Terry Beatty: The Kansas City Comics Interview

Wild Dog meets Terry Beatty
Comics artist Terry Beatty (right) meets Wild Dog, one of the characters he co-created. (Click to enlarge.)

Terry Beatty is an accomplished comic book artist and illustrator whose career stretches back to the early 1980s. He’s the co-creator — with Max Allan Collins — of the long-running private eye comic book series, Ms. Tree. Collaborations with Collins also include Mike Mist, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger, Johnny Dynamite, and Wild Dog. Collins and Beatty’s latest work is Return to Perdition, a graphic novel sequel to Road to Perdition, that will be released November 15th.

Beatty will also be a featured guest at the KC Fan Con this Sunday, November 6th in Overland Park.

For over a decade, Beatty was the primary inker of DC Comics’ animated-style Batman comics, including a four-year stint inking Chris Jones’ pencils on The Batman Strikes. Beatty’s cover paintings appear regularly on Scary Monsters magazine.

Beatty moved to the Kansas City area in 2011. He is currently accepting art commissions. For more information, contact him by email at terrybeatty@mac.com.

Kansas City Comics: If I recall correctly, you started out in comics fandom. I remember your early work on the covers of zines like Comics Buyer’s Guide back when it still was The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom. How did you get involved with TBG and what led you into creating comics for a living?

Terry Beatty: Alan Light, publisher of TBG, lived about a half hour’s drive from me, and I’d been a subscriber to TBG since the mid 1970’s. I saw a lot of artists getting their work published on the TBG covers and thought it would be a good place to make a splash — seeing as how all the “serious” comics fans were subscribers as well.

TBG Christmas Cover
Terry Beatty's early illustration work included a semi-regular stint as cover artist for The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom. (Click to enlarge.)

My first attempt at a cover, back when I was still in high school, was rejected. Not wanting to get typed as a “fan artist,” I then waited until I was being published elsewhere before submitting anything to Alan again. We’d gotten to be friendly through Max Collins, who had known him for a while — and suddenly I was the semi-regular cover artist for the zine, which had gone weekly, leaving Alan with not enough cover art to keep up with the new schedule. I did dozens of covers and contributed columns and comics as well. I believe I’m the only TBG cover artist to get paid. If I recall correctly, I got a whopping $35.00 per cover!

The first professional thing I did in comics was with Max. We were both from the same small Iowa town, and my father had been Max’s Junior High English teacher. Max wrote his first attempts at crime novels in my father’s class. Despite our ten year age difference — I’m the younger one — we became friends and started trying to make some comics projects happen. Max had already been writing the Dick Tracy newspaper strip for the Tribune Syndicate when we attempted to sell ourselves to them as the team for a few strip revivals. We got pretty far with a new version of Little Orphan Annie — until Leonard Starr turned in his samples! We also pitched a second generation version of Harold Teen — “Carol Teen” — featuring the “new wave” and punk rock kids of the original strip’s characters. That didn’t go over, obviously.

Alan Light holds Terry Beatty's cover art for the final issue of The Buyer's Guide to Comic Fandom.
Publisher Alan Light holds Terry Beatty's cover art for the final issue of The Buyer's Guide for Comic Fandom. Photo courtesy Alan Light. (Click to enlarge.)

So we then tried a self-syndication project — a weekly page of comics for small town weeklies and shoppers called The Comics Page. Original title, huh? There were six different features on the page, all drawn by me in different styles. One of those was “The Mike Mist Minute Mist-eries.” We needed a dozen clients to make a go of it — and never got past eight. But one of those clients was The Chicago Reader, which only ran the Mike Mist feature. I think they picked that up because it was written by the Dick Tracy guy — Chicago, y’know. We kept the thing going for a year and then had to shut it down, as it wasn’t profitable.

But Dean Mullaney had seen Mike Mist in the Reader while in Chicago for a convention, and asked Max and me if we had enough strips to make a book. Well, we had fifty-two. I whipped up a color cover and Dean’s Eclipse Comics published a black and white comic book collection. It was a back-end deal — royalties based on sales. Never saw a dime or a sales statement on the thing, but I had a comic published.

Terry Beatty's cover to Ms. Tree #10 from Aardvark-Vanaheim. (Click to enlarge.)

And when Dean planned to start Eclipse Magazine, he called Max, asking if we would do a private eye feature for the mag — and Max made up Ms. Tree while on the phone with Dean. That led to a black and white serial in the magazine, then a color comic book series. We eventually took the feature to AV/Renegade — and ultimately ended up at DC. Eleven years worth of successful crime comics, thanks to doing a year’s worth of a feature that pretty much failed.

Kansas City Comics: You made the transition from drawing Ms. Tree and other independent projects to working at DC, where you eventually did more inking – especially on titles based on the various Batman animated series. How did that type of work come your way? What was appealing about working on the Batman books?

Wild Dog #3
Terry Beatty was the co-creator and artist of Wild Dog, published by DC Comics. (Click to enlarge.)

Terry Beatty: My first inking gig was over Joe Staton’s pencils on The P.I.’s for First Comics. Looking back at that, I feel like I was in a little over my head, but it was a great learning experience. And after Ms. Tree and Wild Dog had run their course at DC, I had the good fortune of Joe asking for me as inker on the Guy Gardner series. That was a 13- issue run, and suddenly I had a second career in comics as an inker. I went on to ink various titles at Tekno-Comics — notably Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger — working with Max again. I also spent a year or so inking Elfquest titles for Warp Graphics. I did some ghost inking on a set of Star Wars big little books, and was then looking for work.

I knew DC was looking for artists to do licensed product art in the Batman animated series style, so I worked up some samples and sent them off, thinking I’d try for a gig drawing Batman lunch boxes, t-shirts, candy wrappers, etc. I also spent an extra stamp to send the samples to the editorial office for the Batman comic books. Now my friend Rick Burchett was inking the Batman Adventures comics at the time, and I wasn’t trying to steal his gig, but noted that if Rick ever took a month off, and they needed a fill-in, I was available.

I got a phone call a week later from editorial, telling me that Rick was taking six months off from Batman to get the Superman Adventures book started, and asking if I’d like to fill in on the current Bat-book. I said yes, of course. Rick did return to Batman — but as penciller, with me sticking around as inker. That six month fill-in turned into eleven years of steady work. I never heard from the licensing guys. As a life-long comics geek, getting to work on Batman — especially the cartoon version — was a real thrill. It helped that I got to collaborate with such talented folks as Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, Tim Levins, Chris Jones, Joe Staton, Paul Dini, Bob Smith, etc. Too many to name them all! It was a sad day at the Beatty household when the final issue of The Batman Strikes was finished and turned in — but I hoped I’d be able to continue my run as part of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold crew. I lobbied for the pencilling gig, but, alas, it was not to be. I did ink a few issues of that series, but felt the comic wasn’t hitting the cool Silver Age vibe that the TV series had, and the experience was a bit of a letdown after such great times on the previous Bat-books.

Kansas City Comics: What current and upcoming projects do you have in the works?

Return to Perdition
The graphic novel sequel to Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty will be released on November 15th. (Click to enlarge.)

Terry Beatty: Just published is Return to Perdition, a graphic novel for DC’s Vertigo Crime line. This is the final chapter in Max’s “Perdition Saga,” and I’m pleased to have been chosen to draw it. Not a well known fact, is that I was Max’s first choice to draw the original Road to Perdition, but after coming off Wild Dog and Ms. Tree at DC, the editor on that project felt it would be a good thing to have Max team up with a new artist. I was busy with Batman — so, while it was disappointing to lose that project — eleven years of Batman was not a bad trade off. Still, it felt good to finally be a part of the series after all these years.

I also am thrilled to have designed and done the box art for a Silver Age-style Green Lantern model kit for Moebius Models. Aurora model kits have been as much a life-long obsession as comic books have been — so working on an Aurora-style kit of a classic comic book character is a career highlight for me.

I also had the pleasure of inking one of my favorite cartoonists, Ramona Fradon on a large chunk of her pages for the graphic novel Adventures of Unemployed Man. Ramona’s Metamorpho was one of the earliest comics I recall reading, and getting to work with her was an honor and a thrill.

Terry Beatty and Max Allan Collins, circa 1980.
Terry Beatty and Max Allan Collins, circa 1980. Photo by Alan Light. (Click to enlarge.)

I’ll be providing illustrations of the third of Max’s Jack and Maggie Starr novels. The previous books, Strip for Murder and A Killing in Comics had art by me as well. This third book will have a 1950’s horror comics background — with the murder victim a Fredric Wertham type. Heh heh heh.

I do some commercial illustration in addition to comics work — a recent project was a CD cover for The Bad Companions — a Twin Cities-based rockabilly band. That should be out fairly soon. I also continue to provide the cover art for Scary Monsters magazine. I’ve been doing that for eighteen of the mag’s twenty year history. That has to be some sort of record, I’d think.

I also have some personal projects in the works — a sketchbook and comic book project that I’ll self-publish. The comic may be a Kickstarter project. I also have some sculpting projects I want to get going — and I continue to take on commissions from fans.

Kansas City Comics: What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Terry Beatty: Having earned my living as an artist — mostly doing projects of my own choosing — has been very satisfying. The current state of the comics business has me wondering exactly how I’m going to continue to do that — but that’s the lot of a freelancer, I suppose.

Kansas City Comics: We’ve all met very talented newcomers who are trying to get their first professional projects. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a promising new creator?

Terry Beatty: The best advice I ever got came from Chester Gould: “Never give up.” Of course the advice I give aspiring cartoonists is “Do something else! Earning a living at this is too damn difficult!”

Kansas City Comics: You’ve been living in the Kansas City area for a while now. What about the city have you enjoyed the most? Do you have any favorite haunts?

Terry Beatty: I’ve been here a few months, but with a toddler at home and a new one on the way, I haven’t been able to explore the area as much as I’d like. I have been out to see a few bands at Knuckleheads and have attended a few Rockabilly nights at Aftershocks. Found a very cool place to get a haircut in Chop Tops. And I love me some Zarda BBQ sauce!

Had a great time at the Free State Comic Con, and am looking forward to Planet Comic Con as well. There’s a great comics community here, and a good number of local cartoonists have been friends for some time already. The recent vintage car show at Boulevard Drive In was fantastic– and I’m sorry I had to miss the monster/horror show they just had there.Can you believe I haven’t visited any local comic book stores yet? Mostly, I’m just enjoying my new house and hoping this fall weather doesn’t turn to winter too soon, so I can still enjoy sitting out on my deck for a while!

Kansas City Comics: Thanks so much for taking the time for the interview.

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