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:
Alex Grand and co-host Jim Thompson interview comic artist, Ron Frenz discussing his childhood in Pittsburgh, his favorite comics as a kid, meeting Marie Severin at a local convention, reading How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by John Buscema, giving art samples to Jim Shooter at a later convention, his work in animation working on the Creepshow 1982 film, starting work at Marvel on Ka-Zar with Bruce Jones and Louise Jones, Star Wars with Tom Palmer, Marvel Team Up with Tom DeFalco and the beginning of his comics career on Spider-Man, Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco, working under editor Danny Fingeroth and then Jim Owsley, co-creating characters like Black Fox and Puma, the circumstances of leaving Spidey, and ending up with The Mighty Thor for 5 years co-creating a pantheon of characters and places, with Tom DeFalco co-creating characters like Mongoose, Quicksand, Earthforce, Code Blue, the Celtic Gods, Stellaris, the New Warriors, starting up and ending Thunderstrike amidst the Marvel Bankruptcy, leaving Marvel to work on Superman/Blue with Dan Jurgens, co-creating Spider-Girl and the MC2 Universe, making the second Thunderstrike volume, drawing for Outdoors life and his current project, The Blue Baron inked by the legendary Sal Buscema.
🎬 Edited & Produced by Alex Grand, ©2021 Comic Book Historians Music – Standard License. Images ©Respective Copyright holders. Images used for academic purposes only.
Ron Frenz Biographical Interview
📜 Video chapters
00:00:00 Welcoming Ron Frenz
00:00:31 Family background
00:03:45 Early reading comics
00:06:05 Paying attention to the artists
00:08:35 Archie Comics
00:10:06 When you wanted to work for Marvel?
00:11:43 Favorite Spider-Man artist, Romita?
00:13:18 Creeper, and Hawk and Dove?
00:15:44 Ditko vs Romita?
00:17:00 Steve Ditko when he went to DC?
00:18:42 Paying attention to the inkers?
00:19:19 Who inked Jack Kirby the best?
00:20:59 Don Heck
00:22:31 Gene Colan, Tomb of Dracula
00:23:36 Art Institute of Pittsburgh
00:25:33 Marie Severin, Jim Shooter
00:29:10 How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way | Crystaar Magazine
00:32:01 Anavision, Creepshow | Jack Kamen
00:35:17 Getting into Marvel, Louise Jones | Ka-Zar 17
00:39:26 King Conan 12
00:41:10 Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Marvel Saga
00:44:13 Tom Palmer
00:45:21 Drawing superheroes genre
00:46:21 Bill Mantlo, Jo Duffy
00:47:56 Jack of Hearts
00:48:35 Ka-Zar & Spidey Team-Up, Tom Defalco
00:49:55 Leaving Anavision
00:51:04 Fill-in to regular
00:53:45 The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man | Terry Austin
00:57:34 Tom Defalco
01:00:03 Danny Fingeroth
01:03:10 Spider-Man 252, black costume
01:05:36 Co-creating characters with Tom Defalco
01:10:09 Silver Sable | Marilyn Monroe
01:11:53 Black Fox
01:12:24 Were there new characters’ agreement?
01:12:52 Creating new characters
01:15:37 DeFalco on Spider-Man
01:17:00 Spider-Man, Annual 18 ~1984
01:17:59 Spidey versus Firelord
01:20:49 X-Factor covers
01:23:24 Inkers: Klaus Janson, Brett Breeding, Bob McLeod, Bob Layton
01:26:08 Inkers not good on your work?
01:27:32 Josef Rubinstein
01:29:48 Ideal inker on your full pencils
01:31:36 Jim Owsley editor on Spider-Man titles
01:35:02 Fanatical about Spider-Man
01:37:00 Jim Owsley came back to Marvel…
01:39:00 Got fired off the Spider-Man books
01:41:01 Moved to Thor title ~1987 | Jo Duffy
01:43:06 Sal Buscema
01:45:05 Thor: Jack Kirby – Stan Lee run
01:48:48 Thor 388
01:50:29 Brainstorming on a lot of characters
01:51:59 Mongoose and Cobra
01:55:29 Co-creating the New Warriors
01:58:53 Evolving Eric Masterson, Thunderstrike 1993
02:01:59 The only problem was with the readers…
02:03:40 Image revolution | Sales of Thunderstrike
02:07:17 Were you frustrated by Heroes Reborn?
02:08:09 Image guys were at peak power, was there pressure?
02:10:17 Last days at Marvel?
02:11:32 Archie Goodwin, Mark Gruenwald
02:15:58 DC vs Marvel different
02:18:44 Superman Red/Superman Blue | Glenn Whitmore
02:20:57 Dan Jurgens
02:22:49 Bring DeFalco over to DC, didn’t you?
02:23:28 MC2 Series
02:24:08 A-Next: Kevin Masterson, Nova
02:26:08 Back on Spider-Girl | Bill Jemas
02:29:19 Spider-Girl for 12 years
02:31:19 Thunderstrike Vol-2
02:34:35 The New 52, Superboy
02:38:32 Fantastic illustrators out there than ever before
02:39:20 My gateway into Marvel Universe
02:40:36 Blue Baron, The Heroes Union | Sitcoms
02:42:33 Wrapping Up
#RonFrenz #StarWars #SpiderGirl #Thor #Spider-Man #ComicBookHistorians
#CBHInterviews #ComicHistorianInterviews #CBHPodcast #CBH
Transcript (editing in progress):
Alex: All right. Welcome back to the Comic Book Historians Podcast, with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Today we have a very special guest, Mr. Ron Frenz, who’s been a comic artist since the early 1980s. Working with Marvel Comics, DC Comics, as well as various independent comics. Ron, thank you so much for joining us today.
Frenz: It is my pleasure to be here with both of you. Thank you very much.
Alex: Thanks. Ron, we’re going to kind of jump back and forth. Jim’s going to start on your early years. So, take it away, Jim.
Jim: Okay. So, Ron, you were born in February 1960, is that right?
Frenz: [chuckle] Boy, when you said early years, you’re not kidding, are you? Yes, I was born in a small 800-watt radio station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania… Yes, February first, 1960, that’s when it all started. Yes.
Jim: So, you and I were born within two months of each other. I’m going to be curious about what you were reading when I was reading, and things like that.
Jim: Now, you live in Bellevue?
Frenz: Yeah. I actually live a hop, skip and a jump from the hospital I was born in. I grew up in the north hills of Pittsburgh, 37 years ago, moved to a burrow called Bellevue. Which is hilarious when you work for people from New York, since Bellevue is a psychiatric hospital in New York.
Jim: Oh, sure.
Frenz: So, if you ever watch Barney Miller, they always talk about taking all the nut cases to Bellevue. So, if you’re working for people in an office in New York City, and you say you live in Bellevue, they love it.
But anyway, yeah, I’ve been living here my entire life, and I love it around here. I’ve thought about moving, more than once, but pretty much always came back around. Home is home.
Jim: And your father was a paper salesman?
Frenz: Yes, he was a salesman. He worked in paper products for decades. Actually, before he retired, he took a job with my brother’s home heating, fuel and oil company, and was selling home heating product and lubricants. But it was all selling. Yeah, he was a travelling salesman, basically. He had a fairly large area in West Virginia, and Ohio, and Pittsburgh.
We always had reams of paper around the house to draw on. And I think that certainly helped. I never had to draw on the walls, you know, that kind of thing, so yes. And my mom was a homemaker.
Jim: Did you ever go out on the road with him?
Frenz: No. I went to the office with him a few times, and made some runs with him when I was a real young kid. He would do that occasionally, when we had a day off from school or something. He was an incredibly personable guy. When I was growing up, he would always [chuckle]… He had a knack for calling people by nicknames. He would call people Skip or Pete. And when I was a young kid, I thought my dad knew everybody, until I started to realize, “Wait a minute. Everybody’s name is Skip or Pete?” You know, that kind of thing.
Jim: Now, that’s funny.
Frenz: Everybody thinks it’s about their dad, but he was one of a kind. He was a very personable guy and very successful as a salesman. So, yeah.
Jim: You mentioned your brother, you had a brother that was three years older than you. Was he kind of a launching pad for you to get interested in comics early?
Frenz: I would say that was probably the case. I actually have two older brothers, and a younger sister. And the oldest brother is 13 years older than I am. He’s virtually in a different generation. But yes, the brother, Randall, who’s three years older, that first comic book that I remember having around the house, that World’s Finest that I’ve talked about on my Facebook page, was a 1964 comic. I would have only been four years old; he would have been seven. So, I’m thinking he was responsible for bringing it into the house, more than I.
So, yes, I think we shared a passion for comics, but I would have to give him the nod on that. I would think my first exposure to comics were because of books that he was asking for, and not myself. Yeah.
Jim: Was there a point where he stopped reading comics and you kept reading them?
Frenz: I don’t think so. When he went off to college, I remember he took most of our DCs and I kept the Marvels. Because like a lot of kids, we started out on DCs, and discovered Marvel in the late ‘60s… Yeah, late ‘60s because I think my first exposure was probably the Spider-Man cartoon. It was in syndication in the mornings, and I fell in love with Spider-Man, and wanted to track down the comics, and the old Marvel superhero cartoons, and things like that.
There was a kid in our neighborhood that we would trade comics with, and he was already in the Marvels. So, I would get some Ditko reprints and everything, through that association.
Jim: Have you gone back and looked at those Spider-Man cartoons? Because once they bring in Ralph Bakshi, they get pretty crazy.
Frenz: They got really crazy. When they went in to syndication in the afternoons when I was in… I would probably have been about 14, 15. They were back in syndication in the afternoons, and that was when I realized, that there was that whole season that was more adapted from the comic books, and everything. The Grantray-Lawrence episodes before they handed it over to Bakshi.
I’ll be honest, the biggest memory I had from seeing them, in the mornings, in syndication was the Bakshi stuff. It was like the Origin cartoons, and some of the early ones with the King Pin and stuff. That was kind of what my memory was. So, it was really fun rediscovering that first season of episodes, and the nostalgia overwhelms me anytime I watch those. They’re wonderful. They’re weird but wonderful.
Jim: Yep. Absolutely. How old were you when you started to notice, with the comics… We’re you paying attention to the artist, or the artwork, and noticing the differences between different people?
Frenz: Almost immediately, I think, and of course my tastes have broadened since, but I remember, even as a kid, we were always disappointed when a Superman or an action comic had a Curt Swan cover but Wayne Boring inside art. We were recognizing the differences very early on. Of course, DC didn’t put credits.
I fell in love with the Aquaman cartoon in 1967 or eight, and so I was seeking out Aquaman comic books, and Nick Cardi was doing it at the time. I fell in love with Nick Cardi, almost immediately.
Jim: Oh, those covers during that period are just incredible.
Frenz: Yeah. And so, I was like nuts about Cardy. I mean, yeah… Once we discovered Marvel, and credits, and all of that, I knew I had my favorites, and would seek books out based on who was working on them and things. Yeah. Early on, we started when comics were 12 cents. It went from 12 cents to 15 cents, to 25 to 20, back up to 25. During that period of time, my brother and I, we were going to three different places, and spinning the spinner rack, and buying pretty much, every Marvel and DC comic.
Because we could afford to do that. I mean our dad was willing to. Our allowance was basically, that he would buy our comics every week. So that worked out great. We never had to… I mean, once they started to go up in price and… And certainly, once I was working in the industry, it was getting… Back in the days when they send comps and everything… But yeah, we were pretty abreast of everything. We didn’t really read war comics or westerns, as much.
At one point, I remember being of an age where I was embarrassed to buy romance comics, because Marvel was reprinting this stuff and it was John Buscema inked by John Romita, and Gene Colan inked by Sal Buscema. It was all these wonderful art team that you didn’t see on the superheroes, were doing these romance comics. And yet I was completely mortified to be buying a romance comic, like anybody cared, you know, that kind of thing.
Jim: Oh, I was buying Millie the Model. I was buying everything Marvel produced, the westerns, all of it.
Frenz: I wouldn’t… I can’t cop to that. Though I did become an Archie fan, and I’ll tell you, one of the things that prompted that was, when I was a kid, and I was drawing superheroes, I came to realize, that if I really wanted to do this for a living, I had to get better at backgrounds, I had to get better at cars, and horses. And I had to get better at drawing women. So, I was looking at a lot of Don Heck, and then I discovered the Archie Comics, and Dan DeCarlo, Harry Lucey, and guys like that who were fantastic at drawing women and keeping it simple. So, I started to pursue a bunch of back issue Archies just to learn how to draw girls.
Jim: I got hooked on Little Archie, and recognized just how fun that was. And then I just bought everything Archie had too.
Frenz: Well, I was never into little Archie. Even with the Archie stuff, I kind of have to cop to the cartoon helping to sell that too because in the late ‘60’s there was an Archie cartoon that kind of captured the feel of the Archie books at the time.
Jim: Sugar, Sugar.
Frenz: Yeah! Absolutely… When I was working on the Archie stuff within the last few years, it was always an interesting moment for me because I always kind of considered Archie, part of the big three. And when I was working on those couple of Archie stories, with Tom DeFalco, and I’d be sitting and listening to classic radio, and Sugar, Sugar would come on… It was one of those little moments that you know, it’s like, “That’s just so cool. I’m working on an Archie thing and the thing, and the sound from the… Gosh…” It was good. Neat… It was neat.
Jim: So how old were you when you decided you wanted to work for Marvel when you grew up, and draw Spider-Man?
Frenz: Pretty much upon… I drew constantly, so it was no surprise to anybody. By the time I was six or seven. By the time I’ve discovered Spider-Man, I would tell people that that’s what I wanted to do when I grow up. “I wanted to grow up, work for Marvel Comics, and draw Spider-Man.”
Jim: And what did you brother and your father say? Did they laugh or were they like, “Yeah, his good enough, maybe he will.”?
Frenz: My brother was always incredibly supportive, even when I didn’t really deserve it. He would sit and blow sunshine up my behind, that even at the time, I remember going, “Well he’s being very kind.” I was always pretty… I had an innate ability, I guess, to be pretty objective about my stuff. So, when I would try to copy something, or when I would try to emulate somebody’s style, my brother would be going, “Whoa, if that artist walked in here right now, he’d wonder, when did I draw that?” And I knew, he was being too kind.
Frenz: I knew he was just being very supportive.
My dad, I don’t know what he thought about it. My mom was always incredibly supportive. My mom, on some level understood from very, very early on that somebody was getting paid to draw these things. They weren’t being produced for free… [chuckle] So she never… I never really had to suffer through criticism or doubts, or things like a lot of other illustrators have. I’ve heard the stories, and I was very fortunate. I never had to live with people telling me it was a pipe dream or anything like that.
Jim: When Spider-Man became your favorite character, who was drawing him at the time, Romita?
Frenz: Yeah. By the time I was buying new issues off-the-rack, it was Romita. I discovered Ditko in some of the reprints that I traded for with our neighbor’s stuff. And recognized immediately that a lot of the stuff from the old ’67 cartoon was taken off of Romita. A lot of the head shots and everything… I’m sorry, Ditko, were taken off of Ditko. I went, “Oh, that’s where they got that stuff.”
Jim: Oh, sure.
Frenz: But Romita was my first regular monthly exposure to Spider-Man. Yeah, it was in the 60s, the numbering of the books, it was like the late 60s. I remember the first one, I think the first Spider-Man I bought off-the-rack, new, was O Bitter Victory!, where King Pin is swinging Spider-Man around by his ankles, on the cover.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Frenz: I think it was my first off-the-rack brand-new Spider-Man book, and just never looked back. Just loved every minute of it.
Jim: Those Romita covers, during his actual run, are really, really strong. I love some of those.
Frenz: They just… They went in your eyes and blew out the back of your head. That’s all there was to it.
Alex: Ha! That’s true.
Frenz: I was just completely, completely obsessed by seeing Romita, and Kirby, and Buscema, both Buscemas. I just I became probably as close to a Marvel zombie as you could find at the time. I was still enjoying DC stuff, especially Nick Cardi stuff. But yeah, I became a real Marvel devotee, yeah.
Jim: When Ditko went over to… Because I wasn’t aware of Ditko while he was at Marvel so much, until I was later exposed to Doctor Strange and stuff. But I was reading Creeper, and Hawk and Dove in real time, when they went over. Were you following that stuff?
Frenz: No. Unfortunately, I wasn’t, at the time. I would see the ads for Creeper, and Hawk and Dove in some of the more mainstream DC stuff I was reading. We’re already aware of Ditko on Doctor Strange because we got a whole bunch of the Marvel Tales giants, 25 cent Marvel Tales giants that ran Doctor Strange stuff. My brother, especially Rand, was deeply in to Doctor Strange. Still to this day, he is. It’s still one of his favorite characters.
So, we were aware of that Ditko stuff there through the reprints. And when he went over to DC, we missed Creeper almost completely. Hawk and the Dove, I was aware of through Teen Titans. I was always following Teen Titans, again, because of Nick Cardi. But I was aware when Ditko was doing Stalker, and some of that other stuff. There was a DC 1st Issue Special, where they tried to revive the Creeper, where he fought some lame villain called Firebug or Firefly, or something like that.
Jim: Yeah, and it just wasn’t the same.
Frenz: No. They couldn’t capture the same magic. I have since read the original Creeper run… It’s just ridiculously cool and weird, and wonderful. I love the characters.
Jim: Yeah, that first issue was just, that showcase issue, was just amazing, the origin story.
Frenz: Well, DeFalco and I were discussing doing a Creeper reboot with a DC editor.
But it was at a time when DC editorial was not interested in doing anything with the Creeper. It was right before they did that bizarre thing where he was like a Japanese or Chinese alcohol spirit or some stupid thing.
Jim: Oh. Yeah. That was awful.
Frenz: It was right before they did that in Katana, that we were told there was absolutely, positively no interest in doing anything with the Creeper. And then like a month later this Creeper shows up in Katana, and it’s like, “What are you people doing?”
We had some ideas that… They would have deviated from the original Ditko, but I was very interested in keeping as much of the Ditko aesthetic as possible.
Alex: Uh-hmm. Did you like the Ditko as much as the Romita?
Frenz: Yeah. I never pitted the two against each other, to tell you the truth. If you would have put a gun to my head on which books, I could keep, I probably would have gone with Romita. Because I maintain that, as fantastic, and quirky, and wonderful as Ditko was, I think when Romita took over the book, it broadened its appeal. Because Romita’s characters were more glamorous and more recognizable, and heroic.
And it’s possible. I don’t know this for a fact, in any way, shape or form, but it’s possible that the quirkiness of Ditko could conceivably, have held Spider-Man back, slightly. And when Romita kind of came on and opened it up, and brightened it up, and made it look a little more… I don’t know, like a… [chuckle] I’m really struggling with what words to use here without being insulting to either Romita or Ditko. But he made it to look more like a… Like what people were used to seeing in a comic book.
Alex: Right. A little more mainstream.
Frenz: And then it might have opened up its popularity, even more… But I don’t know that…
Jim: Let me ask you about some of the other Marvel artists of that time. Your impressions when you were a kid, when you were reading it at this age. You were aware of Kirby, what did you think of him and did you follow him when he went to DC?
Frenz: We followed him when he went to DC because we were, again, still pretty much reading everything, and I loved his initial blast of books. I loved the Jimmy Olsen under Kirby. I loved the first Mister Miracle. To this day, that first issue of Mister Miracle was like burned on my brain.
We had a little bit of trouble getting all of the New Gods. We never got the first issue, we got the second issue, and them we missed… So, distribution wasn’t great, so we had some holes on our New Gods run. But we got all the Mister Miracles, and I love them. And Kirby is… I will cop to Kirby being an acquired taste.
When I was a kid, I liked Kirby and the energy of it that was there, all this kind of stuff. But anytime, like Buscema would do like a flashback to a Kirby scene, I always preferred the Buscema. You know, that kind of thing.
Jim: Oh, that’s interesting.
Frenz: I think Kirby is somebody that you appreciate more, as you become more educated, on what he actually was doing. Otherwise, you become caught up in how he draws fingers and how he draws knees, things like that. You’re absorbing the impact of the work, but you’re not really absorbing why. You’re more likely to look at the nuts and bolts to try to explain the whole, and that’s not how Kirby works. Kirby is impressionistic.
Jim: Were you paying attention to the inkers at this point?
Jim: Because I think, that’s when I noticed, “Ha! That doesn’t look like…”
Jim: That’s Vince Colletta. That makes it different from when I was reading it with Fantastic Four.
Frenz: Oh, very much so. Very much so, yeah. I became pretty aware very early on of different artists and different artistic styles, and what inkers brought to the table. I was very fascinated. Any time I could find a fan magazine that would show pencil samples of things. I was very into that stuff. I had favorite inkers as well as favorite pencillers and stuff, yeah.
Jim: Who did you like inking on Kirby?
Frenz: I was a big Sinnott fan. When I was reading the regular stuff, and Marvel’s Greatest Comics, the initial run inked by Sinnott, I loved Sinnott. I was never a Colletta hater. I like what Vince would do for a lot of the stuff. I mean in that first issue of Mister Miracle, like I said, that was Colletta. Those early Mister Miracle, have a real feel to them that as much as I…
When Mike Royer came along, I was hooked. I loved the way he lettered. I loved the way he inked Kirby. I loved everything about the look of the finished book. I became obsessed with his display lettering. I just loved everything about Mike Royer.
But I never was a hater on inkers. I would notice differences, and I would notice if somebody didn’t really quite keep a Buscema face or something like that. But I was never really… I always recognized that comics was an incredibly collaborative medium.
I never trained myself with the inking tools, so I became, almost to the detriment of my development, I became aware that comics was very collaborative, and I wanted to pencil. I knew I wanted to be a part of the visual storytelling. And so, I knew I wanted to be a penciller, so I never really trained myself with the inking tools.
Even now, I’m only now getting confident in my inking ability, as far as it being a separate discipline from penciling. That kind of thing… And I just turned 60, so… [chuckle] I’m way behind the curve on that talent.
Jim: Me too. Let me ask you, real quickly, about a couple of others, and then we’ll get to your next stuff. What about Don Heck?
Frenz: I love Don Heck. My first exposure to Don Heck, were the Tales of Suspense, Iron Man Stories, from the old Iron Man cartoon. And I found those stories, like that first battle with Titanium Man, which was inked… I think a couple of chapters were inked by Wally Wood, but I think mostly was, it was like Esposito, I believe, if I remember correctly. And I loved Don Heck.
Again, he was never anybody that… I didn’t look at Don Heck and go, “He’s not as good.” I loved the energy that he had in there. As I’ve read about how things evolved at Marvel, I liked Don Heck, being Don Heck. Like when they gave him The Avengers, and he was trying a little too hard to be Jack Kirby. I don’t think it helped him, as much as… It might have helped him get work, but I don’t think it helped his work overall, to try to be something he wasn’t. You know, to try to keep Stan happy with the Kirby over the top action. I don’t think it served Don incredibly well. But those were early Iron Man stories that he did, that I was first exposed to, on the cartoon, are inked just incredible to this day.
Jim: Those were great.
Frenz: Just amazing stuff. He was right there on my list of guys that I wanted to grow up and be, someday. Absolutely.
Jim: Oh, that’s great. And then last one, Gene Colan.
Frenz: The early Daredevil stuff he did with Stan, just made me laugh and entertained the hell out of me. Some of it, I was seeing in reprint. There was Marvel Triple Action or something, for a while, that they were reprinting the Daredevils. And the stuff is incredible. I had some early Daredevils off the racks. They might have been given to me by my oldest brother, I’m not sure. But it was beyond my 10, as far as some of the photo realism that he would get in there, and everything.
Jim: And you were still reading in the early ‘70s, when he was doing Tomb of Dracula with Tom Palmer too, right?
Frenz: I was reading all of that too, yeah. That first issue by… Vinnie Colletta, actually inked the first issue of Tomb of Dracula, and I was hooked at the end of the first issue… I kind of fell away from it later in the run, to my undying shame. But I was reading it from the beginning. That and Mike Ploog on Werewolf By Night… I was sampling all that stuff.
Jim: Yeah, that was great stuff. All right. So, you got a partial scholarship to go to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Was that straight out of high school?
Frenz: Yes. Yeah. The last two years of high school, I went to a vo-tech for half a day every day. Then joined an outfit called VICA, Vocational Industrial Clubs of America. Through joining VICA, they have regional and state competitions and coming in… Did I come in second or third? I think I came in third in the state, and won a half scholarship to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
I was able to complete the second year through grants and loans, and stuff but I went and I did the two-year course at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Which just recently closed down, after changing owners, how many times.
It did me a lot of good. During the two years in the vo-tech, I had a really good instructor, a gentleman named Tony Krum, who made me realize that it’s wonderful to have these dreams, but if you don’t get in to comics, you also don’t want to limit yourself. You don’t want to be just be able to do comics, and he kind of opened my eyes. So, the two years I spent at the Art Institute, I spent, trying to make sure that my stuff didn’t look like I was just comics taught. I started to pay attention to other techniques, and other ways of doing things, on the chance that my dream would be foiled or delayed, and I would have to get a job doing something besides comics for a while. I tried to pay attention to everything else.
And of course, that was all pre-computers. I’m incredibly old. And that was all pre-computers and we were still using Amberlith and Rubylith, cutting film for overlays of the different color separations, and all kinds of hands on stuff that nobody in the industry does anymore.
Jim: You met Marie Severin before you met Jim Shooter when you showed him the Xeroxes, right?
Frenz: You guys certainly did your research… Yeah. There was a local comic convention and she was one of the guests, and I took a stack of stuff, again, it wasn’t… They weren’t page samples, they were just loose drawings of dynamic figure work and characters that I had created, and things like that.
She was incredibly wonderful. Took a lot of time, as she was with everybody, looking through the stuff, and giving opinions. She liked my stuff enough that she wanted me to take it to Jim Shooter and get a sample plot, to really start working on storytelling, and everything. She had irrational confidence in my ability to do it, based on what she had seen in the drawings.
But I chickened out that year. It wasn’t until I was in the Art Institute that was in downtown Pittsburgh, and Jim Shooter was appearing at a shop within walking distance of downtown Pittsburgh; doing autograph signings, and stuff because that’s his home turf as well. A couple of buddies of mine and I put together some samples.
I came very close to chickening out there too. But my friends were very supportive, and said, “If you don’t show him your samples, we’re going to kill you.” So, I showed him samples. By that time, I had done some storytelling. I had taken some stories from a friend at the Art Institute. I did his own character, The Pariah, that involved mercenaries, South American jungles and things like that. We did an origin story for him. Those were the pages that I showed to Jim Shooter, along with a three-paged Spider-Man sequence from FOOM magazine. And he was amazing…
Jim: I’m curious about that. What was that?
Frenz: What? The Spider-Man?
Jim: The FOOM, was that something you copied? Or was that something you drew for FOOM?
Frenz: It was… FOOM was their fan club for a while, Friends of Old Marvel, F-O-O-M.
Frenz: And they, at one point, in one of their magazines, printed a three-paged sequence. It was for some kind of a contest, I think. They printed three pages of a plot of Doctor Octopus has Ned Leeds and Betty Brant hostage, and Spider-Man is fighting the Rhino and Green Goblin, I think or something. I just took that from the magazine, not to do the contest but just to do the pages, working off of somebody else’s plot.
I look back on this stuff now, and obviously, Jim Shooter saw something in it that he can work with, and said that he would give my name to editors, and that I’d be hearing from them. And I walked out of there thinking, “Holy crap. That’s amazing.”
It was a year before I heard anything. But I did end up hearing from them. I’d already taken a job at Anavision, an animation house in Pittsburgh that worked on local and regional TV commercials, and we also worked on the two Creepshow movies. [crosstalk]
Jim: Yeah, I have a question about that, just a few. But I wanted to nail you on the timeline. When you met with Marie Severin, were you already out of the Art Institute, or were you…?
Frenz: No. I was still in high school when I met with Marie.
Alex: What year would you say that was, when you met her?
Frenz: Well, I graduated high school in ’78, so I would say that was probably ’77, ’78, something like that.
Alex: Oh, okay.
Frenz: So, meeting with Shooter wasn’t until towards the end of art school. Art school, I guess, would have been ’79, ’80 or ’79, ’81.
Frenz: Something like that. I think my first published work, that first Ka-Zar stuff I think was end of ’82, ’83, something like that.
Jim: Yeah, that’s right. ’83.
Alex: Was the book, the John Buscema, How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way, did you read that before you were submitting your stuff?
Frenz: Oh, yeah. That was one of my Christmas gifts one year. I went through that until pages were falling out of it. I did two stories for a magazine that was published here out of Pittsburgh called Questar Magazine. This would have been when I was working at the animation studio. They were on the floor below us, their offices. I had shown them some samples, they were aware of my work up in the animation studio.
Frenz: They had a strip in their magazine called, Just Imagine, Jeanie that was originally created by Forrest J. Ackerman, and was originally drawn by… Oh, man, this is embarrassing. What’s the guy’s name who did the soup can and everything?
Jim & Alex: Andy Warhol.
Frenz: Andy Warhol. His brother, James Warhola, did the art on the first Just Imagine, Jeanie strips. Okay.
Frenz: They lost Warhola early on. They lost Forry J Ackerman early on, as far as contributing to the strip. But at one point, they had a local writer doing the scripts, and Mike Grell did a couple of installments for them. And then, they had just recently lost Mike Grell, to other work and everything, and they asked me if I was interested in taking it over.
So, the first published comics work I did was for this Questar Magazine. This Just Imagine, Jeanie episode that I penciled, inked and lettered myself. It looks like it. One of the reasons I bring it up, is because there are panels in there that are lifted directly out of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.
Frenz: So, that was my bible, and my crutch, as I was first getting in to doing published work. And then the second installment I did of Just Imagine, Jeanie, was in full color, and I lettered it, and colored it myself with markers and stuff, for full color publishing.
That was very bizarre too because the guy I worked with at the animation studio, my boss there, Rick Catizone had introduced me to different illustrators and stuff… I’m trying to remember the one gentleman’s name and I’m not coming up with it. But there was that, and I was going through… In art school, I went through a big Gene Colan phase where I was trying to re-create some of the dynamics of Gene Colan’s work.
There was a weird mix of stuff going on in my brain at the time. But those would have been my first two published pieces… And what can I tell you…
Jim: Let me ask you a little bit about Anavision.
Jim: You mentioned Creepshow. What were you doing on the first one, the 1982 one? What were you doing, were you doing storyboard? Were you working on animation scenes?
Frenz: I was hired, in general, based on my portfolio, that I could draw from memory, and that I had a solid grasp on anatomy and things like that, without having to use much in the way of reference. He used me initially, for some storyboarding. He used me for inbetweening, which is exactly what it sounds like. He does all the key drawings and I do the drawings in-between. That’s kind of what I did on Creepshow.
The original Creepshow, we did some stuff on colored paper. The scene where they pull the camera back and the Creep flies back and points down at the garbage can, and we come in on the comic book and everything. That was all done on colored paper, with colored pencils, the backgrounds were… There was all kinds of different media being used in that, but the only artwork of mine that you see in the first Creepshow, directly, are the opening credits, and the Creeps had to be inserted into some of the splash pages.
One of the original EC guys did the pages, the transition pages for the first movie. But when they decided to use the Creep, as the host, we had to rejigger some of the splash pages, and kind of stick the Creep in there as the host, and I did some of that art.
Alex: Nice. So, when you say original EC guys, did you mean Jack Kamen?
Frenz: Yeah. Yeah.
Alex: Yeah, okay.
Frenz: They brought him out of retirement to do the original transition pages and stuff, yeah.
Jim: That’s great. There’s some stuff online, that’s described as ‘try out’ things from you from that. Do you know what that was?
Frenz: Yeah. Those were marker renderings I did early on when we were just seeing the beginning of the script. My boss wanted me to do… Basically, audition to do the transition pages, and stuff, which didn’t happen because they were able to get a hold of Jack Kamen. So, yeah, that was that was. It was like the splash page for The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill. I think I did one for the end of Father’s Day or something.
Jim: The birthday one.
Frenz: Yeah, the birthday one.
Jim: Yeah, it was the birthday one.
Frenz: Those were heavily influenced by… My boss was pointing me towards Bernie Wrightson and all this kind of stuff. We were trying to basically do as much of it in-house as we could possibly could. And actually, for the second one, we ended up doing that. I did do all the pages, and transition shots and everything for the second one.
Jim: And that was years later, right?
Frenz: Yeah. At that point, I wasn’t working full time at the animation studio. I came back to do that.
Jim: I was wondering about that. Because that was several years later. Did you do anything else while you were at Anavision that was interesting? I know they did Tom Petty video, Runnin’ Down A Dream. You didn’t work on that, did you?
Frenz: I think I was pretty much gone by then too. There was like one sequence involving the sequence where he’s on the building, like King Kong or something, that I did a couple of drawings for. But I wasn’t as involved in the production stuff then. Like I said, I think I had moved on. I quit the animation studio when they offered me Spider-Man.
Frenz: During the time I was at the animation studio, I was working full time at the animation studio, and that was during the time I was doing Ka-Zar, I did the two Indiana Jones fill-ins, my run on Star Wars, and my run on Marvel Team-Up, were all done while I was also working full-time at the animation studio.
Alex: Kind of getting now to Marvel, you had given Jim Shooter those pages, and then, I think some time had gone by, maybe a year, possibly.
Frenz: Yes. All that work, I was working in the animation studio for almost a year when I got a phone call from my mom. I was still living at home, and she said, “Somebody named Al Milgrom called from Marvel, and wants to talk to you.” I went, “Really… Okay.” So, she gave me the number, and I called, and I talked to Al Milgrom, and he handed the phone to Louise Jones, and that’s how I got those first few Ka-Zar jobs. Yeah.
Alex: Yeah, and that was Ka-Zar #17, it was a fill-in issue, right? And how did that work? Did they work Marvel style, like give you a plot?
Frenz: Well, Bruce Jones never did anything traditionally. So, my first exposure to working for Marvel wasn’t really working Marvel style. Bruce Jones would write these little short stories with no page breakdowns or anything. And it was your job to translate that into pictures. So, it was a very different thing from even working off a traditional Marvel plot. But with Louise there to hold my hand, and walk me through it, I did what I was told.
I actually did #17 first, which was a very bizarre story where… What is it? Like Ka-Zar thinks he’s in a detective novel or something like that. I forget how that happens. He gets a concussion or something like that.
Jim: Yeah, the cover says Ka-Zar the Detective on it. I remember it well, because it was different.
Frenz: Yeah, he’s altered somehow, I forget exactly what happens in the story, but he’s altered and thinks he’s living a detective novel that he was reading.
It was a test. I don’t know if I served the story incredibly well, but got to the end of that one, and turned it around fast enough that they said, “Well, we have issue #16 that we’d like you to do.”
Alex: Right, “Can you do that one next.”
Frenz: “It’s a little tighter deadline”, and I went, “Okay.” That one was more traditional, in the jungle, fighting monsters and things like that, so I was much more comfortable with that one.
Alex: As far as jumping around in the jungle and just kind of anatomic action hero… How did you feel about that? About a character jumping around the pages that way.
Frenz: Well, that’s what I was comfortable with. I mean, anytime, you can just do the human figure in motion, with a manageable background like a jungle setting or something like that, I think it’s faster. The thing with the detective novel was that the detective sequences were supposed to be set like in the ‘30s, and were supposed to be more noir, and those were the kind of aspects that I’m not sure I served as well as I could have.
Because these was before the internet, and you had to really dig for reference for different things back then. That’s why I’m not sure I served that particular aspect of the story all that well. But I think most of us would admit, most freelance illustrators that work in comics would admit, that if you gave us two guys in skin tight costumes fighting each other in a white room, that would be our ultimate story. [chuckle]… You know what I mean.
Alex: Yeah. That’s the easiest thing.
Frenz: If you don’t have to worry about background, if you just got to draw dynamic figures beating the crap out of each other, that’s our sweet spot.
Alex: That’s, yeah, for sure.
Frenz: Anything else is taxing us in one direction or the other.
Alex: Right. Was there any uncredited Marvel work before that or it pretty much starts at Ka-Zar?
Frenz: It pretty much starts at Ka-Zar. I did not start out ghosting for anybody, or doing backgrounds for anybody, or anything like that. No.
Alex: Then you did breakdowns for King Conan #12, is that right?
Frenz: That is correct. That was the third thing I did for Louise, and interestingly enough, after I did that, they offered me King Conan as a regular gig. But, again, still working at the animation studio, and that being a double sized story… It might have been bi-monthly, I’m not sure. But I remember being very gun-shy to take a regular gig at that point. I was happy doing whatever they wanted me to do, but I was a little unsure about going on a regular gig. So, I turned down King Conan.
And then, a little while later, they offered me Ka-Zar. Brent Anderson decided he was leaving Ka-Zar, and they offered me Ka-Zar. At that point, God’s honest truth, I probably would have rather done Conan, than that version of Ka-Zar, but that horse was already out of the barn. But at that point, when they offered me Ka-Zar, I was afraid that if I don’t take this, they’re going to stop offering things. So, I took it. And that’s how my stint on Ka-Zar happened.
Alex: That’s how it started. Yeah. Were you looking at any Tarzan stuff, just for kind of reference?
Frenz: No, not Tarzan. I was a huge Buscema fan, so I had all of his black and white Ka-Zar stories from that Savage Tales that they were running in the ‘70s.
Alex: I got you.
Frenz: That was the stuff I was looking at; I think the most. Even with Shanna, I was looking at some DeZuniga black and white stories that he did with Shanna. For the most part, my reference for my stuff on Ka-Zar was mostly the black and white Ka-Zar stuff and not even the colored stuff that Buscema did.
Alex: Right. Yeah, the black and white magazines. So, then you started doing, again, more non-superhero stuff, it was Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Marvel Saga. How did all that come about?
Frenz: Just the way things do. People see that you’re hitting your deadlines and see the work that you’re doing, and think you might be okay for this… Indiana Jones, again, was out of Louise’s office. Star Wars was out of Louise’s office. So, at that point, I was just one of Louise’s guys, and she was kind of using me as the utility guy for fill-ins and such.
The first thing I did for Star Wars was a framing sequence for a Kerry Gammill inventory story that they had, with Archie and Walt moving off the book, and they were bringing in Mary Jo as the scripter. Mary Jo, I guess, probably, as a floater, as a test balloon, had done an inventory with Kerry Gammill. Of course, they had worked on Power Man and Iron Fist together, or would. I don’t know, maybe it’s… I guess, they had already.
But anyway, they had this inventory story, and they needed a few pages to fit it in the continuity. So, that was the first thing I was asked to do for Star Wars, before they offered it to me. I was a big Star Wars fan. I loved Luke Skywalker, so that was a lot of fun for me.
The only postscript I would put on the Ka-Zar stuff is that I was a huge fan of Ka-Zar, prior to the Bruce Jones stuff. And while I appreciated what Bruce Jones was doing with the character and that he was getting a lot of response from the readership, I didn’t think Ka-Zar needed to be fixed. And I was constantly behind the scenes, begging Louise Jones to, “Could we do a story that bridges how the Ka-Zar I remember so fondly from the old Ka-Zar stories became this Ka-Zar.”
Frenz: And Louise, thinking like an editor and not being worried about one fan crying in the wilderness was going, “Ron, nobody cares.” [chuckle] “This book is selling. We’re doing fine.” And I said, “But, you know… “ At one point, there was even a reference, where Shanna was talking to Peter Parker, which is again, I got to do Spider-Man, and Ka-Zar as well. She was talking to Peter Parker and said something about Ka-Zar struck her at one point and he goes, “Ka-Zar hit you?” and she goes, “Yeah, all apes hit their mates.” … And I’m like, “He’s not an ape man. He was raised by Zabu. He’s a feral child but he’s not an ape man.”
Alex: That’s funny.
Frenz: And one scene, where he’s fighting the monster, in my second issue, I liner noted, “Stronger than the mastodon. Stronger than the giant boar, Mightiest Ka-Zar, Lord of the Jungle.” That was his thing, man. And I liner noted that, and they completely ignored it. I’m going, “Oh, you’re killing me.” That would have been a nice little bridge from the guy I knew, to this guy.
Alex: Yeah. Yeah.
Frenz: It was one of those situations where they just weren’t recognizing that the old Ka-Zar had any fans. It was frustrating but I certainly understood where Louise was coming from.
Alex: Did you have a favorite inker at this time? Like did you like Tom Palmer’s inks on your stuff?
Frenz: Well, Tom Palmer, yes. I mean, anybody would love Tom Palmer. I liked what Armando Gil did over me for the most part. What I remember about Armando, at the time is that he really wanted to pencil. And we had a couple of issue from him that were a little more slapdash than others. For the most part, he did beautiful, beautiful, beautiful work.
But we had a couple of issues where the editor wasn’t as happy with what he was producing. But she knew it was because he was frustrated and he wanted to pencil. And when I left the title, he penciled, I think maybe one or two issues, before he realized penciling is really hard. [chuckle] And he decided that he was done already.
I mean, Armando left comics. I don’t know what he’s doing now. I mean, he’s a hell of an illustrator, so I hope, whatever he’s doing, he’s happy but…
Alex: That’s cool.
Frenz: I enjoyed working with him. I liked him.
Alex: You were doing all these from Pittsburgh, right? So, you would essentially mail your stuff in.
Frenz: Yeah. A lot of shipping to the post office, and/or FedEx. Yeah.
Alex: So, at this point, were you wondering like, “Okay, am I ever going to draw superheroes? Was that your personal genre?
Frenz: I was scared. I was scared that I was not going to get to do the superheroes. It was one of those things like, “Okay, I’ve shown them that I can function outside the superhero genre, but there is nothing I want to do more than superheroes.”
So, when Spider-Man showed up in Ka-Zar, I was happy as a clam, and I got to do some Spider-Man. Tom DeFalco was the editor for Team-Up at the time, and he saw the Spider-Man I did in Ka-Zar, and thought, “Well, this guy doesn’t screw up Spider-Man too badly, so maybe I can give him some fill-in stuff.”
I did an inventory issue of Marvel Team-Up, which led to me being hired as the regular artist on Team-Up. But they didn’t seem to like it because it was broken up with fill-ins, and then the team shifted pretty quickly to DeFalco giving up his titles and handing them to Danny, that was when I was hired to do the regular book.
Alex: You were doing the Marvel Team-Ups, you worked with writer Bill Mantlo, right? On a few of those issues.
Alex: How was his style of collaboration with what you guy were working on?
Frenz: He was doing much more traditional Marvel plots. So, I was thrilled, finally working on traditional Marvel plots. Jo Duffy did traditional Marvel plotting, and did some page breakdown and stuff, which was very helpful. And Jo really got me used to the traditional Marvel collaboration. Where she would plot it to a point where you felt confident with what you were doing visually, and then she enhanced that with her script. I enjoyed working with Jo immensely. I learned everything I know about partnership and checking your ego at the door, and trusting your partner, I learned from Jo.
Because I never really had interaction with Bruce Jones on Ka-Zar. He turned in his little short stories, And I did what I did with them, and that was pretty much that.
So, when I was working with Mantlo, I don’t believe I ever had a phone conversation with Bill or anything. Because I didn’t really work on enough of his stories for it to matter. But it was work in traditional Marvel plot so it was what I had become used to with working with Jo. It was fairly seamless. I mean, I don’t remember the stories that I did with him being a problem of any kind. He put a lot in to his stories. You got your money’s worth if you were paying Bill Mantlo for a plot. Because I remember the Kitty Pryde one I did had a lot of story to it.
The Wonder Man one I did was, I think, David Michelinie. The Jack of Hearts one was, of course, Bill Mantlo. That was his baby.
Jim: Was that a pain to draw? Jack of Hearts?
Frenz: No. I loved that character. I love that outfit.
Jim: Yeah, I do too.
Frenz: Once you draw it once or twice, you get the pattern down and it’s not a problem at all. I’ve never really understood people complaining about that. I mean, the same people that complain about Jack of Hearts are the ones that complain about Spider-Man’s webbing. It’s like, “Oh, boo-hoo. Draw the damn webbing.”
Frenz: If I had to complain about anything with Spider-Man, is drawing New York City. [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah. That’s a lot.
Frenz: Every third panel you got to do a cityscape. That’s where you complain about Spider-Man, not the webbing.
Alex: There you go. And that’s funny, I haven’t heard that before, but that does make sense… So then, you did the work on Ka-Zar and Spidey Team-Up, and then DeFalco saw your rendition of Spider-Man… So, was it that there was this feeling of, “Okay, there’s like a Romita-Buscema vibe to this Spider-Man”, and that resonated with DeFalco, probably?
Frenz: I think so… I think so, yeah. By the time I was a couple of issues in on the Ka-Zar stuff, immediately, I was fairly comfortable doing a kind of a Sal take on Spider-Man. Yeah. I think they saw it as being pretty standard for what was going on at the time, and it was safe enough to hand it over. Of course, what they didn’t suspect, until The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, which I did before I was awarded this series. What they weren’t expecting was that, if I got to do more Spider-Man, I was going to pull out my Ditko. [chuckle]
So, when I turned in the pencils on The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, there was some consternation, about some of the reverse webbing on the mask and all that kind of stuff. There were some consideration about having it fixed. And this was all pre-Todd McFarlane, of course. And they didn’t. To their credit, they didn’t fix it and it landed pretty well with the audience. It was a fantastic story. That’s all due to Roger. All I had to do was stay out of the way, and let the story tell itself.
Alex: Right… Once you then got offered Spidey, as a regular gig, that’s when you decided to leave Anavision, right?
Frenz: Indeed. I sat down with my boss, and had a long conversation with him. Freelance is freelance. But through paying my taxes, those couple of years that I was doing both, it became clear that working in Anavision was kind of paying the taxes on what I was doing for Marvel. And that even though I would be freelance, if they were offering me a regular monthly title, that’s about as stable as you get in the comics industry, and they were offering me the Amazing Spider-Man. So, unless I screwed up…
I thought about turning it down, because I didn’t think I was ready. But then it occurred to me that I could be relied upon to give 110% to what I was producing, because of my love of the character. It would’ve been hard for me not to take it and then whoever did take it, kind of watch them… [chuckle] do those stories. You know what I mean? I don’t think I could have survived that, to tell you the truth. So, I closed my eyes and jumped, and said yes.
Jim: Ron, I want to clarify a couple of points about that. You were initially hired to fill in for John Romita, Jr while he set up X-Men, right?
Frenz: That is true.
Jim: And you were going to do like six issues.
Frenz: That is true.
Jim: Now, was The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man one of those six issues? Or did that come before…
Frenz: No… That was prior. That was prior. I had also done…
Jim: You were being offered…
Frenz: No. I was never offered Spider-Man like, “Would you like the book?”, until we were a few issues into the run. And it became clear that JR had had a conversation with Danny, and decided that he wasn’t coming back and go ahead and give it to us.
Jim: All right, so you didn’t leave the animation studio until you knew that you had the on-going gig or…
Frenz: No, the idea that they were offering me Spider-Man work was making me feel like, “Okay, I can do this.
Alex: There you go.
Frenz: It was their masthead character, for god’s sakes. So yeah, at that point, it was supposed to be a six-issue run but I had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t be safe on like Marvel Team-Up, or something else. Because I’d already done a What If Spider-Man, and I’d already done a What If with the FF, working with Sinnott. I mean, there was just all these… I was becoming more and more useful to them. Some of which through, I was able to turn around breakdowns quickly. I mean, they pretty early on shifted me to breakdowns because they liked my storytelling, and were more concerned with getting these books laid out, and on to the inker and stuff.
So, for the longest time, I thought, that would be my role. I would be kind of like a Utility Sal guy. You know, that kind of thing. And I was fine with it, but I had every reason to believe that that would lead to more work.
Alex: Well, thanks so much, Ron Frenz, for this awesome interview here at the Comic Book Historians Podcast with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Join us next week for part two of the Ron Frenz’ career interview.
Alex: Welcome back to the Comic Book Historians Podcast, for Part 2 of the Ron Frenz Career Retrospective Interview. Let’s continue.
Frenz: It wasn’t until we were a few issues in on Spider-Man, and we knew that it was going to be a regular gig that Danny had me doing full pencils. But Rubinstein was more comfortable working on layouts. Initially, Danny, God love him, said, “No. I hired Ron to do full pencils. He’s going to do full pencils.”
But my attitude was, if Joe would rather do breakdowns, then I’ll do the breakdowns. Because if he’s seeing this differently than me, he’s feeling limited by my full pencils and he’s not completely using my full pencils, so we’re talking about wasted effort. “Dan”, I said, “I’m more than happy… I’ll go do breakdowns. He’ll be happier. We’ll all be happier with the finished product.” And that’s what we ended up doing for the lion’s share of the run, was I went to breakdowns.
Jim: But when you did, The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, let’s talk about that for a few minutes because people must still ask you about that story, right?
Frenz: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It’s wonderful that it’s remembered the way it is. Yeah.
Jim: Did you get a script from Roger Stern, or how did you first get that?
Frenz: There was a plot.
Jim: And what did you think when you read it?
Frenz: It was a traditional Marvel plot that I think, the sections written by the reporter were scripted. I think he had those, and he told you where they were going to fall in the storytelling and everything. I thought it was fantastic. I mean, I choked up when I read it. I read the plot the same way when people choke up when they read the story. And I was incredibly intimidated.
I had already done some Ditko on Spider-Man on the What If, I had done. Because what I’ve tried to do on the What If, which is, it comes through to a certain degree but I’m not sure that the inker, Sam de la Rosa, I’m not sure he had the time to worry about what I was trying to do in the pencils with that job. Because those What If jobs were larger than normal.
But on that Spider-Man What If, it transitioned between the Ditko and the Romita eras. So, I tried to reflect that in the pencils. And again, I’m not sure Mr. de la Rosa had time to worry about that as he was inking it. I don’t know what his deadline was like. But I don’t know if it comes through the book as much but there’s a transition where I went from trying to draw more of a Ditko Peter Parker to drawing more of a Romita Parker, and blah blah blah.
Frenz: While I was doing that book, I became very enamored of what Ditko had done on Spider-Man. And the thing that was a challenge I felt for The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man is that Spider-Man doesn’t actually do much in it. He stands around and he talks to Tim, and there are some flashback shots of him moving ‘spiderily’ and stuff, but for the most part, he’s in this room talking to this kid. And I’m going, “How do you make him in that room, talking to the kid?” You could do him hanging from the ceiling or something but that didn’t seem as warm as having the kid on his lap and everything.”
And what I came upon is, if you did Ditko, he’s Spiderman even if he’s just standing there. The way Ditko would just have him cock his hip and stand there, that’s Spider-Man. So, that’s why I really wanted to go full Ditko. Now, I’m hearing Robert Downey Jr go, “You never go full Ditko.”
Alex: That’s funny.
Frenz: I tried doing full Ditko, and what really worked on that issue, that story, is Terry Austin’s work.
Jim: Yeah, I was going to ask you that. Did you talk to him after you did the pencils?
Frenz: No. I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with Terry, to tell you the truth. But he nailed, he really helped reinforce the Ditko feel to that thing. I think that’s one of the things that really…
Jim: Wow, that’s interesting. You didn’t give him a note… You didn’t say, “I’m really going…” Well it’s obvious you were going for Ditko.
Frenz: No… Yeah, it was pretty obvious in the pencils what I was going for, and he’s a very perceptive man so… But he didn’t change the webbing, he didn’t fix anything… “Fix anything”. And he embraced that. And his own line, he always had that almost like a wedge point line with the brush that was very similar to a lot of what Ditko would do with the way he would outline the figures and stuff. It just ended up working. To this day, that’s though, if Marvel would ever approach me or if anybody would approach me about what I would want… Nobody’s ever going to do a Ron Frenz Visionaries, but if they did…
Alex: That would be nice.
Frenz: If they did, I would still want that in there. Because it’s still something I’m very, very proud of.
Alex: Now, you’re about to start like the regular run on Spider-Man.
Alex: Did you get a call from Tom DeFalco saying, “Hey, here’s what I got in mind for what we got ahead of us.” Tell us about how you guys kind of linked up.
Alex: Because I think you’ve mentioned that… You’ve described him as the other half of your brain before.
Frenz: Oh, creatively, very much so. Yeah. I had met Tom, before we ever to worked together. I met him at a convention here in Pittsburgh. He and Jackson Guice, when he was just Butch Guice back then. He was working on Micronauts. The three of us went out to dinner, and just had a wonderful time, talking and laughing about comics. And what we love and what we didn’t love.
He was still doing a kind of a Mike Golden riff on Micronauts, that he, obviously started to move away from. I was kidding him about the replacement of Mike Golden on Micronauts, and he was kidding me about being the third Buscema brother. The least famous… Harpo Buscema, that kind of thing.
We were going back and forth, joking with each other on that. And Defalco, he and I… I remember, having conversations with him where we talked about what our favorite Hulk personality was, and how we felt about the Marvel style of bombast and the ‘huhah’ action, as Tom calls it. And we were just very on-page for that kind of stuff, so when he called me to hire me on Team-Up, we had a bunch of conversations.
One of the conversations we had early on is, he said, “I’m going to be a pain in the ass.” And I said, “How do you mean?”, and he said, “Well, I’m going to let you know what I think about what you’re doing and I’m going to make pointers.” I said, “Tom, that’s fine. As much as I love working for Louise, and you’ll never hear me say a bad word about Louise Jones. She’s just incredible as an editor and as a person. I didn’t get a lot of that feedback, unless I specifically asked for it.”
I kind of felt a little bit thrown in to the deep end, because if Marvel hired you at that point in the ‘80s, it’s because they thought you could do the work. [chuckle] And they needed you to do the work, and they needed you to meet your deadline. So, they just kind of pushed you into the pool, and you swam, or sank on your own.
So, I was very open to whatever feedback Tom wanted to give me. Incredibly open to that. What was funny about that is, like I said, a lot of that stuff was during the transition between he and Danny Fingeroth. And that the first Team-Up story I did, I did it for Tom. It was the Wonder Man story by David Michelinie, and I had done it for Tom as inventory. It was sitting in a drawer, but it didn’t see print until after Danny was the editor.
And Danny was our editor on the Spider-Man book, and at one point, he called me, because he wanted a couple of sequences redrawn, from the Wonder Man story. That he felt some of the storytelling could be a little clearer and all this kind of stuff. One of the sequences that he wanted redrawn was one of those multiple image sequences of Spider-Man jumping around the room. There was like this danger room sequence in this issue where Spider-Man had to dodge all these different things that were there to test his armor.
Frenz: Tom wanted to do it as a single shot, with multiple images of Spider-Man jumping around, and that’s the way I did it. Tom approved it, and it was sitting in the drawer. Danny wanted all that redrawn. So, when Tom was talking about what a hard-ass he was and everything… I said, “Hey, hard-ass, I just had to redraw pages from a job that you accepted.” He goes, “What job?” I told him and he went, “Son of a bitch. Really?”
So, Danny was a bigger pain in my ass than Tom ever was.
But yeah, Danny was a very hands-on editor. Danny worried about every comma, and every period. To his credit, he was incredibly engaged editor.
Alex: Oh, cool.
Frenz: There were times, it was early on in the Spider-Man run, Danny was going on vacation. This was before everybody had cellphones. He was stopping at like every pay phone on the way to his vacation to call me about… “I just wanted to clarify… Do you understand what I’m saying on this note here?” I go, “Danny, I got it.” You know, that kind of thing. There was one time, we were on a conference call, there was DeFalco, myself and Danny, and Tom and I finally had to gang up on him and just say, “Danny, it works. It’s okay.”
I mean, he would ask for panels to be redrawn, and then he’d have somebody in the office do a correction on the redrawn panel. I mean it was like… The guy was amazing… You got to give him his due.
Alex: Yeah. Yeah, highly detailed.
Frenz: Yeah. If you’re going to pay an editor to do the job, you don’t want somebody that’s just the traffic manager. You want somebody that’s engaged, that he’s really paying attention.
Alex: Interesting. Yeah…
Frenz: As big a pain in the ass as he can be, that’s what you want an editor to do.
Alex: Right. Right. There’s that interesting mix of crafting it till it’s finally done. And is there some neurosis, or anxiety there, or not? But the final product is good, so there it is.
Frenz: Well that’s ultimately… And even in that one conversation, Tom and I were more concerned about, “Can we just move on to the next problem? It works… Let settle for, it works, right now. Okay?” It might not be perfect; we’ll worry about perfect next issue. It works. Let’s move on.”
Alex: It’s interesting, so this is kind of the beginning of you, essentially, putting the star character in new costumes, like the black costume in issue #252. You also did the Eric Masterson-Thor costume, and then even the blue Superman. So, what did you think of the black suit, when you first saw it? And also, was there a discussion in the beginning that it was going to be an alien later?
Frenz: I don’t… I mean, DeFalco came up with the fact that it was an alien, so I don’t necessarily remember him bouncing that off of me, because that was stuff that we were dealing with pretty quickly, in the books.
When I first saw the black costume, I thought it was a bad guy. They sent me a plot, and some Mike Zeck drawings of the costume, and I thought it was a new villain because I hadn’t read the plot yet. And I said, “Well, this new villain looks kind of cool.” And they said, “That’s not a new villain. That’s Spider-Man’s new suit.”
And I went, “Son of a bitch…”
Alex: [chuckle] Right when you got the book. Yeah.
Frenz: “25 years I’ve waited to draw Spider-Man, and when I get here, he’s not Spider-Man anymore” … I mean, like to design. I thought it was fine. The two issues that Leonardi did I think really helped me get a handle on it.
Alex: I mean, it’s easier to draw too, right? Because it’s solid black.
Frenz: You would think that… You would think that, but if you look at how many people draw those damn legs wrong, to this day… It depends, on whether or not you’re paying attention.
Alex: Yeah… That’s right.
Frenz: Because everybody draws the fucking legs wrong. Pardon my French… Because people always said that, “Well at least you don’t have to draw the webbing.” And more people draw the webbing right than draw that damn spider right, I’ll tell you that.
Alex: Yeah. Sometimes it looks like a lobster or something like that.
Alex: That’s true.
Frenz: Yeah, and especially… And that was one of the things that Leonardi brought to it because originally, it only had like one break in the legs. It came up, and then down, and it had just the one break. And it kind of fanned out from the top of the body. What Leonardi brought to it, that really, I think works, it makes it look more organic, it makes it look more like a spider, is that second break in the legs. But that’s where everybody has trouble. It’s where that break is…
Alex: Well, that’s funny.
Frenz: How it sits on the chest, and how it goes around his rib cage. I mean, some people just draw it like it’s a frigging lightning bolt going around his rib cage or something. And it’s not supposed to be.
Alex: In these issues, this is where you and DeFalco… You co-created like so many characters together, but in this run, a couple of characters come to mind, Puma, who you guys introduced in #256. You co-created Silver Sable in #265. Were you guys like having phone calls on how these characters would get visually fleshed out? How was that?
Frenz: Well, the phone calls we were having, because that was one of the questions a few minutes ago… Tom made it clear, for whatever the duration of our stint was, that he wanted to create new characters and not use the classics. And I said, “Okay.” And then he bought the infamous Animal Cards from late night television. And from the late-night Animal Cards came Black Fox, Silver Sable, Puma… I think that’s it. I think those are the main ones. So, Black Fox showed up in our… First, we did #251 and #252, we did off a plot by Roger Stern. And then he did #253 and #254 with Rick Leonardi, and then we started with #255. So, yeah.
Where in the run we found out that JR wasn’t coming back, I could not tell you. All I can tell you is that Danny told me that JR came into the office and was looking through the pages, and Danny liked what Tom and I were doing, so we were at least a few issues in. And that Danny said, “So, when are you coming? You still coming back, right? Because if you’re coming back, we’re going to stick by the deal.”
And then JR said, “You seem to be really happy with what they’re doing.” He goes, “Yeah, I’m very happy with what they’re doing. That’s not the point… If you’re still coming back, we’re going to stick by the deal.” And JR said, “Just give it to them. I’ve got my hands full with the X-Men. I’m fine.” And Danny called, and said we’re in, and we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.
Now, where in the run that happened, I don’t know. But I know that it happened, and the first time I met JR in person, I thanked him for my run on Spider-Man. Because he easily could…
Alex: Let’s say, like for example the look of Puma, how much detail were you getting from Tom on the actual appearance and how much of that was your interpretation, and then adding your own stuff into it? Like was it pretty much 50/50?
Frenz: Well, Puma wasn’t 50/50. Because Tom had a very set idea on what he wanted for Puma. I actually did a Facebook post on this at one point, showed some of the early designs. My first design for Puma was very much a person with long straight black hair like an American Indian with a helmet, bare-chested. And all this stuff with the helmet that looked like a puma, that kind of thing. And Tom said, “No, no, I really do want to go more ‘wear puma’ or whatever you want to call it.
Alex: Yeah. Yeah. I see.
Frenz: And he says, “I want him to change.” So, I did a couple of designs, some where he was too cat-like, Tom said, “Can we find somewhere between this and this.” And I said, “Okay. I know where you’re going. Okay.”
And I came up with the original outfit. I called in a friend of mine, Rich Yanizeski., who really helps me out anytime I need to design any new characters. He came up with some nice Indian-looking artifacts, and stuff for the costume that I thought worked really well. And we did the initial costume, I didn’t do a color sketch. Because I hadn’t created a lot of characters up to that point.
These days I create, when I’m designing a character, now I almost always do it in full color. There are some exceptions but for the most part… On Blue Baron, I’ve done color sketches for almost all the characters. Some of the more minor characters, I haven’t and Glenn Whitmore does the coloring himself. But for the most part, if it’s the main character, I’ll do the design in color.
But back then, I wasn’t doing that, and the colors that they came up with worked fine, but what I wasn’t happy with the initial costume was that there were some kind of confusion as to what was his own fur, and what was part of the costume. I wanted it to be much clearer as to what was it supposed to be like. The stuff at his shoulders was supposed to be part of his costume, and I would’ve colored that red. And not close to the orange of his own fur. You know, that kind of thing. So, that’s why when he appeared, I simplified the costume so that anything you were seeing was pretty obviously his fur. That kind of thing. And I did do a color sketch for that one. [chuckle]
But yeah, so Tom had a very set idea on what he had… The costume, he left that to me. But the design of the actual character was very much Tom.
Silver Sable, he kind of left up to me. I think it was his idea to have her be petite, though. One of the things that kind of got lost in that game of telephone was that she was only supposed to be like 5’1” or 5’2” or something. At the time, I was actually living with and engaged to a young woman who was five foot even. So, I was actually drawing her like she was five foot even. Because I loved the idea of her ordering around these big mercenary guys, who were all like six foot, you know, that kind of thing. Because even Spider-Man’s supposed to be like 5’10”.
So, I drew her short, but when she went off on her own, and got her own series and stuff, that’s one of the things that kind of gets lost in the translation sometimes. And she was supposed to look very much like Marilyn Monroe.
Alex: That was basically in the bible of the character. Okay.
Frenz: Yeah… Well, no. No, that was me. [chuckle]
Alex: Oh, that was you. There you go.
Frenz: Tom’s bible covered all the stuff, like what country she was from, and that she’s a Wild Pack, and the uncle that she had early on, and all those characters. He left the actual look… The only thing that was changed from the original look was, since we had Black Cat at the time, and she was a regular in the strip, I actually… My original drawings of Silver Sable had platinum blond hair. I was still using a little bit of yellow in her hair to make it look like platinum blond hair because Black Cat had white hair with light blue on it.
Because it makes sense, somebody named Silver Sable would have silver hair. But I didn’t think of that… I didn’t think that was really good idea with Black Cat. I was overridden by editorial. They said, “No. That’s ridiculous. Her name’s Silver Sable, she’s got silver hair.” I went, “Okay. So, there you go.
Alex: That makes sense.
Frenz: So, who’s left? Black Fox.
Alex: Black Fox, yeah.
Frenz: He was the older guy. He was supposed to be reaching retirement, so I gave him the white mustache. In his first appearance, he pretty much just wore a black bodysuit. When he appeared later, I added some, like a backpack for him to carry his booty and things like that. But for the most part, he was just wearing a black bodysuit. He wasn’t much of a challenge. I like drawing the character though. I thought he had a very expressive face.
Alex: So, Shooter had that incentive program, so you received a piece of those character appearances… Were there new characters agreement? Was there a form for that?
Alex: Tell me how that work?
Frenz: Oh, they were all over you to fill out the paperwork, anytime you created a new character.
Alex: Uh, okay.
Frenz: And since DeFalco was in the office, he did his share to make sure that I always filled out the New Character Agreement.
Alex: Oh, that’s awesome.
Jim: When DeFalco said, “We’re going to do new characters.” Was that entirely a creative decision or was it also, “Hey, we’re going to create characters and we actually have some piece of.”
Frenz: My guess would be, it was mostly a creative decision, because he had just gone through Roger, doing Hobgoblin, to kind of resuscitate the Green Goblin concept. I’m going to go ahead and give him the credit because he’s more than earned it. That it wasn’t about making himself any richer, it was about, he always likes to move forward. He’d always rather do new ideas rather than recycle old ideas. You look at his Fantastic Four run, whether you love it or hate it, it wasn’t traditional Fantastic Four story.
Jim: No, it was not.
Frenz: There you go. See. So, I think that was… Creatively, he tends to just be a person that would rather create than recycle. When we would do later projects, like when we did the Spider-Man ’96 Annual, he went, “Okay, Ron, what character would you like to do that you never got to do?” And I said, “Kraven.” And he said, “Okay, we’ll do Kraven.” And then he came up with the fantastic story, flash back story, because what we had talked about wanting to do, was the actual moment that George Stacey realized Peter Parker was Spider-Man.
Alex: Oh, yeah, that’s really cool.
Frenz: And it worked out, for it to be right there in that period of time, where Kraven was working for Green Goblin and all that kind of stuff. It worked out great. I got to do Kraven. When we did the two-issue Webspinners story that wrapped up that series, he says, “Is there a villain that you’d like to do that we never got to do?” And I got to do Doc Ock. Plus, I also got to do a whole bunch of other… We did the Sinister Syndicate again, so I got to do those guys again.
Alex: The Sinister Six?
Frenz: The Sinister Syndicate.
Alex: Oh, Syndicate. Okay.
Frenz: Yeah. And the only reason that the Rhino was redesigned at all under my watch was because Jim Owsley insisted on it. He wanted the Rhino to become more like a Transformer, so maybe he was picturing something more like what was in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I don’t know. But I was desperately trying to keep it organic, and the only thing I can think of that wasn’t already part of the Rhino was, if you see a real rhino, there’s these plates under the skin that look a little more obvious from different angles. And I said, “Well, let’s just add those and put some studs on him and shit. Maybe that will be enough.”
And it was. [chuckle] I just kind of went, “Hallelujah.” Because I really didn’t want to do him mechanical, that kind of thing.
Alex: And with DeFalco, you guys were pretty much working, Marvel style, right? With this?
Frenz: Always. Yeah.
Alex: Always, with DeFalco. Now, in Spider-Man…
Frenz: We would have hours-long conversations where we would talk about Pete, and make sure we roll on the same page with who Peter Parker was. And talk about his relationships with all of his supporting cast, and we would talk about his relationships with his villains. We talk about how he feels about what he does… You know, his relationship with Aunt May, and all these kinds of stuff. We’d just have these long conversations about that kind of stuff. And in the course of that, plots would suggest themselves…
Alex: Oh, cool.
Frenz: Tom’s terrific at writing, in my opinion, is terrific at writing gangster stuff. Street level, mafioso type, manipulation and stuff, so he and Rick Leonardi had created the Rose, who was kind of like middle management, and all that kind of stuff. I just loved watching his brain work, when it came to that kind of stuff.
Alex: Yeah, I like that character too.
Jim: He’s the one that got Frank Miller really moving in that direction with Daredevil, wasn’t he?
Frenz: I have heard those stories from the horse’s mouth. Yes. That he handed him some old crime paperbacks and everything, and was really kind of the one that planted that seed in Frank Miller. Yeah.
Alex: So, now, that one Spider-Man, Annual #18 in 1984, you did a story with Stan Lee, right?
Frenz: Yeah, that was Stan’s scripting, yes.
Alex: Did he do that one, Marvel style? Or did he send you a script or… How did that work out?
Frenz: Well, DeFalco plotted it. So, for me, it was just like working off a regular DeFalco plot.
Alex: I see. And then Stan scripted it after?
Frenz: We actually discussed this on Facebook. I’m not sure we knew… At the time I was penciling it, I’m not even sure we knew Stan was scripting it.
Alex: I got you.
Frenz: I don’t remember being scared shitless, that I was penciling for Stan…
Alex: Right. Right. After the fact…
Frenz: I do remember that Danny got a very nice letter from Stan, that mentioned me, and Danny sent me a copy of it. [chuckle]
Alex: Oh, that’s nice.
Frenz: Yeah, that Stan mentioned me, that he enjoyed working with my stuff, and thought that I… That my storytelling was solid, and all that kind of jazz, yeah.
Alex: That one issue, the Spidey versus Firelord, and Spidey just loses his temper and bashes Firelord’s face in, and like wince, that had some nice visceral emotion in that. How did it feel, putting that story together?
Frenz: I loved it. I mean, Tom very obviously, wanted to do something along the lines of what Roger and JR had done with Juggernaut. And he wanted to put Spider-Man up against somebody out of his weight class. Obviously, out of his weight class. And I thought it worked great. It’s one of my favorite sequences because in the course of the story, at the end of part one, it tells you everything you need to know about who Peter Parker is.
Because at one point, he’s going, “You know what? He’s looking for Spider-Man. He’s not looking for me. All I got to do is change to Peter Parker, and disappear into the crowd.” But then, as he’s changing, his wallet falls open into a shot of him and Uncle Ben, and Aunt May. And he’s goes, “What am I doing? If I disappear, he could go nuts and he could hurt innocent people. This is my problem. I can’t walk away from this.” So, he re-masks up, and says, “I’m going to give him the fight of his life. I’m going to do what I can and give him the fight of his life.” And that’s what he did.
What’s funny to me now, in retrospect is, because I belong to a bunch of different Facebook page groups and stuff. You get notified when your name comes up, so I’ll go check some of these conversations, and this always comes up. Those two issues always come up, as like, either the best Spider-Man story ever, because I just cheered for Spider-Man and thought it was wonderful. Or yeah, but it was BS because there’s no way Spider-Man could beat Firelord. Not only does he beat him, he just beats him by punching him out.
Frenz: And it’s like, “No, he doesn’t. Read the story.” A gas station blows up, takes out a city block and blows up right under Firelord. A building falls on top of him, dynamites fall on top of him. Spider-Man is throwing everything he can at this guy. So, it’s not just… I would even argue that he doesn’t just get mad and jump at Firelord, he’s just desperate. He’s at that point, it’s all or nothing. I got to leave it all on the mat, and he just goes crazy on him.
But even that was on top of everything else that happened to Firelord that day. And ultimately, if you read the follow up, in Avengers, he’s out for all of 10 minutes. [chuckle]… You know what I mean? It’s not like Spider-Man beat him up. You know, that kind of thing.
Alex: Right… You also did some X-Factor covers during this time.
Alex: How’d that come about, exactly?
Frenz: That’s a very good question. I don’t know what the reasoning would have been… Who was the editor on it? Was Louise the editor on that?… Because at that point, I was actually… I didn’t find it this out until later, but my covers were actually going over pretty well in the office. I was told, way after the fact. I was told that they would get together with the… Mark Gruenwald would have these meetings with the associate editors, and the assistant editors, and they would discuss different aspects of editing. And they would put all the covers for the month, up on the wall. They would say… They would pick the best of the month, and all that stuff. And my stuff was doing well in that kind of a process.
I think that’s why, when I was on Thor, I know Ralph Macchio really liked my covers on Thor, so he… His other two books were Captain America and Fantastic Four, and he said, “How would you like to do my covers on those two”
Alex: Louise was the writer, actually, and then Bob Harris was the editor, that’s probably…
Frenz: It’s Bob Harris. Okay.
Frenz: It may have just come about from that because I also did their corner box shots and stuff so… I don’t really know why, because I’ve never really done much X work, so I don’t remember any specifics about it. But yeah, I enjoyed doing those covers for the brief time I was doing.
Alex: Because you were doing the Spider-Man, and then obviously, the Thor guys. So, it’s interesting that you’re actually knocking out some X-Factor covers. But I guess, I think maybe the office was thinking, this guy draws such good and genuine Marvel style that they’re just really trying to make those covers pop, right?
Frenz: Probably as much as anything. And I tended to suggest. They didn’t always use it, but I tended to suggest cover copy and things like that. Ralph Macchio let me do all my own cover copy on Thor. I mean, he would occasionally edit it, of course. But… And Captain America, and even the Fantastic Four covers.
He liked the fact that I was… Because at the time, DeFalco’s belief was, and he was editor in chief during some of that period. I don’t know what Shooter’s idea about it was specifically, but Tom DeFalco’s idea was, if there was any cover copy at all, that was a good thing because if you had to stop even for a second, to read the cover copy, that was a couple of seconds more that you were spending looking at that cover. And that that increased the possibility that you would buy that comic.
Jim: Ron, before we move on from Spider-Man, I wanted to ask you about some of the inkers you worked with. One of the first ones was Klaus Janson, your thoughts about him?
Frenz: I just thought I was blessed. [chuckle] Because everybody already knew the kind of work that he did and how good he was. And how he would suggest coloring, if he didn’t color it himself. I think Christie colored some of that. Christie Scheele colored those issues.
I just felt like I was… The deeper I got into the Marvel stuff, once I was on Star Wars with Tom Palmer, I felt like I was a Marvel guy. Once I had done the Fantastic Four What If, inked by Joe Sinnott, I felt like I was a Marvel guy. The more I got paired with inkers whose work I knew, who were ‘name guys’, I felt like you automatically feel more protected. You feel like the work is going to look its best, when it’s going to fix the things you did wrong, and it’s going to make you look even more like you knew what you were doing. That kind of thing.
Jim: You’ve had an amazing stable of inkers at this point. Because after Janson…
Frenz: Oh, yeah. And most of them are finishers.
Jim: Oh, yeah. Beside Rubinstein, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but Brett Breeding did a fair number of your pencils on Spider-Man too. What about him?
Frenz: I love Brett’s stuff. I always have. I remember being in art school and seeing his work over Bob Hall on the West Coast Avengers miniseries. I know when I found out that Brett was going to ink #252, that’s what got the rise out of most of my comic book nerd friends. It was, “Wow, you’re working with Brett Breeding!” He hates to hear that story. He doesn’t believe it but it’s true.
Jim: Bob McLeod did some on your stuff.
Frenz: Yeah. Bob tends to, being a penciller himself, he tends to rework some of the pencil stuff and everything. But you can’t argue with the finished product. The finished product always looks fantastic.
Jim: Bob Layton?
Frenz: Well, I really only worked with Bob on some of the Jameson wedding annual. So, half of that was inked by Butch Guice, and half of it was inked by Bob. I don’t remember having any problem with the Bob stuff…
Jim: But it [inaudible] that’s a penciller too.
Frenz: Yeah, I don’t remember him over changing anything. I might even be torn on… It’s been a while since I looked at the job, I might not even be able to tell who did what. I probably could, because Butch’s stuff had a bit of a thinner line, and was a little looser. But yeah, again, like I said, I got in to this business, knowing that it was highly collaborative, you are going to be at the tender mercies of the finisher.
Jim: Did you have any inkers where you thought was doing a disservice to your work?
Frenz: Probably, along the way. The only one that leaps to mind, and it’s only… Let me say that this is only because it was my first job. But the gentleman that inked my very first Ka-Zar. There were shots that I didn’t think he serviced very well. There were face expressions that I don’t think he serviced very well.
Alex: Oh, okay.
Frenz: And those were… And you’re looking at that from an angle of like, “This isn’t just like my next comic, or whatever.” It was my very, very first. It’s my second, actually, so I found myself a bit crestfallen. [chuckle]… Looking at it. Certainly, looking at it and going, “Well, I’m never going to get hired again.” would have been over stating it but…
And again, it was only because it was so early in my career. But I mean, yeah, there have been ink jobs, over… What have I been in this business? 30 some years. There have definitely been ink jobs I’ve liked more than others, and there are some that I would have preferred somebody else had gotten them, or something. But you don’t have that call. You take the good with the bad. My good has been incredibly good. So, for me to piss and moan about the some of the not so good would be ridiculous, would be insincere.
Jim: So, is Rubinstein one of your all-time favorites?
Frenz: I would work with Joe, anytime. Yeah. He does bring a lot of his own style to it.
So, I will say this, I prefer working with Joe if I’m not doing full pencils. Because, again, the job will always look professional… I mean, it’s like with Tom Palmer on Star Wars. I was only doing breakdowns. But my version of what Luke Skywalker looked like, and what Lando Calrissian looked like, and Tom already had, in his head, he already had a template for who Luke and Lando were. Okay? They didn’t always lined-up with what I was trying to do. But he was the final look of the book, that was his job. My job was to tell the story in pictures. His job was to finish it. And so, you get used to it. I mean, you say, “Okay, that’s his job, so I need to shut up and let him do his job.”
When I’m working with Joe Rubinstein, it could be really similar. Because he brings so much of his own technique and style to everything, from musculature to facial structure, to all this kind of stuff. That I am happier working with Joe when I’m just doing breakdowns because, then I don’t feel like we’re clashing. I feel like we’re blending.
Jim: That’s interesting.
Frenz: If I’m doing less, and I’m letting him do it, then I have no reason to feel like I’m being overruled or anything. Do you understand what I mean?
Jim: Oh, yeah. We interviewed him and he was drawing while we were interviewing. He never stopped; I don’t think.
Frenz: From what I understand, he draws constantly. He’s an incredible illustrator. His portrait work is incredible. The guy is amazing. I mean his talent is so far beyond just what he does on a comic page, that is very impressive to me. He’s Joe Rubinstein. [chuckle]
Jim: Well, that’s great.
Frenz: We’ve had some wonderful conversations. When we were working together on Spider-Man, we had some wonderful late-night conversations and stuff. And again, I worked with him on Superman. And I was only doing breakdowns on Superman so that worked great. I thought he was doing some terrific stuff, and he saved my ass on that stuff. And I’ve worked with him a few times since on different projects.
Jim: One other question on inking and then I’ll move on. When you do your full pencils, who would be your favorite, ideal inker to do it? Once you’ve done your full pencils.
Frenz: If you’re talking… I mean, because Brett Breeding is going to be my answer in almost every case. Because Brett and I, we’re close enough friends that Brett doesn’t have a problem if I have some input on what he’s doing, I hope not anyway. [chuckle] But I love what Brett does over my work.
If you’re talking about the person that I can full pencil a page, hand it off, and know I’m going to get back exactly what I just full penciled, that would be Mr. Sal Buscema.
Jim: Oh, that’s great.
Frenz: Because Sal and I are very much hand in glove. I learned most of what I know about Marvel illustration from looking at Sal’s work.
Alex: That’s awesome.
Frenz: He really just… He understands my short hand like nobody else. He just gets it. We’re speaking the same visual language, in a way that I don’t think he ever laid a line down where he might not done it himself. You know what I mean? So, we just understand each other.
There have been times… At one point, I was looking at reference when we were on Spider-Girl together, I was looking at reference of ballet dancers and gymnasts, and the way they point their toes. I was trying to include that in to some of my Spider-Girl positioning. And on some of the angles, when she’s coming at you, doing things like that, they just kind of look like little wedges coming at you. Sal said, “What’s this thing that you’re doing with the feet now?
And I explained it to him, what I was doing. And he went, “Don’t do that.”
I went, “Okay.” If Sal Buscema tells you to stop, you should probably stop.
Jim: That’s great… So, when did Jim Owsley become editor over the Spider-Man titles?
Frenz: The transition was around the time of the Firelord two-parter. Danny edited the Firelord two-parter, but as soon as Owsley came on board, my Xeroxes of my pencils of the Firelord two-parter are numbered differently than the issues it ran in because, my understanding was that Owsley pulled it out of the regular rotation because he was… There was talk about it either making it a graphic novel, or a special one-shot, or some craziness. I don’t know what it was.
Frenz: But in the meantime, he ran fill-ins. The next issue would come out and it would be a fill-in, and I would call DeFalco and go, “What’s going on?” And he said, “Last I heard, that blah, blah, blah. He’s walking around with his thing under his arm.” Figuratively, or literally, I don’t know. But it didn’t run when it was supposed to run and it made it look like Tom and I couldn’t meet a deadline or something.
Alex: Oh, I see.
Jim: That’s interesting. Because didn’t he complain at some point that you guys missed deadlines?
Frenz: A lot of what he said, in defense of firing us, was unfortunately disputed by other sources.
Alex: I see. Yeah.
Frenz: The only two things I’ll say about that whole controversy is that Tom DeFalco never missed a deadline in his life. And that Spider-Man was my dream gig, there was no way I was giving it up without a fight. Whenever he would give us a new deadline, I would meet it. What was going on in the office at that time, what his personal frustrations might have been, and what he was trying to attempt, I don’t know. I can’t really speak directly to that.
I know that he liked the other Spider-Man books, at the time, better than ours. I was at a Spider-Man Summit where he referred… He referred to Tom and my work on Amazing as the bland corporate Spider-Man.
Jim: That’s crazy.
Frenz: Well, he loved what Peter David, and Rich Buckler, and Brett Breeding were doing on The Death of Jean DeWolff. He loved that. He loved the Web of Spider-Man stuff Michelinie and, I think it was Silvestri and Kyle Baker or something. He loved Beachum. He loved when Beachum did Spider-Man. He thought that was the greatest thing in the world because he was giving Mark Beachum a lot of work.
He had a very set idea, what he thought Spider-Man should be. As editor, that’s his prerogative. It’s his prerogative to make that so, and even his version is… That he kind of came up with reasons that don’t necessarily hold water, as to why Tom couldn’t make a monthly book, because that’s just not so. But he even tries to say that he wanted to start like a quarterly book that would just be Tom and Ron doing their bland corporate Spider-Man to their heart’s content. You know, that kind of thing… Which, of course, never happened.
Frenz: It was just a very confusing bizarre time. I mean, like I said, if you put a whole bunch of people in a room… which Glenn Greenberg did an article for Back Issue! Magazine, about the Hobgoblin mess-up, and all that kind of stuff, and what went on. And Jim Owsley’s version of events are unique and onto themself. [chuckle] Nobody else’s version lines up with Jim’s version. That’s the one thing I’ll say.
Jim: I had read, where he described you as being fanatical about Spider-Man. Did he ever tell you that?
Frenz: Yeah… No, he did say in his essay. Because I read some of the stuff on his website, that he did say that he worried that I was going to commit suicide when he fired me. Which was never a concern. But when…
On the comment area… When he wrote that thing on his blog, the comments were, “Well, if Ron Frenz is that crazy, he should go ahead and kill himself.” Like very supportive stuff from the fans.
Alex: I hate that… Yeah.
Frenz: Wonderfully supportive stuff from the fans. If indeed he was concerned about that, thank you. But it was never going to be that.
Alex: Right. That was never the concern, yeah.
Frenz: No. I never considered jumping out the window. And I’ve only heard this second hand, this could have been Tom just being supportive. But I will say that in the phone conversation, somehow, Jim turned it around to the point where he actually said the words, “I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for me.” And my brain was… I was reeling at the moment. But I said, “Feel sorry for you?” [chuckle]… Because he had to make the tough call. That kind of thing.
In the course of firing me from my dream job, he did manage to kind of make it about himself. Tom DeFalco, I think, half-jokingly says that when Owsley told Tom that he was fired that he said, “Is there anything I can do?” And Tom said, “You could jump out that window right now.”
And then Owsley said, “Well, so that’s the way it’s going to be?” And then Tom said, “Well, you could wait until Ron Frenz has time to fly here from Pittsburgh so we could both piss on your corpse.”
Frenz: Now, that’s completely uncalled for. I do not… That’s completely uncalled for, and never should have been said.
Alex: That’s hilarious.
Frenz: And quite frankly, let me fast forward a couple of years ahead. When Jim Owsley came back to Marvel, and started writing Conan, under Tom DeFalco who is editor-in-chief…
Jim & Alex: Yeah.
Frenz: Tom was helping him co-plot those things. Tom was the guy who re-hired Jim Owsley.
Jim: Wow. I didn’t know that.
Frenz: Because he heard he was driving bus and all that stuff… And the guy is a hell of a writer. I mean, the stuff he did on Black Panther, nobody’s going to argue with that stuff. The guy knows his stuff.
Jim: Change the characters. Great.
Frenz: Yeah, he knows his shit. I mean he’s a solid writer. So, Tom could recognize that. Tom wasn’t… It’s not about grudge. Like I said, I don’t know what was motivating Jim Owsley, because he’s not even Jim Owsley anymore.
I can’t speak to what was going on with Jim Owsley. In his blog, he talks about all the pressures he was under. I think he was under a lot of pressure.
I don’t think he should have been hired. I mean, Jim Shooter broke his cardinal rule hiring an editor, when he hired Jim Owsley. Because his cardinal rule of hiring an editor was you hire an editor who knows what they’re doing, and you stand back and you let them do it.
But when he hired Jim Owsley, because he was very impressed with him as a writer. When he hired Jim Owsley as editor, if anybody said to him, “Mr. Shooter, what are you doing? He doesn’t have that enough experience.” Jim Shooter’s answer, and I heard him say this first hand was, “I’m not worried about it, because all the writers on this Spider-Man titles are editors themselves. Louise is an editor; she was writing Web. Al Milgrom was doing Peter Parker; he is also a writer/editor. And Tom DeFalco was writing Amazing; he was an editor and a writer.”
He said, “He’s surrounded by some of the most solid editors in the business, so the kid can’t fail.”
Frenz: Of course, the first thing the kid did was fire Louise and Al, and then ultimately fire DeFalco… Now, you can argue about, he fired Al but he hired Peter David. He gave Peter David his first chance at writing, so who’s going to hate him for that, right? You know what I mean?
Frenz: They did amazing stuff together. So, there’s all this back and forth, and back and forth, and I’ve always refused to just see things in black and white. It just doesn’t work for me that way, and again, I do think that he was under a hell lot of pressure. He was younger than I was at the time, and he was given the Spider-Man titles to edit? I think the poor guy was in over his head.
I think he was feeling pressure from all kinds of different directions. And I do think that he was seeing things creatively differently, than what we were doing. I don’t think he might necessarily was agreeing with what we were doing creatively. He thought Spider-Man could be better, and he made the call. I mean, that’s the thing.
The irony of the situation, for me, was that Tom DeFalco told me at one point, Jim Shooter came in and said, “What’s going on, on the Spider-Man books? What’s this I hear about you being fired?” And Tom went, “You’re asking me? You hired the guy. Go talk to your editor!” [chuckle]… So, there’s that.
I also… Virginia Romita came in to Tom’s office and said, “I just heard you just got fired off the Spider-Man books because you can’t hit a deadline.” And Tom went, “That’s what he said.” She said, “Tom, you guys are the most ahead in the house. I use you guys as the stick that I hit everybody else with.”
Jim: That’s amazing.
Frenz: Because before he fired us, at one point, using company money… At one point, Jim Owsley got clearance to come in to Pittsburgh, fly in to Pittsburgh, fly he and Tom DeFalco to Pittsburgh… We went to the one of the more expensive restaurants in the city to have this big editorial meeting.
I’m like, “Oh boy, what’s going on here?” And basically, he handed us a new schedule that he wanted us to meet. And we met it. And then he handed us another schedule to meet. And we met that one. And then he fired us. Like I said, there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, I’m sure.
Alex: How did you get then moved to the Thor title in 1987? Tell us about that transition.
Frenz: Well, that transition was like a year or more of… The only other work I had when I was fired off of Spider-Man, because I had quit Kickers after three issues because it just wasn’t the book we wanted to do. And we were banging heads with editorial and everything, so I got off of that. Then we were fired off of Spider-Man… The only work I had from Marvel at the time was a graphic novel that I was supposed to do with Jo Duffy, a Punisher graphic novel, and frankly, it was this incredible… She ended up doing it with Jorge Zaffino, I forget what the title of it was. But it was an amazing story, it involved the Yakuza and all this kind of stuff. It was incredible.
Frenz: But I just felt I couldn’t do it justice. I just couldn’t. So, after doing some thumbnails on it and trying to do some layout work on it, and doing some little design work on it, I ended up giving it back to the editor. He was not happy. I think it was Larry Hama. It was either Larry Hama or Carl Potts. But whoever it was, was very disappointed in me, and I think I really hurt my rep with that person.
But I gave that back, so I didn’t have anything going on. Around that time, Mike Carlin called and I did that Superman Annual, with John Byrne, with Titano. And around that time, I got the call from Ralph Macchio to do some Thor fill-ins. We did the Secret Wars fill-ins. We did the Dargo Ktor fill-ins.
Alex: I love those two comics so much. That was when I was starting to like pick up comics out of newsstands. I love that stuff with a passion.
Frenz: Thank you. Thank you… Now. Brett and I worked together on that first Superman Annual, and we worked together on those two pieces. And at that point, Walt Simonson was moving off of Thor. A lot of people seem to forget, for the last few years, he had been writing it, and Sal had been drawing.
Alex: Yeah. Sal Buscema was drawing at the end of it.
Frenz: Right… And Tom was being hired as the new writer with Sal. And that was the way it was going to be. Apparently, Jim Shooter really liked what we did on the Secret Wars Thor fill-in because… And again, this has nothing to do with comparing artists, because Mike Zeck had a whole different plate-full of things he had to accomplish in any given issue of Secret Wars. Okay? I wouldn’t have taken that job on a bet. [chuckles] I mean, he had so much he was trying to do in that book.
But apparently, because we had done that Secret Wars fight sequence that was re-creating some stuff from that issue of Secret Wars, Shooter noticed it and really liked it. And he said, “Well why don’t we just put Frenz on Thor with Tom.” And he goes, “That’s fine, except [chuckle] Thor already has an artist, Jim.” And he goes, “Well, we’ll just tell Sal that you’re bringing your own artist along.” And he goes, “Except that’s not true… Come on. Ron and I are not joined at the hip. No, we’re not going to do that.”
And Tom told me that there was some talk like that. I said, “Tom, I’m sorry. If you think I’m going to stand here, and watch Sal get removed from a title for me, that’s not happening. No. No way.” But then, what he said is, when they’re having one of these meetings, Jim Salicrup, God love him, walked in and said, “Does anybody have a problem if I hire Sal Buscema to do Peter Parker again? Because I want to get these books all up and running solid. And it would be great if Sal could come back on Spectacular.” And everybody looked at each other and went, “Hallelujah.”
Sal was thrilled to go back on Spider-Man, and I went on Thor with DeFalco, and everybody lived happily ever after.
Alex: Well, this is awesome. Ron Frenz, thanks so much for this riveting and in-depth interview, here at the Comic Book Historians Podcast with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Join us next time for Part 3 of the Ron Frenz Career Retrospective Interview. Cheers.
Alex: Welcome back to Part 3 of the Ron Frenz Career Interview, here at the Comic Book Historians Podcast, with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. Let’s continue.
And your Thor run, I felt that what you and DeFalco did was you brought back a lot of the magic from the Jack Kirby – Stan Lee run. Was that intentional? Were you kind of looking at a lot of those old ‘60s issues?
Frenz: Well, they’re two things. One was, Tom wasn’t sure he could do cosmic. He preferred characters like The Thing, and Peter Parker. He wasn’t sure he could do Thor. Ralph Macchio said, “You just did two issues.” And he goes, “Yeah, but those were fill-ins. I don’t know. We’ll talk about it.”
Because I was so hot to do it. I mean, I soon as they offered it to me, I was… You know, I’m a big Buscema fan, big Kirby fan, so I was so all hot to do it. And I was sure Tom could do it too. But that’s one of the reasons why Tom started off by doing the splash fills because he figured, “Let’s go big… Let’s go big or go home, and see what happens.”
The biggest thing that pushed us in the direction of the traditional Thor was that we both knew we couldn’t do what Walt was doing. Because Walt’s connection to that material was so personal. His connection to the Norse myth, his connection to that storyline. I mean, he’d done it when he was a kid. Remember, he had drawn most of it when he was a kid. And was re-creating it as a professional.
We could have tried to do Walt, but we would’ve failed miserably. I’m sure. I mean, because people know when they’re being shucked. We knew we couldn’t do that, so we were going to try to do a transitional phase where we’d just go real big and cosmic and… Yeah, and our connection to Thor was the Lee – Kirby stuff, and the Lee – Buscema stuff. I grew up reading the Gerry Conway – John Buscema stuff, so, we were going to go cosmic.
But we also talked about it, and we wanted Thor to have the whole Eric Masterson thing, even though it didn’t happen until a year or so in to the run, was something we had talked about from the very beginning… Is merging him and giving him a human identity again, or human connection to Earth. Because we just felt that that was something that helped the character.
I mean, even Walt gave him Sigurd Jarlson. Gave him that identity as a connection. Thor should have that connection. Because what makes Thor not just your typical Asgardian is his connection to us. It’s his connection to Earth.
Frenz: So, Tom and I talked about all of that. But yeah, that was… There wasn’t so much an edict like we should just go do Lee – Kirby. A lot of that was me because, the same way I studied Ditko when I was first awarded Spider-Man, I went deep into Kirby when I was first awarded Thor.
And there were people that weren’t happy about it. Brett Breeding wasn’t happy about it. He loved those two fill-ins we did, though it was more my natural style, kind of Buscema-ish. And Brett was much more a fan of that. As I started to go more Kirby, in our early run, he was pushing back against it. He wasn’t crazy about it. And I understand where he’s coming from.
I think, some of the best stuff we did together as far as blending was, he finally decided to stop fighting the Kirby and we did, in Thor #400, when Joe Sinnott came on board, there was a sequence we did called the I… This Hammer (Or, If You Knew Uru Like We Knew Uru!). It was inked by Brett, and it’s some of my favorite Thor stuff, we did together because I was able to get some of the Kirby weight into the characters, but Brett was embracing it, instead of fighting it, and I thought it worked great. Plus, Brett colored it himself, and there’s like a couple of pin-ups in there that are just like, “Wow.”
Alex: Yeah. I love the whole build up with the set storyline. Such an explosive issue, that was. And you guys co-created a lot, in #388 you went inside a celestial’s brain, right?
Frenz: Right. Yeah.
Alex: I remember reading that, going, “My god, [chuckle]… So that’s what’s in there.”
Frenz: Well, yeah. Like I said, that was Tom challenging himself to see if he could do cosmic. He’s just a big dive into the deep end of the pool kind of guy. And what really worked with those early, the first couple of years on Thor, is how tightly plotted it is.
Tom is a structure guy, okay. Second to none. I mean, of course I’m a big Tom DeFalco fan but I don’t think there’s anybody better working, not just in comics, just as a writer, at structure. He knows how to plot things to get the biggest impact out of it, to get the information out there. He will sow seeds early on… Because we did like, first we introduced Leir and the Celtic gods.
Then we go in to the celestial stuff which there’s things going on… The B story where Asgard’s under attack. Even the Leir story involved the hit and run attack from the Seth people. So, we have that percolating as the B story… I mean, the guy’s incredible at those kinds of things. When to bring something up in the spotlight, and when to let it fall back into a B story. To this day, I just marvel at his ability to structure and plot to the greatest effect, working the characters.
Alex: Yeah, concise, and it really maximizes the impact. Yeah, and there’s a lot of characters: Mongoose, Quicksand, Earth Force, Grog, the New Warriors, Stellaris, Nobilus, Eric Masterson, I love that character, then Code: Blue, Dargo, you mentioned, the Thor core. How are these brainstorming sessions like? Did you guys basically… Like you said earlier, you guys talk and it would kind of brainstorm out. Were you guys throwing costume ideas at each other? How did all that work?
Frenz: I’d have to go character by character, or incident by incident. There’s not a real pattern to it. We don’t have like, “Okay, Thursday, New idea, Thursday. Pitch me some ideas…” No. it was never like that.
Alex: I see… Each one has its own kind of mixture of you guys.
Frenz: Right. Right, exactly. I mean, some of them came from me. Earth Force was something that I developed in art school.
They were called the Aten Trio because the Aten is the sun disk that they have in the palm of their hand… Since we were doing the Egyptian gods and everything, I pitched it to DeFalco and he goes, “Well, what’s an Aten?” And I told him, and he goes, “Nobody knows what an Aten is.” So, we came up with the different name, Earth Force. And I think we renamed one of the characters, but these were two characters that were based on friends of mine, and the one character was based on me, but I got to do them in a Marvel comic years later.
Of course, Erik Larsen does that kind of shit all the time, he doesn’t care. But for me that was a real big thrill to be able to use something from my past… Mongoose was a character we were going to do for Spider-Man, and never got around doing, before we were shit-canned.
Alex: Right. Because Mongoose is kind of like a Puma type of character in a way.
Frenz: Well, he was… See that’s the thing, when we create new villains, because that’s what’s cool about being able to create, is you create somebody… Puma simply was faster than Spider-Man. If you read the stories, yes, he has claws, and yes, he is vicious, yes, he has super senses, and all this kind of stuff. But the reason that he was an incredible deadly foe for Spider-Man is that he’s faster than Spider-Man.
Spider-Man’s spider sense could go off, and Puma could still nail him. We’d never seen that before. And Mongoose was going to be something in a similar vein… The original plan for Mongoose, in Spider-Man, because Mongoose shows up in the issue of Spider-Man towards the end of our run, where he fights Crusher Creel and Titania at the airport. They were working for the Masters of Evil, and they go to the airport to pick up Mongoose. But once the fight starts, Mongoose sees what’s going on and disappears into the crowd.
Now, we were going to use him… He was letting the Masters of Evil pay for his ticket. But the reason that he was coming to America was that he had a past with the Cobra, and that he was here to kill the Cobra. So, I was playing off of an old Hot Wheels race track thing called… It was the Snake – Mongoose Hot Wheels playset.
Jim: I had those. I had both of those.
Frenz: Yeah. It’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. So, I had decided…
Jim: The Cobra was a green car and our Mongoose was an orange car. I love those guys.
Frenz: Yeah. Now, that’s kind of where it all came from in my brain, that we could do this story where Spider-Man gets caught, because Spider-Man had already fought Cobra with Mister Hyde a couple of times.
Jim: That’s awesome.
Frenz: We were going to do something where Spider-Man gets stuck between this grudge-match between Mongoose and Cobra. And we never got around to it because we got canned. But we figured, we had to rejigger the character a little bit, and we still have never gotten the chance to really tell you his origin.
When we tied him in with High Evolutionary, I think that some people are just assuming that he was evolved from a mongoose, which if maybe… Okay. But he does wear like a foreign dog tag around his neck. And that’s always been a part of his design. So why would he be wearing that if he was an evolved mongoose. You know, that kind of thing.
I never had fully formed ideas, but I’ve always had some idea who this person was before, and why he is the way he is.
But, yeah, so we introduced him in Thor and we got some real mileage out of him. He’s the one that almost killed Eric Masterson, and made it necessary for Thor to merge with him.
Alex: Right. Yeah, that’s right. And he was quite a villain, actually, for a lot of issues.
Frenz: I like Mongoose. I actually like that redesign. I redesigned him when he appeared in Thunderstrike. I gave him a new outfit. I really liked his second look a lot.
Alex: Yeah. I really like Stellaris. I mean, we didn’t know she was a hot number under that outfit until later, but I like her character. I like the tech of her armor and stuff.
Frenz: Thank you.
Alex: New Warriors. Tell us about co-creating the New Warriors. Tell us about that.
Frenz: Well, that was Tom kind of acting at his capacity as editor-in-chief. Because he actually did feel that we should have more teenaged characters, because he thought it was the best way to draw teenage readers. He saw that our readership was starting to skew older. And he actually thought that maybe he contacted some magazine distributors, and found out that the most popular magazines at that point were skateboarding magazines, Thrasher Magazine.
And he started to pursue, crafting a team of teenaged characters. And he just figured, “Since Thor is the book I’m writing, let’s do it in Thor.” He enlisted me in doing some slight redesign of some of the characters and stuff. But that’s… It was always intended for it to spin off into its own title and of course, they lucked out getting Fabian and Mark Bagley to do it. But, yeah, we were just kind of there to light the fuse, and it was those guys who really did the work.
Alex: Yeah, and it was an awesome fuse. I remember because that was for Acts of Vengeance, I think.
Alex: And Juggernaut was in that issue. I remember, I love the artwork of Thor like, “Okay, now I’m getting serious”, and he really powers up Mjölnir in this. So much tension. I remember, when I read that, I’m like, “Oh my god, what’s going to happen in the next page?” I mean, that, I love that.
Frenz: I’m glad to hear that. The two things with DeFalco that were always fun for me, because he’s a total pro so don’t misread me, but he has an element to him that I think most fans would appreciate. In that he could still think like a fan, even though he’s a total professional.
And the thing he used to break through the celestial brain dome, okay, where he used the channel to the Asgardian energy of his own body, through the hammer and all those kinds of stuff was something that Lee and Kirby had. He used it against Galactus one time.
When I say Tom thinks like a fan, his attitude is, if Thor can do that, why doesn’t he do it more? [chuckle]
Alex: Yeah, that makes sense. And fans think that way. That’s true.
Frenz: Now, he used it sparingly. He used it against the celestial dome, and he used it against the Juggernaut, because nothing else defeats the Juggernaut. Otherwise, you’re just sending the Juggernaut to different dimensions all the time, right? So, we used it against the Juggernaut, and it didn’t really do much, unfortunately. But that was Tom, using the past of the character effectively. And yeah, I had no problem with Thor occasionally pulling out the big gun, and try to do some real damage, you know, that kind of thing.
I think that’s, what’s interesting to me is our Thor run, seems to be very much embraced by fans. His Fantastic Four run, not so much. But I actually see them as being having a lot of parallels because somehow, Eric Masterson isn’t held against him the way, getting rid of Reed for a while was, you know, that kind of thing. So, I don’t really completely grasp it to understand it because I felt that they were both very much the same kind of roller coaster ride.
Alex: Yeah. Well, I like both… So, tell us, as you mention Eric Masterson, Thor turns out he was kind of hiding in Eric Masterson’s brain there, subconsciously. But tell us about evolving Eric Masterson in to him becoming Thor, and then starting the Thunderstrike title in ’93.
Frenz: Well, initially, like I said, for very early on, we knew we were going to introduce Eric, and we knew what our plan was for Eric. But we wanted to do a slow burn on him. We wanted the readers to get to know Eric, and to like Eric just a supporting character before we ever pulled the trigger on the other stuff.
Frenz: From talking to people, I think we succeeded, in making Eric a likeable guy, and an admirable guy before we struck him down. So, we knew why Thor was connected to this man. It wasn’t just… Not that Thor might not have done the same thing for just a guy on the street, but that’s certainly wasn’t the case. He knew that Eric would’ve done the same for him, type of thing.
So, when we merged them, it was just great fun. Tom wanted to do it, and my only hesitation at all was he wanted a different look. And I said, “I can’t really say yes then, until I come up with something I like.” And I sat at the table at a friend’s house with Brett Breeding, and we threw some ideas on paper. And we came up with a look that I liked.
So, I called DeFalco, and I said, “Okay, we can pull the trigger on this now because now I know what he looks like. And I’m happy enough with it. We’re good.” And he said, “Okay.”
Alex: Yeah. I love that that costume. I think it’s great.
Frenz: Thank you… Still to this day, I think it was, it utilized things that Walt came up with. I think it streamed-lined it without changing it that much.
Alex: I love that show, The Greatest American Hero, and I love the idea of this, kind of kooky, funny blond dude getting powers he doesn’t understand and he’s crashing into buildings, like he’s not sure how to do it. And he’s a funny guy, socially awkward and I felt like the Eric Masterson Thor, it felt like that to me. So, when I read it, it felt like putting on a glove that I understood. I loved it. And I love that character, and I really enjoyed him. His odd couple thing going on with Hercules. I love those issues. I think that’s hilarious.
Frenz: Well, thank you. We were having fun with it too. And I always think that if the creators are having fun, then I think the readers are having fun as well. But it was a great ride. I mean, I woke up every day, we were on Thor, knowing that these were going to be the good old days, someday. Because were having fun creating, and the book was selling well, and Ralph Macchio was happy with it. It was just a wonderfully creative time. It was great fun.
But, yeah, Eric was… We really didn’t work that hard on Eric. We wanted Eric to be a plain, regular, decent guy that you wouldn’t mind hanging out with, and then, hand him the keys to the kingdom, and see how it goes. The only problem was having him be a bit of a… The readers don’t really like it if your lead character is a screw up for too long. So, we always try to put him in a different situation. Once he started to get comfortable, then we would take him to Asgard, and we’d have him deal with some of that stuff.
In much the same way that once we gave Peter Parker the Symbiote, you had to make sure, as long as… The very science fictiony thing to do to Spider-Man. But as long as Peter reacted like Peter, to all this bizarreness, it’s ok. Right?
Frenz: So, what we did, that kind of freshened up the strip, I think, for a lot of people is we got rid of the Shakespearean dialog, when it came to Eric. And you were seeing everything in the Thor strip, through fresh eyes. You were seeing them all through Eric’s eyes. And I think, that tends to freshen things up, not just for the readers but for us as well. For the creators as well.
I did this one sequence we did earlier on with Eric where he goes to Asgard, and the Asgardians are all there, and they have to save Odin, and Balder is saying, “We may lose soldiers in the attack but we’ve got to attack Annihilus, and we’ve got to get Odin back, for Odin, for Asgard.” And Eric is standing in the back and says, “Uhm… couldn’t we sneak in?”
Frenz: And all the Asgardians look at each other and go, “We don’t really sneak that much… Uhmm… Okay.”
Now, that kind of thing. It’s moments like that, I love, I just thought they were wonderful.
Alex: Yeah. And Tom, when we interviewed him, I asked him about that. He can insert like that funny book mode, in the middle of the drama, which is pretty cool.
So then, one more question then Jim’s going to go to the next section is, so when Thunderstrike starts up, that’s kind of like when image was really like exploding and there’s a collectors’ market. You guys had these kind of fancy covers and all that. First, what do you think of the image revolution, when it happened? How did that reflect on to the sales of Thunderstrike?
Frenz: It probably, couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, the speculator market was insane at the time, so I’m sure we probably, we sold a lot of copies but I bet you, there’s a lot of people have still left in the warehouse too. That kind of thing.
It was a very bizarre time because we were getting ready to wrap up the Eric storyline, and it was the sales department that came to us and said, “We think you should spin off Eric on his own book.” And Tom said, “Really.” The idea came from the sales department, we had to come up with something. It was not our idea to have him become a solo character. But we then huddled and came up with Thunderstrike, and the name on the mace, and all that kind of stuff. It was all us but it was at the behest of the sales department.
It was delayed because my mom had a stroke. And my brain was not where it needed to be to get it out… I think it was supposed to come out in April and it didn’t come out till August, or something like that. Anyway, when we finally did get it up and running, yeah, it had some foil on the cover. I put like one lightning bolt behind him that was supposed to be foil and production went and put a lot of lightning bolts in there to make in foil. It works. I mean, it’s a solid cover till to this day. Frenz: And it did so well. It made some, I made some money. I think I got like $2 a book to sign 5,000 copies or something like that.
Alex: Oh, nice.
Frenz: It was just a crazy, crazy time for collecting. I don’t like that. I don’t like the slabbing. I’m an old man. I don’t like the slabbing now. I didn’t like the collector frenzy then. DeFalco was one of the people that was saying, “Guys, didn’t we just see this happen to baseball cards, and collector cards? Are we going to just stand here and let it happen to comics too?” And sure, as hell, they did. I mean, the whole market exploded. But, yeah, I mean, and the book sold solid. The book was only cancelled after two years, along with Force Works and a bunch of other books because the Perelman’s people.
Ron Perelman’s people came in and bought the company there, and decided that canceling half the line would make the half that’s left, sell twice as well. Tom was at the meeting when they had pitched that, and he laughed out loud, and realized they weren’t kidding. And that’s how he got marked for termination. It was just a very bad time for comics, in general, and Marvel in particular.
As far as how it worked with the Image… I never begrudged the Image guys going off on their own. I wish they wouldn’t have talked about it as much because if you remember, there was a lot of talk before the books finally came out. [chuckle] They were talking. They were yapping about it for about a year and a half or two years before the books finally showed up. And that, I didn’t agree with. But I mean, I don’t begrudge these guys. It’s their own success. Marc Silvestri is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in the industry. Any success he has, God love him. I got no problem with any of these guys.
I mean, we did a …
Jim: Were you frustrated by Heroes Reborn when they did come back in…?
Frenz: The reason I was frustrated by Heroes… I wasn’t so frustrated with Heroes Reborn; I was frustrated with… Well, wait a minute… Yeah, Heroes Reborn. Yes. I was frustrated with them and I’ll tell you why.
The reason I was frustrated, is Thunderstrike was cancelled, it was cancelled because nobody would have considered cancelling Thor. But then, just a year or two later, they do Heroes Reborn, and they hand stuff to the Image guys, and what happened? They cancelled Thor.
Jim: Yep. That’s right.
Frenz: That pissed me off. [chuckle]… I mean, that really bugged me. Yes. But when they brought Thor back, they brought him back with John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson, and stuff. I mean, he certainly got his due when they brought him back. But, yeah, that part of it was very, very frustrating. Sure… Sure.
Jim: When you were there when the Image guys were at peak power, was there pressure? I know that some people had to change their art a lot, to stay current or relevant. Was there pressure for you to draw differently? I think about how Herb Trimpe had changed completely in what he was doing.
Frenz: Well, that was Herb’s choice. My understanding is that there were some guys who embraced that more than other. The one thing I notice was that Al Milgrom started handling some of the detail a little differently. I think he thought he was kind of leaning in to that a little bit. He would break up the blacks a little bit more. And we would talk occasionally and I’m going, “You know, Al, as far as I’m concerned, you don’t need to do that.” And he said, “Not. Not really for you Ron.” [chuckle] That kind of thing.
I totally understood where he was coming from, but I never worried about it. Maybe in some of the storytelling, I would acknowledge it, I would try to open up… The one guy that I really admired when we were going into Thunderstrike was John Romita Jr. And JR had done a cable miniseries at that point, and he was doing, I think The Punisher War Zone and things like that.
There was elements of his type of storytelling, and his type of using splash pages, and everything that I incorporated into Thunderstrike #1 and to some of the later issues of Thunderstrike. But beyond that, I really could only do it if I understood what they were doing.
And quite frankly, putting lines all over somebody’s face that don’t mean anything I never understood it. I mean, I can pick a light source, then I can shadow it more or something, but those lines don’t mean anything… [chuckle]
Frenz: So, I couldn’t do it. Maybe, if you would’ve brought in a different inker that understood what that stuff was, they could’ve inked over me and added it. I don’t know. But I couldn’t put it in my pencils because I didn’t… What the hell was it supposed to be? I mean, I understand what cross-etching is but, my god, who has lines all over their faces?
Jim: So, what were your last days at Marvel, at this point, like? You had lost Thunderstrike, did you have any assignments or were you just…
Jim: Because you were kind of under contract, weren’t you?
Frenz: Yeah, I was under contract for several years on Thor, and for Thunderstrike, and Mark Gruenwald was in charge of that unhappy job of… He tried, desperately to find me some work so I could keep my contract. He had to call me at one point and say, “Ron, I’m sorry. It’s just not there.” And I said, “Mark, thank you for all of your efforts. I know you’ve been busting your ass, and I know it’s been heartbreaking in that company, lately.” I said, “And I can’t thank you enough. I’m okay.”
Frenz: I got a call from Mike Carlin. Brett Breeding had told him that Thunderstrike was ending, and Mike Carlin does not believe in poaching talent, at all. If you’re busy on something for another company, he will not approach you. But when Brett had told him that Thunderstrike was over, he called and offered me the slot on Superman. That’s why I was able to tell Mark Gruenwald, “I’ll be okay.” I said, “I know you’ve got plenty of other people to worry about, you go worry about them. I’ll be okay.” And I went over to Superman for a couple of years.
Jim: Can you talk a little bit more about Mark Gruenwald? When we interview a lot of people, they talked about Archie Goodwin as being the best editor they ever worked with.
Frenz: Oh, god, he was incredible. Archie was incredible, and so is Mark. They were both cut from the same cloth. They were both incredibly professional people, who never lost sight of the child inside them. That’s the two things that they have in common. They were an incredibly important type of person to have in a company like Marvel. People that understood their adult responsibilities and did their jobs well, to the top of the standard. But were also were very child-like and joyful.
I didn’t know Mark Gruenwald well. I wish I had known him better. He was very close with Tom DeFalco, so when the few times I was in the offices, he was very welcoming and very warm. We did shows around that time, where Mark would do Marvolympics, and Marvel gameshows, and stuff, to involve the audience and to make use of the people from Marvel that were there. It was back when Marvel had an expense account, [chuckle] and all that kind of stuff. We would do like a Marvel version of Hollywood squares. We would do Marvolympics where we would do stupid things and crawl under chairs and… It was just for goofy fun. He usually was…
Jim: It’s not like the bullpen, you know, like that notion that we had in the ‘60s that there was this magical bullpen where everybody hung out with Stan Lee…
Frenz: Yeah… Yeah, and Mark was the cruise director for all of that. Yeah. He was just, it was terrific. I remember a couple of times being invited into his office and just sitting and yapping, when I would be visiting. He was a terrific guy. And I really felt for him, those last days at Marvel. His wife has posted stuff about it in his own journal. He would say… There was just entry, after entry where, “I had to fire so and so today…” It just broke his heart. I couldn’t have helped. I probably contributed greatly to his leaving. I hate it. I hate the idea that I was part of it but…
And Archie was the same energy. Unfortunately, I didn’t know Archie well, either. My first trip on a plane, as the young man was the premiere of Return of the Jedi in Denver, Colorado. The Marvel people were invited. I was on the regular book but I was also… Archie wrote and I penciled 10 pages of the actual Return adaptation. So, I rented a tux, flew out to Denver. Jo Duffy was there with a beautiful gown, and Archie had a tux, and we all went to the premiere. We were being hosted by a guy in jeans and sandals, it was all so silly. But there was the premiere, the mayor of Denver, Colorado was there, and all this kind of jazz. It was wonderful. I got to hang around Archie during that period of time.
Frenz: I remember one time visiting in the offices, and I was in Mary Jo… She only likes to be called Jo. I’m sorry Jo. [chuckle] Jo Duffy had me back in the office, she shared with Archie, and we were sitting there just shooting the breeze. And Archie comes walking in and she just, indicative of the kind of thing they were doing all the time, she would go, “The floor is lava!” And he would just start jumping on desks and crawling across flat files, and jumping from chair to desk, to get to his seat without touching the floor.
And you know, we’re just a bunch of kids. It was just wonderful. That was also the office that I met Steve Ditko in, briefly. Because he was doing a back-up, it was called The Djinn or something, for back-up for…
Alex: Oh, yeah.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Frenz: What was that book? Not Coyote… What was it called?
Jim & ALex: Yeah, it was.
Alex: It’s Coyote.
Frenz: And he was doing the back-ups for that. So, he came in and Archie Goodwin went, “Oh, Steve, this is young Ron Frenz. He’s the guy that’s doing Spider-Man right now. They’re making him do you!” And Steve turned to me, and he was real straight faced, “Shame on them.” And he put his hand out and I shook his hand and I said, “It’s an incredible pleasure to meet you, sir… And they’re not making me, believe me.” That kind of thing.
Jim: He did some good work on that. He had some good inkers. And I liked that a lot… We’re going to do Superman pretty quickly. So, Carlin, got you to come over to DC…
Jim: And it was a very different experience for you from years at Marvel, wasn’t it?
Frenz: Very, very different. It was very scary, and very overwhelming. I don’t think I ever really got my feet under me, to tell you the truth. Because they were doing the weekly books, basically, with the triangle numbering. And it was crazy.
Mike wasn’t the editor anymore. He had been promoted to executive editor. So, I had two different editors in the course of that, Joey Cavalieri, and… Oh my gosh… I’m not thinking of the other gentleman’s name… K.C. Carlson, were my two editors on Superman. They were struggling to keep the team together. It was a very weird time to be in the Superman books, because parts of the team were starting to break-up. Some people were resentful of other people getting certain treatment, and it was just a very, very, very weird time to be on the books, my one Superman comment.
Jim: Were there great [inaudible] artist at that, I mean, Ordway was still doing stuff?
Frenz: Ordway had pretty much phased off, Jurgens was writing my title. Bogdanove and Louise were still on…
Jim: Oh, they were great.
Frenz: Yeah, they were still doing Man of Steel. Roger Stern and Paul Ryan were doing the new quarterly… What was that called? Man of Tomorrow… Who was doing action?… Was Butch Guice still there? No. Barry Kitson… or was it Kieron Dwyer? I don’t know but there were a bunch of different people… I’m trying to remember who was all in my meetings. I know Roge was there. I know Louise was there, and Jon Bogdanove was there. Dan Jurgens was there. Joey Cavalieri was editor by that point. And it didn’t go well. Every time somebody kind of got a rhythm going, “Oh, this would be cool to do.” Somebody would have a reason why it wasn’t a good idea. That kind of thing. And it was very hard…
Jim: Too many people in the kitchen, isn’t it?
Frenz: Well, there’s a lot of people in the kitchen but when… Not to take anything away from Joey Cavalieri or K.C. Carlson, but Mike Carlin is a very distinct individual. [chuckle]… Mike Carlin gave up a lot of braincells and a lot of heart tissue to making these books what they were. And he rode herd on an incredibly creative group of people and did it effectively. That is not something everybody can do. Specially, when the people that are doing it are challenging you because you are not “Mike Carlin”. You understand what I mean?
Frenz: I felt very deeply, I felt a lot of compassion for K.C. and for Joey. Especially, Joey.
Jim: Tell me about Superman Red/Superman Blue.
Frenz: You would have to talk to Glenn Whitmore about that. I came up with Superman… When they were going to do the change in the powers and they were going to do the containment suit, they sent out a memo to everybody on the books. It said, “If you’d like to pitch a new look for Superman, we’ll be looking at them. So, feel free, if you have an idea, to pitch it, and we will let you know.”
I wasn’t planning on it. I was kind of the new guy on the books, so I really wasn’t planning on doing anything. I couldn’t help but think about it when I was done with my work for the day, and that kind of stuff. And I finally was able to put together a look that I kind of like, and I sent it to them, and didn’t hear anything more.
Frenz: They, at one point, sent me my next cover, and they just sent a Xerox of my sketch. And switch over, “Are we doing a month where we’re all going to like preview our designs or something?” And they said, “No, we picked yours.” And I went, “Oh. Nobody told me.” They went, “Well, we’re telling you now. We picked your design.” And I went, “Okay.”
They gave me, like a one-time payment. It was really great. I have all the action figures… They didn’t send them to me. I had to buy them. But they did a shit ton of action figures off of that design. And I bought the watches, with the new S symbol on it. All that kind of stuff. So, that was a lot of fun.
I think they picked mine for two reasons. One is, I was, from what I saw, I think I might have been the only one that played with the S. I think everybody else kept the S normal. And two, I think, they were already looking at doing Superman Red/ Superman Blue. It was something that Glenn Whitmore, being the colorist, had wanted to do for a long time. He fondly remembered that imaginary story and really wanted to do it. And the fact that my design was monochromatic, I think that helped them choose mine because they looked at it and went, “Oh look, he’s all blue, we could finally let Glenn Whitmore off our back and we could do Superman Red/ Superman Blue. Because they ended up doing that pretty quickly, into that whole storyline. I can’t help…
Alex: How was working with Dan Jurgens as a writer?
Frenz: Dan and I never really had a lot of contact. I got the impression he wasn’t happy to have me. He tended to be very critical. We had one or two conversations. We had one or two phone conversations, but he was not welcoming, as far as like, he wasn’t interested in co-plotting or anything like that. He very much… I think because one of the things that worked for those books was a little bit of competition between the different titles. And I think Dan felt that he was in a healthy competition with the other writers. So, he wanted to be very clear on what were his ideas. He really wasn’t looking; he wasn’t inviting me to like pitch a bunch of ideas and stuff. That never came up. But I didn’t feel like I needed to because the books were up and running. He’d been writing them for years at that point.
It wasn’t a collaboration at all, like it was with Jo Duffy or Tom DeFalco, or Roger Stern, or any of those guys. But it worked. But like I said, I was overwhelmed. I mean, you had to like hit the ground running, every month. And turn in layouts almost immediately, and turn in pencils as quick as possible. I don’t mean this in any other way other than speaking for myself, it was a meat grinder. I had a hard time…
Our individual issues, I was happy the way they came out. I was certainly, proud to be working on Superman, and thankful to be working on Superman, but it was a meat grinder. I don’t think I really rose to the occasion very well. The guys that did it for a long time, the Brett Breedings and the Jon Bogdanoves, and the Roger Sterns, and the Dan Jurgenses, and the Jerry Ordways, the guys who did it for any period of time, they have nothing but my respect. Because it was a tough gig. It was a very tough gig.
Jim: And last, Superman question, you tried to bring DeFalco over to DC at that point too, didn’t you?
Frenz: Now, that was after I was on Strange Visitor.
Frenz: That was after that. They decided to throw me that bone since I had designed the suit and they wanted to do it as a separate character. That was a whole separate process that I tried to bring Tom over for, but it didn’t work out.
Jim: And then that didn’t turn into the book it was supposed to be launched as either, did it?
Frenz: No. It was supposed to be an on-going, and when it didn’t turn into an on-going, I said, “So, do I go back to Superman?” And they went, “No. Because we just hired a whole bunch of new teams.” And I went, “Oops…” So, again, being born under a lucky star, I had somewhere else to land. I was…
Jim: And that takes us back to Alex.
Frenz: We had done Spider-Girl, so we ended up going back. I ended up going back to do MC2 with Tom, yeah.
Alex: I love that. I’ve read all of them. I like the ones that you penciled, the most, I will say that. But I do love the whole story.
Frenz: Now, don’t be a suck up, Alex. Don’t be a suck up.
Alex: No, no, no. I do. Because… I mean, I do love all of your stuff.
Frenz: Pat Olliffe deserves your love and respect.
Alex: No. I do. And I do because he did some Spider-Man stuff too. I do enjoy his stuff a lot. But because I was so used to your Thor, I think I just gravitated more to that. But that being said, I loved all the issues of Spider-Girl. That What If #105, yeah, it spawned the MC2 Series. This was before the later Thunderstrike, Volume 2, you guys did but you worked on a grown-up Kevin Masterson in A-Next. How was that? How was kind of continuing, everyone growing up, basically?
Frenz: It was great. What I said about Thor, knowing that was the good old days, I would say that A-Next is probably the most wildly enjoyably creative period that I’ve ever had, professionally, in comics.
Frenz: Because Tom was editing all the books that first year, and so, there may have been a slight shift in the percentages, with my contributing to plotting and stuff on A-Next. And we just had a fantastic time. We were doing the kind of comics that we enjoyed, and seeing if we could catch a market with it. That first year, was just a lot, a lot of fun.
Alex: Yeah, it was cool to see Nova kind of grow up and he was like, had a different personality at that point. He was taking himself more seriously.
Frenz: Yeah. That was actually, I was… Even when Pat was drawing the book, I was occasionally whispering into Tom’s ear, or into Pat’s ear, and all that kind of stuff. And I designed the adult Nova, and my idea was, we needed to pick one guy, who was from the prior generation. And basically, what I saw was Nova was that generation of Superman. He was the establishment now. [chuckle]. I mean, to our younger characters, he was the big guy. He had the ship that orbited… He was a cross between Superman, and Space Ghost. He had the Starship orbiting, and geosynchronous orbit… He was the guy.
Frenz: Whenever I got the chance to draw him, he always had the jutting jaw, and was always, literally looking down on Spider-Girl, that kind of thing. Yeah, that was how I kind of saw him as I kind of picked him as the guy who was a teen on the prior generation, who was now the Superman.
Alex: And then you ended up, back on Spider-Girl. The series was doing pretty well, at that point. Tell us about, what were the circumstances that got you back on the Spider-Girl, after Pat Olliffe?
Frenz: Well, I was kind of the regular fill-in guy, what little Pat needed that. I mean, Pat’s a machine. He really didn’t have need for anybody to be a net or anything. But I would do the occasional fill-ins. I was doing freelance, around the business. It’s not really even the comics businesses, much I was finding work elsewhere. I did some storyboarding and things like that, for companies in California.
But what ended up being the case was, that Pat had gotten on the radar of some important people, at the time, at Marvel. Bill Jemas was the publisher, or something like that. But he was still involved creatively. He wanted to write. He kind of wanted to be Stan Lee, and he had seen Pat’s work, and really liked it. So, Pat was offered this work. Spider-Girl was going to be cancelled with issue #60, I believe. And Pat had been offered this work involving Bill Jemas, that was going to put him on the radar of some important people, and hopefully lead to more work, and everything.
But it was going to require that he leave Spider-Girl early. And he really didn’t want to do that, but he couldn’t really turn down the new work either, knowing Spider-Girl was cancelled. So, they actually called me to say, “Would you be willing to come on board and do the last few issues of Spider-Girl?” And I said, “Yeah. Absolutely.”
Frenz: I was kind of coming back on board just to kind of steer her in to the dock there. So, I came in for the end of Season of the Serpent, and #60… I think it was #60. It was supposed to be the last issue. The one with all the female characters on the cover, and it was inked by Al Williamson and everything, and it ends with a splash page. That was supposed to be the last issue of Spider-Girl. And as we were… Wait. No. There was going to be one more.
Because we started, the last issue of Spider-Girl was going to be a flash forward of another 15 years. Benjie was going to be a teenager, and Mayday was going to be… Tom plotted the whole thing. Mayday was going to be pushing 30 and all kinds of stuff. It was cool little story.
I penciled the first three or four pages. Al Williamson inked the first two or three pages, and then we got word that we weren’t cancelled again. On April’s Fools’ Day, they called Tom and said the book was not cancelled. And he finally figured out that it really wasn’t cancelled. And they needed a plot by the next Tuesday or something. And my reaction, when I got the call from the office was, “So, you’re bringing Pat back, right?”
They said, “Well, Pat’s working on these other projects with Bill Jemas.” And I said, “I know. But if he knows Spider-Girl is not cancelled, he’s going to want to come back to Spider-Girl.” And I talked to Pat about it, and he says, “Ron, I’m okay here. Spider-Girl, you co-created her. Go do Spider-Girl.” And I said, “Okay.” So, I was back on Spider-Girl.
Alex: Yeah, and you worked on Spider-Girl till 2010. You went for a while, like 12 years or something, that series.
Frenz: Oh, yeah. We went to #100. We went from #61 to all the way to #100. And then, that was only cancelled with the idea… We had to lie about it. But they were already planning doing a re-launch as Amazing Spider-Girl. And we did Amazing Spider-Girl for 30 issues. Then we did Spectacular Spider-Girl, turned into like a four or five issue miniseries. And then we went into the Spider-Man Family, for another… I don’t know, another couple of years’ worth of stories, I guess.
Yeah. It went on for quite a while after I came back. That’s the thing. When it survived the cancellation at ’60-’61, that was still based on what Tom and Pat were doing. So, I didn’t really feel like I was a part of that, other than I was benefitting from it. But when we got to the next time that it was going to be cancelled, and it survived, then I knew, “Okay, people have been seeing my work, so they’re still supporting the book. That’s good.”
I slowly became more acclimated. I was really working in Pat’s shadow, those first couple of years back. I was just trying to do a cartoonier version of what he was doing and I mean, the character got really skinny and very cartoony… I look back on the stuff now, I’m not all that crazy about it. But I finally got to a point where I was able to put the ghost of Pat Olliffe behind me, and kind of re-embraced my own attitudes about the characters and stuff.
Frenz: Early on, when I was pitching stories, I was always pitching stories that were MC2 stories but weren’t Spider-Girl stories. Because I wanted to bring all my old friends back. I wanted to do all the characters at once and Tom would constantly say, “Ron, that’s an interesting story but it’s not a Mayday story. We need to do a story about Mayday.” And he was absolutely right.
Alex: Yeah. I love the whole MC2 thing. Because I was growing up with the characters. It felt like a continuity for me… So then, you did some Captain America stories, Sentinel of Liberty, a couple of issues. Then tell us about doing Thunderstrike Volume 2, because I really like Eric Masterson. It was cool to see kind of the Earth-616 version of Kevin, kind of grow in to him being a teenager.
Were you guys kind of thinking, “Okay, we have to make this different from what we did with him on A-Next?
Frenz: Oh, absolutely.
Alex: Tell us about the genesis of that.
Frenz: Well, what happened was DeFalco, we were wrapping up Spider-Girl, and DeFalco sent out an email to everybody at Marvel that said, “Ron and I are wrapping up Spider-Girl. Does anybody have anything they’d be interested in having us do?”
And I’m trying to remember the gentleman’s name… It was somebody who was in charge of like trade paperbacks or something like that, I forget. He was an editor, in charge of something. And he went, “Well, I don’t know about everybody else but I would love to see you do a Thunderstrike miniseries.” Without telling us what he wanted it to be. He just said, “How about a Thunderstrike miniseries?”
Tom, kind of went, “Oh, wow, there’s some interest. Anyway…” And then the next time Tom was in the office, he found out it was already in the schedule. [chuckle]
Frenz: And he went, “Ron, this is scheduled.” I went, “What?… We don’t even have an idea.” He went, “I know. We better get one fast because this thing is scheduled.” So, the first thing we thought, “Are we going to bring Eric back?” And Tom and I had both gone through major losses at that point. So, we did not feel it would be playing fair with the readers to just bring him back. Because we didn’t feel we had an idea that sold it at all.
So, it became second generation. It became, doing Kevin again, and we basically just had a hand shake agreement that where ever we went right with the MC2 Kevin, we’d go left with the 616 Kevin. And that’s what we did. So, that’s kind of how we ended up where we ended up.
It was kind of fell through the cracks. I mean, to this day, we talk to Thunderstrike fans at conventions who don’t know that Kevin had his own miniseries in the 616. That kind of thing. Looks like a lot of things these days. A lot of my fans, have moved on and they’re now collecting Randy Bowen statues and original art. And they don’t really keep track of what’s being done in the comics, that kind of thing.
Alex: Yeah, I do like that Kevin was used again, even after you guys were finished with the Volume 2. I think what, in Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re one of those that he was in there for…
Frenz: As guardians of the galaxy, yes. Yeah.
Alex: Yeah. I thought that was pretty cool. Yeah. I like that they’re using them.
Frenz: Well, I’m glad… Yeah. I don’t have a problem with them keeping him alive. We didn’t. We, certainly, were hoping that he’d get some use from other writers, and other artists, and stuff. I mean, we certainly didn’t do the miniseries just to kill him off. I mean, of course, we were hoping, we’d get a series out of it, but it just didn’t work out that way.
So, yeah… I mean, anytime you create something new, you feel a certain amount of ownership to it but if you’re a grown-up, you realize that Marvel owns it, you don’t. And some of it is going to make you wince and some of it is going to make you weep… And sometimes, it’s better not to read it at all. That kind of thing.
Jim: Ron, were running short on time, I want to ask you a couple of things… After that, you go back to DC, and it’s now in New 52 world, were people happy about that or ashamed of themselves? What was it like to be part of New 52?
Frenz: I didn’t feel like a part of anything. What I was called upon to do, by different editors… They had started a policy, and I think Bobbie Chase, who used to be at Marvel, had something to do with it. Where some of the younger artists, the younger illustrators were having trouble with the blank page… They had tried to re-institute plots, but like Tom DeFalco was doing plots for Legion Lost, but the artist Pete Woods who’s a fantastic illustrator, had never worked plot script.
We were that far away from Marvel style that he wasn’t comfortable working from a plot. He wanted a full script. So, they were trying to retrain some of their illustrators to work plot script. I was doing layouts on Legion Lost for Pete, even though he really didn’t need them. Artistically, it was just for storytelling purposes, and I ended up doing some other books, at DC, part of the New 52 stuff, like Katana, Justice League, Dark, there were a couple of other books. What was it though… the seven?
Alex: Team 7?
Frenz: Sovereign Seven or something, it was one of the books that came over from…
Jim: It’s that. Team 7.
Alex: Team 7?
Frenz: Team 7. I guess that’s what it was, yeah. Where they included like Black Canary, and characters like that. But it was over for Wild Storm. I did layouts on the first few issues on that, and most of it is for no credit because they didn’t want to screw up the… What’s the word I’m trying to think of?… The incentive. They didn’t want to divide the incentive further, so, they would pay you a flat fee to do these things. I did some Superboys for… I think those were DeFalco’s stories too. I’m not sure. Yeah, I think he was working on that. Yeah, I just…
Jim: Superboy, that was from the tube… It was so strained by that point.
Frenz: Yeah. It was the New 52 Superboy. So, there was a lot of that going on. And a lot of it, there were a couple of times that I actually got a credit, and it was interesting because I got a credit in one of the Superboy. It’s like a, “Special thanks to Ron Frenz” or something, and people assumed that it was because it was a Tom DeFalco story, that I must’ve helped him plot it or something. Believe me, Tom DeFalco does not need my help, coming up with story ideas, okay?
That credit was because I did thumbnails for the artist. And that was the only reason for it. They did a big crossover at that point, between Teen Titans and one of the other groups. I forget what it was, because there was a lot of stuff coming over from Wild Storm, at that point. But they did a big crossover that it was going to be a big fight scene and all this kind of stuff. And the artist needed some help, either working off plots or full scripts. A couple of times, I did work off full scripts.
They were just basically trying to give the new illustrators a leg up. So, they wouldn’t have to deal with a blank page. That kind of thing. So, I was doing that. I found out that Scott McDaniel was doing that, and I think Larry Hama did some stuff for them. Just trying to help out the next generation of illustrators, and get paid for it. That kind of thing.
Jim: A lot of them still need help today.
Frenz: Well, that’s all a matter of opinion. It’s certainly a different world now. I mean, the schedules are much more fluid, and deadlines are aren’t as deadly. These days, with everything just being sold through comic shops, if you miss a deadline, they just resolicit it and nobody cares. That wasn’t the way it used to be.
Jim: And there’s some great art… I mean, people like Chris Samnee. There’s some fantastic storytellers still, today.
Frenz: Oh, absolutely. Actually, there’s more fantastic illustrators out there than ever before. They’re just not doing what we remember as being comics. The Marvel style of dynamic storytelling just isn’t out there anymore. I don’t think there’s anybody, currently, that’s really representing that much. But the people that have discovered comics in the last five, 10 years, they don’t care. They love the comics that they love. Everybody loves the comics that were being done when they discovered comics.
That’s why my wheel house is the late ‘60s and ‘70s. That’s… everybody, their ideal comic experience is whatever is going on when they discovered comics. That’s what I found out, and that’s completely fair. I mean, that’s what makes the world go around. Different opinions.
Jim: That’s exactly right. Alex, should we leave it?… That seems like a good ending.
Alex: Yeah. So, I would say that, when I was a kid, there were two comics I noticed on the newsstand at 7/11, and that was a Thor issue you did with Annihilus on the cover. They’re kind of in a cave. And then there is the Spider-Man and Iron Fist fighting Chemistro, and those are the two comics that I picked up. The Chemistro one was fine, but the Thor that you and DeFalco did, that sucked me in. Where I was like, “Mom, I need you to find me a comic shop. I’m going to read these and I’m going to find out what happened before this.” And it got me into collecting the Marvel Universe trade paperbacks and classic X-Men.
Your art, the stories that you and DeFalco told, were my gateway into the entire Marvel Universe. And I love the stuff that you’ve done. I’m really thrilled with today’s podcast. I can still even, now, go back and read that stuff, and I feel that same magic as I felt when I was like 12, and looking at this stuff.
Frenz: Wow… I appreciate that Alex. I really do. Of course, we have to give full credit to Jack Kirby because that Thor cover was ripped off of the Jack Kirby Fantastic Four cover with the Hulk.
Alex: And I found that out later…
Frenz: So, it all comes back to Kirby.
Alex: It does. It does.
Frenz: And I will say, since we didn’t have time to do it now, this has been my history. And currently, I’m working on Sitcomics.net. Out in California, doing a book called Blue Baron, and working on a book called The Heroes Union and it is being produced by a gentleman named Darin Henry, who discovered comics in the ‘70s. So, this is very… He sought out Sal Buscema, to pencil these books for him, and Sal had retired from penciling, but recommended me because of our work together on Spider-Girl, and Sal was inking the stuff.
Again, Darin grew up reading this stuff during the ‘70s and that’s what he’s trying to channel with these books. They are great fun, and I highly recommend them.
Sitcomics, there’s several titles being done by different artists. All terrific. All with a different voice. And Darin is doing some wonderful work. So, I do want to put a pin in that for everybody, okay?
Alex: Yeah. Absolutely. Yes, because it’s like sitcoms but as a comic, right? And that’s kind of the concept there.
Frenz: Right. Well that’s… The Baron, for years, he started out working as an assistant on Seinfeld. And has worked on sitcoms most of his life, as a writer and a show runner for Disney and overseas producers and stuff, that’s why he went with Sitcomics. It’s not because they’re all humor comics or anything. He’s writing some really solid superhero stuff. Kind of turning some of the tropes on their head, and everything… I’m having a lot of fun with it.
Alex: Yeah, cool.
Frenz: So, definitely check it out. You guys need to check it out, but everybody needs to check it out. All right?
Alex: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And also, everyone check out Ron Frenz’ Outdoor Life, from 2013. He did an interesting…
Alex: Segment there, that actually does feel like a Marvel comic but there’re no costumes.
Frenz: That’s what they wanted at the time. They wanted it to look more like a Marvel comic. Then the new editor came on and said, “That’s stupid. We don’t want to do that anymore.” And I wasn’t doing it anymore. But he pays you money, and you take your chances. But thanks, I appreciate it.
Alex: Well, Ron, thanks so much for joining Jim and I today. We had a blast.
Jim: Really fun.
Frenz: Well, it’s been a lot of fun for me, walking down memory lane, and everything. I appreciate the fact that you guys are out there doing these podcasts, and keeping some of the history alive and informed. So, thank you very much, guys.
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