Friday, February 12, 2010

Groovy Guest Post: "Reminiscing" by Michael Netzer

Welcome back to Groove City! Ol' Groove is proud and honored to have none other than one of my favorite Groovy Age artists, Michal Netzer (known back in the Groovy Age as Mike Nasser) as today's Groovy Guest Poster. I've written about Michael's prodigious artistic talents a few times, and each time the ever-gracious Mr. Netzer has responded with nice things to say about the articles in particular and the Diversions in general. As a way of thanking him for his generosity, I had the gall to ask him if he'd be interested in doing a guest-post, can you believe that? Thing is that Michael actually responded in the positive--and below is the proof! I truly believe that you're going to be blown away by Mr. Netzer's first-hand memories of a magical time in comicbook history. Enough yakkin' from me! Ladies and gentlemen...Michael Netzer!

Reminiscing

I landed in New York in hopes of becoming a professional comics artist in October 1975. Barely 20 but full of wonder and love for the comics mythology and craft. Though very optimistic, events that led to the series of books I drew in the following years were beyond expectations. My samples and the vision I had for comics art were full of life and drama. I was building on strong Kirby, Steranko and Adams influences, though clearly overpowered by Neal's style. I'd also cultivated a wide range of influences from classical and historical art going back to the renaissance.

I received the Kamandi backup script after my first interview and portfolio presentation to Jack Harris at DC, a day after arriving in NY. And also a British Edition Planet of the Apes cover after my first meeting at marvel. From there everything snowballed so quickly that it was difficult to keep up with it.

The first few years were very magical for me. An introverted type who hadn't yet shed the teenage shell in order to navigate an independent career as most artists do. This is probably why I didn't care much about the dominant Adams influence on my work, nor about sticking to one book for too long in order to establish a presence. I was a kid in a grown-up world trying to learn the ropes. Working at the hub of the comics community at Continuity, and cultivating a close mentor/student relationship with Neal, were big reasons for the success at the time – and fundamental to other ambitions I'd later pursue.

More magical about that period is the sense of community solidarity amongst comics creators. It was a new generation of fabulous talent on the rise and everyone had to live in NY in order to work in comics. So we gathered together as much as we could. Artists and writers who didn't rent studio space at Continuity made it a point to visit regularly because that's where the community hub was. We worked together, went to conventions together, dined together, played volleyball and baseball in Central Park every weekend, held First Friday parties every month, saw films, plays and concerts together…. The comics creators of the 1970s in their heyday. From everything I've heard since, there has been no other such period or feeling of solidarity and vibrancy amongst comics creators. It was simply as if a magical window to hope and achievement was opened, and it was visible in the fondly remembered Bronze Age and unforgettable array of comic book stories and art that was produced then.

For the next two years I produced the art that perhaps most defines my career. Kobra, Legion backups, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow/Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Challengers, and Batman/Kobra… along with the first issue of Ms. Mystic, a co-created property with Neal that we sold to DC as their first creator owned project. Many covers and pinups for both DC and Marvel, all of which were supplemented with a hefty amount of commercial art for Continuity and other clients, including many comics related licensing design and illustration work, along with a good amount of Crusty Bunker inking.

There were many young artists aspiring to break into comics at Continuity who'd spent considerably more time trying than I did. Joe Rubinstein was barely 18, doing assistant work with Dick Giordano. He inked an overlay of one of the Kamandi pages, only a few days after I landed in NY as a sample to hopefully land his first solo inking job. I showed it to Jack Harris who was impressed, gave him the job, and that's how Joe launched his inking career. Jack Abel, who also worked from Continuity became the inker on most of my Legion stories. His unique line added a dimension to my work that steered it away from the Adams influence. Terry Austin and Bob Wiacek were also in their early career stage and got a boost from inking the Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow/Black Canary and Challengers stories. My then roommate, John Fuller, and another good friend Joe Barney also received their first work at DC and Marvel around that time, but quickly faded away again. Bob McCleod and Rick Bryant were two more who frequented Continuity and began getting independent work through which they launched their careers. There was something in the air about a closely knit community of creators who were working together and breaking barriers for new emerging talent breaking into the industry.

And there was the rising convention scene picking up steam and reaching a whopping 10-15 conventions a year somewhere across the country. It was here we felt the excitement from readers and fans. We were the stars of the show, whether specifically invited or not. Still a small enough event that no creator attending was missed or left alone for too long. Aside from supplementing the low paying work we did with original art sales and sketches, there was something about the relationship and interaction between creators and fans that rewarded talent much more than the publishers could. A creator could get a clear sense of how their work is received and where their strengths and weaknesses were. But most of all, this was our opportunity to say our piece to fandom about conditions in the industry and how to improve them. The convention scene was where the voice of the people was heard. It was the ultimate reward for the work we did. Most of the creators I knew utilized this exposure to improve their work, choose the books to work on and help navigate their career. It was the tip of the iceberg of the potential we had for developing and improving the plight of the comics industry based on sensing the pulse of fandom and the aspirations it had for the future.

All this was happening to the background of a new publisher at DC who was cultivating a close relationship with Neal, which gave Neal quite a bit of influence over changes DC was making. The comics distribution system was undergoing a rebirth and creators were holding regular meetings in hopes of forming the first comic book creators' guild. Senior creators such as Russ Heath, Sergio Aragones, Gray Morrow, and Vincente Alcazar visited the studio regularly and spent a lot of time with us imparting of their rich experience. The more senior wave of young talent, such as Chaykin, Simonson, Starlin, Kaluta, Wrightson, Jones and Smith were at their peak and producing the most prolific work of their careers. Marshall Rogers landed at the studio soon after I did, and we shared a room in the back of the studio as he began working on his iconic Detective Comics run. It was arguably of the most vibrant and optimistic times the comic book industry had ever seen.

But it was way too short lived for me. By late 1977 I was coming into my own and began questioning whether I was fulfilling my potential as a man and an artist. I decided then to step away and think about things a little. Took some time off and wandered around the country, coming back to Continuity and comics work only sporadically. I began pursuing a more comprehensive experience that could express or become incorporated into the comics mythology, and was generating a lot of stories and speculation about it. In that period I managed to produce the Star Reach and Hot Stuff stories for Mike Friedrich and Sal Quartuccio. The "Hang the Batman" story in DC Special. Black lightning stories in world's Finest. A Flash Story. Spiderman and Nightcrawler, a few covers for Marvel and a lot of filler stories and pinups in various books for both companies.

It was all winding down, however, and other things were tugging at me. I'd produced about 50 pages of comics, professing a manifesto arising from this quest, all of them way outside of the traditional comics wrapper. All were rejected by the publishers. By the summer of 1981, I decided to come to the Middle East. The magic of the brief comics career was slowly fading into warm reminisces. I left the US with a small portfolio carrying only the unpublished work which more defined why I was leaving, and a new life began unfolding on the other side of the word.

A few years ago I had a chat with Rob Liefeld and Mark Millar at Millarworld. Mark was surprised to discover that Michael Netzer was the same Mike Nasser whose work he loved as a kid. Rob said that the style, vibrancy and power of my work was a big inspiration to him and likely an inspiration and precursor to the dramatic style of large dynamic images in comics that Lee, Larson, Valentino, himself and others developed at Marvel in the mid 1980's before forming Image comics.

I wouldn't purport to make such a statement myself but in looking back at my early work, it's difficult not to see this connection. Regardless, the magic that was in the air of the comics industry in the late 1970's was certainly potent enough to give the 1980's generation of creators something to strive for and build upon.

Michael Netzer

Jerusalem, 2010

One more thing (well maybe a few more things...): The above art was supplied by Michael Netzer, himself, hand-picked to go along with his article. Below are scans of the Kamandi assignments he mentions in his first paragraph from Kamandi #'s 45-46 (July-August 1976). Ol' Groove is looking forward to your comments on this extra-special Groovy Guest post, Groove-ophiles! And another huge "Thank You" to Michael Netzer for sharing his time and talents. The welcome mat is out for you any time you'd care to come by and reminisce, Mr. Netzer!

7 comments:

  1. Michael, thanks for your fascinating insights into such a special time for comic books. It sounds like you guys worked hard but had a great time too. I'm glad you featured the "Hang The Batman" story because it's one of my favourite Dark Knight tales of all time!

    And Groove, thanks for making this possible. Keep up the good work!!

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  2. Still on PC lite but I had to comment, Groove! Michael has been a longtime favorite and by this time a long time friend. I enjoy his writing style but surprisingly never realized how much I didn't know about his early comics days! The reminiscences are appreciated and the art most enjoyable to see! Thanks to both of you!

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  3. A VERY cool article. Thanks for sharing it, Groove (and Michael!)

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  4. Wonderful stuff! I am so very lucky to have been befriended by Mr. Netzer a couple of years ago. His rememberences of those groovy days gone by have helped inspire me to begin writing a book about the era! I'm so happy that others are now able to see why I was so inspired. I hope that everyone who loves Mr. Netzer's amazing 1970's work uses this opportunity to send him a nice message; he deserves to hear from you!

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  5. Mike, you are a legend, mate. and you, Groove? well done, fella.

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  6. The nice comments are well appreciated from everyone, especially coming from good contributors to the blogoshpere such as Steven, John and Joe. Very good to see everyone. Somewhat reminiscent of the community spirit in the 70's, which tells that though some things have changed, the essential reverence for the medium continues to speak out on the web today. Much gratitude to everyone and especially The Groove for the insight that prompted writing this piece.

    I've written a few words about the phenomenon at my site, which also includes Joe's Grantbridge and a recent post about The Box for 1984 Magazine that he uploaded.

    It's all very inspiring and goes a long way towards keeping an old flame afire.

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  7. Oh, cool! I came here from the post about his covers and this is just great! I'm only vaguely familiar with the man's work but now I see he's fantastic indeed. Time to familiarize myself with Mike Nasser/Mike Netzer's art. Well done and thanks!

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Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

All other commentary and insanity copyright GroovyAge, Ltd.

As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!