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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mark Belkin interviews Paris Cullins for DC in the 80s

The energetic Paris Cullins is best known for pencilling 1984's Blue Devil and 1986's Blue Beetle. He also illustrated 1989's Fourth World revival series, New Gods. Mark Belkin had a chance to catch up with Cullins at the 2016 Baltimore Comic-Con and ask him a few questions about his work at DC comics in the 1980s.

covers illustrated by Paris Cullins

Mark Belkin: What was it like when you were presented the Blue Beetle as a series? What was going on at the time with you and how did that come about?

Paris Cullins: I wouldn't call it a series of coincidences, but it was a series of phenomena. Y'know? First, I had this little personal problem that stopped me from completing my run on the Blue Devil. Following that, they gave me some extra things to do, but they really liked them. And then the Crisis broke through.. and when the Crisis broke through, that one little scene of the Blue Beetle fighting Chemo by the Statue of Liberty?... the FANS went BERSERK. Hundreds of letters came in. Suddenly we got a call from Dick Giordano and everybody else in the office "You've got to do Blue Beetle and you've got to do it now!" We only had 3 weeks to do it. We got 3 weeks, we put out the book, we just did it. The first 4 issues were on the run. Maybe I'd get 2 or 4 pages at a time. Or maybe he'd call me up and tell me 'this is what I want the next pages to look like'. It was almost like old Marvel was putting this book together. And then LEGENDS came out and it just interrupted the process, BUT it was an interesting run.
The panel that started it all - from Crisis on Infinite Earths #9 (1985)

I was doing my best to channel Steve Ditko. I ran into Steve Ditko three issues later in a McDonalds at 3 o'clock in the morning. He was absolutely in love with it. I got to speak with him - it was comic books and fries for four hours until the sun came up. It kind of was like an auspicious moment. It galvanized me to doing a better job for it. And I think I did.

Mark: You bet. I mean it's a classic run that still, to this day, is getting reprinted, so you know you did something amazing and something classic.

Blue Beetle v4 #2 (1967) published by Charlton Comics. Cover by Steve Ditko.

Paris: What's really amazing is last year at the Newark Comic-con, a twelve-year-old boy walked up to me and talked about all three Blue Beetles and told me mine was the best that he liked. Now, he was twelve years old - what's he doing reading my books? But he did. And he liked them. And that was great.

Mark: Yeah, those books are up there. Now, how did you get Blue Devil? How did that come about?

Paris: Well actually, here comes another Steve Ditko story. I'm telling you, this one's very strange. I was doing House of Mystery and I had just joined the DC comics intern program for artists. I just finished a werewolf story with Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin, and they asked me if I wanted another one. And I said 'of course', and they said 'well, I think we've got this one free, but I think we're giving it to Steve Ditko'. Steve Ditko called me up and said 'I don't want to do it', And they handed it to me - and it was the Blue Devil. I did it and I worked it, they liked it so much and it went from a tiny story and they said "make it bigger", so I made it bigger. So they asked again, and it took up the whole book. and they looked at it again and said "this should be a comic book!". And then from there, we got what we got.

House of Mystery #316 (1983) - early Paris Cullins art (with Tom Sutton)

Mark: I hear that Blue Devil might be coming back. Did you hear anything about that?

Paris: Well I heard that, but that's not really quite my concern. They kind of stick to this 'catholic' thing. We didn't make him catholic - he didn't sell his soul to the devil. He got tricked by something that came from another world. (We call it a 'demon', but really it's just another dimensional creature that has other-dimensional properties to it that's NOT like where we live.) He got him stuck in the costume.

The 'revised' Blue Devil. Cover of Shadowpact v1 #14 (2007). Art by Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher

We're coming out with our OWN thing, and it's called The New Devil. And The New Devil is probably going to be published by Visionary Comics and they'll printing it in Virginia. It's like the Blue Devil in the way that it's happy and fun and coincidental with full amazingness from every corner of genre of comics. He's a guy - like the Blue Devil who was stuck in a costume - he's stuck in a video game and he's trying to get out of it. And he has to save the world with it at the same time."

Mark: You're updating it for today. Video games.

Paris: There we go. Yeah, it is. And the difference is that he's very young. I think the fans are going to enjoy it and it's going to pull in a whole new crowd.

Mark: Very nice. How was it working on Who's Who with Len Wein. I remember some of those illustrations that you did...

Paris: That was really weird. George Perez suddenly couldn't do more. He was ready to do it, but then he couldn't do it. And the I got a call, and I had to finish it in a day and a half (or something like that), and then turn it over Len (Wein), and then turn it over to Dick Giordano - I had to ride to Connecticut to drop it off to him - he got it, and when over it, and it came back. After that, they made me cover artists for Who's Who for a run of six or seven issues. Maybe even eight. I can't remember. They really liked them. That was hard to keep up with. Once they did that, they just reigned over me. Just "Do this cover!" and "Now do this cover!". I became the assistant cover artist for three or four years running at DC. I drew a little bit of everything. It might've even been a bit longer than that. If you name it, I did a cover for it.

cover of Who's Who v1 #11 (1986). Source:
Who's Who v1 #11 (1986) cover by Paris Cullins and Dick Giordano

Mark: Now was that high stress? Or did you welcome that sort of challenge?

Paris: The name of the game in comics is 'production'. And the more you do, the more you're like the people you looked up to, And who did I look up to? Jack Kirby. Four pages a day. Four comics a month. Maybe ten or twenty covers a month. If I can do that... I'd be 'King', too.

Mark: Other than Jack Kirby, who are some of the other influences you had growing up?

Paris: Almost everybody I'd call the 'middle mainstream of comics'. Obviously George Perez. Obviously John Buscema and Sal Buscema. Sal Buscema was the mainstay of your basic comic - I mean there was action, there was drama, and you could see that he was having fun. I always got the impression that John was taking it too seriously. Y'know, that it was always well drawn... but, life has shades. I think he was the first of the big boys that didn't draw a whole lot of shades to the work. There was serious, ultra-serious, dark-serious and just a little fun. I'm not a 'little fun' guy, I like a 'lotta fun'.

Sal Buscema art from Marvel's Defenders (circa 1970s)

Mark: It definitely comes across in your artwork. Always a lot of fun reading your things. Was there any characters you wanted to work on that you never got a chance to? From the 80s...

Paris: In terms of actual comic books and not covers? A lot of them. I didn't really get to draw the Avengers. I didn't get to draw the X-Men. I drew lots of covers of everything. I wound up drawing EVERYBODY at some particular moment. Drawing cards or game boxes. There's even a lot of these RPG games, at the very beginning, that I did the covers or characters designs for and all that kind of stuff. When I first started, it wasn't just DC I worked at. I actually worked for Marvel for a bit doing Marvel Two-In-One. The two I got hired for NEVER got printed and I don't know WHY. I have no idea. I wasn't late. It just never got there. One was THE THING MEETS ROM SPACEKNIGHT and the other one was THE THING AND KA-ZAR.

Mark: Was this for Marvel Fanfare?

Paris: Marvel Fanfare, back then, was the precursor to Image [comics], because it had a Heavy Metal feel to it. It was hard following the best of the best. Not that I don't think that I was really good, because I was, but you know following behind Michael Golden was a BIG DEAL back then.

Mark: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with DC in the 80s, Paris.

-Mark Belkin

Paris Cullins at 2016 Baltimore Comic-Con. Photo by Mark Belkin
Paris Cullins at 2016 Baltimore Comic-Con

For more Blue Beetle fun, check out Kord Industries.

Blue Devil fan? Check out Sympathy for the Devil. Firestorm Fan (Shagg Matthews) has been known for appreciating Blue Devil, so give them a whirl while you're at it.


  1. Wish Paris had been artists on the book for the whole run. Terrific fit for Blue Beetle. Series started well but spiraled into the tank by the end. Always regret they never created a really good and compelling nemesis for him. -J.O.B.

    1. I always thought of Chronos as a nice nemesis for Ted.

  2. When I was a kid, i was so disappointed when I realized he wasn't coming back to Blue Devil. I always wondered what happened and hearing that it was a "personal problem" saddens me. I hope it all worked out eventually. - B.L.

  3. This was great--I loved those Blue Beetles and now I want to go reread them!