December 12, 2017

 




Interview:
Dan DeCarlo

By Brian Jacks



Dan DeCarlo is perhaps best known for his work on the Archie comic book titles, most notably being his creation of Josie and the Pussycats and Sabrina The Teenage Witch.  While that particular matter was currently in litigation, it cannot be disputed that Dan DeCarlo was a landmark figure in this industry.

Before his work in comics, Dan was drafted into the Army during World War II.  Stationed mostly in England, he, like Will Eisner, spent much of the war doing art work for the United States Military.

Dan DeCarlo passed away in December of 2001 after a prolonged illness which he touches upon at the end of this interview.  He was a good friend to Slush, and we'll miss him greately.  Read on to discover a wonderful man and his immense contributions.

(This interview was conducted in May of 2001 and originally appeared on SilverBulletComicBooks).

 

Well, sir, I was wondering where you were Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Do I. I was playing craps on a street corner. Every Sunday we used to have a crap shoot, you know, nickel and dime. And somebody came over and said, “Have fun. The Japanese have just attacked Pearl Harbor.” Didn’t mean a thing, really. I figured I’d have a couple of years before they draft me. Even though I had a number. But didn’t work like that cause three months later I was in the Army [laughs].

That was a couple of days before your birthday, wasn’t it? December 12th.

Yeah.

Do you remember where you were when you received your draft notice?  What your reaction was?

Well, I’d already had a number. I remember I had a draft number early. And a friend of mine was also got a number at the same time. Actually a very close friend. But he said, the hell with it, he didn’t want to wait it out and he joined the Navy, and later became a Seabee. A month or two later he tried to talk me into joining the Navy. “What do you want to go in the Army for?,” you know. You can lose an arm, a leg, become a cripple. With the Navy you either live or you die. So I said, ok, let’s go. And he took me to the recruiting officer and the guy started to take down the information. And he said, “Do you have a draft card?” I said yes. He said, “Buddy, you’re in the Army” [laughs]. He practically chased me out. I couldn’t enlist for the Navy because I was already slated for the Army.

Where did the Army ship you?

The first stop was Fort Dix or Camp Upton, I don’t know which one of them. But then they sent us to Fort McClellan, Alabama. That’s where we got our six weeks basic training. Then they moved us to a few weeks in Georgia and then a couple months in Charleston, South Carolina. And then from there we went to Fort Dix and spent a couple weeks there, and then we were in England.

And basically you did what? You were an artist for the Army, weren't you?

I was in art school and I had three years under my belt when they started the war. One of my friends, who was also in the Army and home on leave, he was in Kentucky at Fort Knox, in the tanks. And I said I’d like to get into that. He said just tell them you want to be a truck driver and they’ll ship you to Kentucky. So they asked me what part of the service I’d like to be working at and I said I’d like to be a truck driver. And they made me a truck driver. I didn’t even get to Kentucky [laughs].

So when we got to England I was a truck driver in a motor pool, driving mostly officers to the fighter bases. They took me off that after a few months when they saw my resume and they stuck me in a drafting department. Confidential thing; a lot of security involved when I was a draftsman. I was an assistant draftsman in reality. What I used to do is draw Christmas cards and all kinds of graphics for the officers, either legitimate or personal. And if it was personal they paid me a big two dollars. And that’s where I stayed until the end of the war.

How did you get into drafting? I’m guessing they came to you?

Well, like I said they just looked at the resume and they saw I had three years of art school and said, “Well, this guy’s qualified.” They obviously needed an assistant. They had an old guy as a head draftsman and he was a tech sergeant. And I was his assistant. He was about 38 years old and he was offered the opportunity to go home, because of his age. And he refused it. He stayed the whole war. He loved it.

When exactly did you start doing the nose art for airplanes?

Well, when I was a draftsman. He [the head draftsman] got swamped. He’d tell me to do the backgrounds. Draw all the telephone lines etcetera. All this technical stuff. And when it was slow I’d do anything I could do, by commissions. Guys wanted their field jackets designed and stuff, I would do it for a few bucks. All birthday greetings to their loved ones back home. The cards. So they came in one day; they were planning a big party in the Officers Club. We were stationed at a real luxurious hotel owned by the Whitney’s of United States fame, you know. So they were planning this big party for all of the officers. Some of the fighter bases that didn’t have insignias on their planes, they wanted them displayed. And they gave me the sketches, the rough ideas of what they wanted. I think there were about a dozen, about 14 x 17. And I painted them. I did them all. After they were displayed in the hotel they sent them to the fighter bases they had a local talent and put them on the planes.

How long did it take to do an airplane’s art?

The roughest one would be about three hours. And I had to work under pressure because they wanted them done for the party.

Are they the ones that came up with the names for the planes?

Yeah. They did everything in the sketches. If there was any lettering I had to do it and I hate that because I think I’m the world’s worst letterer. I really am. There’s a convention in Philadelphia soon, in two or three weeks, and they wanted some work to promote the convention. And I did these two big pieces but no lettering. And I wrote a letter. I said, “You guys are gonna have to look for a letterer cause I can’t letter.”

Did they ever send you out onto the front lines?

No, but the only action, or danger, that we were in was the air raids, and there were a lot of them. We got there in ’42. That was the height of the bombardments. Actually, we were 17 miles from London. You could see the red glow of the fires.

During the Blitz.

Yeah. And a couple of times…there was a big U-shaped building, it looked very military from the air. But it was a bunch of girls doing some kind of buttons or something for the war effort. And they were trying to hit that place for the two or three years of the war [laughs]. And they never hit it. They hit the fields all around it. They were quite close to us.

Where did you go during the bombing raids? Did you have a shelter?

In the beginning, yeah. All the camps had shelters. We just had to run to the shelters when the local sirens went off. But after awhile we just stayed in our bunks or wherever we were.

When you were in the Army did you ever read Will Eisner’s Army Motors magazine?

No, I knew of it. Did he have The Spirit going then?

Yes, he did.

I knew of The Spirit. Actually, this is just my opinion. Are you familiar with Bill Mauldin and his Willie & Joe. Well, I got the shock of my life when I saw some of the old ones. The first ones that started in Stars & Stripes. They were terrible. And they were just awful. And I said, Christ, this guy stinks. Then I saw his work again later and it began to look like Will Eisner’s. And I think he was greatly influenced by Will Eisner’s work. This is just me talking, not some expert, you know. But I think he was influenced by Eisner. And later on the stuff got real good.

Right, I remember him.

Bill Mauldin. He had this panel, Willie and Joe. Very, very popular. And boy, the rights that he had used to drive the officers crazy. Nobody could give him orders. He could just do what he wanted to do cause of this very popular strip.

This I just heard; I don’t know if it’s true. But he was asked to decorate an officer’s club. And they had one kind of a bay window in the dining room. And he painted Willie and Joe and two of the other G.I.’s with their tongues hanging out from the outside looking in at the lifestyles of the officers. Just envying their position.

Are there any distinct experiences that stand out in your mind there?

As to what? Being in danger?

Just anything.

Well, I’ll tell ya. I had a good time. It was in England, I really, really had a good time. The girls were plentiful and they were pretty. It was just fun. And then we’d go on trips, this was when I was in the motor pool, to Liverpool, to get equipment. Usually radio equipment and another two-and-a-half ton truck. And we’d come home, stop along the way at the local pubs, get smashed, and have to spend the night there. Put a guard on the truck.

It got exciting when we went overseas about six months after D-Day. Then we were closer to the action. We used to have radio trucks out, supposedly following the front and sending out signals as to when the bombers could drop their bombs. Because they had killed the general in one of the recent raids. They thought they were over the enemy target and they weren’t. The G.I.’s had advanced and a general got killed.

By our own guys?

By our own guys. That’s happened a lot. And so with the radio trucks they had to be resupplied every now and then. And also moving constantly with the front. And yet you were always twenty miles behind the action. And I used to volunteer a lot for that. As a matter of fact I found that very exciting. I guess it was a guilt feeling that I had it so good that I was looking for danger, you know.

Well thank God you didn’t find it. So towards the end of the war did you end up drawing anything else?

Yeah. I had a comic strip, like a Sunday page. I just called it the 418th Scandal Sheet, after our company name. We were the 418th Signal Company. And I used to get two episodes of funny things that happened to certain individuals and exaggerate them and fill up the page. And when the wives came in it even got funnier, got more romantic. And they were all in color. And after I had made about twenty of them, the first sergeant and I went to London to try to make a book out of it. And the guy said, “Oh, this is gonna be expensive, this stuff’s in color. Just draw them over in black and white. We could turn out a nice book.” And I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to draw them all over again. So we never published that book.

When was this?

This was before D-Day.

But first let me tell you something. While I was in Belgium, I met my wife there.

You met Josie in Belgium?

Yeah, and then we went on to Germany. I was in Belgium about six months and then shipped to Germany temporarily, and then Czechoslovakia. We came back around ’45 and then got married there.

How did you meet her?

Actually it was a blind date. A sergeant, a friend of mine, who was going with one girl. He wanted to double-date; he thought it’d be more fun. He asked her to bring a friend. So we’re waiting on a corner and we see this rather tall girl and this short girl. And I’m short, so I said, “I don’t know which one is yours, Eddie, but the little one’s mine” [laughs]. And that was Josie. We were good friends throughout the war. Then he was shipped to Germany and I stayed in Belgium and then moved to England. Actually I was in England when the war was over. And that was a celebration. You can’t imagine…well, I guess you can imagine it.

I’ve seen pictures.

Aww, the streets were mobbed. Every pub was loaded. And guys would order drinks from the back end of the bar and they had to pass the drink maybe over ten guys to get it to them. If they paid for it the barkeep was lucky. And lovemaking all over the place. If you weren’t careful where you stepped you’d step on somebody’s butt, ya know.

And then, after that, when the war was over, went back to Germany again. I wasn’t married then, and got a pass and got into an automobile accident. And actually, it almost killed me. Killed one guy, one of the drivers. And when I recovered from that I couldn’t work. My right hand was in a cast. I asked to get back to Belgium. I had enough points to go home. It was all over. And they were agreeable. They put me up in headquarters building, not far from where I was stationed before.

So we got married, and then I was shipped to Normandy, and shipped home from there. And they told me it’d be about anywhere from four to six months before we can process everything with your wife before she gets home. She got home in about four weeks [laughs]. And I didn’t have an apartment. It was rough, ya know. Ten of us were living in my mother’s house. It got so rough, a lot of friction I guess. About a year later she had twins. And she found it too difficult. And we still didn’t have an apartment.

She sounds very nice.

Yes. She’s a sweetheart. And she was beautiful. Oh, she was so beautiful as a young lady. So she went home to Belgium. She wanted to stay there until I found a job in the art field to start with. I was working in nurseries, hanging storm windows and stuff like that. And try to find an apartment.

In about six months I got a job at Timely Comics, which is Marvel today. And I sent her the stubs of the checks, you know, to show her that I wasn’t lying [laughs]. So she made arrangements to come back home. If I didn’t get that job she’d probably still be there.

So you had a full Belgian wedding?

Yeah. Actually it was a four-day thing. The hall we had was so small that we couldn’t invite everybody. So we divided it into close friends, the wedding party mostly, the first night, the second night the close friends, the third night the relatives, and the fourth night to say goodbye. It was some binge.

Are Belgian weddings different from American weddings?

No, the same. Walk down the aisle. Walk out [laughs]. Take pictures on the steps.

Where did you go on your honeymoon?

That was funny. At the same time we were planning to get married they were having a competition in the E.T.O. All artists. All about the horrors of venereal disease. I won first prize and honorable mentions. So that got me 14 days of anyplace I wanted to go. Any friendly county, any allied country, as a first prize. And I also had ten days because anyone who’s getting married gets ten days. So I got married and I got ten days and I forgot about the 14. And I could’ve gone to Italy, and I could’ve gone someplace else that was more exciting. We just went to Brussels for our honeymoon.

That’s a beautiful city.

Aw, it is, yeah.

So after the war you got back and worked for worked for companies such as Timely.  What did you do for Ziff-Davis?

I was doing G.I. Joe. They had a book, G.I. Joe, and they had a filler in it called The Oddbirds. Real comedy, a funny thing. A take-off of G.I. Joe. And then it got so successful that they made a comic of it. But the book didn’t last long. Maybe four of five issues. And I did some commercial comic books. Like I did Big Boy, the restaurant chain, for a long time.

Really?

Yeah, like seven, eight years.

I wasn't aware Big Boy had a comic book.

Yeah, they used to give it away to anyone who came into the restaurants. For the children. And I also did the Kool-Aid Man. You remember that?

Sure.

I did that for three or four years.

Did you create the characters?

The restaurant kid was created but I did all the story, created all the characters, and his girlfriend and his dog, and so on. They were all my creation. And then the Kool-Aid Man, first he used to run around with a big pitcher of Kool-Aid in one hand. And they changed that and made it a giant cube with his head sticking up, and he looked a little different. That’s how they used to present him. He was a mascot, like at football games and so on. But then they dropped that off. And they blamed me. They blamed me because my price was too expensive. So I said, “Well, why didn’t you negotiate?” And he says, “You named your figure and we gave it to you, but we weren’t happy about it.” So well screw you [laughs]. And it was the highest paying job that I’ve ever had in comics. But that wasn’t the reason. That’s just a pittance for the expenses that they had on that book.

Did the characters in your Archie books ever deal with social issues? For example, when Vietnam was going on.  Were those sentiments ever integrated into the book?

No. That was their policy then and that’s their policy now. Never offend anybody. When I started working for Archie everything was mildly sexy. Like if girls were falling down you would see their panties. Their panties came down to their knees though most of the time [laughs]. But that was as risky as they got.

When Harry Shorten, he was a great guy, when he left they really became very conservative. They wouldn’t offend anybody or any race or any religion.

So you never had Veronica out protesting the Vietnam war.

No. We had that in my Josie comic strip. I had a girl called Ginger who was a protestor. She’d protest anything. She was an environmentalist really. Save the world, save the whales, etc. But they said, “No, we can’t have a girl like that in Riverdale. Riverdale is a real upright, church-going community.” So they dropped her and brought in this black girl. So it was Josie, and Melody, and Valerie, the black girl. And they brought her in, in my way of thinking, because at that time the Civil Rights movement was getting strength, it was getting big. And they just wanted some black representation in the strip. And that’s the strip I’m suing over. You know I’m suing Archie, right?

It’s unfortunate what’s going on with that.

Oh, it’s terrible. And all because… My lawyer told me, he says, “We’re really going to have a tough time. We have a really unfriendly judge. And we were in the Federal Courts. And in the Federal Courts their judges are notorious.

It’s because most of them were appointed during Reagan.

Yeah. Pro-corporation. And he dismissed it. And he also dismissed Archie’s lawsuit against me.

That just happened a couple weeks ago, didn’t it?

Yeah.

Are you planning on appealing?

That’s where it is now. A couple weeks ago is when we had the hearing for the appeal and that takes anywhere from three to six months for them to come up with a conclusion. And then it’s over. Win or lose.

And they have all the money to keep continuing it and fighting it.

Yeah, yeah. Fortunately I’m on contingency, so I’m not springing for much money.

Is the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund helping with that?

No, they never even spoke to me. But I understand they’re planning on doing something if I get hit with some stiff, like if they let a lawsuit go through from Archie. They’re gonna hit me with 50,000 to 75,000. Then they would do something, you know. Usually, they way they do something is they ask for artists to contribute some pieces of artwork that they auction off. And that goes to the defense.

I didn’t even see your name credited on the Josie movie.

At the end it was there. I guess you were so bored you didn’t wait for the credits at the end [laughs]. You know, I told my lawyer, “Hey, Josie’s coming into town.” They were advertising on cabs - Josie and the Pussycats. He says, “It looks like we have a hit on our hands.” I says, “You going?” And he said, “You bet your ass I’m going. We want them to make money. Cause then we stand a better chance of a big settlement.” I says, “Well, I wasn’t going.” He says, “Nope. You’d better go and get your wife to go, and her friends to go.”

So you all went to the movie?

Yeah, on a Sunday and there were five people in there besides us.

It didn’t do so well.

Oh, it did terrible. It dropped off The Times list in the third week.

What did you think of the movie?

Terrible. No personality. If you blindfolded yourself you couldn’t know who was saying what, who was doing what. None of them had a distinct personality.

It didn’t really have any of the emotion that you put into it.

No. And I think they made a mistake by not using the cat costume, you know. But they says most of the kids that are going to go to the movie today weren’t even born when Josie originally came out with the cat costume. They couldn’t see using the cat costume. All they used was the ears. They were walking around with the little ears sticking out on top of their heads.

Well, they were wrong because it didn’t do that great.

Yeah, I think they were. I mean, why the hell do you have to be so contemporary in that case when you have something that’s very distinct and very funny. I mean you get a lot of humor out of the cat costume.

And then they’re putting it out on TV again, right?

Yeah, they’re putting a new show on TV. And I’m sure they’re gonna be in a cat costume. Because when they’re in the street costume, the street clothing of today, they just blend in with everybody. There’s no distinction. If the Cats were walking down the street, everybody would look at them. But walking down the street with jeans and a top, they look like everybody else.

From what I understand, I don’t know if this is the way it worked, but I understand they were paid up front for the rights to Josie. Anyway, the one that did it bought it from Archie. Paid them, I don’t know, but I heard all kinds of fantastic figures. And they could do anything they wanted, so Archie had no control over the storyline.

So they signed it away?

They signed it away. And I understand they did the same thing to the cartoon show that’s coming up. They’d rather have the money than sweat out the success of the show where they would have some influence.

Well, you’re still working in comics.

Oh yeah. I work a lot for The Simpsons. That’s my biggest contact. I do work for DC. I do the back-up stories. I just did a story for Marvel, an eight-pager which I understand they loved. Even the editor of Scooby-Doo called me up to tell me that. She saw them and said, “The work is beautiful. I wish I had thought of that idea. Oh, it looks so lovely.”

What was the new DC for?

It was Batman, but animated type. And it was humorous. It featured Poison Ivy, and they were also going to feature Harley Quinn but for some reason they just couldn’t fit her into the script.

What new projects are you working on now that will be coming out?

The Simpsons, and Scooby-Doo, the Batman thing. And I’m also doing I Dream of Genie. I’m doing a small-size comic book for that. Not the standard size. So far I’ve done ten pages.

Who’s putting that out?

It looks like a very private company. I have the book on it. It’s very different than the comic books that are being turned out. It’s in black and white. I’m a little disappointed because it’s a little like the big heads and the smaller body. I would’ve liked it like Betty and Veronica. I would’ve zinged ‘em, I think. But it’s cute. And the size…I don’t know. Where the hell are they gonna sell this? I can’t see any prices.

Is this about the size of an Archie comic?

No, it’s smaller.

Smaller? Maybe they’re planning on giving it away at a store.

Yeah, could be.

You worked under the Comics Code. Marvel just announced that they’re pulling out of the Code.

Good.

I was wondering if you had any comments on that. On whether we need the Code or whatnot.

No, I don’t think we need the Code. And I think that they’re gonna still get more violent because that’s the way all the TV shows are going. Like The Sopranos, you see that show?

All the time.

That’s shaking up comic books. They want the same rights to be violent and show rapes as is, you know.

We’ve lost a generation of comic readers. Kids aren’t reading as much. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Sometimes I think we’re doomed and sometimes I think it’ll come back. A new generation, after not seeing books around at all for years, are suddenly gonna say, “Hey, what’s this?” And start the cycle again.

Well, hopefully you’re right.

Yeah, I hope so, too. Not for my sake because I’ll be retired or gone.

Retired.

Well, I like to call myself semi-retired because I’m not really looking for work.

But you always find it.

Yeah. I always have enough, with the Social Security and the savings and all that stuff to have no problem getting by.

So how’s your health? Good?

Well, that’s another story. Actually, I have colon cancer. I’ve had it for seven years. They’d told me I’d beat it, but one doctor told me, “Nah, you’ll never beat that thing.” He says he’s seen it come back after ten years. So you got a little sweat there.

Well, you’re a strong individual.

At least a couple more years, that would be nice.

Or twenty, or thirty.

[laughs] That’s so true. When you get to a couple, you say, “Ah, a couple more.” But I do have to worry about that. But then again, there’s no certainty in life. You can go for almost no reason at all, you’re not here tomorrow.

Well, I know you’ll be with us for a long time to come so we won’t have to worry about that.

And I hope you have a long healthy life.

Well, thank you, sir.

 


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