Comic Art Sale and Exhibit: Tales to Astonish #61

Here is an interesting addendum to my post from a couple of days ago about the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit which was held at the Society of Illustrators from July 15th to October 23rd.

Well, okay, I found it interesting; your mileage may vary.

One of the pieces of original comic book artwork in the exhibit was the splash page for the Giant-Man and Wasp story “Now Walks the Android” from Tales to Astonish#61, published by Marvel Comics with a November 1964 cover date.

The credited artists on “Now Walks the Android” were penciler Steve Ditko and inker George Roussos, the later working under the pseudonym “George Bell” so as not to raise the ire of his primary employer DC Comics.

However, there was a third artist involved in the creation of the Giant-Man and Wasp story in Tales to Astonish#61: Joe Orlando.

Joe Orlando had been one of the primary artists at EC Comics in the 1950s, working on both their iconic science fiction, horror & crime anthologies and the wildly successful Mad magazine. In the later half of the 1950s he drew several Classic Illustrated adaptations.

In 1964 Orlando did some work for writer / editor Stan Lee at the burgeoning Marvel Comics. It was, unfortunately, not an ideal match.

Longtime Marvel Comics editor and comic book historian Tom Brevoort details the behind-the-scenes problems that plagued Orlando’s short stint at Marvel in general, and the production difficulties of Tales to Astonish #61 in particular, on his excellent blog. I recommend reading Brevoort’s thorough examination of the subject…

Lee & Ditko & Orlando & Rockwell: the Multiple Car Crash of TALES TO ASTONISH #61

There were certain artists who worked very well within the so-called “Marvel Method” of creating comic books where Stan Lee provided a very brief plot synopsis and the penciler then drew an entire 20 page story from that. John Romita, Gene Colan and Herb Trimpe were all comfortable with this, and in interviews each subsequently spoke of their enjoyment at this process.

But other artists disliked the “Marvel Method”as they were unhappy at having to do uncredited (and unpaid) writing, especially as Lee would then appear to readers to be the sole writer on the comic books. Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were extremely adept at producing high-quality work within the “Marvel Method” but both of them eventually tired of doing the creative heavy-lifting, with first Ditko and then Kirby choosing to leave Marvel in the hopes of finding venues elsewhere where they could have full creative control, along with the accompanying credit for their writing.

And other artists found working in the “Marvel Method” difficult, if not impossible, right from the word Go. That was definitely the case with Joe Orlando, who was nevertheless an extremely talented artist. His experience at Marvel in 1964 demonstrated that he was much more comfortable working from full script. Fortunately in 1966 Orlando found a home at DC Comics, where he became an important artistic & editorial presence for the next 32 years until he passed away in December 1998 at the age of 71.

So what does this tell us?  Well, it is a good demonstration that there is no “one size fits all” approach to creating comic books. An approach that works well for some writers and artists may be a complete failure for others.

It also demonstrates that, behind the scenes, the creation of comic books was often times a difficult, unglamorous, poorly-paying profession.  And I say this not to demonize anyone in particular, but to raise an awareness of the realities the industry in general, and to help bring about a more accurate understanding of the medium’s history.

Whatever the case, Tales to Astonish #61 offers an interesting example of the sometimes tortured, laborious realities of comic book production.

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