan of the titles and had some of the issues I knew the Shield, the Web, the Mighty Crusaders and Jaguar, so it was great to work on costume characters and I liked group titles to work on.
SGMC: You worked on Blue Ribbon Comics; how did the process work at Red Circle?
Lou: Same as other companies, Rich gave me a script from Stan Timmons I went home and drew it up and brought it back to show Rich he liked it and that was that, Same process and any other titles worked on for others
Lou: While I was working on issue 15 Rich and I had talked about the direction of the titles and to continue the Web and Jaguar team-ups. Stan was busy writing a lot of the titles at the time so Rich knew I could plot and said to me to plot out the next few issues and he or Stan could dialog it later, but things started to tank and that was that the line was folding so I never go to draw them, I was cleaning out files not long ago and found my notes and thought it would be fun to see what I could do with them now.
SGMC: What have you done with the plots?
Lou: I had an opening in my schedule and like to keep busy so I said why not? I saw where John Byrne was picking up his X-Men run for the love of it and I said why not try it with these two plots so I drew what is actually issue 15 and will get to 16 when I have some time, here are some of the pages and they are available if you contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook louismanna
SGMC: After Red Circle, you went to work for DC on Roy Thomas’ projects. What was it like working with Roy Thomas?
Lou: After Red Circle broke up, I was working as an Illustrator for the Navy Resale and had some downtime in the office so I would draw a page or two of the Black Terror which I heard was a public domain character now. I drew about 40 pages and it sat around for about a year or so. I forgot to mention that during the ’80s and ’90s after Jimmy left the building, we owned I opened a comic book shop. There was a customer who became a comic artist Greg Scott, he saw the Black Terror pages liked them and said I should send them to Roy Thomas to look at. He gave me his address and I mailed out the pages, A few weeks later I got a phone call from Roy asking me what I was working on? I told him nothing at the moment, He said would I be interested in drawing the Infinity Inc Annual # 2. I actually jumped for joy after the call, I loved his titles at DC and of course, at Marvel, I felt next to Stan Lee, Roy had the biggest impact on the line of books. So, it was a joy to do it. After the Annual he gave me some Infinity Inc, fill in, and moved me to Young All-Stars. I was about 2 pages into the first issue when he called and told me after those 4 issues the title was being canceled and he was leaving DC. That’s the nature of the business, At least I knew it wasn’t my art that killed the title I had not even penciled 3 pages yet. A year or so later over lunch Dick Giordano tells me he liked the book and if he knew I liked the title he would have kept it alive for me. You can’t make this stuff up.
SGMC: How did you end up working with Dennis Mallonee’s Heroic Publishing?
Lou: I can’t remember exactly, back then I would send out samples to publishers and I’m sure that’s how I got in touch with Dennis, He must have seen my work and thought I would be good for his character. Icicle was the first book I penciled and inked in a while I did ink before, the 2 issues of a title “Sunrise” I did for Harrier comics in England (an odd fact the back up in that book was by an unknown writer Grant Morrison, wonder what happened to him?) I really enjoyed working on the character Icicle and later the League of Champions for him as well. Inked by Mark Propst.
SGMC: At Heroic you worked with G-Man Comics own Lou Mougin. What was it like working with Lou?
Lou: I enjoyed working at Heroic and Lou was great to work with very good stuff and a pro’s pro, I knew of him form fanzines and articles so it was great to work with him and Icicle, in the last two years I see Dennis published some of the Icicle books with art from probably 1990. a long time to publish them and I’m glad they got out there.
SGMC: You also worked on the Phantom for Joe Gentile’s Moonstone Publishing. Were you a fan of the Phantom?
Lou: Again, it was Greg Scott, he told me that Moonstone was looking for a Phantom artist and he thought I would be good for it. I did maybe 3 pages of pinups and sent it out to him, he called and offered me a 48-page graphic novel which I drew and inked, He liked it enough to give me another one inked by Art Nichols, the paper they used really muted the colors and a lot of his nice inking got lost in the colors but if you see the black and white art I thought it came out very nice. After that, Moonstone shifted formats and I did not do more for them except for a Phantom variant cover
Lou: Yes, very much the first one was written by Ben Rabb, former X-Men writer and producer of Arrow, the second by Tom DeFalco (small world after all). After Moonstone I drew on spec a Phantom 2-part story just to keep myself busy and sharp. Someone saw some of the pages and I got an email from Glenn Ford at Frew in Australia, He asked to see the pages. He liked them and asked if he could buy it and use it in the title overseas. I said sure and reworked a few pages and that was that. I wrote it drew lettered and inked it as well. I did another one for them that they have on file and 3 more in my files in case one day they might see print. Currently, I am working on something Phantom related and we will see where that goes. I also do Phantom Commissions and I put out a Phantom Sketchbook each year as well as some sketch cards and Prints. I really enjoy the character and it has been about 20 years now since I first got involved with working on him on and off.
Lou: I was at a table at the New York Comic Con promoting a title I worked on, She was walking around and saw me asked if she could ask a few questions of me about the industry, I told her I had a Wall Street background having been an art director and a graphic services manager in New York City for Chase and Accenture as well as owning my own comic book shop, so I sort of knew how to deal with the business side of being a comic book artist and how it is much more than just drawing pictures. She liked the fact that I could use my business side as I had to deal with vendors, printers, and big shots on Wall Street, and could apply some of that to the comic business.
Lou: Salem goes back over 20 years He is an illusionist who has the power to create illusions that are solid for about 5 seconds. He meets a beautiful girl goes and chases her and her story to the ends of the earth where he finds the ultimate power, “The Star of Power”, and all hell breaks loose. Imagine you have the ultimate power and both friend and foe want it. I created him in the late 1990s and drew about 4 issues on an idea I came up with. I was told Diamond Comics needed about 3 months’ lag time to accept or reject a title. Swear to God, I sent it and they called me the very next day and said they wanted it on their schedule now. So, I had to rush out the production and lettering and all of the errors showed up in the work. I had to rush the last 4 issues to meet the deadlines and of course the title never really caught on, and years later I had revived it had 5 backers who wanted to start a comic company and we were using Salem St. James as its opening title. I sent it as well as Soul Catcher to them using two different inkers as well as professionals and guess what? Diamond rejected them based on old Salem St. James sales figures based on the black and white title. This one was 10 times better it was in full color and much better than the book they jumped on. So, the backers understandably backed out and that was the end of Atlantis Publishing. And Salem for the time being. But like I did years ago with Jack Adler I do not give up and just this month (June 2020) Salem is revived in all-new stories on line sold through the ComiXology site as a black and white bi-monthly title. So, let’s see how that goes Salem never dies. Salem St. James the chase part 1 is NOW available on @comiXology Submit! Be sure to check it out! #cXSubmit https://bit.ly/3cbjsmy
Lou: Besides the bi-monthly Salem books, I am working on a Phantom story that has the potential of being something special. Written by Peter Steven and Jaime Diaz. And I just finished a 9-page Viet Nam story for Full Mag magazine out in August. As well as commissions which I love to do for people it gives me a chance to let loose and have some fun with characters I may or may not have had the chance to work on. If anyone wants to inquire about commission work my email is asta404 @ aol.com and I will be happy to discuss it with you.
I just wanted to thank you all for the support all these years and for your nice words about my work. I always said I may never have been the world’s best comic book artist, but I was and am certainly the most grateful one to be in this business for so long. To be a part, a small part, but a part of this industry we all love and have a passion for. Paid to draw pictures form home and make a living at it. When I was a kid and later when I was starting out, I never thought I would make a living doing what I loved to do. I thought how cool it would be to Thank you all again and I hope I get to continue to do what I love to do for as long as I am able to and for as long as you support what I do. I am a living testimonial to never giving up on your dream, never stop doing what you love to do if they say your no good. ignore it and work harder. I have been involved in just about every part of this business, A fan, artist, teacher, comic shop owner, self-publisher, and creative services manager for several companies. None of this would be possible if I gave up on my dream. There were highs. lows and everything in between.
But if I gave in, I would not have this opportunity to even talk to you all today. Stay focused and stay the course if you want to get into this business. It can and will happen…It did to me…