Trevor Von Eeden talks about his career

trevor-von-eedenTrevor Von Eeden is a gentleman who I’m not going to write a lengthy introduction to for this interview, because he needs none. His work, in comics, speaks and stands for itself; the quality of his illustrations, putting pictures to others’ words for several decades, in a manner and style, uniquely his own!

You are going to discover that Trevor Von Eeden’s words are as valuable as his artistic story-telling abilities in comic books, a vocation he has been at, for more than four decades! And, he is still at it!

I’m going to make one promise to you, the reader of this interview. And that is, as you read this interview, you, the reader, are going to really get to know Trevor Von Eeden, and by his own choice. The manner in which he expresses himself, the values he espouses, his zest for life, his optimism.

My promise is, as you read these words, below, I confidently predict that Trevor Von Eeden is a person you are genuinely going to LIKE. He is that kind of person, something that I’ve – with pleasure – discovered for myself!

First Comics News: I’ve been wanting to speak to you for a very long time, now, since I’ve – even longer – been a fan of your very unique illustrative style, for decades. There are a lot of comic book artists out there, who the reader actually has to end up looking at the credits in the front or the back of the book, in order to find out which particular artist or artists are illustrating a particular comic book issue, since so many comic artists out there, while very talented, many of them lack a truly unique style, that sets them apart; that doesn’t make their art uniquely distinctive, to the point where one can say, without first peeking at the credits, as to which artist’s craftsmanship is on those pages.

And then, on the other hand, there are a large number of comics artists whose styles are, thankfully, uniquely their own, where a comics connoisseur can tell immediately by the art style in those books, that a particular artist style is, say, for example, to name but a handful, here: Joe Kubert’s, Gene Colan’s, Neal Adams’, Dick Giordano’s, Wallace Wood’s, Steve Ditko’s, Russ Heath’s, Alex Nino’s, Vaughn Bode’s, Howard Chaykin’s, John Buscema’s, Alfreda Alcala’s, or Trevor Von Eeden’s.

Artistic styles of illustrations in comic books, when done by names like those, above, (to name just some), I recognize instantly, without having to take a peek at the credits; recognizing them in a heartbeat! And things like that always make me smile!

I’d like to start by exploring a little of your background information, if I may.

Can you tell me where you were born, and when and where you grew up, and where you went to school?

Trevor Von Eeden: I was born in Georgetown, Guyana–a former British colony, and the only English speaking country in South America–on July 24th, 1959, and came to the States with my family in 1970, when I was about 11 years old. My arrival in New York was by plane at night, and I vividly remember my first sight of The Greatest City on Earth, all lit up in incandescent glory–and my first words upon witnessing the sight: “Wow! An electric city!!” A phrase that proved to be quite accurate, in more ways than one. I’d come from a very rural town, where the kids walked around barefoot all the time (year-long summer, after all), and the single TV in the neighborhood belonged to the adults-only bar at the corner. Movies were a rare treat–and admission was good for one show only–to see a movie again, you had to pay twice. So the idea of coming to a place where there was a TV in every home, and that had movies you could sit through all day long if you wanted to, was a little bit of Heaven for a fairly sheltered 11-year old kid. The whole city looked like one giant toy, spread out below the plane–just waiting to be played with! That, too, turned out to be true…at least, from a certain point of view.

I also want to mention that in Guyana, the word “free” appears at the end of EVERY stanza of its National Anthem–so, as far as I was concerned, I was already an American, and already free–long before I ever set foot in North America. There are, after all, two Americas in the world…and I was born in one of them.

I was in college while in Guyana, but due to the different educational systems between America and England, I had to start school in Junior High School when I resumed my studies in The States. It was there that I met my two best friends, Perry Perez and Albert Simonson–both of whom owned vast comics collections, to which they were both generous enough to allow me pretty unlimited access. I’ve always liked the few comics I’d managed to read back in Guyana (Sgt. Fury & The Howling Commandos, The Rawhide Kid, Thor, The Fantastic Four, Superman, Batman)–but when I finally saw the tremendous range and diversity of style, subject–and just about anything else you could think of–that was REALLY representative of American comics, it was love at first sight for me, complete and forever! Some of my happiest childhood memories in America involved discovering new comics, new artists, new inkers, new stories–and, of course: new characters–on a seemingly never ending basis, there in the wonderful world of comics! Comics represented an entire universe of FUN to me, and an escape from the doldrums and disappointments of reality that would never grow old (and so far–it hasn’t!) I read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on–even “Millie The Model”! I also loved the Harvey books, like “Hot Stuff”, “Casper the friendly ghost”, “Little Dot”, “Jumbo The Giant”, and “Richie Rich”–as well as Hank Ketcham’s great “Dennis The Menace”, Walker’s “Beetle Bailey”/”The Wizard of Id”, and Carl Barks’ Disney comics. Archie Andrews and his teenaged cohorts were also a constant treat (esp. their super-hero counterparts, Capt. Pureheart, and the rest!) The Warren horror mags were a serious addiction for a long time–such sophisticated, “grown-up” art and stories (to a young teenage kid), and needless to say, the E.C.s were a constant source of great, slightly illicit entertainment (still are!) The word “comics” represents for me a whole host of unforgettably pleasant childhood memories–including the raunchy frankness and soft-core pornography of the underground comics I later discovered in the Alladin’s caves of comics treasures that my two best friends had so generously made accessible to me (that even had an effect on my political philosophy–at that young age, and in such an incredibly strange country, the generosity of my two friends soon became representative of the “American spirit” that the whole country supposedly possessed, and believed in.) My earliest defining memory of what The United States meant to me, was that it was a land possessing incredible wealth–and people of incredible generosity. I later found that out to be true, despite the rampant hypocrisy ingrained in its racist-born culture, and many of its more powerful citizens–but only regarding the BEST of the American people (Mark Zuckerberg’s recent and unprecedented gift of $45B to charity for the sake of his newborn daughter’s future, is a good example of this.) And in my opinion, those people, as few and far apart as they tend to be (at least when it comes to the spotlight of public attention)–are enough to sustain my faith in America, and the future.

But I digress…eventually, it was one of those two friends, my pal, Al Simonson, who sent in a few of my ballpoint pen drawings to DC Comics for a professional critique. They responded with a typewritten form letter, thanking me for my submissions–and included a brief, handwritten note at the bottom: “Stop by if you’re ever in the neighborhood.” Once I came back to my senses following that wholly unexpected invitation (which only took about a week or so… :), I hopped on the subway– and 45 minutes later, walked into DC Comics reception desk, presented my credentials (the brief handwritten note)–and waited to be summarily thrown out on my ear… Shortly, a fellow popped his head out the door, looked at me somewhat surprisedly (because of my young age, I later found out), then disappeared. A few minutes later, I was introduced to Jack C. Harris (one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in comics) who then ushered into Joe Orlando’s office–where, after the customary introductions, Joe said: “We have a black book that we’d like you to do for us.” I had no idea what he meant–I envisioned a book with all-black pages… and must’ve had a particularly perplexed look on my face, because he then hurriedly said: “We’re thinking of debuting our first black super-hero–and we’d like you to draw the book!” Naturally, that brought a big smile to my face. Then he said “We’ll pay you $22…”–my smile got even wider– “…a page.” At that, I sat down–I thought he’d meant $22 for the entire book! And quite frankly, I was more than happy to settle for that (shoot–I’d have paid THEM for the chance to draw an actual comic book! What 16 year old would EVER turn down an offer like THAT?) The rest of that day passed in a happy blur.

Later, I submitted a few costume designs to Jack C. Harris, and he and Tony Isabella asked for a few changes (black inside with a yellow trim for the shirt’s lighting design; an even larger collar; cuffed boots, instead of jackboots…) and I started penciling the book once the final design was approved. (Just for the record: the similarity to BL’s outfit and Richard Roundtree’s in the movie “Earthquake”, was neither my intention nor design–I only found out about that much later. Jack and Tony’s suggested additions to my initial costume designs are what resulted in that unintentional resemblance (Will attach scans of original BL costume drawings.) Nor was the idea of BL’s “Afromask” being removable mine–frankly, I’ve always disliked the metaphor involved in a black man removing the most notable symbol of his social identity, in order to become his “better self” (i.e.: from secret identity to super-hero.) But conversely, I’ve always been thrilled by the fact that he’s actually a schoolteacher in his secret identity–someone directly involved in helping young minds develop their best potential for the challenges of the future. At least, in theory… I don’t think DC has done much of any real significant value with that aspect of Black Lightning’s persona and identity–but that’s another story… Shortly after drawing the first BL issue, DC asked me to work for them full-time, so I officially withdrew from my freshman studies at Columbia University, and eagerly accepted their offer. { An interesting side note is that 27 years later, in 2003, after deciding to fully dedicate myself to writing “The Original Johnson” (an idea I’d had since 1996), I decided to return to Columbia U. in order to take a couple of classes I felt would help me develop my writing skills. When the school board found out that I’d officially withdrawn back in ’76 to make a bit of comics history by becoming the youngest artist DC Comics had ever hired, the first black artist they’d ever hired, and co-creator of their first black super-hero (because I drew the initial series, and am credited with designing the costume)–they immediately offered me a partial scholarship. Believe it or not, Black Lightning–secret identity, schoolteacher–actually helped me go thru college! I’ve always loved the poetry behind that little fact.} My career as a comics artist for the past 39 years has been, from beginning until now–essentially a dream come true, for me! I can’t imagine any finer, more difficult–and consequently, more rewarding way to spend one’s precious little time on Earth. Being an artist means being a person of principle–and usually, being someone who wants to enjoy life to the fullest extent possible, then give back as much of that joy to others as possible! You can never go wrong by sharing your happiness in life with your fellow human beings. That’s what being an artist is all about–to me, at least. “The love you take” is indeed “equal to the love you make”, as a poet once wrote…

1st: What came first for you – discovering the existence of comic books and/-or comic strips in newspapers at an early age, and being influenced enough by their existence, to make you want to pick up a pencil and try your hand at it, or yourself simply having an interest in teaching yourself to draw at an early age without those influences, perhaps having been inspired by something else, entirely? Were you inspired, initially, by comics?

Trevor: My interest in comics was first stimulated by the comics and newspaper strips I’d read as a kid, in Guyana (which came to the house every day, as opposed to the hard-to-get comic books I only managed to acquire on an occasional basis.) Ken Bald’s “Dr. Kildare” was the high point of realistic drawing to me back then. I also remember reading a few pocket-sized b+w war comics (English publications, I believe)–most especially one called “The Steel Claw”, featuring a disembodied steel hand that, if memory serves, went around during WWII looking for a host body, or something like that…! But my favorites were the “funnies” like Andy Capp, Sad Sack, and the hilarious (and hilariously drawn) group of incorrigible brats who regularly wreaked havoc at the school they’d attended, appearing in “Beano” magazine–and in a strip whose name unfortunately escapes me at the moment… But what I still do remember is the love of comics humor that this instilled in me, which later became permanent after discovering the justly iconic “Mad” magazine in my early teens, in America (God bless ya, Harvey Kurtzman!!) I also remember some very beautiful painted comic strips in the Sunday papers in Guyana (“Dan Dare” and a few others by Fred Hampton–the “Alex Ross” of my time) that left a strong impression on me. The world of comics and comic strips seemed like such a FUN alternative to (and escape from) the everyday world–second only to the world of movies, in the constant fascination, attraction, and inspiration it afforded my ever-growing sense of curiosity, and seemingly limitless young imagination. Visual narratives provided a wonderful way for me to learn how to understand and deal with the real world–and also provided a real source of inspiration towards possibly making my OWN dreams into a reality, as well!

But before being exposed to comics and movies on such an easily accessible basis in America, that creative inspiration came mostly from the pictures in my head generated by the different books I’d read (the more interesting the book, the clearer the pictures I’d see–with the duller books, I’d only see words on a page…) I actually remember the first “Art” book that left a significant impact on me: a How-to book on drawing by Andrew Loomis (don’t recall the title)–that was my earliest memory of picking up a pencil, and consciously trying to apply the principles that I’d read about, in the attempt to create a drawing. I vividly remember how impressed I was by Loomis’ shading, in the drawing of a tree that he’d made–and how I longed to be able to represent something that well, and three-dimensionally, myself! All it ended up needing was sincere desire, study, perseverance–and a lifetime of practice… I firmly believe that anyone can achieve anything they sincerely put their mind to, in any field–if they really want to. The great Alex Ross’ staggeringly accomplished hand-drawn artwork (as opposed to clever computer manipulation) is ample proof of that, here in the 21st Century.

In my case, I’d spent many hours in school, during the more boring parts of my classes, practicing drawing in the margins of my notebooks–again, inspired by the comics I’d read. Faces were fun, but hands and feet were especially difficult. I was always an A student in school, and keeping my concentration and interest alive during the duller parts of my classes this way was actually very helpful towards my getting good grades–my drawing exercises kept my mind and memory sharp. I’ve never failed a class in any school that I’ve ever attended, and the reason for that is simply because I paid attention in the classes that I’d decided to take the time to attend. Even when I was bored, my drawing kept my attention sharp–so when it came to passing tests, all that was really necessary to have was a good memory: all tests are merely a repetition of lessons previously taught in class. Cultivating a constant awareness of the “big picture” that the events of one’s life are always a part of, was greatly helped by the concentration that I developed from for my notebook margin drawing exercises, all throughout high school.

1st: If your art came together as a result of pro training, what can you tell our readers about the art school or schools that you attended, the training, the instructors, and other students you took those courses with?

Trevor: I’ve never worked in fanzines. My first pro job at 16 was co-creating Black Lightning’s costume, and drawing his debut series. I’ve also never drawn for any high school newspapers, or any other publications prior to that–but I do recall drawing a gymnast pressing into a handstand with his legs in multiple positions for a t-shirt for my Gym class–for which I was paid 25 cents…my first paying gig! My drawing ability, when I was in my early teens, was mainly something I did for private enjoyment and self-expression, and not something that I bragged about or advertised in any way. I always have, and still do, enjoy my own company–so my privacy is very important to me. I’d never even dreamed of becoming an artist, much less doing it for a living, and had my friend Albert not sent in those ballpoint drawings to DC back in ’76, I’d undoubtedly have been in an entirely different field today. As it is, I consider myself blessed–and not a single day goes by when I’ve not felt that way in regard to my profession–but most especially, in regards to the privilege of living in America–the fabled “land of opportunity”, where the idea of personal HAPPINESS is actually possible to pursue, and ACHIEVE, once you sincerely try to do your BEST in life! It may sound corny, but that’s what I truly believe–and it’s kept me very happy for the 44 years that I’ve been here in the U.S.A.–a land that I’ve never left since first arriving here in ’70, not even to return to Guyana, on vacation! I think that immigrants appreciate what America stands for more than any other people–including those born here. We appreciate the personal freedom more, for one thing…

Everything important that I’ve ever learned in life, I’ve learned by myself. School was very valuable in teaching me HOW to think, and analyze things–the means and methods of Math, or the dissection of Shakespearean verse, for example. But school is a dangerous place to be taught WHAT to think! The contents of my own mind have always been under my own exclusive control, and no-one else’s. I can’t imagine one being a responsible adult without that particular fact being true! The only rule that I’ve never broken in my entire life is this: “Lie to the world, if you must–but NEVER lie to yourself!” Once you do that, you’re lost–and your life then belongs to whomever it is that you need to maintain that lie to. There are no two ways about that. I absolutely believe that no-one should EVER be told WHAT to think–by anyone (no adult, anyway), and definitely not in a free country. That’s a waste of the greatest gift we have as human beings: the power of INDEPENDENT THOUGHT. Without true independence, there is no self-respect, life becomes a meaningless ordeal, or chore–and there will never be any kind of real progress, nor happiness, in any kind of human society–ever. To the best of my knowledge, America is the only place in the world ostensibly dedicated to upholding that basic Truth about Life–which is why I’m truly happy to be here!

1st: Can you elaborate a bit more, as to how you came to be working in the comic book medium? And also, I want to ask you, which comic artists, if any, would you say most influenced your very dynamic, thoroughly distinct, original and compelling art styles?

Trevor: I’ve already mentioned earlier how my career in comics began, but a little-known fact about my somewhat unusual moniker is that my surname was originally “Van Eeden”– Dutch, not German (which explains the two “E”s.) My grandfather had changed it to “Von”, for whatever reason–so all throughout my life and career, people have been constantly surprised to find that I’m 5′ 5″ brown-skinned, and originally from South America, after hearing my name. They tend to expect a 6′ tall, blond, blue-eyed Aryan-looking type, based on the German sounding prefix. It’s not something that bothers me much, and I actually like the aristocratic-sounding nature of my surname–it’s a constant reminder to myself of the high standards of conduct and achievement that I try to maintain in both my life and work (regardless of the usually somewhat-less-than-aristocratic circumstances under which I generally live…) But again, the simple truths in life are usually the most important ones: You don’t need to be rich to have class, all you need is to truly respect your fellow human beings while you’re still on the planet–and that’s all. Not always easy, I grant you, but definitely always RIGHT!

1st: On a comics-related topic, throughout the course of your comic book industry career, which particular comics artists would you say have influenced your own highly individualistic style, the most?

Trevor: One of the greatest thrills of my early comics career was meeting and then working for (for over a decade), the great Neal Adams–a longtime childhood comics hero, needless to say! To this day, I vividly remember drooling over a fantastic pencils-only Man-Thing story for DC Comics (wish I could remember the issue) right in the middle of one of my Junior High School classes–I just couldn’t put the damn thing down, it was so unbelievably beautifully drawn!) Little did I know that I would one day actually meet, and get to know the artist who had created all that beauty! I worked at his Continuity Studios concurrent to drawing BL for DC (and PM/IF, Spider-Woman, Marvel Fanfare, etc. for Marvel) from the late ’70s well into the mid-90s. I can unequivocally say that the days I’d spent in Neal’s studio, every one of which was a significant learning experience in some form or the other–were among the very best days of my entire life. I met Lynn Varley (the future ex-Mrs. Frank Miller) there, and brought her into the comics field to color the most important job in my career at that time, The Batman Annual #8, heralded as “the longest single Batman story ever”–a book for which I created a unique, highly individual drawing style (a personal synthesis of many of my favorite artists, whom I’ll mention later)–and a comic that eventually brought me to the attention of both fans and critics. It’s the job that “made me famous”, and remains my most favorite comic, of all that I’ve ever done. I’d led up to the explosion of new graphic ideas that the art style in it represented in the series of 8 page GA, Batgirl, and Catwoman short features which had appeared in the World’s Finest anthology book–a regular assignment of mine in the late 70s and early 80s. I’d also discovered my now all-time favorite book, “The Fountainhead” around that time, and the high-flown literary and philosophical ideas of the remarkable author Ayn Rand–not to mention her laser-sharp observations of character and brilliantly visual prose–was a huge inspiration. Her ideas enabled me to better appreciate the more abstract nature of comics art, such as the dramatically original shading and arcane, yet intricate patterning found in the best of King Kirby’s work (but so prolifically and prodigally expressed as an integral part of his already remarkably drawn artwork, that one tends to take them for granted–or not really notice. And don’t get me started on that brilliantly fantastic “machinery” he created…!)

Rand’s ideas encouraged me to see my own comics art as Conceptual Art–one that could, and should be able to express aspects of my own personality along with the elements of a story) in a more effective graphic and narrative fashion than I’d done before. For instance, everyone knows the old cliché about horizontal lines expressing repose, verticals expressing height, spires expressing aspiration, and diagonals expressing action or excitement–but what if one designed the shapes of the panels themselves to act as a sort of a “soundtrack” to accompany the action–a subliminal effect designed to reinforce or emphasize whatever mood the scene in the panel needed…? And what if you designed each panel on a page according to its own, specific needs–then managed to fit those differently shaped panels into an esthetically pleasing (and more importantly, narratively functional) whole–all on the same page? Imagine a whole book of pages designed along these lines! According to my theory, if each panel (scene) on a page was designed with an integrity unto itself–yet was still only a part of a larger, overall narrative, i.e.: a page composed of many such panels–then whatever panel shape created or determined by the dramatic requirements of each individual panel SHOULD organically fit into the shapes of the panels before and after it (just as each scene fit into each other to form the overall narrative)–provided a consistent integrity to principle was maintained throughout. So those unusual and individual panel shapes would not only work well in and of themselves, and in relation to each other–but would also form an even more interesting, multi-faceted design for that page as a whole. This is a good example of “seeing the big picture” when it comes to laying out a comics page. This particular approach to panel/page composition had already been used by radically “modern” comics artists of my time such as Gene Colan, and Neal Adams–but what I did was to create an entirely new and CONSCIOUS philosophy of what went behind that kind of visual expression in comics. The Batman Annual was essentially my treatise on the subject of dramatic graphic narrative expression in a symbolically visual sequential art form–in other, less pretentious-sounding words: it was a new style of comics art, one that looked good, and told a story well. (It was also a helluva lot of FUN to draw that way, for me!)

But it was also an art style specifically designed for drawing Batman, to be honest (my favorite, and probably the most visually dramatic super-hero, of all time)–and unfortunately, the powers-that-be at DC did not decide to give me another Batman job to do after that one for quite some time, fan and critical acclaim notwithstanding… Nevertheless, I still think that there’s no other comic in the mainstream comics industry–and certainly no another Batman comic, including Frank Miller’s subsequent incarnations–quite like it, not in all of comics history. It remains my favorite comic book of all that I’ve drawn, because it was the first one that I consciously drew as an ARTIST. To me, that was a big deal.

1st: Who would you say were your various early and later artistic influences in the field, if any, when you were perfecting your craft? And afterwards?

Trevor: My artistic inspirations in comics were many, Jack “King” Kirby being first, and foremost. Then there were (as they come to mind, but not necessarily in order of importance): Steve Ditko (Spidey/Dr. Strange), John Romita (Spidey/DD), Curt Swan (Superman, LSH), John Buscema (Thor, FF, Silver Surfer, Avengers), Gene Colan (DD/Tomb of Dracula/Dr. Strange), Neal Adams (Anything/Everything), Joe Kubert (Sgt. Rock/Tarzan), Will Eisner (The Spirit), Russ Manning (Magnus, The Robot Fighter), Jose Gonzalez (Vampirella), Fernando Fernandez (Warren mags), Mort Drucker (best likeness-limner ever, in Mad magazine!), Wally Wood, John Severin, Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, Bernie Kriegstein (E.C. Comics)…and DEFINITELY not in order of importance: the one and only, truly incomparable Alex Toth!! I’d discovered a bulk of Toth’s work in one of Neal’s morgue files at Continuity (morgues are clippings of a specific artist’s work) and literally spent many sleepless days drinking in and devouring every image of his that I could find. His remarkably bold and uniquely original visual sense–the simplicity, yet incredibly thoughtful effectiveness of his graphics, the deceptively casual and seeming ease of execution with which he created those unique and seemingly effortless works of comics art–the limitless variety of his “camera’s-eye” p.o.v–it all screamed of a mentality so far above we mere “artists” in its brilliant originality, tremendous narrative and dramatic power, and supernaturally effortless drawing and compositional skills–that one could only stand back in awe, and wonder. Mainly, it made me wonder how come I’d never seen a lot of this guy’s work in comics before!…and how many other hidden, buried, and as-yet-undiscovered treasures still remained out there, in the wonderful world of Comicdom…?

1st: I’ve always been a huge fan of Alex Toth, Neal Adams, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Joe Kubert, Gil Kane and Russ Heath, to name just some. Alex Toth’s Zorro, Bravo for Adventure, and so many other things, really stood out for me!

Trevor: Rand’s book “The Fountainhead” gave me a new appreciation and understanding of the legendary New York architecture that I saw all around me–and Toth’s work gave me a new appreciation and understanding of just how possible it was to apply that same kind of hugely intelligent, highly original, and tremendously creative spirit (the same that probably built the Pyramids) to a relatively humble field of endeavor, such as …comics. “The Batman Annual #8” was my first, and most successful attempt, at achieving that in my own work. On a related note, I consider the art style Frank Miller created for “Sin City” (and to an extent “300”) to be a brilliant synthesis of Alex Toth’s sophisticated graphic sensibilities and the dynamic, hyper-exaggerated ultra-violence of Jack Kirby’s incomparable visuals–and an even more highly developed expression of the same kind of sensibilities that I mentioned went into The Batman Annual # 8 (which I know Frank saw, and liked.) To my knowledge, Frank was at one time a huge Ayn Rand fan–and if that’s true, it’d come as absolutely no surprise to me. I’m just curious to know if Toth was aware of her work, too. “The Fountainhead” is a book I highly recommend to anyone seriously interested in becoming an artist. Rand’s subsequent novel, “Atlas Shrugged” has somewhat overshadowed it in social significance, due to the overtly political nature of its settings and ideas–but “The Fountainhead” is less political, and more universally philosophical in terms of its ideas about art–and humanity. Aside from the novels of Victor Hugo (“Les Miserables” being an incomparably untouchable work of absolute literary genius, to me) that iconic tale of an orange-haired, gray-eyed, irrevocably individually-minded architect completely committed to his own artistic integrity remains the single work of art most instrumental in my own development as a creative artist. And, of course, remains my favorite book of all time.

1st: What was your most recent or last published work, and when and what, if anything, are you doing now, art or otherwise? Any upcoming projects that you can discuss with us, here?

Trevor: My last published work was my first self-written/drawn graphic novel, “The Original Johnson”, released in two separate volumes. So far, it’s been quite well received by fans and critics alike–even garnered a favorable NY Times quote on the covers of both volumes. The book has also brought me to the attention of Ms. Linda Haywood (she liked it), Jack Johnson’s great-niece, and legal representative of his estate, who is currently lobbying along with Sen. John McCain for President Obama to pardon Jack Johnson–a wholly appropriate reparation of a wholly inexcusable injustice done to the very first great black people’s champion, and one that I feel the first black President of The United States of America should make before his term of office ends forever. Towards this end, I’d also sent Pres. Obama both volumes of TOJ, and Boxiana–along with a letter explaining to him why I’d written them, and a plea for him to do the right thing by Jack Johnson. I received a very nice printed card from The White House in return, with both the President’s and Michelle Obama’s signatures on it (he has a pretty cool autograph–looks like a cartoonist’s signature… 🙂 so I do know that the books and letter were at least received by The Oval Office. Now I can only hope that Pres. Obama finds the time to read them, with the incredibly busy schedule he must keep. I’ve heard that he’s a big comic book fan (of Conan, at least)–so that’s a hopeful sign…

TOJ Vol. I was released on Dec 23rd, 2009 all over NYC (Forbidden Planet, Midtown Comics, Jim Hanley’s Universe) and sold out almost immediately. But for some still-unexplained reason, ComicMix decided to wait until Feb. 17, 2011–a whopping 14 months later (!)–to publish Vol. II. A VERY long time for an obviously eager public to wait for the conclusion of a two-part story, I thought–but nonetheless, the book was still very well-received. Not bad for the first draft of a first novel, I must say. It’s a little known fact that “The Original Johnson” was published unedited–as I’d originally written it, with no editorial changes (except for the deletion of one word: “torture”, from the phrase “torture victims” uttered by the hobo who saves young Jack Johnson from being raped on the rails, early in the story… other than that, my original copy remained intact.) I’d penciled in all the copy–balloons, captions, SFX–while penciling the pages, and the sole “editorial caption” that appears in the book, during the Joe Walcott sequence, was written by me (scan attached.) Although I was eventually able to proofread both volumes before publishing, due to circumstances too complicated to elaborate upon here, neither I nor titular editor Mike Gold was able to formally edit the book before publication–so with the single exception of that one word, my copy was left intact, just as I’d originally written it. The novel as published is literally my first, unedited draft. Regardless, I’m still quite proud of the result–with the exception of the book’s Coda (the last few pages)–in which I was forced to cover and condense the episodes of Jack’s later life in captions, rather than show them in pictures as I’d have preferred. Frankly, I simply ran out of pages in which to tell Jack’s extraordinarily unique–and epic–story. I could’ve used another 3 pages or so (although the book had already ended up 2 pages longer than the originally agreed upon 240 pages…so I really shouldn’t complain!)

The very last page in “The Original Johnson” prominently features the very last sentence in Jack Johnson’s own autobiography, “Jack Johnson is a Dandy”–which had inspired me to DEFINITELY create TOJ when I’d first read it, sometime in the ’90s. He wrote: “As I look back on my life, and compare it to the lives of my contemporaries, I consider mine to have been a full life, and above all, a HUMAN life.” (Emphasis mine)–to me, those are the words of a truly GREAT man. I wrote and drew my very first book as a tribute to his memory–and a reminder to the world of just exactly what it was that this black AMERICAN truly represented, because even back in the virulent, relentlessly violent, and completely LEGAL Racism of his day and time, Jack Johnson represented HUMAN FREEDOM–nothing more, and nothing less. But unfortunately, 21st Century America is still too mired in the remnants of childish fantasies of self-delusion and color-coded superiority to yet truly realize that fact. Most people still see Jack Johnson (when they think of him at all) as just another “black” champion–one in a long, but not really that important, list–and he was decidedly much more than that inherently limited definition of mankind could ever allow. He was a HUMAN BEING, and throughout his entire life, in the midst of an incredibly inhuman society, he always comported himself as such–with grace, charm, and an ineffably innate dignity. That’s the definition of TRUE GREATNESS, in any era, day or time. I also created TOJ to try and explain just exactly HOW and WHY Jack was able to single-handedly conquer an entire NATION of rabid, violent, legally-sanctioned racists–over and over again! The fact that all previous biographies of Jack had been written by white men easily explains why that subject had never been seriously broached before (not even in the unusually popular and usually culturally diverse field of graphic novels.) He simply functioned in an entirely different psychological fashion than anyone they’d ever encountered before, that’s all! Jack certainly never saw himself as representing “Unforgivable Blackness” (whatever that is) for even one nano-second of his exceedingly dangerous and adventurous way of life–his goal was to leave the world the indelible memory of one man’s UNFORGETTABLE GREATNESS–and even his most Unforgivably Racist enemies still have no choice but to admit that’s EXACTLY what he did!

I hope that TOJ will help show young people, who are the literal future of the world, that a black man can TRULY become a HERO in America, solely by his own will and integrity–and leave a legacy behind that can truly change the world. Jack conquered the racism of his times in the only way possible: by embodying HUMANITY. I didn’t make that up, those were the man’s own words–the ones he’d chosen to end his own book with, almost 100 years ago! I merely elaborated upon them for the less enlightened among us–who, unfortunately, still usually run things…

Also recently published, in ’14 (but only in the U.K.) was “Boxiana”–an anthology of new boxing writing, featuring an article I’d written about why I created TOJ. It was commissioned by Boxiana creator/writer, Luke G. Williams, a fan of TOJ. He apparently liked my book enough to use the cover painting I’d created for it on the cover of “Boxiana”–which was quite a great and pleasant surprise to me. ComicMix had balked on using the image, due to the controversial (in their eyes, not mine) nature of the American flag iconography I used in the painting–but when Luke saw it, he was completely eager to use it for his book! I’ve always felt hugely complimented by that, as well as by my article being featured in “Boxiana”, since boxing itself had originated in England, back in 1719. I also drew 5 b+w illustrations for the book, including one of Jack to accompany my article. Mr. Williams subsequently commissioned me to do a series of 19 b + w illustrations for a biography he’d written about the great 18th Century American pugilist, Bill Richmond–a former slave who achieved fame and superstar status as a boxer in England after being taken there at 11 years of age by a compassionate aristocrat well renowned for his humanity, Lord Percy, The Earl of Northumberland. Like Jack, Richmond was also well-mannered, well-spoken, well-dressed, comported himself with class and style–and like Jack, he’d also married a white woman (although that was not as virulent a source of hatred for Bill as it was for Jack from the denizens of the American South, it was nonetheless a strongly ingrained social taboo in the then legally racist nation of England.) The book, “Richmond Unchained” (the publisher’s choice of title, not his) is not only quite well-written, but also tremendously informative. Although Bill Richmond’s exploits took place over in England, and more than a century before Jack left his own indelible impression on World History, it was certain to me that Jack–a voracious reader, and an avid student of his own profession–must have been aware of Richmond, and his achievements in society, as well as the boxing ring. When I’d written “The Original Johnson”, I was under the impression that Jack Johnson had no precedent–that no other black man had ever achieved the impossible in a racist society before him. It turns out that another black man had indeed done so (albeit elsewhere than in the so-called “land of the free”)–and had I not written Jack’s story, which then led me straight into illustrating Bill Richmond’s, I’d probably never have discovered that quite remarkable fact! So when Luke mentioned that reading “The Original Johnson” had encouraged him to finish writing “Richmond Unchained” I was not only honored, I felt as though my purpose in writing TOJ–to encourage others to find the strength in themselves to achieve their own individual goals in life–had been fulfilled. I’d even managed to learn something new along the way! I highly recommend “Richmond Unchained”–I found it a completely engrossing read from beginning to end, and I remain truly honored to have been involved in its publication.

Although my list of published work hasn’t been extensive since 9/11 (and thanks again to all the fans whose commissions have kept me happily busy!), I’ve worked fairly steadily since: I’ve done a couple of Kolchak and Mysterious Traveler stories for MoonStone Comics in ’02; A series of Sci-fi short stories featuring a character called “Joe in The Future” that appeared in 4 issues of Heavy Metal (Jan ’02/Nov ’03/Jan ’07/Jan ’11); A very well-written 22pg story called “Two Americans”, an adaptation of a Florence Bentley story by Alex Simmons, beautifully colored by Adrian Johnson for “African-American Classics” magazine (’11) and I’ve also had a very comprehensive interview published in The Comics Journal # 298 in ’09, conducted by a talented artist/writer named Michel Fiffe, who’d literally hunted me down for it (and with whom I’ve remained in contact to this day–very smart guy.) I haven’t had much work published in mainstream comics for the past 14 years since 2001’s five-part Batman & Robin story in LOTDK # 149 – 153, “Grimm”–until last Nov. ’14, when I was assigned by DC Comics to pencil & ink a 20 pg. Superman/Black Lightning team-up story (their first meeting since Black Lightning # 4 back in ’79, which also featured my very first cover in comics!) I finished that S/BL job in June 2015, and in the past few months since showing it to the guys at Marvel, I’ve also penciled and inked a few covers for The House of Ideas. As far as I understand, DC is still interested in my working for them in the future, so I don’t yet know exactly when–but my list of published work should be increasing soon!

1st: How long does it take you to lay out and pencil a page, and how long to ink same? Or, do you usually have someone else ink your pencils?

Trevor: It takes me about a day to pencil, and a day to ink a page–and I usually like to let my work sit for another day or so (when deadlines allow) for final quality checking (aka “tweaking”) before submitting it to my editors, or clients. I also tend to draw preliminary sketches before penciling, whether an illo, or a sequential page, because that helps me a great deal in figuring out compositional and/or storytelling elements before I start the final drawing. Prelims and layouts usually take about a half a day to get done. I always prefer to ink my own pencils, primarily because it allows me the opportunity to correct whatever mistakes I may have made in the penciling phase–I like my inks to be better than my pencils, or at least as good–but never worse. I also never use assistants for any part of my artwork (some inkers have backgrounds inkers, etc.) because I enjoy every aspect of creating art for comics. Frankly, I think my best work is still to come–and I just can’t wait to be the first one to see it!

1st: Who are some of your favourite inkers to work with, and who are some of the inkers who you perhaps feel their styles don’t mesh as well, with yours?

Trevor: My least favorite inker was the infamous Vinnie Colletta, who’d inked my debut work on Black Lightning’s original series (scans attached.) Vinnie’s inking tended to drain the life out of an artist’s pencils, reducing everything to the consistency and stiffness of a piece of wood. The only artist whose work I’ve ever enjoyed seeing Vinnie inking was the immortal Jack “King” Kirby–that is, until I finally saw Xeroxes of the King’s actual pencils (thanks to John Morrow’s excellent publication, The Jack Kirby Collector)–and was pretty much appalled to see just exactly what Vinnie had done to them. Fortunately, Jack’s work was so clean, clear, and powerful that it was literally impossible to ink him badly. It’s not that Mr. Colletta didn’t manage to achieve that remarkable feat (inking Kirby badly) on regular occasion–it’s that The King’s comics artwork was so good, and so strong, that even Vinnie couldn’t ruin it! I also disliked Frank Springer’s inking on my BL debut run–very sloppy line work, and a completely incompatible visual style over my usually very tight pencils. Btw, in ’02 I was also given the opportunity by John Morrow to actually ink a Xerox of The King’s pencils for the cover of TJKC #36 (the Thor issue)–the first and only time I’ve been afforded the honor of inking The Greatest Comics Artist In The History Of Comics (no pressure, no pressure…) That issue also features a letter that I’d written about the one and only time I’d actually met Jack (at my very first comics convention, when I was 12 yrs. old)–a moment in my life that I’ve yet to forget! He had the kindest eyes I’d ever seen, then or since.

My favorite inkers have been few: Dick Giordano (The GA 4-issue mini-series, ’83), Larry Mahlstedt (GA/Batgirl/Catwoman backups in World’s Finest, early ’80s/ Black Canary series/miniseries, mid ’90s), Alex Nino (Mr. Justice in Blue Ribbon Comics #2, ’83), Frank Giacoia (Mr. Justice, The Fly #1, ’83 ), Jose Luis Garcia Lopez (LOTDK #16 -20 in ’91 & LOTDK #149-153, ’01) I also came across a 4 page story I’d drawn for Mystery in Space #114 back in 1980 entitled “Second Chance”–about oppression, persecution, flight, and the promise of freedom that is America, which was very well inked by John Celardo–and remains one of my favorite (albeit brief) comics stories, written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn.

1st: Which comic book characters would you say are, in fact, your favourite characters, both in general, as well as your favourite characters to illustrate?

Trevor: Favorite characters: Batman, first and foremost (Man, the human being, at his self-created BEST–inspiring the respect and admiration of godlike, super-powered beings–and myself, despite the trite trivialization of the character in the current movie franchise); The Silver Surfer (Lee/Buscema’s wonderful “lone voice of reason and compassion, in the wilderness of modern society”–one of Lee’s most successful reworking of a Kirby concept); Superman (during Curt Swan’s reign); Spiderman (Ditko/Romita); Daredevil (Romita/Miller); LSH (Swan/Klein); The Black Panther (Kirby’s original version); Thor, The Vision, The Avengers, The FF (all Kirby/Buscema); The Rawhide Kid & The Two-Gun Kid (Kirby); Sgt. Rock & Enemy Ace (Kubert); Captain America (Kirby); Dr. Doom (Kirby again!) You’ll notice that there’s only one black super-hero on that list (an African king, created by an American king! 🙂 That’s due to the relative paucity of black super-heroes (worth mentioning) in Comics History–a result of the long-steeped, and subconsciously ingrained racism that once defined American popular culture–including the comics industry. Fortunately, that’s definitely changing for the better, here in 21st century America. But it may take a while, since some of the ideological ruins of her less-than-enlightened past still remain standing, here and there…

My Favorite characters to illustrate: I don’t really have a list, but Batman again leads the pack. Aside from the aspects of character I’ve already mentioned, he has one of the coolest costumes EVER, a real JOY to draw! I also enjoyed drawing Count Vertigo, the GA villain–mainly because I’d also designed his costume. But I actually don’t like drawing either Green Arrow or Black Canary’s costumes, despite having been long associated with them in my career–neither outfit has ever really appealed to me. Professionally, of course, I draw everything I’m assigned to the best of my ability, but when you get no heat from either a character or costume, it dampens your creative enthusiasm somewhat. As a rule, the more inspiring a script, or character–the better my work is. The first few issues of THRILLER are a good example of that. I was completely inspired by both the characters and the concepts in that series–brainchildren of the hugely gifted (but unfortunately, very underappreciated and underused) Robert Loren Fleming–who was working in the Mail Room at DC Comics, when he first approached me in the hallway with a pitch for the series. I was so impressed by his ideas that I immediately took him to see Dick Giordano (Group Editor at the time)–who was equally impressed enough to eventually make the book a reality. It remains to this day the series for which I’m most often remembered by the fans of my work. There’s quite a turbulent backstory to the artwork I’d created for THRILLER, but the first five issues (particularly the first three) remain some of the very best work that I’ve ever done, in my entire career. Bob Fleming’s ideas were a perfect blend of science-fiction, adventure, romance–and an absolutely unpredictable, contagiously manic energy. In my opinion, it contains some of the best, and some of the worst work that I’ve ever done–and most definitely some of the most personal, before “The Original Johnson.”

Technically accomplished artists (and art school graduates) like Neal Adams and Alex Ross can draw or paint anything, beautifully–but instead of making their living as landscape or portrait artists, they both chose to spend the bulk of their careers as comics artists (Alex more so than Neal, since he’d decided to become a comics artist/painter from the very start, whereas Neal was a successful newspaper strip and advertising artist, before making a sideways step into comics success and immortality.) Both of these hugely talented artists spent their time creating images of idealism and inspiration in comics, and they fit the level of expression of their subjects (super-human beings) to the level of their own stratospheric achievements in the field of realistic visual art–elevating the standards (and cultural prestige) of the entire industry as a result. I don’t by any stretch of the imagination intend to compare my work to the output of these two modern masters–merely to point out that in my case, I do my best work when I’m personally involved in the project or character that I’m drawing–because I’m not the kind of artist who was trained to draw everything beautifully, regardless of subject, content, or purpose. With me, it’s more like “method” acting–I need to feel and relate to what I’m drawing, in order to get the best results. After all, I was only a mere 16 year old (and completely untrained) comics fan when I’d gotten the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to draw comics. I’d never gone to art school any kind, I’m completely self-taught, and, let’s not forget–being black comes with a whole host of self-limiting, culturally ostracizing, and self-deprecating factors in America, on a DAILY basis–particularly in the ’70s, the era of “Blaxploitation” movies (merely another euphemism for “racist”, or “anti-black”.) Frankly, it’s kind of a minor miracle to me that I learned to draw well, at all–but that’s actually the result of my being true to American ideals, and to the sense of life that I saw expressed in my favorite artists’ works (and not just comics artists, either.) I really mean, believe in, and practice the ideals and principles that I talk about–it’s not just rhetoric to me. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love Jack Kirby’s work so much–he was also self-taught, and completely democratic in his choice of artistic expression. Kirby’s work was both earthbound, and idealistic; both realistic, and fantastic; both crudely violent, and incredibly sensitive; both beautiful, and ugly. Kirby was a COMPLETE comics artist, to me. He always represented the sensibilities of the “common man”, or the “working man”–and the TRUE AMERICAN SPIRIT contained in that concept. Ross, Adams, and Toth represented sensibilities far above those of “ordinary men” –their work brought a sophisticated and somewhat elevated “Fine Art” p.o.v. to comics (to the industry’s eternal benefit, unquestionably)–but Kirby’s work always seemed to have been created by someone who had actually lived, breathed, and EXISTED in the real, “regular” world of “everyday people”–somebody just like me (or, at least, how I saw myself.) And even though he didn’t draw in a photographically or academically realistic style like Adams & Ross, he more than made up for that with the incredible creativity, immense power, brilliantly original sense of storytelling, design, composition, and sheer GUTS that he unleashed upon a comics page. Kirby was no “fine” artist, by any stretch of the imagination, but he was the FINEST COMICS ARTIST that I’ve EVER seen–bar none! No other creator in ALL of Comics History can even come close to being owed the debt that the field of comics will always owe to this unique and truly GREAT innovator, creator, artist–and individual. Jack Kirby, along with Stan Lee, created some of the absolute BEST comics that I’ve ever read. And unlike Neal, Alex, and all the other photographically illustrative artists in comics who need photographs, models, and/or all kinds of other equipment to get their work done–all Jack needed was A PENCIL, paper, and an unbridled imagination! There’s something so basically American about achieving that level of universal success simply by using the fundamentals of sheer will, effort, and individual initiative (plus a 25 cent pencil…) that I can’t help but find it inspirational.

In a somewhat related field, one of my other childhood heroes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, did exactly the same thing–using nothing but sheer will, perseverance, and incredibly hard work, he literally used the most basic of tools (in his case, the human body) to achieve unprecedented heights of unqualified success in American society. The guy went from “lowly” bodybuilder, to governor of a great state– even married a Kennedy (and he wasn’t even a native-born American)! Muhammad Ali and the late, great Bruce Lee (a modern day Achilles if ever there was one) are also two “common, working men” that left their indelibly individual marks on the world. Ali’s accomplishments and life story are common enough knowledge not to need repeating–and nowadays, MMA is as American as apple pie–a direct testament to the films, art, and philosophy of Bruce Lee. No one can dispute that. But what’s also indisputably true, is that before them all, there was Jack Johnson–and before him, there existed no precedent, no SOLUTION to racism, in ALL of American society. These remarkable men elevated themselves to spiritually and psychologically enlightened heights undreamt of by others, in the process changing the world for the better–and all just by BEING THEMSELVES! You can’t ask for more than that from a true HERO, and they certainly left behind a lifetime of inspiration for this humble fan!

1st: Were you into reading comics as a kid, and later, as a young man? What were some of your earliest comics reading experiences, as well as some of the earliest ones you may remember purchasing, and enjoying?

Trevor: I’ve always loved reading, and ALWAYS loved reading comics. The great literature that I’d been exposed to in school, and in private readings (“The Fountainhead” and “Les Miserables” being my two favorite books of them all) has always evoked images in my head–so I taught myself to draw in order to see those images in a more permanent form, on a piece of paper. Creating an external reality out of an internal one is not only the Meaning of Life (and a wonderful description of birth)–it’s also the definition of Art itself. Women, of course, are the original and ultimate creators of Life (and usually, among the most oppressed people, in Western Male Dominated Societies…) but Art is a democratic ideal: it’s open to ALL, because it deals solely with PRINCIPLES. The birth of an IDEA is Art. It’s the concrete expression of a set of principles. In America, the idea of INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM is one that we all claim to share–and I’ve always felt that The United States of America, at its very best–is essentially a growing nation of ARTISTS. I think that’s the finest thing a human being can do with his or her own life, and it’s the reason for my unwavering faith in the future of a society based on compassion, truth, justice, and humanity–as America was originally created, and purported to be.

The story in TOJ that had actually happened to me was the scene in Jack’s childhood where he’s ambushed by a group of young thugs inside a rundown tenement building. That happened to me sometime in the ’90s, when I was in my thirties.

Here’s the story, as told in an email to a beautiful young lawyer/dancer whom I’d met while looking for an attorney to help rescue my book “The Original Johnson” from my unscrupulous publishers at ComicMix, who’d tried to steal it from me (I mean that quite literally–they refused to return my original pages, after breaking our mutually signed contract, and kicking me to the curb, shortly after I’d finished writing and drawing the book…! Needless to say, I eventually got it back.)

Her name is Jalila A. Bell (a VERY good dancer–I saw her perform with her troupe), and she’d wanted me to draw HER bio after reading TOJ! I told her I would if she could top this story…

Date: Sat, 20 Feb 2010 17:20:09
Subject: But can you top…this?

Y’know, hon–I’m re-reading your missive, and I find your massive sense of ego somewhat charming. I hope you’re as secure as you seem, because I like that in a person. BUT (and I’m sure that you have been through quite a lot in life, my dear) can you top…THIS?:

The stairway sequence in my book, where Jack is mugged in the tenement of Hell’s Kitchen, and has to hurl himself and his captors headlong down the stairs in order to escape–actually happened to me, back in the early ’90s. And it happened on the same block where Amadou Diallo was later killed–not far from my old neighborhood. That’s right–no shit!

Except that in reality, I was on the third floor, not the first, and there were two sets of stairs between floors, set at right angles to each other–so there were 6 flights of stairs in all. I went head-over-heels down ’em all! Literally. And with a wolfpack of 4 crazed Puerto Rican crackheads latched onto me. They actually never let go of me until about the last floor or so. I remember thinking at the time that this’d make a great sequence for a comic book–but who knew that I’d have to write it myself!

I was on the third floor of a tenement building in the Bronx, and on my way down the stairs, a young, light-skinned Puerto Rican guy approached me, asking to check out the Bruce Lee magazine in my back pocket. Then he asked me to split a cigarette with him. How was I to know that this was all a stalling tactic?…

We finished the smoke, and I headed towards the stairs. Next thing I know, he’s in front of me with his hand inside of his jacket: “I got a knife–gimme your money!” I swear, Jalila–all I felt right then was an overwhelming rush of anger. Here I’d just split a cigarette with this guy, let him look at my Bruce Lee magazine–and now he’s gonna try to rob me?– Hell, no!! I put my hand on his shoulder, and shoved him aside. “Get the fuck out of my way!” I said, as I walked past him. I was so pissed, I didn’t even look at him over my shoulder. Big mistake.

That’s when I felt one arm go tightly around my throat, one grab my left elbow, one my right–and I was held tightly by three men whom I couldn’t see! And then there was the guy I’d shoved aside, smirking with glee in front of me. He hit me in the face about 8 or 9 times–none of ’em hurt. I laughed at him, and then he got real mad–and tried to kick me in the balls. That was the key moment, ’cause as my body reflexively moved backward to avoid that kick, it threw the three on my back off balance–and that’s when I was able to make my move towards the stairs. I dragged all three of them about 10 or 12 feet, before I could grab the banister rail, and the rest… is now a part of comic book history! And now you know the story behind that part of the book.

This all happened on a Friday. I was pretty bruised and swollen over that weekend, but my face healed by the time Monday came around–so you should have seen the looks of complete disbelief on the faces of my Continuity studio mates, when I told them of my big adventure. Not a soul believed me! Ironic, huh? Life is funny, sometimes. At the time, though, I wasn’t laughing much.

The moral of the story is this: When attacked, never go on the defensive; never succumb to fear. (As Frank Herbert says, in one of my favorite books, “Dune”–‘Fear is the mind-killer.’) Always react to an unprovoked attack with indignation, and outrage (“How dare you attack me!” is the correct response) Adrenaline will take over the rest. I know this for a fact. I hope this is knowledge you’ll never have to use.

One last note of interest–throughout this entire altercation, and afterward–there was NO PAIN involved, whatsoever! None. Not when I was being hit, nor when I was somersaulting headfirst down 6 flights of stairs–and at no time afterwards–EVER! I remember every detail as clearly as when it’d happened, as if I were watching a movie–and I also remember that NONE OF IT HURT!! Pride is a wonderful thing, Jalila–once you get it to work for you, miracles CAN happen.

And that’s but one of the many stories in MY life, honey.

So…can you top that?

I’m all yours, if you can.


1st: Earlier you mentioned that Jack Johnson, at one point in his lifetime, was charged legally with something that was not applicable, and he was forced to flee The United States, for a time. What can you tell us about that?

Trevor: The “why” behind Jack Johnson’s being framed by his own racist government, in a proudly unapologetic white racist society, is pretty self-explanatory. He was, after all, the first unapologetically proud black man it had ever encountered, and an obvious threat to the sanctity of its unapologetically racist public order. The “how” is also fairly well-known, following the popularity of Ken Burns’ unforgivably titled, but nonetheless well-made documentary about Jack, “Unforgivable Blackness.” That was a phrase coined by the great black scholar W.E.B. DuBois, to describe what Jack embodied and represented to the white racists of his day and time. It’s essentially synonymous with the phrase “Uppity Nigger”–and a singularly inapt title for a documentary about Jack Johnson, who spent his entire life demonstrating to the entire world that there was absolutely nothing whatsoever to forgive about being black–unless you had a white racist mentality. Jack was convicted predominantly because of the “extraordinary” (i.e.: obviously coerced) memory for details demonstrated by a jealously possessive prostitute concerning the charge of violating the Mann Act, which forbade the transportation of women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” The only problem was that the woman in question was not the aforementioned prostitute, but rather, Jack’s own (white) wife! This minor fact didn’t prevent the naturally all-white jury from bringing in a guilty verdict, and sentencing Jack to a year and a day in prison. The Great White Hope that Jack Johnson–who had single-handedly conquered one of the greatest and most racist nations in the entire free world–would ultimately be defeated, was finally realized not in the boxing ring, but in the corrupt courts of the American Justice system of his time. In response, Jack and his wife left for Europe, not to return for 7 years (after the death of his mother, incessant bouts of homesickness, and the outbreak of a World War overseas.) Jack eventually agreed to relinquish his title to the oversized, at-best-mediocre boxer, Jess Willard–and did his time in jail before spending the rest of his days as a free man, in the beloved land of his birth.

But even in prison, Jack had the last laugh against his oppressors–the new warden there had won a bundle betting on Jack years ago in The Fight of The Century against Jim Jeffries, and was a huge fan! He made sure that Jack did his year and a day in rare comfort. Had Jack not left the country seven years prior–immediately following the sham trial–his stay in jail would’ve undoubtedly been a short, and very violent one! Also, by his own account, he’d been handsomely paid for throwing the fight to Willard (around $100,000 was the reported figure), so he didn’t come away from the whole fiasco totally empty-handed, either. Whether or not that’s true, the fact remains that up to the last day of his life on Earth, Jack Johnson continued to live as he always had: in his own way, on his own terms, and in the service of no other man’s will but his own. He certainly succeeded in his own pursuit of happiness in America–and isn’t that the very motive and meaning of the country itself (Happiness for ALL, not just white men and women)? Jack Johnson personified, embodied, and defined the term “American” with every fiber of his character and being–and judging by the smile seen in almost every photo of Jack in existence (the smile of a man who seemed to belong to our 21st century, rather than the racist, violently barbaric times he actually lived in)–I’d say that his life was indeed a HAPPY one! Wouldn’t YOU be happy, if you’d done what he did?…

1st: How do you manage to maintain such an extreme degree of optimism and sheer zest for life in the face of all that I’ve experienced?

Trevor: How do I manage to “maintain such an extreme degree of optimism and sheer zest for life in the face of all that I’ve experienced?” First of all, thanks very much for the compliment!… I’d say it’s because I really believe in the things that I say, and write–and I generally try not to let the idiocy of others affect me–that helps a great deal in keeping a positive outlook in life. Although, I don’t really see my optimism, or “zest for life” as being that extreme, to be perfectly honest. How I think and feel has always been normal to me. But then again, that might indeed be a relative term, because…well, I was electrocuted once when I was very young–got zapped by enough electricity to short out the entire two-family house that I lived in… and I literally haven’t been the same since. It happened when I was about 11 or so, shortly after I’d first arrived in The U.S. I was idiot enough to cut the cord from my TV set (I forget why) without unplugging it–and using a pair of unprotected steel scissors, yet!!… When I woke up, the entire house was dark, and there was a hole the size of a penny burned into the blades of the scissors! It’s a miracle to me that I’m still alive–but after that incident, I’ve always been in good health (except for the occasional cold, I’ve never gotten really sick), always had lotsa energy, and I’ve always been able to think much, much clearer than I ever had before the incident–which was definitely not a traumatic experience! It reminded me of the stories I’d read of people being struck by lightning–some die, or become seriously injured–and some end up being able to do things they hadn’t before, like solving complicated mathematical problems, or displaying previously unknown musical or artistic talents. Apparently, I was one of the lucky ones…so I guess Black Lightning’s not the only one with an “origin” story (wouldn’ta minded getting super-speed like Barry Allen aka The Flash, though…!) Don’t get me wrong, like every other person on the planet, I do occasionally get depressed (never suicidal, though), but ever since I was very young, I’ve always believed that my happiness in life is ENTIRELY up to me, and no-one else–so depression never lasts very long with me. I always end up finding something to rekindle my interest in life. Besides, I’ve got a lot of good memories that keep my spirits up during the darker days. Good memories are an invaluable asset in life, and should never be underestimated.

One thing I’d learned early in my life is that the world is full of people who want to hurt you, and make your life miserable (usually, because they are)–so there’s no reason for you to help them by accepting their cynical and malicious p.o.v. into your own psychology. I think it’s the duty of every mature adult to be responsible for their own psychological functioning (the key word there being “mature”.) Your TRUE inner values are always the driving force behind every decision you will ever make in life, and the basic root of your very identity. You are what you believe, and what you truly believe–you will eventually become. But if someone else dictates those beliefs to you, then the life you’re living is not yours, but theirs. Many, many people on Earth live like this, quite oblivious to the second-hand nature of their own core beliefs–and quite happy about it, too. But to me, ignorance is never bliss, only knowledge of the TRUTH is–and I could never be truly happy without that.

I consider myself fortunate that the nature of my job as an artist allows me to spend a great deal of time thinking about the things that I discuss, and coming to my own conclusions about how to live my own life. I can’t think of any freedom more rewarding than being able to create and live your own life by doing what makes you truly happy. That’s an opportunity open to everyone in the free world, too–not just artists…

Personally, I dislike the sedentary nature of my job, because I’ve always had trouble sitting still. I love using my body, but I also enjoy using my mind to figure things out–and when I’m seized by a thought or idea, I can spend hours exploring it at my drawing board, or in my writings. That’s why I do my best work when I’m inspired by the material I’m working on, and why it’s so important for me to be inspired by the events of my own life…hence my choice of philosophy, and interests. I can’t think of anything greater than teaching another person something useful–passing on knowledge that makes another human being’s life on Earth a little better, or more pleasant one. I owe a great debt to the teachers in my life (in and out of school) who have done just exactly that for me–most especially, my heroes. People I’ve never met, but whose thoughts and deeds have changed my life for the better, forever. My heroes are ALL idols of the best kind–without feet of clay.

I’ll tell you something that very few people know about me (or might probably believe)–but the truth is, I’ve spent the majority of my 40 years in the comics industry living in mostly dire poverty. Life has definitely been an adventure because of it, and I’ve hung on by the skin of my teeth during many a lean year in my career, simply because I love the job of drawing comics. I wouldn’t trade the spiritual joys and personal happiness that being a comics artist brings me for all the coins in Bill Gates coffers! I’ve never envied any man his material possessions, anyway (those we envy often have more woes than we know…) I envy people who I think are genuinely HAPPY in life, because that’s what I want to be. I’ve always tried to live without hypocrisy, self-hatred, or self-pity (one of the greatest obstacles to personal happiness of them all), and as a result, I may not have fame or fortune–but I DO have peace of mind, which is ALL I really want. My heroes are people far greater than I’ll ever be, who’ve suffered far more than I can ever imagine just to be true to who they were, and leave me the legacy they did–so how could I possibly feel sorry for myself–about anything? I’d be too ashamed, in light of what they’d endured and overcome! All of my beliefs, philosophies and ideals are based on my own direct experiences in life, not just pretty words and phrases that I’ve read books, and all of my heroes are REAL people who embody them, and inspire me. So for as long as I can remember, a passive, pessimistic, or defeatist p.o.v. has never been a part of my psychology. I don’t intend to ever change that.

Just for the record, here’s my own personal Pantheon of Heroes (in order of discovery):

Leonardo Da Vinci – The prototypical, archetypal Universal Genius. An artist whose curiosity in life and quest for knowledge was simply staggering–and an eternal inspiration towards direct, first-hand knowledge and discovery.

Michelangelo – The most miraculously divine artist in history–period.

Jack Kirby/John Buscema – The first comics artists whose work I absolutely LOVED!! King Kirby’s kosmically kaliedoscopic , colossally creative comics were the very first I ever remember reading (and the first to open unbelievable vistas behind my mind’s eye)–and Big John’s gorgeous artwork was my very first experience with true, classically romantic Beauty on the comics page. I still can’t get enough of either!…
Fred Astaire – I discovered Fred and Ginger thanks to my Mom, for which (among other things) I’m forever grateful. Fred described his dancing as an “outlaw” style–far outside the accepted constraints of the conventional norm–and it was certainly a boon to the world of film and dance (and to the world in general, come to think of it) that can never be equaled. Fred was my first major idol, The Spirit of Romance itself, and one of the greatest artists in human history. The first man I’d ever seen do the truly impossible–and with the greatest ease possible!

Muhammad Ali – The very first boxing match I remember seeing was the Clay/Liston fight (where Muhammad Ali was born)–I still remember the unbearable suspense, and ultimate, utter joy I felt at seeing this modern-day Samson, blinded by the Philistines–yet still winning the fight! The only thing better than Ali’s magical prowess in the ring was his magical, mercurial, and irrepressibly charming personality outside of it. His exuberance and genuine good will was as contagious as it was authentic–and natural. He seemed to exude Pure Joy from every pore, and personified The Spirit of Youth itself. Ali was quintessentially American: a true original, completely independent, fearless, and absolutely FREE, in every sense of the word. He was the first hero with whom I identified on a deeply personal level–because he was brown, just like me–and he was that rarest of rarities: A black man in America who was truly HAPPY!!

Elvis Presley – The coolest and handsomest guy I’ve ever seen on screen, and the greatest male singer to ever walk the planet–period. Elvis not only had incredible charisma, talent, and a supernaturally appealing singing voice, he was also a pretty funny guy, and had the most unique face and smile that I’ve ever seen (it turned down at the corners, instead of up.) I’m surprised that I’ve never heard anyone ever say it before, but Elvis literally had the face of a Greek God–as any comparison to the statuary of Ancient Greece will attest. He had the exact same type of features as those ancient ideals, permanently chiseled in stone. It’s a bit of an internet joke that Elvis’ face is a dead ringer’s for the Statue of Liberty’s, but that’s because Lady Liberty’s looks are cast from that same Ancient Greek mold. As an artist, I find it fascinating that I’ve never seen another face quite like Elvis’ before. The spirit behind the features seemed as unusual and markedly original as the features themselves, as well. But the best thing about Elvis is that he literally lived every man’s dream–he had the undeniable power to send practically all members of the female population on Earth (most especially beautiful women) into spasms of uncontrollable pleasure and orgasmic hysteria, at will–yet he seemed little more than vastly amused by it all! You just can’t get any cooler than that! I discovered a few years ago that Muhammad Ali was a huge fan of Elvis Presley’s, while reading “The Soul of a Butterfly” a biography by his daughter, Hana Ali–and for some reason, I found that knowledge utterly thrilling. It just seemed so…RIGHT!

Bruce Lee – My greatest hero of them all, and my strongest source of inspiration, which has never dimmed throughout the years. Bruce was the most beautiful human being–inside AND out–that I’ve ever come across in my entire life. A profound, spiritually enlightened thinker and philosopher, prolific writer, prodigious athlete, legendary movie star, director, producer, choreographer, martial arts marvel–and creator or an entirely new (and legitimately accepted) system of fighting arts in his own short lifetime, Bruce packed enough energy and achievement in his 33 short years on Earth than most people ever could in 100! The beautiful, balletic, superhuman, and deadly killing machine that he portrayed onscreen was not nearly as fascinating, nor as inspiring, to me as getting to know about the real man’s personality and character (I’m sure that I’ve probably read just about everything that’s ever been written about Bruce, in English, at least…) He was The Unconquerable Spirit that lived within every hero–embodied in a surprisingly short (like me–yay!…) yet extremely handsome, charismatic, dynamic, and almost supernaturally intense young man–with the will of a giant, and the determination not to let anything stop him from achieving his goals. Like all of my heroes, he changed the world simply by refusing to be anything other than what HE wanted to be. Bruce Lee personifies the concepts of Strength, Courage, Honesty, Determination, Self-respect, Pride, Intelligence, and Integrity to me–to name but a few. He was a literal super-hero in real life, a man whose abilities and achievements were indisputably on the level of the superhuman, and whose honesty, sense of justice, and genuine compassion were absolutely beyond question (again, I’m talking about the REAL person here, not the fictional “action figure” screen persona!) I could write volumes about what Bruce Lee means to me, and how much his legacy continues to inspire me–but I’ll suffice it to say that he was the single greatest human being that I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and just the thought of his incredible achievements in both his life and Art always dispels any doubts and depressions that ever ferment in my mind. Bruce was like the music of Mozart in human form and consciousness, to me. My absolute greatest hero of them all.

Ayn Rand – The greatest thinker, writer, and philosopher that I’ve ever read–and an influence in my life almost as strong as Bruce Lee’s (Bruce was intellectually, spiritually, AND physically inspirational–Ayn’s was mostly an intellectual/spiritual inspiration to me, and as I’ve said–I just loooove to use my body…) Both her fiction and non-fiction writings continue to educate, enlighten, and inspire me–from my initial discovery in ’82 of my favorite book, “The Fountainhead”, right up to the present day. In my opinion, Ayn Rand was absolutely correct about EVERYTHING she’d ever written (i.e.: every idea, critical, artistic, philosophical and political, that she’d ever asserted)–except one: Cigarette smoking is indeed hazardous to one’s physical health (although conducive to clear abstract thinking), and should in no way be endorsed, as she often publicly did! One of the hardest–and absolutely most rewarding–things I’ve ever done was to quit my own addition to Marlboros, back in 1994, so I know whereof I speak. (Tip: When you want a cig, wait 10 minutes–then you’ll see exactly how strong your will power truly ISN’T, in actual reality…and that’s the very first self-delusion you have to admit to yourself, before you can quit ANY addiction. Group therapies are dangerous, because they offer the opportunity to hide from yourself among supportive others–which can just prolong the addiction. But when you’re alone with no-one but yourself, a watch that suddenly seems to be moving in super-slow motion, an overpoweringly irresistible urge to “take just one drag”–and the avalanche of increasingly irresistible rationalizations that immediately follow, to fulfill that urge–that’s when you’re forced to confront yourself, your TRUE weakness, and your own self-destructive mindset and self-delusions–without anyone else there to “understand”, “forgive”, or hold your hand… So trust me, if you REALLY want to quit smoking cigarettes: Wait 10 minutes next time you’re ready to light one up…and you’ll find out EXACTLY what you need to do to quit, in those 10 minutes–I GUARANTEE it!! Quitting any strong habit is difficult, but it helps to keep your purpose in mind: That freedom is always worth fighting for–and infinitely more rewarding than you can EVER imagine, when you finally attain it!)

Sorry, I know that was a helluva digression, but if I can help someone by passing on that tip while I’m on the subject of cigarettes, it’s worth it. As far as it relates to Ayn Rand–I think that if nicotine was her drug of choice, and it enabled her to create the work that she did–then so be it! Like any adult, her life was hers to live as she saw fit, and I’ll never begrudge anyone that right. I’ve certainly never faulted Jack Kirby for his famous addiction to cigars…

Neal Adams/Alex Toth – Neal, an artistic hero from my early youth, remains the only one of my heroes that I’ve actually met, and gotten to know. That’s somewhat of an indescribable experience, almost existing in a separate sphere of Reality all its own–one much better than the rest, I must admit. Neal was as talented and accomplished in his field as Elvis was in his–and had the same kind of detached, somewhat amused (or vastly bemused) attitude towards his own incredible achievements and accomplishments. Believe it or not, it took me about 4 or 5 years to one day suddenly(!) realize that the nice, patient, friendly, fatherly, welcoming, and always understanding guy whom I happily saw at the studio every day, was also, in reality–a legendary, universally respected world-class artist, a professional who’d literally won every conceivable accolade and award possible in his field, along with the admiration of his critics, fans, and just about any person on the planet who took but one look at any of the wonderful drawings he produced with such effortless skill (I know, I was there–I saw!…) It literally took me almost 5 years to consciously realize that instead of just happily working alongside this incredibly talented and hugely prolific artist–I could actually be LEARNING something from him, to better my own standing in the profession! ‘Struth–I was so “fanboy” happy just to be there in his studio, that it took me about 5 years to consciously realize that that nice, charming guy Neal in the next room was, in real life , THE “GREAT AND POWERFUL” NEAL ADAMS, himself! (The REAL deal, too–without the little man, or curtain…!!) After I finally came to my senses and started asking Neal specific questions about Art, comics, etc.–that’s when my life as a professional comics artist truly began! I discovered Toth’s work around that time, as well as Ayn Rand’s. I also started seeing Lynn Varley as well–all of which ended up in the artwork for The Batman Annual # 8. As a person, I found Neal to be even more interesting, educational, and inspirational than his incredible artwork (which to this day, I still have no idea how he was able to create with such incredible facility–he just DID it, that’s all. That he also had his entire family working alongside him at his studio (his current wife, ex-wife, and children…all without apparent animosity) was probably a major factor in helping him getting his work done–I found them all to be very nice people.)

My memories of Neal’s studio also include the happy discovery of the body of Toth’s work. The graphic boldness, intelligence, and deceptive simplicity of his work shattered my previous conceptions of what was possible in comics art, and had a similar effect on my sensibilities as the “The Fountainhead” did–it expanded my consciousness, and helped me better integrate my life and ideals with the world around me. Rand’s philosophy filled in a lot of gaps–either elaborated on, or answered a lot of questions that I’d already been wrestling with–but Toth’s work was a completely new discovery to me. It was like a creature from another planet: TOTALLY unprecedented… yet brilliant, beautiful, incredibly dramatic, boldly graphic, and narratively effective– all with the singularly recognizable, stamp of an incomparably originality, intelligent, and indelibly forceful personality. Alex Toth created some of the boldest, most original, creative, best-drawn, stylishly sophisticated, and FUN graphic imagery ever seen in comics. He was without a doubt the purest abstract thinker, and probably the most visually idealistic artist ever to grace the comics field. (I’d LOVE to know what he thought of Ayn Rand’s work… I know that Bruce Lee was a voracious reader, a serious student of human psychology, and a Philosophy major at college, so I believe he must’ve come across Rand’s work, at least in the course of his private readings–because he surely did embody her concepts to a tee! All my heroes do, come to think of it…) Neal’s work was incredibly beautifully drawn, but Toth’s stories were the most original expressions of graphically creative narrative art (he also did his own lettering) that I’d ever seen in comics. The famous movie titlist, Saul Bass, shares similarly simple yet beautifully expressive visual sensibilities.

Prince – I was a Michael Jackson fan up to the release of his “Thriller” album (about a year after my THRILLER comics series come out, coincidentally enough)–but I absolutely hated the fact that he used his vast fortune to turn himself into a white guy (yeah, sure–vitiligo…but how do you explain that incredibly shrinking nose?…Don’t pee on MY leg and tell me that it’s raining, pal.) Following Thriller’s world-wide (and much deserved) success, Michael Jackson slowly but surely became The Biggest Uncle Tom In American History–and the absolute worst role model that black children anywhere on the planet (especially in the U.S.) could ever have! I spent 12 years of my life writing and drawing a book about Jack Johnson, “The First Psychologically Free Black Man in American History”–how could I possibly support a man who embodied the exact opposite concept in American society? Aside from that, I found his incessant, whining and self-pitying statements about being abused by his father, and being “the loneliest man on the planet” incredibly annoying. I kept wishing the guy would just shut up, and grow a pair of balls… But when it comes to sheer musicianship and performance, I infinitely prefer the ARTISTRY of Prince to the ARTIFICIALITY of Michael Jackson. In my opinion, Prince is not just an obvious musical super-genius, he’s also the single greatest artist in the world of 20th century music. He may well be the single greatest musician in history–easily on par with Bach, and my special favorite, Mozart (yes, I do think he’s THAT good!) The whole world knows by know how incredibly multi-talented The Petite Purple Player is, and the daringly original, incredibly entertaining nature of his irrepressibly joyous personality–so I don’t think I need to explain why he’s included here in my Pantheon of Heroes. I’d imagine he’s in everyone’s, for one reason or the other… it’s quite impossible for me to imagine anyone disliking The Spirit of Music and Joy that is Prince.

And, of course:

Jack Johnson – A late discovery in my life–and the man who single-handedly conquered the Racism infecting my own soul. An infection contracted from decades spent living in a country covertly (yet relentlessly) dedicated to spreading the cause of White Supremacy throughout the free world–in perpetuity. That won’t happen as long as the memory of Jack Johnson lives in human hearts, and I sincerely hope that all of my efforts towards keeping Jack’s memory alive in the 21st Century will help make that goal possible. I already owe him a debt that I can never repay, in helping me to achieve my own freedom of mind by his incredible example.
Finally, I’d like to add President Barack Obama to this list, because I think he’s the kind of role model that every black person on the planet should have–an honest man, a good husband and a devoted father (something that far too many black children in America have been forced to live without, due to the inexcusably racist nature of the country of their birth–and for far too long!!) I don’t give a damn about what kind of politician he is, or about American politics in general, for that matter. That’s an arena defined by lies, cheating, double-dealing, and staggering levels of personal hypocrisy (I defy anyone to prove differently.) But I do know a GOOD MAN when I see one–and I’m infinitely PROUD of President Obama. He achieved the previously literally impossible feat of becoming the first black President of The United States, and just as in Jack Johnson’s case, that’s an accomplishment that none of his enemies can EVER take away from him! There IS indeed hope that America will one day be true to her own often-broken promises, made so frequently to her own often-disappointed citizens–and President Barack Obama represents just exactly that: A hope for JUSTICE in America. A refreshing change from an interminable history of lies, hypocrisy, self-centered greed, and the thinly-disguised propaganda of White Supremacy that had previously defined her to the rest of the world–despite her constant, high-flown rhetoric to the contrary.

1st: Do you mind talking about your bout with cancer?

Trevor: I’ve no problem talking about my bout with cancer (or anything else you might ask.)Because I’m over 50, in December 2013, I underwent a colonoscopy–and they found a malignant, cancerous tumor in my colon (unrelated to my previous cigarette smoking habit, I was later told.) So in Jan ’14, I went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the world famous hospital specifically dedicated to treating cancer, for a second opinion–and they confirmed the diagnosis.

To backtrack a bit: Several years earlier, in 2006, my 9 year old niece Monique had been diagnosed with leukemia (which is cancer of the entire bloodstream), and after a courageous and prolonged 6 year battle with the disease, finally succumbed to it in November 2012. The memory of her brave, completely non-complaining acceptance of the countless hours of surgery, and sometimes painful procedures that she had to undergo throughout those last 6 years of her young life was a source of tremendous strength to me after my own diagnosis. Although my very first reaction was the expectation of a slow, and painful death, at no time did I ever feel fear, self-pity, or even worry, to be perfectly honest. I was completely prepared to face what my little niece had so bravely endured, and I felt nothing but a calm acceptance of my condition, and whatever consequences it entailed. The affairs of my life were in order, and I had no regrets to bewail. Fortunately, my tumor did prove to be operable, and the cancer had not spread to the surrounding tissues–so, following a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments throughout the rest of 2014, and a final surgery in March of 2015 (during which time I penciled and inked that Superman/Black Lightning story)–I am now happily, cancer-free! To my further surprise, my insurance (HIP) picked up the entire, considerably sizeable tab for my treatments! I honestly don’t know what I’ve done to deserve that kind of luck in life–but I do know that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to be the best person that I possibly can, in an effort to somehow earn the tremendous blessings that I’ve been given! It’s what Monique would’ve wanted me to do, anyway.

1st: My sincere condolences for the loss of your niece, Monique.

1st: You’ve been a very prolific artist for decades, starting in 1976, all the way up to the present, Trevor. I’ve followed your career as an illustrator all of that time. What works would you say that you are most proud of?

Trevor: Aside from TOJ and “Boxiana”, the works that I’ve done of which I’m most proud are: “Second Chance” in Mystery In Space #114 (’80)- a 4 pg. gem / The Batman Annual #8 (’82)- my first job in comics as an artist with a CONSCIOUS set of principles / The Green Arrow Mini-series # 1-4 (’83)- a good script by Mike W. Barr (who also wrote the BatAnn #8), and great inking by Dick Giordano–except for the fourth and final issue, which I thought was weak (including my art, which was uninspired.) Nonetheless, the first 3 issues contain some of my best storytelling, and ish #2 features Count Vertigo, whose costume I’d designed–my favorite issue of them all. / THE FLY # 1 (Red Circle Comics, ’83) featuring an 8pg “Mr. Justice” story, beautifully inked by the great Frank Giacoia / BLUE RIBBON COMICS # 2 (Red Circle, ’83)- featuring a 22 pg “Mr. Justice” story, wonderfully inked by the great Alex Nino–and finally, from the same year: THRILLER #s 1-5 (’83-’84), the series for which I’m best remembered by the fans–and the source of probably the most crippling psychological experience I’ve ever endured in my entire comics career. That story’s already been told in an interview published by The Comics Journal #298, in 2009–but here’s a brief recap…

The Preamble: Lynn Varley and I were a couple, shortly after I’d first met her at Continuity. I’d brought her into the comics industry to color my Batman Annual # 8, and she later did some work for Howie Chaykin at Upstarts Studios–where she first met Frank Miller, and they started seeing each other. I eventually suspected that, confronted her about it, and when she admitted that she “loved him, but didn’t know if she was in love with him”–I got up and walked out the door, without a word. Lynn had been a fairly promiscuous woman when I’d first met her–despite her considerable talent, she’d been dumped on quite often by the men in her life, and compensated for the consequent lack of self-esteem with her sexuality (to her credit, the men she’d slept with–at least the ones she’d told me about–were people in the industry whom I actually respected, which mitigated matters a bit…) But being head-over-heels in love with her, I never reprimanded her for her past life–I was more interested in helping her find happiness and peace of mind in her present, and future. So when she started seeing Frank behind my back (after being with me for about three years), I was afraid that she was regressing to her previous promiscuous, self-hating ways–and I left. But a little while later, she called and invited me out to their summer house in Montauk to meet Frank. To my immense relief, it was obvious to me from the very start that Frank was not only completely in love with her, but that he could also take care of her infinitely better than I ever could (as a black man in an industry that was committed to making my success as difficult as possible–more on that in a bit…) I was tremendously pleased with Frank (I saw the real personality behind the public scowl), and gave them both my unqualified blessings. They married shortly afterwards, and I never saw her again, until 20 years later, at the after party for the professionals-only screening of the “Sin City” movie (an invitation I’d received directly because of her, she later told me.) She called me again shortly after that, and we met to spend the day in Central Park, and at The Met Museum, where she showed me some of her favorite painters. She told me that she was planning to leave Frank because of his alcoholism (among other things)–and I guess that’s where I came in… But I refused to be yet another crutch in her life (and besides, she was still a married woman) so my final words to her, over the phone, were: “Lynn, you’ll never get anywhere by being a coward!” After a short pause, she hung up, and I’ve never spoken to her since–but she did end up divorcing Frank, and living on her own. Happily, I hope. Frank went on to create the horrible “Spirit” movie, defiling the memory of a beloved, long-venerated comics legend (Will Eisner’s–and his own, for that matter) for no good fucking reason, and effectively putting an end to the unbroken string of successes he’d enjoyed in the 20 years that he and Lynn had been together. There’s no doubt whatsoever that Frank Miller changed the comics industry for the better, directly because of his marriage to Lynn Varley (he’s sung her praises towards that end often enough in numerous interviews, and their work together speaks for itself)–and that knowledge has always pleased me enormously, since it involves both a field that I still do love, and a woman that I once truly did love. Shortly after Lynn and I had parted for the last time, in the summer of 2005, I got my first book “The Original Johnson” picked up–and that’s how that particular chapter in my life ended…with no recriminations, and no regrets (none on my end, at least.)

The way that all relates to THRILLER, and the most traumatic experience of my career, is as follows: Around the time I’d first confronted Lynn about Frank–which was shortly after I’d drawn the second issue–I was called into a meeting at DC Comics, along with newbie editor Alan Gold (I forget whose office it was.) When we entered, there was only one chair in the room–and I was told to sit down. I politely refused, because there was no way I was going to sit while my editor was forced to stand (I wasn’t raised in a barn.) After the third request to sit down (each in slightly more irritated tones for some reason), newbie editor Alan decided to take it upon himself to break the ice, and leapt forward into the chair with a big smile–which promptly collapsed, as if the legs had been entirely sawn through!… I still remember the expression on Alan’s face as his ass unceremoniously hit the floor–and I also remember thinking: “Hey, that was meant for ME!” The “meeting” mysteriously evaporated after that, and Alan and I left the office without discussing a single thing about THRILLER…! It took a little while for it to sink into my consciousness, but THAT was supposed to be my reward from DC Comics for doing my absolute, unmitigated BEST for them for all those years–which included The Batman Annual, The GA mini-series–and not to mention, the first two issues of THRILLER itself…and the more I realized that the “bullet” fired from my own ranks was really meant for me–the angrier I became. I literally saw red as I sat at my board later on that day (my entire family’s in the medical field, and I found out that’s because in cases of extreme anger or stress, tiny capillaries in your eyeballs actually burst–hence the effect of “seeing red.”) Worst of all, this “collapsing chair” incident occurred around the time I’d discovered Lynn’s infidelity–so you can imagine the devastation to my psyche it caused! As I’d said before, Lynn eventually earned my forgiveness, once I realized that she was indeed sincere about her relationship with Frank–but no-one at DC Comics EVER apologized to me for that vicious, mean-spirited “prank”, and it affected me in a most negative fashion for over a DECADE afterward–I mean that quite literally. The double betrayal from both the woman I loved, and my dream-job employer completely shattered me, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. I started drinking for a while (which I actually never liked–it upsets my equilibrium too much–so I soon gave it up), and my work became progressively rawer, sloppier, carelessly planned, and less refined in execution (Yet no-one at DC Comics ever complained, or took me to task about this–EVER. It was like there’d been absolutely no change in my work, at all! ) This was the SOLE reason for the marked change in my style beginning after the second issue of THRILLER (it was NOT a consciously-created ” art style”, but rather the honest, albeit uncaring expression of a discouraged, disillusioned, shattered, and steadily disintegrating consciousness–forced to still express itself on the comics page…) I still managed to do decent work in issues # 3 & 4 (my storytelling was still fairly strong, and Bob Fleming’s writing still inspired that)–and both Lynn and Dick Giordano helped make THRILLER #5 the final issue in the series that I can stand to look at, to this very day. But issues # 6-8 remain an embarrassment to me, and a personal reminder to NEVER again work in anger, or in a depressed state of mind–EVER. The price to pay was a public degradation of my own work–which is now a permanent part of my career, and one which I can never erase, only eternally regret. DC Comics, on the other hand, continued on about their business, totally unscathed–gee, I guess I really showed them, huh?… Part of being a professional is maintaining the ability to perform your work properly, regardless of physical or emotional stress. It’s a good lesson to learn–and I sure did that the hard way in my career.

If you’ve gotten a small idea from this interview of the depth and sincerity of my commitment to honest self-expression, in both my life and art, it’ll be easy for you to believe that my depression over that double betrayal (concerning the two most absolutely important elements of my entire young life) literally did last for over ten years. It was like the bullet that Roy Hobbes took in the Robert Redford movie, “The Natural”–an episode that took me out of the running for what seemed like a lifetime, or two… I finally began to really snap out of it early in 2001, after starting work on the 5-part Batman & Robin story in LOTDK # 149-153 (inked by the great Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, whom I’d requested–and was I overjoyed when he complied!) Unfortunately, that was just before 9/11 occurred, after which comics companies eventually considerably downsized their personnel. I was one of the freelancers thus affected at DC. It took me 14 years to once again do work in mainstream comics (the recent Superman/Black Lightning story, and the covers for Marvel)–and I certainly don’t intend to make the same mistakes I’d made before. I forgave Lynn for her perceived indiscretions, and I hope to earn a similar measure of forgiveness from my own fans, for the inexcusably terrible work that I’ve allowed to be published in the past. Time will tell if I manage to achieve that goal–but I sure do intend to have a lot of FUN trying!…

But getting back to the favorite jobs of my career… I also want to mention a two-part story I’d drawn for LOTDK # 105 & 106 (’98)- a story about Commissioner Gordon and the police vs The Joker, when Batman’s not around. It was written by C.J. Henderson, a mystery novel writer by profession–and was the only time I had the honor to work with the multi-talented writer/cartoonist/editor Archie Goodwin. Nothing nice enough can ever be said about Archie Goodwin. He was a true gem of a human being, and it was both a privilege and a pleasure to work with him. The cover to the second issue (#106) was done from a layout that Archie himself had drawn–and he actually ASKED me if I’d mind using it, completely unaware of what a tremendous honor it was for me! The two issues themselves were pretty good–the story was interesting, and my art among the more inspired at the time (the second issue had the better interior art, too)–but the memory of meeting and working with Archie Goodwin is a joy forever. He’ll certainly never be forgotten by anyone who’s ever met him in this business–of that, I’m quite sure.

1st: I really enjoyed reading the text/prose book on boxing, illustrated with numerous pieces of art from yourself, especially for that volume, entitled BOXIANA.

Trevor: “Boxiana” is a book published in 2014 (but only in the U.K.) It’s “an anthology of new boxing writing” to which I’d contributed an article entitled “The Story Behind The Original Johnson” about the psychology and philosophy of Racism–and exactly HOW and WHY Jack Johnson was able to single-handedly conquer it in his time (first of all in his own mind, and soul.) This is something that has NEVER even been attempted by any of his previous biographers–as if what Jack had done in life was some inexplicable magic trick that he’d somehow managed to perpetrate. But to me, the how and why of Jack’s incredibly unprecedented and spectacular success in America, and the rest of the racist world of his time, was always quite obvious, so I was very happy to share those thoughts with the rest of the world in “Boxiana.” I also contributed 5 original b+w illos of boxers featured in the other articles (including a new one of Jack) as well as the cover painting, which was originally intended for my own book, TOJ, until my timid publishers at ComicMix balked at the “controversial” flag iconography I’d created for it. Luke G. Williams, creator/writer/editor of “Boxiana” had no such scruples, and was absolutely delighted when I suggested using my painting for the cover of his book! As mentioned earlier in this interview, this directly led to my creating an additional 19 original b+w illos for another book he’d been working on for a while–the story of the first black sporting superstar, the great Bill Richmond, entitled “Richmond Unchained” (and trust me, the book itself is infinitely better than that unfortunately derivative title chosen by his publishers–it’s a VERY good read. The pictures aren’t too bad, either…) Also, over the years I’ve drawn–and continue to draw–a series of cover recreations featuring characters from the Legion of Super-Heroes, commissioned by ordained minister and LSH fan, Aidan Lacy (which just proves that comics fans are EVERYWHERE! 🙂 These can be seen online at his ComicsArtFans page (add link.) Aidan has an original LSH storyline of his own that each recreated cover actually depicts, so for me, it’s kinda like telling a sequential story with each cover image representing a new scene. I also get to rework compositions created by the original cover artists, which is often an interesting challenge. The recreated covers are then lettered, and exhibited on his ComicsArtFans page (along with the original covers from which they came.) Check ’em out –I have a lot of fun drawing them!

Y’know, I sometimes wonder if I’d actually been killed that day in the early ’70s, when I’d gotten electrocuted in my home–and that all of my life since then has actually been…my stay in Heaven!… Because I’ve truly been blessed in my life, and I never intend to ever take that for granted. In my 57th journey around the sun (on July 24th, to be exact), I look back on a very interesting, and a predominantly happy life–and I remain anxiously optimistic to see what this New Year will bring! Frankly, I anticipate a SWEET ’16 yet to come–but drop me a line again in December, and see what I have to say then… I’ve never had a bad Christmas in my entire life, and I’ll be hugely surprised if that changes this year! In my time on Earth so far, I’ve discovered that Life can be short, or it can be a long-running show–but either way, it’s the most precious thing that you’ll ever have, and a crime to waste on anything but the pursuit of your own, true, individual happiness. Life is to be cherished, not destroyed–and Art may only be a small part of it–but Art is supposed to make you HAPPY! It’s always done that for me, at least.
Thank you ALL very much for your interest in what I’ve had to say, and I hope that I’ve offered something of value to someone. Wherever you are, as long as you are FREE, please NEVER FORGET YOUR DREAMS–and that you have the power WITHIN you to make them an actual reality! All you need do is sincerely believe in yourself, and then try to do your BEST in life. After all, you can never succeed at anything, unless you first TRY…


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