Women of the Romance Comics - Interview with Liz Berube!
It's been a while since I have done an interview here at Sequential Crush! You may remember the ones I did with Irene Vartanoff and Suzan Loeb -- two great women who worked on the romance comics. Well today, I have for you the story of another fascinating woman in the industry -- Liz Berube or “Elizabeth” as you may recognize from her signature on the romance pages.
This interview has been in the works for almost two years now. Liz has had some health issues and luckily, is starting to feel better. I conducted this interview via email. Liz sent lots of additional information in other emails which I have incorporated to give more details on the pieces of artwork and photos. Please enjoy!
Do you prefer “Liz” or “Elizabeth” as you signed the romance pages?
When working with the syndicated comic strip ("Karen") I preferred to use my full maiden name: Elizabeth Ann Safian. Also, when working on children's books, cards and commissioned work. When I began coloring for Neal Adams, at Continuity the letterer put in Liz Berube and it stayed that way. As it was a married name, I really wanted to drop "Berube" but, by that time the whole industry was using it - and I had doubts about a change. After all these years, I'm rapidly getting to a point where I'm not as concerned .... and hope to go back to the original "Safian." I always preferred "Liz" but my family calls me "Beth" and when I'm first introduced to people I use the formal "Elizabeth " and leave it up to whatever they're comfortable with.
Did you have formal artistic training prior to entering the industry? How did you get your start in the comic book industry?
I began sketching on the walls of my parent's home when I was about 3. Over the years, I found myself carrying a sketchbook everywhere. Since I used to take the bus and train into Manhattan from Queens I had 3 hours a day to sketch. Growing up, I made a lot of little books for friends and relatives. My favorite gift is an old fashioned "flip" card which I can send as is (the way my nephews like it) or transfer it into iMovie and put it on disc.
I attended The School of Visual Arts, in New York City, majoring in Cartooning. On the day I left the school, I passed the bulletin board and saw an ad for work at Archie Comics. They were not interested in my art as they had more than enough artists who could draw Archie and pals... so, Richard Goldwater offered me a job as co-editor with Victor Gorelick and colorist. I started work that day. Vic was great to work with and taught me everything there was to know about producing an Archie Comic. That's when they were down on Church St (Wall St. area) and a hop, skip and a jump to lunches in Chinatown. The one drawback was the old, tarred streets which would turn to glue in the summer heat. I can't even begin to remember how many 5" heels I left in the streets of NY.
Before Visual Arts ( I had graduated high school at 16 ) I was offered a scholarship at Cooper Union with the proviso that I would become a teacher, after the schooling was completed. Without the proper guidance and still basically a child my priorities were slightly skewed. The thought of becoming a teacher provided no thrill and I turned it down. Later on, I was to learn that it was probably the most prestigious school around and my decision was a very, very foolish one. So - I did it the hard way, and learned "by the seat of my pants."
I used to draw the comic strip for the High School Newspaper and I'm told that they've continued it, after all these years with different artists. Very gratifying.
This is the only schooling that could be considered "formal." However - this was the ‘60s, and we spent more time drinking coffee, sketching each other, wearing black everything and becoming "Beatniks." Of course, we also took a lot of unscheduled field trips to Greenwich Village or the museums. One VERY fun-filled day we skipped to the tune of "We're Off To See the Wizard" from the Village - all the way up to Temple Emmanuel. Then we just sat on Fifth and sketched.
It was a grand time but a lot of us missed out on the very complete foundation courses. The great thing about SVA was that they taught EVERYTHING from life drawing to sculpture... even advertising.
Were you in the Bullpen at DC or did you work freelance?
Even when I was in between art jobs and usually working as an executive secretary, I hated punching a time clock. I've always disliked restrictions. Freelance - definitely. Before DC discontinued the Romance line, I was offered the job of Editor, and one of the big reasons I turned it down was that I preferred to work at home. I was a single working mother and, at 24, likely the most ignorant of the bunch when it came to "what was good for me." I didn't want to leave my son in daycare... never dreaming that I could have hired someone to be at the office with me, to take care of him - on an Editor's salary.
Who was your boss? Your coworkers? Do you remember any other women working on the romance comics along with you? Any fun stories?
My "bosses " depended upon which editor was dealing with which magazine. I've worked with all the old crew, at one time or other. During the Romance years, I worked mostly with Joe Orlando and Dick Giordano who were covering those comics, among others. The person I dealt with most was Jack Adler, who passed away not too long ago. Jack was a good friend and a terrifically talented man. He taught me everything I knew about coloring and some "tricks of the trade,” which made it possible for me to pull all nighters and get the work in, on time. Although he headed the Production Dept., he made many innovations most people never even knew about. I could write a whole separate book - just about Jack Adler. No matter how far I strayed to other forms of illustration, he always found a place for me. A fine man. A very gracious and loyal man. Not to mention funny. In the ‘80s I worked with Sal Almendola. A great guy... and a lot of fun to work with.
At the time, I was the only female artist working for DC. Tatiana Wood colored comics, as I did... wonderful woman and a fantastic colorist. There were a few secretaries but I have to say that most of us were there for THE JOB and the more we did, the more we were paid... so, with the exception of a few lunches - I was there to work. I turned in my pages, picked up more work, and left. If I got lucky, time-wise I could be home by late afternoon, spend time with my son and then go to work when he went to sleep. By the next morning, I could return to the office and pick up more. If there had been FEDex, in those days I probably never would have left the house. I was the only female artist/colorist and although I had some fun kidding with the guys and an occasional visit to Mad Magazine ("and the gang of usual idiots")... socializing was a limited pastime. As he got older - I took him with me and the end of our "day at the office " always ended with a trip to FAO SCHWARZ ...... the best toy store in the world.
How would you describe the illustration style you used for the romance pages? What was your inspiration for your drawings? Were they completely from your imagination or did you use models, catalogs, etc.?
I don't know what you would call my "style"... it flowed. Graceful, sensual and fun. What can I say? It's what came out, when I put pencil to paper. My mom was artistic, in many ways and some of her style (the hair) rubbed off. I was a big fan of Art Deco and Art Nouveau... Alphonse Mucha. I imagine that rubbed off, as well - as there is nothing really new, under the sun and consciously or subconsciously - we all "borrow" from each other. Art, Music, Cinema... the works. Mostly I was concerned with something looking beautiful. My first husband said I could find beauty in a sewer... I certainly tried.
I couldn't afford models. Mostly, I used Vogue magazine. Vogue had THE most wonderful photographers of several decades and the styles could be adapted to youth. Vogue was probably one of the first magazines to use youthful models and interesting photographers. Like Carrie Bradshaw, in "Sex and the City" - I had Vogues all over my apartment. Still do. Only now... I use others... even catalogs. Catalogs weren't around in the ‘60s. Some of my ideas came from Cosmopolitan which, at the time, was a new concept. Their first issue sported a nude centerfold of Burt Reynolds and their fashion and articles were very much into the "new" MOD look.
I would have to say that most of the pages I did came from my imagination and then I would find models to suit my needs.
"This one is mine and I colored it, as well. Too bad - colors were printed on newsprint, in those days - and not vivid or even many to choose from. Later on - I was famous for mixing my own colors - and then marking up the combinations for the printing separators."
How long did it take you to draw per page? Many of them were so intricate!
The amount of time spent on a page varied widely. The most time was spent on the ideas and sketches... then came the complete pencils and finally, the inking and the coloring. Colors were all done with brush and most of the inking. Some days (depending upon content ) it would take all day and half the night... and sometimes I could turn out several pages per day.
What was your involvement with the conceptualization of the pages you drew? Did you write the text as well?
Sometimes I wrote the text and generally, my involvement with the concept was complete. (I didn't always do my own lettering ).
Do you know approximately how many romance stories/featurettes you did?
I have no idea how many pages I completed for DC. Neal Adams created a union, so the artists would get all their original art work back, once printed. I'm sad to say that so many of mine "walked off" - I can't begin to guess at the total. It's too bad, because there are many that never turned up which I would have liked to frame. The fact that there are people out there – selling my art, without my permission is a crime and a shame.
You were quite young when you were drawing the romance comics – do you feel that your position as a young woman helped you relate to the audience you were drawing for?
Yes... I think being in my late teens and early twenties made a tremendous difference. The only time it got in the way, was when someone from "the old boys club" thought they could bribe me with work, to get me on the old Hollywood "casting couch." This did NOT happen at DC but, I would say that being who I was at that time - was both a blessing and a curse.
I had some terrific ideas that could have helped the Romance line continue but there were "politics" involved and getting someone to listen was difficult. There were also a lot of jealousies floating around - surprisingly, among some of the younger men who thought they knew more about what young girls wanted. I thought the Romance line should be more on the Cosmopolitan, MOD, Twiggy, British Invasion line and less like an old Jane Wyman/Rock Hudson movie. It was like comparing Cameron Diaz with Joan Crawford. Now - had I taken the Editor's job... maybe things would have been different. Unfortunately... I didn't, and they're not.
Can you think of any piece or pieces that you drew, that you are particularly fond of?
My favorite of all time were the "Contents" page and "Your Horoscope" - this was my very favorite. In spite of the efforts of ACBA (Neal Adams union) and Dick Giordano - the editor - and a good friend, it "walked away" and I never got the original. My career as an artist with DC started with this (Joe Orlando's idea) and, although I did my job - I never put my heart into a drawing, after it was stolen (along with others). I think it was Young Romance. Hard to tell, after all these years... but there's a little # on the bottom or the side. J-000 was Joe Orlando. G-000 was Dick Giordano. Princes, both.
Did you work for any other comic book companies?
I also worked on exclusive contract coloring for Neal Adams (Continuity Graphics ). These were done with airbrush. Neal and his wife, Corey, taught me even more about coloring. Corey is amazing. And what can I say about Neal? Only Neal could turn a schlep in his pajamas into The Dark Knight. He's one of the best artists I've ever known. In the ‘80s I also did some coloring for TSR, out of Los Angeles. They're gone now... At least I got all my work back from them.
Do you ever attend conventions?
I would love to attend conventions and was supposed to be guest speaker in Minnesota two years ago, but the horse threw me again... and changed plans. I'm hoping to be there, this Spring.
What current projects are you working on?
At this point in time, I still do freelance work on commission - although I'm considered to be retired. I don't think an artist ever retires... slows down a little... but never a full cold stop.
I've kept busy with commissions, children's books (illustrating) and gifts for friends and family. Life has thrown a few curves... rather than bore my fans - I just say "I fell off a horse" ... it keeps the questions and answers simple but, as I've said before, that's a horse of a different color (grin).
As for now, I'm playing with Photoshop and my camera and doing little sketches here and there. I'm always open to work in the style that made me interesting... although what I do now is definitely more color (airbrush) and interested in anything that anyone is interested in buying. Even if I manage to corral the latest horse - I don't usually do deadlines.
It's been fun, Jacque. Thanks for inviting me to the memories.