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Gary Groth Interview: Publisher & Comics Critic by Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

Gary Groth is an American comic book editor, publisher and critic. He is editor-in-chief of The Comics Journal, a co-founder of Fantagraphics Books, and founder the Harvey Awards.

Interview with Fantagraphics publisher, The Comics Journal co-founder, and Genius in Literature Award recipient Gary Groth by Alex Grand and Jim Thompson, covering his full publishing career starting at age 13, his greatest accomplishments and
failures, feuds and friends, journalistic influences and ideals, lawsuits and controversies. Learn which category best describes ventures like Fantastic Fanzine, Metro Con ‘71, The Rock n Roll Expo ’75, Amazing Heroes, Honk!, Eros Comics,
Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, Love and Rockets, Jacques Tardi, Neat Stuff and the famous Jack Kirby interview; and personalities like Jim Steranko, Pauline Kael, Harlan Ellison, Hunter S. Thompson, Kim Thompson, CC Beck, Jim Shooter, Alan Light and Jules Feiffer. Plus, Groth expresses his opinions … on everything!

🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, Thumbnail Artwork, CBH Podcast ©2021 Comic Book Historians.
Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, Photo ©Chris Anthony Diaz.

Music – standard license, Lost European.

Gary Groth Biographical Interview 2020
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Gary Groth
00:00:25 Family background
00:02:30 Father’s support
00:06:22 Weekend movies with father
00:07:55 Childhood comics reading | Metal Men No.5
00:10:12 From DC to Marvel comics | Strange Tales
00:12:07 Passaic Book Company
00:14:58 Reading Comic Strips
00:17:34 Film Criticism 1970s | Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris
00:20:19 Dwight Macdonald, Esquire Magazine | Writer’s Magazine
00:24:04 At 17, I wanted to be a publisher
00:26:04 At 14, Fantastic Fanzine
00:29:06 Metro Con 1971 | Sal Buscema
00:31:24 Getting into journalism
00:34:23 Meeting Jim Steranko
00:46:58 Barry Smith
00:50:44 Roy Thomas, Job at Marvel
00:52:11 Rochester Institute of Technology
00:55:58 Two Community College
00:57:44 Publishing Fanatastic Fanzine, Alan Light
01:00:34 Living with Jim Steranko
01:08:41 Jim Steranko in early 1970s
01:12:29 Steranko influence on me
01:15:18 Howard Chaykin, Michael Catron
01:18:18 Nixon Death Watch
01:19:54 Majored in Journalism
01:21:17 The Rock n Roll Expo ’75
01:24:33 Hunter S Thompson
01:31:39 Rock Magazine
01:36:39 Writing movie reviews
01:37:40 New Nostalgia Journal
01:39:50 Alan Light’s reaction to The Comics Journal
01:46:31 Comics Journal Formula?
01:51:00 C.C.Beck, Rick Marschall
01:53:08 Some controversies
01:56:27 Did Kim Thompson moderate you?
02:00:24 Interview with Jack Kirby 1990
02:04:44 Jim Shooter | Cancel Culture
02:09:06 Cancel Culture good or bad? | Robert Crumb
02:17:22 Amazing Heroes, X-Men Companion
02:25:05 End of Amazing Heroes, 1992
02:28:06 Howard Chaykin
02:29:18 Lawsuits | Michael Fleischer, Harlan Ellison
02:44:38 Honk Magazine
02:48:03 Interview with Jules Feiffer
02:52:24 As a journalist was it difficult…
02:55:03 Reprinting Comic Strips
02:57:49 Eros Comics
03:06:42 Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, Pogo
03:09:14 Popeye Series: Why not on sale?
03:10:07 Nell Brinkley: Why still in the sale?
03:11:48 Reprints?
03:14:19 Love and Rockets, Lloyd Llewellyn
03:17:50 Joe Sacco
03:19:04 Chris Ware
03:20:00 Women in comics 1980s
03:21:15 Groth vs. Spiegelman – publishing philosophy?
03:23:22 Fantagraphics’ targets?
03:25:58 Perramus, Alberto Breccia
03:29:41 Faced multiple financial crises
03:33:36 Digitizing interview audiotapes
03:34:37 Have any documentary people approached?
03:36:37 Mistakes while interviewing
03:38:23 Burne Hogarth
03:42:03 Carlos Giménez, Eric Reynolds
03:45:46 Intention behind the packaging
03:48:34 Jim Steranko won’t talk to me
03:53:53 Your interviews inspired us
03:57:40 Wrapping up

#GaryGroth #TheComicsJournal #Fantagraphics #ComicBookHistorians #Peanuts
#FantasticFanzine #ErosComics #ComicHistorian #CBHInterviews #CBHPodcast
#CBH

Transcript (editing in progress):

Alex:      Well, welcome back to the Comic Book Historians Podcast, I’m Alex Grand with my co-host Alex Thompson. Today we have a really fun guest, publisher, comic book historian, childhood comic fan extraordinaire, Gary Groth. Gary, thanks for being with us today.

Groth:   Happy to be here.

Jim:       So, I know you were born in 1954, a son of a Navy contractor. You’re actually born in Buenos Aires?

Groth:   I was born in Buenos Aires; my dad was in the Navy. And I was born there because he was on active duty, and he was stationed in Buenos Aires.

Jim:       And then, was he still in the Navy when you moved to Springfield?

Groth:   Yeah, he was. He was in the Navy for about 30 years… Let me see. Let me walk that back. He joined the Navy, I think in ’39, and so that means he would have retired from the Navy in ’69. I think that’s approximately right. From Buenos Aires, we moved to Williamsburg, Virginia. I was about two.

Jim:       How long were you in Williamsburg?

Groth:   Until I was five. So, I think we were there for about three years. Then we moved to Springfield, Virginia which is a suburb of Washington DC.

Jim:       I spent would spend my first 25 years in Richmond, Virginia.

Groth:   So down the road.

Jim:       Yep. I know. But very different, still. You guys were less confederate than we were, back in Richmond.

Groth:   Well the whole Washington DC area is sort of an oasis in Virginia. You drive 20 minutes south, and you’re in the Confederacy.

Jim:       Yep.

Alex:      But Jim is in no way affiliated with that now.

[chuckles]

Jim:       No, I’m an expatriate, pretty much. But I did grow up there.

Groth:   Where do you live now?

Jim:       Los Angeles.

Groth:   Okay.

Jim:       I moved out here in 1985. I’ve lived here longer than I ever lived in Richmond.

Groth:   Yeah. Same here, in Seattle. I’ve lived here longer than any place I’ve ever lived. Including my upbringing in Virginia.

Alex:      So, you’re pretty close to your father then, it sounds like. Because he was part of your, kind of pop culture upbringing, wasn’t he?… In some way.

Groth:   Well, yes. I mean, he was. He was of his generation, World War II generation. He died five years ago, at the age of 99… So, he had me when he was 39, I think. He was a little older.

I was kind of an oddball kid. And I don’t think he quite understood because he grew up in Queens. He was born in Queens. And his ambition was to be short stop for the New York… I don’t know if I’m going to get it right, like the New York Dodgers… I don’t know. It was like a New York baseball team. And that was his ambition in life, which he didn’t fulfill which is why he joined the Navy when he was 19 or 20.

And I had no interest in sports. I couldn’t do sports. I was terrible at them. It was the worst thing I experienced in high school. And so, I retreated into comics. And he never read comic books, he read comic strips. So, he didn’t quite understand what I was doing but he understood the passion. And I think he understood that if we were going to be close, and if he was going to be part of my life, he was going to be part of that.

He was very supportive. Both my parents were very supportive. But he helped a lot doing the nuts and bolts work when I put out a fanzine, when I was 13 years old. He did all the bookkeeping which he was very good at. He was very meticulous, which I am not, very detail oriented, and he kept the ledgers. He kept the books.

I put out the fanzine… I’m sure you’re going to get there. I put out a fanzine when I was 13. It started off as kind of a typical, terrible fan worshipping little fanzine. We called them Crudzines back then. And he kept all the books. We would get orders in, and I think it cost 50 cents. So, people would send quarters taped to cardboard. We would open those envelopes, we would take the quarters out and he would very meticulously put them in a ledger, with the name of the person and we’d have to mail the person the fanzine, and he probably handled a lot of that.

When I printed the fanzine, we would go to his office, and they had a Xerox machine there. That’s when Xerox machines were much more rare. People didn’t own Xerox machine, companies and the government owned a Xerox machines. So, we’d go to his office and Xerox my fanzine, and when we come home, we would staple it together. We would staple the fanzines together, together. So, he was very much supportive and very much a part of what I did back then.

He also, another big component of our lives was, that he basically introduced me to movies. Every Saturday or Sunday, after he got home from playing golf, we would go to see a movie. We’d get in the car and go see a movie.

[00:05:04]

Back then, in the ‘60s, they didn’t really make movies for kids. There were a few, but primarily, they did not cater to children. And so, what I saw, were the same movies that he saw. They were like war movies, they were detective movies, mysteries. I mean, they starred John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, that whole generation of actors. And that’s probably where I discovered my great love of film; by going to see a movie every weekend.

Jim:       Yeah, I want to talk about that a little bit. I had the same experience because you didn’t have the other distractions and so, dad would take me to see High Plains Drifter or something, when I’m like completely inappropriate to go see it.

Groth:   I saw that with my dad. I’m a little older than you are, because I was more or less a grown up. I was probably about 21 or 22 when I saw that, and I actually took my dad to see that movie.

Jim:       Yeah, that’s… I remember that one as …

Groth:   And that would be pretty inappropriate for a kid.

[chuckles]

Jim:       We’re talking about the fanzine, but I want to go back in time a little bit and talk about Metal Men #5.

Groth:   Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jim:       Tell us what the significance of that.

Groth:   Well, I discovered that comic in my pediatrician’s office. I wouldn’t say I was a sickly child but I had asthma, and I also had allergies. Both of which I still have. And I would go to the pediatrician’s office and get allergy shots every week or two. And I think I discovered that comic, sitting in his office; he had a pile of comics sitting there. It is the first comic I distinctly remember seeing. And I forget… You probably know what year that comic was…

Jim:       Oh, yeah, I did my… ’64.

Groth:   ’64, okay. Yeah.

Jim:       It was a December- January release, so you would have been nine.

Groth:   Right. Right. I might have read some comics before that. I have vague memories of reading comics like Hot Stuff and Richie Rich, and that whole line of kids’ comics and I don’t know, I can’t remember where that fell, if it fell before that or after that. But it was that Metal Man comic that was a revelation to me.

Jim:       Yeah, I read that from there, you just were all in.

Groth:   I just went ape-shit, Yeah, I just started buying comics. Of course, I started buying DC Comics.

Alex:      Now, did the Gorilla covers help you go more ape-shit over the comics you’re reading?

Groth:   They did not. I was not aware of the gorilla trend. Although, it was apparently happening when I was in prime comics buying mode, but no. But yeah, that was part of that whole goofy DC period, which I probably enjoy.

Alex:      Right.

Groth:   I think it was, anyway.

Jim:       You were kind of DC focused for that first year, but by ’65, ’66, you moved to Marvel, pretty much. Right?

Groth:   Yeah. It probably took a couple of years. I’ll tell you one funny story, it’s possible, the first Marvel comic I bought was Strange Tales, which I’m sure you know, they split the comic between the Human Torch and another character, what was it? The Thing?

Jim:       It was Doctor Strange.

Groth:   Doctor Strange and the Human Torch. And I think I actually bought that comic because I had mistaken the Human Torch for The Flash. They were both red, so they seem like the same character. So, I remember buying it, taking it home and reading it, and realizing this was a different reading experience. It was just, all the rhythms of the Marvel Comics were entirely different, the drawing was different. DC’s drawing was much more domesticated. There was something cruder about Marvel.

Alex:      And DC, weren’t they kind of subsumed in that smooth New York, Dan Barry type aesthetic. [overlap talk}

Groth:   Yeah, a lot of Kurt Swan, Wayne Boring, yeah, they were much slicker than Marvel… So, I noticed that intuitively. I mean, I was probably, whatever, 12 or something. But then I realized there was this whole other comics brand out there. And I started picking up on those.

Gosh, the first Fantastic Four I bought was #33. And again, I don’t know what year that was, but it probably was ’65 or something like that.

Jim:       And you started doing mail order catching up on the earlier issues, right?

Groth:   Yeah. I had to have all the early issues I’d missed, which I eventually got. So, I would order them by mail, mail out of dealers back then, and you would order them by mail.

One of the great moments of my life is when my folks drove me to Passaic, New Jersey. There’s a place called Passaic Book Company, and I would order comics from them. And that’s when you can order a back issue of Spider-Man for like a dollar or $2, or something like that.

[00:10:00]

So, it wasn’t outrageous. And I would order a couple of comics, and then I’d be utterly thrilled. I’d be waiting for like a week, for their comic to arrive in the mail. And of course, when it got there, just opening the package was so exciting.

So, somehow, I talked my parents into driving to Passaic, New Jersey. It was a family outing; it was probably a round trip in one day. And they were a big back issue comics dealer, and they might have been a book dealer, just a general book dealer as well. But they had this one gigantic room with nothing but comics in it, and it just blew my mind. I was like 14 or 15 at the time.

I remember going in there, I mean I was just pig heaven, I guess. I didn’t have enough money to buy all the comics that I needed to buy but that was great. Yeah, I collected it all. I would buy back issues, mostly of Marvel. I don’t remember buying back issues of DC. I think I was more addicted to Marvel. I was more obsessed with Marvel.

Jim:       Were you only reading superhero stuff at this point? Like not their westerns or their romance or…

Groth:   I was reading every single Marvel Comic. I was reading all their westerns. I even bought Millie the Model, which I obviously had no interest in…

Jim:       I did too… [chuckle]

Alex:      Patsy and Hedy? Something like that?

Groth:   Absolutely.

Jim:       Yeah.

Groth:   Absolutely. I mean, just because it was a Marvel Comic, I want to keep abreast of all the Marvel Comics. I joined the Marvel Merry Marching Society.

Alex:      You’re one of those guys, That’s awesome.

Groth:   Yeah. Got no prices. I’d out grown it by the time Foom came around, so I did not join that. But yeah, there was a period of three or four years when I happily drank the Kool-Aid.

Jim:       You had mentioned that your dad read comic strips. Were you interested in those as well?

Groth:   Marginally. I would read comic strips but I like the longer form narrative of comics. Even the DC Comics which were I think almost all self-contained stories, as opposed to the Marvel serialized soap opera. So, I think I like the longer stories. I mean I can read the Sunday newspaper strips, and I kind of dug them, but if you read a 22-paged Stan Lee – Jack Kirby story, it’s got so much satisfaction to it than reading a very short… Than reading a third of a page or a half page story in the newspaper. So, I never really picked up that habit. I learned everything about newspaper a little bit later.

Jim:       Now, did you quit Marvel before Kirby and Ditko left?

Groth:   No.

Jim:       Or was it around their departure that helped end it?

Groth:   Well, Ditko left around ’69…

Alex:      No. Ditko left Marvel in like ’65… No, ’66.

Groth:   Did he leave that early?

Alex:      Yeah, and then Kirby left in ’70, Wally Wood left… [overlap talk]

Groth:   Yeah, Kirby left later. Kirby left in the ‘70… Yeah, no, I didn’t. I kept reading Marvel… Let me see… Well, no, I kept reading Marvels through high school, and I graduated in ’72. So, I probably kept reading through about ’72.

I mean, I have to tell you, I got less interested in the comics themselves, when I was putting out these fanzines, than I was in the artist and in producing the fanzine. I know that sounds paradoxical but I think I became less fanatically interested in reading the comics in the last year or two of my high school, than I was in about being involved in this fandom, and following the very specific artists that I was, and starting to know the artists I’ve met. I started meeting artists when I was… I don’t know 14 or 15.

Alex:      How’d that all start? I mean, let us… about Fantastic Four

Jim:       I’m going to get to that, Alex, in a minute. I just want to do one or two things and then get to the fanzine.

Every piece on you that I’ve read was sort of generic, would say, “Influences – Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris.” And my question is, don’t you have to pick a side? How do you do both Pauline Kael and Sarris? And if that’s true, do you lean towards Sarris? And are you an Auteur Theory person?

Groth:   Okay. Well, now, this is later. This is like in my 20s, and yes, I did pick a side. The side for me was not between Sarris and Kael. It was between John Simon and Stanley Kauffman, and Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris.

So, we’re talking about film criticism in the 1970s. This gets very complicated… Sarris and Kael clashed, but almost all of the critics who worked in the 1970s… It started in the 1960s and they were looking at works into the 1970s… They were all clashing with each other, and there were camps. I was in the John Simon – Stanley Kauffman camp which was, I think, the more literary side of film criticism. Whereas, Pauline Kael, and Andrew Sarris… Well, do you know a critic named Vernon Young?

[00:15:05]

Jim:       Yes.

Groth:   Okay. Well, he, again would have been in the Simon – Kauffman… Manny Farber I thought he straddled, you know, the middle. He was somewhere in the middle.

Jim:       Boy, he could write though. I’m a big fan of Manny Farbers.

Groth:   Yeah, he was terrific. I mean, they were all good. But I do think the best writers, the best plot writers were Simon and Kauffman. Kael could write but… And I love to engage Kael, but there was something about Kael that bothered me. She would tend to write more of, around movies, than about them.

Whereas, I thought, Simon just nailed it. He was so precise in his criticism, and agreeing or disagreeing with the critic was not ever the point. Because I could profitably disagree with all of these guys.

Jim:       I deliberately skipped to that because it seemed to me that as much as comics and the influence of comics, as we were talking about, the influence of these particular people helped you formulate your ambitions and your style, as it relates to comics. So, I thought it was important.

Groth:   Yeah. It’s absolutely true. You know why? The first film critic I encountered was Dwight MacDonald’s who wrote for Esquire Magazine.

Jim:       Oh, that was when you were in college that first… Your professor had you read all of Esquire.

Groth:   Yes. Yes. You’ve done some researching…

[chuckle]

Yeah, it was at community college, after my first year of college. And I was flailing around, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And so, when you don’t know what you want to do with your life, take a creative writing class. I think that’s what this was. It was actually a creative writing class.

Really, I didn’t really know about writing. All of the writers I read were just second-rate pulp writers. I read, Robert E. Howard. I mean, I could distinguish good writing from bad writing. So, I took this course, and this guy whose name I no longer remember, he really opened my eyes to what good writing was. And one of the things he told us to do was read Esquire.

It would have been 1973, at that time Esquire was running a lot of great writers. They had Dwight MacDonald writing for film criticism. I think Nora Ephron had a column. I forget who wrote the literary column. It might have been James Woolscott, might have been. It was a writers’ magazine at that time. And it really suddenly opened my eyes to what good writing was.

And so, I would read Dwight MacDonald, and then I would go out and buy his book of film criticism. And then, John Simon took over from Dwight MacDonald so I started reading John Simon. Then I would buy his book of film criticism. The first book of his I read was Movies into Film. And that was eye opening because here was somebody who clearly had an enormous amount of expertise, he was an extraordinarily good writer, and who was applying these honed critical skills to film.

Something that I hadn’t truly considered before. And of course, that’s what led me to thinking, well why isn’t someone applying these same skills to comics? And that had been done erratically in the past, very, very rarely, we can talk about that. But that’s what opened my eyes. Then John Simon, he wrote a big essay in Movies into Film about Pauline Kael.

Jim:       Oh, yeah.

Groth:   Where he attacked her essay, which was called, Movies and Trash, whatever it was called. Of course, I thought, who’s Pauline Kael? And I had to go and buy her books. So, I would take notes about who all of these… Dwight MacDonald, John Simon, and Pauline Kael; I would take notes about who they’re writing about. If John Simon mentions Susan Sontag, I would have to go out and find out who she was.

Jim:       Yup. It’s just one, one leads to another.

Groth:   Yeah. Yeah.

 

Jim:       Let’s go back to when you’re 14 before you know any of this. But you’re starting your publishing career to some degree, at that point. And I read that by the time you were 17, you were telling your parents you wanted to be a publisher.

Groth:   Well, that’s true. Yeah, I think I wanted to be a publisher. The first college I went to was the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the only reason I went to that, is because, my parents had not gone to college, and so they really didn’t know how to navigate finding a college. And so, we were looking for a college, that taught publishing.

Well… There was no such college. I don’t think there were university courses about publishing. And so, the Rochester Institute of Technology was the closest thing we could find to publishing because they specialized in teaching printing technology. Now in fact, of course, printing technology has nothing to do with actually publishing. But neither I nor my parents knew that at the time. So, that’s why I went there, because I wanted to be a publisher. After a year there, I realized that it was not really training me to be a publisher.

[00:20:03]

And that there was no training you can have that would make you a publisher, except being in publishing. And I think that might be, in retrospect, why I started kind of floundering around because I didn’t know how to be a publisher. I knew how to publish a fanzine and make no money, out of my parent’s bedroom, but I didn’t know how to become a publisher.

Jim:       I have some questions about the Rochester Institute, and also your journalism aspect of you working on the magazine, but before I do that, I still want to do Fantastic Fanzine, because that’s obviously important; that you started at 14 and you had people like Tony Isabella, and Mark Evanier, and artists like Dave Cockrum before he went professional. You were getting art from Neal Adams, to Bill Everett. How was this happening when you were aged 14? And talk a little bit about that aspect.

Groth:   Well, I didn’t have any hesitancy in writing to artists, and I would initially write to them being care of Marvel and DC. And apparently, the companies would forward the letters because I seem to remember… I ran an interview with John Romita, I think, like in 1968 or something like that. And that was done, entirely by the mail. I sent him a letter, and introduced myself, and then sent him questions, and he would answer them. So, I just started doing that.

Alex:      Was that through the Marvel offices or to his address?

Groth:   Well, I wrote to the companies, and then they would forward… I would write, “John Romita, in care of Marvel Comics.” And they would evidently forward them and then I would get a letter straight from the artist. There was John Romita, or Gene Colan, or any number of other artists, and then their return address would be their personal address, and then I would start writing to them from there.

That was before you could really make phone calls. Long distance phone calls cost a lot of money, and my parents were very supportive but they were not that supportive. So, I couldn’t make any phone calls, but I could write to them. And so, I started doing that.

I started actually meeting artists, like I went to the 1969 New York Comic Art Convention. My dad drove me up there. My dad’s parents lived in New York. They still lived in Queens, so we could combine this trip, and he must consider this wacky exercise…

Alex:      Is that the one that had Hal Foster and Gil Kane were there?

Groth:   Yeah. Yeah.

Alex:      You were at that dinner with all those tables, that famous picture?

Groth:   Luncheon, yeah.

Alex:      Yeah.

Groth:   Yeah, that was fantastic. That was a fantastic convention. I met all of these people whose work I’d read. I mean, Gil Kane… I knew who Hal Foster was, but I didn’t know him that well but that was my introduction to him, really. And all of these cartoonists were there, Al Williamson was there and I knew who he was. I would meet them and I would get their autographs, that was really a seminal influence on me because they were real people.

Alex:      It’s like a pilgrimage in a way. Right?

Groth:   Yeah. I mean, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. And then that encouraged me to put on my own convention in Washington, which I did… I think I put on my convention, 1970.

Alex:      That’s the Metro-Con.

Groth:   Yeah.

Jim:       ’70 and ’71, I think. You did two years.

Alex:      Yeah, ’70 and ’71, And you interviewed people like Sal Buscema and stuff, doing that right?

Groth:   Yeah. Well, Sal Buscema lived in Springfield, and he was one of the earliest cartoonists I met because he lived about 20 blocks away from me. And I somehow learned that he lived in Springfield, which I couldn’t believe. So, I somehow mustered up the courage to give him a call, and he was incredibly gracious, and incredibly patient. I was probably about 15.

He let me come over to his place on a Saturday or a Sunday. And he would sit down with me for a couple of hours and talk to me. And of course, I would pepper him with all kinds of idiotic questions about what he was working on, and the Avengers, the characters he was doing, and who he would like to ink him, and on, and on, and on. I would do this, every six months. For as much as… I’d have to muster up the courage to give him a call again, because I knew I was imposing, wasting his time. And then he would finally say, “Yeah, come on over, and we can sit down…” He gave me a lot of original art. He gave me a lot of pencil pages that were never published.

Alex:      Oh, wow.

Groth:   He would self-reject them. He would do a page, and he wouldn’t like the story-telling or the drawing or something, and he would just say, “Would you like to have this?” “Of course, I do.” I did and I still have those pages.

Alex:      Oh, how fun. That’s great.

Groth:   And he did very complete pencils, I have to say.

Alex:      Yeah, that’s right. And I’ve read that he was in the military and that’s why he was at that Washington DC area. And that’s why he ended up living close to there. He developed a lot of bonds in that area, and that’s cool, you happen to be right there. That’s awesome.

Groth:   Yeah. He was literally like a five-minute drive away.

[00:25:00]

Alex:      And so then, when you’re talking to different creators like this, and then like you said with the Comic Art Convention, did you then start to feel pretty comfortable as a journalist, in a way. Like a budding journalist that, “I can talk to these people. I can get answers. I can be inquisitive with them.” Is that the attitude that start to develop around that time?

Groth:   I don’t know if I formulated, coherent enough thought to think of myself as a journalist. I mean, I was just such a passionate fan…

Alex:      I got you.

Groth:   That I wanted to do this. And I’m not sure that at the point I consider myself a journalist or what I was doing was journalism. It was this fan activity.

Alex:      Right. And your dad sounds like he facilitated it. He wanted you to get into something fun like that.

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. Of course, I couldn’t put on a convention at the age of 16 without an adult signing certain documents, so he was very involved in that. And when I put on the convention, that’s where I really had to interact with professionals, and that’s when I had to talk to them and cut deals with them. I had to get people to come down from New York to Washington, to go to this convention. Which means I had to give them a room. I had to arrange their travel, and I had to appear like I knew what I was doing.

And that’s when I started really… Being introduced to a lot of professionals that had a big impact on my life. People like Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, that whole generation.

Alex:      Right, and there were visual artists as well. They can do fine art, even.

Groth:   Well they were great. They were a new generation, about five, six, seven years older than me, which at that time, meant a lot. I mean, they were like grown-ups, and they were forging their lives. And they represented something new in comics. I don’t think I probably had the wherewithal at that time to realize the differences that they were bring to comics but they sort of skewed the whole hack ethos. Comics was really a hack business.

Alex:      Well they had the same guys doing comics for like 30 years up to that point. Right?

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. And as you probably know, Marvel and DC, there was a period of a decade where they weren’t hiring new artists. They got all the artists they needed.

Alex:      Yeah. I read this Stan Lee interview where he was like, “Oh, only… There’s no new artist in but we’ve got this new guy, Jim Steranko. Kind of a fan that likes comics. He turned out pretty good.” That was his 1968 interview. How’d you feel about Steranko when he came on the scene?

Groth:   Oh my god, I loved Steranko. I mean, I worshipped his work. I mean, Unfortunately, I worshipped him.

Alex:      Tell us about that interview with him in that Fantastic Fanzine, and how you guys met. Tell us about that a bit.

Groth:   Well, I can’t remember how we met. I probably met him at the convention. I have a lot of photos of him, that I took. So, I deduce from that I probably met him in ’69 or ’70, ’71, at a convention. I was a huge fan of his work, as many of us were. He was doing work that looked innovative at that time. In retrospect, I think it’s less so but he was doing work that was fresh and interesting, and he was breaking out of the conventional comics format.

Marvel was pretty much a child of Kirby, so every artist drew in the Kirby mode. And even though you can see a lot of Kirby in Steranko, he brought a lot of other influences to it. And so, he looked like this amazingly fresh talent, and as you can probably tell from your own interview with him, he builds an aura of… He creates his own mystique. And he had that mystique going for him then.

He was younger than most of the professionals at that time. He would walk around conventions in turtle-necked sweaters and pink jumpsuits, and wraparound sun glasses. And he kind of holds this self-mythology everywhere he goes. And I was mesmerized by him and his work. It’s a little like escaping a cult, finally, when you realize, “Well, there’s less to this than meets the eye.”

Yeah, I met him. I met him in ’70 or ’71. As you probably know, I worked for him in ’73, I think.

Alex:      ’73, yeah.

Jim:       We’re going to get to that in a few minutes.

Groth:   But, yeah, I did the interview with him. My dad drove me off to Redding, Pennsylvania. I was 16… You can probably track these dates better than I can. I think I was 16.

Alex:      Yeah, 1970, it was right after he left Marvel, and he was venting about Sol Brodsky and things like that.

Jim:       But he had done a cover of the preceding issue that was inked by Joe Sinnott. That was issue #10, and then #11 was the interview.

Groth:   That’s correct. Yeah. What happened was he didn’t do that cover for my fanzine.

[00:30:01]

I bought a pencil rendition from him. And because I also befriended Joe Sinnott, I asked Joe if he would ink it. And Joe who’s an absolute sweetheart, and whose interview I put up on The Comics Journal website last week. The interview that I did with him with two of my friends… I asked Joe if he would ink it because I thought all pencils should be inked. And he inked it, and I ran it on the fanzine.

Subsequently, I interviewed Steranko. My dad drove me up to Redding. I interviewed Steranko during the day, and I think into the early evening. My dad just dropped me off and left us. It was the whole Steranko experience. He lived in a small apartment, it had kind of a muted lighting, there was some soft jazz playing in the background. It was kind of a Chet Baker-ish…

Alex:      That sounds exactly like him, yeah. I know that experience. Yeah.

Groth:   Yeah, it was the whole experience. It was 1970, you say so I would have been 15 or 16 depending on when in 1970. And it was great, I mean, he tolerated me, which was nice. I was a worshipful fanboy, so probably it wasn’t too hard to tolerate me. But I think he saw me as someone who could be useful to him. And we talked on the phone, not infrequently, which was always kind of exciting; talking to Steranko.

Alex:      Was that influential on you, in a positive way, as far as, what path you would go forward in, I mean, I know you had the later, issues with actually living with him and all that. But that moment, that interview, he saw something in you that he felt was special. In some way, was that a positive on you?

Groth:   Well, I don’t know if he saw anything particularly special about me. He saw an enthusiastic kid that was putting out a decent fanzine with some rudimentary skills that I think he thought can be helpful later on. So yeah, I don’t think he saw anything particularly promising.

Alex:      Looking back, you don’t feel like it was more a positive patriarchal moment. It sounds like you almost have more of maybe a negative… It sounds more negative the way you address it.

Groth:   Yeah, I mean, he’s… He said something in your interview. I watched the first part of your interview. And he told an anecdote about him going to Tower, I think it was and going to Sam Schwartz.

Alex:      Sam Schwartz, yeah.

Groth:   And submitting the brilliant Secret Agent X. And Schwartz apparently was criticizing him and telling him how he wanted him to do it. And Jim said something to the effect that he thought that he was grooming him to be a slave boy. Do you remember that term? It’s kind of a weird term that Jim used, and he almost punched him out. He indicated that he was being condescending.

I heard that. I listened to that a couple of days ago, and it was a little shocking because that’s exactly how I felt, working for him. Except for the punching out part, I never considered that. I don’t know if I’m saying he turned into Sam Schwartz but that was exactly the dynamics.

Alex:      No, you’re feeling like a mirror irony, in some way.

Groth:   Yeah. I mean, Jim obviously has a gigantic ego, but I thought he could be somewhat, looking back on it, I think he can be somewhat manipulative.

Alex:      I see.

Groth:   Especially when I was 16, 17 years old.

Alex:      Impressionable.

Groth:   Yeah.

Alex:      I would say this, about Steranko. I love the guy… And you listened, and there was probably a lot of excitement when I was talking to him. and something that I do respect on what he did in the ’60s was, Stan was just telling everybody, “Just do it like Kirby. Do it like Kirby.” And then he actually brought in the influence of movies and things, and different sorts of visuals.

In a field that was with guys that were really old, and were still doing it and they were all doing it, and they were all like stuck in this way. And I feel like he kind of wedged it open, creatively, for some other stuff. Where Stan was like, “Okay, we could kind of get some new stuff going on.” And I thought that’s important.

Groth:   Well, I think it’s fair. I don’t know how important it is but I think that’s fair… I think it was Craig Stein who said very emphatically that comics were not movies. And I think Jim was trying to make comics into movies. I mean, I think that was fundamentally wrong-headed that you’re right that he brought that fresh perspective into comics.

He was slicing the page up to many more panels. Trying to imitate cinematic conventions. It’s undeniably, he brought that in. I just think, in retrospect, it just looks pretty hallow. You’re still dealing with the same old crap.

[00:35:03]

You’re still dealing with those pulp soap opera conventions that Marvel traded in, just gave it a new dressing. Borrowing from Eisner, throwing a little of Dali in. I mean, he was throwing in all those references. I tend to think a big influence… I don’t know if you asked him this, but a think a big influence on him might have been Crepax, Guido Crepax; Italian cartoonist.

Alex:      Yeah, he definitely knows about those guys. Yeah.

Groth:   Yeah. I mean Crepax was slicing up the page…

Jim:       I don’t know if we can see it. I got my Crepax book right here.

Alex:      It’s blending, Jim, I can’t see it.

Groth:   Yeah, I can’t see it.

Alex:      [chuckle] It was in the dark dimension.

Jim:       It’s your book, that’s all I’m saying.

Groth:   It is. It is.

Alex:      I would say also that he’s like a unique personality. He has a lot of different skills. When I met him, it’s obviously, as like a 40-year-old guy. So, it’s a different feeling maybe. But one thing I would say is, he’s very incisive, like from person to person, like he can almost read minds, a little bit. And I’ll say that as far as his influence on me, it’s very positive in that he actually like inspired like a lot of my motion comics stuff that I do that he critics it and we go back and forth on it. I guess I just want to get it out there that I highly respect his work and I just want to throw it out there.

Groth:   [chuckle] You feel compelled to do that.

Jim:       So, going back to Fantastic Fanzine, besides the Steranko interview, because there were others, I was interested in… By mail, back and forth, you’d did an interview with Barry Smith, and he was a kid himself at this point, right? Was he about 19 or 20?

Groth:   Barry is five years older than me. So, when i was 15, he was 20, and when I was 16 he was 21. So, yes, I was corresponding with Barry while he was living in England.

Jim:       That’s what I thought. How did that happen?

Groth:   He started out at Marvel. He was the best Kirby imitator at Marvel. And of course, I loved Kirby, so therefore I love Barry. And that’s why I must have written to him. I must have written to him in care of Marvel, and they must have forwarded the letter to him, and Barry must’ve written to me. I have a bale file of letters from Barry.

Alex:      Oh, wow.

Groth:   A lot of handwritten letters in Barry’s very lovely calligraphic handwriting. Yeah, we had a correspondence. I forget… I mean, I’d have to revisit all the letters from him to me, I don’t have any letters from me to him, thank god. But yeah, we had a correspondence. He would send me drawings which I published in the fanzine. Nice little spot illustrations of Marvel characters that he would pencil and ink, out of the kindness of his heart. I didn’t pay him a penny. And so, we had a correspondence going, and then I met Barry. The first time I met him was in New York, once again, my dad drove me up to Manhattan. I was probably 16, and Barry was living in an apartment. So, if I was 16, that would have made him 21.

So, I go up the apartment, knock on the door, and he opens it up, he’s like this tall, dapper Englishman, with his great English accent. And I’m just this suburban kid, and I walk in. It’s a big apartment, and my recollection is, it had a piano, bookcases, nice furniture, it was just sort of overwhelming. And we sat down, and I don’t remember if I interviewed him or we just talked. But I spent a few hours with him. He too was incredibly gracious, and accommodating, and patient with this kid. And later on, he told me that that was not his apartment. It was a friend’s apartment and he was staying there because he had no place to live. Marvel wasn’t paying him enough to have an apartment like that. Marvel was only paying enough for a studio apartment somewhere on the village without heat.

Jim:       Was he actually on the street at one point? I’d heard, when he first got here…

Groth:   I might have heard that. I think, yeah. Marvel probably wasn’t paying him very much. I shouldn’t say that without knowing but I mean, I think I might have heard that myself. But yeah, I think Marvel wasn’t paying artists, like very new artists, young artists, very much money.

I know that when I was offered a job at Marvel, which was exactly at the same time as Steranko offered me a job with him. I don’t think I could have survived on the pay that Marvel was offering me. I forget what it was at that time.

Alex:      Is that the main reason you turned that down?

Groth:   That was the main… Yeah. There were a couple of reasons. Roy Thomas offered me a job at Marvel, and gave me the salary. I asked my dad, because I didn’t have any experience living on my own, except in college when I lived in the dorm. And I asked my dad, “Can I live in New York on this money?” He said, “No.” So, I went back to Roy and I said, “My father says I couldn’t live in New York.”

[00:40:00]

And Roy said, “Well, that’s probably true, but we can give you freelance work to beef it up.” So, then I thought, “Well, I’m going to be working for Marvel eight hours a day in the office, then I’m going to be working for Marvel all night doing freelance work”, and that really didn’t sound appetizing. And then the other operative factor was that I’d have to give up my car. All of these combined, I very politely turned them down.

Jim:       When you were 17, just a couple of years before that, we discussed that you went to Rochester Institute of Technology, which was a leading printing school which I’m sure came in handy, at some point.

Groth:   It did.

Jim:       But it wasn’t what you were thinking was it?

Groth:   I’m glad I went there. It was an academically rigorous school. And unlike anything I’d experienced before because I kind of slept through high school. I was a mediocre student. Little was asked of me and little was given. And this was the first rigorous academic environment that I’d ever been in. And so, I actually had to pay attention.

Jim:       And is that where you were working for the magazine and started to actually do interviews in terms of not fanzine but doing it as part of the…

Groth:   Well, the college had a magazine; a campus magazine. And I got a job there being a reporter. Which was good, I did stories that they assigned me stories, and so, I was not only learning things, academically, about printing, and design, and typography, and so forth, but I was learning something about being a journalist because I was writing stories that I didn’t have any personal passion for. But they would assign me stories, and so I had to do research, and I’d interview people, and then I had to compose the story.

I remember… This sounds ridiculous but I did a story about the elevators in the campus dorm, because the goddamn elevators were so slow. And I learned a lot about Otis Elevators. Apparently, they’re among the big elevator manufacturers in the country. So, I did my research and I learned a lot about that.

So, I would do these stories with subjects that I personally had no interest in, which forced me and disciplined me to learn how to research. I did that for the year I was there.

Jim:       Now, after that first year, did you transfer directly from there to Montgomery Community College or did you take a time off?

Groth:   There were six months between those two. I went to Rochester for a year, came back home… Not knowing what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go, but knowing I didn’t want to continue in Rochester. Knowing that that just wasn’t quite right for me. I mean, I didn’t want to be a printer. But then, not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I mean, I was floundering around. Which probably accounts for taking a job with Steranko.

Alex:      Well, yeah, because I joke that… I asked him a little bit. I was like, “Was it like you were Professor X and he’s like a wayward teen like…?” And he said you guys worked together, he didn’t say much about it.

[chuckles]

Like the Professor Xavier School.

Groth:   Right. Right. Well, it’ll be like that if Professor X were a masochist. Yeah.

Jim:       [chuckle] So, Montgomery Community College, Northern Virginia Community College, and then working as a clothing salesman. That was all in a certain block of time where you were trying to figure out what to do.

Groth:   Yeah. And you can tell, just by that resume that I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do… Yeah, I was working as a clothing salesman in a jeans shop. I wasn’t like a real clothing salesman. I worked at a jeans place, and by god, I learned a lot about jeans, all the different brands. I did that at the same time, I got a job and went to two community colleges, and I just took courses that I wanted to take. So, I took silkscreen printing at Virginia Community College, and a couple of other courses. And I took that creative writing course at Montgomery Community College which is in the suburbs of Maryland, and probably another course or two there. I couldn’t take that many because I was also working.

And yeah, I just didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I was really at ends, because I couldn’t figure out what to do. I was probably going through something of a crisis because I knew I didn’t want to enter the corporate world. I knew enough to know that I didn’t want to do that. But I didn’t see any alternative to that, so I was stuck.

Jim:       In trying to do my timeline, I wasn’t quite sure, did you end the Fantastic Fanzine completely before you started working for Steranko? Or was there some overlap?

Groth:   Yeah. Yeah, I did. I think I ended it after I left high school.

[00:45:01]

Alex:      And Alan Light published it. right?

Groth:   Yeah, he published like two issues of it. I think

Alex:      Oh, okay.

Groth:   Only two issues of it.

Jim:       And that caused some problems down the road, right?

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. We had problems too, yeah… I’ll have to talk about some people I didn’t have a problem with but…

[chuckle]

But yeah, he approached…

Alex:      [chuckle] Well, we like problematic Groth. That’s like…

Groth:   Yeah. Right, right. He approached me. I guess it was my last year of high school, and he approached me. He was creating a dynasty, and he approached me and asked me if I was interested in having him publish the fanzine. And I don’t know, for some reason, I was. I think he was going to take over all the economic headaches, he was going to deal with all that.

That was never something I was interested in. I was never interested in being a business man. My dad did all that work. He was the one who kept all the books. I was mostly interested in just putting together the magazine. I was never interested in that.

So, Alan Light came along and he said he would publish it, and we struck a deal. I don’t know if he was paying me anything, if he was it had to be nominal. But he would pay for the printing, he would deal with all that. He would deal with subscriptions. He would deal with all the stuff I didn’t really want to deal with. But the last issue, I’m pretty sure I published that in my last year of high school, and then I went to college, where I published a couple of other things.

I published a fanzine called Word Balloons, which I thought was a great sophisticated leap from Fantastic Fanzine. which it was, slightly. And I published a couple of other things when I was in Rochester. I published a little comic of Dennis Fujitake’s work. So, I was still somewhat involved in publishing when I was on Rochester.

I don’t know if that answers your question or not. I think I’m just rambling about.

Jim:       No, no. You’re not at all. And we could get to a little bit more about Alan Light, once you start Comics Journal, and that first editorial that you did… But we’ll save that.

So, Alex, 1973 and now, Steranko again.

Alex:      Right.

[chuckles]

Jim:       You’re the Steranko guy.

Alex:      Yeah, that’s right. So, now, you already mentioned in ’73, because we kind of gone a little back and forth in our timeline but… Roy Thomas, you turned it down, you started working with Steranko, and I’ve heard some of your accounts of this already… Working with him, and then from right when you stepped in to right when you left, you’ve mentioned a few things that you felt you did and weren’t able to provide your own creative input into Mediascene and all that stuff. But was working on Mediascene, in any way, influential in how you would put your Comics Journal and other publication together.

Groth:   It was influential in the sense that that experience indicated what I shouldn’t do. I’ll give you one example.

Now, I was 19, and I was relatively clueless.

Alex:      And wayward, you were a wayward teen as well.

Groth:   [chuckle] I was wayward. Yeah, that might be putting a little romantic spin on it, but yeah, I’ll take wayward.

[laughter]

But I had some sense of things, and so at one time… All I did in his place was scut work. I mean, I did some paid stuff… I mean I really didn’t do anything that was worth the shit. But you know, Mediascene, you’ve seen it, right?

Alex:      Yeah.

Groth:   Nobody watching this has probably seen a copy, or cares about it but…

Alex:      I have most of them. I think.

Groth:   Yeah, I have most of them too. But it’s not still being published, right?

Alex:      No.

Groth:   And he turned it into… I mean, it was Mediascene and he turned it into…

Alex:      Turned it into Preview Magazine, right?

Groth:   I mean, it was basically a sort of Entertainment Weekly.

Alex:      Yeah, in the ‘80s, it turned into Entertainment Weekly, but in the ‘70s it was still in kind of that comic scene/Mediascene like newspaper print format, where they still had a comics section and they would talk about movies and things. I think it was, once it started publishing, or rather once it started going through Larry Flynt, and it turned into a slick magazine, then it was basically like the pre-Entertainment Weekly of its time, right?

Groth:   It went through Larry Flynt?

Alex:      Yeah. See, how do I know this and you don’t know this? I don’t get it?

Groth:   I stopped following Steranko closely after by 1975.

Alex:      There you go.

Groth:   Larry Flynt, was he involved in publishing?… Was he a contributor?

Alex:      No, no, no. Yeah, he like… That’s who like put out the slick magazine.

Groth:   Really.

Alex:      Yeah. They never met though. I asked him already.

Groth:   It was Jim and Larry Flynt, all right.

Alex:      Because you mentioned, I remember I saw… You talked to Barry Smith, you talked about the magazine. I think there was some mention about some of the naked women in the back of the magazine, like that would kind of skeeve you out or something.

Groth:   Oh, no, no. I don’t think… No, no. I don’t think so. I had no moral judgement about it. It would support the whole enterprise; that stuff. I mean, he sold a lot… He had a mail order business going. And I gathered that that substantially supported…

Alex:      Yeah. Financially, right? Because Eros did the same for you guys at some point, right?

Groth:   Yeah, absolutely. Right, right. I don’t remember having any problem with that. I hope I didn’t but I… Where was I?

Alex:      Working on Mediascene, did some paid stuffs.

[00:50:00]

Groth:   Did working for that pave the way?… I’ll give you one anecdote, and that is… So, as you know Mediascene and then Preview, they covered movies. They sort of previewed all the Hollywood movies that were coming out and then all the comic books that were coming out. Steranko is a little bit ahead of his time, in foreseeing the moronization of culture, where comics become the culture. You know?… They become cinema-culture.

So, Mediascene was full of comics and movies. But this was before movies had become nothing more than comic book movies. So, before movies came out in the theater, he would have previews of them with the title of the movie, a short take and maybe a still. And he would get these stills from the studios, who were sending them to him for publicity’s sake. So, at one point, I came to him, and there’d be a synopsis of the plot… Well, you know what, I’m sorry, I think this came out after the movie. There were reviews of the movies; ostensive reviews of the movies.

And so, I came to him one day and I said, “Could I write some movie reviews? Because, of course, one of my few ambitions was to maybe write film criticism.

Alex:      Yeah, critic stuff.

Groth:   I said, “I think I could write reviews as good as you’re running.” And I pointed out to a couple of reviews, and I said, “This is not very good. And this is just the plot synopsis.” And the actual critical content of the review was so meager that I thought I could do a better job. And he looked at me and said, “I don’t need you to do that.”

I said, “Who’s writing these reviews anyway?” It didn’t have a name, they weren’t by-lined. And he said, “Well, I just take studio press releases and rewrite them.”

Jim:       Wow.

Groth:   And so, I distinctly remember standing there, talking to him about this. And I remember thinking, there’s something wrong about that. Passing off rewritten studio press releases as reviews. As independent reviews appearing in this magazine. I don’t think we talked about that much. I think I tried to persuade him that I could maybe inject a little bit of critical content into the magazine, but he wasn’t having it. It’s not what he wanted. It not what the magazine was about. He wasn’t interested.

So, in a way, yes. It did influence me, in terms of what not to do.

Jim:       Were you living in the house at this same time?

Groth:   Oh, yeah. We were all living in his house. He had a gorgeous big townhouse.

Alex:      So, this is a different place than when you had interviewed him a couple of years before.

Groth:   Yeah. When I interviewed him when I was 15 or 16, he was living in a small apartment. And he’d obviously acquired enough success to buy this big Victorian townhouse. It was beautiful. It was at least two floors, maybe three, and really spacious, and I lived on the ground floor with Ken Bruzenak. You know who Ken is?

[overlap talk]

Jim:       The letterer?

Groth:   Famous letterer. So, he and I were on the ground floor and Steranko’s studio and his living quarters were above… I felt about Steranko then is you, apparently, feel about him now.

Alex:      No. No, no, no. I’m not saying… I mean, I’m a 40-year-old guy. I’m not…

[chuckles]

I’m not a wayward teen that is worshipping him. That’s not it. I’m not…

Groth:   Sure? Because I’m a little worried.

Alex:      But I want to throw out there, a couple of things about it. At his time in 1970, or 1970 to ’72… And then you got in on it at ’73 like that… When he put out the History of Comics volumes, and he was doing, illustrations for covers and book covers and things, and he’s putting out a magazine as a publisher, and putting out some pretty interesting designs in general, I don’t recall anyone coming to that caliber of expression, from a commercial and artistic standpoint, before that.

Groth:   You’re talking about what year?… ’70…?

Alex:      Looking at that. And looking at what he was doing in those few years there. From where he was at that time, I think that’s a pretty interesting person. It’s a unique person. And that’s all I’m saying, and I wouldn’t want to take credit away from that. But I get what you’re saying because when you’re actually with a person day in, day out, and now you’re seeing realities of the everyday thing, that’s a different experience. And I get what you’re saying. I’m not disagreeing in what you guys… I mean, that’s before I was born, right?

Groth:   Yeah, and I don’t want you to think I’m conflating my personal experience with my critical judgement.

Alex:      Right.

Groth:   Don’t think I am. I mean, I try to separate the two. And I think that you have to do that with every artist which is now out of fashion.

[00:55.00]

I like Roman Polanski’s films

Alex:      Right.

Jim:       Because they’re great.

Groth:   But I wouldn’t want to hang out with him alone.

Alex:      What did he make? Quaalude Heaven or something?

[chuckles]

No, I’m kidding. I shouldn’t say that. I shouldn’t do that.

Groth:   But no, I try to separate that out, so I’m not conflating those two… Sure, you have a point. But when your baseline… And I don’t want to spend the entire time talking about it, Jim. But when your baseline is just the most mediocre hack work…

Alex:      Before him.

Groth:   Yeah, or during that period, from…

Alex:      Right, or even during… Yeah, with the other people

Groth:   1970 to ’75, it was a terrible period in the mainstream comics.

Alex:      Right. Totally.

Groth:   And you’re comparing him, primarily to mainstream comics, and not to other comics. You’re not comparing him to kind of the personal expression that you found in underground comics; they were championing long before. I mean, what he was doing was rearranging, pulp and comic book clichés, in a different way. So, depending on how valuable you find that, and I don’t find that particularly valuable… Your assessment of him will be based on that.

Alex:      Right, right.

Groth:   I was looking…

Alex:      You’re looking at what it could be. And there is a lot of amazing creative people that came after him, and I get what you’re saying. Yeah.

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. I’ll tell you. Here’s one thing. Here’s one area where he might have influenced me. I worked for him for three months, and that was in ’73. I started The Comics Journal in ’76, so that was still three years later. So, I still had three years of living to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was kind of flailing around. And when I was working for him, without getting into any more details… And I only worked there for like three months… So, I knew, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had no idea what I wanted to do. But I did know what I didn’t want to do. And what I didn’t want to do is eat shit.

Alex:      Yeah. Right. I knew that.

Groth:   I knew that if I continued working for him, I would be eating shit…

Alex:      Yeah, that’s like that assistant to Stanley Kubrick, like that guy just got weird.

Groth:   Yeah.

Jim:       But Kubrick’s brilliant. I mean, nothing against Steranko but Kubrick could kill me and I would accept it.

[overlap talk]

Alex:      No, I know. It’s just that assistant that he had just really like he was warped towards the end of all that. I get what you’re saying

Groth:   No, no. I’m sure Kubrick did have his idiosyncrasies…

[chuckle]

But I think it’s but a false analogy because Kubrick’s work, even though it ranges all over the place, even though I think Paths of Glory, and Dr. Strangelove are absolute masterpieces. But they’re masterpieces on a level that Steranko can’t come close to. And that kind of goes to the heart of using that analogy. That goes through the heart of the distinction I was trying to make when I started The Comics Journal, between films and comics, and what comics could be. And what they were capable of, and the level of artistic expression that they were capable of.

I mean, I’m leaping a little bit ahead, but that’s the conclusion I came to. Probably over that three-year period from the time I left Steranko until I started The Comics Journal. I educated myself over that period…

Jim:       Well, let’s talk about that period because…

Groth:   Yeah, that was a rich period. I mean, in my life.

Jim:       So, you’re there at Steranko’s, Steranko says “You got to go away for a few days, I’m doing stuff.” And you were like, “Where am I going to go? I live here.” And you have enough, and you pack up, and you call your friend, and you guys just drive in to the city and go see Howard Chaykin. Is that…?

Groth:   Yeah, that’s true. Yeah.

Jim:       So, from that moment, and then it’s like, “What do I do now?” But were you already friends with Mike Catron? And he was already enrolled at University of Maryland.

Groth:   We were buddies from the time we were about 15, because he was a comics nut and I was a comics nut. And we were the same age, I think we were literally one month apart…

[overlap talk]

Jim:       Was he the guy that picked you up from Steranko’s house?

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. He drove up from Maryland. He was going to the University of Maryland, and he drove up, he picked me up at Steranko’s, because Steranko told me to go. Now, Steranko told me I had to leave for a few days, so he could paint in an empty house. And so, we drove up to New York… I mean, we had nothing to do so we drove up to New York, and we crashed around a few places. I’m pretty sure that I stayed in Howard’s place one night, he put us up for one night. And we’re up there for a few days, and I can’t… I talked about this with Mike recently, we can’t remember who else we stayed with.

But we banged around New York for a few days. I distinctly remember being in Howard’s small studio, us talking. And of course, Howard again, is like a few years older than me, and old enough to make a difference back then. He was a working professional at the time.

And then we drove back to Steranko’s, and Steranko told me I hadn’t been gone long enough so I’d to leave again.

[01:00:04]

So, then I went down to Mike’s place for a few days, but then when I went back to Steranko’s and I stayed there for another month or so.

Jim:       Oh…Okay.

Groth:   Yeah, I didn’t leave at that time. I went back and stayed another month, a month and a half or something.

Alex:      It’s like Michael Corleone

Groth:   Yeah. Exactly.

Jim:       Did Bruzenak know Chaykin at that point?

Groth:   I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

Jim:       So, you knew both of them but they didn’t know each other.

Groth:   No, I don’t think they did. No… Ken led a very sheltered life at that time, I think.

Jim:       Did he get along with Steranko better than you? Was he able to navigate that better?

Groth:   Ken was far more accommodating than I was.

Alex:      You said that he was a lot more laid back about it or something.

Groth:   He was. He was, he accepted it. And honestly, I accepted it, there wasn’t much I could do… But accept it. But I just knew it wasn’t a good long-term situation; there was tension.

Jim:       You were getting more and more politicized at this point, as well. And like me, you were obsessed with Watergate. I was pretending I was sick to stay home to watch the hearings and things. I was crazy about all of that going on.

You were actually a little older so you were in college so you went the University of Maryland where your friend was attending, he was on his second year. You went there for one year.

Groth:   I transferred, yeah.

Jim:       Yeah… At that point, so you’re there, and Nixon, and DC is imploding. And I read that you actually went to the White House the night that Nixon resigned, to celebrate.

Groth:   I don’t think I was there the night he had resigned. I was there a couple of times, at what we called The Nixon Death Watch. There was just a group of hundreds of people, across the street from the White House who had just set up camp. And people would come and people would go, and some people would just stay there for weeks, and I would join them a couple of times. And of course, it was called The Nixon Death Watch because we’re just waiting for him to leave.  Unfortunately, I was not there the minute, the day, or the night he left.

But yeah, I was obsessed. We were both obsessed with Watergate. Of, course we were living in Washington so we’re reading The Washington Post every day.

Jim:       Were (Bob) Woodward and (Carl) Bernstein an influence? Did they make want to make you explore the reporting angle?

Groth:   They made everybody want to be a journalist.

Jim:       I was a journalism major too, and that was why.

Groth:   Everybody… I mean, it was terrible. The effect they had on journalism schools was terrible. I majored in journalism at the University of Maryland. And yes, I was interested in being a journalist, but we had this huge classes because everybody wanted to be a journalist. Everyone saw the glamour of Woodward and Bernstein.

And of course, I want to think that I want to be a real journalist. But as a result of so many people taking journalism classes, the classes, I thought, were really dumb down. I remember one class assignment was to go home and read the newspaper. I was thinking, that’s like the baseline. I mean, everybody should be doing that anyway.

[chuckle]

And so, I remember being frustrated by what was being taught, and how quickly it was being taught, and I wanted to learn more faster. That’s one of the reasons I dropped out.

Jim:       So, you dropped out in 1975, partly because of that. Were you also just over your head busy because of the rock and roll concert?

Groth:   Yeah, yeah… Mike and I came up with this idea to put on a rock and roll convention. And I think I dropped out of the university, I think it was either late ’74 or early ’75. I couldn’t keep up with classes.

We started working on this idea in August or September of ’74. And our idea was that, if I put on comic book conventions, so I knew how to put on a convention. I knew the logistics, I knew how to get the hotel, I knew how to get guests, I knew how to put together a dealers’ room. And we can just duplicate the format of a comics convention to a rock and roll convention. And because rock and roll was so much more popular than comics, we would get so many more people and make so much more money. And we would take that money and we will start a publishing company. That was our grand plan.

We really didn’t want to be rock and roll entrepreneurs, we wanted to be publishers.

Alex:      Yeah, make money first.

Groth:   Right. So, that was our plan. We spent, literally, in almost a year, working on this rock and roll convention. We conceived the idea and we put it all together. I can’t even really begin to describe what that was like. It was just… It started slowly and built, and there was a point where we were working literally 16 to 18 hours a day on this, I mean both of us.

At some point I couldn’t take classes anymore because I wasn’t paying attention to them, and I couldn’t pass them, I couldn’t do the work, And I think we both dropped out, and we put this thing on. It was over the July 4th holiday at a big hotel in downtown Washington DC, in 1975.

[01:05:01]

It came off. We had all the guests, and we had a big dealers’ room. We had a screening room with films, and it was just a complete bust. I mean, we lost more money than we’ve ever seen in our lives.

Alex:      Wow. So more than $10,000, was lost.

Groth:   Yeah. Well, we lost 15,000… I’ll tell you, we were $15,000 in debt, which at that point in my life, it was like $15,000,000…

Alex:      Yeah, specially at that time. That’s a lot.

Groth:   I was 19 when we put it on. I guess I was going to turn 20 in September.

Alex:      How much was a joint back then

Groth:   [chuckle] I don’t know. I never smoked. I don’t know.

Alex:      Okay, that’s my unit of measurement, so… No, I’m just kidding.

Jim:       But speaking of that, Hunter S. Thompson is part of the story too, so we should talk about that.

Groth:   Yeah, we got Hunter S. Thompson to speak there. He was a hero of mine. I loved his work. Reading him kept me alive and kept me sane. I would read him in Rolling Stone, and I read all of his books, but his Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail which I think might be his masterpiece. I thought that was just such a brilliant book, and it was a brilliant take on politics at that time. I wanted to get him…

He was synonymous with rock and roll at that time. He was appearing regularly on Rolling Stones, and he would often reference rock. So, I wanted to get him in there as a kind of political component to the Rock and Roll Expo. I contacted the Rolling Stones lecture bureau, which they had at that time, and cut the deal. We had to pay them up front, to get him to appear. And he did appear.

Alex:      Oh, cool.

Groth:   It was shaky, we didn’t know if he was going to show up until the last minute. I had to actually go from the convention, get my car, and drive to his hotel, and pick him up. Because somehow, he was having trouble getting to the convention.

Jim:       So, would it be fair to say that Mike Catron was more of a Woodward- Bernstein, and you were more of a Hunter S. Thompson, in terms of your approach to journalism?

Groth:   It actually would. Yeah, that’s very good.

Jim:       Great. All right. So, you did that and you stayed in touch with Thompson to some degree, and that you drove to his house at one point, which is a dangerous thing to do.

Groth:   Well, I can’t say I stayed in touch with him, I saw him, after the convention. The convention ended on Sunday, and we were completely demoralized, because we realized we did not, in fact, make our fortune in order to start a publishing company, and had done quite the opposite. We’ve dug ourselves into a huge hole. And so, I think, we were just sort of in shock. The next day, for some reason, I got in touch with the Rolling Stones lecture bureau. And I don’t know why, but I drove down there.

They were in DC and of course, I was in Maryland, but I drove down there for some reason, now I can’t remember why. Hunter Thompson was in the office. And I’d seen him two days earlier, Saturday, I think, and so he knew me. And we started talking, and he had appointments to go to in Washington, throughout the city, and he asked me if I would drive him around, chauffer him around. So, I said, “Fuck, yeah. I’ll do that.”

Alex:      Yeah, that’s great.

Groth:   So, we got my car and I just drove him around DC. I would drop him off, he’d say, “I’ll be back in about an hour.” And I would do something and then go pick him up and we go somewhere else and, in the meantime, while we’re in the car, we could talk. It was kind of great. I can’t say I really knew him, but I was this kid who was willing to drive around DC, and pay him to appear at my failed convention.

So, Mike and I, in order to pay our rent and to feed ourselves, we decided to go to San Diego that year, which was either in… I don’t know, it was either in late July or early August. Right after the convention we put on. And we decided to go to San Diego and sell comics to make money. It’s the only thing we could do to figure out and make money.

That was when you could call San Diego, a week before the convention and buy a booth. So, we did that, we got a table, and we literally made this decision a week before the convention. We packed up Mike’s station wagon, which was this beat-up station wagon. And we got in it and literally, drove cross country in one drive. Took us 51 hours to drive across the country to San Diego, non-stop… I guess we were going through Colorado, we went to San Diego in the southern route, and I guess that takes us through Colorado, but we thought we were close enough to Woody Creek, which is where Thompson lives so we might as well visit him.

[chuckles]

[01:10:00]

We were still 19 at this time. We thought, “Yeah, that’d be a good idea”, to visit Hunter. He kind of knew us, because we paid him a lot of money and I drove him around DC. So, completely unannounced, because I guess I didn’t have his phone number, but I did have… I don’t know if I had his address, or I just had some sense that he lived in Woody Creek and I’d find him, but we went to Woody Creek, and somebody must have told us that he lived way up the hill, which he writes about. He lived up this long winding road that goes up the mountain.

He lives at the top of this fucking mountain. And we drove all the way up there, got out of the car and knocked on the door. There was a huge peacock in a cage next to the front door. It was the only thing I really remember… Which seemed very Hunter Thompson-ish.

Knocked on the door… In retrospect, that’s crazy because he might have shot us or something.

[chuckles]

But no one answered. He probably wasn’t in there.

Jim:       Now, it sounds like the Doonesbury cartoon, I mean the way you described it.

Groth:   Yeah.

Alex:      Did you take a wiss anywhere around the property?

Groth:   We did not have the wherewithal to do that. I remember getting back in the car and going down, and when you’re going down, the cliff was on your right, and I remember that just being a terrifying fucking drive down.

Alex:      I have a fear of heights and sharks so… I get that.

Groth:   Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have fear of heights too.

Alex:      So, yeah, because the music magazine was called Sounds Fine. When you wanted to be a publisher when you put up the rock and roll convention, was that, you wanted to be a music publisher or were you thinking about comics criticism still, at this point?

Groth:   No… I don’t know what I was thinking about. I’m not sure I was thinking about anything. I mean, I was scrambling to make ends meet. I didn’t have a job. We owed all this money. I got a job right away, a full-time job, a horrible job because we had to pay back a lot of money. Friends had loaned us money, we had to pay those back. So, I got a full-time job as a designer of a printing company. Mike got a job doing something. And so, we scraped some money together.

But then, I’m just not built, so that I can just go to work every day and come home and live like that. I couldn’t do it. So, the one thing that came out of the rock and roll convention is we get a huge mailing list. We had a mailing list of several thousand people. All presumably rock fans. And a friend of mine who owned a bookstore at the time, told me, he would finance a magazine if we could put it all together.

And so, we created Sounds Fine which was a rock magazine. Now, honestly, I shouldn’t speak for Mike but I don’t think either one of us had that deep an interest in rock. I mean we had a dilatant-ish interest in rock. And really, in all honesty, we were using the rock and roll convention opportunistically to raise money, to establish a publishing company which was what we really wanted to do.

But he said he would finance a rock magazine, so by gad, we were going to put together a rock magazine.

Alex:      Yeah. So, that was more, introduced upon you, it sounds like.

Groth:   Yeah. But it was part of our passion of publishing. I mean, we wanted to publish. And so, this gave us the opportunity to conceptualize a magazine, to editorially direct it, to solicit articles, essays and reviews. You know who Ted White is?

Alex:      No.

Groth:   A science fiction author who’s also a comics fan. He lived in… I think he lived in Arlington, Virginia, so he was sort of a neighbor. He was also older than us, but he was a comics fan and a science fiction author, so our interests intersected. And he was also an enormous music fan and critic. And so, we enlisted him to write a big column. It was a column on, basically, avant-garde rock music.

Alex:      Oh, wow. That’s a cool combination of perspective in one person to write an article like that.

Groth:   Yeah. And Ted knew his shit. I didn’t know any of it. But Ted, really had a great grasp of what was going on in the avant-garde of rock music that time. We just trusted him because we couldn’t assess it. But he would write these enormous fucking columns, he was like a machine. He wrote these columns that must have been, five, six, seven, eight thousand-word columns, and we just let him go.

We thought we were doing some good. We thought, “Well, if we’re going to do this rock magazine, let’s introduce people to Mott the Hoople, or whatever the hell he was writing about.” We’d also have articles about Dylan, and the Beatles, and the Stones… But it gave us the opportunity to employ these skills that we loved using… That I honed doing the fanzine… We used comic artists to do covers for Sounds Fine. David Mazzucchelli did one. Yeah, a number of cartoonists would go on to…

Alex:      How many issues were there of Sounds Fine?

Groth:   26?… Something like that.

[01:15:00]

Alex:      Yeah, so that’s a pretty good chapter in your life right there.

Groth:   Yeah, I mean, it was, we would do it, it would come out… I think it was monthly. And we would crank it out and we were excited to do it. Never made any goddamn money. I don’t know if Mike and I actually made money on it. I don’t think so. I think our investor just kind of broke even and he invested the money occasionally. But we were excited to do it. It gave me the opportunity to write movie reviews.

Alex:      There you go. Finally.

Groth:   Since it was our magazine, we could do whatever we wanted. I could write reviews of movies in it. I remember writing a review of… It’s a Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon.

Alex:      Oh, I love that. A lot of people don’t like it but I love that movie.

Groth:   Well, my review’s very positive. I’ve never seen it since but I remember loving it.

[chuckle]

So, yes, it was great just doing that. We set up a place. I had a two-bedroom apartment. I think we had one bedroom that was set up as a kind of a studio, where we could put up the magazine; kind of honing our skills.

And then in 1976, we started publishing The Journal. But we actually put out both of those at the same time, for a while.

Alex:      Oh, ok. So, they actually were side by side, at one point.

Groth:   Yeah.

Alex:      So, you guys purchased the rights to The New Nostalgia Journal or Nostalgia Journal. How’d that come about as far as… Did you pay for that?

Groth:   No, purchase is putting a spin on it, they basically gave it to us.

Alex:      Okay. They just didn’t want to do that anymore.

Groth:   No, they were burned out. We approached them, because we could see that they were burned out. And they were competing with The Buyers Guide, and we thought we could do a better job. And we thought we could infuse it with some fresh, young blood, and we offered to take it over. And they were really only too happy to give it to us.

Alex:      That’s what Paul Levitz said about his fanzine. He said the same thing, they just kind of… It wasn’t really a purchase; it was just kind of passed over…

Groth:   The Comic Reader.,,, Yeah. They were tired. They were burned out. They were tired of fighting. It was one slog for them because they were competing with Alan Light and The Buyers Guide. And Light was using all of these underhanded tactics to undermine them, and sabotage them. We thought we could withstand all of that, and make a go of it. Which we didn’t really because we turned it from an advertising-based periodical to a more content driven periodical…

But they just gave it to us. They gave us the mailing list, whatever contents they had. I mean, that was it, and they said, “Good luck”, and then it was ours. And then, I think we used the same printer we used for the music magazine. We had a local printer who printed us. We already had that locked in. And then we had a new mailing list, from them. And we had an advertiser base, so we were off and running.

Alex:      Yeah. And so then, on that first issue, which it ran under the name of Nostalgia Journal for a few issues and then it went to The Comics Journal. But you wrote an editorial, and Alan Light and Murry Bishoff were mentioned in it, right?

[chuckle]

And so, tell us about that… First editorial, and Alan Light, and the reaction, and all that.

Groth:   Oh my god… Yeah…

Alex:      Because you like to poke the bear, right?

Groth:   I must have. Yeah.

[chuckle]

I mean, I haven’t looked at that in a long time, but my recollection of it is that it was immense, and that it was incredibly well researched, and that I just threw everything I had into it. I basically, chronicled what I thought were all of Alan Light’s professional transgressions. I was making the case that the Comics Buyers Guide, and his publishing efforts were fundamentally unethical.

And of course, I later learned that you don’t acquire an advertising base, based on your moral superiority. It’s based on your subscriber list. I mean, that article… I don’t know… Gosh, it seems like 300 years ago… It caused a big stir. A lot of people were on our side, a lot of people hated it. I guess it was the perfect keynote to The Comics Journal

Alex:      [chuckle] Start off with a bang.

Groth:   It was very partisan.

Jim:       Wasn’t this all on purpose, to some degree. This is a way to launch something, is to be provocative. You got a buzz from it.

Groth:   Well, that wasn’t the purpose. I mean, the purpose was to go out with both guns blazing, and to say, “This is what we stand for. This is what we stand against. This is why we’re doing this. We want to give you an alternative to this. We want to provide an alternative to this.” And it was frankly… The journalist… I mean I don’t want to aggrandize it too much but I wanted people to recognize what was going on, what was happening.

[01:20:05]

And how he was behaving. I mean, the whole world is different. If you look at it now, it’s just this penny any non-sense.

Alex:      Are you saying that hashtags aren’t good enough journalism for you?

Groth:   [chuckle] Right. Right. I guess…

Alex:      Is that what you’re trying to say?

Groth:   Maybe we’ve come full circle. I mean, back then, there wasn’t really any comics journalism to speak of. There was one magazine called Inside Comics that was edited by a guy named Joe Brancatelli, that lasted about six issues. And it was that closest that comics had come to that point to real journalism. But like I said, it lasted like six issues, so it barely existed.

Alex:      The kind of journals I read tend to be more in the medical field. I read a lot of those. But I will say, and just as I was complementing Steranko a bit earlier, I will say that, your periodical, your Comics Journal that you’ve done with Catron and Kim Thompson and all that… But you put together the closest thing that is possible to those journals that I read that are totally in a different branch. Your Comics Journal really is, the it of that aspiration. And I do want you to know, I feel that way about you and what you’ve done. And that I do feel that you’re also a very special and unique person as well, so you understand where I’m at with you in that. And that you’ve done with comics history… I think I’ve gone through all of them, up to like 2005 or something.

Jim:       I was just going to suggest what I was saying about the buzz that you came in there strategically with a little bit of Charles Foster Kane to you. I mean, that’s what I’m suggesting, is there some truth in that?

Groth:   Yeah. In fact, we even had, echoing Citizen Kane, we even had a list of our principles. Do you remember? I don’t know if you had the …

Jim:       Yeah, no, absolutely.

Groth:   I’m sure we did that, as a kind of ironic homage to Citizen Kane. So, yes, we knew what we were doing, and we knew we were causing a stir because in the comic circles back then, people didn’t cause stirs. I mean, there was no journalism. It was all the kind of fanzines when I was a teenager. It was worshipful and your job was to worship the artist, and the artist job was to be worshipped. And the companies were sacrosanct, you didn’t question them, or their motives or their practices. And I was starting to question all of that.

And that goes back to what I was reading, and that goes back to my own education; between ’73 and ’76, that we’re talking about earlier. The wider world had been introduced to me, and I saw how provincial the comics world was. It was this terrible backwater; a cultural backwater, a moral backwater, and I thought that that ought to be questioned.

Alex:      So, let me ask you a question about, so, although you were doing new stuff, but when you look at the whole thing at once, is there a formula there? And I’m just going to kind of throw it out there as a question, just to see how you feel about the question, and the answer- exploring other genres, be anti-superhero, disparage work for hire, mock editor in chiefs, and then, maybe just bust balls of random… or not maybe random but just of particular creators. Is that the formula? Or is that wrong to say that that’s a formula?

Groth:   Well, I think it’s a little too reductionist. I mean, everything you said would have been included in what we did over the next 30 years, but I do think that’s a little reductionist, yeah. And I should say also that it took us a while to gain our footing. It wasn’t like, I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t start off having any fully formed ideas about us challenging the major companies or putting out comics, that evolved from where I started.

And I think everything you just enumerated, became an inevitable consequence of that. I think, inevitably, we had to do all that. We had to challenge work for hire. We had to give artists who were in effect, this in space, to vent their grievances. I remember running pieces by Steve Gerber and Frank Brunner; people who would speak out about the practices under which they were suffering. And this had never been done before. And we felt, this was the time to do it, so we encouraged artists to do that… In our interviews, we would talk about this.

Alex:      Yeah, and the interviews are genius. Comics Journal has the best interviews, yes.

[01:25:00]

Groth:   Well, our interviews, yeah… I think there was a point where we started… Maybe it took a few years, but I always wanted to publish good interviews.

Alex:      And just some names, just so the audience… I don’t know if they know, but Bill Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Robert Crumb, Howard Chaykin, I mean, a slew of people; amazing, unique people. And you guys really got them to thought provoking discussions with them.

Groth:   Yeah, and we interviewed a spectrum of artists. Like people in the previous generation… This is a detour but I am somewhat disheartened by what I perceive to be the ahistorical vent of the younger generation. So many younger cartoonists just don’t seem to care about what’s preceded them.

Alex:      And where it all came from.

Groth:   Unless they can criticize the political or cultural content of it, which is easy to do. But I remember, when I was a kid, I was interviewing guys who were 20s older, 30 years older than me and I was… And as I got older, and I got in to my 20s, I became much more curious about people like Harvey Kurtzman.

Alex:      You guys had C. C. Beck saying quite a few interesting things.

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. I interviewed C. C. Beck in his place in Florida. And he was a much older guy that me at that time. He was in his… Well, he was probably about my age now, but I was probably about in my late 20s, and I was intensely curious about his career and his life, and what doing comics was like when he was doing them in the ‘40s and 50’s.

Alex:      Yeah, it’s interesting because even though you’re obviously of a left-wing political mindset, you still were printing interesting things from creators like… Because C. C. Beck was writing more right-wing stuff sometimes. Right?

Groth:   Well, he was more curmudgeonly than right-wing. I think. I don’t think he had any coherent ideology.

Alex:      [chuckle] I understand. Okay.

Groth:   Though a little more conservative but he was a cranky guy and I appreciated that.

Alex:      And then Rick Marschall, whom we’ve had on the show before.

Groth:   Rick does have a coherent right-wing ideology. Yeah.

Alex:      But he’s also an amazing historian. Right?

Groth:   He’s a great historian, yeah. He knows more about comics than most people are going to ever, ever know.

Jim:       I was nervous about that interview. I thought it was going… Because his politics are not mine. And it’s one of my favorite interviews that we did on this. He’s just a delight to talk to for hours and hours.

Groth:   Yeah, yeah.

Alex:      I kind of had to twist Jim’s arm to do it… A little bit. But he got in to it actually, a lot.

Groth:   Well, Rick and I keep our politics, mostly, separate. And we bonded, frankly, over our love of comics and our love of the same artists. I mean, Rick is really peculiar because he’s one of the few members of the right-wing who’s actually cultivated.

Alex:      Right.

[chuckle]

He knows a lot.

Groth:   Yeah.

Jim:       [chuckle] That was my impression. I just didn’t say it out loud.

Groth:   I’ll say all these things out loud.

[chuckle]

But he’s got wonderful taste, he’s got exquisite taste, and he’s a great historian. We transcended out political differences.

Alex:      Right. And you’ve published quite a few things with his name on it. Obviously, it’s a clue that there’s a mutual respect. And I think, the younger generation needs to learn from these kinds of interactions.

But I’m going to throw out some sentences that are a little, I don’t want to say controversial, but you probably know some of these, I’m sure. But there were times when The Comics Journal would really bust someone’s chops, pretty good. So, obviously, you wrote in issue #37, “Steranko has a quick, violent temper. He doesn’t like being questioned about improprieties he may have approved knowingly or unknowingly, about Don McGregor in the Journal #44. This book’s icon also displays McGregor’s vast literary heritage. He is the paradigmatic member of the post literate generation; the first generation to grow up on abrasive movie and television, which isn’t bad.”

You said about… Okay, not, you didn’t but someone else did about Jim Starlin. “Starlin has applied his meager talents to writing and drawing an overpriced gaudily produced, forgettably inane Marvel comic.” That one’s harsh, a little bit. But I think of Bill Mantlo, someone wrote, “Everyday, there is more of the cheap, shallow trash you revel in, defend and produced. And every day, there are more people to stand up for it with you.” I personally… And then someone else wrote, “I can find nothing of interest of your current comics writing. They are just more bricks on the wall of Marvel banality.”

Groth:   You want me to comment on that?

Alex:      [laughs] Well, I’m just saying, it’s an interesting trend in that… Yeah, like you guys would zero in on this stuff.

Groth:   I think that was all absolutely essential to put it out there. I think these comics had gone far too long without being criticized…

[01:30:01]

And finally, the time had come, to apply mature critical standards to what were essentially relentlessly idiotic and adolescent crap, that comics traded in for its entire existence, with very few exceptions.

Comics is such a peculiar medium and industry. Comic books, I’m talking about, specifically. But the history of comics books is just a history of such just crap. And my feeling then, was that it doesn’t have to be that way. I mean, there can be work of genuine aesthetic value.

Alex:      What do you think of this sentence? “McGregor is peddling as sensitive writing is just the emotional equivalent of pornography.” Looking back do you feel like these are true statements?

Groth:   I think they’re defensible and arguable critical statements, yeah.

Jim:       Did Kim Thompson, moderate you a little bit in terms of that? I mean, when he was there… Because I’ve heard him in interviews, explain things that you’d say. He would say, “I understand why people were offended by Gary’s piece, but they’re not quite hearing it right… “How helpful or how essential was he to Comics Journal at this point. Partly because of that tempering of your, let’s say, honesty.

Groth:   Well, several of the harshest things that you just read were by Kim.

[chuckle]

Alex:      Yeah, that one was. The porno McGregor… Hashtag porno McGregor… Now, it would just be just be #pornomcgregor, is how that would be now, with the current generation.

Groth:   Right, I recalled that when you read that. It’s Kim who actually wrote that.

Alex:      That’s cool.

Groth:   Kim’s not a moderating influence at that time… Actually, he was never a moderating influence. He might have tried to be, occasionally but he probably never succeeded. I probably became more militant, and Kim became less, militant over the years. Now, it’s funny because you’re talking about… You just quoted Kim’s review of Don McGregor’s… What was the name of the book? Was it Detective Inc.?

Jim:       Yeah, probably.

Alex:      Yeah. Probably, because that was Journal #59.

Groth:   But now, Kim loved McGregor’s work. Absolutely loved it. I mean, if you go back, to fanzines that Kim contributed to, I guess in the early ‘70s, you’ll see a lot of rave reviews of Don McGregor from Kim. And Kim too, had the scales lifted from his eyes at some point and recognized that McGregor was a terrible writer.

So, I think we were both undergoing an education throughout the early days of The Comics Journal. And we’re very much in sync. I think Kim started moderating his views at some point, and at some point, I think I hardened my views.

Alex:      Okay, so you hardened them, as in like you feel more specifically and more intensely about the same kind of thing.

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. I felt more strongly than ever. That the comics were capable of a certain level of aesthetic expression, and the artists who were doing lousy work… We’re really confounding the medium by doing that.

Alex:      Right. Because, I mean, just because a 12-year-old kid buys it, doesn’t mean it’s good. Right?

Groth:   Yeah, but it can be. It can be good comics for 12-year-olds, but yeah, of course. Of course. I mean, comics will always appeal to children, and that’s why they’ve gotten away with so much junk.

Alex:     There’s so much good information here that we’re going to have to carry this into a sequel episode. Stay tuned everybody, in two weeks, for part two of the Gary Groth interview.

[01:33:54]

 

PART 2

Alex:     Welcome back for part two of the Gary Groth interview. Let’s continue.

Jim:       I’ve an interview I wanted specifically ask you about for a second, which was the Jack Kirby interview that you did. My only concern about that was, the point in time that he was at, it seemed like he said things that have later been used against him to impact his credibility to say, “Well, he didn’t really do all of that.” and you can’t say that, “No one else ever did anything creative.” and so forth. It was a hard interview as you were doing it, as a journalist, do you feel like you’re supposed to protect the subject?

I would say, “No, you shouldn’t”, but at the same time the fan person in me was like, “Oh man. this is going to have ramifications. People are going to quote this on Facebook 50 years from now”, because I was that prescient, and so I worry about that. When you were doing journalism, did you ever think about those aspects? The impact it was going to have.

Groth:   Well… I was certainly aware of them, but I’m also from the Oriana Fallaci school of interviewing, where I think that the interview subject has to stand or fall from what he says. I mean, have I cut out stuff from an interview that I think for prudential reasons, I probably have. I can’t think of any anything at the top of my head, but I probably have. But with Kirby, I caught him at a specific time, and he was angry. And of course, I think he had a right to be angry.

Alex:      Right.

Groth:   I wanted to capture that anger too, because Jack did not express his anger often. He kept it in. He repressed his anger. And at this point, for whatever reason he decided to let go. And yeah, I mean, he said some things that were exaggerations. He said Stanley didn’t write a word, that’s not true.

I understood what he was saying, and I think anyone who understands the history of Kirby and Lee’s relationship, knows what he was saying, which was of course, that he wrote the stories in the sense that he laid them out, and he wrote notes on the sides of the pages explaining what the action. So, he in effect, wrote the stories but it was Stan Lee who wrote all the dialogue for the stories. And I think everyone knows that. So, that was an exaggeration, or a lie depending on how you want to spin it.

Alex:      Like when he said he created Spider-Man’s costume, were you kind of thinking, “Okay, no you didn’t” but you let him keep talking? How’d that go?

Groth:   I can’t tell you what I was thinking at that moment, I really don’t. Looking back over that interview, I actually wish that I had prepared more thoroughly than I did. I don’t know, you might notice… I did that interview in ’86? Something like that…

Alex:      No, it was like ‘91 or so… No, ’90…

Jim:       No.

Groth:   No, it had to be before ’89… I’m not sure if it’s ’86 or ‘87 maybe?… But I wish I’d prepared a little bit more so I could’ve delved more deeply into some of the things he said. But I’m not unhappy with that. I think it shows a side of Jack that is too often not shown.

Alex:      Do you still have that audio tape of it?

Groth:   Yeah.

Alex:      Wow, that’s cool… Two questions about TCJ real quick… So, Jim Shooter, there was a lot of articles on him in the ‘80s, obviously. Do you feel… There’s this whole thing of cancelling a person these days; cancel culture, or whatever. But it wasn’t really like to that degree back then, maybe it wasn’t there really in any real way, but a lot of the articles I was just kind of looking back on, about Jim Shooter and about work for hire, it seemed maybe… And I could be wrong, and you can correct me if I am, is that it seemed like they were kind of conflating the Kirby original art and lack of creator status, and evil Marvel corporate people, and then conflating it with Shooter and kind of his OCD personality, and kind of combining it in a way where- could it have been that you had potentially stained his reputation with the baby boomer generation that was reading that, to the point where now, he wasn’t as viable? And now, he’s in a poor house now because he’s not as viable?

Groth:   You mean about now?

Alex:      No, I mean like… He’s still alive, right?

Groth:   Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alex:      I mean, so the stuff that happened back then, did it mess up the fan base, where now, like no one was interested in him anymore? Or did he genuinely was his own worst enemy in that sense?

Groth:   Well has he been cancelled.

Alex:      I don’t think… No. I’m saying is like when people read enough bad things about a person and they don’t want to deal with him anymore. That’s what I’m talking about.

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. Let me just say that I am thoroughly opposed to cancel culture. I find it odious and pernicious. And that’s not what we were doing, and that’s not what we attempted to do. I did think Shooter was sort of the poster boy for a semi-literate philistine buffoonish comic book editor at that time, with his kind of simple-minded views of what constituted a story, what constituted acceptable comics. A thoroughly mediocre editor who is imposing that mediocrity on his staff.

[00:05:00]

I mean there are two aspects to this, one is, whatever criticism we ran about him, and the other side was, journalistically, the sheer number of people that were angry for whatever reason. Whether they were angry for him firing them or letting them go, or in their opinion ruining the books they were working on and so forth.

He got a lot of heat, no doubt about it. But as I recall, there were an awful lot of people who defended him and… I haven’t paid any attention to him in a long time… But as of a few years ago, he still seems to have a fan base.

Alex:      Yeah, he still has a fan base.

Groth:   Years ago, he still has sort of a blog where he’s writing his revision as history, and he still seems to be sufficiently worshipped.

Jim:       He has a voice, that’s for sure. And he does write his own way of telling all of that.

Groth:   Yeah, his own view of history. So no, I think we probably just gave an alternative perspective.

Alex:      I got you, and that’s good.

Jim:       I have a question. Since Alex brought up cancel culture and then we’ll go back. I’m going to take this off the rails for a minute… Did you read this morning’s Daily Beast Story about the sex aspects of things?

Groth:   No. I heard about it, but I haven’t read it yet. I heard it’s a good summary…

Jim:       It’s a very good summary, it’s very cohesive and everything, but it links all of that to a lot of the things that you were worried about and talking about, when Comics Journal started. I mean it talks about Kirby and his art. It talks about pay and how people are cheated. And that sexual discrimination and sexual harassment are born from those labor issues of the earlier times, that it’s all part of the same mix. And I thought of you as I was preparing for this, and I read that. The question that I would come to from that is… Because I also know you signed the letter, this week or last week, about cancel culture and things… Didn’t you sign that petition?

Groth:   I would have loved to, but I didn’t. I mean I wasn’t asked to.

Jim:       Okay.

Groth:   I would have though.

Jim:       When these people are doing these things, the Warren Ellis kind of example, or whatever.

Groth:   Yeah.

Jim:       Where they have a long history of this. It’s not to say, that we should support cancelling but where do you stand on that, in terms of, do we just not talk about it? Do we let them go forward with it? Or what do you do? Is cancel culture a problematic go-to, just like PC was, years and years ago, where it becomes a way to distract from actually doing things that are important to accomplish. That would be my question.

Groth:   I think you have to distinguish between the artist and his work. And I’m not intimately familiar with… I mean, I’m aware that Warren Ellis has been accused of a number of transgressions, and I’m going to read that piece… I mean it’s difficult, what you shouldn’t do is conflate the person with the work, and cancel the work. I don’t know if I’m trying to pick some… Everyone one of these is so unique to themselves so, it’s hard to choose anyone. But I mean, I guess what I object to is…  Let me take an artist who I admire, who’s Robert Crumb.

Jim:       That’s a good one.

Groth:   He’s the poster boy of cancel culture. You probably know that a room at a convention in Massachusetts… I think the convention is called MICE. They had rooms that were named after cartoonists. They had Eisner Room and maybe the McCay Room, and they had the Crumb Room. They recently renamed the Crumb Room because he’s seen as a misogynist and a racist. Why the Eisner Room is still there, is something we should talk about.

Alex:      Well, that might not be for, in the future.

Groth:   Do you know that?

Alex:      Well because there’s these people saying, with his character from the ‘40s…

Groth:   Ebony, yeah.

Alex:      There are people out there putting a petition to get rid of his name and stuff like that.

Alex:      Right. That wouldn’t surprise me at all. Obviously, there’s this backlash against Crumb. And you’re probably aware that he was… His name, not even him, but his name was booed at the Ignatz Awards, like two years ago. I don’t think Crumb is above criticism, but I do think that it’s kind of mob mentality. This kind of reductionist mob mentality that fixates on one very narrow part of his comics career. It’s intellectually, and morally reductionist, and does not serve the purposes of viewing an artist in his entirety.

It is this kind of intellectual and moral reductionism that bothers me so much. That it’s focused on to the exclusion of everything else. And I’m not saying that that can’t be argued and that it can’t be debated.

Jim:       We were talking about that at Comic Fest in San Diego, recently. Mary Fleener and I were on a panel. She brought up the Crumb example of exactly that, and people standing up and protesting, and saying they were going to leave if he was there. Things that seem just outrageous and very dangerous. Where it gets complicated is, when you’re not separating the art from the person.

[00:10:04]

But where you have editorial, something like Shooter’s misdeeds and handling of people while he was at Marvel. There isn’t enough art to justify that I mean editorial policy is a problem that has to be corrected. And if it’s not correct, if it’s not cancelled, because of how they’re behaving in their job which is what that is, I think that’s a different thing. And the problem is, it all gets conflated in to one discussion, sometimes.

Groth:   Yeah, I’m not sure what part of Shooter you’re talking about…

Jim:       No, he was just an example. I mean, just how he behaved towards people.

Groth:   He was let go, right? He was eventually let got.

Alex:      Yeah, ’87.

Groth:   I think that was just like a corporate policy that he caused so many problems and then… I don’t know, they were tired of him. You know, the Trump Syndrome, you just get tired of them and you want them out. That’s something very different, I don’t really have much of an opinion about that. I don’t think Shooter was poorly treated by anybody really; he swam with sharks and… But someone like Crumb is a much more complex case. It’s the level and the tenure that I think literally, reduces the level of discourse in the world. And it’s what I just find so embarrassing.

Jim:       Well on a lighter note, how about that Amazing Heroes, Alex?

Alex:      Yeah… Exactly.

Groth:   Speaking of embarrassing…

[chuckles]

Alex:      Okay, so again… Yeah, because you’re not into the superhero thing. Although The Comics Journal did provide the high-brow criticism that the industry probably needed, and I think to an extent, you help the comic industry grow up, to some degree. I think that that is true. But there was a shortfall in money. It’s kind of like when Bill Gaines couldn’t make money on the sci-fi, he was doing the horror stuff, you put out Amazing Heroes from ‘81 to ’92. It was more of a superhero fanzine, to make up for the cash deficit, and also kind of take maybe some of the fan base from The Comics Reader.

What was your perspective on doing that? Were you kind of biting your tongue with every issue? Or were you like, “No, this is, some of the fans like it. It is what it is”? I mean, what were you thinking with that?

Groth:   Well, I mean we published some Amazing Heroes in order to bring in cash, so we could support the rest of what we were doing. And so, the question we asked ourselves… And this was roughly ’82, when it started?

Alex:      Yeah, ’81 is what I have.

Groth:   Can we publish a reasonably intelligent magazine about mainstream comics? And one that would bring in some cash. Kim [Thompson] edited it for most of its run, and this where we go back to Kim having a much more moderate view of comics.

Honestly, I never paid any attention to Amazing Heroes because it was entirely Kim’s baby. He edited it, and I would occasionally read a piece. And yeah, it did run some good stuff. I mean we would run interviews with Steve Rude, or Howard Chaykin, or a variety of other artists. They would certainly be on a better level than The Buyers Guide and all the other fan magazines that were out there. To me, it was just this thing that happened in another part of the office that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to.

Alex:      I see. So, you weren’t that close enough to it to detest it.

Groth:   No. I was detesting too much, you know, else.

Alex:      [chuckle] As long as you’re detesting something.

Groth:   It covered the whole mainstream arena. It covered it, as well as it can be covered, as intelligently as it could be covered, but my feeling was that… I didn’t even want that to exist. The less I knew about that the better. It was sort of oxymoronic to me to cover that area of comics intelligently, even though we were doing that. I mean I was a little schizophrenic about it, but we did all kinds of things like that in order to keep our heads above water. We were always, always on the precipice of financial ruin.

Alex:      Yeah, and that helped to keep it going.

Groth:   And Amazing Heroes was always… It turned into a bi-weekly. And it was definitely a profit center so, it helps support us through hard times and helps support us finance projects that we wanted to do. It was a really good steady money maker. And we never shied away from doing stuff like that. In 1981, ‘82, we published a couple of books called the X-Men Companion.

Alex:      That’s right.

Jim:       Yeah. I have those.

Groth:   Which I absolutely have no interest in myself, but we figured, “Okay, they’ll make money.” Peter Sanderson edited them, we published them… I never really had a problem publishing stuff that made money that would allow us to publish work that we believed in and that would lose money. I accepted that very early on.

Jim:       I have a question just real quick. As a person doing, not the Amazing Heroes, but the other stuff… As a divorce lawyer, I get used to people hating me to the point where it’s just- it’s part of the job. It’s almost a point of pride sometimes, because you know that you did a good job because of that. I was reading reports by people that were talking positively about you, but talking about how much other people in the industry- Marvel and DC detested you.

[00:15:02]

Where, if your name came up… I forgot who it was, but they were sharing a car with Bob Layton and with Jim Shooter, and the person defended you slightly… What was it he said… He said something about, “Their rectums tightened up so much that it was a reverse fart.” Barry Smith, I think.

Groth:   That was Barry Windsor-Smith.

Jim:       That’s right. What was that like? And do you miss it? Because you’re not hated as much these days, because of age or whatever. Do you miss it? [chuckle]

Groth:   I do miss it, in a way. I mean, in a way, I’m quite happy. I’ve achieved a Zen-like calm. I don’t have to wake up in the morning wondering, what backlash it was going to be…

Alex:      And you’re not wayward teen anymore.

Groth:   Yeah, right. I’m a wayward dotard.

[chuckles]

I do miss it. I mean, you have to understand, I didn’t do that in order to be hated. It was just a logical consequence to what I felt I had to do. And I always felt like I was hated by the right people that was very important.

Alex:      Right. If Kirby hated you, that’d be different.

Groth:   Yeah, that would be devastating. But really, the people who hated me were the people that I had very little respect for and so, in that sense, it worked out very well. It was a very organic part of my life, walking into a room and figuring out how many people in this room hate me.

Alex:      So, Amazing Heroes coming to an end in 1992, kind of like the way you had kind of suck some of the fan base from The Comics Reader. Was it in the ‘90s, there was so much of a glut of comics and magazines, and yada, yada; Wizard came out, did that basically contribute to the end of Amazing Heroes?

Groth:   Yeah, Wizard, and I think there’s was a magazine called HERO Magazine.

Alex:      Okay.

Groth:   It’s kind of a mini Wizard. It was like a Wizard alternative. They were just far stupider than Amazing Heroes, and they therefore captured that market.

Alex:      Right. Okay.

Groth:   Our circulation was kind of going down… When I say Amazing Heroes was so profitable, I don’t mean immensely profitable, but by our meager standards, it was profitable. So, it went down, if the sales went down a couple thousand then it was a marginal, and no longer profitable. They just fade away.

Comics just became stupider and stupider. And the fact that the comics community, the comic fans, however you want to characterize it, they could no longer support a magazine like Amazing Heroes. I think it’s a great barometer for just how stupid the comics subculture became. You had The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that was the beginning of the time when black and white became stupid.

Then you add Image. Now, I don’t know… I think Wizard came out before Image, if I remember correctly.

Alex:      Yeah. I think of them as kind of together, for some reason, but yeah.

Groth:   Yeah, I do too. But one had to be before the other. I think it was Wizard. But it was just this fucking locomotive of stupidity, and it couldn’t be stopped. I mean Image was sort of the apex of idiocy and hypocrisy.

Alex:      Do you feel like Image got better though, like now?

Groth:   Well, probably yeah. I know it transformed, of course. Honestly, I don’t follow it. Now, it seems like instead of just doing brainless Marvel knock off comics, they’re doing middle brow genre stuff.

[chuckle]

Jim:       It’s how Chaykin can work, because he certainly isn’t going to get anything at Marvel or DC.

Groth:   Well, didn’t he just do something for DC?

Alex:      Howard kind of has been a victim of this cancelled mob as well.

Groth:   Do you think so?

Alex:      Yeah. His Divided States of Hysteria

Jim:       He thinks so.

Alex:      Yeah, because we did a one on one interview with him, or rather two on one, me and Jim did. He goes into detail about that. He felt stabbed in the back by people.

Groth:   I’d like to know more about that. I remember when that happened. That’d only happened like a couple of years ago, right? Three years ago?… I remember sending him an email saying, “Why don’t you tell everyone to go fuck off.” It seemed like he was treated shabbily by his publisher.

Jim:       Yeah.

Alex:      They didn’t speak up for him.

Jim:       But they did publish his Hey Kids! book.

Groth:   Well because it was safe. But I mean, they didn’t stand behind him when they needed to, when he needed them to.

Jim:       No, a lot of creators didn’t either. I mean he feels very stabbed in the back by people that he thought he was friends with as well.

Groth:   I can understand that. I was going to say, I think Howard thinks he’s more uncommercial than he is. I think he still has a lot of commercial cache.

Alex:      Oh yeah, I love Howard’s stuff. So, one more question about The Comics Journal, then Jim’s going to go talk about publishing and things. So, The Comics Journal, and you were involved in some lawsuits with various creators…

Groth:   [chuckles] Yeah.

Alex:      Harlan Ellison, and Fleisher… First, we’re those scary for you at all? And then, two, just going through them, what can you share with us as far as surviving all that stuff.

Jim:       And do you hate lawyers?

Groth:   Oh my god, I hate all lawyers, except my own. I have a great lawyer. The lawyer who fought all that litigation for me, a stellar lawyer. I still speak to him about legal issues. It’s such a different period. It’s hard to explain to people who didn’t live through that and didn’t understand. We were sued three times within the course of about… I think they all came within 18 months. The first lawsuit suit was instigated in 1980, and then two more quickly followed.

[00:20:01]

I think they thought, they might as well jump on here. And I think the aim of these lawsuits was to put us out of business. They want to bury us.

Jim:       Was Fleisher the first one?

Groth:   Michael Fleisher was the first one. His lawsuit was based on an interview I did with Harlan Ellison, about which, we could have a separate videocast.

Jim:       Can we? Because I would like to go into great detail about… Because you guys had a huge falling out over that, and then he sued you, and then it was in letter pages forever. I read everything about it through The Comics Journal.

Alex:      Did you?… Okay, yeah. Knowing Ellison, you have to watch your back at all times. So, I interviewed Ellison… You know Ellison’s another guy… We should talk about people who I met and whose friendship and professional relationship I treasure and love, but Ellison… You know, I looked up to Ellison too, and did a long interview with him. And Michael Fleisher sued us based on that interview.

Ellison made a couple of assertions that could be either considered factor or opinion, depending on how you looked at it, and said that Fleisher, based on his work was crazy as a bed bug. Based on that, Fleisher sued us. He asserted that Ellison was saying that he was clinical insane, and damaged his reputation, as a result.

Then a short while later, Alan Light sued me for an editorial I wrote. This was on the occasion of Alan Light selling The Buyers Guide to that company in Michigan or wherever it was.

Alex:      Yeah, Krause [Publications] or something like that.

Groth:   Yeah, Krause. And it was sort of my farewell editorial, and I accused him of engendering spiritual squalor. He sued me for that. And then Rich Buckler, you remember Rich Buckler? He sued us for asserting that he plagiarized Jack Kirby. And that was an article written by Ted White, who I had previously told you, was our music columnist in Sounds Fine.

So, we had three lawsuits going on at the same time, and I was… When we were sued initially, I think I was 25, that would’ve been in 1980. I think I was 25 when Fleisher sued us. I mean, we were just scraping by. We had absolutely no money. We could barely just survive. We could barely pay out rent. It was maybe three or four of us comprising the company. We weren’t putting out Amazing Heroes… I think we’re only putting out The Comics Journal in 1980. So, it was only probably two or three of us working in this little office. And so, he sued us for $2 million.

I think you asked me if I was scared. I don’t remember being scared. I remember being exhilarated, and I remember thinking, we should win this, if we had the money to fight it. I remember being invigorated. I mean somehow, we just thought we were going to somehow win this. The problem is, we had no money. So, that’s a big problem… As a divorce attorney must know.

Jim:       Yes.

Groth:   So, Fleisher sued us first, a $2 million lawsuit. And I read about it. I think I read about it in Publishers Weekly. Before we were served, I read…

[chuckles]

… This notice that he sued us. I mean somebody brought it to my attention because I’m sure I wasn’t reading Publishers Weekly at the time. But somebody brought it to my attention and said, “Hey, you know Fleisher said he filed suit against you.” I say, “What are you talking about?” And he sends me the article, and I call up Ellison.

Ellison, in his usual bravado says, “Don’t worry about him. Fuck him. He’s not going to sue us.” And I say, “Well, it says he sued us.” “Well, don’t worry about it.” So, I said, “Well, you know I’m a little concerned about this.” And he said, “Don’t worry about it.” He said, “I’m with you in this. If he sues you, I am with you 100%. And I was saying, “Well, I don’t have any money to fight a lawsuit.” He said, “I’m with you. I’ll help.” Then he reassured me, I felt good about that.

So, a few weeks later, we were served and then Ellison was served. I didn’t know what to do. We didn’t even have a lawyer. So, I called up Ellison, and I said, “We’ve both been served.” I said, “What do we do?” And he said, “Well, you got to find a lawyer.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to pay a lawyer. Can you help us with this? You said you’re going to be behind us with this.” We’re on the phone, I’m in Connecticut. He’s in LA. I am freaking out a little bit and he said, “Look man, I’m watching TV. I’m busy I got to go.” And that was it.

I’m like on the phone… I thought this guy was behind us. He has money. He had just won like $200,000 from a lawsuit of his own, so I figured, when he said he could help us, he meant he could help me financially. So, I didn’t know what to do.

So, we hired a lawyer. We found lawyers in New York, and these were high powered lawyers. So, I employed them. I didn’t know anything about lawyers, lawyering, and so there were some initial motions back and forth. And I remember, about six months to a year in the lawsuit… And again, keep in mind I’m like 25, maybe 26, and I go into my lawyer’s office in New York. I go to visit him, and there’s some motions back and forth already, and this guy was like… He was a slick operator. This guy was smart, and he’d been around, and of course, I wanted to win this because there was a first amendment issue at stake.

[00:25:04]

He said, “Look…” He got me into a conference room; one of those big conference rooms with a 20-foot table. I sat there, and he said, “Look, we can get this guy in a deposition, and I can annihilate him, but he could still win. So, I think you should cut a deal.” And I kind of walked out. I mean I was just kind of in a daze, because here’s my lawyer advising me to cut a deal. So, that didn’t sit well with me, so…

I don’t want to drag this out too long… But I didn’t know what to do, so I called the Playboy Foundation which was Hugh Hefner’s First Amendment organization. And I talked to a guy there named Bert Joseph, who was a First Amendment advocate and he worked there. I explained the situation. I said, “I don’t have any money. We publish a magazine about comic books.” And he said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, comic books.” He said, “All right.” He said, “Here’s the name of a lawyer. First Amendment attorney in New York. Call him. I know him. He’s a friend of mine and he might take you on.”

And that lawyer’s name was Ken Norwood. I went into Ken’s office, laid the whole situation out for him, showed him the magazine, and he looked at it, and he said, “We could win this. I’ll do it. I’ll take it on.”

Then we had to figure out how to pay him. But he was a little loose about that, he said, “You know got to pay me, but we can figure it out.” So, he took us on, and we fought that lawsuit suit for seven years until we finally, in a jury trial in the Southern District Court of New York, won. It was a brutal fight. It was seven years of our lives. It was tremendous amounts of depositions, many people in the comics industry was subpoenaed, many people were deposed. We were subpoenaing people left and right. It just went on and on, on; the deposition lasted for weeks. The jury trial was four weeks long. It was just an amazing brawl.

Jim:       Seven years is an incredible amount of time to be caught up, emotionally, in that.

Groth:   Yeah. Well thank God, we’re young. And it divided the comics industry. Here’s what’s possibly more interesting, is that it divided the comics of history. It divided them into two camps, one was ours, and one was by default, Fleisher’s. And the reason people were supporting Fleisher… Fleisher really wasn’t part of the comics community; I mean nobody really knew him very well. He didn’t hang out with other comics creators. He wasn’t particularly liked, he wasn’t disliked but, he just wasn’t part of that community. But people wanted to see us destroyed, and so as a result, they supported him.

Jim:       So, they weren’t on his side as much as they were not on your side.

Groth:   Right. They weren’t on it for his side per se. They just hated us so much that he was a convenient bludgeon.

Jim:       But you had to fight it, because the impact if you hadn’t would be, how do you do criticism of anybody’s work if you have to worry about getting sued for saying something derogatory about that.

Groth:   Well, I felt strongly about that. First of all, of course, we’d go out of business, I mean there would be no Comics Journal.

Jim:       But what happened to Harlan? Because he was named in it too.

Groth:   He was there throughout most of the suit, and our falling out was due to certain machinations throughout the lawsuit. He was my co-defendant, but he was so utterly fucking treacherous that I had this one guy suing me, and I had a co-defendant who would stick a knife and my back at the nearest opportunity. I had to watch both of them.

Jim:       He eventually sued you himself, didn’t he? Over something?

Groth:   That was in 2006, I think. And that was about something else entirely, yeah. That’s a whole other story.

Jim:       I could do this all day because I have all these follow up questions. In The Comics Journal, one of the things I respect most about it has been not just your lawsuits but other important lawsuits you have covered in a very smart way, that I could appreciate as a lawyer. Your depositions that you include, the transcript things like that, that nobody else does. And I think it’s very important to do.

I want to move on to the publishing part, rather than The Comics Journal part, although I wish we had more time to do both. Maybe we can do another interview.

Groth:   I could bore your viewership into a blind stupor.

Jim:       [chuckle] Two points on The Comics Journal, and then I’ll move… Three actually. Honk! I want to ask you about Honk! I have all the issues of Honk! and I really enjoy that. What made you do that and why was it not successful?

Groth:   All I can do is tell you not enough people bought it. It was an oddball humor magazine published … Let me see, that’ll be ’85 to ’88, something like that… ’86 to, yeah, something like that. I mean it was just an oddball magazine that very few people at that time are going to buy. And success or failure depended on like a thousand people. I mean, if a thousand more people bought it, it would continue. And I don’t remember… You’d have to look in the… You don’t have a copy handy, I guess. Tom Mason who worked on our art department might have started that magazine. And if that’s the case, I think he edited it. Either he started it, and edited it from the beginning, or he took it over at some point.

[00:30:00]

But I think he just came to me. He was a designer, worked in the art department, and I think he just came to me and said, “I’d like to put this magazine together. And it’ll include this, and this this, and these kinds of artists. This is the direction, and what about it.” And sounded good to make.

Jim:       I say it partly as a segue to what we’re going to talk about publishing because in the issue that I believe it was the one that had Warp Stuff as Smokeman on the cover. An interview there. It was a European comic, the name is escaping me of him, but it was about the giraffe, and it was playing with panels… You know the one I’m talking about?

Groth:   Is this something we published?

Jim:       Yes, this was in Honk!.

Groth:   Okay, okay.

Jim:       It was entitled The Giraffe, and it was like a nine-panel grid but the character kept moving around through the nine panels. It’s a famous European artist. There were things like that that we’re quirky… I’ll let you know who it is… I’m just blanking.

Groth:   Yeah…

Jim:       But you guys were introducing material that nobody saw anywhere else with that.

Groth:   Could that have been Franken? André Franken.

Jim:       Yes, it totally was. And you can’t see my books, unfortunately.

Groth:   No, no. I can’t see your books though…

Jim:       But you did publish this recently?

Groth:   Yeah… [overlap talk]

Jim:       You can die laughing…

Alex:      But they do exist. The books do actually exist.

Groth:   It’s like a Steranko effect.

Jim:       Yes. I just want to say, you were interested in publishing, and I know Kim Thompson was a lead in a lot of this. But that’s something I want to talk about, that part… Before I leave Comics Journal, a couple of things… What was it like to actually get… We talked about people that liked you, they’ve got mad at you, or whatever. What was it like to get yelled at by Jules Feiffer, over your Eisner’s comments?

Groth:   It was intimidating.

Jim:       I’m a huge fan of Feiffer.

Groth:   Me too.

Jim:       It would make me cry if I got yelled at by him.

Groth:   Yeah, it was intimidating.

Jim:       And maybe we should explain to the listeners what I’m talking about. You had written something about Eisner that called into question his actual ability. Like you were critical of his actual art which a lot of people stay away from, to some degree.

Groth:   Right.

Jim:       And Feiffer wrote to you or did he call you?

Groth:   No, this was in an interview I did with Jules. I wrote a review of three books by Eisner, and this was his post Spirit graphic novel phase, when he started doing A Contract With God in ’78, I think it was.

Jim:       The Building, I think was one of them.

Groth:   The Building was one them. They did a succession of graphic novels after that. I think my review appeared in ’89. It was review of a couple of his books, including his autobiographical book called The Dreamer.

Jim:       Right, which other people are critical of as well.

Groth:   At which, it was really truly a miserable book. I mean, just fundamentally dishonest. And I wrote as much. So, a few years later, maybe only a year or two later, I’m interviewing Jules, who was one of my heroes. Of course, I had seen Colonel Knowledge before I had seen Feiffer’s cartoons.

So, anyway, this was a big opportunity for me, I thought. I mean interviewing Jules. And Jules was, he was exactly the kind of cartoonist I wanted to get in The Comics Journal. I wanted to get outside of comic books, and I wanted to get out of comic strips, and want to do editorial cartoonists. And I wanted to do uncategorizable cartoons like Jules or Ralph Steadman.

That was important to me, so I was in Jules’ studio we were talking, and I forget how it came up. It seems like he must have brought it up because I don’t think I would have brought it up. But he told me that he thought I was wrong; my assessment of Eisner was wrong. And I defended myself, but I mean, it was a forceful attack on the review. He attacked and I defended myself. But I don’t think I expected that. He goes back a long way with Eisner.

Jim:       From the beginning, yes.

Groth:   Yeah. Eisner was the guy who hired him when he was 14 years old or something. And so, he has a great sentimental attachment to Eisner. I think that, more than anything else, is why he felt the need to the defend Eisner.

Jim:       One other question. Just to go back to the lawsuits and things, as a journalist was it difficult for you, for The Comics Journal to be covering The Comics Journal? How do you, as a journalist write about something, when you’re in the middle of it, where you are part of the story?

Groth:   Well, I don’t remember who wrote the news pieces about the Journal’s own lawsuits. I don’t know if we got anyone outside the Journal to do it. It never bothered me, the whole conflict of interest between us publishing books, and The Comics Journal reviewing books never bothered me, one wit. I always felt that I had the ability to stand outside of both The Comics Journal and our book publishing to be objective about that.

And I think that’s proven, if anyone, if any academic, has taken this on and it’s done a survey of all the books of ours that we’ve reviewed. I think they’ll find that we do not favor our books. So, I never had a problem with that. We got a negative review on a book that I love. We publish a negative review of Love and Rockets very early on. Because I wrote a very positive review of it before we started publishing it, and then we started publishing it. And about a year in we ran a very negative review of Love and Rockets, for example.

[00:35:04]

And I also had this, in retrospect, a naive view that the artists we publish were so good, and so, sort of incontestably good, that they wouldn’t care if we ran a negative review of their work. Now I think, in retrospect, that was not true. But I felt compelled to do that, like if we got a review in, unsolicited, and if it was a negative review of one of our books, and I thought it was intellectually defensible, not just a hatchet job, I would run it.

It was a difficult place to be.

Alex:      So, tell us about reprinting newspaper comic strips like Prince Valiant, and whatnot. First, how do you make something like that profitable?

[chuckle]

Because sometimes it isn’t.

Groth:   Yeah, well your premise is false, you don’t make it profitable.

Alex:      There you go.

Groth:   I’m just kidding.

Jim:       You made money on Peanuts.

Groth:   Some of it is and so of it isn’t… Yeah, absolutely. Well, okay, here’s the thing, when we started publishing comics in 1981, Kim’s and my idea was just to publish great cartooning. It didn’t matter if it was European cartooning or old newspaper strips or contemporary work like Love and Rockets, to us it was just all a good cartooning.

So, we didn’t make a hard distinction between, this is our classics line, and this is this line, that’s line. To us it was just all a great cartooning, and that’s all we wanted to publish. So, Rick Marschall came on the scene in like 1980 or ’81, and he proposed Nemo to us; the magazine about comics.

Alex:      Right.

Groth:   Which we published 31 issues of and which he edited. Amazing magazine.

Alex:      Yeah, and that was influential. There’s a lot of historian on the Facebook group that they were influenced by those.

Groth:   It’s a tremendous monument to Rick’s knowledge and passion.

So, Rick bought a few books to us. We publish a Redbery Book, I don’t know why Rick brought Redbery Book to us, maybe he was in Public Domain or something. But we publish a Redbery Book. We published Popeye… I’m not sure if Popeye was Rick’s idea or was it Bill Blackbeard’s idea, I’m not sure.

Started publishing Popeye in like 1982… my dates might be off by a year or so. So, we started publishing Prince Valiant around ‘82. The reason we published all of these is just because we love great cartooning. We just wanted to publish good cartooning, it didn’t matter where it came from or what it was. So, to us, it was just all a part of the whole.

Alex:      Now, as far as making up for stuff that is losing money, you talked about doing Amazing Heroes in the ‘80s, and we briefly mentioned it before. But in the ‘90s then, as Amazing Heroes goes to the wayside, you guys start publishing Eros, the pornographic comics to bring in some money. Does that basically, then help fund, and did it help fund as effectively as Amazing Heroes did in the ‘80s? Eros in the nin’90s to fund the other publishing ventures.

Groth:   It was far more effective than Amazing Heroes.

Alex:      Oh, wow.

Groth:   We were losing money. We went through a period of like, I would say almost two years, where we were just losing ground. Starting around ’89. And I could see us losing ground, and I just couldn’t think of anything to do about it. Neither Kim nor I, we’re good at coming up with money making schemes. We just weren’t good at it. We were good at kind of guerilla publishing what we wanted to publish. But we weren’t good at just coming up with something that would make a lot of money.

If you look at most publishers, they always have these tent-pole projects that make a lot of money. We were just back sliding for year and a half, two years. We didn’t know what to do about it. We saw that was happening and we couldn’t figure it out. So, unbelievably, one day I just came up with this brilliant idea the sex sells. Just dawned on me.

Alex:      Right, out of the blue.

Groth:   I thought, “Well, shit, we’ll publish erotic comics.” There was Omaha the Cat Dancer that did well. God, I don’t know was Cherry around then? I mean, there were a few erotic comics. I think Chaykin had done Black Kiss by then.

Alex:      Right, right. Yeah.

Groth:   So, there were like a little sprinkle of erotic comics, and coincidentally, they all sold well. And it really took me a while to put two and two together.

[chuckles]

Maybe we should do this…

Alex:      Martin Goodman would’ve jumped all over that, a lot sooner.

Groth:   I’m surprised Al Goldstein didn’t… So, I talked to Kim about it, and we agonized over this decision. It’s like. “Well. should we do this?… It’s porn…” And I would talk to other people about it. Everyone I talked to said, “You know, if you have to do it, do it.”

I remember talking to Robert Crumb about it. I said, “Well, you know, we’re struggling with this. We might do this. I’m not sure… I’m not sure I feel good about this.” He said, “Jesus, you know get over it. Just do it.” I mean he was just so, “like what are you complaining about?”

Alex:      Yeah, I don’t see how he would say no to that, anyway.

Groth:   Right. I mean what he did wasn’t porn, but it was pornographic.

Alex:      Would you say they’re similar to Tijuana bibles, what you guys did? I guess not.

Groth:   Mostly not. No. What we did, it ran the gamut, I mean, if you studied Eros, it just ran the gamut.

Alex:      I used to see those at Virgin Megastore when I was in high school. I didn’t buy any because my mom would get mad at me but I flipped through it.

[00:40:01]

I didn’t put it down, I mean, I was flipping through it.

Groth:   Well depending on what you looked at I mean it could be just extraordinary.

Alex:      Yeah.

Groth:   If it was something like by Frank Thorne or Francisco Solano-Lopez, it could be really superb work, or it could just be weird brainless sex stuff.

Alex:      Yeah, like orgies and stuff. I remember thinking, “I didn’t know penises could have these many veins.”

Groth:   Right, or this person had these many penises.

[chuckle]

But we started it. We sent out a call. We sent out… I don’t know how we did it… What we did, there weren’t emails back then, so we sent out letters to cartoonists saying, “We’re starting an erotic line of comics, and if you have any ideas, and if you ever wanted to do one, let us know.” Well, apparently, there were all these repressed cartoonists out there.

Alex:      Ready to go…

Groth:   We were inundated with submissions. Frank Thorne was in the original wave. We published several erotic comics; I think it was 1991. And I am not exaggerating, in nine months, we had dug ourselves out of the hole. Nine months of publishing Eros comics.

Alex:      That’s like direct market to stores and stuff, right?

Groth:   It was the comic stores, who many of them created an erotic section that was composed mostly of our books, and we did a huge mail order business too. So, then we just went all in. We had an Eros editor, that became his division. As far as I was concerned, it was like Amazing Heroes. It was like this division I didn’t have to pay too much attention to it, we had an Eros editor. And we publish like mountain of filth. It was just an unbelievable tsunami of erotic stuff, and some of it was great and some of it was lousy. We just cranked it out, and that supported all of the grossly uncommercial alternative work that we wanted to publish during that period.

Alex:      Yeah, and you guys were reprinting or have reprinted Barks, EC, foreign material like Crepax, and whatnot. So, it’s nice to have something that can fund that sort of artistic… Because you were introducing a whole generation of Americans to this stuff. To the good stuff, I mean, and maybe the bad stuff.

Groth:   We are introducing a whole generation of Americans to pornography too.

[chuckle]

Jim:       Is that why The Washington Newspaper gave you the Genius Award?

Groth:   For which one?

Jim:       One of them announced you were the genius of the moment or the genius something.

Groth:   Yeah, I got the Genius Award. I mean for which one? Pornography…

Jim:       For figuring out that sex sells. [chuckle]

Groth:   Yeah, that’s it.

Alex:      But you applied it in an effective way to survive and that’s admirable. I like that.

Groth:   We did. We did. It’s just one of the few things we actually did, you could say Amazing Heroes was another one, and scattering of things once in a while, but that was a huge thing. The other thing you’ll learn, if you become a pornographer, every other phrase out of your mouth, is a double entendre whether you intend it or not.

Alex:      [chuckle] So, your mind’s in the gutter all the time.

Groth:   You can’t go three sentences without saying something.

When we were at the height, this is pre-digital, we had like piles of original art from… Frank Thorne, all these artists, and it was amazing… Robert Crumb. And we did seek out good work. I mean we obviously had to publish a certain amount of this stuff to stay afloat, but we really did seek out good work. We sought out gay erotica, lesbian erotica, good artists. Gilbert Hernandez did a book that was fantastic. We tried our best, but yeah, we were cranking it out.

Alex:      But I wouldn’t call you a pornographer because it’s not like you actually got women in a studio and making them do stuff, right? That’s a different thing.

Groth:   I use that term ironically.

Alex:      But it’s a fun irony.

Groth:   It took me while, but I got a kick out of it.

[chuckle]

It was all drawn.

Alex:      Yeah, that’s true.

Groth:   No one was exploited in the making of this.

Alex:      Right, right. That’s the thing. That’s the key difference. Yeah.

Groth:   A lot in comics…

Jim:       On the subject of comic strip reprints, I got a couple of questions. I brought out Peanuts and I know that was a very profitable one, that you actually publish the entire run. There are others where I don’t know… Did you run out of steam with the Dennis the Menace books? Because I was buying every one of those.

Groth:   I didn’t. I think the readers ran out steam.

Jim:       I bought them all. The sales were going down, that was why the decision was made?

Groth:   Yeah, pretty much. I think we’ve published five or six volumes. It really dropped like a stone. The first volume sold really well, and then you always experience a drop in series, but then you hope it plateaus and just maintains a decent sales level. And Dennis the Menace just kept dropping. I think after the third volume, most of the world had come to the conclusion that they had enough of Dennis the Menace.

I thought that was very unfortunate because I love that stuff, and I thought [Hank] Ketcham’s work was just extraordinary. The drawing is beautiful.

Jim:       His line work is just so good.

Groth:   It’s stunning. I mean everything about him, his gesture, the ink line, even the gags were good. Maybe they got worse later on, I’m not sure about that, but it wasn’t just a dopey panel, the gags were funny and they’re witty.

Jim:       Does this mean I may not find out how Barnaby ultimately ends?

Groth:   It will not mean that. I think the vast volume of Barnaby is going to the printer.

Jim:       Oh, that’s great.

Groth:   Yeah.

Jim:       I’ve really enjoyed that as well.

[00:45:01]

Groth:   Yeah, another masterpiece… I think the best thing Crockett Johnson ever did.

Jim:       Yeah, and what about… Is Pogo selling well?

Groth:   Pogo sells reasonably well, and we’ll continue that for the duration. Yeah.

Jim:       Okay. So, Dennis the Menace was almost an outlier, in terms of that.

Groth:   It was, yeah. I mean I can’t think of another… Well, Roy Crane, I can’t sell Roy Crane.

Alex:      Which shocks me, because I love Roy Crane stuff.

Groth:   Yeah, Roy Crane, is a brilliant cartoonist, but my god, we can’t sell him.

Jim:       Do these books stay in print, and why do some go out of print? I’m specifically talking about the ones, of the Popeye volumes. There’s the one that I can’t get… Unless you can give it to me.

Groth:   Of our Popeye series… I think there are eight volumes. I think seven are out of print.

Jim:       Oh, now they are? I was victim of only one going out of print, I had all the others.

Alex:      Yeah, but Jim, you’re talking about the one with the Jeep in it.

Groth:   No. I think there might be more than that out of print. There might be a few copies in our warehouse, few volumes, but I looked at the inventory and they’re all almost all out of print. There’s only one we have a significant inventory on. And the problem is, you can’t reprint those. They’re too expensive to reprint.

Jim:       And that would be my segue to something I’ve wanted to ask you since we interviewed the Trina Robbins and we were talking about Nell Brinkley… What is the reason that a book like that, that I think is so important … And I know there’s a new Flapper book coming up, but the Nell Brinkley book, I bought probably five copies of it, and gave it to people for holidays, and things. Every niece, every girl that I knew that a young woman, I wanted her to read that. Why isn’t that still in print? Is it just too expensive?

Groth:   Well, the only reason that a book isn’t in print is because the publisher doesn’t think you can sell enough copies to warrant the reprint. And now you’re getting into a little bit of a minutiae here, where a reprint always costs more to print than the original printing.

Jim:       Oh, I didn’t know that.

Groth:   Yeah, because you’re going to be printing fewer copies. Okay, if you can print five thousand copies of a book initially, when you reprint it, you’re going to be printing two. And that’s because when you print a book initially, you have a big bump in sales. The minute it comes out, it’s going to sell a lot. And then it’s going to become a backlist, and it’s going to sell more slowly over time.

While when you reprint a book, you start off selling it slow. You do not have that initial sale. So, you have to be able to warrant the cost of a reprint by the sales over the course of 12 to 18 months. And if you can’t do that, you can’t afford to reprint that book. That’s really the only reason a book isn’t reprinted.

Jim:       With the renaissance in printing of the important comic strips, is there something out there that you think that you haven’t gotten or no one has printed that you think needs to be done or have we pretty much completed the set?

Groth:   I’m not sure. I think about this, of course, because I’m always interested in… One of the great joys of my job is to find new work, even if that’s old work. And I’m not sure if there much in the way of entire strips that need to be reprinted at this point. I think there might be some strips that you could put in an omnibus that ought to be available, but they aren’t up the first tier.  They’re sort of like second or third tier strips but still display enough craft or enough wit, or ingenuity or something, that they ought to be available to readers who want to see them.

One thing, I think, is that there are number of artists out there whose work should be reprinted. Tomi Ungerer, for example, who I interviewed a couple years ago.

Jim:       Yeah. I have that issue. I read his books to my kid; my seven-year-old.

Groth:   Oh, do you?

Jim:       I love those books.

Groth:   Great children’s books.

Jim:       From the early ones to Fog Island, and everything in between.

Groth:   Yeah, Fog Island is terrific. We were reprinting his satirical books which are a particular favorite of mine. So, we just published his underground sketch, and we have a book of his called The Party. I think just went press. We’re getting his satirical books back into print.

Jim:       Oh, that’s fantastic.

Groth:   There are other artists like Robert Osborn. We just published Art Young.

Jim:       I have that. You guys did a great job on that. That’s a fantastic book.

Groth:   Are you talking about Inferno?

Jim:       No, I’m talking about the other one that came out… I’ve ordered Inferno. I haven’t gotten that yet.

Groth:   Yeah. I think there a lot of artists whose work should be put back into print, but it’s tough because there is only a limited number of people like you.

Alex:      That’s true, and I can attest to that.

[chuckle]

Groth:   Yeah, I bet you can.

Jim:       Thanks, Alex. Let’s talk about people that you published over the years, that have made tremendous impact on us. Love and Rockets, obviously, is one of the most important books and creators that you published. Who else? Would it be Neat Stuff? Would it be Naughty Bits? Would it be Meat Cake, Jim up to Hip-Hop Family Tree, there’s so many things. What are the things that you’re most proud of?

Groth:   I hate this, because I’m going to forget so, so many people, which I don’t want to do. I mean you mentioned Love and Rockets. I had no idea when we started publishing Love and Rockets that Jaime, and Gilbert would become two of the greatest cartoonists alive. I was excited about their work. I consider Love and Rockets our flagship publication.

Jim:       Who knew it was going to grow?… I love the early stuff, but boy, they just went like a rocket off into other places.

[00:50:03]

Groth:   They both did. I remember being so exhilarated by their work that was the kind of work that I was envisioning, as to what comics could be. They actually evolved into to that kind of work too. I mean I saw it in their earliest work but then they just grew in my own conception of what comics could be, which is a medium that directs its expressive possibilities toward the human conditions. Towards all of the things that are so… That are most important to us, in our lives. That’s what they do.

When we published Gilbert and Jaime, shortly after that we published Pete Bagge’s Neat Stuff and then Pete grew into one of the great satirical artists. Then shortly after that Dan Clowes. Dan started off with Lloyd Llewellyn. I saw such an absolute control over the media, and what he was trying to … I mean Lloyd isn’t great, I mean he went on. Dan went on to do great work. But what I saw on Lloyd Llewellyn was just that he knew what he wanted to communicate and he knew what he wanted to convey he did it perfectly. But I had no idea he could do anything more than that. And then he went on to deepen and broaden in his range.

Joe Sacco.

Jim:       Oh, yeah. I didn’t mention him and I should have.

Groth:   Joe worked in our office. He wrote news for The Comics Journal. He was a staff writer for The Comics Journal in 1985, I think. He would show us his comics, every once in a while, me and Kim. And they were okay. We started publishing Yahoo, his anthology comic around ’87, something like that, ’86, ’87. And there were short stories, and autobiographical stories, and he was really just kind of finding his voice. And then of course, he went to Israel and Palestine, and started drawing Palestine. When did that start? ’88, ’89, something like that. Anyway, he found what he was meant to do, which was comics journalism. And he virtually invented that category. Joe has been a good pal since then.

Kim is the one who discovered Chris Ware. he showed me his work in the Chicago Reader, it would have been around 1990, maybe. I had read Chris’ story in Raw before, but I didn’t actually put the two together. Chris did this kind of super hero-ey satirical take on superheroes. But then Kim showed me the work in the Chicago Reader, and I remember saying, “Well this is pretty interesting.” But it was Kim who really brought him in, and contacted Chris, and arranged for Chris to do books for us. I think we published… I don’t know, six or seven Acme Novelty Libraries before Chris went off on his own.

There’s so many. I mean, Carol Tyler, we’ve been publishing for a long time and she’s extraordinary. Boy, I think we published Aline, Aline Kominsky-Crumb in the late ‘80s. We published a collection of her work. I’m proud of the fact that we published a lot of women cartoonists in the 1980s when there were so few women.

Jim:       Oh, yeah. did you do Julie Doucet stuff?

Groth:   No, we didn’t.

Jim:       That’d be Drawn & Quarterly, wasn’t it?

Groth:   D&Q did Julie, think starting around 1990 or ’91.

Jim:       That’s right.

Groth:   It’s hard to believe, people in their 20s just can’t even consider this, but there were so few women in comics in 1980s.

Jim:       You did La Perdida.

Groth:   Sure, Jessica Abel’s work… Yes.

Jim:       Jessica Abel’s work. Yeah, I remember that. That was great.

Groth:   We published that, and I think we published two books by Jessica before that as well.

Jim:       You brought up Raw. I wanted to ask you that. What’s the difference in your publishing philosophy? Or what you’re trying to put out there compared to what Spiegelman was doing? Because it seems, you’ve got some crossover like Gary Panter.

Groth:   Sure.

Jim:       Were you approaching a different notion of audience or a different kind?

Groth:   Well, if Art did come to us and said, “I want you to publish Raw”, we would have published it in a New York minute. Because it was certainly the kind of work that we thought was inspirational. But Art has, Art and Françoise who co-edited it. They had their own very distinct sensibility, which might be more experimental and less narrative driven than mine and Kim’s was, I think. Which is kind of paradoxical because Maus is very narrative driven, but there was a lot of work in Raw. I mean in ranged.

I mean there were narratives, Kim Deitch in there, Charles Burns was in there. But there was work where the form took center stage and was possibly more important than the actual narrative. I think Art probably had a greater and more intense interest in form than we did.

Jim:       Oh, that’s interesting.

Groth:   I mean we did. We cared about the form, and I think we have published some more experimental work, but he really sought it out. I think if there’s any distinction between us, it’s probably his emphasis on form.

Jim:       I asked you, in relation to comic strips, if there was other things you thought needed to be published or what? And there’s not the obvious missing greatness. Fantagraphics has started printing more and more European comics and foreign material.

[00:55:04]

What are the things out there that are your targets that you want to really, really cover besides the Crepax books, which have been great? What else are you looking for?

Groth:   Well I don’t think I can cite specific artists we’re looking for. A lot of great cartoonists, have already been covered, like Hugo Pratt. I mean I would publish him in a minute but I think somebody’s publishing him, IDW or Dark Horse.

Jim:       Jacques Tardi, you also have done his…

Groth:   Jacques Tardi was Kim’s author. Kim said once that he thought Tardi was the greatest cartoonist in the world. I remember replying that, “Not as long as Crumb is around”. But we would have aesthetic…

Jim:       Oh, that’s great that was your conversation?

Groth:   Yeah, yeah. But I love Tardi, I want to make that clear. But that’s how big an admirer Kim was of Tardi. So, Kim started publishing Tardi, and we’re continuing doing that. Tardi has a lot more work. We have two books in house right now by Tardi, and he’s certainly one of the great European cartoonists.

Crepax was someone I was very happy to publish. I was familiar with his work for many, many years ago, but his work had been so… Catalan, I think it was, published a book of his called The Man in (From) Harlem and that was a fantastic book. No erotica whatsoever. It was just a drama about the situation in Harlem. And so, I was a big Crepax fan, but most of the big historic European cartoonists, I think, have been published here, or are being published here.

Jim:       Not European, but I want to see (Alberto) Breccia get a full publishing of everything.

Groth:   Oh, yeah, well he is. We’re publishing all of his work.

Jim:       He’s probably my favorite.

Groth:   Well, he is a genius. Stylistically, he’s breathtaking because he doesn’t have one style, he has multiple styles. I mean he is so… Words fail me. I mean, he’s just so amazing. And every single book he does is so stylistically distinctive. He is masterful, the works in themselves, each individual work, is extraordinary. So, far we’ve published Perramus, and we’ve published Mort Cinder. And we have The Eternaut 1969.

Jim:       Can’t wait for that.

Alex:      Yeah.

Jim:       Alex like gave me the German copy translation, so I actually have the work, but not in English.

Groth:   Oh, you do. Yeah.

Alex:      I like both Eternauts. Although there are some stuffs after, but that ’69, it’s not as long as the first one, but it’s beautiful panels. And I actually had to type it in German to English in Google just to kind of get what was going on, but it’s good.

Groth:   But soon you will.

Alex:      Yeah, exactly.

Groth:   I mean, Breccia’s an artist that… We published Perramus in the ‘80s. Kim spearheaded that. We published four issues of Perramus, I think they were 48-page magazines. And here’s a funny little story. So, I wanted to publish the whole book Perramus, and I’d read our own four-issues series of Perramus when we published it in the ‘80s. And so anyway, we got the license to publish all of Alberto Breccia’s work. So, Perramus is on the list, I thought, “Okay, good. We’ll publish Perramus. It’s already translated.” Kim translated it when we published it in the ‘80s, and what he translated was about 180 pages. So, I’m digging in, and doing my Breccia research, and I discover, it’s only one third of the book.

[chuckle]

And I never knew that. I assumed Kim knew that, but never told me. And I don’t know why we didn’t publish the rest of it, maybe wasn’t selling that well. But Kim had his own reasons. But I thought it was the whole book and it wasn’t the whole book. So, we had, of course, to re-translate the entire books. We had not had the head start, I thought we did. But I’m excited about Breccia, but I’m not sure there’s anyone else of his comparable stature that’s out there. I’d love people to drop me a line let me know.

And right now, we’re looking at more contemporary work. I mean we publish cartoonist Manuel Fiore; we publish Giuppe, a lot of European cartoonists that we’re publishing, a couple of South American cartoonists, of course, a very slim but selective Manga line.

Jim:       What’s the one, Wandering Son?

Groth:   Wandering Son. Yes.

Jim:       I have those. I like those quite a bit. They’re very good.

Groth:   Eight volumes, yes.

Jim:       Well, I could do this all day.

Alex:      I want to ask some money questions, since I’m relegated as the porn money person…

[chuckle]

But I want to continue the theme a little, so in 1977, I read a couple like landmarks as far as Fantagraphics was about to fall apart, and then money came in to basically save the company. So, in ’77, Kim Thompson came in, using his inheritance to keep the money afloat. In 2003, Fantagraphics almost went out of business, a former employee said, it was financially disorganized. And then fans contributed with a lot of orders to get it back up into the positives. Then Kim Thompson died in 2013, there’s a void at Fantagraphics. And Kickstarter brought in 150,000 into the company.

First, are these correct statements, and then second, is that just kind of always a concern? And is this a repeating thing that you just always have to do? And that fans have supported you. What’s know what your take on all that?

Groth:   I think it was all more or less correct. I mean I’d love to add some nuance, but you miss about two dozen other crises.

[01:00:03]

Alex:      Right. There’s a lot.

Groth:   It’s always been difficult. It got a lot easier when we started publishing Peanuts. Peanuts was a regularly published book, and that helped us lot. Prior to that, it was just economically debilitating. We were always under the gun. We would go for a year or maybe two years without suffering any financial problems, but then we would always hit a wall and we always had to figure out something to do to make enough money to keep going. The ones you mentioned we’re probably just the most acute financial crises.

Alex:      Yeah, sudden and then there’s a sudden fix.

Groth:   Because there were numerous, numerous financial problems… You have to understand that neither Kim nor I were business people. We didn’t have a clue about business. It was all by the seat of our pants. We had to learn how to do this. I had to learn how to read a P&L statement. I had to learn cash flow. It was all intuitive, and we never had any master plan. And I think Kim and I were both temperamentally unsuited to be in a position of business. But it was the only way we could fulfill what we wanted to do. We wanted… like originally, I mean, Kim came on after The Comics Journal started but he was fully on board. And we wanted to create this magazine of criticism and serious journalism, and the only way we could do it is by creating it ourselves. That meant creating a business.

Alex:      Are you more of a business person now than you were?

Groth:   Yeah, if nothing else by dent of the fact that I’ve done it for so long, and I can navigate these difficulties.

Alex:      Yeah. So, just out of necessity, you’ve had to kind of become more the business person that used to be.

Groth:   Yeah, it’s by necessity. I don’t love it. So, people love business, and I’m not one of those.

Alex:      Last question from me, that I have is, I’ve talked to other people who published magazines with interviews, and I’ve heard of stories that they would… Let’s say tape, and because they didn’t have enough tapes, they would tape over someone else’s interview with another person’s interview just so they can get the transcript in. Do you actually have every audio taped interview that you’ve done? Or most of them?

Groth:   We have most of them. There might have been a few that have been lost, but we have hundreds and hundreds of tapes.

Alex:      What do you plan on doing with all those?

Groth:   Well, we’re digitizing them now.

Alex:      Okay, so you are doing that.

Groth:   But it’s a long process, and it’s a lot of labor, and we have limited resources. So, it’s a very slow process. It stops and starts, and stops, and starts. Yeah, we’re just keeping them. I mean we’re keeping them safe, and we are digitizing them.

Alex:      Have any like documenter people ever approached you about using any of that footage for their own means?

Groth:   Yeah. Yeah, someone who’s doing a documentary in Charles Schulz’ as matter of fact, just now, has my interview with Sparky. He’s going through it to see if they want to use anything.

Alex:      I see. So, then you’re not necessarily against that.

Groth:   Oh no, no. Not at all. I don’t know… I’d like these to be available at some point. I don’t know how or through what mechanism, but…

Alex:      Is it all cassette tape then?

Groth:   Well, it is as of a few years ago. Let me see, Tomi Ungerer is the first artist that I interviewed digitally.

Alex:      Okay yeah, as far as new interviews are digital, yeah. Sure.

Groth:   Every previous interview is on cassette tape.

Alex:      Yeah, cassette tape, which is hard to digitize. And they probably don’t sound so good now. Right?

Groth:   Well they don’t sound bad. I mean they sound okay.

Alex:      I see.

Groth:   I would often interview people either in their office, or in their studios, so the tape recorder would be right there. Or over the phone, which is even better. I would have a mechanism, some old-fashioned mechanism, where I plug it directly into the phone. The sound quality really isn’t bad.

Alex:      Do you charge a fee for people using them? Or is it just kind of depending on the project.

Groth:   Yeah. Well, it does depend on the project. I’d play it by ear, I mean if the documentary had some money behind it I would charge something. If it was just some poor schlub in his garage putting something together, I wouldn’t.

I thought you were going to ask me if I actually taped accidentally over interviews.

Alex:      Well, yeah. Well, that’s why I was asking if you actually had. But it sounds like, you didn’t do that too often.

Groth:   I’ve actually done this, while interviewing the person.

Alex:      Like you just taped over something you just recorded?

Groth:   I interviewed Art Spiegelman once, in his studio. And you know how you flip over a cassette tape?

Alex:      Yeah.

Groth:   Well, I flipped it over twice.

[chuckles]

Jim:       Oh, no.

Groth:   I was so fucking frustrated, and pissed. And we were going… We had a head of steam, and when Art and I get talking, we were just talking. And I flipped it over, talking, flipped it over again. Then about 10 minutes into it, something triggers in my brain and I go, “Oh, shit.”

Alex:      [chuckle] This was during the interview, when you realized…

Groth:   During the interview. I mean, it’s more than 10 minutes. It was like maybe be 20 or 30 minutes into it. I realized it, and I said, “Oh, fuck. I can’t believe I did this.” And so, we actually tried to reconstruct what we talked about.

Alex:      Oh, that’s nice of him to play ball like that.

Groth:   I’ve had bigger nightmares though. I’ve interviewed people where the tape didn’t turn out at all. Nothing. Oh my god, I mean it’d be like taping this goddamn thing, and then going back, and like looking at a blank screen.

[01:05:04]

Alex:      Like I forgot to hit the record button. How horrible would that have been?

Groth:   Yeah. Yeah, right.

[chuckle]

Alex:      But you’d be cool. We’d go another five hours. You’re cool. You understand what it’s like.

Groth:   I’ll be here next Sunday.

[chuckle]

I did that with Burne Hogarth. You know who Burne Hogarth is?

Alex:      Yeah, of course. Tarzan and his school, and all sorts of things.

Groth:   Well, Burne was a fucking force of nature. He was widely hated in comics.

Alex:      Why?

Groth:   Well, because of that. Because he was just so… He was like a conversational juggernaut. I mean he would just run right over you. And most people in comics, and most people in his generation, I mean they’re kind of ‘get along’ kind of people. They like easy chats and shop talk. And he would just expound on ideas and force you to answer questions. He would demand that you explain your position on a certain matter, and most cartoonist of that generation didn’t even know what the fuck he was talking about. He would go into art history and… He was just too much. He was just too much for most people.

So, I did a long interview with Burne… And he was one of my close friends. He became one of my close friends… I was on the phone; I was in Seattle; he was in LA. And I did like a two hour, two-and-a-half-hour interview with him. And interviewing Burne was like wrestling an alligator. I mean it was just you had to be constantly on top of him. You had to be aware of what he was saying, and you had to ask him a pertinent question. And so, when you get off the phone, after like two and a half hours with Burne, you’re like exhausted.

So, I gave the tape to our transcriber, and I’ll never forget it. I don’t know if we had email back then, but she called me and she said, “Tapes’ blank. Nothing on it.

Alex:      Oh my god.

Groth:   I said, “It can’t be… Did you fast forward? Did you turn it over?” “Yeah, tried both tapes.” And so, I didn’t hit the switch. There’s a little switch… There’s a play switch and a tape switch on this little mechanism, and I guess I just didn’t hit the right goddamn switch. So I was so fucking demoralized.

Alex:      Yeah, that would just kill me.

Jim:       That’s horrible.

Groth:   Like what do you do?… So, I couldn’t do anything, but I had to call him and tell him. I didn’t know he was going to react. He’s a very emotional guy. But he reacted as well as you could possibly hope for. Called him up and I said, “Burne, I got terrible news”, I said, “The last interview we did,” he said, “Yeah?” “It didn’t take. There’s like no recording. And I’m really sorry. I don’t know what to say.” There was a pause and he said, “Well, goddamn it, let’s do it again.”

Alex:      Wow, that’s awesome.

Jim:       Oh, that’s great.

Groth:   And it was so great… And then you know how if you do that, the second interview isn’t as good because the guy’s talked out, like all the passion away… It was just as good.

Alex:      Yeah, that’s awesome.

Groth:   It was like he’d never given the first interview.

Alex:      Maybe better because you were anticipating more stuff. Right?

Groth:   Maybe I was better. But I was worried that he was going to go through the same stories about the school of visual arts, and this and that. It was as if he’d never spoken the same thing like a week earlier. I mean he was just as passionate and just as excited about it.

Alex:      Oh, that’s awesome. The passion was just as good. That’s the difference. Yeah.

Jim:       On the artist that I wish we’d get a full treatment…

Groth:   Yeah.

Jim:       Carlos Giménez. I would like to see all of his.

Groth:   Yeah. The Spanish cartoonist, yeah.

Jim:       And in terms of Spanish comics, and you won’t be able to see this either but I’m holding up Spanish Fever. You were talking about the new books that you published, with new material.

Groth:   Yep.

Jim:       This was a real treat. I enjoyed that tremendously.

Groth:   Oh, I’m so glad. That was like a sampler of Spanish cartoonists, yeah.

Jim:       Yeah, and stuff that you wouldn’t see anywhere else. I mean it’s not like that’s going to get a lot of publication anywhere that was a great book. I encourage more of that kind of thing.

Groth:   That’s the hardest to sell.

Jim:       I’m sure.

Groth:   Omnibuses of that. Now, Carlos Giménez, does his work read as well as it looks? Because I don’t know.

Jim:       Certainly, the stuff that almost looks like Schulz, that’s the Peanuts characters in the Spanish orphanages, that’s really powerful stuff.

Groth:   Okay.

Jim:       I read one volume of that that was published a few years ago. I was just amazed by how strong that was. I can’t speak for his other stuff apart from the artistry of it.

Groth:   Right. Because that’s my problem, which wasn’t Kim’s problem, because I can’t read the stuff. So, I have to either go by my gut, how it looks, how dense and interesting the storytelling is, or I have to have recommendations from people who have read it. We have a really good track record doing it that way, but Kim could actually read them. I can’t do that.

Jim:       I was going to ask you, just how crippling is it to not have him? And is it still fun even now? Is it hard?

Groth:   Yeah, no, it’s good. Eric Reynolds is our associate publisher. He does a fantastic job. He’s always on the lookout. He buys half of our books. He’s probably closer to the younger generation of cartoonists, on what they’re doing, than I am. Since, I’m falling into decrepitude I pay attention less to what young cartoonists are doing, even though I try my best. But he procures both foreign material and domestic material.

[01:10:02]

And he edits now, which you’re probably are aware of. So, he’s in touch with a lot of contemporary cartoonists. So no, I mean, the last five years has actually been a remarkably smooth-running operation. And I don’t really know what specifically to attribute that to. I’d like to say it’s wisdom, but I’m sure that’s not the case. But maybe we finally got our act together and we’re publishing just the right mix of books that can sustain us commercially. And I think our probably the best books we’ve ever published. I truly think that we’re publishing the best work in the history of the company.

Jim:       Which leads me to one other question, which is packaging. Because the difference between you, and I’m not going to name other names, but other people that are putting out a lot of product, what’s your philosophy about the care that you are putting into the packaging? Whether it’s the women’s comics, or the Wally Wood thing, or the foreign materials, everything is so perfectly packaged. Is that a selling point? Is that a strategy? Is it a matter of personal pride?

Groth:   I’m not sure if it’s a selling point. I hate to say that. It’s a matter of personal pride. It’s a matter that we respect these artists well enough to create packages that serve their work. In terms of design, the quality of the production, the paper, the amount of attention that we put into creating a format that is perfectly suited to the work itself.

To that, I really have to credit our design department. We have just wonderful designers. Jacob Cubbie, leads that department; we have three other designers. They all care deeply about what they do. They all care deeply about comics. They know comics. And a lot of this credit is theirs. They will come to me, I’ll assign a book, and invariably, every one of them will come back to me and say, “Well, this is how I see the book. It should be a little bit larger than you’re anticipating… or should be smaller. We should do something special with the hard cover.” They’ll come up with printing designs that I would never have thought of, but that are perfectly in harmony with the work itself.

One of you talked about the earlier Eternaut

Jim:       That was just…

Alex:      Yeah, I love that.

Groth:   just perfect.

Jim:       It’s fantastic.

Groth:   So, it’s just important to us that our books are beautifully designed and we take a lot of pride in doing that.

Jim:       My only wish would be that, whether it’s in another podcast or if it’s just at a Con somewhere, but I would like an hour to talk movies with you.

Groth:   Oh yeah, well, you know I’m as passionate about movies, as I am about comics. Maybe even more, so…

Jim:       Oh, I could talk for an hour just about the archers in Michael Bell films. We’d be okay.

Groth:   the archers, yeah, yeah.

Jim:       Let’s try to do that at some point.

Groth:   I would love to. To bring it full circle, you can cut it off at this point, but I saw Steranko at a san Diego Con. At this point, I’ve nothing against the guy, I mean he’d be kind of like a monster to me for a while, but we were talking, we were having a weirdly civilized conversation in a hotel lobby and I said, “Jim, we should do an interview.” And he said, “Oh yeah, that’d be a great idea.” I said, “All right, I’ll give you a call.”

So, of course, I call. Several times. No answer. I got the message. But I would love to call and you know, maybe just talk about movies.

Alex:      Why do you think that is? Jim had brought up, possibly meeting, and doing something… Why do you think it hasn’t happened? what do you think is going on as far as that?

Groth:   We had kind of had a falling out, and I think it just sticks in his craw, and he probably doesn’t want to talk to me outside of the hotel lobby.

Alex:      Are you talking about the falling out in 1973, when you left? Or are you talking about another one?

Groth:   Well, I’m talking another one… That wasn’t too terrible. I just left. There was tension in the air, but we really didn’t have a definitive falling out. I think he knew I had to go, and I knew I had to go. But then a couple years later… You actually read from this, when you were reading snippets from The Comics Journal. It might have been in 1977. We did a little expose on Mediascene, where they published an article. It was unbelievable. It was just word for word, stolen from another source.

Alex:      By Joel Thingvall?

Groth:   Yes, how in the hell did you remember that name?

Alex:      My memory is kind of indexed like that.

Groth:   Okay. That’s good. But he was a writer who had nothing to do with comics, I don’t think.

Alex:      Right.

Groth:   And it was from a newspaper in Pittsburgh, or Cleveland, or something. So anyway, Mediascene just stole it; word for word and published it in Mediascene. So, we found this, and we were muckraking. So, we had to do a piece on it, so I called up Jim. I said, “Jim, what’s with this?” And I sent him proof of it, and I said, “There’s a writer out there who’s upset.” And Jim just defended it. I mean, it was unbelievable.

Instead of saying, “There’s a big fucking mistake. We shouldn’t have done this. I’m going to talk to the writer who did this. This is not the way I produce a magazine.” My recollection is, that he just defended it or poo-pooed it, as if it does make any difference.

[01:15:01]

And so, then we did proceed to write that expose. And Mike Catron in his Woodward and Bernstein mode wrote the factual article, and I wrote the analytical opinion piece about it. I suspect it’s that, that sticks in Jim’s memory. I guess I also reviewed Chandler, now that I think about it.

Alex:      And tell me about that.

Groth:   That wasn’t pretty. I tend forget.

Alex:      And then you reviewed Chandler, did he respond to you about that or no?

Groth:   No.

Alex:      So, this is just that you put it out there, and maybe that’s one of the things.

Groth:   Yeah, and as I recall, it was a very extensive review. So, yeah, these is accumulated things.

Jim:       So, Alex, I can’t speak for you. But I want to say it was a little bit intimidating interviewing an interviewer of the reputation and caliber.

Alex:      Yeah.

Jim:       That Gary has given us over the years.

Alex:      Well, because a lot of our format, we were influenced and inspired by a lot of your interviews, Gary; that you’ve done over decades.

Groth:   Well, thanks.

Alex:      It’s clearly an aspect of what we’re doing. It’s definitely been a pleasure for me for all sorts of reasons. And in a weird way, I mean although me and Jim did some interviews before like when we started, I will say though that I felt an odd kinship to your Fantastic Fanzine interview of Steranko, because when I interviewed him, I felt like, “Oh, wow. Okay.” Because I just met him at the bar, but we started talking about Bill Finger, and random people, like the quality comics, and Eisner, and the shop he had, whatever. He just liked that someone my age even knew about that.

And then suddenly, we were looking at original art in his room, and I go, “Why don’t we do an interview?” He’s like, “Okay? Well let’s do it.” And the way we did it, and the way we hung out in his room for those four, five hours to like six, seven. And after, I was like, “Okay, I can do this.” And there was something about that.

Then artistically, he just said… He watched some of my YouTube videos… He like my Houdini one a lot, and he said, “I like that you’re moving the panels around, but have you thought about moving the characters within the panels?” And then I never thought about that, and then it started me off on all this animation stuff I did.

He had this positive thing, and when I read your Fantastic Fanzine, I was like, I kind of felt the kinship with what you guys did in that interview, so I look up to you a lot.

Groth:   Well, I appreciate that. It’s such an embarrassing interview, in retrospect. I reread it, I mean I didn’t reread the whole thing, I just kind of skimmed it… My questions were so dopey.

Alex:      Well you were a kid. But I mean, you had this adoration for him which was interesting. And then obviously, that changes with. But I read that, and then just looking into your interview style in The Comic Journal. All that and just reading all that, I felt a connection to a lot of it.

Groth:   Well that’s really great. That really great. Yeah, you don’t you know when you’re doing these… When I was interviewing all these people… And holy shit, I was interviewing a lot of people. I don’t even know how I did it. I look back, I’d interview like eight artists a year and they’d be 50,000-word interviews. I would, obviously, have read all of the books, and I was doing everything else on top of that. I like marvel at my productivity.

But when you’re doing it, you’re so in the moment that you don’t know that you’re doing it that it’s going to be important 30 years from now or 40 years from now…

Alex:      Oh, it totally is. Jim was reading that stuff in real time. I read that stuff looking back at it.

Groth:   Yeah, no, I’m glad. I mean like Steranko’s such a blowhard, but I’m glad you interviewed him. I’m glad you got all these on the record. I think that’s important.

Jim:       I get what you’re saying about the prep. If I’d prepared for court the way that I’d prepare for these interviews, I would be of something to be reckoned with.

[chuckles]

Alex:      All right. Well, Jim, any further questions, your Honor?

Jim:       Nope. I’m going to let it go.

Alex:      This has been a really fun episode of the Comic Book Historians Podcast with publisher, historian, virtual pornographer, Gary Groth. Thanks so much. You have been so generous of your time. Jim and I really respect your work from many levels. Thank you so much for being here today.

Groth:      Well, thanks.

[01:18:58]

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