Geek: Given the manner of his sudden death and the circumstances around it, do you think that maybe dulled some of the knives his critics had for him? Denis Kitchen, in particular, seemed like he had a pretty acrimonious relationship with Todd, but even there, some of the hostility was burned away.
Davidov: Well, yes, I’ve heard far harsher comments from people who wouldn’t speak on camera, because “they didn’t want to speak ill of the dead.”
Geek: Was there anything you discovered about Todd after assembling the film that you didn’t know originally?
Davidov: Yes, Todd was a very complicated and fascinating character, with a very unique perspective on life. I had a chance to listen to some audiotapes he recorded of his thoughts on different issues – politics, school, government, freedom of speech, etc., and those were in some cases, quite extreme sounding to me. He was his own brand of a libertarian, and he believed in an Ayn Rand type of philosophy. I also didn’t expect quite the level of controversy he had stirred up in both the comics industry and the music industry.
Geek: What do you think your best or most memorable piece of work was while on Rock’n’Roll Comics Comics?
Conte: I wrote KISS (#9), New Kids on the Block (#12) and Led Zeppelin (#13) for Revolutionary. I'm proud of all three of them as they sold in the tens of thousands and were reprinted more than once. I also edited Aerosmith (#11) and a few others that were uncredited. Before Revolutionary hired me, Todd was the series' sole writer and editor and primarily used an artist named Larry Nadolsky for each issue. Greg Fox, an artist whom regularly visited my store and had shared my love for classic rock, illustrated my stories. Greg's art was more appealing to comic book collectors. We made a great team.
Geek: What do you think Todd’s legacy is the comic industry?
Conte: Todd's concept of a monthly comic book based on musicians was ahead of its time. There were certainly comics published in the genre since the 1940s but Revolutionary was the first to offer a regular series. Later the company expanded its line to include sports figures and other celebrities. Todd would have earned the respect of his peers if he had a) treated his creators properly and b) improved the quality of his publications to have equaled or surpassed the standard of work being published by Marvel, DC and leading independent companies of the day. Instead, Todd is remembered by most as a schlock businessman who took advantage of those around him and used the First Amendment as an opportunity to capitalize for himself.
Geek: Although it seems like he enjoyed antagonizing bands more than anything else, were there times when he was happy when a band or artist was thrilled with their portrayal? Was there ever anyone he was starstruck by or was that even in his DNA?
Sanford: You’re mistaken that he “enjoyed antagonizing bands.” He LOVED the bands! Todd lived for rock ‘n’ roll music. He enjoyed antagonizing the marketing reps who held licensing rights to the bands’ merchandise. He liked thumbing his nose at fellow publishers who criticized his comics. And he openly mocked the music media for allowing themselves to become vehicles for puppet press releases instead of practicing actual objective journalism, as the Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics writers were doing.
But when it came to the performers themselves, there’s nothing that thrilled Todd more than one of them giving a “thumbs up” that one of his comics did a good (and truthful and thorough) job telling their story. He was so jazzed about Billy Gibbons praising our ZZ Top comic that he mentioned it in at least two editorials.
One of Todd’s biggest musical heroes was Frank Zappa. When Todd found out that Zappa told an L.A. paper that he liked the comic we did on him, calling it “strangely parallel to reality,” Todd sent Zappa the actual cover painting by Scott Jackson, framed with a copy of the comic itself. This was shortly before Todd died, and I don’t know if he ever heard back from Zappa directly.
But, a few years later, I had a phone conversation with Zappa’s wife Gail, and she said Frank had the art and comic hanging in his office when he too passed away, around a year and a half after Todd.
That, for Todd, would have been one of the greatest tributes to what he wanted to accomplish with Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics. Frank Zappa liked our Viva La Bizarre comic book enough to hang the cover art in his office.
You can find out more about Unauthorized: The Story of Rock N
Roll Comics, including stills, art, and the trailer, on its official site before its DVD release on April 24th (you can preorder it here).