I am one of those people who love Christmas time, but I am also one of those people who complains about the early onset of the Holiday season when it shows up in stores and ads before Halloween is even over.
But, for the past two weeks when I’ve gone grocery shopping I’ve taken a long, slow look at the dairy case, in particular the milk shelves, searching for the nectar of the gods that most people know as Egg Nog, and today I found it.
I’ve never tried Land O’ Lakes brand, but since they don’t sell my favorite T.G. Lee brand here in the Black Hills of South Dakota and this was the only kind on the shelf, I’ll have to give it a try.
And as far as I’m concerned…the Holiday Season has officially arrived!
Next Monday my younger brother Mark and his beautiful wife Pia celebrate their 30th Wedding Anniversary. In honor of that momentous event, today’s Throwback Thursday takes us back to my brother Mark’s wedding with photos of my brother and I with our parents and a smaller photo with our maternal grandmother.
Happy, Happy 30th Anniversary to two of the best people I know in the world!
Note: I originally wrote this as a single post, but it turned out to be much too long for a single reading, so I divided it up into 4 parts; 1 for each artist. Part 1 contains my intro to the article and features Jack Kirby. Part 2 features John Byrne. Part 3 features John Romita, Sr.
Neal Adams – I don’t know of another comic book artist who made more of a splash when he entered the industry than Neal Adams. Technically, most comic book artists of that era would be called cartoonists. That’s how many of them referred to themselves and it’s how a lot of “artists” in other fields referred to them. I picked up a book one time entitled “How To Be a Cartoonist” and part of the book dealt with comic book artwork, specifically superheroes. If I think “cartoonist” I’m thinking Mighty Mouse, Casper The Friendly Ghost, and most of the comic strips in national syndication, so using that term for comic book artists was always confusing to me. But that’s the way it was.
Neal Adams was by no means a cartoonist. Adams was, more accurately, an illustrator. And as an illustrator his realistic art in a comic book was like a bomb had been dropped in the industry.
Adams had done artwork previously for Warren Comics which published titles like Creepy and Eerie, but I never saw those books because they were magazine format books, not comic format books, and I don’t believe the Rexall Drug store or 7-11 convenience store even carried them because of the nature of the stories. I would not discover them until years later when I visited a real newsstand and magazine store near my high school.
The first time I saw Adam’s work in a comic book (or more accurately, “on” a comic book) was the cover of Action Comics 356, which was his first work for a mainstream comic book company, DC Comics. Honestly, I don’t recall being overly excited about the cover. You can see the seeds of what will become the “Adams style” in that cover, but there’s really not much that stands out.
All the comic book databases I checked out list Adams as the cover artist, with no separate inker mentioned, so that probably means Adams inked his own pencils. My feeling, especially about Adams’ inking of his own pencils in his early career, was that they were sometimes hit or miss in their effectiveness. I think this first cover was one of the misses.
That same month, Adams would do the cover for another title I collected, Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane 79 and here the image is pure Adams. The casual slouch of Superman, the massive physique of Titanman, the diminutive figure of Lois and the even smaller figure of the reverend, combined with the absolutely atmospheric effect of sun rays streaming from the top right corner all combine to make you feel like you’re sitting on the church pew next to Superman watching this scene unfold. I think the biggest change for fans of Superman is that he no longer looks like a mass of muscle shapes, but actually looks like he has the realistic muscular physique of a real man. In fact, all of Adams’ figures would look much more realistic than fans were ever used to seeing when they read a comic book.
Adams got his first complete story assignment as penciller for The Elongated Man back up series in Detective Comics 369, which was also the flagship title for Batman, a hint of things to come. You can see how Adams employs his photorealistic style and his habit of using different angles and points of view to bring an unusual amount of action and perspective to his art. He then went on to draw several issues of Deadman (which became a breakout fan favorite and resulted in Adams being inducted into the Alley Award Hall of Fame), as well as stories and covers for The Spectre and Teen Titans.
Then Adams did something that was almost unheard of at the time; while still doing freelance work for DC Comics, he also began doing freelance work for Marvel Comics as he became the artist on the X-Men title under his own name. Other artists had worked for both companies at the same time, but never under their own names. They always used a pseudonym when working for the other company. Neal Adams set a precedent by doing freelance work for multiple companies at the same time under his own name. He was teamed with inker Tom Palmer and the two went on to win many awards for their work together. Adams would go on to do work on The Avengers and would contribute to two of Marvel’s horror anthology titles; Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness.
In the early 1970’s, Adams and writer Dennis O’Neil would team up to revitalize and rejuvenate the character of Batman for DC Comics. Gone were the campy, cartoony style stories of the 60’s and the popular TV series. Batman became The Batman, a serious, brooding character who solved cases as the greatest detective on earth. No more goofiness, no more silliness. The Batman returned to his roots, as did his villains. The Joker was no longer a joke, he was a raving homicidal maniac who would not hesitate to murder his victims. And The Batman gained new, more appropriate villains, such as Ra’s al Ghul.
At the same time, Adams and O’Neil were also revamping two other DC character; Green Lantern and Green Arrow, by combining them in their own book and sending them across the country in what were described by some as “relevance stories” in which they would engage the common causes of the time such as pollution, racism, drug addiction, religion, and overpopulation.
Adams continued doing work for both comic book companies throughout the 1970’s on such titles as Brave and Bold, Superman, Justice League of America, House of Mystery, Action Comics, and Avengers.
In 1978, Adams wrote and drew his last complete story for DC Comics when he created the oversized format Superman vs Muhammad Ali; a book he has often declared to be one of his favorite works. The wrap-around cover of celebrity appearances alone was so meticulous and detailed that they had to put a “map” inside showing who each celebrity was and where. The story was an interesting and plausible (for comic books) one and contained some of the best illustrations and artwork that Adams had ever produced.
Shortly after that, Adams formed Continuity Associates, an art and illustration studio, with fellow illustrator Dick Giordano. Adams continued to provide occasional covers and posters for comic books through the years, as well as publishing his own line of comic books, Continuity Comics, with such titles as Ms. Mystic, Bucky O’Hare, and Megalith, among others.
In recent years, Adams has returned to do work for both DC Comics (Batman:Odyssey, Batman:Black and White, and Detective Comics) and Marvel Comics (The New Avengers and The First X-Men).
Bonus: best inker for Neal Adams’ pencils would be a toss-up between Tom Palmer and Dick Giordano, with a slight edge going to Palmer.
Do you have different feelings about who YOU would place on your Mt. Rushmore of comic book artists? Let me know in the comments!
Note: I originally wrote this as a single post, but it turned out to be much too long for a single reading, so I divided it up into 4 parts; 1 for each artist. Part 1 contains my intro to the article and features Jack Kirby. Part 2 features John Byrne.
John Romita, Sr. – I’m being sure to add the “Sr.” because, unfortunately, I do NOT care for the art of his son, John Romita, Jr. or “JRR” as he’s known, and I do not want anyone to think I mean his son when I mean Sr., the father, the true legend.
My first exposure to the art of John Romita, Sr. came when I picked The Amazing Spider-Man #39 off the spinner rack at the Rexall Drug store my mom frequented. The change in art style from what I was used to seeing was jolting!
I was already a huge fan of Spider-Man and it was one of the titles I looked for every month. I liked the artwork of regular Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko, but then his were pretty much the only drawings I’d ever seen of Spider-Man. However, in the mid-60’s even a 10 year-old like myself knew that his depictions of fashion and hair styles were woefully out of date, with most characters looking like they had dressed from a wardrobe closet in the early to mid-50’s. Because of that, Ditko’s people and scenes usually looked almost surreal, even the everyday scenes taking place at school or work or on the street. Still, Ditko’s panel layouts and fight scenes were unbelievably good; looking like the action might very well spill off the page and into your lap as you were reading. Years later when I was older I would conclude that Ditko was perfect for a title like Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, where magic and weird realms or dimensions were the setting for most stories, but maybe not so perfect for stories that were anchored in the real world.
At the time, I had no idea of the reasons behind the change in artists (and did not know that Ditko was also doing almost all of the plotting, under the direction of Stan Lee, who also scripted each story), but years later I would discover that there had been friction between Lee and Ditko about the direction of the title and, more specifically, who would be revealed as the person underneath the mask of The Green Goblin, one of Spider-Man’s most formidable foes. When Lee made it clear who the villain would turn out to be and Ditko did not like it, Ditko decided to leave the book and issue #38 was his last as artist. But again, as a 10-year old at the time, all I knew was that suddenly the art on Spider-Man looked different…and maybe even better.
John Romita, Sr. had been a comic book artist since 1949, working on titles like the Captain America of the 1950’s, science fiction titles, and romance books, but this was all before I would lay eyes on his work. All I knew at the time was that Spider-Man had changed from a spindly little guy to someone who, while not muscle-bound, was now a hero who looked like he was in shape. And all around him the world he inhabited now looked like the world I lived in, instead of scenes from an old TV series from the 50’s that they used to remind me of.
And that was in spite of the fact that Romita, as he would later confess in interviews, did his best at first to mimic Ditko’s style because he thought that he would only be on the book for an issue or two and then Ditko would return. He could not fathom that the lead artist on one of Marvel’s top-selling titles would leave the book and not return. In spite of his trying to keep Ditko’s style on the book, Romita’s own wonderful talent would shine through on every page, especially so when, after about 6 issues, Romita would realize that Steve Ditko was NOT coming back and he began to work more and more in his own style. One critic would later say that Romita moved Spider-Man into the mainstream, the real world we all lived in, and that only increased the character’s popularity. Indeed, under Romita, The Amazing Spider-Man would surpass Marvel’s flagship title, The Fantastic Four, in sales; something no other Marvel title had accomplished at that point.
John Romita, Sr. would go on to pencil and/or ink over 100 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man alone. The Romita Sr. Spider-Man of my pre-teen, teen and young adult years would be the Spider-Man imprinted on my mind and my life. To date, no one but John Byrne has come close to moving John Romita, Sr. off the pedestal he has inhabited as my favorite Spider-Man artist.
But Romita wasn’t just drawing Spider-Man all those years. He did stories and covers for Captain America, The Hulk, The Avengers, and others. He is credited with designing or helping to design characters like The Kingpin, The Shocker, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and Bullseye. In 1973 he became the Art Director for Marvel Comics, making sure that characters looked like they were supposed to look, even if he had to re-draw a few faces because an artist didn’t get the look right. More than anyone else, Romita set the “house” style of Marvel in the ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. But he also helped new artists establish their own style while teaching them how to make panels and covers get the idea of the story across to readers in the best possible way.
John Romita, Sr. is the only one of my Mt. Rushmore of Comic Book Artists that I’ve ever met in person. If I’m remembering correctly (and I may not be; I swear my memory is worse than Stan Lee’s sometimes), it was at a comic book convention that used to be held at the Bob Carr Convention Center in downtown Orlando, long before MegaCon came along. Anyway, what really matters is that Mr. Romita was courteous, friendly and seemed genuinely flattered when I told him how much his artwork had meant to me over the years. I’m sure he (and other artists) get that all the time, but you would have thought no one ever told him that before. He graciously autographed some of my items and I walked away smiling and happy at having met one of my favorite comic book artists.
Bonus: best inker for Romita’s pencils was a toss-up for me between Mike Esposito (Mickey Demeo) and Jim Mooney.
So there’s my third choice for my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artists. Stay tuned for part 4, or subscribe so you won’t miss it.
Note: I originally wrote this as a single post, but it turned out to be much too long for a single reading, so I divided it up into 4 parts; 1 for each artist. Part 1 contains my intro to the article (which you may find helpful if you have not read it yet) and features Jack Kirby.
My first exposure to Byrne’s work was in the pages of Marvel Team-Up, which usually featured The Amazing Spider-Man as the regular character teamed up with a guest character such as The Human Torch, Werewolf by Night, Captain America, and the X-Men, among others. My favorite Spider-Man artist had always been another of my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artist choices, but Byrne became a very close second for his depiction of the wallcrawler.
Discovering Byrne had done work previously for Charlton Comics, I hunted the back issue bins for copies of Doomsday+1 and E-Man, which contained Byrne’s Rog-2000 back-up stories, both of which I loved and it was fun to see the evolution of his art and that he kept so much of what made his work special to me, even as he was improving.
Byrne soon became the regular penciller on The X-Men comic book, but I didn’t realize it right away because I didn’t read X-Men at the time and hadn’t since the title had been cancelled years earlier when another of my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artist choices had been the artist. Almost immediately, X-Men became a comic book I purchased regularly, first because of Byrne’s art and soon because the stories were interesting in a way they hadn’t been for years.
Before long Byrne was pencilling other books like The Avengers and, my favorite, Captain America. I wanted Byrne to stay on Captain America for the rest of his life because he portrayed Cap in exactly the way he should, even, in my opinion, improving on Jack Kirby’s version. But alas, it was not to be.
In the early 1980’s Byrne began a five-year run as the writer/artist on the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Comic Book”, the Fantastic Four. In his own style, Byrne would revisit some of the great characters and storylines first introduced by Lee and Kirby some twenty years prior. But he also added plenty of his own on both counts and made this reader fall in love all over again with the First Family of Marvel Comics. During the early to mid-80’s Byrne also wrote and pencilled Alpha Flight, provided art for the first two issues of The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones, and wrote and pencilled 5 issues of The Incredible Hulk.
In the mid-1980’s Byrne left Marvel Comics and went to work for the Distinguished Competition (DC Comics) in one of the largest-hyped talent moves since Kirby left Marvel for DC.
In 1985 and 1986 DC Comics published Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue massive company-wide crossover series which had one goal; to simplify and restructure the comic book company’s almost 50-year convoluted history of characters and storylines and reduce all stories to having taken place on one earth, rather than the multi-dimensional and sometimes time-fractured stories that plagued writers who had to deal with so much baggage.
The flagship character of Superman was no exception to this restructuring and John Byrne was chosen to repackage DC Comics’ most visible superhero. As writer/artist, Byrne made many changes to the character and his history, as well as reducing his power levels from almost god-like to merely superhuman. His version of Superman earned his work a spot on the cover of Time Magazine as it observed the 50th anniversary of The Man of Steel.
About 2 years after revamping Superman for DC Comics, Byrne returned to Marvel and worked on several of their titles including The Sensational She-Hulk, Iron Man, West Coast Avengers, Namor, The Submariner and The Star Brand. In the early 1990’s he joined Dark Horse Comics and was responsible for originating creator-owned works such as Next Men, Babe, and Danger Unlimited. From the early 90’s to 2011, Byrne did work for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and other publishers. In 2015, John Byrne was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame.
Bonus: best inker for Byrne’s pencils was Terry Austin.
So there’s my second choice for my Mt. Rushmore of comic Book Artists. Stay tuned for part 3, or subscribe so you won’t miss it.
Sometime late yesterday, Thursday, August 27, 2015, this blog crossed the 10,000 visitors line!
In reality, that’s not all that great. It’s taken 2 full years to reach that number. Most popular blogs do that number in one week or even one day, so I know the reality of that number.
But still, it’s a kick just getting to that number!
Thanks to all who subscribe and/or visit this blog. Now, on to the NEXT 10,000 visitors!
Note: I originally wrote this as a single post, but it turned out to be much too long for a single reading, so I divided it up into 4 parts; 1 for each artist.
Someone raised the question of who I would choose to be on my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artists. That is, which four comic book artists did I feel should inhabit the hallowed designation of being worthy of having their faces carved into the rock face of a mountain.
That’s a tough question for me, because I’ve been a fan of the comic book artform for 55 years and have enjoyed the artwork of many, many different artists, some of them who were artists before I ever picked up my first comic book, who I discovered over the years of reading older comic books.
Men like Will Eisner, Steve Ditko, Reed Crandall, Jim Steranko, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Frank Miller, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Curt Swan, Barry Windsor-Smith, Gene Colan, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Arthur Adams, Tim Sale, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth, Jim Aparo, Bryan Hitch, Jim Lee, George Perez, Marshall Rogers, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Bob Layton, Adam Hughes, Terry Dodson, Nick Cardy, Jim Starlin, Howard Chaykin, Gray Morrow, Alex Ross, and Lou Fine.
Women like Colleen Doran, Fiona Staples, Ramona Fradon, Marie Severin, Wendy Pini and Amanda Conner. (Just a note; there aren’t fewer women on my list because I like women artists less, but simply because there have been fewer women artists throughout the industry, especially in the early years. Thankfully, that’s been changing in the past several years.)
But I’ve narrowed my list of favorite artists down to the required four and I thought that today, being what would have been the 98th birthday of Jack Kirby, was a good day to post this first part since Kirby himself leads off my Mt. Rushmore of comic book artists.
Remember, this list is totally subjective and reflect my tastes. Your mileage may vary and I accept that truth for you.
Jack Kirby – They didn’t call the man “The King” or Jack “King” Kirby for nothing. Although Kirby began working as a comic book artist in the early 1940’s, my first exposure to him was in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1962 at the age of 7. At the time, I was a huge fan of DC comics, which featured Superman, Batman, and Justice League of America.
I remember the cover of Fantastic Four grabbed my attention on the spinner rack at the Rexall Drug Store because it almost seemed so alive with action! DC comic books seemed static in comparison to the dynamic elements of a what I would later identify as a “Kirby cover” and the story within was no exception! The action almost seemed to leap off the panels in the story and the characters were never short on expressing their emotions, both in words (thank you, Stan Lee) and in the artwork of Jack Kirby.
I would follow the artwork of Kirby in other Marvel comic books like The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers and many, many others in the Marvel Universe and then, in the early 1970’s over to the DC Comics line where he introduced “The Fourth World” storyline with books such as New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People, as well as picking up the Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal book and bringing it into The Fourth World. Kirby would return to Marvel in the late 1970’s, do some film and animation work in the early 1980’s and then did some periodic work for DC Comics and created some titles/characters for Pacific Comics and Eclipse Comics, as well as some work for Topps cards.
Part of the fun of Kirby’s work was watching how it morphed and changed and grew and matured through the years. When I was finally able to access back issues of Captain America comic books from the 1940’s I was floored with how different Kirby’s art was in contrast to my first exposure to him in the 1960’s, but it was exciting to see how he became better and better through the decades. Kirby was also the first comic book artist, that I know of, to combine his drawing with photographs, creating some spectacular images that would just leave you with a feeling of astonishment.
It was a testament to his talent that Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee would encourage new artists to emulate Kirby in their work. Not to copy his work but to copy his style in their work; to look at how Kirby drew covers that pulled the eye where you wanted it to go, to study how Kirby would emphasize storytelling in his panels and pages and placement of action and characters within those panels and pages.
In the perhaps high hundreds of comic book artist interviews that I‘ve read over the years, almost every one of them, without fail, have credited Jack Kirby with having an influence on their work and style. He was, indeed, “The King” and will most likely remain so for the foreseeable future.
Bonus: best inker for Kirby’s pencils was Joe Sinnott, while worst inker was Vince Colletta.
So there’s my first choice for my Mt. Rushmore of comic Book Artists. Stay tuned for part 2, or subscribe (in the upper right-hand corner) so you won’t miss it.