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Crime Must Lose! # 4-12 (Oct. 1950 - April 1952; continued from n.a.).
This interview was originally published in Roy Thomas' magazine ALTER EGO, #32 .
I was born in Manhattan in New York City, on June 5th, 1924. I attended the High School of Industrial Arts and on and off Pratt Institute. At age 17 or 18 I saw an ad in the newspaper, I think it was the New York Times: "Background artist wanted". It was for Captain America. It was Columbus Day of 1942. I showed it to my father, may he rest in peace. He's the one who encouraged me. He told me to go down there. I told him it was Columbus Day and that they'd probably be closed. He said "You gotta try". Maybe I was a little lazy or I didn't think I'd get the job, I don't know, but I went. It was Timely Comics and they were in the McGraw Hill Building. I went up and told them I was there to apply for the job.
There was a receptionist. She disappeared in the back for a minute and must have told whoever was in charge, someone was there for the job opening. Don Rico comes out. He takes my work samples in. I waited a bit and he comes back out and tells me I'm hired. He didn't take long at all. It amazed me too. I think they started me off with $25 a week when at that time a married man with a family was making $35 to $45 a week. I thought I'd find it much tougher as I was only 18 years old.
My training was mostly experience. I learned so much on the job. My best friend Sam Burlockoff and I went to Pratt Institute at night on and off. It was in a bad neighborhood in Brooklyn and I didn’t like going at night. From what I remember, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had left about 9 months before I got there. There was always talk among the office staff about how great Simon and Kirby were. Syd Shores was doing it now. Vince Alascia may have been inking. The very first thing I did at Timely was backgrounds for Syd Shores on Captain America. Well, it wasn't much. It was just drawing lines with a ruler, putting in a window, a tree, that kind of stuff. I didn't do it too long. Just a couple of months. I really didn’t like doing that kind of work at all. Then they started me off on a script and took me off backgrounds and eventually worked on titles such as: The Patriot, The Destroyer, The Human Torch, Jap Buster Johnson and Jet Dixon of the Space Squadron, All Winners Comics, Marvel Mystery Comics, Sub Mariner Comics, Young Allies and so much more.
Here’s a story about the disbanding of the Timely Bullpen. They put up a speaker outside of both rooms that housed the artists, about 1949 or so. We called it the “bitch box”. Every so often you’d hear Stan yell “so and so come into my office” and you’d know that “so and so” was being fired. It was the voice of doom. I was a bit of a wiseguy and I used to say out loud “I’ve seen them come, I’ve seen them go.” I said it over and over with each person called in because for some reason I felt very secure. Then one day I heard “Allen Bellman, come into my office.”
They were cutting the fat. They took inventory and saw they had a lot of work stored. Goodman, Robbie Solomon, Stan Lee, they were all involved in that. Anyhow, as I passed the “bitch” box outside Stan’s office on my way out, I hear someone say “I’ve seen them come, I’ve seen them go.” (laughs). I can laugh about it now but I wasn’t laughing then. I was fired about midway through the entire staff firing. But I was lucky because I got a job right away with Lev Gleason. Charlie Biro and Bob Wood were there. : It was smaller. There were just a few artists on their staff and it was nice working there. Bob Wood never really bothered anyone and Charlie Biro was in and out of the office, “out” mostly. I remember I and the staff, along with our wives, being invited to Wood’s penthouse for a Christmas party. I also did some work for Will Eisner in his office. When Timely’s staff ended I found myself knocking on his office door. He gave me a script to do with the understanding I would do it in his office, which I did. He stood over me and wanted me to draw in his style. That was like telling someone to change their style of writing to fit “your” style of writing, or making a left-handed person write with his right hand. I “did” learn a lot from him.
Stan fired us but Timely still needed new work. The funny thing is that almost everyone that was fired was back freelancing almost without a break! When Lev Gleason disbanded the staff I was back at Timely and Stan Lee was feeding me scripts again. The only difference was now I could work at home.
When comics started to slow down in the mid 1950’s I got a job with Pyramid books on Madison Ave. There I learned layout and drew a lot of cartoons for them. But before that I couldn’t seem to get any more comics freelance work. Well I had a lot of things going on in my life and it was not a good time for me personally. Maybe that was the reason. It’s been so long now. I went through a very bitter divorce and my mind was probably not focused. I was just floating around, going from job to job. There was a publisher on 14th street, a real schlock operation. I worked there for a while. But then I got that job with Pyramid books. They published paperbacks. They also had a men’s magazine. I also drew the cover and many interior illustrations for a paperback called Impossible Greeting Cards.
After the publishing business I became a successful businessman and after 18 years we moved down here to Florida where I joined the art department of a major daily newspaper, the SUN SENTINEL. After that I went into photography. That has now become an outlet for my creativity. Photography is the way I now create.
That I did my best at all times and respected the job I had. Some fellows hated the work they did hoping eventually they could leave it. I always hoped to move up in the art world but enjoyed every minute of my time at Timely. I thought we were doing important work for the readers of the books. It’s funny.