BC: One of the things I like about your work is that it doesn’t look like it’s inked by someone trying
to be Joe Sinnot. You seem to work in a style that; I’m almost surprised they let you get away with in
comics; it’s not slick.
Michael Kaluta: I get asked by youngsters how to get into comics. I’m not a good person to ask;
my portfolio wasn’t typical. I’m really pleased they let me draw my way, but it isn’t comics.
Sometimes I feel guilty.
BC: Your whole style seems to owe more to illustrators, Howard Pyle and so on. How did you get
MK: In 1967 I met Berni Wrightson, who was drawing comics. I’d been raised on EC, Frazetta’s
Johnny Comet, and was laboring under the delusion that was what they wanted. I don’t know how I
got hired. Dick Giordano saw something he liked. With Marvel, it was always, “look at John
Buscema, make the muscles bigger.” With Julius Schwartz it was, “take the detail out!”
BC: Do you feel the field’s becoming more open now?
MK: Four or five years ago there were alot of people leaving comics, and the companies had to
take new people with different styles, including the Philipinos, with their heavy debt to the 1920’s –
BC: Is there a particular thing you focus on in your art?
MK: The major thing I concentrate on is mood. I knew there were things I couldn’t draw. If you
can’t draw something, make it feel good.
BC: How is it you happened to do covers for National?
MK: Once a year National has a field trip out to the chemical color plant in Connecticut to show the
artists why their work looks the way it does in the comics. (laughter) I was really interested in going.
I got on the bus, and there was Marv Wolfman and Len Wein and their friends and family and all the
jokes we heard at parties, and I thought, “Oh my God, High school!” I freaked out and left. Instead
of going on the trip, I went up to National and sat around drawing things they wouldn’t usually let me
do, strange characters with long ears and the like.
Carmine Infantino walked by. (Mike imitates Carmine flicking his cigar) “Mikey, why aren’t you on
the trip?” So I didn’t bullshit him. I said, “there’s some people there I couldn’t stand.” Carmine says,
“Why don’t you design a cover for us?” So that’s how I got discovered. This is the way it’s supposed
to happen; drugstore, soda shop.
BC: I bet you weren’t even wearing a sweater.
MK: So my first cover was Batman leaning on the Bruce Wayne tombstone. I don’t know why they
picked me. My lines would drop out. They were dirty.
BC: Marty told me a great story you related about Joe Orlando and Carmine Infantino and you.
Would you retell it?
MK: Carmine, when he got the job of publisher, was not allowed to draw, but to keep his hand in,
designed covers. He did little scribble layouts and you did the drawing around it. Neal Adams could
put the sketch on a light-box and turn it into a Neal Adams drawing. I was in the habit of bringing in
something totally different and saying, “Isn’t this better?” Most of the time I got away with it. Carmine
had all his covers tilted to the side to make them interesting. Take a look at any of the covers of that
era and you’ll see they all tilt to the side. One day, Joe Orlando and I were walking through the hall
looking at covers, laughing at the tilts. Carmine came to the door and overheard us, and when he said
something, Joe and I went walking down the hall arm in arm at an angle. Carmie shouted, “I’ll get you
guys!” It was a good laugh.
BC: Did you see Will Murray’s Shadow slide show?
MK: Yes, it was very good.
BC: Steranko was speculating that you drew your Shadow covers from one of the later, artier periods.
MK: The cape is from the Count of Monty Cristo. The only cover I actually drew from is one for
Black Rage, or Black Death, or Black something; a beautiful cover. I think Jim used it for one of his.
BC: Were you a Shadow fan?
MK: No, I’d just read one of the Belmont books. But I took to the character.
BC: Can I ask you what you thought of the people who followed you on The Shadow?
MK: Cruz didn’t add much to what I did except a nice clean style. They should have sent him a
book on New York in the thirties. I like just about everything Frank Robbins did on The Shadow,
except The Shadow in full figure. He had sort of bandy legs.
BC: What did you mean when you said you weren’t a good comic artist?
MK: John Buscema is a good comic book artist. Neal Adams is terrible as a comic book artist.
He’s a fine artist, but he puts too much in. There’s only one guy right now who’s exactly perfect as a
comic book artist, and that’s Steve Ditko. I’m not a good comic book artist, but I am a good artist.
Storytelling came hard.
BC: But you seem a lot better at storytelling than most of the Spanish artists that have been brought
in at Warren.
MK: Yeah, Nino’s the only guy I can look at.
BC: What are you working on now?
MK: I’m doing a cover for Savage Sword of Conan. Roy called up and asked to buy the original,
which means he liked it. I’m working for Christopher Enterprises too.
BC: Do you work in acrylics?
MK: No, oils and watercolor.
BC: What are you doing for Christopher Enterprises?
MK: They let me do almost anything I want, and I’m illustrating a book, Metropolis. It’ll be like the
Berni Wrightson Frankenstein, at least 100 full page drawings. The deluxe edition, with leather binding
and original watercolor by Berni, with slipcase, is about $225. The consumers edition will be about
$25. Barry Smith is doing Dracula for them. There’s a lot of work in them, so don’t look for them
BC: Do you prefer working as an illustrator?
MK: That’s hard. There’s nothing that beats telling the graphic story when it works. I really don’t
know which I prefer. Comics are hard; I don’t know how to place balloons. I’ll have to go back and
study Alex Toth. When you look at one of his pages you never even see the balloons. When I go
back to comics it’ll be with different intent. Byron Priess asked me about 1984 for Fiction Illustrated.
By the time I said yes, he’d changed his mind. He suggested Theodore Sturgeon’s “More Than
Human” – an incredible story, but no pictures whatsoever. I suggested Ray Bradbury’s “Something
Wicked This Way Comes” or Harry Harrison’s “Bill, The Galactic Hero”. He said he’d try on
Harrison, but I’ve heard nothing since.
|The Buyer's Guide to Comics Fandom # 178
|Michael Wm. Kaluta
|All art copyright Michael Wm. Kaluta and the respective owners.