Sal Buscema: fifty years of comic books

Sal Buscema is one of my favorite comic book artists.  This month, November 2018, is the 50th anniversary his professional debut.

Sal is the younger brother of artist John Buscema.  While he was still working on honing his craft, Sal would occasionally do uncredited background inking on John’s artwork.  In 1968 Sal finally felt he was ready to enter the comic book industry on his own, and brought sample pages to Marvel Comics.  He was quickly hired by editor Stan Lee.

Sal’s very first credited work for Marvel Comics was on Rawhide Kid #68, inking Larry Lieber’s pencils. According to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, this issue went on sale on November 5, 1968.

Rawhide Kid 68 pg 1

Sal’s second job also came out that month, on November 19th.  Silver Surfer #4 was penciled by his brother John.  It is now well-known that John was often critical of inkers, believing that only a few really knew how to do his pencils justice.  He would have preferred to do full artwork, pencils and inks, but time and financial constraints often prevented this.  John, from having had Sal assist him in the past, knew that his brother would do a faithful job inking his pencils on this issue.

“The Good, The Bad, and the Uncanny” features an epic confrontation between the Surfer and Thor, who have been manipulated into combat by Loki.  It is often regarded as one of the high points of John’s artistic career, and from all indications he was satisfied with Sal’s inks on it, as well as on the next three issues.

(For an in-depth look at Silver Surfer #4 please head over to Alan Stewart’s blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books.)

Silver Surfer 4 pg 34

Sal had initially intended to focus on inking, but he was very quickly recruited by Marvel to pencil.  He was immediately thrown into the deep end, assigned the team book Avengers.  His first work was penciling the cover to issue #67, and a month later did the full interior pencils for #68, paired with writer Roy Thomas and inker Sam Grainger.  The issue featured the Avengers in a titanic tussle with the diabolical robot Ultron.

Sal went on to have a very successful career in comics.  He worked on nearly every Marvel title published in the 1970s and 80s.  Beginning in the mid 1990s he also began working for several other publishers.  Sal was blessed with speed, an incredible work ethic, and a strong sense of storytelling.  This meant that he could always be relied upon to turn in a quality job on time.

Avengers 68 pg 1

Although officially retired, Sal continues to work in comic books, primarily as an inker, most often paired with penciler Ron Frenz, who he has inked on numerous occasions over the past two decades, on a long run on Spider-Girl, as well as several other series.  Sal is also currently working with Guy Dorian Sr. on several projects.  Among these was the Rom storyline “Battle Scars” which saw Sal’s return to the cult classic Space Knight.

For a really good, informative look at Sal’s career and artwork, I highly recommend the excellent book Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist by Jim Amash with Eric Nolen-Weathington, from TwoMorrows Publishing.  The cover artwork is a wonderful showcase of Sal’s dynamic artwork, an explosive illustration by Sal of the Incredible Hulk and his longtime adversary the Abomination slugging it out.

Sal Buscema Fast Furious cover

I want to offer my congratulations to Sal Buscema on creating a half century of amazing comic book artwork. He has brought enjoyment to so many readers over the past five decades, myself included.  Thanks, Sal!

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11 thoughts on “Sal Buscema: fifty years of comic books

  1. I like Sal’s early stuff (Hulk, Defenders, MTU), but his later work never really did it for me, especially his long run on Spectacular in the late80s/90s; it always seemed a bit underwhelming, like he’d pared it down too much and lost some of the detail. Maybe it was an inking issue, but I always preferred his earlier stuff.

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    • We are going to have to agree to disagree. I love Sal Buscema’s later work. He was inspired by Bill Sienkiewicz to experiment with his inking, and I felt the results were very effective, especially when he was drawing the moody, psychological stories that J.M. DeMatteis was writing for Spectacular Spider-Man in the early 1990s.

      Of course, everyone has their own particular favorites. To each his own, as the saying goes 🙂

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  2. I prefer his early work even though I grew up on his Spectacular run. It really got bad towards the end with his faces looking really bad and then Klaus Janson inked his stuff and it really drug the art downhill. Other than that, I defintiely agree on Sal being a legendary artist though. Damn sure is.

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    • I think that towards the end of Sal Buscema’s run on Spectacular the stories he was being given to draw were pretty bad. This was during the never-ending “Clone Saga,” so maybe the poor quality of the writing impacted on Sal’s artwork? I don’t think that Klaus Janson worked with him until Sal went over to DC Comics in the mid 1990s. Maybe you’re thinking of Bill Sienkiewicz? He inked some of Sal’s later issues of Spectacular. Whatever the case, I think Sal’s best work on Spectacular was when he was inking his own work and J.M. DeMatteis was writing. They made a really great team. I very quickly lost interest after DeMatteis left.

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