Thursday, February 28, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #34 - Ross Andru!

Ross Andru is one of the most significant artists in the history of the genre. With his longtime partner Mike Esposito, he launched some independent efforts such as Get Lost! to get comics onto the stands at times when comics were under assault from many quarters. The team found safe haven at DC, bringing a sleek more modern style to a creaky looking Wonder Woman and later in concert with the great Robert Kanigher creating the evocative Metal Men. I jumped onto The Flash at almost the same instant as Andru and Esposito took the reins from Carmine Infantino, and imprinted on their style relevant to that colorful hero. Later Andru traveled to Marvel and took over The Amazing Spider-Man from John Romita among others. He elevated the web-slinger into the heights of the skyscrapers, giving the readers dizzying images of the "Big Apple" as only Spidey could see it. He drew the first breakthrough Spider-Man and Superman team up. Andru was always a rock-steady talent and returned to his DC haunts as an editor where he produced some outstanding covers and oversaw some excellent comics. There was a time in the Bronze Age when DC was my favorite company, beating out Marvel by a hair and that time coincides with Andru's tenure. Ross Andru had a style which evoked the modernistic tastes of the 50's perhaps more than any regular comic artist.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #35 - Sam Glanzman!

Sam Glanzman was fearless. He was a working artist right up until his passing a few years ago, bringing out new material for an audience developed over long decades of reliable service. I fell in love with the art of Sam Glanzman when I picked up my fist issue of Hercules from Charlton comics. I knew myths from school, but this was a vibrant modern retelling which evoked the classic design found on ancient pottery but still was not afraid to bring in modern tropes right alongside. Glanzman was an artist who specialized in war stories and the verisimilitude he brought to his pages was gleaned from his own time in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Stevens. He chronicled tales of that ship persistently through his career, in the back issues of DC war comics and in a few graphic novels released by Marvel . All of that material has been collected and published by Dover Books. Glanzman also is well remembered by many fans for his Kona stories for Dell comics, a savage hero on a weird island which seemed stranded in time. Glanzman also drew westerns, and I particularly enjoyed his work on DC's hideous hero Jonah Hex, produced in tandem with writer Joe Lansdale. I recently wrote an small essay for a Glanzman reprint volume of  his war stories for Dell, but haven't seen or heard anything of it in months. Hopefully it will come out. Sam deserves it and I'd love to see it.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #36 - Russ Heath!

I met Russ Heath at a small local convention several years ago. Or I should actually say, I saw him, since he appeared at the time to be quite weary of the experience and I am generally reticent to broker conversation when the other party appears reluctant. He did sign a comic book for me and that was a treat. Heath is an artist I became aware of when I came across early issues of his work on G.I. Combat, specifically the Haunted Tank stories. Other artists worked on that venerable series over the years, but I don't think anyone brought more realism or dynamism to the pages of a war comic. Heath also drew some amazing issues of The Sea Devils, an underwater variation of the classic Challengers of the Unknown theme. Heath was an artist you'd find in odd places, working on a story here and there at Atlas-Seaboard, doing some memorable stories for various Warren magazines and later still showing up here and there at National Lampoon and beyond.

But for all fans of my vintage the contribution to comics made by Russ Heath was on the back covers of countless comics, where he illustrated the awesome Roman soldiers ad. I've spent more time looking at that spectacular image than reading most modern comics, and it's better to boot.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #37 - John Romita!

John Romita is the artist who had the desperate task to replace Steve Ditko on The Amazing Spider-Man. Ditko withdrew from the series because in the purity of his vision he was not able to fashion the comics as he wanted to do. So Stan Lee was left to find another collaborator and found the perfect partner in John Romita. Romita's artwork could not have been more different than Ditko's, bringing a shining polish to characters who had been admittedly and intentionally drab for some years. There was and is an idealism in the work of Romita as if he's showcasing the inner beauty and making that the face of us all. That seems to be the biggest difference between Romita and Ditko, the latter finding that mankind was fraught with limits and the former that we can aspire to more. None of this is to say one is right and the other wrong, but that  there are two ways to see the world. Romita made it gay and delightful and filled with broad smiles and dancing eyes. Romita became arguably he most important member of the Bullpen after Kirby, designing characters and bringing stability to an art house which bristled with constant change. Romita replaced Ditko and later he replaced Kirby when the "King" left for DC. His stay on the Fantastic Four was less lengthy but it was no less filled with the joy that any Romita page can bring. And did I mention that John Romita just might draw the most beautiful and idealistic women ever in the history of comics -- that's no small thing all you "Tigers" out there.

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #38 - Russ Manning!

Russ Manning was a master of his craft, and his art was hidden away in the pages of Gold Key which rarely featured any of his artwork on the covers of Korak, Tarzan ,or his own co-creation Magnus Robot  Fighter. You had to look inside to find arguably the sleekest and most elegant artwork ever rendered in a comic book page. Manning's images were smooth and his characters were idealistically handsome. Manning was an ideal choice for science fiction, his ability to render machines as shining baubles unmatched. Manning drew a lot of comics, but got famous drawing the Brothers of the Spear in the back pages of Tarzan. Later he took on Korak, the Son of  Tarzan and Tarzan himself. It was here that I encountered him, reading the origin of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Ape Man in the comics before I ever read it in the novel. Manning drew some of the most lovely images of Tarzan ever done in the comic books and beyond. Then there was Magnus, the Tarzan of the future, a handsome man raised by creatures unlike himself who used his superhuman skills to protect those around him. Manning became the guy and was tapped to draw the Star Wars comic strip  and launched it with aplomb. But sadly he died too young, but we have those comics, those beautiful comics still.

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #39 - George Tuska!

George Tuska is a pro's pro, one of those rock-solid talents who inform the field in a way which makes waves well beyond their time. As it turns out Tuska's time was pretty large, as he had a career which sprawled from the Golden Age well into the late Bronze Age and well beyond on the comic strip derived from the Justice League and Superman comics. And always his stuff was there, just like it had been before. I first encountered Tuska on Iron Man and he remains to my eye the best artist the title ever had. I know there many Bob Layton lovers among us and I pay proper heed to how Layton was able to redefine the look and bring a shiny gloss, but no single artist  in my opinion ever drew armor which looked heavier or more like metal. It wasn't shiny, but it had an angularity and heft which didn't communicate fabric, but something else. Tuska drew great thugs, baddies who carried "heaters" and hung out with "dames". If I had to choose one artist to draw my adaptation of The Maltese Falcon, I'd get Tuska.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #40 - Marie Severin!

Is there anyone who didn't like Marie Severin? I doubt it. She always seemed to be worthy of the sobriquet "Mirthful" with that ever-present smile in the photos I've seen. She was the "little" sister of the great John Severin, and cut her teeth coloring comics for EC Comics way back when. She was the queen of the technical crews at Marvel and then as the books began to multiply she became an artist with no small skills, a true storyteller with a distinctive and attractive style. I imprinted on her style on the Hulk, but really fell in love with her work when she took a memorable turn on the Sub-Mariner. And then there was Not Brand Echh, the satire comic Marie Severin was born to illustrate -- her warm inviting style and absolute mastery of likenesses mader her ideal.  Severin was the go-to on covers in the early Bronze Age and some outstanding layouts of classic covers can be seen all over the internet. She was a rare high-profile woman working in a field filled with men. That's changed, but Marie was a pioneer of sorts. Ms. Severin passed away late last year alas, a sad day for all Marvel Age fanboys indeed because we all like Marie.

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #41 - Jim Starlin!

Jim Starlin is one of those artists I liked but never really appreciated enough in his heyday. I was already a Captain Marvel fan when the reins of the sputtering series were handed over to Starlin with a writing assist by Mike Friedrich. Starlin came, guns blazing, with a coherent miniverse and Captain Marvel became the home. Embers had glowed in Iron Man and in Marvel Two-In-One,but in the Kree Captain's adventures the hellish menace of Thanos was confronted for the first time. And Cap won, though not without considerable help from many if not most the Marvel Universe. While battling Thanos, Mar-Vell became a blonde and cosmically aware. He became the hero who we knew for many years thereafter, a template at last created which caught hold with the fans. Starlin went to do the same thing for Adam Warlock and later over at DC and with his own characters in a book called Dreadstar. Eventually Starlin created his masterpiece, the telling of the last story of Mar-Vell, a hero who had survived many battles and even wars, only to fall victim to the inevitable in the form of Cancer. He died and as far as I know has never been truly brought back. But Thanos has many times of course. Jim Starlin is one of those artists I liked at the time, but he's one of my absolute favorites now.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Favorite Artist Countdown #42 - Bill Draut!

Bill Draut is an artist who I first chanced upon in an early issue of Teen Titans, and I became a fan from the very beginning. The thing about Draut's work is the way it's all so clean and unaffected, like someone who knows their job so well they make hard things look easy. That's what I think about Draut, an artist who is rarely mentioned in the pantheons of dandy artists, but was again a guy who cranked it out with regularity and solid consistency. Draut worked in the Simon-Kirby stable and they didn't employ people who didn't get it done. Later he was mainstay at Harvey and even did some comic trip work, but it's his late Silver and Bronze Age DC work that made me a lifetime fan. Bill Draut drew comics which were to be read, not stared at, but after you'd read it, you could just stare at a master's  craft .

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #43 - John Byrne!

John Byrne is one of the most significant artists of his generation, a massive talent who was the king of the hill for many years. But the Byrne I love is the earliest, the young Canadian artist who was still thrashing about a bit as his style found its form on work like Doomsday +1 and Rog-2000 for Charlton and soon thereafter Iron Fist for Marvel. He got famous because he hooked up with Chris Claremont on The Uncanny X-Men after Dave Cockrum left the title. Clarement and Byrne became demi-gods of comics on the X-Men, hugely successful and Byrne was able to parlay that success into real power when he took over the Fantastic Four and made that book nearly as good as it had been under Lee and Kirby. Then he took his talents to DC and tried to do the same thing Superman at a time when redefining heroes was a commonplace. Then he became the total package on his Next Men and Danger Unlimited, exceedingly well-crafted Indy comics. He has continued to make darn good comics for decades, but to my eye as his style as "matured" it has lost some of the energy and zip which made his early pages bristle with explosive power. 

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #44 - Frank Robbins!

Frank Robbins is the artist few seem to like for some reason. I've been defending the work of Robbins on the internet ever since I joined its virtual ranks a few decades ago. His art is called "rubbery" and "chaotic" and "unrealistic". His critics are sincere and certainly entitled to their opinions, but for me, the energy exuding from a page drawn by Robbins is astounding. His figures never seem to stand, never seem to just sit, but are on the move in some way or other all the time. Exaggeration is the key, taking what is in the real world and making it writhe and dance for the good of the story, that's what Robbins does masterfully. I enjoyed his work on The Invaders and Captain America and his work on Batman and The Shadow before that. He had a long career in the comic strip arena, but his comic books are what make it happen for me. He was one of those lucky few who were able to retire on his own terms and ended his days painting, again with much success.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #45 - Jerry Grandenetti!

I don't remember when I fell for the intoxicating pages of Jerry Gandenetti, but it was early on in my comic book reading. He was not a talent who ever worked for Marvel (to my knowledge), though he did put in his hand at Atlas-Seaboard, the Bronze Age Marvel wannabe company which flamed out as quickly as it appeared. I did find his stuff on horror stories mostly, though later I learned he was a stalwart artists on DC's war books. When Joe Simon made a bid to return to comics, he found in Grandenetti a steady and ready partner and the pair turned out some really intriguing and offbeat books for a DC looking to find a way back to the top of the heap. Prez is the best remembered, but there was also The Green Team which was showcased in a singular issue of First Issue Special. Later in that same series they present The Outsiders (not the Batman team of a few years later). Grandenetti saw a different world than the rest of us and did his best to bring out the dark spinning details which were the definition of grotesque.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Favorite Comic Artist Countdown #46 - Alex Nino!

Alex Nino opened my eyes -- almost literally. Comics looked a certain way and I was perfectly happy with that certain way and to a great degree still am. But Alex Nino with his blisteringly different detailed approach to the comics page makes you look at it differently, read it differently, think about it differently. I will confess that not all Nino pages make sense to me, but all of them are compelling to look at, not unlike Escher prints. The images pull you in and demand attention. Nino is somehow more effective in black and white, it showcases the shapes and draws emphasis to the blacks. Nino's work almost feels like it was etched out of the page and not drawn upon it. Nino was just one of the many fantastic artists who suddenly appeared from the Philippines, showing up already accomplished. I love looking at Nino stories, reading them is not always an operative term.

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