|Michael Wm. Kaluta
|Interview: Mike Kaluta
by Mark Feldman
I'll Be Damned # 1
Have you ever been interviewed before?
MwK: No, not for publication. This Spring, though, I am doing what you would call a character
sketch for Rich Hauser's 6th issue of Spa Fon.
Could you give us some personal data?
MwK: Personal Data? How about:
Born: August 25th, 1947 in Guatamala City, Guatamala, Central America.
Died: A year ago of smog inhalation.
I won $10 in a Bingo contest in Montgomery, Alabama, when I was ten years old, for having the
fanciest undershorts in the house. Wish somebody would pay me to write and illustrate Fairie Tales.
Really enjoy: The Pink Floyd, Pearls Before the Swine, Love, The Beatles (Abbey Road, side two),
Jefferson Airplane, Hamilton Camp, Antonio Gaudi, Alphonse Mucha, Lord Buckley's monologues,
Donovan's fairie tales, J.R.R. Tolkien, talking all night long with Jane Garland about Christmas,
walking in the rain and snow and sunshine dappled forests, Autumn, Spring, Heineken Beer, Wanibee,
Canal Street at night, Romy Schneider, Roy Krenkel's stories, Al Williamson's quips, Frank Frazetta's
coffee, not watching television, and Bob Dylan.
When did you first become interested in drawing and doing comics?
MwK: I have to say I've at least been doodling all my short life, like on the tops of my Algebra tests,
etc. The first real drawings came about during Junior High (between the years 1960-62), I was about
14. I was, like most every young boy, fanatically captivated with machines of war, especially flying
machines. I remember spending a great amount of time tracing German and British aircraft from my
Father's copy of "Life's Picture History of W.W.II", and copying pictures from Joe Kubert's Johnny
Cloud comics. But all this faded away with the advent of the Ace and Ballantine Burroughs reprints.
Roy Krenkel's drawings filled a need I had at the time. My first effort in the comics medium was
during my first year of college, 1966. This was "Eyes of Mars." "Eyes of Mars" was done just for fun,
and the story line showed it. As I finished each page, I hung it in "The Scarlet Griffin," a coffee house
in my college town of Richmand, Virginia. It had gone six installments when Tom Long, the editor of
"Graphic Showcase", asked to use it in his first issue. Following my consent, I did a little fast
soul-searching and quickly re-drew four of the six pages, changing the story line in the progress.
Page two and four are the only ones I left alone. It was early 1967 when I started "Hole In Space"
for "Spa Fon", but this falls under a different part of your interview.
When did you decide you would do comic art for a living?
MwK: From around the time of "eyes" I had hoped I could do comic art for a living, but it wasn't until
January, 1969 that I came to New York to try it. I wasn't doing it until March.
What was the first magazine to publish your work?
MwK: Spa Fon #3. It beat out Graphic Showcase #1 by about 2 days.
What is your main gripe about fandom?
MwK: The passing around of second, third, and fourth hand information concerning the professional
area of comic art, especially concerning the artists. Many fan editors, and writers, will start a purge or
rumor about something or someone they have no actual knowledge about, and the fan readers will
form dogmatic opinions based on this unreliable source. Unless one of these articles is actually
underwritten by a person who is a part of the professional field, there is a tremendous possibility of
erroneous information, or unfounded character assassination. Interviews, such as you are doing, are
the most reliable way to get and communicate facts concerning an artist and the field in which he
works. In an interview the quotes are not taken out of context or used to back up an editor's personal
How do you go about trying to improve your artwork?
MwK: Listening to all the criticism, and promptly forgetting it; accepting any and all scripts (the only
way to learn how to draw is to draw everything); accepting influence from every available source;
talking in my sleep; and drinking plenty of coffee.
What do you strive for when doing a script?
MwK: I place my main emphasis, now, on story telling. If a strip doesn't flow easily from one panel
to the next, then I have failed. In my fan work, the story usually takes a back seat and I concentrate
on drawing. But I've learned, by working with Dick Giordano, the story comes first. If I receive a
script which I believe is jerky, with a poor sequence of events, I will re-write it, and add mood. A
good example of re-writing for mood is in the story "Dead End" (in "Web of Horror" # 3). There is a
road into the future sequence that the writer wanted shrouded in mist. Mist is very moody but it has
it's place. To do a whole story in mist is to overdo the mist; it becomes boring. In one panel the main
character is saying "This is as far as I went before...ahead lies...the unknown!"
The script called for a billboard, advertising a 1975 refrigerator, looming out of the mist. Instead, I
pulled a long shot of the landscape, billboard and truck and suggested the huge gears of time revolving
in the sky behind. It is a crisp, cold panel, and the vista pictured says a lot more about the nature of
this mysterious road than clouds of mist. When you see the story, imagine the last two pages as
nothing but mist; I think the story would lose any strength it has. When I do drawings I strive for two
things: picture concept and mood. I try to work with strange, yet everyday subject matter taken out
of context. I try to show a different viewpoint and endow the drawing with a charisma of alien quality.
I will often reject the "punch" type of drawing for the "softly strange" type.
What, and who have you been working for lately?
MwK: Lately, say in the past month: Dick Giordano of National Comics, Terry Bisson, editor of
"Web of Horror", Kim Dietch, editor of "Gothic Blimp Works", Ted White, editor of "Fantastic
Stories" magazine, and myself.
For Dick I did a 6 page mystery story, "The Coming of Chaglan". For Terry I did a six page horror
story ("Dead End" - Ed.). For Kim I did two one page strips: "Time Lapse" and "...as the cosmos
sinks slowly in the west...or...A Night at the Space Opera". For Ted I did two one column illustrations
for a John runner story, "Wagner Lost", and for myself I did a variety of little drawings and half
Do you have any hobbies?
MwK: Yes, back-biting and running around with beautiful women.
Who is your favorite fan artist?
MwK: There are several: Steve Hickman, Steve Harper, Kenneth Smith, Jim Pinkoski and
sometimes, George Metzger.
Steve Harper just turned professional, though not in the comic field. Steve is now a magazine
illustrator, working for Cavalier. Although Steve's first Cavalier job is in black & white, his talents
reigns in the painters medium. So far his paintings have been beautifully colored with quite strange,
luminescent hues. He also does a lot with textures. I can truthfully tell you that Frank Frazetta really
enjoys Harper's paintings, in fact he owns at least one.
(Editor's note: Steve Hickman as well as Kenneth Smith have both turned pro. Steve is now doing
comic strips for "Web of Horror", as well as for other companies. Kenneth Smith is now doing book
cover illustrations for paperback books. Look for them soon!)
What do you think of the fall of the superhero?
MwK: I can't say I'm sad, I just hope whatever takes the superhero's place will offer enough room
for all the fantastic comic artists we have around today.
What are some of your plans for the future?
MwK: I will be writing two sci fi scripts for "Web of Horror", drawing one of them, and, if I can
find time, I'll finish off "Hole In Space" for "Spa Fon" #6.
(Editor's note: Mike is now finishing a six page strip called "Chains of the Sea" which will be
appearing in "I'll Be Damned" #2).
Who is your favorite comic character?
MwK: The Spirit
Who is your favorite comic book writer, comic book artist, and book illustrator?
MwK: Al Feldstein was the most consistently good, and entertaining, comic book writer, in my
estimation, but Will Eisner's writing had that touch of everyday magic and believability that I would
like to emulate. His characters, at least here in the city, live next door; you continually spot them on
the roads and in the subways. His story-telling was immaculate, subtle, humorous, and spine tingling.
Most of National's stories are lack and completely pointless. Marvel has a definitely overbearing
megalomania running through their pages. But I enjoy Steve Ditko's Spider-Man. I can always identify
with a loser. In the area of comic artists, my favorites are too many to list definitively , so I'll name a
Will Eisner, of course. Again it was his subtlety and realism that affected me. His constant search for
innovations, new angles, new ways to capture an elusive mood is what puts him at the top of my list.
Al Williamson's E.C. work, a beautifully illustrative style, his Flash Gordon art, and his new art for
Frank Frazetta, especially his Funny Animals, Famous Funnies covers, Romance comics, and his
E.C. work with Al Williamson. Frank's power was a very effective foil for Al's superb
draughtsmanship. Of course, Frank's Thunda #1.
Graham Ingles' horror stuff, beautifully decadent. Wally Wood's earlier work, including his artwork
for Mad. The Spanish artist behind "Legionarios Del Espacio" - Esteban Maroto. His style is the
freshest in the field today. Jose Salinas, Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Stan Drake, Leonard Starr, etc.
My favorite book illustrators? Again an indefinite list, but smack on top is Maxfield Parrish. Franklin
Booth, N.C. Wyeth, Harry Clarke, and Gustav Dore are up there with him.
Who do you think influenced your style?
MwK: All the people I mentioned in the above question. For most part, Roy Krenkel and Al
Williamson. Also Steve Hickman. In my younger days we were continually trying to out do each other,
and we did.
How's your working speed?
Anything we forgot?
MwK: Yes, one thing. Who I owe for my recent break into comics. It is Al Willaimson. He saw
something in my work that showed promise, and he asked me to work with him on "The Beautiful
Beast" for National. It was on his belief in my talent that guided me into the comic field, and I owe
him quite a lot.
|All art copyright Michael Wm. Kaluta and the respective owners.