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Battle Action # 1-30 (Feb. 1952 - Aug. 1957).
Cal Massey was born February 1926 in Morton, Pennsylvania, which is a small town outside of Philadelphia. When he was four years old, he discovered the Sunday newspaper comics. After graduating from high school in 1944, he went into the Air Force during World War II for two years. When he came out of the service, he met Joe Maneely at the Hussion School of Art.
"My goal was to be a comic book illustrator, and I met a wonderful teacher, Leonard Nelson. He separated me from the rest of the students and gave me split-hair criticism. I asked him why he stayed on me, and not anybody else. Mr. Nelson said, “You’ve got a rare gift. So rare, I don’t want to see you lose it.” And then I understood [why he was tough on me]. l knew he was what I was looking for. I got three days of life drawing, one day of composition, and one day of illustration. Mr. Nelson and another teacher, Mr. Hussion (who owned the school), designed a course for me."
Massey graduated from the school in 1950, but in ’49, he started working for Cross Publishing Company. He did that work through an agent. For Cross, he drew “Steve Duncan" and Perfect Crime. After that, Joe Maneely suggested Massey went to work for St. John Publications. He only drew three stories for them.
Cal Massey went to Lev Gleason, and worked for Charles Biro. There he drew the “The Little Wise Guys” in Daredevil, "Boffo the Clown,” and Crime Does Not Pay . Meanwhile that he went to get a job from Stan Lee:
"We were sitting in the reception room. There was another black artist there named Swanson, too. The receptionist would take our portfolios and take them back to Stan. At some point, Don Rico started laughing and told me, “Haven’t you noticed that you were the ﬁrst one here, and all the other guys’ portfolios were returned to them, but Stan still has yours?” Stan was telling these people that there was no work, but Rico said there was plenty of work, because he was turning in two stories. Then the receptionist told me to come back and go to office #13.
I walked into the room and Stan Lee said, “Massey’s in the cold, cold ground.” [making a play on the lyrics of a song from the South] I sat down, and he said, “Messy Massey.” Then I got up and started to leave, when Stan asked me where I was going. I said, “I thought New York had grown past this sort of thing. Have a nice day” Then, Stan said, “Massey, get your ass back here. How many stories can you turn out a month?” Of course, after that, he could say anything to me."
He continued to work for Lev Gleason and Cross. But the Senate investigations into comic books forced many companies, including Cross and Lev Gleason, out of business. "I was worried, but I was really busy because I was working for Stan. All of a sudden, Stan Lee came back and dropped my page rate to $50 a page, and then a couple of months later, down to $35, and ﬁnally down to $18 a page. At this point I called Stan: “I’m sorry, I’m getting out of the business.” Stan tried to get me to stick with it, that prices would come back up, and things would get better. I said, "No, I can’t make any living at this. At these prices, you still want the same quality work. I can't do it. I’m going, into book illustration and advertising work.” That was that. And then I went into advertising."
For Timely, Massey did so many Battle and Battle Action stories and some weird supernatural stories, then Westerns and detective. He worked up until ’57. Stan Lee wrote most of the stories.
"Stan would take an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of paper and draw a line straight down the center and then two equal lines and make six panels. He wrote in the word balloons, and then put the descriptions of the work itself. He had a code which said, “Use your own discretion." He wanted you to be the creator without him, suggestions from the story, all from the balloons. In the panel boxes, he'd set the scene, but he was able to direct the stories with his simple code, which I preferred that because he seemed to be getting more out of the artist that way. Everybody else wrote a fully typed script. That’s why I liked Stan’s scripts, because the other ones seemed like they would have everything just as they wanted. You weren't supposed to change it. But with Stan, you had a lot of freedom to tell the story your way."
Massey got into advertising art. He didn't know that much about it, but he met a guy who asked me to rent a space in his art service, and he would be the resident illustrator. For several years Massey did every kind of illustration you could think of: photographic renderings, fashion art, men’s fashions.
He met Joe Siegel, the creator of The Franklin Mint, and he designed their very ﬁrst medal in 1960. From then on, Massey designed almost 400 medals over a period of seven years. Being the only African-American sculptor and designer.
Masey quit in 1976. He went back to advertising and hook illustration, children’s book illustration. And actually something else. Joe Siegel was there before he sold his share of the Franklin Mint, and other people took over. Joe put on a fine art show of his prestigious sculptors, and Massey won first prize. He did a painting of an African woman called “The Ashanti Woman.” Well, I got the bug, I quit the Mint, and I've been a ﬁne artist ever since."
"How can you retire when you're an artist? Your arms, your ﬁngers, and your mind‘s working... you don’t retire."
From Alter Ego magazine #105.