David Anthony Kraft was one of my favorite comics writers in the 1970s, and then publisher of the great COMICS INTERVIEW magazine in the 1980s and 1990s (of which I won their issue 100 trivia contest and was later interviewed in the mag). This morning came the very sad news that he has died of Covid-related pneumonia.
In 2019, I spoke with him for two hours on the phone for a project that remains unrealized. I never transcribed the entire interview and I've now misplaced the audio but, in tribute, here's a never before published excerpt from our conversation that I DID transcribe in which David and I discuss his color magazine history of the Beatles done for Marvel done with George Perez in the late 1970s.
ST-The one thing I was intrigued by is that you go into so much depth and detail on everything in Marvel’s Beatles book and yet it’s unauthorized. Was it literally that the Beatles were just public figures and you were able to use them that way?
DAK-Yeah. In fact, Stan added that as a cover line at the last minute, probably on the advice of Marvel’s attorneys, so as not to create the illusion that it was officially sanctioned. I had an early run-in with how the press works and it sort of trained me up for things. Imagine how the Beatles must have felt with all the press THEY got. I got interviewed on the radio, and in the Village Voice, and so on. I think it was the Voice…It may have been one of the other ones. Anyway, they asked me if the Beatles knew about it. I said that I believed Ringo did because he mentioned it or, or alluded to it, on one of his Tonight Show appearances or something like that and that I knew that…Okay, now see, this is the part where I’d have to look at my actual quote which is not what they printed. It was like, that I believe John does because of something or other and he was there in New York and I think maybe we approached him. Whatever. But I said the other two don’t. The point of all this is when they printed this quote from me, they switched it! They quoted me as saying that PAUL knew about it and like, George, or something! What bothered me about that was A) I didn’t say that and B) here’s me…I’m doing this because of my love for the Beatles but if they see that, they’re gonna go, “That lying ass!” (Laughs) You know, the reaction that would make it look like I was saying things that weren’t true. That’s the thing about the press. Even when somebody is quoting you, that doesn’t mean they’re really quoting you.
ST-What was the genesis of your Beatlesbook? How did it come about?
DAK-Well, that thing that Steve Gerber did, that Kiss book, was really the first. I thinkSavage Sword of Conanin a lavish edition came after, but basically Marvel before that didn’t have a prestige format. They didn’t have what at that time were high end titles. The Kiss thing sold really, really well, and he had a great deal on it at a time when they didn’t pay royalties or anything. Then he moved to Las Vegas and I inherited the mantle. But I inherited the mantle because he pointed out I was the guy. So it was basically his doing that I ended up on the rock stuff.
ST-The Beatlesbook is a product of Mad Genius Associates. So what was Mad Genius Associates?
DAK-Well, there’s some confusion out there about that. Mad Genius was a studio partnership of Jim Salicrup and me. Steve was no part of that but Steve rented space from us and he was our friend so he was there a lot. We had an office on 7thAvenue and he needed a place to stuff buttons and hang out and watch Mary Hartman and whatnot. We had great times but I’ve seen it later where people say Steve had this thing but—not that it matters—technically speaking, it was Salicrup and me.
ST-As far as the Beatles, what were your sources for the book? Obviously, being a big fan, you knew a ton of this stuff but there is SO much trivial Beatle stuff in that magazine!
DAK-This gives me a great opportunity to say that the only thing the Marvel attorneys asked me to change…It was accurate insofar as I could source it directly but they were still uncomfortable with it. What it was…After I had gotten the green light for that after having pitched the Beatles to Jim Galton…Weird adventures in life: The Beatles? The biggest group ever known?
DAK-Having to PITCH them! (Laughter) I mean, what the HELL, right? But Galton was not plugged into that. He was, like, “That’s a group like the Monkees, right?” “ Yeaaaah…You need to really kind of understand. The Monkees are a group kind of like the Beatles!” (laughter) But after we got the go-ahead, I went out and bought up every possible, available book about the Beatles that existed at the time. So my New York apartment…and anybody familiar with space in Manhattan knows that…I had a super small apartment and it was all of one cubic inch, as these things are. But it was probably knee-deep, if not waist-deep, in Beatles books. So, a lot of that stuff came from here, there, and everywhere but the one thing that Marvel attorneys asked to be removed was from their former manager, before Brian Epstein. He wrote a book—I can’t remember the title offhand—but every time that he cited the Beatles in dialogue, in I suspect the way they really talked and I see no harm in it. They would use phrases that might be considered to be a bit off-color, like, “Bugger me.” (Laughs) And in the scenes that were referenced in HIS book, which we retold, I put, “Bugger me,” because, you know, that was the source! But that was the one thing! They didn’t want the Beatles saying, “Bugger me.”
ST-(Laughs) Their language was not exactly squeaky clean.
ST-Did you do the book full script or did you guys just work out the details and George did whatever?
DAK-That was done more or less in the form of a full script because of all the reference and then with all the reference attached and so on. There’d be a lot of Post-it Notes and paperclips and things, pictures from that time period or how they looked in certain scenes. Lots of that material that I was wading around in the apartment with, then transferred on to George. And I suspect he found reference also himself.
ST-Some of the pictures don’t really look that much like the Beatles. I’ve always been surprised by that because it’s not like there wasn’t enough photo reference available for every segment in there. I mean, it’s good art. It’s just that at times it doesn’t look that much like them.
DAK-I don’t know. I guess chalk that up to artistic license? I thought that what George brought to the layouts was great. Sort of that sense of the times, you know? With Beatlemania and them all jumping and so on. A lot of that was my suggesting it in the script but George also brought a lot to that to keep it from looking boring!
ST-It’s definitely not boring but I guess it WOULD run the risk of that since it’s really, by necessity, just illustrated scenes going forward chronologically in their lives and that’s not always the most exciting thing visually.
DAK-That’s kind of a relief to hear even now because when the script came back with the art…When you do something like that—or at least when I did THAT—there was a tendency to maybe cite too MUCH dialogue or to make it a little TOO factual and not moving fast enough. So I did a lot of rewriting on the script after it came back, to condense it and tighten it and everything.
ST-One thing I noticed is that Yoko isn’t really there until she’s just…THERE. She’s never actually introduced or mentioned or anything. She’s seen when John gets arrested but she’s blocked by somebody. You can see he’s holding someone’s hand but you can’t see who it is. She’s mentioned again in the context of the Two Virgins cover and then it mentions her name when it shows their marriage. But that’s it! Was that on purpose or just a consequence of editing the script?
DAK-It wasn’t a conscious decision, like a “No Yoko” policy. As a medium, comics are so limited in time and space. You have to break ‘em down to what’s important. This is true Beatles or any OTHER comic book story. Most people don’t have occasion to do this but if you work in something where that IS what you have to confront, but if you watch a TV show or a movie about the Beatles, or ANY show, they have a limited time format. Script-wise, you’re talking about maybe 100, 120 pages but they have the advantages of motion and sound and you don’t have to worry about likenesses because you can see the actual actors. So, when you’re doing comics, think of it like this. You probably have five frames per page in maybe a 20-page story to tell something that needs to be larger than life. In the end, it’s almost like code or something. It comes down to the simplest things necessary to evoke the largest response. I think Yoko’s abbreviated presence was just a function of the fact that we had, like, 40 pages and so much Beatles stuff to tell! To put Yoko’s story in there, something else would have to get sacrificed. So that’s what got sacrificed. Paul once said something really accurate and kind of kind. She had turned up in the studio and that had never happened before. He said that for John to really care that much to allow that, you had to respect that. Whatever WE think of Yoko, she must have been important in HIS life.
ST-You’ve said in various interviews that at one time you were prepared to take it from Marvel to somewhere else. Did you have any rights to it? DO you have any rights to it?
DAK-Absolutely. Because of the Kisssuccess and because of the deal that Steve Gerber had negotiated and sort of passed the mantle along to me on, I had a profit...whatever you wanna call it. They’re careful about their terminology but basically, the long and short of it, I had a royalty. It was probably the best deal going then. I came in one day and Sol Brodsky called me in. Sol was like the unofficial sort of hatchet man in Marvel—I really liked Sol, by the way. But he said, “The deal is off and there won’t be royalties.” Blah, blah, blah. And I sat there because I didn’t see that coming. A deal’s a deal. You get MY best and I get your best. You don’t get to change things. And then I’m subject to this? I said…No. I’m nonplussed and pissed. So, I said to Sol, “What do YOU think?” And he said, “Totally off the record, and, of course, I’ll deny this…” Because he’d be a fool not to, (laughs) the “official” axe man. I really DID like Sol! Sol was a great human being. He did his duty there but he didn’t pretend that he didn’t see my side. Anyway, buttressed by that, I went to Stan and I said, “This shall not stand!” It was emotional for me because I was a Marvel loyalist! I did above and beyond for Marvel because I believed in it! So this felt like a betrayal! Stan was, like, “I can’t do anything about it. It comes from Galton.” He said, “Think of all the stuff I’VE done. Don’t you think I’D like royalties and ownership? But it’s hopeless.” But I said, “No it isn’t. There’s one serious mistake that’s been made here. I am freelance! George is freelance. The Beatles are a public property not owned by Marvel. Everybody in publishing knows how successful the Kissbook was. Why don’t I just go ahead and find another publisher? Which I’ll bet I can do in the next ten minutes!” And I went back to my office and I started calling Circus magazine and Rolling Stone. It would be like writing a book about David Bowie. You could do that for anybody. That was a real misstep on their part. I was, like, well…to hell with you, then! It was probably not even ten minutes and Stan came back, having talked to Galton, and he said—and I’m paraphrasing, of course, basically, “Let’s you and him fight!” (Laughs) He had gotten me a meeting with Galton on a Friday afternoon when Galton was going out to golf or some highly important thing. I was a hiccup. I was really unprepared because this had all been sprung on me but I went up and I kept Galton sitting there for the better part of two hours. Here’s what served me well. I had published softcover and hardcover limited editions before I ever went to Marvel. I had a publishing background. I wasn’t just like out of the comics pool and unaware of things. He was presenting things like, “When Playboy publishes something, it’s owned by Playboy.” Blah, blah, blah.