Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Marshall Rogers, 1950-2007


Comic-book artist Marshall Rogers, best known for his definitive work in the 1970’s and 80’s restablishing the gothic nature of Batman in “Detective Comics,” died Saturday, Newsarama is reporting.

I always loved his work, and reading of his death just now reminded me that I met him once about 25 years ago at a comic-book convention. But then I seemed to recall something else, and picking through the cluttered attic of my brain finally helped me stumble across the lost memory I was seeking: I interviewed Rogers over the phone in 1985 for The Comics Journal. I pulled down the relevant issue — #100 — and there it is. And here it is transcribed online if you’d care to see it.

Rereading it just now resulted in these immediate observations:

  1. I was a really bad interviewer. At least this time, and at least at first. The beginning of the interview is, well, flat-out rude: “First off, what have you been doing for the past few years?” That’s information I should have already known — and I suspect I did — but there is a better way to get it. My followup, “So more or less, over the past few years, one strip has been your job,” has a similar attitude that I regret. In retrospect, Rogers was nicer than I would’ve been.
  2. I suspect I was also picking up Journal editor Gary Groth’s pugnacity. I recall his recurring snipes to me about Denny O’Neil (whom I also interviewed in this issue) for being a heavy drinker; later, after the interview, I made nice with O’Neil and we wound up having a very pleasant Chinese lunch in Manhattan on the Marvel expense account. I also remember that I discussed with Groth the angle he wanted for each of the five pieces I have in this issue. Why he assigned me to interview Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of both “Mad” when it was a comic book and “Little Annie Fannie” in Playboy, I’ll never know, because I was completely unqualified — something Kurtzman glommed onto instantaneously, threatening to hang up.
  3. The interview, like all things from 1985, is incredibly dated. In the wake of “Shatter,” the first comic book done on a computer, I ask him if he’s afraid computers will supplant artists. Twenty years later, all mainstream comics are done on computer. You can also see how much the field was in transition in the mid-80’s, with the shift to creator-owned vehicles and profit-sharing.
  4. Hey — I too am one of the people whose intellectual property is being stolen on the internet. I say that because I sold one-time rights to the Journal for this interview, and here it is on the web for free. I guess we’d all better get used to that, if we’re not already. Either that, or I can emulate David Thomas of Pere Ubu and countless others who spend long hours hounding people around the globe to take things down. (And I’m linking to the interview — which I hadn’t even remembered conducting — so how put out am I truly?)

Please pardon my bringing these things up in what is, to some extent, a death notice; I just feel like a part of my life from more than 20 years ago came knocking.

Rogers’ work on Batman was clean and moody at the same time (and at its best when inked by Terry Austin); his Mr. Miracle had a sharp plastic snap to it that made it ping off the page. I’m not well-versed enough in the technique behind these tricks to explain how, but Marshall Rogers’ covers always stood out on very crowded newsstands. They belonged to what was a highly plastic era, but had a rigor and a punch that a lot of comics were missing. I’m sorry I won’t be seeing any more of that work, or any more of him at conventions.

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