Allen: Mike, please talk to me a little bit about yourself. What kind of career do you have? Where do you live?
Mike: Allen, I have worked for FedEx for 30 years now, starting as a Courier back in 1979, up through my current position as a Dispatcher in New York City. I am planning on retiring at the end of this year (2009). I have lived in New York City for the past 20 years.
Our family life was wonderful, primarily because of the times we grew up in. My parents were working class people for most of their lives (Pop became an executive in his later years). Our father was a Banker.....started as a Teller, and worked his way up to Vice President just before he retired. Our mother was a housewife, initially, but went back to work as a Secretary once Bill & I were old enough to watch out for our "little brother" Arthur, while mom was at work. We grew up in Queens Village, NY in the late 1950's-early 1960's.
Things were so different then.....friends could come and go into each other's houses (no locked doors), everyone knew each other in the 4-block "square" that your house was in, there were TONS of kids (the baby boom in full swing), and life was just plain simpler (and nicer, in my opinion). Bill cam along first, in 1951. I followed in 1954, and Art popped up in 1956.
Allen: Tell me about Bill Mantlo’s and your appreciation for reading. Who sparked imaginative spark to read comic books? What sort did you both read? Did your other brother Arthur read comic books as child?
Mike: Both of our parents encouraged us to read at early ages, but since mom was a "stay-at-home" mom for most of our childhood's, i guess she gets the majority of the credit. She basically "home schooled" us to the point that we were graded as being about 4 grades ahead of other kids our age when we started school. In kindergarten, Bill & I could already read and write on a 4th grade level (Art fell a little short of that, as TV played more of a role in his development..... but he was also in honors classes). Pop pitched in on weekend, reading us (and teaching us to read) the "funnies" (the comics section of the newspapers). Both of our parents were also voracious readers, so there were always books around. It was Pop that introduced us to comics. He was a big Tarzan & Western fan when he was a kid (pulps), and he would bring home comics for us to read when he would come home from working in New York City. We read everything that we got ahold of.
Allen: What sort of television shows did you like to watch while growing up?
Mike: Well, remember, times were very different. We didn't have a TV set in every room of the house, there were no VCR's or DVD players. We had ONE BLACK & WHITE TV set in the living room, and on weekdays, we were only allowed to watch TV after dinner, with the whole family. We used to pick 1 night apiece, wherein that person decided what we would watch from, usually, 7:00 to 9:00 PM. Bill and I usually opted for either sitcoms, or action/sci-fi programs..... "The Untouchables", "The Twilight Zone", "Combat", "The Outer Limits", "Rawhide", "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "Topper".... there were so many more, and then there was always "Million Dollar Movie", which played on a local channel..... it would show the SAME movie for 5 nights in a row. "King Kong" was shown repeatedly.... "Plan 9 From Outer Space", "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers", "Mighty Joe Young", "House On Haunted Hill"..... great stuff!
Pop favored Westerns (everything except "Gunsmoke".... nobody ever liked that show), and Disney movies and cartoons (he LOVED cartoons)! On weekend, we had the TV to ourselves, and Saturday mornings were the BEST! Old serial cliffhangers, weekly action/adventure shows, plenty of seeds for our young imaginations.
Allen: Tell me about Bill’s ability to create art. Where did he get art training?
Mike: Bill caught the "art bug" early on... when we were kids, he would ask for (and usually receive) an art set called: "Jon Nagy's Learn To Draw" (I don't remember where Jon Nagy came from... whether he was on TV, or not). He would sit and practice constantly (I'm guessing this was from around age 5 or 6-on), until he actually became quite good. So good, in fact, that when he sent in an application to the High School of Art & Design in NYC, he was accepted, and upon graduation, he was offered a full Art scholarship to Cooper Union College.
Allen: What caused him to shift away from art to writing stories?
Mike: Again, because of our upbringing surrounded by literature, Bill was always writing.....poetry, song lyrics, jokes, short stories, even his own crude comic books (in "MANTLO: A Life In Comics" his take is that he wrote comics in junior high school making the "bullies" into superheroes, so he wouldn't get beat up..... and it worked!). In the middle of his 4-year run at Cooper Union, he thought his artwork wasn't good enough to ever survive on, so he switched his major to Photography (which is the degree he graduated with). After graduating, the only job he could land was that of "Portrait Photographer" at EJ Korvettes department store. Hating that, he got a call from a former classmate that was working at Marvel Comics (she remembered his affection for comics), and applied for, and got a job as kind of an intern, and "go-fer".
According to Tony Isabella, Bill was working in the "paste-up" department (everything was done by hand back then....no computer graphics) one day when an Editor ran into the room frantically shouting that the writer for one of the horror stories in an upcoming comic had missed his deadline, and he HAD to have a story by that afternoon in order to make it to press. Bill supposedly piped up "Why don't you let me write the story?" Tony convinced the Editor that it was better to take a chance than to blow the deadline empty-handed, so Bill got his foot in the door.
On his lunch hour, he cobbled together a short horror story, and lo and behold, the Editor thought it showed promise, and ran with it. From that point on, Bill was offered more and more writing jobs (fill-in's for established writers, mostly), and his knowledge of all of Marvel's characters, and story arcs, earned him the respect and admiration of the powers that be at Marvel. I don't know if it's really true, but legend has it aside from STAN LEE himself, that there is NO OTHER WRITER in Marvel's history that has written MORE stories than Bill did.
Allen: How did Bill get interested in working for comic book industry? Who inspired him the most?
Mike: Bill's love of comics is what got him interested, but until his friend got him the job at Marvel, I don't think he ever imagined he would work in the industry. His first real inspiration was to be a comic artist, and his idol was Gil Kane from DC ("The Atom", "The Flash"). But, Marvel captured his attention when he discovered "Spider-Man", and JACK KIRBY became almost an obsession. I believe it was Kirby (whom Bill had met, and somehow arranged visits with while he was still in school) who inspired him the most, and who probably encouraged him to write (and to create his own characters). Kirby was a GOD!
Allen: Would you like to talk about Bill’s time at Marvel Comics?
Mike: It was magical! Bill was in his element, letting his vivid imagination run wild. There were stretches at Marvel when he was writing up to 8 different titles simultaneously each month! It was amazing..... he was coming up with ideas, it seemed like, every minute of the day! His run, between say 1974-1979, was the most incredible outpouring of ideas that any human being could have produced, and it was the highest quality of content of Bill's career. Sadly, around 1979-80, there was a regime change in the editorial staff, and Bill's workload began to shrink due to his combative relationship with the new Editor in Chief, Jim Shooter.
Allen: Did he happen to mention some of his favorite stories worked on?
Mike: Of course.... he was most proud of his run on "The Incredible Hulk", although the critical acclaim didn't seem to come until he left that title. His favorites were the characters he created ("Cloak & Dagger"), or the ones that he brought life to ("Micronauts", "ROM: Spaceknight", "Alpha Flight"). He loved every story he wrote....anything that allowed him to put his imagination into words was granted a special place in his heart. He just loved creating/telling stories.
Allen: Who were some of artists he seemed to work best with?
Mike: First and foremost, GEORGE PEREZ. More than any other artist, Bill formed a very close bond with George. Aside from the talented Mr. Perez, Bill worked with just about EVERY artist on Marvel's staff, and you'd be hard-pressed to find even one that would say they didn't enjoy working with Bill. He always believed the artist-writer collaboration should be just that....a partnership. If one tried to stroke his own ego at the expense of the other, the comic was doomed to fail.
Allen: I spent much of my childhood reading comic book stories created by your brother. I read Iron Man issues that he wrote. I read issues of The Human Fly and many issues of Rom. I was even constant reader of The Incredible Hulk. How do you think Bill was able to work on so many different series?
Mike: By being a genius! Seriously.... Bill had the uncanny ability to remember EVERY story he had read as a child & teenager..... almost a photographic memory. Plus, he read constantly.... everything he could get his hands on.... classics, poetry, song lyrics, newspapers, pulps, cereal boxes..... you name it.... if it had printed words on it, he read it! His mind was constantly in motion.
Allen: Did you ever try to keep up with stories Bill was working on? Did you talk to Bill much during this creative period?
Mike: Yeah, during the mid-70's, but I couldn't keep up with EVERY title he was working on. I followed "Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man" pretty religiously, as that was the one character that Bill & I followed the most when we were kids. I loved his take on "Howard The Duck", primarily because it allowed him to express his sarcastic comedic side (which I think I share with him). Once I got out of the military (1975), we talked a lot.
Allen: What do you feel was peak of your brother Bill’s creativity?
Mike: Without a doubt, 1974-1979.
Allen: When did Bill get married? Does he have any children?
Mike: Bill married Karen Pocock in 1973, and helped raise Karen's son, Adam. In 1980, they had their only child together, Corinna Meredith Mantlo.
Allen: What kinds of hobbies did Bill have out side of comic book industry? Was he an avid reader of novels? Did he like to watch certain types of movies? What inspired him?
Mike: Well, as I've said earlier, Bill was a voracious reader.... anything and everything. He also loved movies, especially sci-fi stuff. He believed (and I believe he has been proven correct) that movies were really live-version extensions of comic books. He loved the first two "Aliens" movies....."Star Wars", "Indiana Jones", "Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind", anything directed by Hitchcock, he was a big fan of older stuff, too! Anything that told a story well, he enjoyed.
Allen: I read that Bill worked on screenplays. What sort did he try to write?
Mike: Ahhh, that's a tough one. He was all over the map. Sci-fi, drama, comedy.....he tried to do everything, but sadly, time ran out on him. I strongly believe that if the accident had never happened, Bill would be in Hollywood today, doing nothing but writing screenplays.
Allen: Tell me about Bill’s accident on July 17th, 1992.
Mike: This is nothing I like talking about anymore, but in a nutshell, Bill was rollerblading home from work (he was a Legal Aid criminal defense attorney at this point), and a car careened around the corner of Morningside Park in Manhattan, struck him, flipped him over the hood (striking his head into the windshield), and threw him to the ground on it's opposite side (striking his head, again, on the street). The driver fled the scene, leaving him lying crumpled and bleeding, in the street. That driver was never apprehended.
Allen: What kind of support did your family get when Bill was in accident?
Mike: Initially, not a lot. I had to struggle to fight his insurance company from cutting off his benefits, and the comics industry didn't really step forward until many years later (probably because Bill had left it in the mid-80's to become a lawyer). It was only when "H.E.R.O." (comic book professionals support group) was formed in the late 90's-early 00's, that any assistance, or (financial) support came through. They deserve a LOT of credit, as does TONY ISABELLA, who's been the biggest champion of Bill's throughout this whole ordeal.
Allen: How is Bill doing at present time? What sort of care does he need?
Mike: Bill is completely incapacitated, and suffers sever cognitive impairments. He is generally angry most of the time. He has serious physical impediments (he cannot stand without support, and has limited mobility), but even more so, mental liabilities that leave him unable to control his thoughts, and actions. He requires 24-hour a day assistance and supervision just to perform normal everyday human functions.
Allen: What role did you take when Bill was so horribly injured?
Mike: I accepted the responsibilities of becoming, at first, his Conservator (to protect & manage whatever assets he had), and then was elevated to Legal Guardian status (to manage his care and well being, as well as his finances) a year later. I voluntarily took on this role as our parents were aging rapidly, and Art had a wife and 2 daughters that he was responsible for. I was divorced, and living alone at the time, and felt it was my duty to help Bill in any way that I could. I know he would have done the same for me, had the roles been reversed.
Allen: Where has Bill been institutionalized?
Mike: After stays in 4 different brain injury rehabilitation hospitals (in 4 different states), he was finally moved to a newly created Head Injury Rehabilitative Nursing Home in Queens, NY. He resides there now, and will probably be there for the rest of his life.
Allen: How did magazine MANTLO A Life in Comics happen?
Mike: David Yurkovich, an award-winning comic writer, contacted me several years ago, asking if there was anything he could do to help Bill, as Bill had inspired him to become a writer. After a year, or so, of exchanging e-mail's, and David writing a wonderful short story based on Bill's plight, he suggested we put together a "book" as a tribute to Bill's vast contribution to comics' history. I agreed wholeheartedly, and he got the ball rolling. The rest, as they say, is history!
Allen: How can person get a copy? What happens with donations?
Mike: At this point, the magazine is out of print. If someone is interested, but can't find a copy, they can write to me and I will find one for them (I have several copies left, as does David). The suggested $20 donation will get anyone a copy, and will also get their name added to the list of "FRIENDS OF OL' MANTLO", which David maintains on his website.
Allen: What is best way to give donation to help with Bill Mantlo? Is there way to send letters of appreciation to Bill? Do you ever try to read letters to your brother?
Mike: All correspondences, letters, postcards, notes ~and~ donations should be sent to ME (in MY name..... there are reasons for that, which I won't elaborate on here), at:
425 RIVERSIDE DRIVE
NEW YORK, NY 10025-7731
I visit Bill every other weekend, and yes, I read him every letter that I receive (even if he screams at me to stop..... needling him gets him to laugh, and that's always the best medicine).
Allen: When is Bill’s Birthday? It would be wonderful if readers of this interview would send Bill some birthday cards. It is hard to know what his mind sees. I am sure he would appreciate Birthday cards.
Mike: Bill's birthday is November 9th.
Allen: Are your parents still alive? What happened to Arthur Mantlo?
Mike: Our parents have both passed on.... Mom in 2003, and Pop in 2007. Art is alive and well, and has produced 2 incredible daughters (one of whom has graduated with honors from Adelphi University.... with a degree in ART!..... who'da thunk it?).
Allen: How are you doing at present time Mike Mantlo?
Mike: I'm as OK as OK can be, I guess. I'm about to retire from my long, (ahem) storied career at FedEx (30 years), and will be moving to my new home on the Delaware shore within the year. I expect to be doing a lot of fishing!
Allen: What would you like to say to our younger readers that might not have seen Bill’s work in comic book field?
Mike: READ THEM! ALL OF THEM! DO IT NOW! Just kidding.....but if you're interested in a good, solid story, with well thought out and imaginative characters, you'll never go wrong with a BILL MANTLO penned comic!
Allen: What is best way to contact you? Do you have website?
Mike: No, unfortunately, I am a bit of a dinosaur (lol). Anyone that wants to contact me can write to me at the address listed above. If you insist on using this new-fangled web thing, my e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org . I hate to say it, but I really do prefer the old fashioned pencil and paper kind of communication.
Allen: My prayers are with your family Mike Mantlo. I was honored to help out with Bill in my own personal way. I also just noticed Mantlo A Life in Comics is on WOWIO website. I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many people that care about your family and Bill. I am honored to own Mantlo Benefit book. I treasure my childhood times reading stories that Bill wrote. It is still a great feeling reading stories Bill wrote. Would you like to lead us out of interview with any closing thoughts Mike?
Mike: Allen, it is people like you that have restored my faith in humanity. Your tireless efforts in trying to help Bill in whatever ways you can never cease to amaze me! You deserve much more thanks than I do, and I am proud to call you a friend. God bless you, and your family.