Ernie Colón turned eighty in 2011, and the comics legend celebrated by not slowing down. This year, the artist returned to Richie Rich, a character he worked on for many years at Harvey Comics, Dark Horse reprinted a number of stories Colón worked on in the most recent volume of the "Eerie Archives" and NBM just published "Inner Sanctum," a book Colón wrote and illustrated based on stories from a vintage radio show.
It may seem all-ages stories and moody horror tales have little in common, but Colón has made a career from jumping from one genre to another with astonishing ease. There's his work at Harvey Comics on "Casper" and "Richie Rich" and his contributions to Warren Comics' magazines including "Creepy," "Eerie" and "Vampirella." At Marvel, he was an early contributor to the adult-oriented anthology magazine "Epic Illustrated" and collaborated with the late Dwayne McDuffie on "Damage Control." Many fans are aware of Colón's fantasy and adventure work thanks to titles like DC Comics' "Arak, Son of Thunder" and "Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld," the latter of which he was surprised to hear will be appearing on Cartoon Network's "DC Nation" animated series in 2012, with the artist expressing his disappointment in not negotiating better control over the character he co-created.
In recent years, Colón has worked with longtime collaborator Sid Jacobson on a series of nonfiction graphic novels including "The 9/11 Report," "After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001-)," "Che: A Graphic Biography" and "Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Biography," which Colón and Jacobson discussed with CBR last year.
As always, Colón was modest when discussing his body of work, which has grown longer and deeper in recent years,. We spoke about his latest book, "Inner Sanctum," a black and white graphic novel he wrote, pencilled and inked, what it was like working with a young Dwayne McDuffie .
CBR News: What's your earliest memory of the "Inner Sanctum" radio show?
Ernie Colón: Gluing my ear as close to the speaker as I could so I wouldn't miss a grunt or gurgle. My mom stayed out of the room. I loved mysteries and horror stories. When I ran out of "Jekyll and Hyde" practically in a panic, she got angry and made me go right back to the movie house with her. At exactly the point when I ran out, she made a move to leave -- nah, nah, I said in triumph -- we're staying. It was "Inner Sanctum," "I Love a Mystery," "Suspense" and a clutch of other imitators.
How did the project end up at NBM?
I wanted to work with [NBM publisher] Terry [Nantier] for years -- his excellent reputation precedes him! He respects others' opinions. How many people do you know like that?
Where did this idea for doing a graphic novel adaptation of "Inner Sanctum" stories come from?
It was with me for years. Creating drawings based on radio shows was fun. I remember wanting to draw "Lonegan Versus the Ants." I stopped after drawing about a hundred ants.
Why did you pick these particular stories? Were they favorites of yours, did you think they were visual, what was it?
[There was] a lot to pick from. I guess these sounded like fun to draw.
You also wrote one story specifically for this book, "Mentalo." Where did this story originate?
A daydream. I have a lot of them and don't know what to do with them. ["Mentalo" is] more of a Jim Warren story.
What, for you, makes it a "Warren story?" Is it a question of tone or mood?
The Warren stories usually had a twist or ironic ending. They were noir, for the most part, In the "Inner Sanctum" stories, I included one where some of the horror took place in sunny daylight, amidst crowds of park strollers.
The book really seems timely because people have been keeping up with the "Creepy Archives" and "Eerie Archives" from Dark Horse in recent years, "Inner Sanctum" is really in that same vein.
Dark Horse does good work.
You did a number of stories for "Eerie," "Creepy" and "Vampirella." What was it like working with Jim Warren on the magazines at that time?
Sometimes a little hectic. One of the worst jobs I ever did was on a "Vampirella" story that had to be done overnight. Generally, it was great fun working with Jim -- he encouraged experimentation and askew approaches to storytelling. A weird bunch of talent worked there. [It was] fascinating.
Another series you illustrated, "Amethyst, Princess of the Gemworld," has a cult following and is going to return as an animated short on television next year...
I had no idea it was being animated. You know, when you create something, it isn't unreasonable to imagine it belongs to you. That whoever is in charge in the corporate structure, they'll want to consult you as to where your character is headed. Not DC Comics. Maybe not any corporation.
Maybe we could have been better business people, better negotiators. "Amethyst" has been through a wringer, twisted by lesser lights than the guys who created her -- Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn and -- if you'll permit me -- me.
There have been some reprints of Richie Rich comics of late, a character that you worked on for a long time. Do you have any favorites among the stories being reprinted?
Nah -- I just liked the character. I thought of him as a Tintin type, but it was a losing concept. Most of the time, it was two crooks hiding in the bushes. It's okay -- he adventured all over the place and brought joy to a lot of people who tell me that even now.
You recently collaborated with Sid Jacobson on some new Richie Rich stories. I'm curious what that experience of returning to the character in a new context was like.
It was a little odd. It felt like [I was coming] full circle -- which would be good title for an "Inner Sanctum" [story]! It was fun. [Richie Rich is] a good little guy.
I wanted to touch on a few other projects that you've worked on in your long career. You were a contributor to "Epic Illustrated" when the magazine first came out. Can you talk about the experience and working with editor Archie Goodwin.
Archie was a gem editor, a gentleman and a real talent. Our collaboration was much too brief for me. In comics, editors come and go faster than a checkout line at an everything under a dollar store -- me included. Archie's long run is testament to his skills in the medium and with people.
In the eighties and nineties. you worked for Marvel with a young writer, the late Dwayne McDuffie, on "Damage Control." What do you remember about the book and working with McDuffie?
"Damage Control" was unique in comics. It actually featured cause and effect, something almost completely out of comics language and concern. What would happen if these super powers (fill in the blank)? What mess would they leave behind, both in material and human cost?
Dwayne posited this concept with great good humor, another element largely ignored in the fight-every-three-pages formula followed by writers for so many years.
Dwayne was very smart, very alert to good storytelling, with the talent to produce it consistently. He left us much too soon.
On the books you've done in recent years, you've inked yourself, which is something that you didn't always do in your career. Do you enjoy inking yourself?
It's not a question of being a better inker than the next, [it's about having] control over your own work. Of course, there were times when an inker would use my tight pencils as if they were roughs, drawing their own versions of a page, making my drawings redundant. I'm not comparing myself to him, believe me, but I always thought Kirby's pencils were brilliant. The inking, less so.
You and Sid Jacobson are collaborating on another book together, "3/5ths of a Man," about slavery in the United States. At this point, since you're still in the midst of working on it, is there anything about it you can share?
It's a tough topic, just as Anne Frank was tough. Both demand the best you can give. I hope I'm doing that.