back issue 16
(The following is excerpted from BACK ISSUE #16 and posted with permission.)

Marvel’s Toy Story: Rom’s Sal Buscema and Micronauts’ Jackson Guice
A “Pro2Pro” Interview
by Dan Johnson
conducted December 13, 2005.

Attempting to spin off a successful comic-book series from any line of toys is never child’s play. Still, Marvel Comics managed to do quite well with two titles, Rom Spaceknight (which ran 75 issues from 1979–1986, with four Annuals) and The Micronauts (which originally enjoyed a 59-issue run from 1979–1984, with various continuations in later years)

Recently BACK ISSUE sat down with two of the men who helped make these books wildly popular with comics fans: Sal Buscema, the artist who lent a hand in giving Rom a proper launch, and Jackson “Butch” Guice, the artist came on board in time to help bring the original adventures of the Micronauts to a conclusion —Dan Johnson

DAN JOHNSON: Tell our readers how you each came to work on your respective books.

Actually, Micronauts is my first credited work in the industry. Ironically enough, a year prior to that, I had ghosted a chapter on Rom Annual #1 for Pat Broderick. Both were breaking points for me getting into comics. I had been doing a little bit of fanzine work, and at the time I was designing patches and emblems for a small company in North Carolina. [One day] I came home from work and there was a phone call from Al Milgrom. I guess Bill Mantlo, who had written the Rom Annual, had seen some of my fanzine work as well, asked Al to track me down. When I spoke with Al, he told me there was an opening on Micronauts and they were going to try out several different artists over the course of the next three or four issues and he asked if I would be interested in doing one. I jumped at the chance and immediately went out roller skating that night, fell and broke the elbow on my drawing arm. Thankfully when they put the cast on, they had the arm bent, so it was more a case of drawing from the shoulder. It was quite a baptism of fire to start off my career.

SAL BUSCEMA: It just shows you what us comic-book guys are capable of.

JOHNSON: How about you, Sal? Tell us how you started on Rom.

: The reason I started doing Rom from issue number one was because no one else wanted to do it. Several other people were asked to illustrate the book and they didn’t want to because they didn’t think it was going to fly. As a matter of fact, the Rom action figure was given the nickname “the Toaster.” Everybody thought he looked like a human toaster. I took on the book and it turned out to be reasonably successful, but the toy bombed completely. The toy was gone after one year, but I we did the book for five years.

JOHNSON: Rom and Micronauts both managed to outlive the toy lines that spawned them. Indeed, there are comics fans today who aren’t even aware of the toys. I read that Bill Mantlo, who wrote both books, had seen the promotional video that had been presented to Marvel about Rom. This was the same video that had been used to promote the toy line at various toy fairs. I was wondering, did you gentlemen ever get any feedback from the toy companies about your work on the comics?

: I didn’t get any feedback. The only thing I got from Parker Brothers was a Rom action figure. My children were very young at the time and they were thrilled with it. I thought it was kind of silly myself because it really didn’t do anything. That was about the extent of my involvement with the parent company.

JOHNSON: As I recall, Rom was Parker Brothers’ only attempt to put out an action figure.

Probably. They should have stuck to board games. I did admire them for going to Marvel and saying, “Hey, we would like to do a comic based on this character. What can you do for us?” Marvel came up with a very interesting concept and it was a fun book to do.

JOHNSON: How about you, Butch? By the time you came onto Micronauts, the toy line may have already been history.

Yeah, the toys had probably already bombed by the time I started on the book. I can’t recall ever having heard anything from the toy company itself, and by that time there wasn’t really any thought process towards connecting the comic to the toys. When I started on Micronauts, Bill was essentially wrapping up his run on it. We spent the next ten or eleven issues wrapping up his stories and then the title was cancelled. We were one of the first three Marvel direct sales books and after it was cancelled, it was relaunched a year later with Peter Gillis writing it and Kelley Jones, who had inked my pencils on the book, was penciling it then. I know that Bill was pulling his whole storyline together, and he wanted the heroes to have a final showdown with Baron Karza, the main villain, and sort of pull the cast back together.

JOHNSON: Speaking of Bill Mantlo, you each had the chance to work with him while on these books. What can you tell us about him?

Bill and I worked together fine. I thought Bill was a very talented writer. We did have a bit of a falling out at the end of my run on Rom. That was simply because of a misunderstanding between us. I think Bill wanted to exercise more control over the illustration part of the book, and if I prided myself on anything, it was that I was a good storyteller. I didn’t consider myself the greatest draftsman in the industry by any stretch of the imagination, and I felt I was competent, but my greatest strength was storytelling and we were butting heads too much. Bill was asking me to do things that I knew, in my experience, would not work. We were on the book for a long time, and I worked with Bill on other books, and I thought we had a very successful and amiable relationship. It was just at that particular time, for some unknown reason, that happened. I was getting tired of doing the book anyway, and I wanted to go on to other things, so it worked out well.

GUICE: My own experience [with Bill], just getting into the industry, it was the first time I had worked with a writer for any period of time. I had a great time working with Bill. In fact, after Micronauts was cancelled, we went on to do Swords of the Swashbucklers for Epic. Gradually, I left that title and then I don’t think Bill and I ever had the chance to work together again. At one time, while I was at DC, he contacted me and he was briefly talking about wanting to get back into comics. That was after he had left the industry for a little while.

BUSCEMA: He studied law, didn’t he?

GUICE: Yeah, he went to law school and he became an attorney. He just called me up out of the blue one day and said that he missed comics and he was thinking about getting back into the business. We talked about some possible projects and it never really came together. We didn’t get our heads together fast enough and I believe it was just a couple of months later that he had his accident. [Editor’s note: See Tony Isabella’s sidebar.]

BUSCEMA: Was it really?

GUICE: It was fairly close, right prior to his accident. As far as working with Bill, I do remember giving him a hard time about [some of the plots I was] getting, via the Marvel method of plotting which was still popular at the time. As a new artist, I was somewhat taken aback the first time I got a plot that said, “Pages 5 through 15, the Micronauts fight.”

BUSCEMA: I can see where that could be a little disconcerting for someone that’s just breaking into the business. You really feel like you need a little bit of guidance. It was no problem for me because I had been working like that for so many years. If you think that was bad, you should have experienced what Stan Lee would give you.


BUSCEMA: Stan would call you up on the phone and say, “This terrible super-villain is trying to take over the country and Captain America beats him.” And that was what you got! So, essentially, you told the story! But you know, it worked. Personally speaking, I think it was a marvelous concept because it gave us so much freedom to flesh things out as we saw fit.

JOHNSON: Given that you were working under the Marvel method, what influences do you think you each brought to your book? What is there in Rom and Micronauts that you can point to and say, “That’s what I brought to the table”?

BUSCEMA: Oh, wow ... Jackson, you want to tackle this one? Let me pass the buck along to you.

GUICE: If anything, I was striving to get back towards that sense of fun that the book had when it first launched. I remember when it initially came out, and Michael Golden was doing the artwork, and there was a lot of energy in the book. After Michael left, and as the book continued along, it got a little more darker, a little more serious, and even though we were wrapping up the story at the end with all these fights, I did try to bring back some of the fun. There was one issue in particular that we worked on where we took the entire Micronauts gang to our version of the Kirby Prison Planet from the Fantastic Four run. [We had the Micronauts] dressed in pinstripe suits and hats and I was drawing some of these characters like Bug as gangsters, and we had these other creatures running around, so I got to do an Edward G. Robinson type and a James Cagney type. It was funny, and that was what I was aiming for. That and I was just trying to figure out how to do the job properly.

Both Bill and Al were a lot of help in those early days. Every time I would mess up some storytelling sequence, they would call me on it [and tell what I could do to make it right]. [Previously,] I had never really had to draw for anybody other than myself, so you fall into certain bad habits early on. When you’re actually in the industry, you start to realize that there is a lot more to this storytelling thing than just sticking something in the panel.

BUSCEMA: Oh, absolutely. If I may relate a quick anecdote to emphasize that point, Jackson, up until just a few years ago, I would have a weekly lunch with some very good friends of mine who were in the art business. I was a commercial illustrator for 15 years before I got into comics and these gentlemen were from that period of my career, and they were very gifted guys. One day, one of them told me, “Sal, I’ve just been asked by a client to do a comic book. Could you give me a couple of your books so I can see how you go about storytelling?” I brought him a couple of Spectacular Spider-Mans I had done and about two or three weeks later, at this weekly lunch that we had, he gave me the books back and said he had dropped the project. I asked him why, and he said, “I can’t do this stuff! I’m okay when I have to do an illustration for an ad, but this is just unbelievably difficult! I’m drawing panel after panel and its all crap!” I just shrugged and said, “I’m sorry you lost the job.” He said, “No, [I didn’t lose it,] I gave it up. I spent so much time on it, I lost my shirt on it!” This was a guy with 35 or 40 years’ worth of experience as a commercial illustrator, but he could not tell a comic-book story. I think it renewed his respect for the business, if he ever had any respect for comics. I don’t know if you would agree with this, Jackson, but there was a time when we comic-book artists were really looked down upon by the rest of the commercial art industry—

GUICE: Oh, yeah. Yes.

BUSCEMA: —with this I sort of inwardly smiled because I used to get a lot of ribbing that I was a comic-book guy and that wasn’t [looked upon as being] serious. When he revealed that he was unable to tell this story, I felt kind of good about it.

GUICE: There is so much that goes on than just the choice of the shot and the decisions that you have to make as an artist. It is really hard to sit down and just explain in brief to anyone [what all goes into this task]. The more you learn about it, the more you realize how much more there is left to learn, and how difficult it is and [you understand] just what a genius someone like Jack Kirby was.

BUSCEMA: Dan, to answer your question about what I may or may not have brought to Rom, I have a theater background. Over the past 20 years, I have done a lot of community theater and my wife tells me I’m a natural born ham. That really was a big help to me in all the books I did, but in particular Rom because of the fact that the character had no facial expressions. Everything you do [with Rom] is body language, and the theater experience was a big help for me.

(The remainder of this “Pro2Pro” interview can be found in the pages of BACK ISSUE #16.)

The comics industry reinvented itself during the 1970s and 1980s, and BACK ISSUE, a bimonthly black-and-white magazine from editor Michael Eury and TwoMorrows Publications, celebrates those eras through creator interviews, in-depth series histories, and never-before-seen and classic artwork. Joining the “Pro2Pro” creator interviews in BACK ISSUE are other departments including “Greatest Stories Never Told” (examinations of aborted series), “Rough Stuff” (pencil art showcases), and “Beyond Capes” (histories of non-super-hero series). BACK ISSUE #16, now on sale, features a “Toy Stories” theme, with art-filled articles covering toy-inspired comics including Arthur Adams’ Gumby, Marvel’s G. I. Joe, Transformers, Super Powers, and DC’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. For ordering information, visit: