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Friday, October 20, 2017

Mark Belkin interviews Joe Staton

Joe Staton is not only a legend in the comics industry, he is also one of the nicest human beings you will ever meet. It is always a pleasure to speak with him about his past, what he is doing presently, and what he is going to be working on in the future. And if you’re lucky enough to meet his wonderful wife, Hilarie, then you are twice as lucky to meet two of the nicest people on the comics circuit today.

His list of work for DC is massive. Batman, Green Lantern, All-Star Comics, Justice Society, Huntress, World’s Finest, Millennium, Power Girl, and so much more. Originally from North Carolina, Joe has made New York his home state for more than 30 years, and can be found at conventions all around the country. We were lucky enough to speak to Joe at a convention recently.


Mark: Thank you, Joe, for joining us today.  First question -- how did you meet up with Steve Englehart and end up working together on Green Lantern

Joe: Basically, he was assigned as the writer for Green Lantern. I had come back to DC from First comics. The plan when I came back was that Len Wein would be writing and editing Green Lantern. Somehow -- by the time I got back -- Len was gone and Andy Helfer was editing, and I guess Andy had assigned Steve writing duties. 

Mark: When I spoke with J.M. DeMatteis, he said that Andy was very influential on his Justice League run. Was Andy very influential on your run with Green Lantern? Was he a 'hands on' editor? 

Joe: Um... yes, and sometimes a bit more 'hands on' than Steve would've preferred. Steve had lots of good ideas, and Andy had some ideas of his own.

Mark: Steve was a very rebellious soul from my understanding...

Joe: Well, an independent soul, yes.

Panel from The Green Lantern Corps #201 (1986)

Mark: So you got to work on Green Lantern -- and I know one of the big things to come out of your run was Guy Gardner. Defining the 'bowl cut' for generations. How did that come about? What was your mindset in drawing Guy Gardner?

Joe: Steve was setting up a whole new approach to the [Green Lantern] Corps, and Guy had been almost entirely written out [of the mythos] -- he really didn't exist anymore. So basically, Steve developed a whole new Guy Gardner character based on that name and just that position in the corps. His idea was -- certainly in contrast to Hal [Jordan] who was such a good guy and such a stable character -- Guy would be a real contrast.

I picked up on what Steve was doing with it, and the way we'd brought Guy back is that he was in this intensive care facility -- he was pretty much brain-dead. When he came back, he had been in custodial care -- and my idea was that the crew (the people who worked at this facility) would basically come around a give him a bowl cut, like, once a month. And when he came out of his coma it's his haircut and he just stuck with it. It's an institutional look.  

Mark: It is. I heard they're making a Green Lantern Corps movie, and I know for a fact, that they will probably use the bowl cut. So a whole new generation of people will get exposed to that idea.

Joe: <laughs> ...the idea of ugly haircuts...

Can you make out the bowl cut in this silhouette?

Mark: So you got to illustrate the death of Earth-Two Batman in 1979's Adventure Comics v1 #462. How was it getting that? Because that was a pretty consequential story to be given. Did anyone talk to you about that at the time? Was there a huge "Oh my god, I can't believe this!" type-of-thing?

Joe: As I understand it, Joe Orlando was the editor, and this was to be Joe's last issue. Paul Levitz wanted Joe to go out with something consequential, so that how he got to the 'death of Batman' story. The weird thing there was that Mike Barr was the assistant editor, and when the script came to him he was horrified and Mike was, y'know, really trying to stop the whole thing. People realized this was something consequential, and then there were *other* people who thought that Batman should ONLY be killed by the Joker.... so, y'know, there were different ideas there.

From the brilliant Brave and the Bold #197. Also, about death and Earth-Two Batman.
Mark: Moving a little bit forward, you and Steve Englehart worked on Millennium -- which was the big cross-over series from the tail-end of 1987. How did that get handed to you guys? What was the thinking/reasoning?

Joe: Yeah, well, I know that Steve had a lot of new age ideas he wanted to work out. So, he was brought in, and he had a lot worked out. Andy [Helfer] was editing again, and Andy was always good at bringing in people from England, or Japan, or whatever... and his original plan was for Ian Gibson -- the English artist -- to do the art on Millennium. BEFORE scanning or e-mailing, before all THAT, it was FedEx ... international FedEx. But it quickly became apparent that really wasn't going to work on the very tight schedule that the book had. So, I think the book was 3 weeks late at the point I was brought into it. I wasn't scheduled to do it, I had no idea that I would be doing it. So, I was just kind of thrown into it. And Ian was told that okay well he's not doing the WHOLE job anymore, but he's still inking it. So he did stick around for the inking. I certainly would've understood if he decided not to, but he stuck with it.

Since the book was so late -- and it was at a time that there were a lot of changes going into the DC books (a lot of costumes were changing and different things) -- basically I penciled with what information I had, Ian inked with what he had, and then the whole thing came back to the production department who kind of re-drew things on the fly trying to make everybody's costume look right before it went out. 

And then there was a lot of political intrigue going on at DC at the time -- both internal politics and actual political politics. Steve [Englehart] was very left-wing in his politics and he wanted to make a lot of anti-fascist statements. I kind of share Steve's politics, so it didn't bother me. But Jenette [Kahn] leaned on Andy [Helfer] to lean on Steve, so Steve wasn't allowed to come up with the ending he had planned for Millennium. It's amazing we got it done at all.

A comic called Focus that focused on the comic crossover Millennium. Say that 5 times quick.

Mark:...and that moved onto 1988's The New Guardians series -- which you pencilled -- and that series sort of hung around for a little while. Was that series also affected by politics as well at the time?

Joe: Oh yeah. Since the whole ending [to Millennium] would've been different, and the spin-offs would've been different -- the New Guardians was kind of coming up with a spin-off book on the fly.  [laughs] That was another weird one because there were so many ethnic and political characters... and I'm fond of caricature -- like, I can't help it -- and I was REALLY worried that some of my characters were going to be offensive whether or not I wanted them to be. So, I worked with that as best as I could. It's amazing any books ever got put out.

Mark: I'd love to expand on that at some point. Before we finish up... retaining the rights to E-Man... was that always an issue? Was that an issue with First Comics (because you had to gone First Comics)? Was it an easy early-80s creator owned? Or was it difficult? What kind of difficulties did you have with that over the years?

Joe: Well, First [Comics] got the rights from Charlton [Comics], and the idea was that I'd pay First back from my royalties/income to cover their expenses, and eventually E-Man would come to me. Over the years various papers were slipped my way to sign, so the deal I wound up didn't exactly add up to what I was counting on from First. So, I ALMOST own E-Man but some of the earlier material is controlled by the remains of First.

Mark: And what happens with those remains? Who's in charge of those? Do you think those will ever be re- printed?

Joe: It's a possibility. We'll keep on trying to figure that out.

Mark: Thank you for sitting with us today, Mr Staton.

Panel from E-Man #4 (1983). Property of First Comics.
E-Man: the shape-changing superhero!

Joe Staton has been working on the national Dick Tracy comic strip since 2011, and has won Harvey Awards for Best Syndicated Strip in 2013, 2014 and 2015! He is a frequent guest at conventions, and if you see him, stop by and say hello!

-Mark Belkin


  1. Have you ever looked at Staton's work on the Femme Noir series? I liked that too.

    1. Hey Justin,
      I was previously unaware of Mills and Staton's Femme Noir, so I checked out your link -- very nice write-up! Thanks for reviewing this series.