Saturday, November 21, 2015

Steve Ditko's First Published Story

Steve Ditko’s comic book career officially began in the back pages of a romance title. Daring Love # 1 was dated September-October 1953 and likely appeared on newsstands in June or July. Ditko reportedly sold his first story earlier in the year, but that would not see publication until three to four months later ("Stretching Things", Fantastic Fears # 5, dated January 1954). Other work that preceded "Stretching Things" included stories in Black Magic Vol 4, No 3, Strange Fantasy # 9 and background inks over Simon and Kirby in Captain 3-D # 1 (the primary inker, Mort Meskin, was an artist Ditko greatly admired and learned from). Three of those jobs were horror tales, a genre Ditko would become particularly suited to. 

The cover to Daring Love # 1 was illustrated by someone Ditko was likely familiar with, Bernard Baily, a distinctive and versatile artist whose work dated back to the early days of comics. He drew stories for a variety of companies, often in horror-mystery genres, had his own studio for a period of time, and is noted for his co-creations "The Spectre" (with author Jerry Siegel) and "Hourman" (with writer Ken Fitch) both for National/DC.

 Romance comics were extremely popular in the early 1950s era, and virtually every publisher jumped on the bandwagon. Stanley Morse had a line of material typical of the period; while the majority veered toward violent war and horror stories, he also included kid oriented material, and, of course, romance. When the Comics Code went into effect Morse moved to publishing Men's Adventure magazines, where the type of stories he favored continued unabated, competing with the likes of Martin Goodman into the 1970s. 

Under the imprint Gilmore Magazines, Inc. Morse published the first issue of Daring Love. Ditko was assigned a six page story. While closely associated with mystery, horror and science fiction early in his career, Ditko also worked on western, war and humor stories. In later years he returned to those genres from time to time, particularly for Charlton Press. 

Ditko's splash page opens with an effective overhead shot. For decades Ben Oda was one of the best letterers, working on both comic books and strips. Here he adds a level of professionalism to the finished product.   

“Paper Romance” (writer unknown) concerns the restlessness of a small town girl who seeks romance through a mail dating service. While clearly a journeyman effort, even in this nascent period Ditko’s composition, scenery, clothing and (in places) body language suggest a developing artist who would grow by leaps and bounds in a surprisingly short time. 

Page 2 is an example of the young artist trying hard to compose an interesting page and succeeding in places, even though he is hindered greatly by the writer, who has weighed down the page with too much copy. In panel one the girl undressing in the foreground is a workmanlike scene. Panel two has Ditko doing a good job on the girl jumping into the water, but the boy's face lacks personality or emotion (as it did in the previous panel). Panel three is a solid attempt at using horizontal space (what little was allotted Ditko). Panel four has the artist crafting another overhead scene. In panel five Ditko positions the figures of the couple in an interesting way; the use of shadowing is a little crude, but the attempt is admirable. The last panel is the least successful, the angle of the faces just doesn't work.     

 On page five Ditko was overwhelmed by massive captions and word balloons, leading to equally cluttered and clumsy art. Panels two, four and seven, which offered Ditko a little more breathing space, lacked distinction due to the stiff poses and weak faces. Ditko's layouts however are lively throughout the story, as he plays with the traditional six panel grid, using vertical and horizontal panels to varying effect.   


One area Ditko took to immediately was an understanding of “scenic design”. Like many of the greatest storytellers in the business Ditko was able to graft techniques from plays and movies that several people specialized in - director, cinematographer, costume maker - but in comics was the providence of an individual. In the above examples Ditko used settings to create personality and mood. The top panel has the girl on her bed framed by the bedpost, picture and perfume bottle in the foreground . The middle panel symmetrically places the tree and fence on either side of the carriage emphasizing a simple, rural setting. In the bottom panel the stove and teapot are literally pointing to the jubilant girl. While some elements are a bit obvious, Ditko was putting thought into his compositions and learning what did and didn't work.       

In the last panel on page 5 Ditko takes the splash page birds-eye shot and plays with it from a different angle. It is clear in this story that Will Eisner, the innovative artist/creator of the Spirit comic strip, was one of his influences.

Ditko was interviewed by Gary Martin in The Comic Fan # 2 (August 1965). Above is his meticulous reply to Martin's question on what an aspiring artist needs to learn to become a professional.   

Ditko's sense of pacing, settings and characterization has strengthened considerably in the space of one year, allowing the reader's eye to easily move from panel to panel. "The Worm Turns", writer uncertain, lettering by Charlotte Jetter, The Thing # 15, July-August 1954.     

"Paper Romance" is an example of Steve Ditko's developmental roots. Beginning as a young artist stumbling in places, he quickly blossomed into a professional of great confidence. In the decades that followed Steve Ditko has made innumerable contributions to the medium, paving a path as one of the most creative, recognizable and respected storytellers in the comic book field.   

Friday, October 23, 2015

Murphy Anderson, Gentleman Artist

Murphy Anderson 1926-2015

                                  Illustration for the 1972 San Diego Comic Convention. 

Murphy Anderson's career in the field of comics was defined by solid craftsmanship. Never a flamboyant artist, his technique was modeled on cartoonists he admired and learned from, including Lou Fine, Will Eisner and Alex Raymond. His earliest efforts appeared in the pages of Fiction House circa 1944. Anderson had an affinity for science fiction related material, drawing features "Star Pirate", "Suicide Smith" and assorted illustrations for their pulp line, including Planet Stories.

One of Anderson's earliest assignments at Fiction House house was on the feature "Star Pirate" in Planet Comics # 33, November 1944, taking over from veteran George Tuska (after a one issue fill-in by Joe Kubert, another youngster who would become known for his work at DC). While the art is primitive it shows promise and clearly points to the influence of artists Lou Fine and Will Eisner. Image from Comic Book Plus:      

An imaginative page drawn and likely written by Anderson (as M.C. Anderson) from Planet Comics # 35,  March 1945. Image from Comic Book Plus:

In the three year period Anderson had been drawing "Star Pirate" his art had improved considerably, as one can observe by comparing the first illustration to this one. The splash shows signs of an artist growing confident in his talents; the figures and compositions coming into focus as his recognizable style. Anderson left the "Star Pirate" strip after this episode, concluding a continuous (with the exception of one episode in issue # 39) seventeen episode run. Planet Comics # 51, November 1947.     

A nicely composed page spotlighting Anderson's western genre work at Ziff-Davis. "Blood Brothers", The Hawk # 1, Winter 1951. Image from Comic Book Plus: 

Other jobs included work for Ziff-Davis, St. John, Standard, Atlas and two stints on the Buck Rogers comic strip. In 1950 Anderson began a long association with DC comics, often working for editor Julie Schwartz, initially on anthology titles Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. "Captain Comet" and "Atomic Knights" were two features Anderson both pencilled and inked; other notable runs included Hawkman, The Spectre, Korak, Son of Tarzan and "John Carter, Warlord of Mars" in Weird Worlds

Sketch from On The Drawing Board Vol 3, # 2 (aka The Comic Reader # 65), March 1968  

Anderson inked many Carmine Infantino penciled stories over the years. He described embellishing his pencils as "a challenge", noting that Infantino's work was very stylized and abstract, in opposition to Anderson's more realistic bent. Despite their differing styles the two made an exciting pair, working on the Flash, "Adam Strange' and a run of memorable Batman and Detective Comics covers in the 1960s. "Escape-Artist of Space!", Gardner Fox script, Strange Adventures # 154, July 1963.      

Anderson cover art to The Comic Reader # 96, April 1973, drawing a character he was associated with in the 1960s.

In addition to working for DC, Anderson occasionally found assignments outside of comics, including producing advertising art for Aurora Models. This exciting scene depicting "Land of the Giants" (a short-lived Irwin Allen Sci-Fi show that ran on ABC) appeared on the back covers of November 1968 dated DC comics.      

Anderson was highly regarded as an inker, adding a layer of texture over many talented pencilers on both interior stories and, quite often, covers, including Carmine Infantino (Flash, Batman, "Adam Strange"); Mike Sekowsky (Justice League of America); Gil Kane (Atom, Green Lantern, "Batgirl"), Irv Novick (Flash); Dick Dillin (World's Finest Comics) and Bob Brown ("Superboy"). In many ways Anderson was the equivalent of Joe Sinnott at Marvel; both became recognized as the finest embellishers in the field and were placed on top selling titles.   

Adam Strange was revived in reprint form in (where else?) Strange Adventures when the previous feature, Deadman, failed to sell. Anderson provided many new covers, and his Atomic Knights stories were also represented as a back-up feature. Anderson pencils and inks, Strange Adventures # 222, February 1970. 

Anderson was one of Gil Kane's most accomplished inkers at DC in the 1960s and early 1970s. Here the two are paired on an "Adam Strange" story. Although Strange Adventures consisted primarily of reprinted material, a few new stories were commissioned. "Beyond the Wall of Death", Denny O'Neil script, Strange Adventures # 222, February 1970. Other original Anderson illustrated work on this title included two prose stories; "The Magic-Maker of Rann", starring Adam Strange, written by Gardner Fox (Strange Adventures # 226, October 1970); and "The Winner" a science fiction filler scripted by Denny O'Neil (Strange Adventures # 227, December 1970).     

A rare teaming of Werner Roth and Anderson on "Out of This World", a mystery back-up written by Robert Kanigher from The Phantom Stranger # 4, December 1969.

Anderson's most successful pairing was arguably with longtime Superman artist Curt Swan,
beginning with the September 1969 dated issues. Anderson started out inking many of Swan's covers in the Superman line (Action, Adventure, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane and World's Finest) and in 1970 became the primary inker on his interior Action and Superman stories, an assignment that continued into 1973. The Swan-Anderson combo often reunited over the years on special stories, most involving the Man of Steel. Action Comics # 387, April 1970.

In 1973 Anderson founded Visual Concepts, a production art studio that provided lettering and color separation for comic book publishers. He continued to draw and ink stories, often for DC, along with a few independent publishers such as Eclipse and Deluxe Comics. His services remained in demand into the 1990s, especially with younger editors who grew up admiring his style.

Anderson was a huge fan of artist Lou Fine, whose work at Quality comics greatly inspired his own style. When Quality folded in the 1950s DC Comics purchased many of the characters, so when it was decided to adapt the original stories Anderson made it known he wanted to illustrate the Lou Fine drawn characters. Here is his version of The Ray, with script by Roy Thomas, from Secret Origins # 21, December 1987. 

Anderson is recalled by his peers and the many fans he encountered at conventions as a humble, well-dressed gentleman of the old school. A dedicated professional, he worked in many genres; while he preferred fantasy and sci-fi related assignments he was equally adept at mystery, romance and war. Like many talented artists of a bygone era Anderson could do it all, and often with great craft. His work and legacy will live on.    

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bill Everett at Skywald

Sol Brodsky was a long time artist, inker and production man at Marvel comics. Writer/Editor Stan Lee relied on his right hand man to make sure the trains ran on time but the entrepreneurial Brodsky also worked on outside projects including the Big Boy Restaurant promotional comics and editing the initial issues of Cracked magazine. When he was offered an opportunity to co-publish/edit a line of comic books and magazines with Hershel Waldman, who had published/packaged comics in the past, he left his production job with Lee's blessing. The new venture, entitled Skywald Publishing Corp. (for Sol BrodSKY and Israel WALDman) awaited.

Through his contacts in the comics industry Brodsky knew many freelancers he could offer additional work. Some came directly from Marvel, including writer Gary Friedrich; artists Dick Ayers, Don Heck, Syd Shores, John Tartaglione, Frank Giacoia, Tom Palmer and letterers Sam Rosen and Jean Izzo. One important member of that entourage was Bill Everett.

Everett's "Angry Young Man" as he appeared in Marvel Mystery Comics # 11 (september 1940). Everett story, art and lettering. From a stat as published in Alter Ego # 3, Winter 2000.   

Everett was one of the pioneers in the nascent comic book industry. Like many in that period, Everett wrote, drew and often lettered his stories. His earliest work surfaced in 1938 for companies including Centaur, Novelty, Eastern Color and Timely, where his most famous creation Namor, The Sub-Mariner appeared. The Sub-Mariner was a unique character who lived under the sea and was none too friendly with the surface world. He soon fought Timely’s first superhero, the android Human Torch (created by Carl Burgos) in exciting stories that set the stage for Marvel's 1960s hero crossovers. 

The Sub-Mariner was an extremely popular character, particularly during the World War II years (where he joined forces with humanity to take on a deadlier foe – The Nazis) and, along with Captain America and the Torch, was part of Timely’s triumvirate of heroes, appearing on numerous covers and features. 

When the super heroes lost their appeal after the war Namor was put out to pasture, revived in 1955 for another try (due in large part to the possibility of a television deal).  Everett returned to draw, letter and often write the new stories, his artwork showing continued growth. Sales sunk to the bottom of the ocean though, and when the TV negotiations fell through the Sub-Mariner was retired, returning six years later when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revamped the character in the early 1960s Marvel era.  

Along with talents like Joe Maneely and Russ Heath, Everett drew many of Atlas' horror covers during the 1950s. This example takes its inspiration from the classic Phantom of the Opera. Uncanny Tales # 7, April 1953.

Everett's versatility allowed him to excel in practically every genre. In the 1950s he produced stories and covers for Stan Lee’s war, western, horror, jungle, adventure, crime, romance, humor and even funny animal line. Everett’s art was distinctive, influenced by comic strip great Roy Crane but with a style that transcended mere mimicry. 

The comic book business floundered in the mid to late 1950s, a byproduct of bad press and the growing popularity of television. When work dried up Everett moved to a new field (his last comics stories appearing in 1960), finding employment at Norcross Greeting Cards and later becoming an Art Director for another firm. Sometime in 1963 he again connected with Stan Lee, where the two developed Daredevil (the first issue dated April 1964). Unable to meet deadlines due to his full-time job, Lee was forced to enlist Sol Brodsky and Steve Ditko to complete the inking/backgrounds. Everett returned to his managerial job, realizing he didn't have the time to freelance for comics.

Back at Marvel Everett's first job was penciller/inker over Jack Kirby's layouts on the Incredible Hulk feature. Here is an effective splash page from Tales To Astonish # 80, June 1966.

When Everett quit his position he returned to comics for good. In late 1965 Lee welcomed him back to Marvel, getting him up to speed by finishing Jack Kirby’s layouts on “The Incredible Hulk” (beginning in Tales to Astonish # 78, April 1966). Everett also received inking assignments, adding his lush brushwork to artists such as Gene Colan (who, coincidentally, was penciling Sub-Mariner, the co-feature in Astonish). Everett worked on many features for Lee, taking over “Dr. Strange” in Strange Tales when Steve Ditko quit; drawing his beloved westerns in back-up stories, inking Stan Goldberg on Millie the Model, and, inevitably, returning to his creation, this time with Lee co-plotting. The revised Namor, while still having a chip on his shoulder, was now Prince of Atlantis and spoke in pseudo-Shakespearean tones. 

Everett often faced deadline problems, some due to alcoholism, forcing others to finish penciling or hastily ink his work. By the late 1960s Everett also preformed production duties, including coloring, and wrote several issues of Sgt. Fury. His best efforts in that period, arguably, was his embellishment over Jack Kirby’s pencils on Thor. Everett’s inking added a layer of sheen to Kirby’s art, making every page stand out. 

Sometime in 1970 Everett was offered work by Sol Brodsky when he moved to Skywald. Everett accepted, although he continued to freelance for Marvel. Everett's art appeared in their premiere publication, Nightmare # 1 (December 1970), a black and white horror magazine designed to compete with Warren Publishing's popular titles (Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella). A companion magazine, Psycho, debuted the following month.      

Everett produced superb work in black and white. The Skywald magazine line made great use of his meticulous etchings, which could give EC Comics master of the macabre Graham (ghastly) Ingles a run for his money! Nightmare # 1, December 1970.  

Three of Everett's images accompanied the text story "The Skeletons of..Doom!". Everett drew gorgeous women and, unrestricted by the Comics Code Authority, he took full advantage of the situation. 

In addition to the new stories in Nightmare # 1, a number of 1950s horror reprints appeared in the early issues. This helped cut production costs, although most were retitled, relettered and altered (sometimes heavily), apparently so they would not look old fashioned. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito did the honors on a few stories, but here is a direct comparison of how extensive the redrawing was. On the left is Everett's revised version. On the right is the original Norman Nodel/Vince Alascia splash, originally published in Eerie # 11, April 1953 (courtesy of the indispensable ComicBook plus site  The splash panel is almost entirely redrawn and Everett added touches to many of the pages/panels, particularly the male and female protagonists.   

                       Two more examples of Everett's alterations from the same story.

Bill Everett illustrated a series of horrific pin-ups, this one offers his depiction of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Dripping with atmosphere, this was the second time Everett illustrated the Creature,having drawn him in a 1950s Sub-Mariner story. Nightmare # 2, February 1971.


Another example of how reprints were thoroughly renovated  from the original. On the left is the original story drawn by Gene Fawcette, from Avon's one shot Robotmen of the Lost Planet # 1 (1952). On the right is Bill Everett's altered version. Everett's main changes are on the male and female protagonists and a more traditional take on the robots. The original typeset lettering was also replaced with hand lettering, often by Jean Izzo. Nightmare # 2, February, 1971.

Bill Everett's third pin-up is another example of incredible artistry and meticulous detail. Nightmare # 4, June 1971. 

The Heap was a revised version of the monster originally appearing in Hillman Periodicals Air Fighter's Comics and Airboy in the 1940s and 50s; Skywald's Heap was featured in Psycho and a one-shot color comic drawn by Ross Andru and Jack Abel. Bill Everett fashioned his own interpretation for the back cover of Psycho # 4, September 1971.   

 Everett's frenetic scene of a monster earthworm attacking a highway is filled with a few inside jokes, including the name "Roman" (opposite of Namor) on the truck and a Bergenfield, NJ address, which may have been his residence at the time. Psycho # 5, November 1971.


Everett's last pin-up appeared on the back cover of Psycho # 6, May 1972, his Mr. Hyde is clearly based on Fredrich March's 1931 film version.  

Skywald's Hell Rider magazine was an "adult" version of a super-hero, with the requisite sex and violence. Along with the motorcycle riding hero other characters were introduced in their own features, including the first African-American super heroine, Butterfly. Newcomer Rich Buckler drew the second and last instalment (Hell Rider only ran two issues before cancellation) although Bill Everett touched up some of the main figures throughout. Hell Rider # 2, September-October 1971. You can read more about Butterfly and see the entire story at this interesting blog:    

The color comic book line consisted of oversized 25 cent titles (instead of the then-standard 15 cent size) featuring an assortment of western, jungle, horror and romance features. The standard format consisted of a new lead story, followed by reprints from various defunct publishers, material which had been acquired by publisher Israel Waldman. As far as I can ascertain Everett did not alter many of the western comics, concentrating mainly on creating a contemporary look to the clothing and hair styles of the male and female characters in the romance stories, a trend many publishers followed. It’s unknown whether this fooled many (or any) of the young female readers.    

An Everett face is attached to Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, quite noticeable in panel two.  Everett drew his share of attractive jungle heroines for Atlas, particularly on 1950s covers. The original art is credited to Robert Webb and is from Fiction House's Sheena, Queen of the Jungle # 17, Fall 1952.

 Skywald's longest running color comic was Tender Love Stories, which ran four issues. Each issue featured one new story by the likes of Jack Katz and Kurt Schaffenberger, followed by 1950s or early 1960s reprints. While Ross Andru and Mike Esposito revised many of the reprinted stories in Tender Love Stories # 1 (February 1971), Everett modernized the final story, although underneath his alterations I believe the original artist is Ogden Whitney.

Everett reworked the art on three of the reprinted stories in Tender Love Stories # 2, April 1971. The mouths and hair are usually dead giveaways.

While the woman's face and a few other figures are altered by Everett, the original artist is not totally obscured. Bill Draut drew the original story, from Prize's Young Love Vol 6, No. 3, October-November 1962. Sam Rosen lettering. Tender Love Stories # 3, June 1971.

The second Everett altered reprint includes another fine artist whose work is recognizable. Bob Powell originally drew this unidentified story. 


The final two reprinted stories in Tender Love Stories # 3 are both originally credited to Rafael Astarita (originally published in Avon's Realistic Romance #'s 4 (February 1952) and 12 (July 1952) but the Everett faces and figures shine through.     

While it's interesting to examine much of Everett's undocumented corrections and revisions, it's also maddening to conceive that a talent of his proportions performed such menial production work. Everett would have been better served lavishing his drawing skills on horror stories, a genre he was obviously skilled at. Perhaps he was too busy inking for Marvel at this point and didn't have time to draw many stories. Whatever the case the only story he illustrated appeared in Psycho #3, May 1971, a superbly drawn 10 pager dripping with atmosphere. Everett's use of pen and ink is exquisite and his fog-shrouded scenes display great craft. It is truly some of the best work of his career.     

Everett's last work for Skywald appeared in early 1972. Sol Brodsky left the company around the same time, returning to Marvel. Coinciding with his departure from Skywald he was offered the job of taking over the writing and art of his creation, Sub-Mariner (beginning with #50, June 1972). With sales slumping Everett was given an opportunity to refashion the strip, returning some of Namor’s original personality and charm. Everett's art continued to flourish; his depiction of the sea was particularly enchanting, enhanced by his real life experiences as a young man stationed in the Merchant Marine. 

"..I had always been interested in anything nautical, anything to do with the sea- - ever since I was born, I guess." Bill Everett, interview with Roy Thomas, Alter Ego # 11, June 1978

Who says you can't go home again? Not Bill Everett, whose return to his creation over 30 years later was magnificent. Sub-Mariner # 50, June 1972.  

Everett's run on Sub-Mariner was cut short when he passed away on February 27, 1973 at the age of  56.  He had fought alcoholism much of his life, but became a proud member of Alcoholics Anonymous, a group that helped him greatly in his struggle. At the peak of his artistic prowess he left both fans and pros mourning the loss of a unique craftsman and a true original. 

Special thanks to Michael J. Vassallo for the loan of his Skywald romance comics, where I discovered Everett's unknown corrections, inspiring me to write this post.