Salgood Sam is a man who had to fight throughout all his life. Fight to get passed the death of his father, fight through school, but nothing was like his struggle to get back into comics. He had to fight a bad name that came with a tarnished reputation of Max Douglas. But fight he did, using a penname of Salgood Sam, he landed the Muties job for Marvel Comics, at the site that tarnished his career.
Tom Toner: Thanks Sal for doing this. Anything ya wanna say before we start?
Salgood Sam: Riboflavin! You can call me Max.
TT: Vitamin B2 to you too :)
SS: Yes, twice a week kids, keeps ya young.
TT: Firstly I must say Salgood Sam sounds like a peculiar name, not that names like Tom Toner or Danny Donovan etc are much better. But where does the name "Salgood Sam" come from?
SS: Bad dreams and a mirror. It's from Max Douglas written backwards. I swapped out a couple of letters to make it sound smoother.
TT: Wow, that’s pretty interesting, pretty creative.
SS: That’s my job you know. Actually pen names are pretty common here in Montreal, as well as over in Europe…Which is where they probably got the idea here…the most notable example that comes to mind is MOBIUS.
Here just about all the artists go buy a pen name, Valium, Rick Trembles, Mr. Swiz, d.bilos, RUP, etc. I was hanging out here a lot when I started using Salgood; don’t recall being aware of it but the local gang probably influenced me there.
TT: Hmm, tell me. Why switch from Max Douglas to Salgood Sam? I mean you've already gotten credit as Max Douglas, why the pen name?
SS: Well.... that takes some explaining. Like a lot of young artists coming into the biz I started out very naive & idealistic about what it would be like to work as a comic artist. I had no idea about the history of intentional and unintentional sublimation of the creative process in the commercial comics publishing industry. I thought that naturally, good work and ideas would get rewarded, credited and never messed with. Editors would be intelligent nice people and that the publishers would want to put out the most interesting stories they could. Ha ha. So, after a few small gigs doing small press B&W books, when I got an opportunity to work at Marvel I jumped at it.
Part of what happened to me is indicative of the times. I got my first job for them in late 91'/early 92', right at the peek of the speculation boom. After drawing two non-consecutive issues of Night Breed, I was offered Saint Sinner. It was a mind-blowing situation, I was given the chance too not only do a monthly book but I was the first to do it and was designing the characters as well. I was so hyped I didn't question if I was ready for the monthly workload, and apparently neither did they.
I also didn't know anything about the people I was working with, and as a newbie I didn't really feel like I could speak with any authority about, well just about anything we were doing. So to make a very long story short...Right off, I was not ready to do a monthly at all, it ground me down.
Also I had a very bad experience with my editor, who turned out to be many things, least of which was dictatorial and a control freak…
TT: From the stories I’ve heard... aren't all editors dictatorial and control freaks?
SS: Ah well it’s a definite peril. But not all have been thankfully. That was a strange and stressful period in the Marvel offices. Every time I went down there to visit I got an odd tense vibe from the people in the office. Not the New Yorker thing either. I think a lot of them knew that they were pulling something not quite kosher with the speculator market and it came out in their behavior. And then Mark, my editor, was an aspiring artist and writer him self as well. I stayed with him the first time I visited and he had his stuff up on hallway walls. We got to talking and I defiantly got the feeling he’d rather have my job.
That came out in our work a lot, very passive aggressive. Amongst other things he insisted that Elaine Lee (the writer on saint sinner) and I could not communicate directly, we had to pass all communications through him. This was just stupid so we ignored him a lot of the time (witch just made him worse) and because of that we realized he was BS'ing us a lot, telling us different things. He would rewrite stuff - and telling us each different things about why a change was needed or who had made it and what the other had said about it, generally a lot of lies and subversion. It was a very toxic working atmosphere.
All that didn't help me with the workload either; hard to be productive when you’re mad and depressed all the time. And in the end I don’t think I’m really the sort of artist who is happy on a monthly book at all anyway. On the last two issues I repeatedly told him that I couldn't make the deadlines and that they should get another artist to do the book. I tried to bow out gracefully numerous times, and each time he would say 'don't worry 'bout it, can you make this date? Ok then.'.
Finally after 10 or so phone calls like this, when yet another deadline had been blown, he accused me of lying to him! Of misleading him and leaving him in a bad situation!!?? It all ended very messily.
I kept working as a freelancer for marvel with other editors for another two years, doing fill-in issues and file issues and covers. But a lot of my experiences were similar. Lots of stupidly, no interest in trying to make the books much better, lots of messing with my original work, many bad, bad, bad scripts. In the end I burnt out with the frustration and by ‘95 I wasn't drawing at all.
After almost a year I started doodling again, and in a few months I did some 'zines. But I really hated it when people remembered my work at marvel before they even read the new stuff...
TT: I hear ya. I did one bad fanfic once (my first attempt mind you) and from then no I was known for my one bad fanfic and no one wanted me to work on their site. Just glad I work on my own fanfic site, with people that don't care about my past. Heh, but back to you, eh?
SS: …Yah, the past haunts us some times, lurking about and reminding us of our *******. I hated it that they had that work in their minds when they looked at my personal work, so to confuse the issue I started to sign my name backwards - salguod xam. After a few moths, I changed it to Salgood Sam.
At this point I don't really care anymore what anyone remembers or thinks, I’ve long gotten over my negative feelings about that old work, the art any way, and can even look at it positively in some cases. But the pen name is on the body of the work I’m the most proud off at this point, and, well, I like it! It's very reflective of my personality so I’ve kept it.
Ahem...so does that explain it?
TT: Why, yes it does. So tell us, why comics? So many things out there to do, why do comics?
SS: I’ve read them as long as I can remember; my father read them so they were always there. And when I was a little kid he and I would draw them together at the kitchen table, making up our own stories. He was a writer (mostly poetry and short prose) and a bit of a doodler.
My mother was a working artist, and I was always surrounded by creative people, so art was always a very accessible outlet for me. My father died when I was quite young so comics took on an additional comforting association for me.
I remember a few years later, our basement flooded, my bedroom was down there, and all the comics were destroyed, all my fathers old books that I’d kept. That is one of the saddest memories I have, picking them up and having them disintegrate to pulpy mush in my hands.
TT: Yikes, I’d hate for that to one day happen…Then again I live Florida, no basements heh.
SS: No, just ocean all around.
There were other things I thought about doing but in the end I always doodled and I ended up in an arts school in high school. In my first homeroom I met another kid who was publishing a B&W book, 'the synthetic assassin', and I decided to try my hand at comics.
By the end of the year there was 5 or so of us, we had convinced the teachers to let us start a school comics company and print books on the school copier. From there on in it was all down hill. By the time I was kicked out of school (gr11)…
TT: Wait wait wait. Back the train up. Kicked out of school? Curious minds want to know, what happened? But only if you wish to share, if not don't worry about it.
SS: …Well, I was in my third year, I had had a lot of trouble in public school (gr2 to 8), I didn’t fit in the system very well and I’m dyslexic.
Add to that that I was raised by hippy/beatniks and had no respect for someone telling me to do something “because I said so”. Add to that, I’m somewhat dyslexic but this was just when they were starting to recognize dyslexia, and they weren’t at my school. By gr3 they had filed me under special Ed.
Even there they didn’t know what to make of me, I got funky marks, university level vocabulary but gr2 or worse spelling (I still rely on a checker), great with strategic thinking and spatial maths, but couldn’t do my times tables to save my life. I got bounced around, 5 schools in 5 years, and though by the time I got to high school I was getting decent passing grades, I was pretty sick of school.
By my third year at high school it was apparent that the whole system was built for job accreditation and that didn’t interest me at all. I spent all my time in the art dept. and skipped all my academics. By Christmas I had amassed something like 300+ absentee notices.
The head of the art dept, Mr. Marsh, liked me and kind of tried to defend me but the vice principal wasn’t having it. He thought I was a ‘ringleader’, and responsible for the circle of slackers I hung out with. So he called me down and said ‘you can clean up your act and attend all your classes and get strait ‘A’s from now on and still fail the year (due to having missed half of it by then) or you can leave and come back next year, though not to this school’.
I didn’t like him much so I told him I’d think about it.
So he called my mother and told her I’d been to the guidance officer and was talking about dropping out.
She didn’t bite. She asked me if it was true and I said no, but I was leaving. She said ok, but you have to get a job, no laying around the house, which suited me fine, I already worked weekends at a café in the kitchen.
So any way, I started working three or four days a week and drawing the rest of the time. I did some stuff with the owner of my local comic shop and played with some different story ideas that never went anywhere. I started working on an idea for a book that later was published for a couple of issues by Caliber Press. I worked on a number of things that only got half done - I have piles of old covers for books never drawn, ten page chunks of abandoned stories, character designs and all sorts of old crap...I was learning very fast so I’d get half way through and find that I didn't like an idea any more or that the work on the first pages was just not as good as the latter stuff, and I’d have another idea that sent me off on another tangent...lots of unfinished stuff. Any who, I generally digress, as usual.
The question was 'why comics?' Because they were always there. Lots of other things interested me but I was already busy doing comics.
TT: If not comics, then what else would you be doing?
SS: Um, well if I was better at hard math, the sciences have always fascinated me.
And I’ve been involved in some, err, not quite legal activities so I might have gone that way if I didn't have something to keep me busy. Also considered getting involved in environmental activities but after 6 months with Greenpeace I realized I wasn’t dedicated enough to that to put in the kind of effort it required. As it is I actually do a lot of other art related stuff, Animation and design for film & print. I've had to in order to make a living in the past.
TT: Oh? Care to share?
SS: Well, there is this local art director who bugs me with set design gigs all the time, small movie productions and TV shows. I just did a set of fake 50’s horror comics covers for him for a show called “Seriously Weird” and I had a lot of stuff in “Big Wolf on Campus” last year.
I did a lot of graphic design work for a local Indy record label up until recently, when I decided I didn’t like that any more and retired my graphic designer’s hat.
I paint when get the urge, and take photos. Had a show of that kind of stuff a little while ago at a local bo-bo bar. And I’ve been itching to learn how to weld & cast so I can sculpt. I’m not to shabby at carpentry, would love to get a full work shop set up one of these days.
I’ve been working with a Jazz musician & writer from the states named John O’Brien on a project that has me interpreting his music and words with semi animated imagery. That’s an interesting project, the end result will be a 45 minute film called “the Rise & Fall of it All” ( http://www.rise-fall.com).
Um, were you asking about the ‘not quite legal activities’?
TT: Heh, no. I was asking about the art stuff. Who were your inspirations in the biz? You ever meet any of them? If so, how was it?
SS: I've met a lot of other pros, especially in 85’ to 95’ when I was going to Con's a lot.
How was it? Well...usually it was quite pleasant.
I've never really thought about other creators as 'inspirations', especially in the biz. But I have a lot of respect for those who have been able to do their work the way they want to do it and have always taken the chance to talk to them if given the chance.
I met Bernie Mireault early on when I was like 15 or so at a convention in Toronto. I immediately liked him and loved the stuff he was doing…I remember seeking him out cuss’ of his work on Grendel. We’ve been friends for years now and we work together often, most recently he’s colored my last two books. He’s been a pretty big influence on my work. And now that’s become more of a collaborative relationship, he just finished this really amazing story, and when he was showing it to me he pointed out some things he said were the result of my influencing him. I don’t think I can over stress how significant it is for artist to have that sort of direct affect on each other’s work.
I had a very interesting conversation with Neil Gaiman in Chicago once, at a DC party at Opra's bar. Though I got much more from him sitting in the audience of one of his readings in Toronto than I ever did in person.
Early on when I was just starting out I went for drinks with Elaine Lee (who I was working with) Kaluta and Bernie Wrightson in NY. That was fun.
TT: Michael Kaluta?
SS: Yep. He and Elaine are close friends. I liked him a lot, and walking into his studio was like walking into my own, we’re both object fetishists/pack rats.
I was very young and I think I ended up asking them a lot of questions about their experience in the industry and the other artists they knew. What people were like... I remember talking to them about not having liked Chaykin very much when I first encountered him at a Con. He was insulting another kid showing their portfolio to him. Wrightson told me some crazy stories about Chaykin and a few other notorious socially volatile people in the industry. Since then I’ve heard similar stories about Wrightson! And I know there are probably a few about me from my first round of jobs at Marvel. We’re a funny bunch of humans, comic artists.
I used to visit Ty Templeton at his studio a lot, having got to know him very well from the local con's in Toronto in the 80's. The friendship was a bit unbalanced, being that I was much younger at the time. But Ty is great company and an artist you can learn a lot from, always happy to explain stuff.
I could go on but it would take to long.
At the time that I was in the most contact with industry insiders I was new to it all and didn't really know what questions to ask them. Now when I run into them - artist who I have a lot of respect for - if they were in the mood I have a few things I ask them.
But mostly it's still just shooting the shit with another artist.
TT: what was the first comic you ever got to work on? Is it worth anything now?
SS: Um, are you asking about commercial work or in general?
TT: I was leading towards commercial actually, but care to share on both accounts?
SS: My first printed work, as in offset press printed as opposed to 'zines, was in True North II. I did a story titled “Captain Censored Vs. Dr. Goingtofar” - an adult comic’. It was written by Al Roy, who was one of the owners of Planet Earth Comics, one of the three shops in Toronto that was being charged with selling obscene material to minors. It was the same scam they pulled on that shop owner in Texas recently, a undercover Adult cop came in and bought a copy of Black Kiss and Foust from behind the counter and then they busted them. Sadly one by one the shop owners pled out to lesser charges so it never got to go to court. My first book was Nature of the Beast, co created by me and Al Roy, published by Caliber. That was all in 1991. And my first commercial paying comics gig was actually unaccredited, ghosting under David Ross on Clock and Dagger #18 (June 91), I did pencils (from Dave’s roughs) on pgs 1,2,3,6 & 8 as they are numbered in the issue. My first credited job was on Night Breed. I don’t think any of my books are worth much on the spec market, but honestly I wouldn’t know. Don’t care to be honest. I tend to view the spec market as a boil on the industries back side, but that’s just me.
TT: So how did you do it? How did you land the impossible and get a job at both Marvel and DC?
SS: Sent in my portfolio and made a few calls. These days I use Email more. I didn’t realize it was supposed to be impossible…? Since when?
TT: ... ya don't see my name at Marvel yet, do ya?
SS: I haven’t looked recently but I’ll take your word for it. Ah, well, like I said I just sent in my work and did a little follow up.
Mark at Marvel needed someone at the moment he saw my stuff, Tony Harris who was drawing the book (Night Breed,/I>) at the time bailed out 9 pages in and a few weeks behind schedule (I always imagined Mark was probably being his helpful and charming self, but I’ve never met Tony that I know of and haven’t had a chance to ask). I was handed the book and given two weeks to do 19 pages. Ended up doing all 19 pages in 10 days.
Mark liked that, liked it a lot and gave me another issue of Night Breed, and then I was offered Saint Sinner.
At DC I’ve had less good luck, if you can call what happened back then at Marvel good luck.
I sent stuff to them at the same time as Marvel, in fact I sent them like a dozen packs and Marvel just one that I remember. I ended up doing some tests for Karen Burger on Sandman & Shade the Changing man scripts just before that Night Breed job. Got a mixed response on that, and was in the middle of a second set of tests when the Marvel gig came up. Always wondered what might have happened if I’d finished those tests.
Latter after Saint Sinner I did a story for Neil Pozner at DC in Showcase 94’ as a sort of test again, a try out gig for Neil who I met at a Con in NY and latter at the DC office. After I turned in the story I didn’t hear back for a while, and then I heard he was sick. He died a little while later. Not to be jokey at all about it but the lead felt dead (I have a strong personal reaction to people I know dieing even if I don’t know them well) and I didn’t feel like following up with the editor that took his place at all.
Latter on, just before I quite Saint Sinner I was offered Animal Man. At first I was totally into it, but I was starting to feel pretty burnt out at the time and the prospect of doing an ensemble cast was intimidating. So by the end of the phone call I had bowed out. Steve Pugh ( http://www.stevepugh.com) ended up doing it, which was good; I really like his work on that.
Sometime later I was also offered my Dream Job at Vertigo, Hellblazer! I just about wet myself for a week. Lou Stathis told me I was their second choice; Sean Phillips was still doing Kid Eternity at the time so he wasn’t going to be available. About a week went by and I didn’t hear back from them so I called, and as you know, Kid Eternity was cancelled and Sean took the job. Boo hoo.
I didn’t seem to have much luck with DC for a while there, and then I did the Big Books stories. That started off with Andy Helfer, who I’ve known since I was a little puke showing my stuff at con’s in Toronto. He was the first editor to give me his card if I recall.
So anyway, I was doing the big books, and then one day I got a call from Andy. This was here in Montreal and he had come up for a vacation here. His car had a busted axel and he was getting conned by the mechanics. He asked if I knew any one and as it turned out I did. I hooked him up with a guy I know and he got his car fixed and he decided he owed me one. And that is how I got the Real Worlds job.
It’s all luck & timing in the end.
TT: Before we go Max, you want to "pimp out" the books that you're currently working on? Or anything you wanna spoil us with?
SS: Well I got this lovely Latino who will rock your world…. ahem, books, right. Actually I’m pretty hyped about the direction my stuff is taking right now.
By the time Muties #6 came around to production I'd finished working on some paintings for that show I mentioned, and the first few minutes of the Rise and Fall of it All. As a result of the things I was doing on those projects, and a lot of the past intense methodology/structural exercises adapting to the animation productions I'd worked on as a designer in the past (EEK! the Cat, Sam & Max, Waynehead, Franklin, etc…) - I began thinking about a personal deconstruction of my working methods and style.
The most outwardly different aspect of this recent work is a rethinking of what is 'finished work'. In the past I’ve always felt my worst habit was to spend too much time fussing with my drawings technically, leaving them somewhat cold.
For Muties I started working in pencil, using the ink as accent only. To deepen blacks. Trying to stay as close as I felt comfortable to the original first sketches.
As I was still getting comfy with the method I ran the whole thing through a Photoshop filter to polish it (a safety blanket for me). The results were interesting.
But I was enjoying the raw pre-filter work more so that's where I’m going now, only using Photoshop for some of the coloring, along with colored pencils & crayons. The next thing to come out that is affected by this change is a short 7-page story titled 'Helpless'. It’s to appear in the benefit book for Bill 'n' Nadine Loebs, “Working for the Man”. It is very limited in color by design but the possibilities are interesting. Also my forms have loosened up a lot, using more abstraction.
Following that there is Pin City, a new anthology to be published twice yearly by myself. As well as serving as a venue for my own work - including various short stories and the graphic novel I’m currently working on - It will also feature a tasty platter of treats served up by the notoriously fertile fields of the Montreal Comix scene. Both these projects are slated to come out on Unboundcomics.com before they ever see pulp and ink. But Pin City will be available in print in time.
In Pin City, I’ll start publishing my first seriously LONG work, 300+ pages scripted so far. Titled Dream Life. It’s an ensemble piece, dealing with a lot of different aspects of self-discovery and dealing with volatile states of mind like depression and directionless. Bit of a coming of age story for some of the cast.
Other than that, I’d say keep an eye out for more work from Marvel or DC by me, but I don’t know exactly what yet.
TT: Well Max, thanks for doing this. It was tons of fun, we should do this again one day. Got any thing else you want to say?
TT: Be sure to check out Max’s work in the Muties limited series as well as the up and coming Pin City.