Everett Raymond Kinstler: A Portrait of an Artist
I’m here with Everett Raymond Kinstler, who got his start in comic books in the 1940s before becoming one of America’s most prominent portrait artists. He has painted over 1200 portraits of leading figures in business, entertainment and government, including the official portraits of Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Mr. Kinstler, I’d like to ask you a few questions for my readers.
Carl: Did you want to be an artist when you were a kid?
Everett Raymond Kinstler: I think, Carl, when I started to draw, I must have been about 5 or 6, which is not unusual. You probably drew when you were that age, too. I think most children pick up a pencil or crayon and draw before they can almost walk or speak. So I started drawing when I was very young, and what I did was I would copy from the newspapers and magazines. I would copy pictures. And from books that I liked. So the answer to that question is yes, I drew when I was very, very young, four or five or six.
Carl: Interesting. Did you have a teacher who got you interested in art?
Mr. Kinstler: What, my friend? Sorry.
Carl: Did you have a teacher who got you interested in art?
Mr. Kinstler: No. I was interested in art, as I say, around six, and I remember when I went to public school I had an art class, and one of the things we did in art class was those among us, let’s say there were 40 in a classroom, there were maybe one or two who, like me, were interested in art. So I remember when I went to PS 166, which is still there, I think, on 89th Street, on the West Side. Once a year we did murals in – do you know what tempera is? – it’s a water-based paint – have you heard of things like poster colors? Well these are poster colors that are with water. And we would get these little jars of poster paints and do on paper big murals. And there were about 2 or 3 of us in the classes, as I remember.
And then when I went to high school, I went to a high school that focused a great deal, and was really for students who were interested in art and drawing. And I went to the High School of Music and Art, and I would then have been about 13. That was the first time I really had art, and really had an art teacher. I guess I was about 13, and for better or worse I left high school when I was 15.
Carl: What do you have the most fun painting?
Mr. Kinstler: People. I liked copying…when I was growing up we had a lot of comic strips. See, today you have comic books. When I was growing up, the daily newspaper had comic strips. They ran four panels to a page. And right across the whole page. And then Sunday they had a supplement, which meant a separate section, which was quite large. And they had probably 16 pages of comics.
My three favorites were Tarzan, which was done by a wonderful artist named Harold Foster, and then he left Tarzan and other artists did it, and then he started a comic strip called Prince Valiant, which took place in the days of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And the second strip I liked was Flash Gordon, which was done by Alex Raymond. And that was mainly futuristic, science fiction. And it was the beginning of the super heroes, before they knew about this. In fact, do you remember the movies Star Wars?
Mr. Kinstler: Well they were all inspired by Flash Gordon. So, I was very influenced by Flash Gordon, by Prince Valiant and there was a third strip which was called Terry and the Pirates, which was done by a wonderful artist named Milton Caniff. And this used to appear in the daily newspaper and then it would appear in the Sunday papers. And in those days, what they had was something called a syndicate which was a corporation that would take the comic strip and they may have had access to 400 newspapers. In other words, they had a newspaper in New York, they would have one in Long Island, they would have two in California – they had 400 newspapers so that strip would appear in all 400 every day. So that people all across the country, it was so popular.
So, I used to copy from Terry and the Pirates, Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant, and then it was also the beginning of comic books. I think Superman came out around 1937, so I was about 10 or 11 years old. The comics books were ten cents apiece. I think the first big comic book was really Superman.
Now when I say “comics,” just so your listeners and readers understand, you have cartoons, which I think more as being funny and where they caricature the person, where he has big ears, like Mickey Mouse, but then you’ve also got adventure strips, comic strips, which are really more like illustration: more realistic. And that’s what I was doing.
So, I had Tarzan, Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates, and then there were the comic books, which I started reading. And Superman I think was the first, certainly the first famous comic book that came out.
Carl: Very neat. Did you read comic books when you were a kid?
Mr. Kinstler: Well, as I say, the first time I saw them was when I was about your age, and I just would buy them, and I was drawing my own little comic strips. I’d make up characters, and I’d make up stories. And so I would draw them just for myself. But yes, I read them all the time. But mainly I read the Sunday funnies, and the daily newspapers. Mainly the Sunday. It was a big event to get this big newspaper. It was all in color. In the Sunday comic strip pages there must have been 10 different characters, similar to the ones I just told you about.
Carl: Cool. You were 18 when you started working in comic books…
Mr. Kinstler: How old?
Mr. Kinstler: 16! Gotta correct that right away! It was just before my 16th birthday. I took a job, accepted a job when I was in high school, but it meant working 6 days a week, on salary. And I took the job. My father agreed to let me leave school, and I took the job, and I was in an office in a comic book publishing house on West 45th Street in Manhattan, and I used to go to work every morning; I was there by 9:00 and I would ink pages. Somebody would pencil them, then they would go out to the letterer who would put the balloons, you know, what people say, and then they would come back and I would ink over his pencil lines. And that’s how I started. I was almost 16 years old. And then after doing that for a year, I asked him if I could do my own total, pencil and ink. Because you know the way it works. You pencil them, then it goes to a letterer, and then you bring it back and you ink over the pencil lines. And I asked if I could do my own pencils and my own inks, which I did. So, I was really doing that when I was 17 or 18.
Carl: Wow. I’d like to ask you some questions about some comics you worked on that I brought with me.
Mr. Kinstler: Where’d you ever get those?
Carl: Comic book shows and trades.
Mr. Kinstler: Oh really?
Mr. Kinstler: Mind if I take it out and look at the cover? Now I know that I did not do the cover. I don’t remember this at all. I don’t know who published Mystery Comics. I worked for just a few places that kept me busy. And what I did, Carl, was that I decided when I was 17 to take art classes where I could draw people from life and I – do you know what the expression freelance means?
Mr. Kinstler: Well what it means is, if you work on salary, you work 5 days a week and get paid. And I asked my publisher if he would give me enough work that I could work at home. And that was called freelance. You were free. And I went to art school in the afternoon and I did the comics in the morning and the evening.
I want to see because I don’t remember Mystery Comics at all.
Mr. Kinstler: I want to see who published it. William Wise – I don’t remember them at all.
Carl: You did the Silver Knight story in it.
Mr. Kinstler: Which one?
Carl: The Silver Knight.
Mr. Kinstler: Isaacs, Raymond, Battefield…. You’re right! It’s partly mine. So, this would be 1944
so I was 17. O.K. it says here by Isaacs, Raymond and Battefield. Well the pencils were done — the drawings were done by Ken Battefield and then I inked it. So it’s really not — I would not say that it is mine. I inked over somebody else’s drawings. My middle name was Raymond, and when I first
started doing these I just used Everett Raymond to shorten my name. But, either I inked these or penciled them, but Ken Battefield was a penciler. These were my inkings. I did not draw these. So, I really don’t, Isaacs may have been the man who lettered it or wrote the story, but this is about the earliest I can date back and that was just a period, Carl, of 6 months where I was doing inking. Mainly I did penciling – excuse I was doing inking.
Mr. Kinstler: Yeah, OK. Remember when I told you that I asked my publisher if I could go freelance?
Mr. Kinstler: O.K. the first work I did as freelance was Black Hood which was part of the — you see it was signed Everett Raymond. I drew, I think, the first story, maybe. No, that’s not mine. The cover’s mine, and I did about four of them for Black Hood.
Carl: It’s the last story.
Mr. Kinstler: This one is mine; I definitely know that. That was the one that was called “The Case of The Friendly Murder.” That was definitely all mine, pencils and inks. And these were among the first strips that I did. So, this was, what, 1945? I think.
Carl: How were you able to draw a story in it and paint a cover right at the beginning of your career?
Mr. Kinstler: Well, remember I told you that I was working with pencil?
Mr. Kinstler: And then when I decided to go to art school to learn to draw and work with live models. I went and asked if I could get the complete story to do. So, on certain cases when I was doing the Black Hood they asked if me if I would do the cover. That’s all. It was not all that complicated or unusual, particularly.
Mr. Kinstler: What’s that there? Is that Hawkman?
Carl: It’s Flash.
Mr. Kinstler: Yeah, that was Hawkman, right? That’s very rare, that one. Yeah, that was also one were I did the cover. I did two or three Hawkman comic strips. I remember them. So, what’s your next question?
Carl: You painted the Hawkman cover for Flash Comics #87 but the Hawkman story you drew is in Flash #89. Do you remember if they were originally supposed to go together or did they just happen one after the other?
Mr. Kinstler: Hmm. Well I am going to take a second and look and maybe I can remember. I know the cover. I remember this one. This is mine, it’s the same. It did not happen separately. This is my cover and this was my script. The opening one, in fact…It’s got my “drawn by Everett Raymond” on it. It’s from 1947. Sometimes they were done a year before. So, it might have been done in ‘46 and come out in ’47.
But the point is, it was 1946, I had come back from the army and I got out of the army at the end of ‘46 so this was ‘47. This was probably the first comic strip I did, comic book I did, when I came out of the army. But I remember doing this and I was very influenced by Flash Gordon. The Hawkman I did was very much based on Flash Gordon, how he looked. So I’m not sure that I’ve answered your question but …
Dad (from behind the camera): That’s added information, I would say. I don’t think anybody knows you drew that one. (note: this is based on the fact that nowhere is it noted that Mr. Kinstler drew this Hawkman story in Flash Comics #87, even though it is noted widely that he drew the cover and equally often noted that he drew the Hawkman story in Flash Comics #89).
Mr. Kinstler: Oh yes, my name is right on it – right here.
Carl: Oh yeah!
Mr. Kinstler: “Drawn by Everett Raymond” …See, my name is not on the cover, so it would be the opposite. You’d think I knew he did this because my name is there, but it’s not on the cover. They didn’t like you to put your name on the cover because they didn’t want the artist to become too well know, because sometimes they would fire the artist and get somebody new, and they wanted you to keep buying the magazine. But the cover and the first story were definitely mine.
Mr. Kinstler: Pancho Villa! That was Avon!
Mr. Kinstler: Pancho Villa! You know that was a real person, did you know that?
Mr. Kinstler: Yes, Pancho Villa was a Mexican but depending on which kind of history you were taught, he was ether a Robin Hood or a terrorist. But he was a real person I think he was Mexico’s #1 gangster but to a lot of people he was a hero. That he rescued the Mexicans from dictatorship. So I did the cover, I remember that, and my name is in full on that, and I don’t believe I did anything on the inside on this one. What would happen often, Carl, is I would get a cover to do but not the inside story or sometimes I would do the inside story and not the cover. Let’s see, this was Avon. It doesn’t say what year but it would probably have been around 19… close to 1950, I would think. I remember these.
They used to have certain comic books that might be of interest, what they used to call one-shots, which means that they would print one and there would be one Pancho Villa and there would never be another. Whereas with Hawkman or The Flash you would have maybe a series that would go on and on. In fact, Hawkman, other artists did, lasted for…I think it’s still being published.
Carl: Pancho Villa by Avon from 1950 is interesting because no one seems to know who drew the story. When you were working in comics, would you know who else was working on the book as a writer, penciller or inker?
Mr. Kinstler: Yes, I would know all of them, because we would see each other when we came up to the office with our work. But the artists I remember, mainly, most of the work I began to do was for Avon. I worked for DC and I worked for other houses, but mainly, most of it was done for Avon in the ‘50s. And the 3 artists that I remember, one was Frank Frazetta, who became very, very well known, and his work went for a great deal of money. He did science fiction. Conan was one of his characters. And then there was a man named Wally Wood, who was very good and did everything and he worked for Mad Magazine for a while. And the third one died about two years ago, and artist named Joe Kubert, who started a cartoon school out in NJ, somewhere. And he did Hawkman for years and then he did Tarzan for the newspapers, and in addition to having the school he was, I suppose lasted longer than any of them. He was very, very good.
I don’t think I saw any of them, in fact I know I didn’t, after the years I was in comics, when I was in my 20s. I never ran into or saw any of them again, ever. Not any particular reason. I’d read about them, but I think what happened, was that, the people I talked about, like Kubert, Frazetta, Wally Wood, all stayed in comics. I left comics when I was about 28. I must sound awfully old to you! And I started doing magazine covers, paperback covers, and I started to get very interested in painting portraits of people.
So, my comic book career lasted about 12 years, and that was the end of it. I never went back, never did them again. Not that I didn’t enjoy them, but I was just moving in a different direction. It was almost like somebody who maybe was a radio actor and went to television, or went from television to movies. It wasn’t better, it was just different. Does that answer that, do you think?
Mr. Kinstler: Good. I like your questions.
Carl: Thanks. Did the Pancho Villa story lead to your work on Zorro? Or is that just a coincidence?
Mr. Kinstler: No, not a coincidence. The other publisher after I was working with Avon most of the stories were short (six or seven pages) and I had moved into this building that we are now in and I had more expenses and I needed more work. The problem always with artists is you have to make a living and there was a publishing company it was part of Dell it was called Western Printing and western had nothing to do with the West, it was just the name and they were just a few blocks from here. They used to publish whole books with one artist. You know there was all the other books and it looked like there were 3 or 4 of us. Western Printing always did one artist on one book on one figure.
I did a couple of comics for them and they then decided they were going to try to revive the character of Zorro, which was originally a movie that was something called a silent movie before talkies. It was a very popular movie – there were two movies, Zorro and The Son of Zorro which were silent movie. And then they made several talkies with Hollywood people. The character had been created, the Zorro person had been a novel and written by, I think it was someone in California and he was more or less a Robin Hood. But anyways did you know that the word “zorro” is Spanish. Do you know what it means?
Mr. Kinstler: Fox.
Mr. Kinstler: As a fox that is very quick and sly – it moves quickly at night. So, he created the character Zorro and he became very, very popular. When I went I was looking for work – one always had to look for work – and I went up to see the editor there and his name was Matt Murphy and he said that they were going to try a new series on Zorro and see if it was going to be popular. So, I did the first issue and I think it was called The Sword of Zorro. It was very successful. They did very well. So much so that they revived the whole Zorro and I did three of them on my own. I remember doing The Sword of Zorro, the – not The Mask that was the original movie was The Mask of Zorro, The Sword of Zorro, The Return of Zorro anyway there were three whole books and they were about 40 pages. So, if there are 40 pages are you good at math?
Mr. Kinstler: OK. If I do 6 pictures a page and I do 40 pages, how many pictures?
Mr. Kinstler: Right! So I would do 240 pictures. We did, I remember I did three Zorro’s, the whole book, it was more than any other strips I did that was the most fun because I was so involved with it for 240 or 250 pictures. That led to three books for them and then we did couple more of what they called one-shots, meaning like the Pancho Villa, which was not Western Printing. But I’m doing one called Western Marshal and then they had one called Silver Tip which we ran through 5 or 6. And then I was beginning to do paperback covers and that was the last comic book work that I did.
Carl: Space Detective…
Mr. Kinstler: Ah, yes. Space Detective, I remember that one! Quite a cover.
Mr. Kinstler: What kind of cover did you call it?
Carl: “Crazy” cover.
Mr. Kinstler: You bet it was crazy!
Carl: How did you get the idea for this?
Mr. Kinstler: Well, I didn’t always. Generally what would happen, is there were writers who would write stories…first, I guess what would happen is the publisher would decide they were going to do a certain type of comic book. And then they’d have to find the artist who would, they feel, would be able to do that kind…there were certain artists, Carl, who were known for doing science fiction, others for detective stories, others for westerns and I was known a bit more for doing westerns- Zorro, cowboys, Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok. But I had done some science fiction for this company and they just called me one day and said, “We need a cover for Space Detective and we would like the character with a space gun with a monster and a pretty girl. That’s not very different today. But I did a couple of others for them, Space, I did the insides but not the covers.
Carl: You didn’t sign the cover of Space Detective #3, but you did sign your name on other comics. And some you only signed “Everett Raymond”, not your full name. Why did you do that and how did you decide whether to sign a cover or not?
Mr. Kinstler: Well, #1, most places didn’t like you to sign your name. I think that they were wrong, but they didn’t want the artists to get too well known or too important. Because my name was long– Everett Raymond Kinstler — I thought that I would just shorten it and use Everett Raymond and it was easier. But then as I got a little…I had more of a reputation, I went to my full name that was all. I just used my pseudonym … but unfortunately there is no nickname for Carl, but if your name is Richard they might call you Dick or if your name is Robert they might call you Bob. And so I used just the first part of my name, Everett Raymond, and then I decided to go back and use my full name because I was using it on, when I was doing paperback covers or magazine illustrations, I used my full name, so I thought, it’s the same person.
Mr. Kinstler: O.K.? You sure?
Carl: It looks like at the beginning of your comic book career, you worked with a lot of different publishers, but later mostly worked with Avon. How did that happen?
Mr. Kinstler: They gave me more work. They liked my work and I liked them. That’s a very good question. It was very important for me to be with people who were sympathetic to what I did. Certain publishers (first) since Detective Comics which was the Superman group and Hawkman -they would not let you sign your name, and I, for whatever reasons, I thought that it was my work, I would like my name on it. Avon said sure sign your name wherever on anything you did. So, I enjoyed them more, they were less critical by that I mean, with some of the other places like the Detective Comics, they always had some criticisms, “change this, do that, don’t do this, do this”, whereas with Avon they basically said to me was, “Ray just go ahead and do whatever you are comfortable with.” They were easy to work with, I had total freedom as an artist and of course that had a big effect on me. I was, in short, more comfortable.
It’s almost like you went to school and you like one teacher and you didn’t like another and so, I think the teacher that, it seems to me, that you might enjoy you would be more inclined to take those classes whereas, if you took a course and you didn’t like the teacher or dislike the teacher you wouldn’t want to go to that class much. It’s the same thing with my doing the comics. I worked with the editors and art directors that liked me and they said, “You do it your way, we like what you do.”
Mr. Kinstler: That makes sense, don’t you think?
Carl: How did you go from being a comic book artist to painting famous people?
Mr. Kinstler: You live long enough! I never thought that I would paint famous people. I always liked drawing people. Almost all the comics that I did were of people – detectives, cowboys, whatever. I guess I should say that I started to paint portraits, and here and there I would get someone who was famous, like an astronaut or a movie star or a person in the government. But, I just painted people as they came, one after the other, and some were famous and most were not.
Carl: Oh, interesting
Carl: You’ve painted two Presidents of the United States. Could you have imagined that when you were a kid?
Mr. Kinstler: Well, actually I painted 8 presidents of the United States!
Carl: Oh, can you tell me what their names were?
Mr. Kinstler: Should I tell him?
Dad: He can know.
Mr. Kinstler: Alright, I’ll tell you. I painted 8, you mentioned 2 and I think maybe what you meant – I’ll tell what I mean by 2 in a minute – I painted first Richard Nixon, and then I painted Herald Ford, and then I painted Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, two Bushes, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump. So that’s 8. Two of them, the one of Reagan and the one of Ford, are the ones in the White House. The others went to different places like: The House of Representatives, the Capital, The Museum of Gerald Ford in Michigan and The National Portrait Gallery in Washington. So, there were 8 presidents who posed for me. No, I could never have imagined. I could never in my wildest dreams, when I was 25 years old thought that I would be – I never thought about it, I was just trying to make a living and just working.
Carl: Oh, neat! If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself as a kid?
Mr. Kinstler: That’s easy to answer. Your father is going to have to agree with me. Whatever you decide to do if you can earn your living doing something that makes you happy.
I think one is very lucky and blessed if you can earn your living doing something that you can enjoy. I decided to leave school when I was 15 because I wanted to be an artist and my father loved me, I had the talent and I think he felt that I was – I had the right values, the things that were important. He said to me something I never forgot I was 15 which is not that much older than you he said to me, “You’re a lucky young man you’re going to be able to earn your living doing something that you enjoy, don’t ever forget it.” And I am very lucky today to get up in the morning and be able to work and love doing what I do.
Carl: That’s good advice.
Mr. Kinstler: It doesn’t matter what you do if you find joy and happiness and stimulation you’ve got an answer. What do you think you’ll do?
Carl: I don’t know, maybe draw comic books or edit them.
Mr. Kinstler: Good for you! I want to hear about what you are doing and if you get to be really famous, maybe you’ll commission me to do your portrait. I could paint you as Batman or Superman!
Mr. Kinstler: These are good questions!
Carl: Thanks. Do you have a favorite painting you’ve made?
Mr. Kinstler: The next one! The next one is always going to be the best one. You’ve got to believe that. There are a few, Carl, that… there are some of my children that have meaning to me. I don’t really think I have a favorite. Sometimes some of the people I painted meant a great deal to me, not necessarily famous people but people who I had a relationship with or whom I admired. Sometimes I felt this is a better painting than most of the paintings I did, and I thought that might be a favorite. But, no, I really don’t, except for those who, maybe family, or some sentiment. I think you can see how quickly I picked up, and I see you have Jesse James. I remember doing those and that’s 70 years ago. So, when you get to be editor or publisher, you’ll keep me in mind.
Carl: Yeah! You’ve done so much and I know you’re really busy, so just one last question: Do you still have fun painting?
Mr. Kinstler: I can’t wait to get up in the morning and work! That’s why I say you’re very lucky if you can find a profession that enjoy doing – I mean that, I really do. My bones are getting a little creaky and I’m getting grumpier, but I’m still adorable and I enjoy doing what I do! And you’re a delight, I really am very pleased we had this little visit.
Mr. Kinstler: I hope you get something out of this and I want to hear what he’s up to.
Dad: I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Carl: Thank you for answering my questions, it was really nice to meet you.
Mr. Kinstler: Thank you sir, pleasure, pleasure. Keep me in mind!
Carl: I will.
Mr. Kinstler: I wish you had been my editor when I was 16 but you weren’t even- nobody even you were around at that time.