Question: What do graphic horror artist Will Eisner, Charles Addams, The Simpsons' Radioactive Man, and Archie Comics have in common? The first two great cartoonists
are, sadly, deceased - but, if your answer was, "They're all dead!", you're wrong. They're all linked together inexorably, a la Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except through an entirely different person, the amazing cartoonist
"Who," you might say, "is this Batton Lash of whom you speak?" Well, my friends - and you ARE my friends - Batton Lash is the mind, nay, the GENIUS behind the comic tales of Wolff & Byrd, "Counselors of the Macabre." Lash's witty, pun-filled gems of stories combine the styles of Will Eisner and
Tales From the Crypt, Charles Addams of The Addams Family fame, and the artists of
Archie Comics. They feature Alanna Wolff and Jeff Byrd, attorneys representing a decidedly diverse clientele of monsters, ghosts, ghouls, and average Joes and Janes who have been cursed by
gypsies or monkey paws.
One of Lash's instructors was Will Eisner, and Batton is one of the creative forces behind the aforementioned
Radioactive Man comic book series. He also worked on the Archie Comics and Marvel Comics crossover
Archie Meets the Punisher and other Archie stories. You can see influences from all of these sources in his "Tales of Supernatural Law."
Batton Lash has graciously agreed to being unmercifully grilled for this
interview, despite the grill marks and assorted bodily injuries that could
potentially result. He could always hire his fictional counselors Wolff & Byrd,
I guess, if worst comes to worst...
Interviewer Douglas R. Cobb: Mr. Lash, it's time to reveal all - is Batton Lash your real name, or is it a pseudonym? Is it some family name that's been handed down over the generations? It definitely has panache...
Batton Lash: Thank you—you can say it’s been handed down!
Since you are one of this generation's most renowned and accomplished artists of the macabre, and an all-around swell guy, I am going to do an expanded interview with you. Ordinarily, I limit myself to maybe ten questions; with you, the sky's the limit - I may approach upwards of twelve or thirteen, who knows?
I reviewed in these pages elsewhere your latest collection of tales, The Soddyssey and Other Tales of Supernatural Law so let’s start with a couple of questions related to it.
The title is a take-off of Homer's (not The Simpsons one, the Greek one) Odyssey. The tales are loosely tied to each other by an ongoing court case in which Wolff & Byrd represent a client, Sodd, that looks sort of like The Swamp Thing.
How did Sodd become a monster, and what has brought him to court? (Ten words or less, please)
An accident turned Heb Moss into a swamp monster and he immediately became a victim of circumstance (that’s seventeen words, so I hope you’ll cut me a little slack!).
One of the tales I really enjoyed in The Soddyssey collection is "Personal Injuries...& Guardian Angels." I’m a Jack Benny fan, and you spoof the Jack Benny movie The Trumpet Blows At Midnight with this tale. Benny plays an incompetent guardian angel who makes good in the end.
What is this character on trial for, and are you a Jack Benny fan yourself?
I have been a lifelong Benny fan, so having an opportunity to do homage to Jack was a real pleasure. The Benny character in the story you cite (“Personal Injuries and Guardian Angels”) is a somewhat inept guardian angel and is sued for negligence. Good thing he had Wolff and Byrd to turn to!
What originally gave you the idea to do comics based on trial lawyers, and why did you name the characters Wolff & Byrd?
I’ve been doing the strip for so long (30 years since September 1979, thank you very much!), that I can’t quite recall why I chose the names “Wolff & Byrd.” I did want to do a strip about attorneys since the newspaper, which gave me an outlet (The Brooklyn Paper in New York) that was, at the time, mainly distributed to lawyers, the courts, and the municipality in downtown Brooklyn.
I and your very loyal readers really love the puns and wordplay you use - for example in your first collection of tales, featuring one about a monkey paw used to bring a Rottweiler back from the dead. You titled it: "Tail's From the Crypt." The third part of the story you called "Terms of Internment," spoofing the title of the movie Terms of Endearment.
Have you ever met a pun you didn't like, similar to Will Rogers?
No. They say the pun is the lowest form of humor, but I’m determined to see how low it can go.
I also like literature (including comics/graphic novels) that poke fun at iconic cultural figures, which you do with wild abandon. One example of this is a story in your first collection in which a character who looks remarkably like Dr. Phil McGraw is featured, but yours is called Dr. Fillmore McDraw. During a live taping, he's transformed by a talisman into a werewolf. Would you call this a case of poetic justice?
It would depend on his ratings that night!
Mavis Munro, Wolff & Byrd's secretary, has become quite popular in her own right, and even has her own comic book series. She, and Alanna's sister, Corey, I'd say are two of the regular recurring characters that are drawn most in the Archie style. Have you noticed a crossover of Archie fans also liking your comics? If not, they should all run out right now to their local comic book purveyors and buy as many of your comics as they can find!
I agree! I do think there is a slight crossover, and it helps for me to script the occasional Archie series (my recent is Archie: Freshman Year). I have many precocious teens who have discovered Supernatural Law through my Archie comics.
This is sort of a technical question, related to the previous one. Okay, it's going to be two questions, really. First, how long does it generally take you to draw one panel of a story?
Boy, that depends on what’s in that panel!
Secondly, why is it that Mavis, Corey, Betty, Veronica, and Disney princesses all hardly have visible noses unless viewed from the side? I have read that characters appear younger when drawn this way. But (Numero Tres), why are people okay with this, not questioning seeing a character who have a marked proboscis deficiency?
Aren’t comics a wonderful medium? An artist can get away with murder! You answer your own question, Douglas, about characters looking “younger” sans nose bridges. I think once a reader accepts a cartoonist’s quirks, they are along for the ride as long as the story delivers.
Do you come up with the storyline before you start drawing panels?
Absolutely. I need a “blueprint” before I start drawing. A comics story has to have pacing, so it helps to know how to get from A to Z before I put pencil to paper.
Do you feel it is more difficult to draw humans, monsters, or backgrounds, i.e. ones with buildings and cars in them?
I’m not a “technical” artist, so buildings, cars, phones, etc. are generally a pain in the neck to me. It takes me a while to get that thing correct. Occasionally, I’ll have an assistant who is much more apt at doing technical drawing than me. Frankly, the writing and pacing of the story
are what interest me the most.
You relish in reversing expectations of the readers, another aspect of your tales I like. For example, in the story "Stakeout," fifth-generation vampire Mr. Leach refers to a crowd of reporters outside his house as being "bloodsuckers." How you drew them, with their arms outstretched, reminded me of George Romero's zombies.
The monsters are, more often than not, misunderstood creatures, and it's society that judges them wrongly, based on their appearances and clichéd notions of how monsters should behave.
How would you compare your vampires to, say, Stephen King's?
They are far goofier!
What were the comics you liked as a boy, and which influenced you, and what are they now, that you're a man? Also, what do you have in the works currently?
As a kid, I read newspaper comics as diverse as Dick Tracy and Mary Perkins: On Stage and liked them quite a bit. The first time, as I recall, I noticed an artist’s style was Wayne Boring’s Superman. I remember liking the way his stories were drawn, as opposed to the other Superman stories. But I would have to say my biggest influence in comics was Steve Ditko. When I read his Spider-Man, that was when I decided I wanted to draw comics when I grew up! My other influences in comics include Harvey Kurtzman
[for whom the Harvey Awards are named] and Will Eisner, both of whom I have been fortunate to have as instructors at the School of Visual Arts. Today, I enjoy the work of people like Paul Pope, Alex Grecian, James Hudnall and, of course, any new work from Steve Ditko.
If you'd like to check out color examples of Batton Lash's comics, they can be seen on the Internet. Fresh installments come out every Monday and Thursday at
Thanks once again to one of this era's most talented comic book artists & storytellers, Mr. Batton Lash. I and the entire staff here wish you much continued success.
And, comics lovers, if you haven't read any of Lash's work yet, you owe it to yourself to do so ASAP.
Cartoonist Batton Lash was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He studied cartooning and graphic arts at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where his instructors included Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman.
Contributor Douglas R. Cobb interviewed author Batton Lash, author of The Soddyssey and Other Tales of Supernatural Law (see accompanying review), about
his book for curledup.com. Douglas R. Cobb/2009.