Foreword...

The name Allen Bellman conjures up a smile of recognition among historians and aficionados of Timely Comics and Timely Comics history. From his beginnings as a teen-ager doing backgrounds for Syd Shores' CAPTAIN AMERICA in 1942 up through THE PATRIOT, THE DESTROYER, THE HUMAN TORCH, JAP BUSTER JOHNSON, his self-created continuing crime feature LET'S PLAY DETECTIVE, the Atom-Age JET DIXON OF THE SPACE SQUADRON and scores of pre-code horror, crime, war and western tales for Atlas, Allen Bellman entertained us with a unique, distinctive and original comic book style. His career spanned the entire breadth of Timely/Atlas from the early golden-age to the dissolution of the Timely bullpen. He then joined the hundreds of freelancers whose work filled the myriad genres of titles that flourished after the decline and demise of the costumed heroes into the early 1950's.

I tracked down Allen in Florida about 5 years ago thanks to a tip from Paul Curtis and began a close friendship that remains to this day. He is a storehouse of Timely reminiscences and looks back quite fondly on his career in the comic book industry. Allen had no existing copies of his comic book work and I was able to supply him with hundreds of pages, a sizable portion, of his Timely work. This material was drawn in the 1940's and early 1950's and had not been seen by him in over 50 years, nor had his family, his wonderful wife Roz or his children and grandchildren, "ever" seen it. This friendship and the validation of an artist's career long thought forgotten, has proven to be as gratifying to this author as it has been to Allen.

I want to also mention that when this interview was originally conducted, Allen refers to his childhood friend Sam Burlockoff within the context that he had long passed away. During the piece's long preparation, a very strange and happy situation presented itself in a coincidence that boggles my mind. Jim Amash called me up one day and asked me if I had ever heard of, or had any copies of Timely work done by an artist he was in the process of interviewing named Sam Burlockoff. I froze in astonishment and told Jim that I was at the same time interviewing his childhood friend, Timely artist Allen Bellman, and that Bellman thought him long deceased and mentions this in the interview.

Roy, Jim and I immediately realized we had a unique opportunity here. We'd put both interviews into the same issue and be able to get these two long lost friends back together in the process. With barely self-contained glee I called up Allen and told him
I had wonderful news for him. Asking him if he was sitting down, I related that accompany-ing his interview would be another interview by someone he knew long ago. I then told him that it was Sam Burlockoff, who was alive and well. The joy that emanated from the receiver cannot be reproduced here but needless to say it was something I will always treasure as having been a part of.
                                                   Allen Bellman & Sam Burlockoff 2003 reunion.
                                                   

With that, I've decided to keep the original interview as is and the reader will note that when Allen mentions Sam early on it's with the assumption that he was deceased but by the end of the interview, a part conducted "after" the happy revelation, he refers to Sam in the "present" tense. -- Dr. Michael J. Vassallo
                                           
 DocV@prodigy.net                                                                                                                                                           


MV: Let's start at the beginning, Allen. Where and when were you born?

AB: I was born in Manhattan in New York City, on June 5th, 1924. Sometimes I get all choked up just thinking about that.

MV: About what?

AB: About how long ago it was and how quickly it seems to have passed.

MV: What part of Manhattan was it?

AB: The lower east side. A lot of my contemporaries were also born there.

                                                                            Bellman, at about age three.

MV: It certainly was a cultural melting pot. Where were your parents from?

AB: Russia. They were Jewish immigrants running away from the pogroms.

MV: When did they come to America?

AB: Let's see...the early part of the century. I have a picture of them that I'd never seen before until recently. My sister who passed away had it. My father is sitting in a chair with a stiff collar. You could just imagine that time.

MV: That would be about the same time my great grand parents arrived here also. Do you have any other siblings?

AB: I had one brother and 2 sisters. I'm looking at a picture of my brother right now that I recently printed out on my printer. He's looking down at me as we speak. My parents were in the bakery business along with two or three of my uncles. They were the Bellman Brothers but after a while the partnership split and the brothers went their separate ways.

MV: So you grew up on the lower east side?

AB: No, not really. My parents migrated to Brooklyn along with my two sisters and brother. I was the youngest of the four and as the youngest that allowed me more privileges than the rest of my siblings, so they tell me.

MV: What section of Brooklyn?

AB: The old Brownsville section. Same place where Mike Tyson came from.

MV: That's a tough neighborhood now.

AB: Then it wasn't. It was a middle class Italian, Jewish neighborhood. Brownsville was the home of the Jewish Mafia widely known as "Murder Incorporated". My father opened a bakery store.

MV: How old were you when you moved there?

AB: I guess I was 6 or 7 years old.

MV: You attended the local public school?

AB: Yes.

MV: How did your interest in art develop?

AB: In the bakery store. Everything was put in brown paper bags. At some point I started drawing on the bags. I suppose this was the start of printing on paper and plastic bags that we know today (laughs). I always wanted to tell a story in pictures. Airplanes intrigued me tremendously. As I got older, I started trying to draw my own comic strips. They were very crude.

MV: I'll bet you read the comics in the newspapers.

AB: Oh sure! I remember when FLASH GORDON came out.
I'll never forget the first time I saw it in the NEW YORK JOURNAL AMERICAN. Boy what a beautiful work. I was so impressed by it. Alex Raymond was one of my idols. His un-timely death was a great loss.
 Alex Raymond Flash Gordon (Sept. 1, 1940)

MV: How did this influence you?

AB: Well, I was not in my teens yet and I was drawing comic strips on note book paper, in pencil. Later on I created characters like Mander the Mystic and Big Hank O'Malley that were run on the Aunt Jean page of the defunct BROOKLYN EAGLE.

The NEW YORK DAILY MIRROR published one of my cartoons, a box panel called Pete. It went something like this: One person says to the other, "I hear Hitler wants to be an athlete". The other replied "Yeah, he wants to jump over the poles". They paid me two dollars and that was the beginning of my career. This was at the time when dark clouds of war hovered over Europe and Hitler was marching on Poland.    
                                                   
        

MV: But what about at the very beginning? Lets get back to your teens.
                                                          
                                                                                New York Mirror
                                                                 Sunday comic section (July 5, 1936)

AB: Before that I drew a comic strip called AIR PATROL for my school newspaper in Brooklyn.

MV: What school was that?

AB: It was in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. I still remember that neighborhood well.

MV: I know that area. My roots are in Greenpoint also. The different ethnic groups change over the years but the houses are all the same from the turn of the century.

AB: I remember the Grand Street Theater on Grand Street.

MV: I think it's still there! So you're in your late teens and you're drawing a comic strip for your high school newspaper. You obviously were good enough to think about art as a possible career, wouldn't you say?

AB: Well I didn't think about it as a "career". I liked to do it, and in all honesty I didn't think I was too good. I developed when I began working. Well someone "did" hire me so I must have been able to draw something! (laughs).

MV: In addition to the comic strips you read when you were young, I know you also admired Milton Caniff, who I'm going to come back to. Did you read comic books?

AB: Oh yes!



MV:
Do you remember when the first Superman debuted?

AB: I was in junior high school. On our lunch hour there was a candy store. I went in and paid 10 cents for the first Superman in ACTION COMICS. I remember there was a guy running towards you and Superman was holding up a car.

MV: That's the one!

AB: I remember it clearly. There was nothing previously on the newsstands like that. I wish I still had it.

          Action #1, pg. 1 (June 1938)
      by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel


MV:
It's worth quite a bit of money. Even beat up it's worth almost the price of a cheap car.

AB: Wow! I knew it was a collector's item but I had no idea it was like that! I don't know why there hasn't been a movie made about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. What happened to them is very sad.

MV: It "would" make for a terrific film story.

AB: I should suggest it to Michael Uslan. I've know him a long time and was a friend of his father. But it would show National, of the time, in a less than favorable light.

MV: It's unfortunate but that's how it was in the comic book business in those days. At the time of the Superman movie National caved in to pressure and finally relented to giving Siegal and Shuster a stipend for the rest of their life. They were somewhat forced by a strong groundswell in the comic book creative community. It started at $20,000 a year and was continually raised over the years. They didn't have to do it but they may have wanted to avoid bad publicity on the eve of the movie's debut. There was a large uproar and artists like Neal Adams championed their plight. It was the right thing to do or better yet, the "least" that they could do since those gentlemen started the entire industry and didn't deserve to be living with sovery little means.

AB: I remember Joe Shuster working as a messenger for a company that made photo offsets. He had delivered these pieces of art to National. Can you imagine that? The man who made the company reduced to a messenger boy? What an injustice.

MV: There have been similar type stories like that about Shuster. Another is that someone who saw him up there, perhaps an editor, I don't remember, told him to never show his face around there again. How many of those stories were true, I don't know. There certainly was a lot of animosity remaining from their lawsuit with National over Superman.

AB: The trial could be a great part of such a movie about their life. Bob Kane seemed to do ok for years, though.

MV: Yes but that's a story unto itself.

AB: I heard that he cut a deal with National or some such.


MV:
To put it mildly, yes. Unfortunately in the process it negated the contributions of Bill Finger to history. Let's get back to you. What prompted you to seek a job as an artist? Did you put together a portfolio of samples?

AB: Yes. They wouldn't have ever hired me without seeing some samples.

MV: Where did the impetus come from?        
                                                                             High School of Industrial Arts

AB:
I attended the High School of Industrial Arts and on and off, Pratt Institute. At age 17 or 18 I saw an ad in the newspaper. It was Columbus Day. I showed it to my father, may he rest in peace. He's the one who encouraged me. He told me to go down there. I told him it was Columbus Day and that they'd probably be closed. He said "You gotta try". Maybe I was a little lazy or I didn't think I'd get the job, I don't know, but I went. It was Timely Comics and they were in the McGraw Hill Building. I went up and told them I was there to apply for the job.

            
             This was the September 6, 1942 ad (Labor Day) that ran in the
                 New York Times the month before the one Bellman saw.
                      So far, the ad for October 12 has not been located.

MV: What newspaper was the ad in?

AB: I think it was the New York Times.

MV: Was there a secretary there?

AB: Yes, a receptionist. She disappeared in the back for a minute and must have told whoever was in charge, someone was there for the job opening.

MV: What year was this?

AB: It was the early 1940's.

MV: Well how old were you. Let's pin this down exactly.

AB: I was 18.

MV: So that makes it October of 1942?

   In 1942, the Timely offices were
located in the McGraw Hill Building
           at 330 West 42nd Street.

AB: That would be about right.

MV: What exactly did the newspaper ad say?

AB: "Background artist wanted". It was for CAPTAIN AMERICA..

MV: It stated that in the ad?

AB: I'm trying to remember, I'm not sure but I think it did.

MV: Ok. You see this ad for a background artist, you're 18 years old, you go in and the receptionist tells whoever is in charge that you're there for the job. Who comes out? Does Stan Lee come out?

AB: No. Don Rico comes out. He takes my work samples in. I waited a bit and he comes back out and tells me I'm hired.

MV: Boy, that was pretty quick, wasn't it?                 Don Rico, circa 1942

AB: Yes it was. He didn't take long at all. It amazed me too. I think they started me off with $25 a week when at that time a married man with a family was making $35 to $45 a week. I thought I'd find it much tougher as I was only 18 years old. There was one other brush with the comic book business before I started at Timely. It has to do with Vin Sullivan. There was a story in the defunct BROOKLYN EAGLE newspaper that mentioned that a Vincent Sullivan was getting married and that he was organizing or working for a comic book publishing house. I contacted him and met him somewhere but nothing ever came of it.

            
             Bellman, circa 1945, at age 21. He is seen drawing his feature,
                                              "Let's Play Detective"
.


MV:
Vin Sullivan was one of the first editors at National and was the editor of ACTION COMICS #1. I believe that he also was the person to encourage Bob Kane to create a hero character, resulting in Batman. He later went on to start Magazine Enterprises.

AB: I wish something would have come of our meeting.

MV: Did you ever have any formal art training?

AB: My training was mostly experience. I learned so much on the job. My best friend Sam Burlockoff and I went to Pratt Institute at night on and off. It was in a bad neighborhood in Brooklyn and I didn't like going at night.

MV: What neighborhood was that?

AB: It was downtown Brooklyn, DeKalb Avenue. I forget the exact section. I also took the Landon cartoon mail-order course. That's about it. The rest was on-the-job.


MV:
Now in October of 1942 CAPTAIN AMERICA would be up to about issue #22. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had done the first 10 issues themselves and left Timely for National around the end of 1941.


AB:
From what I remember, they had left about 9 months before I got there. There was always talk among the office staff about how great Simon and Kirby were. Syd Shores was doing it now. Vince Alascia may have been inking.

MV: In late 1942?

      Captain America #22 (Jan. 1943)
                 [Syd Shores cover]



AB:
Yes. Alascia was inking.
         
MV: Was Vince Alascia there that early on? I always placed Alascia inking Shores later on in the 1940's. Did you start work right away?

AB: I think I went back home and started the following Monday.

                                                                                Vince Alascia, circa 1942

MV:
Making this official, I guess you can say with certainty that the very first thing you did at Timely in October of 1942 was backgrounds for Syd Shores on CAPTAIN AMERICA?

AB: Yes.

MV: I'd love to find the exact story for you.

AB: Well it wasn't much. It was just drawing lines with a ruler, putting in a window, a tree, that kind of stuff.

MV: Nothing you'd recognize today?

AB: No. I didn't do it too long. Just a couple of months. I really didn't like doing that kind of work at all. Then they started me off on a script and took me off backgrounds.

MV: Do you remember the first script?

AB: It may have been The Patriot just can't remember for sure.

MV: The Patriot appeared in two of the earliest issues of the HUMAN TORCH in mid 1941 and continued up through 1946 in mostly MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS. Many different artists drew this feature including Bill Everett, Fred Bell, Al Fagaly, Al Gabriele, Paul Gustavson, Carmine Infantino, Gus Schrotter and others. Your Patriot stories seemed to come later in the 1944-46 period.

AB: That may be true.

MV: Just to estimate, I'd place you on The Patriot at about MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS #58. That's an estimate as I've not seen all those books.
                                                                 Bellman splash page for "The Patriot"
                                                                     Marvel Mystery #62 (March 1945)

                    
                  Interior page and panel detail from "The Patriot" story in
                                    
Marvel Mystery #62 (March 1945)

AB: That sounds about right. Maybe it was longer than I thought or maybe it wasn't the first after all. It's hard to remember. Anyhow, it was pretty crude. I was just starting to pencil.


MV:
You drew in the Timely offices, right?

AB: Yes, I was a staff artist and Timely had a large staff.

MV: I'm trying to picture the work area there. How was it set up and who was sitting near you?

AB: Mike Sekowsky, Frank Giacoia, George Klein, Frank Carin...his name was Carino and he changed it to Carin, Chris Rule...

MV: Why did Frank Carin change his name?

Timely offices layout per Stan Lee
in Secrets Behind the Comics (1947)

AB: I suppose it sounded better without the "o" or it could have been a personal thing. Without knowing him that well I never gave it much thought.


MV:
Was Rule there that early, in late 1942?

AB: I think he was. I could be blending the years here. Sekowsky, Klein, Carin and Giacoia were there at the beginning for sure. Ed Winiarski was also there that early on. Al Jaffee too.

MV: Was Vince Fago there? Fago became editor-in-chief during the war years when Stan Lee went into the service. This happened between the Feb/Mar 1943 cover dates, putting it at about Dec/42 real time.

                                                                (from top) George Klein, Ed Winiarski
                                                                        and Syd Shores (1942)

AB: Stan must have left within a few months of my starting at Timely. I recall he worked on wartime film strips out in Astoria, NY. I don't recall him being sent overseas.

MV: He wasn't. He worked on those army films as you say but was down south, I believe. Jim Mooney told me he once drove Stan's old car down to where Stan was stationed and spent a weekend holed up drawing and Stan knocking out E. Claude Pennygrabber scripts for TERRYTOONS.

AB: For some reason or other I seem to remember Stan just always being there. I'm sure he was away, as you say, but my memory can't pinpoint it. Perhaps because his scripts were still coming in, his presence was still felt there.
          Stan Lee in 1942

MV: His name remained on the contents pages of the humor books so as you say, his presence must have still been felt.

AB: I do remember Vince Fago. He was a thin fellow with one eye that seemed clouded. Years later I worked for his brother Al. He may have acted as an agent for some publication but I just don't remember the details. I recall doing one job that was about a devil. I was really happy with how the story came out. Usually, if I liked a script, I would put my heart into a story.

MV: What about yourself? Were you in the service?

AB: I went into the Navy in 1943. I was painting insignias in ships service. It was just a few months before I returned to Timely after receiving an honorable discharge due to illness. I notified Stan or Robby Solomon, I don't remember who, that I was returning to Timely. It was no problem coming back.

MV: How was the staff set up in the Timely offices?

AB: There was a separation of the guys who worked on the adventure books from the guys who worked on the animation books.

MV: You mean the funny-animal books?

AB: Yes. We called them the "animators". I remember one time Walt Disney sent them a letter telling them to stop copying their characters.

MV: Really? Were they actually copying Disney? I can't picture any of their characters that might give Disney a problem.

AB: Well there were similarities, occasionally. I don't think anything became of it because I don't remember hearing about it again. I also remember the animators once made this moveable cartoon character which they manipulated from their room. They were crazy!

MV: Was there a lot of socializing among the staff?

AB: We used to play cards during lunch. Lunches were usually brought from home. Sometimes after hours we'd go out for a drink.

MV: What were the general working hours?

AB: About 9 to 5.

MV: Don Rico, as you told me, seems to have been used in some managerial capacity, evaluating new talent like yourself when you applied.

AB: Yes but he wrote and drew also. YOUNG ALLIES was one of his books. He had a brother Chester Rico who was a prizefighter. We used to go after work and watch him fight. There used to be a fight arena nearby, I've forgotten the name. Not Madison Square Garden, a local small Manhattan club arena. Some of these fights were televised and I would make sure I would wave to my wife and neighbors at home while attending these fights. I don't think I ever remember Chester ever winning. Having one of the first television sets in the area, my place was always host to neighbors and friends. I lived on the ground floor and never closed the blinds while the TV was on. Neighbors were resting on my open window sill to watch the small screen. Martin Goodman called Don Rico "Rat Rico".                                                               Don Rico splash page for
                                                                           Suspense #8 (May 1951)

MV: Why was that?

AB: Don and some of the other artists didn't bother with Syd Shores who was the unofficial bullpen director. Rico was the ringleader of this "ignore Shores" group. He was always causing small problems in the office and Goodman knew this and hence the name "Rat Rico" he referred to Don with.


MV:
Who were some of your biggest artistic influences at Timely?

AB: At Timely there was a guy named Tom Tomasch (sp?). He taught me a lot when I arrived. He was a short guy, very sophisticated and very nice. A real classy person. He even wrote a book on anatomy. He knew anatomy so well. He originally lived up in Lake Placid. His real name was, I think Elmer Tomasch but he was known as Tom. He would look over my work and correct me early on. Syd Shores was also a great help.


  Elmer (Tom) Tomasch illustration from
    Miss America vol. 1 #2 (Nov. 1944)


MV:
Was Tom Tomasch an artist or production person?

AB: Tom was an artist and a darned good one at that. He knew his anatomy extremely well. He would make suggestions to me that helped me in my drawing.

MV: I've never heard of him before.

AB: I can't believe how he'd get lost in the shuffle as he was so good an artist.

MV: I find it fascinating how many "new" Timely names are now being turned up after so much time has passed. Tom Tomasch is one. I'd never heard of Bob Deschamps until Jim Amash interviewed him. I'm betting there are even more guys who are not accounted for.

AB: I wish I'd kept records! Who would have known people would be asking about them 60 years later.

MV: I want to talk about two names of someone in management who I see all the time. I keep seeing him credit pages of the early funny-animal comics and it has always confused me. Was he an artist, an editor? I also keep seeing him in the credits of Martin Goodman's magazine line. Who were Mel Barry and Mel Blum?

AB: Mel Blum was the art director of Goodman's magazine line and pulp line. He was later divorced and we would bum around sometimes. We had that in common. Misery loves company, I guess. I remember one time he almost got us killed. We were out and he was falling asleep at the wheel of the car! Anyhow, he had a brother who was a photographer. His name was Barry Blum. Mel told me one time that he occasionally took his brother's first name as his last name, as Mel Barry.

MV: Why?

AB: I'm not sure. I know he took jobs at some point with the NATIONAL ENQUIRER. Maybe he wanted to hide the fact he was Jewish. I just don't know. I didn't know he had anything to do with the comics though.

MV: He did at some point, at least early on. He's listed as Mel Barry on the credits pages of early TERRYTOONS from Nov/42 through June/43. Then he's listed as Mel Blum from July/43 through Sept/43 when the credits disappear. His title on these credit pages was "technical advisor", which means nothing. He then continues as Mel Blum in Goodman's detective magazines as "art director". He followed Joe Simon as art director in those detective magazines. He also was art director on the celebrity magazines. I have him on these as late as the late 1950's including a tenure as art director on a western digest published in 1956 and 1957 called WESTERN MAGAZINE. It basically was a small digest style western pulp with artwork by Carl Burgos, of all people. Mel Blum is listed on the inside front cover.
                                                                   Vince Fago & George Klein drawn                                                                    credits page from Krazy Komics #3
                                                                                     (Nov. 1942)

AB: Yes, he was an art director. He was also a weight lifter could just about get through the door. He wasn't that nice a person but I got along well with him. He was always full of puns and every time he pulled one his staff members would just walk away from him. He moved down here to Boca Raton with his second wife and we used to see each other. I haven't seen him in years though and I'm sure he's passed away by now as he was older than I was. He told me himself that he used his brother's name. He was friendly when I saw him at Goodman's after my divorce. I can remember him saying to me "Allen straighten up, you are walking with your head down". At the NATIONAL ENQUIRER he made big money and worked for them for years. This was after ending his long relationship with Martin Goodman

MV: That must have been in the late 1950's and he must have worked for the NATIONAL ENQUIRER even after that, perhaps in the 1960's. But he was using Mel Barry as a name very early on.
         National Enquirer (March 9, 1958)

AB: Then I don't know the reason. Mel Blum was Mel Barry and his brother was Barry Blum.

MV: Did Barry Blum ever work for Timely?

AB: I don't think so. But Mel put out some of his brother's work in other publications. Barry, like I said, was a photographer. I even posed for some of his pictures to be used on covers.

MV: Really?

AB: Yes, and he used to buy my cartoons to use in letters-to-the-editor columns, etc.

MV: What type of magazines were these?

AB: LOVE STORY was one.

MV: Who published that?

AB: He did, Mel Blum.

MV: Now Martin Goodman had a pulp line also.

AB: Yes he did, in fact I did illustrations for some of those pulps. I did them through Mel Blum.

MV: Why through Blum? He didn't seem to be associated with the pulp line. In the late 1930's, the editor of the pulp line was Charles Goodman. By the early 1940's Robert O. Erisman took over and seemed to be the editor through the end. At different points Dan Keyes and the fictional Arthur Lane are mentioned in credits of the early 1950's MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES but I've never seen Blum's name in a Goodman pulp until WESTERN DIGEST and I've never seen an actual "art director" credit listed.

AB: Well as art director of the magazine line he also secured artwork for the pulps. I did these illustrations from home as a freelancer.

MV: I've seen quite a few pulp and magazine illustrations by Timely comic book artists. Simon and Kirby, George Klein, David Gantz, Frank Giacoia, Syd Shores, Al Gabrielle, Stan Drake, Mike Sekowsky and now I can add Allen Bellman. Timely cover artist Alex Schomburg also. And of course Frank R. Paul was a pulp artist who drew the cover to the very first Timely comic book. So there was obviously a lot of cross-over.

AB: Well it was extra money. Anyone would grab it. I remember one I did to accompany a boxing story in a sports pulp also.

MV: Martin Goodman had several sports pulps......BEST SPORTS, COMPLETE SPORTS and SPORTS ACTION, off the top of my head.

AB: I did some outside of the sports pulps, detective stories I believe. [Note: After this interview was conducted the author found a copy of the exact crime pulp Allen did the story illustrations for. It was for the very last issue (#26) Vol 4, #6 of DETECTIVE SHORT STORIES (Oct/47). Allen confirmed 2 illos he did, one of which was signed]
                                                                       Bellman illustration for Detective
                                                                     Short Stories
#26, pg. 27 (Oct. 1947)

MV: How did your pulp freelance assignments come about?

AB: Like I told you, I was friendly with Mel Blum. He fed me those freelance assignments knowing I could use the extra money.

MV: How old were you when you got married?

AB: 20 years old.

MV: Right after you began at Timely.

AB: Yes. That marriage ended in a bad divorce and I've been re-married for 40 years now.

MV: Your wife Roz is wonderful. Especially how she puts up with all our hours of phone conversations! Do you recall a man named Bill King? He's listed as an "associate" on 1942-43: books.

AB: He may have been the guy who took my Milton Caniff book. I loaned him or someone a hard cover Milton Caniff book in good faith. He refused to give it back!

MV: Why wouldn't he give it back?

AB: He liked it so much he kept putting it off, making excuses, until finally I stopped asking him about it. I've never forgotten about it, though. I think he later came down with polio. I'm not certain it was Bill King but if Bill later had polio, it was him.

MV: So Caniff was one of your early art influences?

AB: Oh boy was he! He was one of my heroes! I used to eat, sleep and dream Milton Caniff. Every time the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS would come out, they had a morning and night edition sold for two cents, I'd cut out the Caniff and put it into a scrapbook. I started a cartoonist's club in my Junior High School called The National Amateur Cartoonist's Association. He was our honorary president. Boy, I started corresponding with him and when he started answering my letters I was in heaven! He wrote articles for us and we put out a little newspaper called the CARTOON JOURNAL. Some kids out in the Midwest printed it for us and we paid him 50 cents. He used a toy rubber printing set where every letter was set by hand. I was speaking to Michael Usulan about this recently. Michael wanted to know what Caniff wrote in my newspaper.
                                                             Caniff Terry and the Pirates Sunday strip
                                                                                 (Oct. 29, 1939)

MV: What did he write?

AB: In essence, he asked us to look around and see what was "hot" and take it from there, that we should be aware of what was popular at the time. It was written on pink stationary and in gray lettering. I ate, slept and dreamed of Milton Caniff. Years later I would meet Milton Caniff at the National Cartoonist Society Annual Reuben Award affair, held at the Waldorf Astoria.

MV: Did you say anything to him?

AB: Yes but it wasn't what I'd hoped! I was waiting for my date outside the rest rooms in the Waldorf Astoria when Caniff came out of the men's room. I approached him "Mr. Caniff", I gave him the respect due him, and before I could even finish he said "excuse me, I have friends waiting for me". I was wearing a tux same as he. I took a shower that day and changed my socks! Wow. What a letdown! My hero snubbed me!
               Milton Caniff

MV: Many artists claim that Caniff influenced them greatly. Caniff seemingly influenced everybody.

AB: He was fabulous. Michael Usulan wrote the new TERRY AND THE PIRATES newspaper strip a few years ago. He's a great Caniff admirer also.

MV: Do you have any existing copies of that Junior High paper?

AB: No. I don't know what happened to them. Sadly, I never kept any.

MV: What about Robbie Solomon?

AB: Robbie Solomon was Stan Lee's uncle.

MV: What was his actual position at the company?

AB: He was like a general manager. These guys came out of jobs like "shoe salesman", etc., they had a relative in Martin Goodman and tried to get jobs. Solomon was a pain in the ass to the artists. His job was to annoy people (laughs). He was always on my back about something. When I joined Timely I thought he was the main guy running the office. He overshadowed Stan Lee and it took a while until I realized Stan was the editor. Robbie used to bring in comic books from other companies to show the Timely artists what he wanted. One of the artists was Lou Fine and this pushed me to change my brush strokes and put in more blacks. This improved my overall result. Robbie was always trying to act like he was running things and I recall he died a young death. Another person there who died young was a book keeper named Sylvia Fagan. She was a single woman who died young.


                                                       

 

    

©2005
by Dr. Michael J. Vassallo

About the author:

Dr. Michael J. Vassallo opened a treasure chest of Golden Age memories with this outstanding interview of Timely/ Atlas great, Allen Bellman. Mr. Bellman's vivid and candid recollections make this one of the most enjoyable interviews ever recorded.