Comic Book Biography: BILL BLACK

bill-blackBill Black is one of the unsung heroes of the independent publishing business. A stalwart of the shelves, Black has built up a following that has outlasted most of his contemporaries. In this mammoth interview, we trace the length and breadth of Black’s career, from his beginnings at Warren Publishing and with his own Paragon Publications, to a discussion of the Direct Market from a unique perspective, through to details on the upcoming Femforce Relaunch!

First Comics News: You have been publishing comics since 1969, that’s almost 35 years, what keeps you going?

Bill Black: I’m too dumb to quit and too old to try anything new. There is a small, “cult” following surrounding FEMFORCE. As long as they want the characters to stay alive, I will endeavor to breathe life into them. Nightveil, Synn, and the lot are really interesting characters so it is easy to come up with stories for them. And I’ve always been interested in comics that existed before my time so I enjoy resurrecting Golden Age characters like the Cat-Man and the Kitten, the Green Lama, the Black Terror, and the like. There is also a small following of fans who support these reprint books. Doing the comics that I do is a lot of fun! My characters are not morbid or depressing. I’d like to believe they present a form of light entertainment that is enjoyable.

1st: When you started Paragon Publications what were your expectations?

Bill: To say my expectations have been exceeded would be an understatement. Who would have thought that it would last 30-plus years? That’s longer than Fawcett, Quality, Fiction House, etc. Earlier in 1969, I was first published (in comics) by Warren drawing stories for CREEPY, EERIE, and so on. Then I started Paragon and soon liked the control of creating/writing/drawing my characters. I don’t think I would ever be happy working for another company. Even back in the early Paragon days, I had created a “universe” of interlocking characters. That concept would be greatly expanded with the formation of AC Comics. I wanted to have several titles with different characters in each. In that way, Paragon differed from other small publishers of that era. Most of them did only one title.

1st: Paragon was originally a fanzine, how did you go from Fanzine to Prozine?

Bill: Ah, I always thought of it as a prozine, quality of design and printing. Certainly when compared to other zines of its day. But, you are right in as much as the first Paragon offerings contained 100% Bill Black artwork… and I was hardly what you would call “established” at that time. Actually, I was a “pro,” having been published by Warren before I started Paragon. Later, thru networking with fans and pros, I was able to add material drawn by working comic book professionals of that day.

1st: What was the circulation of those early issues?

Bill: The first book, Paragon Illustrated #1, sold 350 copies in its first year. They were mailed out one at a time. Later, after I became more visible, circulation rose to over 6000 copies per book. It’s a damn shame we can’t sell that many copies today. Most comic book publishers today would kill to have a circulation of 6000. Sadly, there are no readers to support the industry.

1st: Without a comic specialty store and without newsstand distribution how did potential customers ever find one of your comics?

Bill: It was much easier then. I just placed ads (usually free in swap for artwork) in other zines, most notably RB/CC (The Rocket’s Blast/Comicollector out of Miami). I contributed art to many zines and soon readers were familiar with my work and, in turn, bought Paragon titles. And, Bud Plant was a good customer. He bought in quantity and sold thru his mail-order catalog. Everything was mail-order in the 1970s. Also, discounts to Bud and others were much lower than what a publisher must give up today. Selling direct thru zine ads got me 100% of the cover price. I believe that the sales on one book (StarFems #1) were enough to put in a swimming pool at my home. Whew! Couldn’t do that today. Today the market is really dead.

1st: With small circulation and a small budget how did you ever get such top-named talent such as Bill Sienkiewicz, Bob McLeod, Dennis Fujitake, Dick Giordano, Frank Frazetta, Frank Miller, Frank Thorne, George Perez, Gil Kane, Gilbert Hernandez, Howard Chaykin, Jack Kirby, Jerry Ordway, Jim Steranko, Joe Staton, John Betty, John Byrne, Michael Golden, Mike Royer, Mike Vosberg, Mike Zeck, Pat Broderick, Terry Austin, Willie Blyberg and Wm. Michael Kaluta to work at Paragon Publications?

Bill: Different story with each artist, I would imagine. McLeod, Ordway, Steranko, Beatty, Royer, Zeck, and Broderick were my friends. Others I approached or wrote to and then commissioned their art. Some art I bought from a second party and never dealt with the artist. I don’t believe I ever published Hernandez or Chaykin, did I?

1st: Chaykin was in the 1981 Pretty Girl Sketchbook and Hernandez was in the 1982 Heroes, Heavies & Heroines.

Bill: This would be MIKE HERNANDEZ, not the Love & Rockets, guy.

1st: My mistake, sorry.

Bill: I wrote to Frank Thorne (whose work I loved) and he did a painting. Ditto Alex Toth, Dick Giordano, Joe Staton. Several of those you listed lived in Florida and I’d snag them at cons. I was a 3rd partner (with founders Jim Ivey and Mike Kott) in ORLANDOcon for over 15 years. For example, we had Gil Kane as a guest at Ocon in 1980. We hit it off very well. Gil must have done at least a half dozen drawings for me that weekend. That reminds me, many have never been published. I’d better get to it! Gil loved drawing Westerns so we had love of Westerns in common. I asked him to draw the MADAM .44 character from the Johnny Thunder strip that he illustrated in All-Star Western back in the 1950s. After sketching her in, he then continued drawing Johnny Thunder on Black Lightning behind her! Wow! He really loved drawing Western characters and horses. I believe most all of the artists you listed gave me a break on the price. Certainly Staton, Toth and Giordano, and my Florida buddies. A writer who was working for me talked me into using Kaluta on two covers. Kaluta charged full price… just what he’d get at DC. I really didn’t like the two covers he did, especially the NIGHTVEIL cover.

1st: Did his art help sell more copies of the books?

Bill: No, not at all.

1st: During the Paragon years you also worked at Marvel, how did you break in?

Bill: One day in 1978 I got a postcard from Roy Thomas. He asked, “Don’t you think it’s about time you worked for Marvel Comics?” Back in the 1960s, I’d have loved to work for Marvel but by 1978 the gild was off the lily. As I walked into my family room reading Roy’s card, I glanced around at my current project. I was doing art cels for a film production company and had 50 or so pieces spread out around the room, back-painting them in assembly line fashion. The job called for two hundred pieces. It was two weeks before I had time to respond to Roy. When Roy told me the Marvel page rates, I realized the pay was much lower than I got for the film cels… while at the same time, inking comics would require far more work. I took the Marvel job as an inker because it was dropped in my lap. The most I did was 33 pages in one month. Compare that to 200 film cells a month at about the same fee per piece. The film production work was freelance. At the time I thought the Marvel work might develop into something long-term.

1st: Wasn’t Femforce originally an idea you pitched for an issue of the Avengers?

Bill: For Roy, I inked an ish of WHAT IF…? “What If the Avengers were formed in the 1950s” or some such. It co-starred VENUS and had cameos by JANN OF THE JUNGLE and NAMORA. I suggested to Roy that maybe he write a story that featured a group of all-female characters. “No,” he said. “Female characters don’t sell.” So I did it myself launching All Girl Squad (Femforce) in Femzine #1, 1981. Later, for AC Comics, I did a Femforce Special in 1984. Surprisingly, it outsold everything else we were doing at that time. So I gave Femforce their own book which is still going on today. And, over the years, spawned many, many spin-off titles, a role-playing game, posters, tee shirts, stand-ups, statues, a CD… I’m even making a video based on Nightveil. But of course, female characters don’t sell. These female characters have supported me for almost 20 years!

1st: What was it like working at Marvel? I remember a story about a penciler that drew a stick figure motorcycle and wanted you to finish rendering it.

Bill: It was very disappointing. Gone were the glory days of Stan, Jack, Dick, Don, Steve, and Steranko. I didn’t much like Marvel Comics of the 1970s… at least compared to the 1960s. By the 1970s, the comic book fans of the 1960s were now running the industry. That was the beginning of the end. Taking comic books seriously and writing continuity in “real” time was a big mistake. Comic books lost their audience in droves. I did have fun with Roy’s books because he was so retro. I read Marvel Boy when I was a small child. Suddenly I was inking him.

About the stick figures… it will be hard to believe in these times of ridiculously OVER-RENDERED comic book pencil art that much of what was done in the 60s & 70s was the simplest of layouts. That way a “pencil” artist could (horrors!) crank out several issues a month. It was then left to the inker or “finisher” to complete the art. The motorcycle you mentioned was a good example. I realized that to do it correctly, I’d have to hunt down a photo of a motorcycle and draw it from scratch. Fortunately, I had a young artist friend who was drooling over the fact that he knew a guy who was now working for Marvel. “Hey, can I work on some of that?” “Sure, pal… turn these squiggles into a Harley!” That youthful assistant was Steve Vance who went on to have a lengthy career in comics himself.

Roy sent me a John Buscema page to ink as a test/tryout as a finisher. It was very loose and I couldn’t tell what it was I was inking. Roy included no script, description, or help of any kind. Just “finish it.” (In the 1990s, I “ghost” inked for many companies… probably a hundred books… we never got a script to tell us what was going on. Eight… ten years as credited inker on Star Wars never got a script.) As it turned out the Buscema page was an unused page from Conan– “Tower of the Elephant.” After the fact, I learned that the “tower” was supposed to be glass or something other than stone. I rendered it as a stone and nobody ever told me differently. But I got the job anyway.

1st: Why did you leave Marvel?

Bill: I didn’t leave Marvel Comics, Roy Thomas left Marvel Comics. At about this time I was offered a permanent job with a film production company. It was good money and they paid to have me relocate to Central Florida. I wasn’t really satisfied doing Marvel inks and, at the rates they paid then, it was doubtful I could support my family even though I turned in every job way ahead of schedule. So when Roy left Marvel he told me that “Jim Shooter had some work for me.” I should call Shooter. I said I would and did. His secretary said Shooter was out with a cold. So, okay. I said I’d call Shooter and I did. Then I moved to Orlando and started a whirlwind career in film production. I became a professional photographer then as well. We did so many films I couldn’t possibly do all the art and photography. So I hired some buddies to help with the art… John Beatty, Steve Vance, and Jerry Ordway. What was really sweet was that I worked at my own pace which was very fast. Working at this job taught me HOW to work fast. The boss didn’t care when I did it or how long I spent at it as long as I got the job done by the deadline. We ended up doing 200 films a year! We never missed a deadline. All films were released on schedule. Everything, except the film processing, was done in-house. We had control over the complete product. I did all the photography shooting mostly in the afternoons… so I had mornings to work on Paragon and my own film projects. It was the best of both worlds.

But the situation with Marvel and Roy Thomas is a good example of how tenuous employment in the comics industry can be. You are hired by a specific editor. If that editor is replaced, most likely the new editor will choose his own artists rather than stick with the artists already in place on a book. Changeover is fast and furious. That’s the first big thing that drove me away from reading comics myself. I’d like a particular comic book character that was drawn by a favorite artist… then…WHAM! He’s gone and is replaced by someone with a radically different style. And, most likely, the writer will be new as well… giving said character a different personality and having him do things that would be contrary to his established personality. So I’d say “Adios” and drop the title. This happened again and again until now I buy no comics on a regular basis. Loss of editorial control has resulted in ever-decreasing circulation in today’s comics.

1st: You also worked at Charlton, what was it like there?

Bill: I just did covers for Gunfighters and Billy The Kid. Charlton was the only company doing Westerns and I liked doing Westerns. The interiors of the books were all reprints. I was still working for the film production company at this time and didn’t have time to do as much as I’d have liked.

1st: Eventually AC Comics published the Charlton heroes, how did that come about and why did that only last one issue?

Bill: It lasted more than one issue. It lasted one year. I knew Charlton Associate Editor, Bill Pearson. Previously, I co-published an ish of Witzend with him thru Paragon. He had started a title called Charlton Bullseye in which newcomers drew Charlton features or their own characters. It was CDC’s Showcase. I had worked on a couple of them. The sales had dropped to the point of cancellation so Charlton axed Bullseye. Pearson had promised his artists that he’d get them published so he was shopping them around. I told him I was interested. He said, “Nah, they should be published in color.” I said I was starting a color comic book company, AC Comics. He said okay. So I signed the contracts with Charlton legal department and I had the rights to the Charlton characters for one year, 1983. This worked out very well for me because I gained an art staff for AC Comics from this talent pool. AC published Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Nightshade, The Question, and Atomic Mouse.

There were many stories that were never published because the artists, not used to keep any kind of deadlines, never finished the stories! So there was never a part two to the Beetle, Question, Atom, Nightshade team-up. There was an unfinished, book-length Captain Atom story by Dan Reed. Dan had restored the character to his original costume… the one with the mask. Dan is a very emotional artist. He was really distressed and pissed that Charlton had canceled Bullseye. It was Dan, for the most part, that convinced Pearson and editor George Wilman, to create Bullseye in the first place. So in his Captain Atom story, it ended with the total destruction of the planet Earth! Yeah, he’d show ’em! Ax Bullseye, will, ya? I suggested that Charlton may not like the fact that mankind gets wiped out. Change the ending. But Dan never completed the book before the year’s contract was up so it, and many other stories, never saw print.

1st: In 1982 with the emergence of the Direct Market, Paragon Publications became AC Comics, why the change the name after 14 years?

Bill: I had a business manager who was convinced we could sell thousands of comics in JAPAN! He told me how Japanese society accepted comics and everybody read them. He also said that the Japanese loved anything American. He said we should target Japan as the main market and the company name should reflect that we are a “made in USA” product. So I said, “AMERICOMICS.” And that was it. He based all this on information from his wife and adopted son who was Japanese. He said that the rock band, Cheap Trick, was huge in Japan and that we’d be very successful if we did a Cheap Trick comic. We got up with Cheap Trick and they thought it would be cool, too. I called in John Beatty to draw the book as he had a wild style that would fit the antics of the group. Beatty and I each did a promo piece. Cheap Trick was coming to Central Florida in concert and they arranged for AC Comics to be their guests. We had done up a batch of “Americomics” tee shirts and took a batch for them thinking it would be great publicity if they wore the shirts on tour. At the concert, we were placed on stage behind gigantic speakers with some groupie girls. The din was so incredibly loud I could not recognize a single song. It was just a roar of noise.

Afterward we met Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Bun E. Carlos, and the fourth guy named John. Rick, of course, was crazy. They liked the tee shirts and wanted more. My business manager ended up giving them all 100 of them, a really stupid move. Afterward, I was deaf for two weeks. Then we sent Mrs. Business Manager, a really beautiful woman, over to Japan to cement some deals. After a month she came back with nothing. Less than nothing as she learned that Japan had had its fill of Cheap Trick. In fact, they tried to sell her leftover Cheap Trick memorabilia! As we now know, my business manager was ass-backward in his thinking. Japan doesn’t love American comics. America loves Japanese comics! After many other deals that turned sour, I tossed my business manager bodily out of the office in February 1984. By then I was established as Americomics for no apparent reason. I then changed the name to AC Comics and dropped “Americomics” forever. That’s why the name was changed from Paragon.

1st: AC started with some pretty impressive talent and discovered even more. With artists like Dave Dorman, Dave Robertson, Dick Ayers, Doug Hazelwood, Erik Larsen, George Perez, Greg Horn, Jerry Ordway, Pat Broderick, Paul Gulacy, Paul Ryan, Steve Lightle, Tim Townsend, Tom Lyle, Willie Blyberg, Wm. Michael Kaluta, why hasn’t AC found mainstream acceptance?

Bill: Oh, it did… in 1983… if what you mean by mainstream acceptance is high circulation. Success came very fast and in a matter of a couple of months AC was selling over 40,000 copies of a single issue. Diamond alone was buying 10,000 copies of each issue. At first, I was doing most all the work… art, stories, production… myself. That was an impossible situation as the industry demanded products released on a monthly basis. I had to hire and train more staff. You may not be aware that the “Direct Market” that was created then (1982-83) did NOT include Marvel or DC. It was just a handful of Independent publishers involved in a grand experiment. Marvel and DC were still in the old newsstand distribution system and didn’t want anything to do with this new market. They controlled the market. If a reader wanted comics before 1983, he had five choices… Marvel, DC, Archie, Harvey, Charlton… six if you count Warren, which was magazine format.

The readers wanted MORE so they embraced the “Direct Market.” It was a runaway success. Within a year there were 14 direct distributors. Only after the “Direct Market” proved to be a financial success, did Marvel and DC jump into it. This is what the distributors wanted… name brands with established characters. Marvel and DC at first only designated certain titles for the direct market, then later, shifted over the whole line. This added over 100 “new” titles into the direct market system. That was great for the distributors. That was great for the fans who could now buy Spider-Man and Batman at their local comics shop. But it was death to the Independent publishers who started it all. They took the risk with their money and hard work. Remember First Comics? They came on strong with ONE MILLION Dollars in start-up money! Incredible. They got trampled. All the initial independents were trampled.

Remember Deluxe Comics? No? Few do. They had the top artists… Perez, Ordway… many more who were top dogs in 1983-84. Top-notch quality printing and production. Bankrupt. This happened again and again. AC Comics is the ONLY one of the original Independent publishers who started this whole system that is still in business. I’d like to think that I have learned from my own mistakes and the mistakes of others. To me, it is sheer folly to try to be the “biggest and the best” (like CrossGen tried to do and failed in current times). I love creating comics. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make a living creating comics? I love to draw. Writing comes easy to me. I have an endless supply of ideas.” I never thought, “Hey, I’m better than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby! I can do comics better than Marvel! Paragon is better than Batman! I’ll show ’em!” I love the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Marvel comics. I understand how they were done the way they were and WHY they were done the way they were. No, my goal was to make a decent living in comics…. to support my family in a comfortable manner. At that, I have succeeded. I have no desire to be “popular.” It seems that to become “popular” is a quick route to obscurity. I have always tried to approach publishing realistically without absurd expectations. My goal now, after 20+ years at AC, is survival. I’ve seen so many comic publishers come and go! Hundreds! Do you realize that there are today (in 2003) over 400 comic book publishers? When AC started there were less than a dozen.

But, to get back to your original question, the artists you mention here are merely frosting on the cake. They were never a substantial part of creating the AC Universe. I have never had any interest in luring readers by having a “hot” cover artist, which was suggested over and over by retailers. That’s phony. Let’s imagine I could shell out big bucks to hire Alex Ross to paint a Femforce cover. Sure, that would get a certain number of “customers” to buy the book. But Alex Ross has no interest in FEMFORCE. He is not part of the creative team that brings “readers” the FEMFORCE. He would be acting in the capacity of a “hired gun.” Besides, the next month those new “customers” would leave FEMFORCE to flit over to the next cover Alex Ross painted.

1st: Many of these people got their first break or at least an early career break at AC, how do you find new talent?

Bill: Hardly a difficult task since today there are more comic book “creators” than ever before. There are probably more comic book creators than there are comic book readers, though I suspect they are one in the same. And because so many publishers have gone out of business, there are hundreds of unemployed artists/writers. Add to this mix that Marvel refuses to hire any experienced artists… this simultaneously puts former Marvel artists hunting for work and creates a legion of new ones who will be chewed up and spit out in six months. AC is certainly not looking for any new talent. The comic book market is almost non-existent. We can’t hire any artists. Mark Heike and I do all the work in-house, mostly. This year we have introduced some new blood: the Paul Monsky/Ed Coutts talent team on Femforce #119. They will return with a Tara epic in Femforce #124. Jeff Austin is now working with me. He’s multi-talented. He penciled/inked/lettered a Nightveil story from my script which will appear in Femforce #123. He penciled the lead story in Femforce 121 which Mark Heike is inking. Jeff just inked the Yankee Girl #1 book from my layouts. He is also inking another newcomer, Mark Glidden, who is writing/penciling another Nightveil story for Femforce #123. The Black/Austin team strikes again in Femforce #122 with the return of “Muck Man,” a character I created over a decade ago that has the potential for future stories.

1st: Out of the original four independent publishers to start the direct market, Pacific, First, and Eclipse Comics, why was AC the only one to survive?

Bill: I have always played it close to the vest. If I fail, my family is put into hard times and I won’t let that happen. My family is the “real world.” Never let the fantasy world have precedence over the real world. As I said before, I learned from the mistakes of others. I watch other publishers overextend themselves and try to become bigger than what is possible to achieve. You must see the reality of comic book publishing. The customer base is about 250,000. There are 400-plus comic book publishers. Do the math. How thinly can you slice the pie? Other publishers are so full of themselves that they think they can sell 50,000 copies of their comic because it is so magnificent. Look at the sales figures. Marvel can’t sell 50,000 copies of their established comics so how could a newcomer do better? There is just no market left to sell to. So I do not print color books. I cut costs on every facet of the business. I do most of the work myself (though Mark Heike also has an insane workload) and I work about 13 hours a day, every day. No weekends off. No vacations. I am capable of doing most all the functions of publishing myself, including the nitty-gritty, hands-on production, not just the writing and the drawing. The writing and drawing are just the first steps in creating a comic book. Rebekah handles the bookkeeping… billing and mail order. Mark handles the AC Webstore and deals with the talent pool, the contractors, and so on. I create all the work that then Mark and I must produce.

We do three books a month… sometimes four. Our page count is higher than other publishers’ books so we produce at LEAST 150 pages of material every month. No other publisher is willing to take on this workload or to put this much effort into their business, so they go out of business. Then, of course, so many independent publishers stiff their printers. You have to be loyal to your printer because without the printer, there is no comic book. Some of the original Independent publishers would just move from printer to printer. One that was based in California suddenly was using a Central Florida printer. The next thing you know, that printer goes out of business. Correlation? Could be. Soon after, that publisher went out of business. Then, of course, AC has great characters that have stood the test of time. Our readers love Femforce and have stayed with them all these years. They are loyal to Femforce. Look at all the websites devoted to Femforce and AC comics! Incredible. AC has the best fans in the world.

1st: You were publishing bad girls before they were cool, when bad girls became a craze in the 90s, did interest in AC increase?

Bill: Not at all.

1st: Originally the Blue Bulleteer was the Phantom Lady, why was the name change?

Bill: DC claimed they owned the name Phantom Lady and, in 1983, Dick Giordano (then DC editor) called me and asked me to cease and desist the use of the name. Big company pressuring a little company… I was just starting up, so I rolled over on this. I later discovered that DC had not and COULD NOT trademark the name, Phantom Lady. But by then I had re-created the character as Nightveil. All this was a good thing because Nightveil has become such a great character far exceeding Phantom Lady in any incarnation. At AC we have a “retro” history as Femforce started during World War II. I created the Blue Bulleteer as the masked persona of Laura Wright before she becomes the sorceress, Nightveil. So from 1943 into the 1960s, Laura is Blue Bulleteer and runs around in a costume that is based on the Matt Baker, Fox Features version of Phantom Lady. The fans love it!

1st: DC tried to use the name Paragon for one of their heroes; clearly they must have known you existed after dealing with you over the Phantom Lady?

Bill: Sure, but this time I knew better and didn’t roll over. I sent them a copy of the registered trademark and they had to stop. And “Paragon” wasn’t the only example of this. DC did it over and over again. They’re still doing it. They actually went so far as to use She-Cat in an issue of Catwoman. The writer of Catwoman knew I owned She-Cat but did it anyway, figuring DC lawyers would handle it. Again I had papers showing a registered trademark on She-Cat. DC blamed it all on the writer and claimed no fault on their part because the writer was an independent contractor. Of course, he had been writing Batman titles for 20 years… But in the following issue of Catwoman, the character’s name was changed to AlleyCat or some such. Really stupid proceedings… very immature.

1st: In addition to the long-running Femforce, AC has published an incredible amount of westerns in a time when other publishers don’t. Do the western sell as well as Femforce?

Bill: No, Westerns do not sell as well as Femforce. Femforce is AC’s best-selling title. I do Westerns because I like them and I am the only publisher keeping them alive. Westerns are uniquely American and it is sad that this great genre has been abandoned by the country that created it. Westerns just aren’t “in.” And I do Best Of The West because, when I was a little boy, Charles Starrett was my hero. Boys need heroes and you gotta be true to your heroes. Starrett played The Durango Kid in over 65 Western movies. We became friends. He made me his “agent.” I promised that as long as I live, I’ll keep Durango riding on the trail of justice. I’m keeping that promise. I’ve kept The Durango Kid in print for over 30 years.

1st: In the 60s you created Synn the Girl from LSD. It was a time-appropriated character. What made you bring her back in the “just say no” environment of the 80s?

Bill: Unfortunately, drugs, by the 1980s, had become an everyday occurrence. My family lived in suburbia and we thought we were in a drug-free neighborhood. One of my buddies was a Longwood cop, a comics fan. He used my house as an observation post to watch the kid across the street deal drugs from his house every afternoon while his mom was at work. It was frightening to see what had happened to the youth of America. What better beacon could there be to throw light on how drugs can ruin your life than SYNN? She is very popular with our fans and she is my favorite creation. She is the saddest of all the AC characters despite her happy attitude. Readers have empathy for Synn. They understand what she has lived through and cheer her success.

1st: AC also produces a great deal of Golden Age reprint material; I assume all of it is in the public domain?

Bill: All of it is in the public domain but most of it has some attachment to the original publishers. Vin Sullivan okayed AC’s reprinting ME material. Charles Starrett gave me permission. AC entered into licensing contracts with Roy Rogers, Lash LaRue, Sunset Carson, and other film personalities. Fiction House publisher T.T. Scott gave written permission to AC to reprint all the Fiction House comics, and so on. All of what AC has reprinted has been altered to the extent that I now hold copyright on all this material.

1st: How do you select what to reprint?

Bill: That is decided strictly by what is available at the time.

1st: AC has an odd numbering system, in that there is time when 10 years passes between issues and the numbering continues as with Lash LaRue Western, other times the numbering will continue and the title will change as with the retro comics.

Bill: I don’t know that numbering has anything to do with it. It all hinges on a reader seeing our product in the Diamond PREVIEWS catalog. They must see AC books there to know that they exist because they will, in all likelihood, never see one on the shelves of a comics shop. If they want AC they must special order it thru their store. Or, go to the AC webstore at There EVERYTHING is available… over 600 books plus lots of other stuff. If there is confusion over numbering, you should be able to sort it all out there. Our books start off with “number one.” If it sells well enough, there is a “number two,” and so on. Sometimes, years later, I try a title again to see how it will sell. That would account for the passage of years between numbers if I continue the original numbering system.

1st: You run a pretty tight shop in Florida, is it just you, your wife Rebekah, Mark Heike, and his wife Stephanie?

Bill: It’s just Reb, Mark, and myself. Steph has her own publishing company.

1st: Has the internet and your web store helped out with distribution?

Bill: Very much so. The AC website is the reason we are still in business. The internet is the future. I don’t see store distribution as anything but a dead end. Of course, our web store is successful because we actually HAVE PRODUCTS TO SELL. Somebody somewhere in the world will buy some AC product every day. It’s great! I also discount AC books on eBay every month when new titles come out. This pulls in lots of new customers. Comics publishers are required to give up 60% of the cover price to Diamond. Plus they must pay shipping TWICE… once shipping to Diamond and again when Diamond ships to distribution centers. So a publisher gives up 65%. That’s why comics are so expensive: small customer base and deep discounts to the distributor. I can sell on eBay at a $2 discount and still make more money than a sale thru Diamond. Plus, on the AC webstore, we get 100% of the cover price. That helps us to survive. And, on the web store, we have ALL back issues available that you can’t get through stores or thru Diamond.

1st: So what is an average day like for you as a publisher?

Bill: I get up at 7 AM and hit the internet to conduct the day’s business. I have a duplicate office set up at home with a powerful graphics computer, printer, drawing board, and so on. So I generate some pages, either color drop reprint stories or draw new stories, or write new stories… then head into the office around 10 AM stopping to pick up mail on the way. I give work to Mark at the office and we discuss what has happened and what must be done that is different from the close of the day yesterday. Mark has already pulled web store orders and usually has them filled by the time I get there. Reb processes mail orders. We have staggered lunch shifts…

Mark heads home for lunch with Steph, and Reb and I hit Arby’s or Taco Bell. During the day we will get phone calls that alter our life and the direction that it takes. Randy Bowen wants to license AC characters to sculpt. A foreign publisher wants to reprint Femforce. A fan wants to know when Big ‘Uns #2 will be out. A reader in Australia never got his books… on and on. We do as much as possible at the office. Ship what needs to be shipped via Post Office or UPS by the end of the day then head home. After a supper break, I’m at it at the home office until 10 PM or 11 PM.

1st: What does AC have planned for the future?

Bill: Right now we are doing a Femforce Relaunch (go to our web site for details) over Femforce #120 – #122. Here we introduce many new female characters such as Mary America, Lady Scarab, Femme Noir, and Kinetics. We just published a new Yankee Girl #1… she’s our most popular non-Femforce character. James Ritchey is producing a two-issue Green Lama series. Randy Bowen is releasing RedDevil and Haunted Horseman figures. Some year I’ll finish the Nightveil video then move on to other AC character videos. Chris Irving is writing new RAD/BLACK TERROR stories plus She-Cat/RedDevil, Captain Freedom, The Avenger/Nightveil… lots of features teaming AC male characters with Femforce solo characters. Hey, we’re never at a loss for stuff to do!

1st: Well Bill, It sounds like a lot of fun. Thank you for your time.

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