May 19th, 2012 (Part 1)
ES: Well, this is just recently. Roberta Friedman just called me. She teaches at Montclair college, and she got Mike Uslan who is the producer of the Batman pictures to come and she asked me if I would come interview him because I knew Michael years ago, and you know she remembered I had that connection once in life.
Well during the Q&A this was for all undergraduate film students, Montclair. So they're all eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Maybe a hundred kids. So I said raise your hands if you were alive before the first Star Wars picture. The only people who raised their hands were the instructors.
So I said none of you in this room remember a time when Star Wars didn't exist. And I said Michael and I and these other people we all remember when it came about and the point of it was that you know you're 19 years old and you want to make a movie, and you think gee I wish I could make Batman or Star Wars, and of course Mike Uslan's story is that he was smart enough to buy the rights to back on when nobody gave a shit about it, and I put it clearly like that because people laughed at... They said "Michael, you're wasting your money. Why would you bother to do that? I suspect it was after the TV show and people thought well that's all silly campy, stupid stuff and Mike always wanted to do it the right way.
Mike Uslan absolutely appreciates comic books in their purest sense. Comic books was always a misnomer. 'The comics'. 'The funny papers'. They were never all... People use to call them funny books. Very few of them were funny. Carl Barks was funny. He was a funny guy. But Batman wasn't funny, Batman was scary. I remember reading some comics when I was a little kid, scared the pants off me. I couldn't look at him.
I didn't read EC comic books when I was a little kid. I read them much later. Those comics were really gruesome. Not for me. Not my thing.
So I just by complete circumstance... Remember I told you that I was a mystic? For mystical reasons that I am unable to comprehend. I happen to be around when all this stuff happens. I got to witness this happening before my very eyes. And Indiana Jones too.
I was part of the warp and woof of this amongst hundreds and thousands of other people who contributed in one way or another. I don't think if you asked him that George would say that he invented the whole thing. I just don't think he'd say that. He's the focus of it, but all these things are all very collaborative. I think it's easier for the general public to pin it all in one person's chest. It's an easy way to try to understand just how mystical it is.
So what I was trying to explain is insofar SuperSnipe. There's the Supersnipe Comic Book Euphorium, and Supersnipe Comic Art Gallery. They were two separate businesses. They each had their own employees, their own payroll, their own investors. They were sister businesses if you will. Eventually the art gallery was folded into the comic book store because when when Star Wars took off — this was more around the time of Empire Strikes Back I think — George Lucas became George Lucas Incorporated, and he had all these business people that were looking out for him. I knew all the original guys of Pollack, Bloom and Becker. They were all my friends Jake Bloom and Tom Pollock. I mean I know Peter, so well. He has his own law firm now, Peter Duckham(sp?).
We all just hung out together. There was no Star Wars, these were all struggling people. I think it's very important if you try to tell the story to understand that despite the fact that they had made America Graffiti. They were struggling. It was not easy to make this film. Fox was very tough.
Another time if you ask me, I remember one day George and Gary were standing in the back of the comic book store talking about how they were going to cut four million dollars out of the budget. I remember this vividly because I was this sort of busy. It's a very tiny little store and I was sort of half listening to them and I remember walking back. They were kind of standing in the back room shaking their heads because they didn't know how to... What they're going to do? I'll tell you the whole story another, but you'll have to ask me.
MH: Yeah, I'd love to do that.
ES: Don't you be afraid to interrupt me. I don't know how you do it, but...
MH: I just let you talk because you kind of answer all the questions I have. You go right down the line.
ES: Well I'm glad. Thank you. So so I've become a little sensitive about it. Because the comic book art gallery evolved out of a mutual interest that George and I had in this stuff. You know it was... I don't want to call it a game exactly, but it was fun, it was a hobby but it was fun.
George, as did I loved cereal premiums. You'd buy Cheerios and they'd have a space ship in them. I used to collect all that stuff. I still have some of it. There were bubble gum cards that were spaceships. There were toys from Space Patrol and Tom Corbett and Buck Rogers. When we were children… George is, I don't know, he's like four or five years older than me, I'm not sure how much older than I am, he is. Marty's (Scorsese) is even older. Francis (Coppola) is the oldest one. He's old Francis. He looks great though. He came to Red Tails. I hadn't seen him in a long time. He looked really good. But we're none of us are so young anymore.
When we were growing up in the 40s and the 50s all this was very present in our lives. Comic books were much more meaningful, radio was a genuine medium. For drama and storytelling TV was barely happening. We all went to the movies. We all couldn't wait for the next issue of Captain Marvel to come out. Captain Marvel was the bees knees, that was the best comic book, or Uncle Scrooge. Those were my favorites. Uncle Scrooge, I loved Uncle Scrooge. Mystery in Space.
Famous Funnies all had Buck Rogers covers. Frank Frazetta did comic book covers. George, and I bought them, eventually. Really exciting. Oh we loved those things. Listen I just told you an hour ago, at Red Tails George says to me. I'm still collecting this stuff. So you know he's now just an older richer, bigger kid.
Nothing much has changed. He's in a little more rarefied area of the socio-economic continuum than I am and he has this new girlfriend who seems very lovely and he seemed very happy. He was much more like how he was when I first met him, he's had hard times. You know I'm speaking personally, and that's as much as I want to say about it. Don't ask me, but you know we all have difficult times and there are times. I've seen him he was less happy than he was now.
But there are things you do as hobbies and because it gives you some kind of joy especially when you work very, very, very hard. And those people they worked hard. People trying to bait me into saying, that it was all done for the money, and it's not true. It's done for love. You can tell it was done for love.
My great disappointment about having been in that retail business was that people did't love it as much as I did. When Will Eisner came in, or Stan Lee came in, or Jackson Beck who is the voice of Superman came in, or Bill Everett came in, or Wally Wood came in, or Federico Fellini came in, or Ken Russell came in, it was because they loved it. And we could stand around...
Oh, Fellini, loved Flash Gordon. This is, you want to hear this story? It's not a long story, you don't want to hear it? Oh, you do. Oh yeah, well... Fellini, early in his life he made his living as a caricature artist, do you you know about this?
ES: Yeah he drew... He'd go out in the public parks or public squares and for five Lira or a kiss on the cheek he'd draw a funny picture of you. I was at Elia Kazan's house once and there was this cartoon; it was a self-portrait that Federico drew for Kazan, and they had it up on the refrigerator with magnets, and I said "Is that real?" and he said "yeah, yeah Frederico drew it for Gage one day right," and I thought "cripes!" And he was gone. He, you know passed away.
Fellini had agreed to be in my documentary film. Only it never happened. I never got to film him. But he grew up like everybody else reading Flash Gordon comic strips in Rome; loved them. They're beautifully drawn Alex Raymond was one of the great comic book artist; died very young. His work is characterized by these radical shifts in style. Every year he would change his style very few other artists did that. He was a brilliant craftsman. He drew extremely well. Dick Calkins who drew Buck Rogers didn't draw well. He just had a great imagination. The movie of Buck Rogers is better in many — the serial — is better in many ways, than the comic strip was, but the comic strip had these great spaceships and rayguns all kinds of stuff. It's great. Did you ever read them?
MH: Some of them, yeah.
ES: Yeah, they're really fun. Have you ever seen a real one, you know they're like this big. But you gotta see the real ones to really get it. Newspapers were with this big. Chuck Jones said to me once — I have this on film — he said newspapers were so big in those days that you could spread out the Sunday funnies on the floor and fit six children onto one.
Now we look in newspapers, and we were like the... You don't... You can't understand why people were so enthralled with the Sunday funnies. They were beautiful, just beautiful. Some of them were done with seven-color printing. Modern printing is four-color printing. Now it would be unaffordable to turn on a newspaper with seven-color printing. It's just just ridiculous.
It's very important to me that people understand. Why SuperSnipe happened and what it meant to it a tiny number of people. It's been over-simplified. People are saying, "Oh you know, George was like a secret partner and blah blah blah". That wasn't true. It just wasn't true. It was this thing that happened for a number of years and it was so appealing to people although I never made much money from it. It was very hard for me, if I hadn't had other work I would have had a hard time. My heart was never in the business part of it, for better for worse, you know I wasn't a <illegible> businessman.
It was more like I did it so I could see all the stuff. You know, and it was great. I mean I handled... I had handled some of the rarest comic books in the world, before other people got them and made a fortune from them. When I started out doing that there were comic books that are now worth $100,000 that you couldn't sell; nobody wanted them. There was no market for these things.
I created the market and then never got to cash in on it.
(Trails off and recording ends here. I think we paid and left)