Interview: Al Jaffee [unabridged]

By DAN MAZUR  |  November 18, 2010

Nothing's a circulation builder anymore. Nothing is. So I thought and thought about and I said, wait minute there's a lot of vertical space that nobody's using for comics. I tried one. I knocked off two weeks of it and it just so happened that across the street there was an agent named Toni Mendez and she was an agent for comic features, among other things. And my friend Dave Gantz had just sold a strip through her so asked him for an introduction and brought it over to her and within two weeks she had it sold to the Herald Tribune. So I was flying on cloud number nine. It did very well abroad because it's wordless. I find I can write visual gags much, much easier than caption gags. So it had a fairly strong foreign list, and a y'know. a very modest American list, and it schlepped along for about six years. Actually in about the fourth year the syndicate got a new head and he decided that American people liked to read and they don't like anything that's wordless, including cartoons so he told me I had to put words in. And I almost immediately lost most of the foreign papers, 'cause they didn't want to bother paying for translation, and that knocked the list so low that within a year or two it just petered out. I don't know that it would have caught on any better if it had continued to be my style, wordless or not. Another thing that I think hurt was that it didn't fit in to a predetermined spot in the comics page, it was stuck in the want-ads section. It appeared even in the editorial page. It just bounced round in the papers all over and it didn't have a home, and some people didn't get used to it or go looking for it. But easy come, easy go.

Any other impressions of Eisner form your time working with him? Eisner was in a category I'd have to say with people like Harvey Kurtzman and even Stan Lee. Very, very creative, very quick thinking, nimble minds, terrific . . . well, like Stan, a terrific sense of what the market wants or needs. Stan single-handedly — in my view anyway, I probably would get an argument from a lot of people — I think he resurrected the superhero world. And I think Will Eisner was extraordinarily inventive. He is credited with creating the graphic novel. I think his first thing was A Contract with God. So you're talking about dynamic people, who get into a business and produce things that have never been produced before, are inventive, creative, and do it very well. Eisner was one of those geniuses in my view.

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