An Interview with C.C. Beck
The following interview is a compilation of a series of interviews I conducted with Charles Clarence Beck in the middle and late 1980s. The interviews were both conducted by mail (I would mail him a list of questions, he would type his responses and mail them back from me, whereupon I would concoct follow-up questions to be mailed back to him) and by phone. Too, Beck annotated a good deal of his autobiographical writings for me to refer to and use. In conducting the interviews, I had in mind packaging a book-length overview of Beck’s career in comics, a career I had tremendously enjoyed and one I was eager to further enshrine.
But Beck was not always as cooperative as I might have hoped; he was forthcoming one time, close-mouthed and curmudgeonly the next. (Surprising to me, we were better able to forge ahead in our mailed interviews than we were in our phone sessions; on the phone he seemed more concerned with parrying my every thrust. For example, he told me how thoroughly enjoyed his work on Captain Marvel. But when I later mentioned that he had had fun with his work, he rebuked me, chastising me for having an overly rosy view about the hard work that is drawing comics, “as some sort of fantasy land where weird artists and weirder writers cavort around like fauns in a field of daisies,” as he put it to me. But through the mail, I was able to pose more pointed questions to him—and he was more willing to write candidly.) His written reply to my suggestion that I travel to interview him in person was vintage Beck: “The idea of meeting in person, so popular today when everyone is clamoring for peace talks and get-togethers, is rather foolish; usually nothing is accomplished except to arrange for another meeting at which again nothing will be accomplished.” When I tried to develop a profile of Beck as a human being, he said, “One thing I want to bring to your attention is that my work is much more important than my personal life. Interviews today takegreat delight in probing into the personalities of people, describing their clothing and their hair and what kind of glasses they wear and all that trivia. To me, this is hogwash. Such stuff is written by people just out of a course in writing run by a half-ass professor who believes in ‘caring’ and ‘feeling’ and ‘sharing’ and all that folderol. Phooey on such crap, I say. I’m a professional artist and writer and hope that you are, too. Let’s leave that sob-sister stuff to People magazine and such publications. Or DC.”
Elsewhere, Beck vehemently rejected any efforts on my part to allow readers to become acquainted with C. C. Beck, the man: “I have no sympathy for writers and artists who gabble about ‘art’ and ‘feeling’ and ‘emotion’ and ‘caring’ and all that garbage that is so popular today. This is the mark of the dilettante, the poseur, not of the professional artist. I have always considered myself to be a professional and hope that [these interviews] will make this clear. I’d hate to come across as another old nut who never knew what he was doing until other people told him.”
Throughout our work, Beck strenuously avoided references to DC, whose treatment of him he perceived as shabby; through the years it obviously continued to rankle him. Any mention I made of DC was met with either stony silence (on the phone) or vitriol (in the mailed interviews). As he wrote, “The less we say about DC, the better—let’s pretend they don’t exist as far as we’re concerned.” As we progressed (or failed to progress, as was sometimes the case), I was confronting an increasing sense of frustration on several fronts—a sense we shared. Beck was frequently either unable or unwilling—I often never knew which—to discuss his creative input into the character for which he is best known, Captain Marvel. I often found myself trapped in a semantic cat-and-mouse game in which Beck strove to minimize his work and his creations. (Paradoxically, he was periodically eager to move ahead with the book-packaging project itself, due in part to his acknowledgement of his own mortality—a 1987 letter to me said, “Being in the shape I’m in, I may have a stroke or a heart attack at any time, so let’s do what we can while I’m still around.”) Ultimately, though, I chose to put the book project on my professional back burner. Beck and I never “officially” called it quits on the project, and we occasionally corresponded pleasantly on a number of subjects, including, ironically, his work on Captain Marvel. I have quoted from this later correspondence in this interview, as he proved himself to be a more forthcoming correspondent once the mike was turned off, and much of what he said later helped to set the historical record straight.