Yep, it’s time to celebrate another comic book birthday. Today is the 65th birthday of prolific Bronze Age legend Rich Buckler, who was born on February 6, 1949.
Buckler, a native of Detroit, first broke into the biz in the late 1960s. By 1971, he was already doing work for both DC and Marvel. One of his earliest assignments at Marvel was a short stint penciling Avengers in 1972. Paired with writer Roy Thomas, Buckler illustrated a memorable three part tale featuring the mutant-hunting Sentinels. His cover art for issue #103 is definitely an iconic image.
In late 1973, Buckler was given the chance to draw Fantastic Four. A huge fan of Jack Kirby’s work, Buckler jumped at the opportunity. He became only the third regular penciler on the series, following in the footsteps of Kirby and John Buscema. I know that subsequently certain readers were critical of Buckler of emulating Kirby too closely. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of Kirby’s influence on display in Buckler’s work on the title. However it is important to keep the historical backdrop in mind. Kirby had been penciling Fantastic Four for a full decade. He was followed by Buscema, another artist who helped to define the Marvel “house style” of the 1960s and 70s. At the time, Fantastic Four was one of Marvel’s flagship titles. So we can regard Buckler as following their lead in maintaining the visual constisency of the series. In any case, Buckler has stated that his work on Fantastic Four was an affectionate homage to Kirby.
It is also crucial to recognize that Buckler was paired up with longtime series inker Joe Sinnott. I think that some people underestimate the key role Sinnott had in contributing to the final look of the artwork on many of the classic Kirby-penciled stories. So it is not all too surprising that when Buckler was subsequently inked by Sinnott on Fantastic Four, there were certain similarities.
One needs only look at Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3, published in November 1973, to see Buckler’s skill as an artist. “Where Lurks Death, Rides the Four Horsemen” was co-written by Marv Wolfman & Gerry Conway. Buckler’s pencils for this tale are magnificent and awe-inspiring. His richly detailed opening double-page spread of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping through outer space is stunning and dynamic.
In 1974, Buckler created the groundbreaking cyborg anti-hero Deathlok in the pages of Astonishing Tales, collaborating with scripter Doug Moench (I did an in-depth blog post about that series last year, so click on this link to check it out). Buckler’s versatility as an artist was certainly on display in these stories, featuring some of the first examples of surrealism in his work.
After working primarily at Marvel for most of the decade, in late 1976 Buckler shifted over to DC. He contributed to a diverse selection of titles over the next several years, including Justice League of America and World’s Finest, as well as numerous covers. In 1981 Buckler penciled the first several issues of Roy Thomas’ World War II superhero saga All-Star Squadron, with then-newcomer Jerry Ordway contributing inks. A few years ago Buckler and Ordway re-teamed to render a magnificent cover illustration for the 100th issue of Roy Thomas’ superb magazine Alter Ego published by TwoMorrows.
In 1983, Buckler served as the Managing Editor of Archie Comics’ superhero imprint Red Circle. He was instrumental in bringing onboard such talented creators as Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers, Rudy Nebres, Alex Toth and Jim Steranko. Buckler himself worked on Mighty Crusaders, The Shield, The Fly and various other books. Although the 1980s Red Circle books only lasted a couple of years, they had some good writing and stories.
Buckler’s time at Archie actually provided him with his one and only opportunity to collaborate with his idol, Jack Kirby. Buckler has observed that when he was at Marvel in the early 1970s, Kirby was at DC. Then, when Buckler moved over the DC in the mid-1970s, Kirby returned to Marvel. Somehow they kept missing each other. Buckler at last had the chance to ink Kirby’s work when the King penciled the cover for Blue Ribbon Comics #5 featuring the Shield.
During the second half of the 1980s, Buckler was back at Marvel, once again working on a variety of projects. He penciled Spectacular Spider-Man for a year, during which time one of Peter David’s earliest stories, “The Death of Jean DeWolff,” appeared. Buckler also worked on Iron Man, a Havok serial in Marvel Comics Presents, and had a brief return to the pages of Fantastic Four.
Buckler also once again collaborated with Roy Thomas on a pair of miniseries chronicling the histories of Marvel’s two earliest characters. Roy Thomas and his wife Dann co-wrote the twelve-issue Saga of the Sub-Mariner, a detailed examination of the moody, tempestuous Prince Namor of Atlantis. A year later, in 1990, Thomas penned the four part Saga of the Original Human Torch, a history of Jim Hammond, the android crimefighter from the 1940s and 50s who had recently been revived in the pages of Avengers West Coast. These two miniseries provided Buckler with an opportunity to pencil decades of Marvel’s historical events and a variety of heroes & villains.
(Thomas skipped out on recounting the Torch’s battle with the grotesque, multi-headed Un-Human, which originally saw print in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes #16. Too bad, I would have enjoyed seeing Buckler render that peculiar monstrosity!)
Most of Bucker’s work in the 1990s was on independent and small press titles. I think that, as with a number of other Bronze Age creators, his art style was unfortunately being regarded by short-sighted editors as “old fashioned.” Which is a real shame, because if you look at Buckler’s current work, you will see that he is as good an artist as ever.
In the absence of new comic book projects, Buckler focused on his work as a painter. He has created a number of very beautiful surrealist pieces. This has brought him acclaim in Europe, where he has exhibited his paintings.
I’ve met Rich Buckler several times at comic conventions over the years. He is definitely a very nice guy, as well as a talented artist. I’ve obtained a few really lovely convention sketches from him. He’s spoken of his continued interest in creating comic books, incorporating his love of surrealism. I’d certainly like to see that happen, and I hope he has the opportunity to work on that project.
(A big “thank you” to Buckler for his e-mail response to this post, in which he corrected a few factual mistakes and incorrect assumptions on my part. I’ve attempted to revise this piece accordingly for more accuracy.)