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Remembrances of Comic Artists Past

As some of you may know, the comic artist George Tuska passed away recently. It got me to thinking that, as an older comic reader alive during the silver/bronze ages, an entire generation (or two) of artists are reaching their final deadlines.

The first thing you have to realize is that many of these guys started in the 40’s and 50’s. Their talents were not the same as today’s contributors. Their influences were certainly not the same, with many looking to the golden age of newspaper strips as a jumping off point. Many of these folks thought of themselves as ‘cartoonists’ but professionals. This was a job to them and they were there to meet deadlines. It isn’t until the end of the silver age and into the bronze age that people like Neal Adams and Jim Steranko tackle comics as an art form. (More on them later.)

I found myself wanting to share some thoughts on these folks and their place in comics history.(And sometimes my own.) And so, in no particular order I will.

George Tuska-Tuska I remember mostly from Iron Man, although he worked on others in the Marvel cannon and spent some time over at DC as well. There are times I look at Phil Hester and think of Tuska. He was capable of some good action scenes and poses. His effect was always mitigated by whoever was inking him. Sometimes Stan or Roy had a lot of soap opera going on and he needed softening, so Vinnie Colletta worked out. If it was a big fight issue though, someone with a harder edge was needed. His style was such that unless the inker totally redrew it, you’d know it was him.

Don Heck-Don caught a lot of flack late in his career from the letters pages. Many took him to task on his art as it became looser and more stylized. It might not have been to my taste, but I cut him a lot of slack for the hours of entertainment he provided with his early takes on Iron Man and The Avengers. He was conforming to more of a house style (Kirby) then, but when he began back ups in many DC books he still looked solid. It wasn’t until he was able to ink his own stuff that things changed. By then I had enough art chops under my own belt to realize that while it wasn’t what I was looking for from him, he had the right to work things out for himself.

Steve Ditko-The legendary Ditko was a big hit with me when working on Spider-Man. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was responding to his noir-ish take on many scenes juxtaposing Lee’s pop/jokey story and dialogue. I didn’t get into Dr. Strange as much. There was fantastic imagery and he set the stage for Doc’s universe for others to follow. It was too metaphysical for me and I didn’t get into Doc until years later, long after Ditko was gone. I noticed his work over at DC, but it didn’t have the gravity I was looking for from those Spidey adventures. The only thing that came close, and really let him go to town, were the stories he did in the early issues of Warren’s Creepy magazine. Stuff with ink wash and the noir look was back. He did sword and sorcery, wizards and suspense. Otherwise, I knew he was looking for a paycheck and was going through the motions. I felt bad for him.

Bob Brown-More of a bronze ager I guess. He was very prolific at DC then Marvel. He was a guy I just seemed to endure because he was on books I bought regularly. They usually had gorgeous covers to lure you in, but sometimes you gritted your teeth when you saw the interior. Again, a total professional. You always knew what you were getting and it was on time.

Syd Shores-’40’s guy, but excellent inker. He did an awesome job on Kirby and later on Barry Smith’s early Kirby-esque days.

Sal Buscema-At his best when inking brother John. Still, an adequate storyteller, especially early on. Later it took inkers like Klaus Janson to make him interesting. Still I look at him fondly from stints on The Avengers and The Defenders.

Gene Colan-Early artistic experimenter. Clearly wasn’t going to ape Kirby at Marvel. Was really looking at what photographs show when capturing action and trying to depict it. Worked on all the biggies at Marvel (except Spidey) and had a truly impressive run on the Dracula book. Went to DC after bronze age.

Irv Novick-He had a style that fell in with Adams, but didn’t ape him. Always reminded me of the Shell Scott paperback covers. Liked him on Batman better than the Flash. Solid, pleasant story-teller, but usually didn’t blow your socks off.

Mike Sekowsky-Very stylized, instantly recognizable artist from the JLA’s early days. (Although his career started in the ’40’s.) Fared much better when he was inked by Dick Giordano during Wonder Woman’s ‘Emma Peel’ phase.

Sid Greene-Fine lined inker who improved whomever he touched. Made Sekowsky more palatable and brought a nicer science fiction edge to Gil Kane or Carmine Infantino.

Dick Dillon-Another perennial JLA artist. Figures looked a bit stiff always, but you have to remember he was following Sekowsky, so anything by comparison was fluid.

Jim Aparo-Another guy that benefited from Adams rising star, even though he wasn’t a copycat. Actually liked him best when he was doing Phantom Stranger.

Nick Cardy-Cardy had an interesting style that always to me looked like it belonged in ’60’s Playboy. Everyone was slightly cherubic but still athletic. Probably best on western parody Bat-lash. Closest comics ever came to Maverick.

Reed Crandall-Crandall did very fine work in the 40’s but I thought his style was exceptional in the ’60’s & ’70’s in the b&w Creepy magazine. The line work is phenomenal and I reacted to it the same way I did when first discovering Virgil Finlay’s illustrations. A perfect example of an artist getting better with age.

Frank McLaughlin-A solid inker that elevated some middling pencilers. Certainly helped make the decision in some purchases.

Joe Giella-Longtime DC inker on JLA, Flash and Batman among others. Solid but not exceptional. If your style was sketchy he helped solidify things, but not really a positive decision maker in the purchase department for me.

Jack Abel-A fine lined inker that was sometimes a benefit and sometimes not. Your pencilling had to be up to snuff.

Alex Toth-Legendary for his Hanna Barberra character style sheets, Toth started in the ’40’s. His comics output in the ’60’s & ’70’s is spotty, but you can see the style changes happening. Very clean style and enjoyable storytelling. I liked his sense of design and page layout but at this time the flashier stuff was still commanding my interest more. Bought his stuff more out of love for Space Ghost than anything else.

Joe Kubert-I knew who Kubert was as a kid, but didn’t pay much attention to him because he worked almost exclusively on Sgt. Rock. (I didn’t buy war comics as a kid.) That changed when he and DC got Tarzan. I was used to the Gold Key Tarzan and it didn’t do much for me. This was in your face jungle action though. Definitely set the bar in my mind. Still, didn’t buy war comics until I was well into adulthood.

Russ Heath-While I ignored much of Kubert, I couldn’t do the same with Heath. For one, he worked on this little book, Sea Devils, which had beautifully painted covers. The stories were meh, but the art was awesome. Later he surfaced over at Warren magazines and produced some beautiful b&w stuff. He made a terrific contribution on an issue of the National Lampoon. (Back when they were always using top comics talent.) I think he ended the bronze age with a very disturbing issue of Marvel’s Son of Satan. A real talent.

Rich Buckler-This guy became a staple of late ’70’s comics. He was everywhere because he had a vaguely Adams-esque style. He fell out of favor and received a lot of harsh criticism after the bronze age. I found his style entertaining despite its idiosyncracies. As far as I know he always made his deadlines.

Dave Cockrum-I loved his style and design in the ’70’s. This guy was trying to bring the future of Star Trek and Gerry Anderson’s UFO into the pages of any book he was on. Really a product of his time.

Jim Starlin-Cosmic writer and artist. His early stuff didn’t have the deformations apparent in his current work. Vaguely Gil Kane-ish at times.

John Romita-It took me a while to warm up to him as he took over both Spider-Man and Daredevil after my Silver Age favorite artists left. He made the women look better in Spidey, but nobody could top Wood’s women. Eventually he got a little grittier and staged good action scenes. He did a couple of Captain America’s that I thought were better than anything else, but Spidey was the big payday.

Howard Chaykin-The early Howard was pretty funky. (Especially after Adams’ Crusty Bunkers stopped inking him.) It grew on me as did his brand of space opera. I genuinely enjoyed Swords of Sorcery and Iron Wolf.

Alan Weiss-Another member of Adams’ clan of artists. (Like Chaykin) He had a somewhat Adams-ish style and mostly worked back up stories.

Dan Adkins-Solid artist rather reminiscent of Wood. Did more work as an inker than anything else. Helped elevate anyone’s pencils.

Herb Trimpe-Another guy I mostly ignored because he worked almost exclusively on The Hulk. (Wasn’t buying Hulk.) He later began a run on the War of the Worlds feature in Amazing Adventures and I suffered through him for Don McGregor’s stories of Killraven.

Billy Graham-(Not the evangelist, although that would’ve been something.) Billy had a touch of Frazetta to him, so I liked his stuff in the Warren magazines better than his Marvel work. Also, because he was black, Marvel thought he had to work their black characters; so hello Luke Cage and Black Panther. His style was perfect for their horror books, but I don’t think he ever got to touch them.

Mike Ploog-He was working at Will Eisner’s studio, which didn’t get him much comics exposure, but then he left and whammo! He single-handedly jumpstarted Marvel’s horror line. He was doing Monster of Frankenstein, Werewolf by Night, Man-Thing and Ghost Rider. His style was the perfect mix of pop and ‘glop’ for those. Or to put it more succinctly, he was Marvel’s bargain basement Wrightson.

Mike Kaluta-With his obvious Roy Krenkel influences it’s a wonder Kaluta ever took the time to do comics. Still it’s to our benefit that he did. I first saw his work on the Carson of Venus back ups in DC’s Korak. Then he was doing my personal fave, The Frankenstein Monster as a Phantom Stranger back up. (The same one that shows up later in Grant Morrison stories.) But it is with DC’s The Shadow that he makes his mark. Wonderful stuff and the high point, I believe, is issue 5, which is inked by Wrightson. Awesome, if you can find it.

Murphy Anderson-Anderson made Curt Swan somewhat passable for umpteen zillion years on Superman. His touch turned anyone’s pencils to gold and if your pencils were already golden he made them platinum. On his own he took over Hawkman from Kubert, started the Spectre before Adams took over and did many one-shots for DC. One of my favorites from him was the John Carter of Mars backups in the Tarzan DC incarnation.

Dick Giordano-Giordano was already a hotshot when he came to DC from his days with Charleston. He brought some of those artists over with him. His star really rose though as the preeminent inker of Neal Adams. He later co-ran their advertising company, but always kept his comic commitments. Another guy whose work elevated others.

Carmine Infantino-Pop artist innovator for DC’s ’60’s, Infantino brought the ‘new look’ to Batman and made the Flash kitschy. I am indebted to him as a youngster for his ‘How to Draw the Flash’ back up features. He gave good basic skills to emulate and some perspective short cuts that saved me having to work things out myself.

Spanish Artists-In the late ’70’s most comics companies looked to cut costs and so outsourced a lot of art. I don’t know what it did to the bottom line, but it exposed a lot of us to the global comics market for the first time and a lot of beautiful illustrations. Tony DeZuniga, Alfred Alcala, Nestor Redondo, Jose Gonzalez, Alex Nino, Esteban Maroto, Vincent Azalcar, Luis Garcia, Martin Salvador, Ruby Nebres and Pablo Marcos all were noteworthy during this period.

***SUPERSTARS-These are folks that either changed the way everyone looked at comics or just myself at illustration. (That means I was so smitten that I attempted to ape their style to learn something from it.)***

Neal Adams-Adams showed up after the Batman TV craze. He had already had a successful syndicated newspaper strip in Ben Casey. His ‘Heart of Juliet Jones’ style on steroids proved to be very popular. He turned Batman around back into a creature of the night. He dabbled in other genres such as mystery, war and western. He gave an artistic tour de force in the Deadman stories. He broke serious social ground with Green Lantern/Green Arrow. He went to Marvel and was the first artist not to change his name for working with the DC rival. There he did a variety of projects and had impactful runs on X-Men and The Avengers. His style brought about many copycats and opened the doors for younger artists. He blew deadlines because he set up and Ad studio and was making better money there. However, he never abandoned comics and became a proponent for fairer labor practices. He lobbied to get Siegal and Shuster proper credit and payment for creating Superman, and won.

Jim Steranko-Steranko showed up and gradually incorporated a mixture of Kirby, Wood and Eisner into his own pop art fever dreams. He pushed the boundaries of what traditionally printed comics could do with graphic effects and photo collages. He also dabbled in many genres until he felt boxed in and left Marvel. He produced a history of comics and started his own magazine imprint Prevue, which looked at popular entertainment of all types.

Wally Wood-I first encountered him when he took over Daredevil. He had the same thing going for him that Ditko did. Noir-ish look with really solid storytelling and a style I instantly responded to. I initially thought he was going to be there forever. When Daredevil guested in the FF, Wood inked him to keep things consistent. (At the time I didn’t know that Kirby and Wood had already worked together.) When he left I was heartbroken. Then he surfaced with his own line of books at Tower comics and the Thunder Agents. I was reading Mad magazine at the time as well and would get their special issues or paperbacks lampooning comics heroes and he was there as well with Sooperduper Man and Plastical Man. He was the first artist that I actively looked for his work no matter where it appeared. I was overjoyed to find him later in the Warren magazines and actually didn’t mind when he inked others over at DC. He was so strong that it looked like he did the whole thing anyway. (And he brought the whole ’40’s look back to Superman.) I bought the EC reprints when they came out and anything new that he was producing. (Even though I knew by that point that he had a whole studio ghosting for much of his work except for select finishes he provided.) Again, I was heartbroken when he took his life.

Frank Frazetta-Frazetta’s Silver Age and Bronze Age output is mostly a couple of one page strips for Creepy and the covers of it and other Warren magazines. But, the exposure there coupled with his paperback covers made him a definite major impression. Nobody could take paint and create a world, characters and action like he could. It was totally immersive.

Berni Wrightson-Wrightson takes some of Frazetta’s style and couples it with another EC artist Graham Ingles to make horror into something gorgeous. Swamp Thing is a storytelling high along with a few stories in Creepy. As an illustrator he reaches his nadir with the Frankenstein portfolio which I believe he starts at the end of the bronze age, but doesn’t publish until later. (Although some of the illustrations are shown within the bronze age timeline.)

Rich Corben-Corben came from the undergrounds, but segued easily into Warren’s horror magazines. His airbrush work was a big hit, but his pen and ink style is also very solid. He has a semi-characture style that balances out the realistic textures he brings with the airbrush or his inking. His work is unmistakable.

Gray Morrow-Not one that everybody will point to, but his brushwork is fantastic. Like Toth, he can communicate a lot with just lines, but he doesn’t get as reductive as Toth does. If he uses a wash a story is a total home run. Likewise if he paints. But my first exposure is just him inking with some zipatone added and standard ’70’s coloring. Still knocked me for a loop at what he could accomplish. Mostly I wondered why others couldn’t do it as well, but it was his gift. His figures had weight, you could see the effects of gravity, they moved like real people if placed in those circumstances. Few have an eye like he had. Fewer still would’ve used it for illustration. I feel personally lucky that he did.

Gil Kane-Kane’s figures were just beautiful. He had his own way of conveying power and action in a dynamic way that was different than Kirby’s. His anatomy and poses were an inspiration, not only to me, but countless others. I discovered him at DC, but he seemed to make his greatest strides artistically over at Marvel. He was a source of endless inspiration and, besides Burne Hogarth, the person that made you want to master the human form.

Jack Kirby-Kirby was the idea man. I always found his people passable, but nothing to cause emulation. His posing of action and endless gizmos and vehicles though; that was another thing. Kirby could sell super powered fights like no other and he always had awesome money-shots for the finisher. And everything from Reed’s earliest inventions to the Forever People’s Supercycle looked like they could really work in his universe. Great guy for conveying what a character’s surroundings say about him.

Well, that’s it for this entry. I’m sure there are people I’ve left out. You can leave a comment if it’s one of your favorites. I’m sure I’ll think of something and leave one myself as and addendum.

4 Responses to “Remembrances of Comic Artists Past”

  1. Two words.

    John Severin.

    Still alive, too.

  2. You are correct. Because he did so much war-related work I didn’t appreciate him until later. I liked his barbarian-related efforts in the 70’s and later on, his westerns. Found his work at Cracked to be an eye opener. Under appreciated by myself, hopefully not by others.

  3. […] This is something of a follow-up to my post: Remembrances of Artists Past. […]

  4. Ahhhh man, Brad! I’m gonna send this one to my brother. Damn, this brings back some old comic book memories! 🙂

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