The Man Behind The Curtain
Even every day people have secret identities.
This next interview was a little different, but the first of many of its kind. At most of our panels, there's a least one wide-eyed worried face asking an important question:
What about the guys who are gone?
Then: You'll be covering them won't you?
Short answer: OF COURSE!
In June I was living in Brooklyn, and one night while cleaning the ol' Charlton Gmail bin I found an e-mail from Paul Kupperberg asking if I needed contact info for Pete Morisi's kids. Well heck, I'm just a bus ride away from them, so let's see if they wanna chat!
After a 3 hour failed attempt of trying to hitch the bus during the Pride Weekend parade (side note: DO NOT attempt to take the bus during the Pride Parade!!!), I finally made it to the Morisi boys!
You know you're in good company when you're greeted with humor - Val Morisi opened his front door, took one look at me, and said, "Are you a hired gun?!? You're too young to know Charlton!"
The legend of Pete Morisi is a favorite among a lot of fans with the reasons split between great artwork, and the fact that Pete assumed the secret identity of PAM... or to those who weren't savvy on Pete's use of the letter "M" - PA 3!
Pete was a man of two dreams: Becoming a police officer and working in comics. He fulfilled both.
I think this documentary is especially lucky that we have insider stories from the perspective of Pete's sons... because the legend of PAM just went from amazing to epic!
Pete started off freelancing in comics, but with a family to support, it isn't a surprise that he needed a steady income larger than an artist's salary. In 1956 he put in his notice that he'd be leaving the comics industry to work as a New York City police officer.
After Pete assumed his duties as an NYPD officer, technically he wasn't allowed to work side jobs anymore. "Moonlighting" was strictly forbidden because it would distract you mentally and physically from the demands of being a police officer.
But, if you're a real Morisi fan, you'll know Pete was lifelong fanboy, he just couldn't resist working in comics. (I'm sure the extra income was also helpful). His sons, Val and Russ, told me that it's easy to spot if their Dad's artwork was done during his NYPD years... just look for the PAM signature!
[Pete (lower right) working dispatch]
We got down to details when I asked about growing up with full time cop and artist. Val and Russ assured me that he was just another Dad, except with a rotating cop's schedule, then working on comics in his off time, so they never knew if he was coming or going! They also told me that they grew up in the projects of Brooklyn. ALL apartments in New York are shoeboxes, but with 3 boys and wife, where the heck did Pete get all his work done? I innocently asked - Did he have a studio at home?
Russ jumped in quick to remind me that they lived in the projects - space was limited - BUT it just so happened that by the front door was a walk-in coat closet just big enough for a drawing table and a chair. He said his father hung up a curtain in the doorway and this served as his artist's studio!
...Here's where it gets fun!
The boys told me that his secret identity was only know to them, their mother, and their uncle (who helped letter for Pete). They said that if they brought a guest over unannounced (which was rare), Pete would make a mad dash to quickly draw the curtain on his closet studio and hide the evidence.
Frankly I think that's much cooler than the Batcave!
The boys said that Pete took advantage of having his studio at home by using the family as models! ... well, except Val because he was a moving target!
Pete would set up a curtain, help them into a pose that he needed and snap Polaroids for reference. We were leafing through old comics and the boys pointed which illustrations were from reference and who was the model!
This panel in particular features Pete's wife as herself, then in a second pose wearing a cheap Halloween werewolf mask!
I think I spent almost 4 hours chatting with Val and Russ, and I'm forever grateful for their stories and pictures. This documentary is honored to have them on board!
Their interview could have easily been done over the phone, but EVERY person who helps us on our journey is part of the documentary family, so I love getting face time to really form a bond.
Now I know there's at least one of you out there reading this asking... 'Ummm hey, there's another Morisi son out there, AND he collaborated with Pete... so what gives? What about him?"
Fear not! This is only Part 1 of a 2 part Morisi interview. Pete's other son lives in PA, and he's ready to share his side, so stay tuned... I'm coming for ya Steve!
I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say I can't wait to hear more stories from the behind the curtain of the Chesterfield scented hall closet in the continuation of the legend of PAM!
Up and Atom!