Ken, left, with fellow legend Stan Lee
Ahead of today's wide release of Marvel's latest film, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," we caught up with recently crowned Guinness World Records title-holder Ken Bald. At 93 years old, Bald has spent more than 83 years as a professional comics artist, and continues to create commissioned works for fans - making him the record holder for oldest comic book artist. Featured below are some of Ken's iconic works.
We talked to Bald about working on Captain America, his most famous works like "Dr. Kildare" and "Dark Shadows," and his long history with fellow comics icon Stan Lee.
Q: Ken, what got you interested in comic illustration and led you to start this as a career?
A: When I was about 7 years old, I saw the Tarzan comic strip that was being created by Hal Foster and was mesmerized. I remember the exact story, too, it was entitled “The Elephant’s Graveyard.” The storyline was intriguing, but what had me hooked even more was Foster’s beautiful style of illustrating. Looking closely at the strip, I tried exhaustively to create my own version emulating Foster’s style.
Q: What was it like to come of age professionally in the Golden Age of comic books?
A: At the time, of course, it wasn’t called the Golden Age, but things were certainly golden for me. I was fresh out of Pratt Institute and landed a job at Jack Binder’s Comic Book Studio in Englewood, New Jersey. ...
During the 1940s, comics were booming. We first started working in Jack Binder’s living room. But as we quickly grew, Jack converted his barn into a huge studio where eventually 30 artists would be working. At Binder’s, I was rapidly promoted to art director and doing mostly cover art. I had the privilege of illustrating wildly-popular Golden Age superheros, such as Captain Marvel, Captain Midnight, Bulletman, Bulletgirl, Doc Savage, and Mandrake the Magician.
Q: You started at Marvel before it was even known as Marvel. Did you ever think back then that it would grow into the massive entertainment property it is today?
A: When I first met Stan Lee, we were in our early 20s, and already at that time the industry referred to Stan as “The Boy Wonder.” The time was 1946 and I knew right from those early days that Stan Lee would do something big.
When Stan recruited me, the name was Timely and it was the comic book arm of Goodman Publications. In the 1960s, it would become Marvel Comics. Historically, comics have had their ups and downs, but it was largely due to Stan being such an incredible visionary that helped Marvel survive all the bad times and become the success story that it is today. Also contributing to Marvel’s success is an endless list of the most talented and committed comic artists you’ll ever meet.
So am I surprised at Marvel’s incredible success? Not really, because with Stan Lee at the helm, anything is possible.
Q: Between being friends with Stan Lee, you’ve worked in the industry for decades and have seen so much — have any cool behind-the-scenes stories from back in the day?
A: When my wife had a 6-month singing engagement in Paris, France, from 1946-47, and I told Stan Lee that I’d be going, Stan asked me to do an issue of “Millie the Model” that took place in France. I agreed and the end result was issue No. 9 of Millie that I entitled “Off to Paris,” and which I illustrated from cover to cover and scripted while living in Paris with my wife. I bet that’s the only American comic book that was ever created in France.
Q: What were the big differences between working in comic books and then transitioning to strips, where you did some of your most famous work with Dr. Kildare and Dark Shadows?
A: The biggest difference between the two was that comic books were dominated by superheroes with super powers, versus the comic strips that I worked on were based on reality. You do believe in vampires, don’t you?
Also, there was a big jump in salary going from comic books to syndicated comic strips that ran worldwide. My Judd Saxon strip ran for 6 years, and Dr. Kildare for almost 25 years. Unfortunately, my favorite, Dark Shadows, only ran for 1 year.
Q: What do you think about the recent explosion of superhero movie franchises in the last few years? Iron Man, the Avengers, X-Men, etc. Even Dark Shadows had a recent big-budget movie — is it weird to see these influential drawn characters brought to life?
A: All the superhero movies have certainly sparked a huge interest in comics. I think Marvel has done an outstanding job bringing all of their characters to life, so it’s no wonder that all of their releases have been big hits. On the other hand, Dark Shadows wasn’t concepted well so I was disappointed with the end product. Dark Shadows wasn’t meant to be a comedy and I think most loyal fans would agree.
Q: You worked on Captain America, whose new movie is coming out. What is it about him that has made him such a popular superhero?
A: Cap is all about the red, white, and blue. He’s basically America, representing all the different people who make up this great country, wrapped up in a stars and stripes suit, complete with mask and shield. I’m so proud, honored, and lucky to be still illustrating Captain America for fans today.
Q: Tell us about that kind of work you still do presently.
A: Because I didn’t attend my first comic con until 2012, most fans thought I had gone up to that great comic book heaven in the sky. So fans were quite surprised when they saw me at my very first show in New York City. If you’d like to meet me in person, I list the shows that I’ll be attending on the homepage of my site.
Now, I get commission orders from collectors of comic art, as well as fans, from all around the world. And I’m doing everything from head shots and single character sketches to complete comic cover recreations including the mastheads. You can see what I’ve done for fans here.
Q: What does it mean to you to have a Guinness World Record title to your name? If you went back in time and told this to your 21-year-old self, what would he have said?
A: Holding a Guinness World Records title is a tremendous honor and distinction, and certainly puts me into a grouping of very special people. And to be working at this age, 93 at the time of this interview, and still doing work that is considered by fans as “incredible,” is something I’m so truly grateful for. I think my 21-year old self would have probably said, "Who do I have to sell my soul to?"
For more info on Ken Bald, visit www.kenbald.com
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