I interviewed Tony Salmons over at The Factual Opinion (in three segments). Salmons talks about his comic art development, breaking in and staying afloat, and a brutal behind-the-scenes overview which spans several eras in corporate comics.
What Salmons has to say will strike many chords with working cartoonists, and it will definitely rub a few the wrong way. He’s up front about the reputation that supposedly precedes him and about his relationship with editorial, perhaps burning bridges that were never really there.
Getting a chance to feature Salmons like this was an opportunity of a lifetime, being a long time fan of his work and all, but also because there was little to nothing out there about the artist himself. It took us a few tries over a stretched out period of time to cover his career in detail, and I thank Tony for being so patient in my conducting this expansive and revealing, almost purgative, interview.
Aside from the interview, I followed up with two of collaborators from the past: Mark Chiarello and Martha Thomases.
Martha Thomases and Tony Salmons worked on the sharp and short lived Marvel series, Dakota North.
Martha Thomases on Dakota North’s development: “First of all, let me point out that this was about 25 years ago, and my memory is not what it used to be. If my version contradicts anyone else’s, please believe them. I had done some writing for Marvel’s humor magazine, which was edited by Larry Hama. He and I would discuss gender roles in pop culture. He had the idea at the time, which I think is genius, that Wonder Woman should be written like Charlie’s Angels, and would then attract a huge audience. Through these conversations, we developed the idea for Dakota North. Larry brought Tony in. He was living in Connecticut at the time, and we’d meet occasionally in Larry’s office. Because I was new to script-writing, most of my collaboration was with Larry. I’d write something, he’d explain how it wasn’t useful for the artist, and I’d re-write. And re-write. And re-write. For someone who has read comics since I was five years old, I was extremely stupid about telling a story visually.”
On working with Salmons and further stories: “I based a few of the characters, visually, on friends of mine. Dakota was Norris Church Mailer. Another character was my friend David Freelander, a fashion designer who died from AIDS a few years later. Tony never met them, and yet his drawings looked remarkably like them. It was supposed to be an on-going series. That said, I have no idea where I planned to take it. However, I do have a draft proposal for a mini-series, so I guess the characters have stayed with me.”
On cancellation: “I remember sitting in Larry’s office when Jim Shooter poked his head in to casually announce the cancellation, just after the third issue came out. I think it was because of poor sales. I know the first issue sold more than 120,000 copies, but I guess subsequent issues tanked.”
Mark Chiarello has worked with Salmons as his colorist on Vigilante: City Lights, Prairie Justice and as his editor on Batman: Black & White.
Mark Chiarello on coloring Tony’s unorthodox style: “Anytime you color artwork as inspired as Tony’s stuff is, you just get a little more jazzed than usual. You don’t do anything different per se, other than simply being a little more excited about the material you’re working on, which always makes for a better end product. I talked with the editor, Archie Goodwin, a bit about my approach but then just ran with it. As I recall, it wasn’t till after the series was printed that I called Tony to buy a few pages of the original art.”
On Salmons meeting deadlines: “Tony is pretty much the worst with deadlines, or at least he was on the few DC projects that we worked on together. The cause? Oh, I have my own theories, I’m sure it’s some deep seated fear of becoming too rich and too famous. Yup, [Vigilante] was that late. Bret [Blevins, fill in for the series] pretty much saved our asses on that one!”
On working with Tony as his editor: “Again, Tony lived up to his reputation as an astonishingly brilliant artist and a total flake. I’ve always thought of Tony’s work as a cross between a fine artist like Jeff Jones or Kent Williams and a totally dynamic, vibrant commercial artist like Jack Kirby. The pages were just a thing of beauty , but they were ridiculously late. [Batman: Black & White] was really the project that told me it’s probably better for me to be a fan of this guy’s work, rather than a business associate. Tony is an incredibly sweet guy, but sometimes it’s best to step back and just admire the talent from afar.”
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Many thanks to Martha, Mark, and Tony for their time.