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Little Lizzie #1-5 (June 1949 – Apr. 1950), Little Lizzie V2 #1-3 (Sept. 1953 - Jan. 1954).
Dave Gantz (Bronx, NY December 6, 1922 - December 14, 2007) was a Renaissance man in Modern Art clothes. To call him anything but the “compleat artist” would he short sheeting his long, varied career. From humor and horror at Timely to Mad magazine and advertising art to newspaper strips and editorial musings from his pen and brush.
I started drawing when I was six. I’ve never stopped. I always knew I was going to be an artist. I loved the newspaper strips: Gasoline Alley, Dick Tracy, Smilin’Jack, Abie Kabibble, Happy Hooligan, among others. I remember drawing a pirate scene when I was about twelve and put that in my portfolio when I applied to the School of Music and Art. But I was drawing mostly from life. I’d draw my parents and go out sketching. I saw Famous Funnies, which was all newspaper reprints, but I was mostly interested in the fine arts. I copied Rembrandt and the old masters. My father bought me a book on El Greco when I was eleven and it really blew me away. I often visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum was my best teacher.
I started at Music and Art when I was 12 ½. I got out when I was 16 1/2; they had rapid advancement classes in junior high school. It was a wonderful learning experience. In high school we concentrated on the fine arts, as there were no commercial art classes taught there. I also went to the YMCA on 92nd Street for life drawing classes, because they wouldn’t allow nude models in high school. Our teacher was Zero Mostel, before he became an entertainer. Art was his first love, and he maintained a studio on 28th Street throughout his career. Mostel was paid by an offshoot of the WPA [Works Progress Administration] called the FAP [Federal Arts Project]. They paid artists $23 a week, but you had to teach an art class. Don Rico was a member of the FAP before he got into comics. I remember seeing his lithographs.
I got a scholarship to attend the National Academy of Design, but only stayed there for six months. I didn’t like the way they taught. They had us drawing from dead white plaster casts. I decided to go to Iowa University in Iowa City, and I was there for a year when my father suffered a heart attack. I returned home because I had to assume responsibility for the family and I didn’t know what to do for work. I had worked since I was eight years old, but this was different. One day in 1940 I was walking down the street and bumped into Al Jaffee, whom I’d known since I was thirteen. I told him I was looking for a job and Al asked if I’d help him do comic books. That’s how I became a cartoonist.
We worked at Al’s house because he had a studio there. Al got the art assignments and we did them together. This only lasted a few months, as Al was drafted. Then I went to Timely for work, since I had published material to show. I got a staff job right away. I started out drawing Humor comics. I also did some adventure work...because they asked me to do it. That’s how things happened up there. While we were on staff, we were also allowed to take freelance work home. We’d get paid per page for that work and did it on the weekends. We had a contest to see who could do the most work over the weekend. Mike Sekowsky always won. He did 27 pages I got as high as fifteen. I did Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal, Super Rabbit, Gandy Goose, and "Skilly Boo and Bloop.” Vince Fago originated that one. I also did Mighty Mouse, but that was after we were in the Empire State Building. I also created a few features for them, including Little Lizzie in the 1950s; it was a Little Lulu takeoff.
Kin Platt wrote a lot of the humor stuff with a very nice, facile style. A very good writer and a very active person. He also drew in an animated style, very loose and exciting. He freelanced for us and wrote novels and other kinds of books. I wrote a lot of the humor stories I drew. I did them as storyboards first. Most writers typed their stories out, but I didn’t. Stan would go over them and then I drew them, Later on, I also wrote some adventure and horror stuff, too. I inked some “Captain America.” I penciled some “Sub-Mariner” work, but it wasn’t much, just a few pages. I think Robbie Solomon got me to do that. I might have done some inking on “Sub-Mariner,” and I think I did some inking on “The Human Torch”- maybe over Mike Sekowsky, who penciled some “Torch” stories. We were only doing fillers.
From 1943 until 1945 I was in Army Infantry Replacement. When I was at Camp Blanding, I continued to work for Martin Goodman. I’d take the weekend off and go to Orlando, Florida, rent a hotel room, and turn out a story. I made about five hundred bucks on a weekend. When I was discharged, I immediately went back to my staff job at Timely. That’s when they offered me the assistant editor job. Stan Lee returned before I did, and he was the editor again. Stan Lee asked me to be his assistant editor. I said, “It’s hard enough to keep my wits about me, sitting here all day drawing. You want to tie me into this completely?” That didn’t sit very well with him, so he offered the job to Al Jaffee, who did a very good job. Al organized the place beautifully. He had complete control over the books he was handling, because he was a full editor. The only one he had to answer to was Stan, and they got along very well.
I made a deal with Stan to do a certain amount of pages a week at home. He agreed to that, and later on a lot of other guys did that, too. But I was the first man to do this. I did it because I wanted to have time to paint, which was my real love. I’d finish my comics work about twelve noon and that gave me time to be a painter. That shows you how I viewed the comic book business. I didn’t like the comic book genre until I met Will Eisner. I had a big studio in downtown New York, and Jules Feiffer was there. Somehow I got to do some freelance work for him. He was doing leaﬂets for the Fram Oil Filter Company; this was right after World War II. He gave me an assignment that opened my eyes to what you could do with comics. The assignment he gave me was, “Draw me a G.I. with his ass in a sling.” I did penciling for Will. I was a straight-to-the-point kind of guy.
There was a big firing up at Timely in February 1950, but I had already started up an art service -Brown and Gantz- because I was getting tired of the comic book business. Ben Brown, a fine artist who became a photographer, was my partner. We both went to the School of Music and Art and Iowa, so we had long history together. Ben’s name went first because I had lost the coin toss that decided the issue. We did brochures and other art jobs for a while, and when that got slow I took on some more comic book work. Ben was doing our photography and I got him to help me do comics. We went to Timely as freelancers -they’d started hiring people back- and also did work for other companies. Ben dropped out of comics and I eventually lost track of him. I would lay the story out and Ben would pencil it. Then I inked it. We did a lot of horror and romance stuff that way. We signed our work “Brown and Gantz.” Then we went to work for Ziff-Davis in 1952. Jerry Siegel was the editor. He called me because he knew I did children’s books and he was doing a comic book for children. The first story he gave me was “The Ugly Duckling.” Then I got to know one of the company’s vice-presidents, Mr. Zarra, and presented the Beanbags feature to him. I did two issues and got a very good contract with them, but then Ziff-Davis went out of the comic book business.
I did write some Little Audrey comics for St. John publications. Also worked for Toby Press, that was Al Capp’s comic company. I did The Purple Claw for him, and some westerns, too. Mel Lazarus was the editor there. I later had a studio with Mel when we were doing strips for the Herald Tribune [Syndicate]. A Chicago publisher had an idea for doing digest-sized comics. He published four books. I did Maisie [a teenage feature], and Jack Davis did a western. I’ve forgotten what the other two were. As I recall, jack Davis drew without any penciling. He just picked up the brush and started working. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What a genius!
I did some work for Fox, but I don't remember what I worked on. I think I did some work for Fawcett Comics, too. Al Allard was the art director. And I got to know the art director for their paperback division. I painted covers for them, including some for the Nick Carter series. You know, when Hank Ketcham died, I remembered that I had written a few of the Dennis the Menace comic books. I also did some Peanuts comic books, for Dell Comics. I did quite a few things for Dell writing and drawing. They asked me to write the first Peanuts comic. I did, but I never wrote any more. Charles Schulz didn’t like anyone else working on his characters, so he took over the book himself. I wrote the comic in storyboard form. I think Schulz himself may have drawn it. I think he wasn't used to the comic book timing. He was used to doing a newspaper strip. Matt Murphy was my editor at Dell. He was also a pretty good photographer, and photographed a lot of my sculpture. He was a great guy to work for. And the art director for the painted covers was Ed Marin. I also did work for Steve Douglas at Famous Funnies. I did the Munsters comic book covers a few years later, I believe that was my last comic book work.
He stopped doing comics in 1962, when Gantz started the Dudley D. newspaper strip: It was a seven-day-a-week strip and was in 150 papers. I did this from 1961 until 1964. I had a five-year contract but quit after the fourth year. The Herald Tribune [Syndicate] decided to sell off the syndicate to the Publisher’s Syndicate in Chicago. Andy Anderson was in charge, and I’d had some lousy experiences with Andy a few years before and wasn’t too keen on going to work for him. I had just signed a contract with G.B. Putnam and Son to write a novel. I figured the hell with Andy Anderson. I’d be the Great American Novelist. I had never done a novel before.
I wrote a book called In a Fly’s Eye, and it was about the comic book business and art in general. I got a nice advance on it, didn’t have an editor, and worked on it for a year. And they never published it. They told me if I sold it somewhere else, I’d have to give back the advance, so I just stuck it on a shelf. I had spent that year closeted at home working on this book and had lost all my contacts. So I was without my strip and without my novel and I had a house with a wife and two kids. By the way, Publisher’s Syndicate welcomed my leaving because they were launching The Wizard of Id, and that strip got all my papers. During that lean time, I went over to a friend’s house. He was an amateur sculptor and he stuck a wad of clay in my hand and said, “Do something!” I became hooked on sculpting. It was like a drug and I eventually made this my livelihood.
Then I worked for Norcross Greeting Cards in New York City for two years. They had the biggest studio in the world up there at 277 Madison Avenue and 38th Street. They had 150 artists Working there. When anybody got into trouble and needed work, they could find it there. We had all the great illustrators up there, and I did a lot of painting for them. I set up a sculpture studio and worked for Norcross three days a week.
My work was on exhibit in a sculpture garden near the Museum of Modern Art. A lot of people came to the show; one person was the head of the book and record department at CBS. I had created a lot of art involving Don Quixote sepia drawings that I had done for the sculpture. He told me they were doing a book on Don Quixote and asked if I’d be interested in illustrating it. I said, “Yeah.” So I did the book.
Then he asked if I’d be interested in doing illustrations for Oliver Twist and I did that, too. Then he said, “Pinocchio!” so I did that one, too. Then he told me they had a hundred and fifty books to do; they packaged a record with each book. He knew I couldn’t do them all and asked if I’d set up a studio to do them. I set up a company called Design Complex and we did everything from a postage stamp to a monument. And we did all those books. It’s amazing how accidents and diversity can lead you to other things, other successes. That’s happened to me my whole life. Another thing I started was called Funny Papers, which was a collection of short stories in comic form. I never took this project to a publisher, but I did a lot of work on it because I was intrigued with telling my own story in a comic book format, which is one of the most wonderful means of telling stories.
The way Don Q [strip for the New York Times Feature Syndicate] came about was that I was writing my own stuff for Mad. I came into the office with a storyboard called D. C., which was a takeoff on the strip B. C, but it had the Watergate characters in there. Nixon, Agnew, and the others were cavemen like in the B.C. strip. I sat in the room with four editors. They try not to smile when they look at stuff, but I noticed Nick Meglin chuckling a little. When Al Feldstein looked at it, he said, “We can’t publish it.” I asked why and he said, “There’s not enough connection between our readers and B. C. I don’t think our readers read B. C.” And he was right. I took that idea and evolved it into Don Q, which I did from 1975 until 1981. My strip was the first and only one the Times Syndicate ever syndicated.
Gantz worked for Mad magazine for two years: I knew all the guys up there and decided to go to work for them. I knew Nick because I had worked with him for a sports magazine called Pro Quarterback. I did polychrome relief sculptures and they photographed and used them in the magazine. That was great because I was able to use my sculpture in a commercial manner. I started out just drawing features. I didn’t like drawing other people’s work and got into trouble for that because I changed the scripts. So I decided to write my own stuff.
I was going along fine there. Al Feldstein was the chief editor at the time. But every time I went in there with my storyboards, they went through five people. I quit working for them because the work was always done on spec. But once they approved it, you did the art and it was good pay. I never had much contact with Feldstein; I worked with Nick Meglin, though Feldstein had the final say.
I got the NCS award for the Best Newspaper Panel, Gantz Glances, while I was at Newsday. It was a cartoon essay more than just a panel, and took up half a page. The award was for my work in 1997, but I received the award in 1998. But after that, they had a budget crunch and I was dumped. They were able to pay a' reporter for the money they were paying me. That’s when I went over to the Courier, a weekly New York paper, and did political cartoons about New York. Then I had a problem with the editor. We disagreed on a political point and I quit working for them. The cartoon had to do with Mayor Giuliani. A year later, they called me back because now they agreed with my point of view. You know, politicians write your material for you. You don’t have to make anything up. You can’t be more absurd than politicians today.
I just finished writing and drawing a book entitled Jews in America, A Cartoon History. It’s due for release in February 2002. I feel that what I’m doing is a comic book about a topic I love. I never thought I’d be able to do a comic on the subject of Jews. It shows how things have changed since Maus was published. Maus won the Pulitzer Prize, and this type of book has become acceptable. And a lot of other books have come out since then in our medium. Now I realize what can be done with the medium of comic books, if you have full control.
One thing I want to stress is that I came back to comic books after trying to get away from it all my life. Now I’ve come back to it and I’m loving it. That’s what I'm about right now.
From Alter Ego #13 (2002, TwoMorrows). Excerps of an Interview conducted by Jim Amash.