Into The Black Hole With Kirby and Royer

« This is the very center of everything there is. A huge black hole eating up the galaxy. The end of everything. » — Clifford D. Simak

Early in the Fall of 1979, I was pleasantly surprised to discover some new work by Jack Kirby in our weekend paper’s comics section. Things had been awfully quiet on the Kirby front since late 1978, the ‘King’ having unhappily — and quite understandably — left Marvel for the second time that decade.

This new work was part of the long-running anthology strip Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales (1952-1987). I dutifully collected the shabbily-printed comics sections and patiently hoped for an improved presentation.

The October 28, 1979 Sunday strip, as it appeared in print. Incidentally (and unoffically) here’s the whole story.
The surviving original art page from the same date, for comparison.

Western Publishing, usual licensee of Disney product since its acrimonious split from Dell in 1962, then issued a Black Hole adaptation, in both a slick magazine and comic book format. But — holy bait-and-switch! — it wasn’t the Kirby version!

A typical page from the Western Publishing adaptation. Written by Mary Carey and illustrated by Dan Spiegle (1920-2017), a perennial favourite of the publisher’s. Another mystery: since Spiegle had earlier proven himself well-capable of capturing likenesses, one must assume that the decision to dispense with likenesses of Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine and replace them with those of, I dunno, ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic and Ontario prime minister Doug Ford must have come down from on high. But… why?

I’ve been musing over these riddles ever since (in my spare time). Recently, I decided to act by putting the question to one who was there… namely Mr. Michael Royer, who’s been most gracious to us with his time and recollections (check out our three-part interview with MR!). And continues to be!

RG: Mr. Royer, I’ve long been baffled as to why Disney (or Western Publishing, at any rate), thought it necessary to commission two separate comics adaptations of The Black Hole. I’ve always surmised that Kirby was considered too wild for them, but that’s just speculation on my part.

Since you were working for Disney at the time, and you inked the Kirby adaptation, I presume that you played some kind of role behind the scenes as well. Could you share some of the facts with me (and my readers)?

MR: Jack Kirby was selected to draw THE BLACK HOLE Sunday comic strip on MY recommendation. Gold Key editors always selected their OWN artist for similar licensed material… plus they were in no position to pay their artist the fee I got Jack. I inked and lettered HOLE and made necessary changes to the robots to protect the image for toy, etc. sales trademarks. Jack was an impressionist and I made the robots “on model.”

Jack became so bored with the scripts, that were done “storyboard” like by someone who had NO understanding of how to make comic art interesting and exciting, that he asked me to layout the FINAL Sunday page, which I did. I had told the powers that be at Disney that Jack must get his originals back but, of course, being Disney, they did not return them as they had promised. Jack only got the remaining pages not yet sold by the Circle Galleries after threatening Disney with a lawsuit. Disney gave me one of the Sunday originals because someone had spilled a cup of coffee on it.

The head of our Creative Services dept. at Disney was not a big fan of Kirby* and after I had inked the first Sunday he had another staff artist “fix” the faces, which stood out like what they became: inept changes. I yelled “DON’T CHANGE THE FACES!” They gave in to my warning.

It was an interesting time back then. Bob Foster and I were the ONLY artists in Creative Services who had worked in comic books and strips. They would never take our word about things until our department head, Bob and I, were on a conference call with Sylvan Beck (King Features Strip Editor in New York) and then they believed what we had to say about the ways a Sunday strip could be drawn to fit many formats. It was very frustrating at times knowing more than your “bosses.”. But… it is the same old story. Middle management was loaded with MBAs who didn’t know shit from shinola! We used to joke that if one had an MBA anyone could get hired at Disney… You didn’t have to know a damn thing about anything else except how to get the MBA.

RG: I’ve read somewhere that the Black Hole scripts were the work of Carl Fallberg. I mean, if that’s true, surely he wasn’t the one who storyboarded the script, as it’s a bit hard to reconcile ‘NO understanding of how to make comic art interesting and exciting’ with a visual artist of Fallberg’s calibre… might he have delegated the task to some flunky?

MR: It was Fallberg… storyboard layouts for each panel/page. I liked Carl and he was a nice man, but he had no idea how to “jazz” up the film visually and Jack wasn’t about to rock the boat, by being his usual inventive self. The script layouts were just like the film… boring. Just a blow by blow of what was going on in the film. The comic strip could have been exciting if Carl hadn’t just “stuck” to the movie. But, perhaps I am being too critical. Carl was probably “following orders” from our department head. When I tried out to do strip art for Disney in the late 60s or early 70s that same department head told me NOT to worry about “likenesses” of the actors. So when I told in my samples they were turned down because “no one looked like the actors.” Gawrsh…as Goofy would say. As I said… Bob Foster and I were the only guys in Creative Services who had ever been intimately involved in comic book or strip art production in our department. Things did change a bit eventually.**

I’ve heard it said that the Kirby Black Hole material has never been reprinted or collected in full… which is only true if you only count English-language editions. I happen to have on hand the well-produced French collected edition (Fall 1980, Edi-Monde/Hachette). It was serialised earlier in the weekly Le Journal de Mickey (published continuously since 1934!).
I’ve mostly gone with the action sequences. In an episode of Sneak Previews, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert perceptively assessed The Black Hole‘s shortcomings.
Here’s a look at the hardcover collection in question, with its amusing cod-Kirby painted back cover.

I leave the final words to Mr. Royer, along with my earnest appreciation of his gregarious generosity!

MR: As a point of interest (or none at all), I designed and drew the Sunday page BLACK HOLE title panel as well as lettering, correcting robots and inking. I have a full set of B&W proofs if any one is interested in putting them into print. Offered to loan them to IDW but I guess they weren’t interested. My price must have been too high. Two comp copies of whatever they printed. LOL sigh.

*this was decades before Disney became perfectly fine with reaping billions upon billions from Kirby’s creations.

**but not soon enough to save Tron! Check out the impressively flat adaptation of the studio’s following foray into SF.

Nomenclature, or How to Tell Your Thingamajig From Your Whatchamacallit

« The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name. » — Confucius

To a bibliophile, shelf space is precious. In recent years, I’ve happily purged my library of many a bulky and obsolete reference tome. With the sheer mass of information that’s migrated online, it’s frequently far simpler to tap a few key words than to scan the shelves in order to pull out and peruse some quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Frequently — but not always. One significant exception is my copy of What’s What, accurately touted as « a visual glossary of everyday objects — from paper clips to passenger ships ». Obviously, it covers the expected doohickeys and other dinguses, contraptions and doodads, esteemed constituents of our flora and fauna… but, on occasion, it drifts deep into left field, and that gives it spice. To wit, its entry on cartooning:

Cartooning: Many one-panel cartoons use captions or labels below the illustration for dialogue or explanation. Those appearing on the editorial pages of newspapers are called editorial or political cartoons and usually feature an exaggerated likeness, or caricature, of some well-known figure, as the main character. Comics, or comic books, use cartooning throughout. A complete shericasia, or shallop, is used by a cartoonist to depict a complete swing at an object, be it a golf ball or another person.

This most edifying illustration was the work of Mike Witte (b. 1944), who later chucked this charming infusion of the old ‘big foot’ school of cartooning to settle into an in-demand but pasteurised version of Ralph Steadman‘s style (itself, I would argue, a more grotesque version of Ronald Searle‘s approach). Still, bully for him — it’s a hard business to earn a proper living in. Sure, the classic big foot tradition already had a modern master in Elwood Smith… but the more the merrier! (and speaking of Onomatopeia…)
Mort Walker‘s Beetle Bailey Sunday strip from July 9, 1978, a most judicious choice, was dissected.
Here’s my well-thumbed, yellowing copy of What’s What: it’s the first book trade edition (Nov. 1982, Ballantine), copies of which, or the updated edition, circa the early 1990s, can still be obtained dirt cheap. And “Nose leather?” Awww.

To this array of clever cartooning terms, we simply must remedy one omission, and it’s a crucial one: Kirby Krackle!

A page from Nazi “X” (Captain America no. 211, July 1977, Marvel) with the wild and wooly Arnim Zola – the Bio-Fanatic – flexing his mental muscles. Written, pencilled and edited by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by our dear Mike Royer, and coloured by Glynis Wein.
Another example, to make sure everyone gets it straight? The sky’s ablaze with Kirby Krackle in this ominously magnificent splash from Kamandi no. 24 (Dec. 1974, DC) and its tale of The Exorcism! Written, pencilled and edited by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Douglas Bruce Berry, and most likely coloured by Jerry Serpe.


Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Jack Kirby, Part 2

« Though the refined eyes of the aesthete may consider Kirby’s work crude, ornery, and anti-intellectual, the fact remains that he combined the virtues and limitations of his class with a stubborn genius to produce a body of comics work that has remained consistently true to its source and is unparalleled both in quantity and quality. » (Gary Groth)

Strike while the iron is hot, it is said, and thus part II of our celebration of Jack Kirby‘s tentacle prowess comes hard on the heels of Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Jack Kirby, Part 1. I’d like to thank co-admin RG for his vast knowledge of Kirby comics, as well as his suggestions and scans – that’s what (among other things) partners are for. Whereas part 1 focused on Kirby’s 70’s work for DC, today’s post (also firmly entrenched in the 1970s) is a celebration of his brief but intense return to Marvel Comics.

All art is scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Mike Royer, unless otherwise indicated.

We start with the somewhat less interesting, but nevertheless tentacular, Hercules.

Marvel Premiere no. 26 (November 1975), penciled by Kirby and inked by Vince Colletta. Only the cover is by Kirby, the inside story being a collaboration between Bill Mantlo, George Tuska and Vince Colletta.

Now that we have the boring stuff over with, we move on to the spacey part of this post: epic voyages into the cosmos, mind-shattering encounters with Gods and fights to the death with unthinkable monsters of fearsome power! As usual, in chronological order: one must respect tradition.

In 1976, Kirby was chosen to adapt Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey into a Marvel Treasury Edition.

« To make his comic, Kirby watched 2001 again, referenced a stack of stills, and pulled from the screenplay and Arthur C. Clarke’s novelization. The illustrations were instantly recognizable to anyone who’d seen the film, but the characters were uniquely his: beefy and emotive with a touch of uncanny. There are also moments of pure Kirby: a splash page of a spacesuit-clad astronaut gaping at an exploding cosmic sky, an acid-trip interpretation of the climatic Star Gate sequence. »

Pages from Beast-Killer! (read the full story on Diversions of a Groovy Kind) published in 2001, A Space Odyssey no. 1 (December 1976).

Panel from Wheels of Death (again, read the story on Diversions of a Groovy Kind) published in 2001: A Space Odyssey no. 4 (March 1977). *My* question is, does anybody remember any tentacles in the film? I know, I really have a one-track mind.

« Kirby was the right choice for the assignment, but, Mark Evanier (a comic book writer, Kirby friend and colleague, and author of the biography Kirby: King of Comics) says, he was wary of taking on someone else’s story, especially one as iconic as Kubrick’s vision of 2001. “He didn’t feel he had a lot of wiggle room to expand or inject himself into it,” Evanier says. “He had to keep reminding himself, ‘That’s my viewpoint, that’s not Stanley Kubrick’s,’ and adjusting.”»  (source: The Crazy Legacy of Jack Kirby’s Forgotten 2001: A Space Odyssey)


I wanted to find a good overview of The Eternals, and thought I had found it (plenty of pictures, an overall idea of the leitmotifs driving the series – and importantly, NO MENTION OF THE MOVIE)… until I came to the end of the article in question and saw that the author was next going to read Neil Gaiman‘s take on The Eternals* to see if the latter had fixed some of Kirby’s plot flaws, at which point I choked on the water I was sipping. But, but! the author repented, and so I give you Review: The Eternals by Jack Kirby from the blog Giant Size Marvel.

*Would anybody expect Terry Moore to correct Jaime Hernandez plots?

Panels from God and Men at City College published in The Eternals no. 6 (December 1976).

Panel from Disaster Area, published in The Eternals no. 15 (September 1977).

The Eternals no. 18 (December 1977), penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Frank Giacoia.

Panels from To Kill a Space God, published in The Eternals no. 18 (December 1977).

Panels from To Kill a Space God, published in The Eternals no. 18 (December 1977).


Surely everyone knows Captain America already, but here are his 7 Most Awesome Moments (arguable, but a good starting point) by the good folks at Comic Alliance.

Here we have energetic tentacles, free-flowing-energy cephalopods…

Captain America no. 205 (January 1977), penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott. The thing with the tentacles is Agron, who (which?) will eventually learn to animate a corpse, but for now he’s just in his energy form.

Page from Agron Walks the Earth!, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by John Verpoorten, published in Captain America no. 205 (January 1977). I *told* you Agron would animate a corpse, but did you listen?

Double splash from Arnim Zola — The Bio-Fanatic!!, scripted and penciled by Kirby and inked by Frank Giacoia and John Verpoorten, published in Captain America no. 209 (May 1977).

You asked for it (right?): Doughboy in action! Technically, those are rubbery arms, not tentacles, but as someone who regularly makes sourdough bread, I assure you, dough *does* sprout tentacles and will latch onto your hands and arms with them.

Page from Arnim Zola — The Bio-Fanatic!!, scripted and penciled by Kirby and inked by Frank Giacoia and John Verpoorten, published in Captain America no. 209 (May 1977).

Captain America no. 210 (June 1977), penciled by Kirby and inked by John Verpoorten. The Red Skull taking a leaf out of Medusa’s book? Seriously, those have *got* to be hair extensions.

To wrap up, read Gary Groth‘s epochal – not to say definitive – interview with the King of Comics.

~ ds


Tentacle Tuesday Masters: Jack Kirby, Part 1

I probably don’t have to explain who Jack Kirby (1917-1994) is, but just in case: he’s the undisputed King of comic books, the one of most influential comic book artists and writers of the United States, and an undisputed titan of comics and culture.

I also recommend reading Learning to Love Jack Kirby, an earnest and personal story of how the author (Chris Sims) came to appreciate Kirby and, at the same time, a pretty good overview of some of his most memorable characters and comics.

« I’m tempted to say that you don’t really get Kirby until you develop the ability to look beyond the surface of a story and see how much craftsmanship it takes to look as simple as his comics, but that’s really just covering up my own initial revulsion. There were plenty of kids who encountered Kirby at the same age I did and wound up loving him from the start; I’m just a slow learner. But I do think there’s something to the idea that it just has to hit you right for everything to make sense, and once you’re there, you’re there forever. And the good news is that Kirby’s contributions to the medium are so vast, so unavoidable even a quarter-century after his death, that even just scratching the surface of superhero comics means you’re encountering them all the time. »

Now that we have part over with, shall we continue to the tentacular part of today’s post? Kirby didn’t do anything in half-measures, so I’d like to think that we have some epic, larger-than-life, cosmic tentacles on offer. As it turns out, there’s quite a lot of ’em scattered throughout Kirby’s mind-boggling career, so today I am concentrating on Kirby’s work for DC Comics in the 1970s.

Seriously, there’s all kinds in here.  A sea ball of yarn is our exhibit A.

Sequence from O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby, inked by Vince Colletta, and published in The New Gods no. 4 (August-September 1971).

This may be a take on the old head-of-Medusa, but Gargora doesn’t mince words, and when she says someone can’t escape, well, she’ll deploy some tentacles to catch them:

Splash from Witchboy, scripted and penciled by Kirby, and inked by Mike Royer, and published in The Demon no. 14 (November 1973). Random fact of the day: Freud considered that the hair on Medusa’s head is often represented in form of snakes, because as snakes are penis symbols derived from the pubic hair, they serve to mitigate the horror of the female castration complex. …When someone tells me that are into Freudian theories, I back away slowly.

Some monsters crush you between their limbs – this is no different, but instead of two legs, there’s a “crushing mass of tentacles”. Don’t feel bad, Etrigan, no-one could break free of *that*.

Page from The One Who Vanished!!, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby, and inked by William Stout and Mike Royer (don’t miss co-admin RG’s 3-part, exclusive interview with Mr. Royer!), published in The Demon no. 15 (December 1973).

You might argue that these aren’t tentacles at all, but the creature is described as a “flying octopus”, and who am I to argue with Kirby’s description?

Page from The Busting of a Conqueror!, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby, and inked by D. Bruce Berry, published in OMAC no. 4 (March-April 1975).

Page from The Spy, scripted and penciled by Jack Kirby, and inked by D. Bruce Berry, published in OMAC no. 6 (July-August 1975).

One must have one proper sea monster in a Tentacle Tuesday, and this one’s a beauty:

Page from The Invasion of the Frog Men!, scripted by Michael Fleisher, penciled by Jack Kirby, inked by Mike Royer and published in The Sandman no. 5 (October-November 1975).

Last but not least, plant tentacles!

Page from The Lizard Lords of Los Lorraine!, scripted by Gerry Conway and Paul Levitz, pencilled by Jack Kirby, and inked by Mike Royer, published in Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth no. 40 (April 1976). Kamandi was my first exposure to Kirby, and it bowled me over.  It’s a good illustration of what he can do (and did over and over again), actually: create a universe with its own rules and a perfect internal logic. There are no boundaries in such a place, no limited number of characters – it just lives and breathes as it pleases, and one is but a passerby who gets to witness a few key scenes. Reading Kamandi teleported me into his world with such ruthlessness that I was quite disoriented when I’d have to stop reading.

« His incredibly unique art style and bombastic storytelling made him one of the most imitated creators in western comics history. Kirby Dots are named after the artist’s distinctive rendering of Battle Auras, also nicknamed, “the Kirby Krackle”. He died of heart failure in 1994 at the age of 76, or at least that’s what Galactus wants us to believe. Due to his speed in creating well-received comics, there exists something called the “Kirby Barrier”; breaking the barrier means that you’ve created a quality comic in under a week, a surprisingly difficult feat. » |source|

Don’t forget to visit the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center!

~ ds

Mike Royer’s Cruisin’ Years: the Interview, part 3

« And by the way, did I see you without a Pookie Snackenberg button? »

Concluding our exclusive conversation with Mr. Mike Royer, picking up the thread from where we left off in Part Two. And don’t forget to begin with Part One.

This illustration served double duty, first as a sampler released with the second batch of Cruisin’ albums in 1972, then on a box set collecting Cruisin’ 1955-56-57.

Historical research in those days wasn’t as tidy and simple… and so here, either Peggy’s lying or…  Elvis Presley’s third and final appearance on Sullivan’s show was on January 6, 1957. And The Blob wasn’t released until September 10, 1958. Well, Peg?

Royer’s new illustration for the third and final box set, the one gathering Cruisin’ 1961-62-63, issued in 1992.

WOT: Are you happy with the overall work?

Michael Royer: I would say… two-thirds of the covers, I’m really pleased with. I can look at them and pickle the living daylights out of them. The Cruising’ Years… I look at it, and some of the proportions bother me. The scrapbook is too small, compared to the photo on the desk, and other little things that, if I were gonna do that again, I would adjust those sizes. But then again, that’s the impression I get, I guess, that’s important.

WOT: True.

MR: The one where Peggy sees Eddie behind her in a car at the drive-in is my least favorite of all of them.

WOT: Do tell.

MR: Because Paul had given me an impossible thumbnail. To make it work, so that they were all on the same planet… Ah, it’s really easy to lay out something and have two cars and the drive-in theatre lot, and not worry about if they’re on the same plane, if they’re seen from the same point of view… and so to do that and make it work… I still look at that and I get disappointed.

MR: I really like the one where he’s outside and it’s snowing.

WOT: And he’s with a black lady? That’s 1966.

MR: The black lady is looking at him… kind of suspiciously, and it may have something to do… because he’s in her neighborhood. I’m trying to remember if his early career at the law firm was dealing with…

WOT: Social issues?

MR: And I can’t remember, every tv screen’s got the same thing on it. Is it the Batman logo?

WOT: Confirmed. You were right on the money.

MR: Here we are, all the Cruisin’ cds. They have changes on them. Okay, let’s see. ’55 was the first one.

WOT: Actually, from what I’ve read, ’55 was actually done later, part of the second batch produced [in January, 1972].

MR: Yes, it was added in, and I don’t care for that one. I really like ’56, only because in retrospect, I look at it and it speaks to me. ’57, okay. ’58, only because of the subject matter and Paul’s layout… ’59 is the one where I went to South East Los Angeles, to the car lot that had the dashboard. It had to be that, after so many years, if anybody had one, they just had to go “heyyy!“, you know.

MR: 1960 is… not as bad as I remember! At least I made his layout work…

WOT: That’s good news.

MR: And ’61, is, yeah, they’re about the break up. And Cruisin’ ’62 is.. ha. They *are* breaking up. No, I guess it was a three year breakup, okay?

WOT: (laughs) Okay!

MR: ’63, they’re in the coffee shop, and that’s the Studebaker… now waitaminit, what’s the one on… that’s not a Studebaker on ’61, that’s an Olds, so the Studebaker’s on ’63.

MR: ’64, there’s the announcement: “to wed Kevin Buchanan III…” And ’65 is ten years later, and it’s the same girl that was working at the library, but she’s gotten a little prettier.

WOT: No kidding? Subtle bit of continuity.

MR: And there’s Luthor on the board in the background… his concert, “New York Blacked Out” headlines, Up the Down Staircase… okay, ’66: oh yeah, “What this community needs is economic improvement and self-help!” Ah, yeah, all the TVs except one had Batman, and one of ’em has Luthor on it, singing.

MR: And ’67, that’s the one with Ron Jacobs coming out of the… through the beads in the back. And golly, it’s Genevieve again. Mmm!

WOT: The librarian from ’55!

MR: That’s her.

MR: And ’68 was the first one *after* The Cruisin’ Years. Ah, there it is; I should have them in the order they were released. So we redid 1968, “Vietnam Widows for Peace“, and I kinda liked the way that turned out. It was fun researching all of the fashions and things!

WOT: Good, because research wasn’t always a simple task.

MR: Ah, ’69, on their honeymoon, Niagara Falls Retreat; Newspaper headline: “Beatles to Split” “Eddie, I might want a career of my own“… I just sold the comp to that, I think in Charlotte.

WOT: Oh, wow. So I am being timely here.

MR: 1970: “Mike’s gonna give me another lesson”. I put myself in there, uh… idealized.

WOT: (laughs) So that’s what it is, then?

MR: And then there’s the Porky Chedwick, and somewhere in here… the Cruisin’ boxes. Whoa! There are… three of them.

WOT: What are they?

MR: The first box set has ’55, ’56 and ’57, and has the Cruisin’ Years cover, with the Peg and Eddie photographs, and the scrapbook, and the concert tickets and so on. The next one is ’58, ’59 and ’60, and that one is, Eddie is next to his Chevrolet with the tire kit on the bumper, and he goes “Come on, Peg! The Blob starts at 7:15!” “Eddie… we can’t go! Elvis is on Ed Sullivan tonight!

WOT: Poor girl’s chained to her TV!

MR: And the last box set was ’61, ’62 and ’63, and Eddie’s got the beard that he’s wearing in the college one, and Luthor’s leaning against a tree, and she says: “Oooh, Eddie… your whiskers tickle me!” and he says: “Peg… do you think Luthor sounds like Pete Seeger?”

WOT: These two were always moving in separate directions.

MR: Always! And so I wrote ’68, ’69, ’70, The Cruisin’ Years, and Porky Chedwick. And if I could the long box artwork, and one of the last ones I did, which I believe was gonna be another Cruisin’ Years, and it’s probably the sexiest Peg I ever did…

WOT: Aw…

MR: It’s Peg and Eddie… oh my God… *two* of them. I might have done another big box, because they’re at the beach, she’s in a bikini, and it’s another tension-filled thing…

WOT: Her bikini?

MR: Oh, he’s saying: “Who’s this Buchanan the third?“, so that fits in the chronology somewhere. And the last one would precede their wedding, it’s where they’re on a bridge, in New York City, it’s a big closeup, they’re dressed to the nines, he’s in… could have been a tux, she’s in a sexy evening gown. And leaning on the rail, exposing her… attributes. The program was for a big Broadway hit of ’69, and he’s got his finger under his collar, kinda saying something to the effect of: “You know, Peg, there’s something I should have asked you… a long time ago“. It’s the proposal cover, you know.

Now I don’t know if that was ever produced. I also did another cover, which I know was not produced, and it was a Cruisin’ Christmas Album.

WOT: Whoa.

MR: And I actually drew my living room, in the house I had in Simi Valley [California] and Eddie, in his Santa Claus outfit is putting presents under the Christmas tree in the center of the room. And Peg is coming down the stairs in her sexy négligé, with her robe blowing open…

WOT: That’s his present.

MR: ’twas drafty in the house that night. And she’s got a plate, and she’s saying: “Oh, Santa… don’t forget your milk and cookies!” So it’s the only cover in the series without any tension.

WOT: Or the most tension, depending on how you look at it.

MR: I think we discussed doing ’71, but figured that there wasn’t enough happening that year to make an interesting cover, or the songs were too new in the late ’80s to get clearances or rights on them, you know.

WOT: Things have changed quite a bit… even the cd reissues are significantly different from the LPs. Reissuing certain pop-song heavy tv shows has proven quite a financial ordeal in some cases because of astronomical increases in the cost of music rights.

For that reason, the Cruisin’ LPs each have a few more songs than the cds, even if the opposite should be true, if only in terms of storage capacity.

MR: They lost rights, and stuff like that.

WOT: People didn’t know back then what was to come, obviously. The Cruisin’ series came out at just the perfect time, and I think it was quite visionary to decide to preserve, or recreate, what must have seemed at the time a very recent piece of the past.

MR: I wish that I had not given all of my vinyl discs to my first… son-in-law… and replaced them all with the CDs before I realized that there were the differences.

WOT: Not to mention the size of the artwork and quality of reproduction.

MR: Once the series was over, I sold Ron Jacobs all of the originals. And I kind of regret that in a way, because I could sell them for a lot more today than I did, in the early ’90s, to him.

WOT: Sigh. They’re heirlooms.

MR: I don’t know why I didn’t think to pull these things off the shelves and look at them before we talked.

WOT: Ah, it’s okay. In fact, it’s probably better: I got your spontaneous responses out of it.

MR: Actually.. overall, I’m more proud of them than I am disappointed. And the things that disappoint me, I can point out why and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it excuses the problems…

MR: Oh, and there was also a full-page ad… that was in Billboard. Peg and Eddie are sitting in the front seat of… probably a 1955 or 56, I think Ford convertible. I cannot remember.

WOT: On the contrary, you clearly remember plenty! (laughs)

MR: I’ve got it somewhere out in the garage, in one of the custom filing cabinets I had made that I call “Mike’s Life in a File Cabinet“.

The ad in question, from the July 11, 1970 issue of Billboard Magazine. Make a wish!

WOT: I think that I think this series is a great artistic success. When people see these volumes individually, they work as snapshots… but put them together, and you realize that there’s so much happening between the panels.

MR: Yeah, it does tell a story!

WOT: It’s beautiful storytelling, and I think, one of your crowning achievements.

MR: You know, it’s funny: the early covers were put into two books. The first one was a… I don’t know if it was a hardcover, it was a oversized, glossy trade paperback called The Album Cover Album [original edition 1977], and it says: “Paul Gruwell, art director, art by Mike Noyer“.

WOT: Oh, lovely. They got one name right.

MR: And the second book they were in, which I didn’t bother to buy, because all they listed was the Art Director. I wasn’t even listed.

WOT: This kind of thing, which I’ve noticed also, is what prompted me to get in touch with you. And I think we’ve done our bit here to help set the record straight. Thank you so much, Mr. Royer!

MR: You’re welcome, Richard. Have a great day!

WOT: You’ve certainly done your part in it!

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1967 in its entirety here!

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1968 in its entirety here!

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1969 in its entirety here!

Read the liner notes, it’ll have to do for now; regrettably, Cruisin’ 1970 isn’t currently available on YouTube! What is this world coming to?

At this time, Cruisin’ With Porky Chedwick would appear to be the final entry in the series (1995). Listen to the whole platter right here.


Mike Royer’s Cruisin’ Years: the Interview, part 2

« Speaking of winners, I’ve got Zwellyn Zablow of 11 West Second Street in Freeport, New York, who saw me at the Rockefeller Center dance. I want you to check in at Murray Hill 85-700. Anyway, MU-700 within the next ten minutes… »

Read the liner notes. Regrettably, Cruisin’ 1962 isn’t currently available on YouTube. Boo, hiss.

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1963 in its entirety here!

Read the liner notes, Again, Cruisin’ 1964 isn’t currently available on YouTube! Write your congressman and let ‘im have it!

Read the liner notes, then grind your teeth in frustration at Cruisin’ 1965‘s absence on YouTube.

Read the liner notes, and/or listen to Cruisin’ 1966 in its entirety here!

Now then, here’s part two of our exclusive conversation with Mr. Mike Royer, picking up the thread from where we left off in Part One.

Michael Royer: Richard, you asked « How were you selected? » Well, I’d been working with Paul, and apparently he liked what I did on the Mormon history slides, so he asked me if I would do the ‘final art’ and all the research and everything on the covers, and the last time I saw Paul, before the second batch, that started with The Cruisin’ Years, that had the tickets on the table, and the picture of… I don’t know if it was Eddie in uniform or not… but whatever, that was when Howard Silver of Increase Records decided to do more for the line. And continue the series.

WOT: Right.

MR: And from that point on, all of the writing, and all the ideas, were totally mine.

WOT: I figured it would happen at some point…

MR: I think the ideas might have been a collaboration between Jacobs and Gruwell, but one of the reasons Howard Silver asked me « Do we need to contact Paul Gruwell? », and I said « Nope, you have no reason in the world to contact Paul. »

WOT: Cut out the middleman!

MR: I’m the guy who Paul used to introduce at parties as « This is the man who *inked* my Cruisin’ covers. »

WOT: Oh, boy. Okay.

MR: “Up yours, pal!

WOT: Oh, this is gold, thank you!

MR: So I said « We don’t need him! », you know, and so all the rest of the albums after that were mine. And there are two covers that were done for a packaging, done for big box stores, that would have had either two or six cds in a tall case…

WOT: I remember those. ‘Longboxes’, shoplifting deterrents of the early cd era.

MR: … and one of them, Eddie is saying « We’ll be late for something at the theater » and Peg is saying « … but, but, the Beatles are on Ed Sullivan tonight! » So they were done to fit in the chronology of the covers. When he said « I’d like to start over with 1968 », and I said, « Well, I don’t wanna do the Woodstock. »

MR: « I don’t want Peg to have a kid from her serviceman, who obviously… died in service. »

WOT: Right.

MR: So I, and you’ve probably seen it, the cover is in front of a theater showing 2001: A Space Odyssey. Eddie discovers Peg there, as one of the Vietnam Widows for Peace. So now we know what happened to the serviceman that she ultimately married.

MR: ’cause I think, uh, the shot of Eddie and the musician with the beard…

WOT: Luthor, yes.

MR: … in college, and he’s got a newspaper clipping taped to his lamp that says « Peg marries… » somebody.

WOT: « Kevin Buchanan III » … he appears to be a society boy.

MR: I don’t know if you have all of them…

WOT: As far as I know.

MR: And of course, I continued, on all of the covers, to introduce a little bit… of tension.

WOT: Do tell.

MR: ’cause there’s some in every cover, sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s overt. But I believe I did through… what year is the Kent State thing?

WOT: Let’s see… 1970. Eddie’s talking with his boss about it.

MR: Peg says « That’s okay, because Mike wants to give me another tennis lesson. »

WOT: Well, another “lesson”, at any rate. Whether it’s tennis remains to be seen. She’s got the racket, but…

MR: So… I can say all those new covers were made… the one previous to that is where they’re at Niagara Falls, and he’s talking about things could happen at his firm, and she’s saying « But Eddie, *I* might want a career! » And I enjoyed doing that cover, because I just wanted to do her standing there at the little motel sink in her slip.

MR: … and of course, being male and having to draw female forms, I made sure that her skirt was blowing in the wind… and in her little tennis outfit in the next year.

MR: We did, uh, let’s see: there was The Cruisin’ Years, which re-established the whole series. And then, starting with ’68 through ’70.

Waitaminit, that’s only three years.

WOT: Many years later, you did Cruisin’ With Porky Chedwick in ’94, I think.

MR: Okay, I did two ‘Cruisin’ With‘… the second one, I guess it was never published…

WOT: Ah, right.

MR: … or produced, or released. And it was just another… let’s see: Porky Chedwick has got her in a poodle skirt and they’re dancing, right?

WOT: Yeah, that’s it.

MR: Okay, the next one was outside on a city street, and in the brick building behind them you see the silhouette of a disc jockey, and the broadcast booth at a radio station, I think the sign is on the roof. And Peg is protesting something. She’s got a banner, and Eddie and she are arguing about something. Ah, I only have a copy of my rough on that, or my comp. And of course there’s more detail on her than on him. I enjoyed drawing her. That last ‘Cruisin’ With’ I thought was much better than the first one I did, for cover art.

WOT: (laughs) exactly.

WOT: Is Cruisin’ a frequently-evoked topic by your fans?

MR: Every once in a while, it’s funny… for years, once in a blue moon, somebody would say something about Cruisin’. But I was in Charlotte, just… less than two weeks ago.

WOT: Right.

MR: … and I swear, a dozen or more people talked to me about the Cruisin’ covers at my table. Maybe that’s because there’s a new series of Cruisin’ albums… with art that I don’t like.

WOT: Oh, I don’t like it either: it looks like, and likely is, clip art.

MR: I don’t know who’s producing it. I don’t think it’s Howard Silver.

WOT: It’s called “The Cruisin’ Story“, it’s out of England, and it’s just a series of run-of-the-mill compilations, without the defining radio program concept.

MR: Howard Silver ran Increase Records. I don’t know if he bought out Increase and that was [Ron] Jacobs’ company or not. He’s in Hawaii now, last I heard. Jacobs [Indeed he was, but Mr. Jacobs passed away in 2016].


Our interview concludes in Part Three!

Mike Royer’s Cruisin’ Years: the Interview, part 1

« This isn’t just nostalgia. It’s history! »

Today, Michael Royer (born June 28, 1941), who surely needs no introduction around these parts, celebrates birthday number seventy-seven, and on this special occasion, we have a treat, both for the great man and for the rest of us: part one of an interview Mr. Royer granted us, conducted just a few days ago.

As you can imagine, Mr. Royer has spent decades answering the same queries about his work with Jack Kirby and with Russ Manning, so that’s quite a well-trod line of investigation. We like to approach things a bit differently here at WOT; having long been intrigued by Mr. Royer’s evocative series of LP covers for the Cruisin’ anthology series, beginning in the late 1960s, and frustrated by the lack of solid information concerning said contribution, I figured I’d take a hand, and reached out to Mr. Royer.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Cruisin’ Series, here’s the pitch: « Cruisin’ is a year-by-year recreation of pop music radio during the years 1956 through 1962 [the years of 1955 and 1963-1970 were produced later]. Each album is not just a collection of the top pop music of a particular year, but a total recreation by a top disk jockey (of that year) doing his original program over a major pop music station. That means actual commercials, promotional jingles, sound effects, newscast simulations and even record hop announcements in addition to the original records themselves. »

« Cruisin’ producer Ron Jacobs monitored thousands of feet of tape, travelled over 10,000 miles and rooted through forgotten files and cluttered basements for old commercials, station promos and jingles. »

« What’s so special about these album covers? », you may ask. I’d posit that they’re unique in the sense that, while they each work as standalone pieces, together, they form a quite impressive comic strip, one in which a year or so elapses between panels. Just about every detail has its place, imparting information plainly or quite subtly. Characters come and go, years apart, sometimes entirely offstage, often never speaking a word. It’s graphic storytelling at its finest. And the LPs are pretty spiffy too.

Now that you’re up to speed, shall we begin? Mr. Royer and I spoke on Tuesday, June 2018, and he was most generous with his time and his recollections. I assure you that the minutes simply fly in such gracious company.

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1955 in its entirety here!

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1956 in its entirety here!

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1957 in far less that its entirety here. Sorry!

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1958 in its entirety here!

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1959 in its entirety here!

For this entry’s cd reissue, the cover artwork was inadvisably cropped, quite obscuring the political differences between Kevin Buchanan III (front) and Eddie (in uniform). Mr. Royer’s least favourite cover, incidentally. Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1960 in its entirety here!

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1961 in its entirety here! And remember, « if you say ‘Woo Woo Ginsburg’ with your order, you get another Ginsburger free of charge! »

Who’s Out There: Mr. Royer, How did you happen to be selected for the job in the first place?

Michael Royer: In 1966, I was working for Grantray-Lawrence Animation on the Marvel Superheroes limited animation cartoon series. And I believe that a man named Paul Gruwell… If you look at the record album, he’s listed in there as the art director… I’m listed as the artist and they misspelled my name.

WOT: Of course. We’ll set that straight.

MR: Paul was one of the guys working on the series and I did some work with him on an outside project he was doing, where he was doing… I guess you could call them slide shows, on the history of the Mormon church.

I was working on these things, and he knew someone at the record company who had this idea for the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And for the life of me, I can’t remember what the young man’s name was. But he’s the cover of one of the records, where he’s coming out of the backroom, through the beads [Cruisin’ 1967]. It’s like a head shop, or something…

WOT: Would that be Ron Jacobs? He was the producer.

MR: Yeah, yeah.

MR: So, anyway, the first batch of covers that went through, I believe, 1968… and the last cover had Peg and Eddie, who were reunited, with her little boy from her fist marriage. And they’re in the front seat of a van, in a traffic jam leaving Woodstock. That cover was never printed.

WOT: No wonder I’ve never seen it!

MR: Anyway, the covers that I did, how many was it? ’54 through…

WOT: Fifty-five. ’55 through ’70, plus one that’s “The Cruisin’ Years”…

WOT: How much latitude/wiggle room were you given? Were research materials provided or not? Were specific cultural signifiers specified, or did you get to pick (or a mix of both)?

MR: Anyway, on those ones that I did in the late Sixties, early Seventies, Paul Gruwell gave me little three-or-four square inch thumbnails… on the covers that he wanted me to do. All I got was his, in my opinion, so-so little thumbnails, which I guess gave him the reason to call himself ‘art director’…

WOT: I was going to ask if he could draw.

MR: I had to do all the research. Each cover had to feature certain items that definitely said that it was that year. Like newspaper headlines, magazine covers…

WOT: Movie marquees…

MR: … automobiles, and I had to look up all that. I went to the library, as we didn’t have “online” then. Ah, on one of the covers where I need the dash, I believe, of a ’57, or ’58 Chevy, I had to go to a used car lot in South East Los Angeles, and with my Polaroid camera, I asked these two big guys in their double-breasted suits if I could, uh, photograph the interior of one of their cars, and they looked at me like… « Okay, white boy, you’re crazy if you wanna shoot it, but we’ll let ya, you know. »

WOT: People do like those odd requests.

MR: It was very interesting researching the cars, and making sure that, even if they were shown from the basement [Cruisin’ 1963], out parked at the curb…

WOT: They had to be accurate.

MR: … you could still tell that it was a Studebaker. You know, and the jukebox had to be, I believe the Wurlitzer that was in places in that year [Cruisin’ 1961]. And so I did all of that. So all of the research materials were not provided by anyone other than me, and the special cultural signifiers had to be newspaper headlines, uh, I think the one where Peg and Eddie are in the basement [Cruisin’ 1963] café, and the Studebaker’s up on the street, there’s a newspaper that says something about “Cuban Missile Crisis” [Cruisin’ 1961 and The Bay of Pigs. 1963’s headline was the Profumo Scandal]

MR: It’s so long since I’ve looked at these, Richard.

Our interview continues in Part Two!