Virtually everyone reading these words, will know that the multi-talented Jim Amash is a frequent writer and interviewer for Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego magazine, a periodical that probably most all of us devour every single month-! I know that I do-! He is also a frequent contributor at Archie Comics, on Sonic the Hedgehog.
However, how many of you have wondered about Jim Amash himself? Where did he come from, what are his interests, and influences that bring him to ask such good questions that really bring out comics’ creators previously-unspoken, fascinating stories from yesteryear-?
And, did you happen to know that Jim Amash is quite a talented artist, himself?
Sit back, pull up a chair, as Jim and I have a little chat about who he is, and where he came from-!
First Comics News: Where did you grow up and go to school? What were your favourite subjects?
Jim Amash: I was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, but spent most of my childhood in Burlington, North Carolina. My favorite subjects in school were art, English, and history. I was also interested in sports, particularly baseball.
1st: Did you go on to university or college-? Where did you go to school for art, and what would you like to tell us about that-? Or are you self-taught, art wise-?
Amash: I am self-taught in the sense that the few art classes I had in public schools were bland and a near waste of time. Those classes did nothing to inspire students’ interest in the arts. For a serious student such as myself, they seemed more like babysitting classes for those who wanted to take an easy course. There were never any discussions about fine art or cartooning. Why the teachers didn’t teach any art history was a mystery to me. I had to educate myself, not only in art history but in drawing, because the teachers never gave us a single lesson in drawing.
I have a Bachelors and a Masters Degree in Fine Art from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNC-G).
It was great training for learning Fine Arts and I had some excellent teachers, particularly the late Walter Barker, who was my mentor. I would have never made it in art without his guidance.
1st: You are an artist as well as a writer, a very competent and talented writer and interviewer, yourself. Were you an artist or a writer, first-?
Amash: It’s a tie. I simultaneously gravitated towards telling stories in words and in pictures. I always wrote my own stories and was always interested in the stories and lives of others. History was another passion, which obviously enters into the equation.
1st: Where were you first published in your early days of being published? Did you work for fanzines? And, what were some of those, if so?
Amash: Besides my high school newspaper and a high school magazine, I had a weekly column in a local newspaper, where I wrote about my high school for a year. It was terrific! I got a byline, was paid, and even had a press pass.
My friend, Tom Heintjes, worked for Fantagraphics in the mid-1980s, and he printed two cartoons of mine in Amazing Heroes.
1st: Who were your favourite authors, both fiction and non-fiction, growing up? And which of these influenced you?
Amash: Ellery Queen, I loved the TV show, too, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s , Sherlock Holmes, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island is my favorite book, F. Scott Fitzgerald, among many others. I also read every single baseball book I could get my hands on. I was more interested in non-fiction books than fiction, especially history books, art history books, and biographies. They all influenced me.
1st: How old were you when you discovered comic books and became interested in this art form?
Amash: I was five years old when I first saw The Adventures of Superman television show. George Reeves was – and still is – Superman to me. That show, along with Batman, hooked me. Around this time, my neighbor, Billy Fink, gave me my first comic books. That did it for me!
1st: Did you read and/-or collect them? If so, what titles, characters, companies, and/-or artists were you into, and why?
Amash: I was interested in them all: genre and company didn’t matter, though Jack Kirby was my first favorite comic book artist. I loved Carmine Infantino’s covers, anything by Joe Kubert, Nick Cardy, John Romita…oh; the list goes on and on. The characters were important, but good stories mattered most. It’s true that I was more interested in super-heroes than other genres, but I bought whatever I could afford that I thought was good.
I can’t leave out Ken Bald’s Dark Shadows newspaper strip. That was terrific stuff.
1st: Which artists and writers, movies, television shows, genres, works inspire your very interesting, rather unique art?
Amash: There are too many to mention here because I’m just as interested in fine art as I am in comic books. I’ve been influenced by so many different people in so many different walks of life, as creative people usually are. I’ll just hit a few highlights for you. From comics: Jack Kirby, Bernie Krigstein, Will Eisner, Alex Toth, Jack Cole, George Herriman, Winsor McCay, Bill Watterson, and E.C. Segar. Fine art: Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, The Bruegels, Caravaggio, and Van Gogh. Illustration: Virgil Finlay, and Charles Dana Gibson. Film: Orson Welles, anything with Humphrey Bogart or Edward G. Robinson, James Whale, and many others. Music: Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, and especially John Lennon.
1st: I’m very interested in who or what influences your art. It really speaks to me-!
Amash: Everything I’ve ever seen and experienced influences me. The most worthwhile art is that which expresses the inner being. I have the ability to pull thoughts and feelings from my gut and form them into art. Images of all kinds constantly filter through my mind. I just wish I had the time to do more of it, but comics pay the bills. I’d love to write and draw my own stuff, but considering what it takes to even get taken seriously these days, I decided not to beat my head against that wall. I’m not going to self-publish or work for tiny companies who pay little, if anything, every experience I ever had with independent companies resulted in having to fight to get payment and artwork. If that’s my only shot, I’d rather do fine art.
Having said that, I have a lot of ideas for comic book series. In fact, if Lou Stathis was here, I’d have moved in that direction. He really liked my writing and drawing and wanted me to do my own series at Vertigo. But he died, and no one else there ever took me seriously. Besides, I saw what happened with Jack Kirby and I will not create characters for anyone unless I have some ownership. Like Will Eisner said: “Hold on to your rights.”
1st: Your artwork is very interesting. I get the impression, right or wrong, that the images in your artwork are the stuff of nighttime dreams. Is this at all correct?
Amash: I wouldn’t say that, but I have very vivid dreams, which I often remember.
1st: How did you get started interviewing comic book professionals for Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego magazine?
Amash: Any chance I ever had to talk to professionals was golden to me. I did my first interviews in the 1980s, when I was putting together comic book conventions for Acme Comics, I was the store manager. In the early 1990s, I was a member of CFA-APA and did a few interviews for that fanzine. Later on, I did several interviews for The Jack Kirby Collector and Comic Book Artist.
Roy Thomas and I had become friends in the early 1990s, I even interviewed him for the Kirby Collector, and with some prodding from Bill Schelly, I called Roy and asked him if I could interview for Alter Ego. Roy wanted to know who I wanted to interview and I said, Gill Fox and Vince Fago. They’ve never gotten the attention they deserve and I want to do something about it. Roy had planned to interview Vince but hadn’t gotten around to it, so he was pleased by my choices. Roy was so happy with my work, that he made me an associate editor and gave me free rein to interview anyone I wanted to, without checking with him first. That kind of freedom is rare and I’m forever in Roy’s debut for it. I wish everyone was as easy to work with as Roy is.
1st: Jim, Everyone who purchases and reads Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego cover to cover each month, is deeply indebted to both him and you, for such enjoyable, engrossing reads, views into the recollected lifetimes of masters of this incredible art form, creators, writers, artists-!
Thank you so very much for your kindness in granting this interview; folks who read with interest each month your interviews in Alter Ego can now learn some more about the gent who interviews and compiles those wonderful interviews: Jim Amash.