What was your relationship like with Billy Graham as well as Don?
Buckler was great on the book, but I was especially thrilled when Billy Graham joined the series for two reasons: One, the lush artwork that he created just took Black Panther to another level. Two: Well, let me set up a little backstory on the relationships [between] Don, Billy, and me.
I met Don McGregor at Phil Seuling's New York Comic Con in 1969. I was in my last year of high school and I believe Don was about 20 or 21. We met in the hotel room of a particular artist, whose name I'll mention in a moment.
This artist had invited a number of people to come up there and hang out while he told great stories from his experience. He did this while performing a remarkable series of magic tricks. This incredible individual was Jim Steranko. I want you to understand that this room was packed with people and I happened to be sitting next to Don and his wife. We were all watching Jim do his thing. But somehow we got to exchanging some thoughts, and the next thing we both knew we were talking like we were the only two people there.
We talked about comics and films and TV shows, and all these things that we were creatively fans of. Let's face it—we loved our heroes saving people in distress, which was part of what made up our imagination, our lives, and our code.
A year later Don and I are at another Phil Seuling Comic Con, but this time we had a comic book project that we’d just worked on together. This was the first ever issue of DETECTIVES INCORPORATED, the series that Don created and wrote, and has since produced more stories with some really spectacular artists.
But at that time I was his artist and had Illustrated and printed the first issue in Rhode Island, stapled them together, and we brought them to Comic Con that year to show off the books.
And we sat in on a panel for a publishing company called Warren Publications. They did a series of black-and-white comic magazines such as Creepy, and Eerie, and Vampirella. To name a few.
You can't put the two of us anywhere and expect normality to reign. James Warren was on the panel and he talked afterwards and I approached him. We were talking, and at some point we open our big mouths and inserted both our feet and said something playfully teasing about this artist that they had at Warren Publications. Warren saw a great opportunity to fry our butts, called over the artist and said, “Well, say that to his face.” That artist was Billy Graham, possibly one of the few if not the only Black artists working in comic books at that time. Certainly he was the only Black art director in comics.
Rather than punch us both out, the four of us wound up joking and talking. We went out to eat together and over the next few months Don, Billy, and I became good friends.
There are a thousand and one wonderfully outrageous buddy stories I could tell you about Don and Billy and I hanging out in Harlem, in the West Village of Manhattan, and on the road from New York to Rhode Island. But you don't have enough time in your [article] for that. So here I'll simply say that my being there and watching all of this come together and sometimes having the opportunity to discuss aspects of the stories with Don or Billy or both... those were some of the most exciting times I had in those years.