Thursday, March 21, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #13 - Pat Boyette!

Pat Boyette is admittedly not an artist everyone is going to like, but I like his work very very much. I stumbled across Boyette's incredibly distinctive pages in some Warren magazines and in his Charlton work, especially his very own creation The Peacemaker. Boyette's biography is incredibly impressive, a man of multiple talents, he seemed always to be on the lookout for new opportunities. He not only made amazingly specific comics, he also made movies such as The Dungeon of Harrow,and he was a radio disc jockey too. But Boyette's style was hardly mainstream, one of its virtues, and sadly that kept him from clicking with most fans who wanted something more like what everyone else was delivering.

Boyette's ideal comic  genre was the supernatural, his style seemed innately possessed of a robust gothic atmostphere and he was the artist who kicked off the successful The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves. Even when he did science fiction as he famously did with writer Denny O'Neil on the stunning "Children of Doom" one-shot, the whole feels like some antique horror epic too. Peacemaker was apparently held in disdain by Alan Moore who remade him into The Comedian for the purposes of The Watchmen. But I've never quite gotten what the upset is about a man willing to fight for peace. It's not a contradiction as some have suggested but rather a realistic view of an imperfect and dangerous world in which peace is not just the absence of war. Boyette seemed  to get it, that reluctant warriors are to admired but not disparaged. Despite a sturdy runs on The Phantom, Flash Gordon, and Jungle Jim for Charlton as well Korg:20,000 BC. But beyond the little Derby publisher, Boyette never seemed able to find a permanent home for long, and you'd have to keep your fanboy head on a swivel to make sure you didn't miss his latest effort. He contributed much to the Indy market which seemed better capable of realizing what a robust and unique talent Pat Boyette was.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #14 - Sal Buscema!

Sal Buscema dropped into the Marvel Bullpen at just the right moment. The books were multiplying and Jack Kirby was headed out the door. That left a lot of pages to draw to meet the monthly demands. John Buscema and Don Heck and Gene Colan were all working like crazy to meet the deadlines but more was needed. Steranko was great but too damn slow and Barry Smith was just learning the craft. Werner Roth was good but didn't seem to be striking the chord Stan Lee was looking for. Dick Ayers and Larry Leiber were locking down the war and western genres. Herb Trimpe and Marie Severin  and George Tuska were all on board. But it was the arrival of John's little brother Sal, first as an inker over his brother on Silver Surfer and later as a penciler on The Avengers which really marked in my mind the sense they had a crew worthy of the characters created by Stan and Jack and Steve. Sal's style was much like his brother's at first, but with a more delicate appearance. Over time he got into his own thing, more angular and the Sal Buscema who became in many respects the go-to guy of the Bronze Age was up and running. Is there a superhero comic that Sal didn't draw? I cannot think of one that lasted over a year although I'm sure there must be one. Sal had important stints on the Avengers, Sub-Mariner, Captain America, and the Hulk. His Defenders was definitive and Sal "The Pal" was the ultimate sixth-man, the guy in basketball who could easily start, but is more valuable here and there and everywhere. Some guys can't come off the bench, they can't pick up the momentum and do the job in the nick of time. Sal seemed all too ready for the call whenever it came. He kicked off the Kree-Skrull War, he drew the very first Squadron Sinister stories, and later brought both Valkyrie and Nighthawk onto the Non-Team. Years later he'd have a highly respected run on Spider-Man. Sal Buscema was a workhorse, the kind of talent you must have to be a successful comic company.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #15 - Wally Wood!

Wally Wood was one of comicdom's most curious, provocative and fascinating figures. His work for EC early in his career showed an ability to create deeply textured worlds filled with adventure or humor or whatever was called for. He worked for many of the smaller publishers of the time turning out lots of work, some of it a little less impressive than his best. He was one of those mavericks in the field who tried to make a go of the business side of comics and did so for a time with his work for the overseas military markets. He was the featured artist for a little company called Tower which tried to make a way into the burgeoning Silver Age marketplace and produced some of the most admired work of that era in the THUNDER Agents. He then worked for Marvel and DC, both as a pencil artist and as an inker with a cadre of talented men under him and sometimes the name of Wally Wood really mean Dan Adkins or Ralph Reese. He gave us the stunning red costume of Daredevil and he drew the earliest solo misadventures of a dictator dubbed Doom. He drew some exquisite entries in the revived All Star Comics which showcased the Justice Society of America. Wood drew for sci-fi magazines and he released delightful and decadent and sometimes delightfully decadent portfolios filled with naked dames and handsome dudes and often both doing what comes most naturally. Wally Wood is the artist I most associate with the First Amendment because he drew what he wanted and put it into the marketplace to find a home. He's infamous for his dirty comics which took us to lusty corners of Wonderland and offered a skewed viewed of Disneyland. Wally Wood famously swiped, most often from himself and dared the audience to give a care. He drew stories that demanded our attention, almost always got it and then directed us to rethink what we thought we knew. He was a troubled man with darkness at this shoulder and when he took his own life, he decided he'd had enough of life, but his fans can never get enough of Wally Wood.

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #16 - Dick Dillin!

I adore the work of Dick Dillin. To some I suspect his placement on this list will be a bit of a surprise since Dillin is hardly one of those artists who gets a nod or even often a remembrance when the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics are spoken about. But Dillin's tenure on The Justice League of America is my all-time favorite run by any artist on any title ever, and for the very simple reason of both quality and duration. I admire good art, but I admire maybe even more quality art delivered on time. The Justice League had been drawn for all its Silver Age existence by Mike Sekowsky and when he sought other challenges finding a talent to fill those relentless shoes might have been difficult if a handy choice wasn't just around the corner in the pages of Blackhawk. With the Blackhawk book ending Dick Dillin was in perfect position to assume the helm of the best superhero team book in the history of the genre. Along with writers like Gardner Fox, Denny O'Neil, Mike Friedrich, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart and others Dillin took the team into orbit and kept them there for over a decade. Inked by Sid Green, Joe Giella, Dick Giordano, and for many years Frank McLaughlin (Judomaster's creator) Dillin delivered precise storytelling filled with scores of characters and he did it month in and month out. Dillin drew other comics, good ones such as World's Finest  but his JLofA is his legacy in my opinion. I still remember where I was when I read of the passing of Dillin, standing in a grocery check-out line, comics in hand. George Perez stepped in but he went away sooner than we expected and others filled the void, but really no one could in those days. The series ended, one of many victims of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, a crisis which grew out of the pages of the JLofA series itself. The League returned in due course, but without Dick Dillin it never felt quite the same, never quite as special.

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #17 - Steve Ditko!

Steve Ditko is one of the titans of the comic book industry, and aside from Jack Kirby possibly the most celebrated and documented artist on this list. So it might be a surprise that he's this low relatively on the list of favorites. The great Ditko created some of my absolute favorite heroes and was the anchor artist at Charlton Comics for a very long time and a centerpiece of the "Action Heroes" line with his Cold War co-creation Captain Atom and his Silver Age revision The Blue Beetle and a little fellow called The Question. Some years later he came up with Static, a character who appeared among the embers of the final Charlton fires. All the comic book world admires Ditko for his most successful marketplace character - the Amazing Spider-Man, created in collaboration with Stan Lee and of course the pillar of the Marvel Universe. He also gave us Dr. Strange of course and many decades later he returned to Marvel to make Speedball. At DC he created The Creeper and The Hawk and the Dove. But in all that time and with all that success Ditko remained a relative recluse, a devoted adherent of the philosophy of Ayn Rand which Ditko promoted in the comics which were true to his heart.

Ditko's character Mr.A (the early template for The Question) remains arguably his most pure if pedantic creation. For all those accomplishments, I have to say that while his storytelling was often precise and clear and his ability to create fascinating heroes was remarkable, I often did not like the look of his characters, especially the girls as well as other artists. My favorite period is the bold period when he was drawing for both Charlton and Warren (his second stint at the former). His Marvel stuff shows his evolution as an artist, but many like the more whimsical early material. I like it too. As he continued in comics his drawing became less and less capable thought his relentless desire to communicate seems never to have left him.

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #18 - Don Heck!

Don Heck doesn't the love he deserves in my book. He was an important but often forgotten part of the early days of the Marvel Comics push to dominate the comic book world in the Silver Age. Heck began as an artist from the Milt Caniff school, drawing delicate feathery figure in many a genre comic for Atlas and others. When the Marvel Age exploded Stan Lee wanted more artists in the vein of the great Jack Kirby and Don Heck worked feverishly to fill the bill. He brought a new wild energy to somewhat sedate work and to my eye was most successful in evoking the essence of the King without exact mimicry. The Avengers was his gig until alas he was pulled to draw the first King-Size annual and was replaced by John Buscema. It wasn't exactly like Wally Pipp but enough so to make me remember that bit of baseball lore, because Heck's star began to dim. He was an X-Men artist, Captain Marvel artist, he was all over. Fans always seemed to be bothered by Heck but he soldiered on, an essential part of the machinery at Marvel's comic-making factory. Then he jumped to DC and drew Batgirl and The Flash eventually even the Justice League of America. He even had his own WWII book  with Gerry Conway -- Steel the Indestructible Man. No one drew machinery better than Heck, save for the King. He brought a bizarre elegance to his often hulking equipment. Like Kirby's designs, the stuff was an impossibility but it was sleek and impressive to the eye. And then there was the way Heck drew blasts of energy as odd geometric shapes, flares. I'm reminded often of Heck when I watch a modern movie with the little light flares which tickle the eye and add motion and energy to a scene. Heck also drew handsome ladies, beautiful modern women who were more than able to keep step with their costumed peers. It's a pity Don Heck is not more loved by fans across the comic book world, but he is here at the Dojo. Heck is the only artist on the list with original art in my collection. I picked it up decades ago and have treasured it since.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #19 - Dave Cockrum!

Dave Cockrum drew perhaps the prettiest people ever to inhabit a comic book. No matter when or where you found a Cockrum image, it was almost invariably smitten with delicacy and featured an idealized hero or heroine, especially the latter. Dave Cockrum broke into the my consciousness when he took hold of the somewhat weary DC Legion of Super-Heroes series and injected it with some new fashions and once in a while new characters. It was a series for a hungry audience which leaped to embrace it and the popularity which the feature had once had kindled again as these young heroes from the far far future eventually took control of Superboy's comic. Then  Cockrum left it for greener pastures and allowed another stellar talent by the name of Mike Grell to make a name for himself.

Then it was Marvel which had young heroes of its own to revive and brought forth a new and as it turned out lasting assembly of Uncanny X-Men. Once again Cockrum was the darling of the fanboy set as he drew his marvelous and delightful costumes in stories which struck a chord. Eventually though Cockrum left it for greener pastures and allowed yet another stellar talent by the name of John Byrne to make a name for himself. Eventually Cockrum returned to the mutants and admitted in interviews that leaving might have been a career mistake, but there was no denying that Cockrum was a hit. Cockrum gave us a new Ms. Marvel, the lady currently heating up the theaters and revived at least for a bit. Eventually he gave us his own heroes dubbed The Futurians who tumbled around the Indy marketplace for a few years in an attempt for him to get more remuneration for his hard work. But as much a master of revivals as Cockrum was he couldn't overcome the challenge which we all face and he died much too young leaving a legacy of handsome smiling heroes in his wake.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #20 - Herb Trimpe!

Herb Trimpe has always been on my favorites list. I fell in love with his distinctive rendition of The Incredible Hulk from the very beginning and followed along as Trimpe became for quite some time the definitive Hulk artist. Trimpe's work always was a bit odd, but it was full of verve and his storytelling was immaculate. Trimpe, a grand inker in his own right, was greatly affected by his inkers and he had some strong ones during his run on the Hulk -- Dan Adkins, John Severin, and Sam Grainger among others. Trimpe's The Phantom Eagle in Marvel Super-Heroes was one of my earliest comics and I've told the story a few times here of meeting Trimpe at a convention and getting him and Gary Friedrich to sign my copy and have Trimpe draw a figure of the Phantom Eagle which I still treasure. Trimpe had a knack for westerns too and drew a bunch of inviting energetic covers for the western reprints of the early 70's. His delightful take on Ant-Man from Marvel Feature lingers in the memory even if it didn't find a market.  He was tapped to draw Godzilla when the Toho monster made landfall for the first time on U.S. soil -- long before the most recent movies. He drew early issues of G.I. Joe, a book which was a stunning sales success. There were the Shogun Warriors, not as successful, but maybe to me a bit more fun. Trimpe was a loyal employee of Marvel for many years but was confronted with having to change up his style in the 90's to reflect the Image comics that dominated the market. I even enjoyed that version of Trimpe, but it was not enough and Marvel let him go.

He was a minister too and used that craft to pursue when like so many ended up on the streets of NYC after the towers fell and doing truly important work for those attempting to recover. Trimpe was a guy who seemed to appreciate his life and its challenges and strove his best meet them. His passing a few years back was truly felt by me, he was not just another comic artist, he was one of my very favorites, one of the guys who spoke to my heart, a talent who I admire not only as an artist but as a man.

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