I wanted to briefly note the death of fantasy writer Rachel Pollack, who passed away on April 7th aged 77 years old.
Pollack began publishing short fiction in 1971, and her first novel Golden Vanity was released in 1980. Her 1988 novel Unquenchable Fire brought her widespread recognition & acclaim and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel a year later.
Unquenchable Fire is a very complex, sophisticated story that examines faith, spirituality and feminism. I don’t even know how to begin summarizing the plot to the novel here, so I’ll just quote the New York Times obituary for Pollack, which describes the book’s premise thus:
“the story of a divorced woman in New York State who becomes pregnant with the messiah in a United States where miracles are commonplace”
I definitely feel it’s worth searching out a copy of Unquenchable Fire, as I found it to be a thought-provoking read. It is one one the books I’ve made sure to hold on to throughout the multiple apartment moves I’ve made over the past quarter century.
As with many comic book readers, I first became aware of Pollack’s work when she was hired by editor Tom Peyer to succeed Grant Morrison on the DC Comics / Vertigo series Doom Patrol. Morrison’s incredibly bizarre, surreal revamp of Doom Patrol with artist Richard Case in 1989 had been justifiably acclaimed. As such, when Morrison departed the series at the end of 1992, the general consensus was that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to follow on from him.
Pollack wrote Doom Patrol beginning with issue #64, cover-dated March 1993. Initially working with Richard Case, Pollack was subsequently paired with artists Scot Eaton, Linda Medley and Ted McKeever, with striking cover artwork by Tom Taggart and Kyle Baker.
Among the themes Pollack addressed in her Doom Patrol run was transsexuality, a topic that in the mid-1990s was practically taboo in mainstream entertainment. Pollack herself was a transgender woman, and as such the subject was vitally important to her. She added the character of Kate Godwin aka Coagua, who in a 2103 interview she described as a “transsexual lesbian super-hero with alchemical powers,” to the series’ cast in issue #70.
Pollack remained on Doom Patrol thru issue #87 in early 1995, at which point the series was canceled. Perhaps that might be regarded as an indication that Morrison’s work on the title could not immediately be succeeded after all. Nevertheless, during Pollack’s two years writing Doom Patrol she crafted some incredibly distinctive stories.
Pollack’s work on the series has subsequently been classified by a number of people as underrated. Last year DC Comics finally released a Doom Patrol Omnibus collecting her entire run. Pollack’s issues can also be read digitally on DC Universe Infinite.
I was fortunate enough to meet Pollack in June 1994 when she did a store signing with her friend and fellow writer Elaine Lee. I got the then-current issue of Doom Patrol autographed by Pollack. I found her to be a very interesting individual. At the time I was only 18 years old, and so I had quite a few questions about the mature subjects she had been including in her stories, and she very patiently answered my inquiries. It was at this signing that I found out about Pollack’s work as a novelist, which led me to seek out Unquenchable Fire later that Summer.
Following the cancellation of Doom Patrol, Pollack and Peyer reunited to work on a reboot of Jack Kirby’s New Gods for DC Comics. The two co-wrote the first six issues of New Gods, with Pollack then writing issues #7 to #11 solo.
Although her New Gods was much more of a mainstream project than Doom Patrol, it was still on the unconventional side. It’s a series that I will hopefully have an opportunity to take a more in-depth look at in an upcoming blog post.
Pollack was also a recognized authority on tarot, and wrote extensively on the subject. Neil Gaiman had consulted with Pollack when he utilized the tarot-reading sorceress Madame Xanadu in his own work, the four-issue miniseries The Books of Magic published in 1990. Subsequently Pollack wrote the text for The Vertigo Tarot deck, which featured artwork by Gaiman’s frequent collaborator Dave McKean and an introduction by Gaiman.
Pollack continued writing both fiction and non-fiction in the 21st Century. She was also a longtime, vocal activist for transgender rights.
For further information on Rachel Pollack and her fascinating works I recommend going to her website, which remains online.
Comic book artist Mike Machlan passed away earlier this month. Machlan’s career in comic books lasted from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. He worked primarily as an inker, although he did do the occasional penciling job. His art had a fun quality to it.
Machlan was a longtime friend of fellow artist Jerry Ordway. They were both from Wisconsin, and the two had met in the mid 1970s when they were working on fanzines and self-published comic books. Ordway broke into professional comic books first, and one of his earliest regular assignments was doing inks / finishes on All-Star Squadron. Written by Roy Thomas, All-Star Squadron featured the Justice Society and their numerous costumed allies fighting against the Axis powers during World War II.
Ordway assumed the penciling chores on All-Star Squadron with issue #19, and two months later on issue #21 (cover-dated May 1983) Machlan had joined him as the series’ inker. The two worked very well together, as can be seen by this superb splash of Batman page from All-Star Squadron #24 which evokes the character’s Golden Age origins.
Roy Thomas and his wife Dann devised a spin-off for All-Star Squadron. Set in the then-present of the early 1980s, Infinity Inc. would feature the sons, daughters & other successors of the JSA on Earth-Two. Other than the already-existing Power Girl and Huntress, the members of Infinity Inc. were new characters devised by Roy & Dann Thomas, Mike Machlan & Jerry Ordway. Machlan and Ordway worked closely together to design the visuals of the team members.
As Ordway recounted in Modern Masters Volume 13: Jerry Ordway, published by TwoMorrows Publishing in 2007:
“I think Jade and Obsidian were the two characters that were closest to me and to Mike, because we really had the most input on them. And there was some stuff that Mike did on his own. I don’t think I went over every one of those things, and he turned out a lot of sketches. He turned out Mr. Bones, a new Hourman, and a male version of Harlequin.”
Above is the double page promo piece by Machlan & Ordway that ran in All-Star Squadron #28 to promote the upcoming series.
The initial plan was for Machlan to pencil Infinity Inc. with Ordway inking him. However, at the last minute the two artists switched roles, with Ordway penciling and Machlan inking.
Machlan did still get to pencil a few of the Infinity Inc. covers, which Ordway inked. Machlan also did the full artwork for a number of profile images of the various team members, which were published throughout the series’ run.
Continuing his account of Infinity Inc’s origins, Ordway explained:
“But then you had Fury, and then finally Silver Scarab. And I think Fury and Silver Scarab are pure Mike Machlan-channeling-Kirby kind of designs.”
Above is Machlan’s profile pic of Silver Scarab, one of the characters on which he was primary designer, which appeared in Infinity Inc. #9.
Ordway and Machlan both departed from Infinity Inc. after the series’ first year. Machlan went on to ink Chuck Patton and George Tuska on Justice League of America, and Rafael Kayanan on The Fury of Firestorm, as well as doing a few inking jobs for First Comics.
Machlan began working for Marvel Comics in 1987, providing finishes over Al Milgrom’s layouts on West Coast Avengers beginning with issue #24. I felt Milgrom & Machlan made a solid team. One of the best examples of their collaboration was West Coast Avengers #29. “Death Run” features Moon Knight on a single-minded pursuit of Taurus, head of the Zodiac crime cartel. Machlan’s finishes really helped to enhance the intense, moody tone of writer Steve Englehart’s story.
The anthology series Marvel Fanfare that Milgrom edited frequently featured pin-up galleries that spotlighted the work of different artists. Milgrom especially enjoyed giving artists who were best known as inkers the opportunity to contribute pin-ups, enabling them to demonstrate their penciling abilities.
Marvel Fanfare #41 had a gallery of Mike Machlan pin-ups which featured various characters & events from the Silver Age. A different artist inked each piece. In an interesting reversal of their roles on West Coast Avengers, Machlan was inked by Milgrom on the pin-up of Captain America and his rogues gallery.
In 1989 John Byrne became the writer / artist on West Coast Avengers, and the series was soon re-titled Avengers West Coast in a move to make sure the book would be stocked on the shelves right next to the main Avengers series, hopefully increasing sales.
Machlan remained on Avengers West Coast for several issues, inking Byrne’s pencils. Once again, I felt Machlan did a good job, complementing Byrne’s work. Above is a page from Avengers West Coast #50 featuring the continuity-shattering meeting of the Vision and the original android Human Torch.
Machlan hopped over to Amazing Spider-Man in 1990, where he was paired with penciler Erik Larsen. I’m a huge fan of Larsen’s work, and I like the quality that Machlan brought to the finished art in those days before Larsen did his own inking. Machlan remained on Amazing Spider-Man for about a year.
Following this, Machlan worked on another Spider-Man project. Once again paired with Al Milgrom, he inked the four issue Deadly Foes of Spider-Man series in 1991.
Machlan also began working for DC Comics again in the early 1990s. His main assignment saw him return to the heroes of the Golden Age with the all-too short-lived Justice Society of America series that ran for 10 issues between August 1992 and May 1993. I recently blogged about this great, underrated series. Machlan was a good match for series penciler Mike Parobeck.
The mid-1990s saw a major downturn when the inflated speculator bubble finally burst. Machlan, like a number of other comic book professionals, departed the industry to find work elsewhere.
While no longer working for any of the major publishers, in recent years Machlan did commission work for private collectors. He did several great pieces for fans Michael Dunne and “Marvel Two-in-One Guy” which can be seen on Comic Art Fans.
Although Machlan’s career in comic books only lasted about a decade and a half, he did really good, quality work during that time. Many fans, myself included, fondly recall his art, and were saddened by the news of his death.
Joe Giella, a comic book artist whose career stretched back to the mid-1940s, passed away on March 21st. He was 94 years old. Alex Dueben of The Comics Journal referred to Giella as “one of the creators synonymous with the Silver Age of comics.”
Giella was born on June 27, 1928. He grew up in Astoria, Queens. He attended the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan. Giella was only in his teens when he began working in comic books, as his family was experiencing financial difficulties and the extra income he could bring in was desperately needed. His first credited work was for Hillman Publications in 1946. Soon after he was one of the many artists assisting on the Captain Marvel feature published by Fawcett, as well as working on staff at Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel. By 1948 Giella was freelancing for DC Comics, where he would spend the majority of his career.
Giella was initially doing full artwork, but he soon began to specialize in providing inks / finishes over the pencils of other artists. In an interview with Jim Amash that appeared in Alter Ego #52 from TwoMorrows Publishing in September 2005, Giella how this came about:
“None of us started out intending to become inkers; we started out penciling. I was inking two to three pages a day, but I couldn’t pencil more than one. And you know, when you need money, you kind-of lean towards the inking. I could bring home $90 a week instead of $40. And after a while, you kind-of get typecast. To this day, I’m still slow at penciling, and I make up the time on the inking.”
Giella regularly worked for editor Julius Schwartz at DC. He was an inker on some of the last stories DC published featuring the original versions of the Flash and Green Lantern, and when the Golden Age superhero trend finally ended in 1950 Giella worked on a number of Westerns published by DC. He inked Gene Colan on Hopalong Cassidy, and inked Gil Kane on both the Trigger Twins feature in All-Star Western and the quite unusual The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog.
Another penciler Giella regularly worked with was Sid Greene, on the anthology titles Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. The later title also occasionally had Giella inking Carmine Infantino on the sci-fi adventure feature Adam Strange.
In the second half of the 1950s, when Schwartz spearheaded the sci-fi tinged superhero revival of the Silver Age, Giella was once again one of his go-to inkers.
The Flash was reimagined as police scientist Barry Allen by Schwartz, writer Robert Kanigher and penciler Carmine Infantino in the pages of Showcase #4, which was cover-dated Sept-Oct 1956. That initial tale was inked by Joe Kubert, but when the Flash returned in the pages of Showcase #13 in 1958 inking chores were assumed by Giella and Frank Giacoia, and John Broome took over as writer with issue #14. When The Flash became an ongoing series again in early 1959 (beginning with issue #105, as it continued the numbering of the original Golden Age series) Broom, Infantino and Giella were the regular creative team.
Later in 1959 another Golden Age superhero, Green Lantern, was rebooted by Schwartz, writer John Broome and penciler Gil Kane, who introduced test pilot Hal Jordan as the new emerald ring-slinger. Giella inked Kane’s pencils, first on the three issue “tryout” run in Showcase #22-24 and then on the new, ongoing Green Lantern series that began in 1960.
Giella had also been inking both Sheldon Moldoff on the Batman and Detective Comics titles, although as with everyone else involved with the Dark Knight at the time they had to work anonymously, with Batman co-creator Bob Kane receiving the sole contractually obligated credit. Due to his work on the character, Giella was hired to provide the full artwork for the Batman newspaper strip in the mid-1960s.
Giella found the Batman strip to be a simultaneously enjoyable and frustrating experience. On the one hand, he very much liked Batman, a character he himself had grown up reading in the 1940s. On the other hand, the pay was low, the deadlines were brutal, and once again Giella was working uncredited, with “Bob Kane” appearing on the strip’s byline. As a result, he remained on it for only four years.
Giella continued to work for DC Comics on a variety of titles until the early 1980s. He also did the occasional job for Marvel Comics during the 1970s. In addition, Giella assisted Sy Barry on The Phantom newspaper strip for 17 years.
Giella became the artist of the Mary Worth newspaper strip in 1991. As he explained to Jim Amash, one of the appeals of taking on the assignment was that unlike on the Batman strip a quarter century earlier, this time he’d be receiving a byline on the feature.
In 2001 Giella returned to Gotham City with issue #2 of the five-issue miniseries Batman: Turning Points. Written by Ed Brubaker, the series explored the evolving relationship between Batman and James Gordon throughout the years. As the second issue was set in an era analogous to the Silver Age, and Giella was one of the oldest-living Batman artists, it was a nice touch to have him illustrate that chapter.
After retiring from the Mary Worth strip in 2016, Giella continued to draw. He was very much in-demand for commission illustrations and recreations from fans.
At times I feel Giella’s work was underappreciated. Gil Kane, who was notoriously critical of the inkers he was assigned, was not at all fond of Giella’s work. I’ve also heard a number of fans over the years refer to his inking as “flat.”
However, I certainly have a great deal of appreciation for Giella’s work. He’s one of those comic book professionals who I like to classify as “a good, solid artist.” He knew how to draw, he always turned in work of a professional quality, and he could always be counted upon to meet deadlines.
I also feel it speaks volumes that during his lengthy career Giella was called upon to provide inks / finishes over a wide selection of pencilers with very different styles, and he demonstrated the versatility necessary to do so. In addition to the aforementioned Colan, Greene, Infantino, Kane, and Moldoff, among the various pencilers Giella inked were Bob Brown, Dave Cockrum, Jose Delbo, Dick Dillin, Don Heck, Irv Novick, Bob Oksner, Frank Robbins, Kurt Schaffenberger, Joe Staton and Curt Swan.
Looking back at the work Giella did over Infantino and Kane on those now-classic Flash and Green Lantern stories in the late-1950s and early-1960s, I quite like the tone & atmosphere his inking provided. I feel it gave a smoother look to the stories which John Broome & Julius Schwartz had imbued with a decidedly mid-20th Century “space age” sci-fi tone.
On those occasions when Giella was called upon to produce full art, he did very clean, polished work. His art on the Batman newspaper strip, Batman: Turning Points #2, the various commission illustrations he drew, and even a relatively staid soap opera like Mary Worth was all solidly done.
There are comic professionals who have expressed an appreciation for Giella’s work. On his Instagram account, the acclaimed, prolific artist Butch Guice posted a tribute to Giella that included this remembrance:
“Mr. Giella’s slick fluid ink lines graced many a favorite comic story from my youth, including a fond series of Batgirl stories (with pencilers Jose Delbo and Don Heck) he lent his inking skills in helping produce.”
June Brigman, who succeeded Giella on Mary Worth, also offered praise for the artist on her Facebook page:
“Joe was a consummate professional and an excellent draftsman. He did exciting, dynamic superheroes as well as the endless repetition of a syndicated comic strip and always maintained a high standard of quality.”
I am genuinely grateful to Giella for allowing me to interview him for the article I wrote about artist George Klein, which saw print in Alter Ego #179, released in December of last year. Giella was one of the very few contemporaries of Klein who was still alive when I was preparing the article back in 2019, and as such he offered some valuable memories of his friend & colleague. I also appreciate that in 2020 Giella was kind enough to autograph a few comic books for me that I sent to him via his son Frank, who I’ve known for a number of years.
That’s something I noticed in practically every remembrance of Giella that has been written in the past week, the fact that the people who knew him came away with a uniformly positive view of the man. He really was a good person, and he will definitely be missed by friends and colleagues, as well as the fans who grew up on his work.
I was sorry to hear that acclaimed Japanese manga artist and anime creator Leiji Matsumoto had passed away on February 13th at the age of 85.
Matsumoto first worked professionally as an artist in 1954, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that he found acclaim, first for his work on the anime Space Battleship Yamato in 1974 and then for his creation of the popular manga series Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 in 1977.
The universe that Matsumoto conceived & designed was populated by a colorful, dynamic cast of characters: the swashbuckling freedom fighter Captain Harlock, his associate & fellow space buccaneer Queen Emeraldas, her enigmatic sister Maetel, and the young orphan Tetsuro Hoshino who travels with Maetel on the outer space locomotive train known as the Galaxy Express.
Matsumoto’s stories were space opera, and his distinctive design sensibilities are what would later come to be known as steampunk. In the retro sci-fi / space Western future that he conceived, Matsumoto’s characters frequently found themselves fighting against totalitarian forces, be they human-ruled dystopian regimes, alien invaders, or cyborg tyrants who sought to transform the galaxy in their image.
I first discovered Matsumoto’s work via the Galaxy Express 999 animated movie which was released in 1979. I vaguely recall seeing it as a child in the early 1980s on HBO, and I eagerly purchased it when it was at last released on VHS in the United States in 1996. The sequel Adieu, Galaxy Express was also released on video soon after. I really enjoyed both movies. In the early 2000s the four part serial Harlock Saga and the prequel Maetel Legend, the later of which told the origins of Maetel and Emeraldas, were released on DVD, and I got those, as well.
Matsumoto’s characters have, of course, appeared in comic books, movies and animated television series produced in Japan, but they have been popular enough to occasionally have new stories created for an English-speaking market. In the early 1990s American publisher Malibu Comics released several Captain Harlock series written by Robert W. Gibson and drawn by manga-inspired artists Ben Dunn & Tim Eldred. I found several of those comics in the back issue bins after I became a fan of Matsumoto’s work. More recently in 2021 Ablaze Publishing released a six issue Space Pirate: Captain Harlock miniseries by Matsumoto and French creator Jerome Alquie.
Leiji Matsumoto’s character & designs were truly memorable, his characters simultaneously romantic & larger than life and grounded in humanity, his stories a deft blend of dynamic action & poetic, philosophic contemplation. He will be missed by his legion of fans worldwide.
In the last several months a number of very talented comic book creators have passed away. To my regret I have unfortunately not had enough time to eulogize all of these losses. But I really wanted to take some time to put together some thoughts about British artist Kevin O’Neill, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 69.
Words like “unique” and “distinctive” get tossed about a great deal when discussing artists. But I truly believe those adjectives apply to Kevin O’Neill. He was a creator with an incredibly bizarre, hyper-detailed style who composed some genuinely dynamic & offbeat compositions in his work.
Probably the first time I saw O’Neill’s work was on “Legend of the Dark Mite” which appeared in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #38, published by DC Comics in 1992. The insanely surreal “Legend of the Dark Mite” was written by Alan Grant, another singular talent who sadly also passed away this year.
I subsequently learned about the Green Lantern Corps story “Tygers” written by Alan Moore that O’Neill illustrated in the mid-1980s. “Tygers” was rejected by the Comics Code Authority, and when DC Comics requested clarification about what precisely the CCA was objecting to in the story, the response from the Code was that O’Neill’s entire style was objectionable. DC published “Tygers” without the CCA seal of approval in Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 in 1986, a definite rarity in mainstream comics at the time.
The point at which I really became a fan of O’Neill’s work was in the late 1990s. Three things occurred in quick succession.
The first of these was the two issue Savage Dragon / Marshall Law miniseries published by Image Comics in 1997. I bought this one because I was a huge fan of Erik Larsen’s character. I hadn’t previously been familiar with the brutal superhero satire Marshall Law which O’Neil had co-created a decade earlier with Pat Mills, and this was certainly one hell of an introduction!
I feel that Savage Dragon, as another violent, bleakly comical creator-owned series, is far enough removed from mainstream superheroes that Mills & O’Neill were able to make the crossover with their character work quite well. I certainly enjoyed O’Neil’s absolutely insane artwork on Savage Dragon / Marshall Law.
The second event was that I spent six months in London, England, where I was able to purchase a number of back issues and collected editions of the weekly science fiction anthology series 2000 AD.
Among the 2000 AD material I discovered was Nemesis the Warlock, a sci-fi / dark fantasy series created by O’Neill with writer Pat Mills in 1980. Nemesis the Warlock revolved around the bizarre alien agent of chaos Nemesis and his struggle against the genocidal xenophobic tyrant Torquemada, who sought to “purify” the universe of all non-human lifeforms.
O’Neill designed the incredibly weird-looking Nemesis, the brutal Torquemada, Nemesis’ associate the beautiful freedom fighter Purity Brown, and the entire look of the world & technology of the series. Earlier today I took a glance though the first Nemesis the Warlock collected edition for the first time in a number of years, and the artwork & designs by O’Neill are even more strikingly dynamic & unsettling that I remembered.
O’Neill was the primary artist on the first and third “books” of the Nemesis the Warlock saga. Unfortunately, after drawing the first two chapters of Book Four for 2000 AD in 1984, O’Neill was forced to seek better-paying work in the American comics market. The equally-talented but stylistically very different Bryan Talbot took over as the artist on the feature.
A decade and a half later the tenth & final installment of Nemesis the Warlock, was serialized in 2000 AD, and O’Neill returned to the feature to illustrate the last chapter, which featured the long-awaited final confrontation between Nemesis and Torquemada.
At the time it was really great to be able to read the collections of the early Nemesis the Warlock “books” and to then get to follow “The Final Conflict” weekly in the pages of 2000 AD. O’Neill was in fine form as he reunited with Mills to bring the saga to its epic conclusion.
The third & final event in the late 1990s that cemented my interest in O’Neill was that the first The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen miniseries. Written by Alan Moore and drawn by O’Neill, it was published by the DC Comics imprint America’s Best Comics in 1999. So soon after thrilling to O’Neill’s work on Nemesis the Warlock, I also got to see his art on Moore’s mash-up of disparate Victorian literary works.
I have to confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. A significant part of that is due to the fact that the majority of the frequent literary, historical, musical & cultural references and allusions Moore made throughout the varies LoEG series went completely over my head. And I was actually a Literature & Communications major with a minor in History in college!
Nevertheless, I thought O’Neill always did absolutely stunning, and frequently unsettling, work on LoEG. And whatever my feelings about the often-oblique quality of Moore’s writing on the series, I was nevertheless glad that, after his disputes with DC Comics reached a final tipping point, he & O’Neill were able to take the series to Top Shelf Productions in 2009, where the two of them subsequently produced several more gorgeous volumes over the next decade. I bought the Century trilogy specifically for O’Neill’s artwork, with the intention of taking my time reading each of them in order to more fully parse the content & context of Moore’s scripts.
I consider myself very fortunate to have met O’Neill on a couple of occasions.
The first time was in November 2007 at Jim Hanley’s Universe in Manhattan. O’Neill was doing a signing to promote the release of the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. He was drawing sketches inside the book for everyone who bought a copy, and I requested Mina Murray.
While I was waiting on line to meet O’Neil I skimmed through the first chapter of Black Dossier. One of the things I was struck by was Mina’s characterization in that segment.
In the first LoEG series, Mina sought to be independent, but ended up finding herself in situations where she had to be rescued by her male teammates. One particular instance was in chapter six. Cornered on an airship by Professor Moriarty, an unsettled Mina attempts to reason with him as one intellectual to another. Moriarty’s response is to contemptuously sneer to his underlings “Throw this smelly little lesbian over the side.” It falls to Allan Quartermain to distract Moriarty and his men, at which point Mina is finally able to sabotage the airship.
In contrast, in the opening segment of Black Dossier, a macho, swaggering British secret agent named “Jimmy” (obviously an ultra-obnoxious extrapolation of James Bond) attempts to sexually assault Mina… at which point she proceeds to give him a serious @$$-kicking.
I was struck by how much more assertive Mina was and so I asked O’Neill to sketch her. I even pointed this out to O’Neill, and he agreed that she had grown & developed as the various series had progressed. He did a great job sketching Mina holding the eponymous Black Dossier.
I met O’Neill again in June 2009 when he was a surprise guest at Big Apple Comic Con. I had just started a “villains” theme sketchbook. I really wanted to get a diverse selection of characters, not just the usual Marvel and DC baddies. So I asked O’Neill to draw Torquemada from the Nemesis the Warlock serials. Pretty much everyone else at the show was asking O’Neill to draw characters from LoEG, and I got the impression that he was pleasantly surprised that I requested one of his other characters. I asked O’Neill if he remembered how to draw Torquemada. He proceeded to quickly knock out a great sketch, leading me to observe, “Well, I guess you still do know how to draw him.”
Both times I met O’Neill he came across as a good person who made time for his fans. He was an amazing artist with a genuinely distinctive style, and he will definitely be missed.
I recommend reading the tributes assembled by 2000 AD and Down the Tubes for a comprehensive look back at Kevin O’Neill’s life & career, with a large selection of his incredible artwork.
Comic book artist Tom Palmer passed away at the age of 81 on August 18th.
Palmer started in comic books in 1968 at Marvel Comics, at the tail end of what fans generally refer to as the Silver Age. Although he initially worked as a penciler, Palmer soon transitioned into inking. He quickly established himself as one of the great inkers in the industry. In addition to his work as an inker / embellisher, Palmer was a colorist & painter. Palmer had runs on X-Men inking Neal Adams, Doctor Strange and Tomb of Dracula inking Gene Colan, Star Wars inking Walter Simonson and Ron Frenz, X-Men: The Hidden Years inking John Byrne, and Incredible Hulk inking John Romita Jr and Lee Weeks.
However, the title which I most personally associate Palmer with is Avengers. He initially inked & colored several issues in the early 1970s, first over John Buscema and then Neal Adams. Palmer returned to Avengers with issue #255 in 1985, and he remained on the book thru to issue #402 in 1996, doing inks / finishes for nearly every issue during that 12 year period. Just as Joe Sinnott had previously played a key role in defining the look of Fantastic Four for over a decade and a half via his strong, characteristic inking, so too did Palmer do the same for Avengers.
Here are some highlights from Palmer’s work on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes:
Palmer really hit the ground running on Avengers #255 (May 1985). In addition to once again doing a great job inking John Buscema, who also returned to the series with this issue, Palmer produced a stunning painted cover that spotlighted the then-current Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau.
Another striking Avengers cover by Palmer is issue #273. The comics released by Marvel with a November 1985 cover-date marked the 25th anniversary of the debut of the Fantastic Four, and each cover had a portrait of its main character, or for the team books, one of the prominent members, surrounded by border artwork by John Romita. Avengers #273 had a portrait of the Black Knight by Palmer, who rendered the character in rich textures.
More often than not Buscema was doing loose pencil breakdowns on Avengers during the second half of the 1980s. It was Palmer’s job to produce the finished artwork, a task he did with incredible skill, rendering some very stylish, detailed pages.
This pages is from Avengers #277, the final chapter of the now-classic “Under Siege” storyline written by Roger Stern, which saw Baron Zemo form a new Masters of Evil to try to destroy the Avengers. Buscema & Palmer did great work on the final battle between Captain America and Zemo.
Buscema left Avengers with issue #300. Following a short stint by Rich Buckler, the new penciler on the series was Paul Ryan, with Palmer remaining on inks.
This amazing poster featuring most of the Avengers members up to that point in time was drawn by Ryan & Palmer. It was released in 1989, and was probably done by them around the same time as when they were working on Avengers #305 (July 1989) which contained a very similar scene.
Larry Hama had a short, underrated stint writing Avengers in the early 1990s, during which he shook up the team’s line-up and introduced some offbeat villains. Chief among these was the strange other-dimensional entities the Tetrarchs of Entropy. Ryan & Palmer certainly did an excellent job depicting those bizarre entities, as seen in issue #329 (February 1991).
Bob Harras became writer on Avengers with issue #334, and the next issue he was joined by penciler Steve Epting. Palmer remained on as inker, and for the next several years they were the creative team on the title, bringing some much-welcome stability to the book.
Palmer once again also began coloring Avengers with issue #343. He would hold the dual roles of inker and colorist on the series for the next three years. Here’s the splash page to Avengers #345 (March 1992), part of the “Operation: Galactic Storm” crossover, featuring Palmer’s inks & colors over Epting’s pencils. Left to right we have Quasar, the Eric Masterson version of Thor, the Vision and Sersi of the Eternals.
Palmer’s coloring was also on display on several Avengers covers such as this one, issue #375 (June 1994), the finale to Harras’ long-running Gatherers storyline. This great wrap-around cover, penciled by Epting and inked by Palmer, is definitely enhanced by Palmer’s vibrant coloring. I always felt Epting & Palmer did a fine job rendering the Black Knight and Sersi on Avengers, and that’s certainly on display here.
This is definitely one of my favorite Avengers covers from the 1990s. Click on the image to see the cover in all its full-sized glory!
Mike Deodato began penciling Avengers with issue #380 (November 1994). It’s interesting to see the very slick work of Deodato embellished by Palmer’s highly textured inking, but I think it worked, really making the art stand out from the various other jobs the very popular Deodato was doing at that time. Palmer also does the coloring. The two of them definitely did good work on this dynamic double page spread featuring Quicksilver and Crystal.
Avengers #384 (March 1995) is another rare example of Palmer’s full artwork. Harras wrapped up a long-running plotline involving the ruthless machinations of the Greek gods in a genuinely heart-wrenching finale that left Hercules devastated. Palmer’s cover really captured the tragedy of Harras’ story.
All good things must come to an end. So it was with Avengers volume one, which concluded with issue #402 (September 1996) as the “Onslaught” crossover send both the Avengers and Fantastic Four over to an alternate reality for the year-long “Heroes Reborn” event. Palmer departed in style via an incredible painted cover.
I think it really speaks to Palmer’s skill as an illustrator that he does such a good job with this particular odd team line-up which had, among other things, the Wasp transformed into a humanoid insect and Thor wearing an overly-complex costume that just screamed “grim & gritty.”
This marked the end of Palmer’s regular association with the team, although he would return to the team from time to time, such as inking Will Rosado on the eight issue Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes II miniseries in 2007 and inking John Romita on several Avengers issues in 2011.
I was fortunate enough to meet Palmer on a few occasions at comic cons and store signings. He always came across as a good, polite person who made time for the fans.
The news of Tom Palmer’s death is sad. We’ve lost way too many incredible talents in such a very short time.
Prolific character actor David Warner passed away on July 24th, just five days shy of his 81st birthday. I think that my fellow blogger A Middle Aged Geek summed up Warner’s appeal on his own retrospective:
“The actor’s range was his shield from typecasting, and he could play deeply sympathetic characters just as he could play the very embodiment of evil–all with complete believability.”
Warner was born in Manchester, England on 29 July, 1941. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and in 1962 joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company. Warner’s stage work brought him acclaim, but due to a case of stage fright in the early 1970s he made the decision to shift his career to movies & television, where he would work regularly for the next four and a half decades.
Warner is one of the first actors who I became aware of, as he was regularly appearing in movies that I saw in the theater and on television when I was a kid in the early 1980s.
Acting opposite Malcolm McDowell as novelist H.G. Wells, Warner played John Stevenson aka Jack the Ripper in Time After Time (1979) directed by Nicholas Meyer. His identity as the infamous serial killer uncovered in Victorian England, Stevenson flees to then-modern day San Francisco via Wells’ time machine, with the author pursuing him in the present in an effort to finally bring the Ripper’s killing spree to an end.
Warner played the physical embodiment of Evil in Terry Gilliam’s fantasy adventure Time Bandits (1981). A year later he appeared in the triple role of Ed Dillinger / Sark / the voice of the Master Control Program in the groundbreaking sci-fi virtual reality movie Tron.
Also around this time, in the 1979 horror movie Nightwing, Warner was cast in the somewhat more sympathetic role of scientist Philip Payne, who assists Nick Mancuso as Native American police officer Youngman Duran in fighting a swarm of vampire bats infected with the bubonic plague.
Having seen Warner in all of these, I was subsequently very pleased whenever he would turn up in a particular movie or television show.
Warner was cast as the human diplomat St. John Talbot in the underwhelming Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and as such he was quite surprised when he was then asked to appear as a different character in Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country (1991) by Nicholas Meyer, who had previously directed him 12 years earlier in Time After Time.
Years later Warner would jokingly suggest that everyone had simply forgotten he was in Star Trek V when they asked him to appear in the next one, and truthfully I barely recall him from it. In contrast, his performance as Klingon Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI, who Meyer conceived as a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Mikhail Gorbachev, was incredibly memorable. Warner brought genuine dignity & compassion to the role of Gorkon. As a result, it carried a real impact when the Chancellor was assassinated, and with his dying breath begged Captain Kirk not to let the peace negotiations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire die with him.
Warner made one last Star Trek appearance a year later when he played sadistic Cardassian interrogator Gul Madred in the two part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Chain of Command.” Warner made Madred a figure of quiet menace. It was such a powerful, sinister performance, and it was surprising to learn that Warner had only been cast shortly before filming began when another actor dropped out at the last minute. As he explained to The A.V. Club in 2017:
“So I took over with three days notice. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but there was a lot of dialogue in it. And I said, “Look, I’ll do it, but I’ve got three days, and I can’t learn that kind of dialogue in three days.” So they wrote it all up on boards for me to read. So if you ever see it again, you won’t see my eyes moving, but I read every single line that I spoke, because I just couldn’t learn it in time.”
Also around this time Warner appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze as Professor Jordan Perry, the scientist who was indirectly responsible for the Turtles mutating. Now, I was a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books at the time, but even so I’ll readily admit The Secret of the Ooze was quite a silly movie. I feel Warner brought a touch of class to the proceedings. He apparently enjoyed working on it, as he told The A.V. Club:
“It was just great fun being in a movie like that. You know, for kids. I didn’t often do kids pictures… it was just great fun to be on the side of the good guys!”
From 1992 to 1995 Warner voiced Batman’s immortal adversary Ra’s al Ghul on Batman: The Animated Series, reprising the role on Superman: The Animated Series in 1999 and Batman Beyond in 2000. Voice director Andrea Romano made some brilliant casting decisions on Batman: The Animated Series, and Warner as Ra’s al Ghul was absolutely one of them. The first time I saw an episode with Ra’s and heard him speak I knew that Warner, with his rich, theatrical voice, was the perfect casting. To this day whenever I read a comic book in which Ra’s al Ghul appears I “hear” Warner’s voice in my head whenever I read the character’s dialogue.
Another solid performance by Warner was archeologist Aldous Gajic on the Babylon 5 episode “Grail” (1994). Gajic comes to the B5 space station in search of the Holy Grail, which he believes to be alien in origin.
In his later years Warner became associated with the British science fiction series Doctor Who. He acted in several of the Big Finish audio plays, including two, “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Masters of War,” where he played an alternate-reality incarnation of the Third Doctor who, instead of being exiled to Earth in 1970, arrives in 1997, where in his absence events have taken a definite turn for the worse. Warner also voiced the villainous Lord Azlok on the Doctor Who animated serial “Dreamland” in 2009.
Warner at last had the opportunity to appear in a live action episode of Doctor Who in 2013, guest starring in “Cold War” as the lovably eccentric, pop music obsessed Soviet scientist Professor Grisenko. “Cold War” was definitely one of the best episodes from Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor, and I feel that’s at least partially due to Warner’s presence. Grisenko and Clara had some good scenes together, with Warner and Jenna Coleman playing off each other very well.
All of this is only just a small portion of Warner’s career. Following has passing earlier this week, his career was covered in a number of retrospectives, and on several occasions while reading them my reaction was literally “Oh, I forgot he was in that one!” The IMDB lists 228 acting credits for him.
Warner leaves behind an impressive body of work. He will definitely be missed by his many fans.
Longtime fantasy artist Ken Kelly passed away on June 3rd. He was 76 years old. During a career that lasted half a century, Kelly became renowned for his incredible paintings of fiercely heroic warriors, stunningly sexy women and hideously awful monsters. Kelly was also acclaimed for his work illustrating album covers for rock bands.
Kelly was born in New London, Connecticut on May 19, 1946. He had always liked to draw & paint and so, after four years overseas serving in the Marines, in 1968 Kelly returned to the States and decided to pursue a career as an illustrator. Kelly’s uncle by marriage was Frank Frazetta, and he studied under the acclaimed illustrator for the next few years.
Kelly’s first professional sale was the cover painting for Vampirella #6 from Warren Publishing, which was released in July 1970. Kelly would regularly contribute covers to Vampirella, Creepy and Eerie throughout the 1970s and into the early 80s, when Warren finally shut down. The work was low-paying, but as Kelly would explain in a 2018 interview, the experience got him used to producing quality work while hitting deadlines:
“Warren was publishing magazines every couple of weeks, so the turnaround [for covers] had to be very fast. You had to come up with a concept, paint it, deliver it, and then you were on to the next one.”
After several years of toiling at Warren, Kelly’s life & career was literally changed almost overnight when he was hired to paint the cover artwork for “Destroyer,” the fourth studio album from hard rock band Kiss. “Destroyer” was released on March 15, 1976 and over the next several months became a hit record. Kelly’s cover painting for the album put him on the map, making him a very much in-demand artist from that point onward.
I certainly cannot say that I’m a huge Kiss fan, but even so I’ll readily acknowledge that Kelly’s dynamic cover painting for “Destroyer” is one of the most iconic images featuring the band.
Kelly was subsequently hired to paint the cover for Kiss’s six studio album “Love Gun” (1977), as well as the Rainbow album “Rising” (1976) and half a dozen album covers for Manowar between 1987 and 2007, among others.
The cover to “Destroyer” also brought Kelly’s work to the attention of paperback publishers, and from the mid 1970s onwards he was regularly hired to paint heroic fantasy covers. Among the authors whose work Kelly was most associated with was the late Robert E. Howard, creator of the barbarian anti-hero Conan.
It was through Howard’s writings that I first became acquainted with Kelly’s artwork. In the mid 1990s Baen Books published seven paperback volumes of The Robert E. Howard Library. Up until that point in time Howard’s Conan stories had been widely released, but much of his other fiction had never been properly collected together. One of the Baen volumes was the first complete collection of Howard’s stories featuring the grim swashbuckling Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane. I’d heard of Kane in the past, and been intrigued by him, so when Baen released that collection in late 1995 I eagerly snatched it up.
That book had a gorgeous painted cover featuring the climax of REH’s story “The Moon of Skulls.” Looking at the copyright page, there was a credit that read “Cover art by C.W. Kelly.” Well, I had no idea who this C.W Kelly was, but he certainly seemed like a talented artist.
“C.W. Kelly”would provide the other lushly illustrated painted covers for The Robert E. Howard Library. I bought several of those volumes, although in the intervening years, having moved half a dozen times, I misplaced a couple. I still have the Solomon Kane collection as well as a couple others from the series.
I was fortunate enough to meet Kelly on a few occasions, at the Chiller Theatre conventions held in New Jersey in 2007 and 2008, and at one of the I-CON sci-fi conventions held at Stony Brook University on Long Island.
Kelly came across as a genuinely decent guy. The first time I met him I purchased a copy of his oversized art book Ken Kelly: Escape. It was a gorgeous collection of his paintings & illustrations. Looking through it I saw several familiar pieces, and I finally realized that the “C.W. Kelly” who had painted those covers for Baen Books was Ken Kelly.
Even though he was best known for his paintings, Kelly also worked in pencil and pen & ink, and when he was at conventions he would sell these types of illustrations, as well as do fairly basic convention sketches, for quite reasonable prices. I thought that was a nice gesture, as he obviously understood that a lot of his fans who would like to own a piece of his art would not be able to afford his paintings.
I got a couple of sketches from Kelly. Due to his aptitude for depicting heroic fantasy, I asked him to do a Thor drawing in my Avengers Assemble theme sketchbook. The next time I saw him I had him draw Boba Fett in my Star Wars theme book. He did nice work on both.
Kelly painted literally hundreds of beautiful, striking pieces during his five decade career. There’s no way for me to adequately present an overview of his work within the confines of this blog. So, instead, I’ll merely present a few of my favorite pieces by him.
First we have the dark fantasy armored figure of “Death’s End” which Kelly described as “one of my most popular paintings.” Kelly utilized the central armored figure for the cover to his Escape collection. A limited edition 20” tall resin statue sculpted by Tony Cipriano was later issued.
The beautiful, sensuous “Anastacia’s Lair” appears to have been one of Kelly’s personal favorites. In the Escape collection he described it thus:
“This is a personal concept I wanted to pursue, focusing on an interior setting. It’s always interesting to paint cats to I included one as her protector and pet. I am at any given time working on five or more of these types of paintings, it’s very relaxing for me.”
Stepping outside of the sword & sorcery genre, Kelly produced “Snowtrap” in 1997. As he explained it:
“Scenes like this are most liberating for me. There’s no alternative universe to create, no debating whether the weaponry matches the era or architecture, or whether the plausibility of the creatures detracts from the scene. This is simply a female mammoth desperately struggling to keep her calf from the jaws of death.”
That’s the mere tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kelly’s artwork. I highly recommend visiting his official website to see a wide selection of his paintings.
Kelly was apparently active as an artist up until almost the end of his life. One of his most recent pieces was sci-fi swordmaiden Taarna for the cover of Heavy Metal #308, which was released last year.
Ken Kelly was a very talented artist who had an incredible career, impacting comic books, fantasy and American hard rock. He will definitely be missed by his many fans.
I was very sorry to hear about the passing of legendary comic book creator George Perez on May 6th. Perez had announced back in December that he was suffering from with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and that he had approximately six months to a year left to live. We all knew this day was coming soon, but it doesn’t make it any less sad.
Perez had an incredibly lengthy, diverse career. As I did a week ago to mark the passing of fellow legend Neal Adams, I am going to refrain from even trying to put together any sort of comprehensive retrospective of Perez’s career, and instead just focus on my own impressions of his work as a fan.
I first started following comic books regularly in 1989 when I was 13 years old, so I missed Perez’s early work on Fantastic Four and Avengers for Marvel Comics in the late 1970s, as well as his wildly popular collaboration with writer Marv Wolfman on The New Teen Titans at DC Comics beginning in the early 1980s.
While I can’t be 100% certain, I think the first work by Perez that I ever saw were his covers for the “Batman: Year Three” and “A Lonely Place of Dying” story arcs that ran through Batman #436-442 in the summer and fall of 1989. I was immediately struck by Perez’s intricately detailed work and his complex compositions. His cover to #439 featuring Nightwing hanging on for dear life from the bell tower of a church in the midst of a fierce rainstorm, highlighted by the Bat-signal, especially stood out in my mind. Perez and colorist Anthony Tollin did absolutely stunning work in rendering that atmospheric image.
Within a couple of years I was following quite a few DC titles. War of the Gods was a major crossover that DC published in the summer & fall of 1991, and it tied in with Perez’s run on Wonder Woman. So I picked up Wonder Woman #58 which was written & cover-illustrated by Perez and the four issue War of the Gods miniseries for which Perez was writing, doing interior pencil layouts and drawing full covers. As I’ve mentioned before, this was an absolutely insane time for me to try to dive into Wonder Woman, because this was the culmination of a number of plotlines & character arcs that Perez had been developing over the past five years.
Three decades later I only remember three things about War of the Gods: 1) the evil sorceress Circe was the main villain, 2) I didn’t understand even half of what was going on, and 3) DC promoted the fact that for the cover of the final issue of the miniseries Perez set out to draw a cover featuring ONE HUNDRED different characters. That must have been my first exposure to Perez’s fondness for drawing literal armies.
At the exact same time Perez was also penciling another crossover, this time at Marvel. The Infinity Gauntlet was another “cast of thousands” cosmic extravaganza that ran for six double-sized issues. Truthfully, I wasn’t especially into writer Jim Starlin’s story for The Infinity Gauntlet, either, since it very predictably followed the arc of Thanos becoming a god and wiping the floor with everyone else in the Marvel Universe for half a dozen issues before finally losing the titular Infinity Gauntlet.
Nevertheless, Perez, paired with inker Josef Rubinstein, did a fantastic job drawing the cosmic spectacle… at least until working on two mega-crossovers simultaneously became too much for even someone of Perez’s talent & speed, and he had to bow out partway through issue #4, with Ron Lim taking up penciling duties for the remainder of the miniseries. To show support for Lim stepping into this high-profile assignment and having the unenviable job of following in his footsteps, Perez inked Lim’s pencils on the covers for the final two issues of The Infinity Gauntlet.
So, while I haven’t revisited The Infinity Gauntlet in the last 30 years, either, I definitely was impressed by the work Perez did on the first half of the miniseries. Certainly his intricate cover for the first issue, colored by John Stracuzzi, is one of the all-time greatest depictions of Thanos in the character’s half-century history. Heck, even Jim Starlin, the writer / artist who created Thanos, has used Perez’s cover artwork for The Infinity Gauntlet #1 for his own convention banner. Now that is respect.
Anyway, throughout the 1990s, when I was in high school & college, I went to a lot of comic book conventions, and bought a lot of back issues from the 1970s and 80s. Amongst these were several books that Perez worked on: Avengers, Justice League of America, The New Teen Titans, Marvel Fanfare, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Action Comics. I also had the opportunity to pick up a lot more issues of Perez’s epic, groundbreaking five year run on Wonder Woman, at last getting in on the earlier parts of his incredible, highly influential revamp of Princess Diana of Themyscira.
In the mid 1990s Perez penciled the first six issues of Isaac Asimov’s I-BOTS, written by Steven Grant, published by Tekno Comics / Big Entertainment. I took a look at Perez’s work on that series a few months ago as part of the most recent round of Super Blog Team-Up, in which the various contributors examined different parts of Perez’s amazing career.
In 1998 Perez had another opportunity to pencil Avengers, this time paired with writer Kurt Busiek. Perez remained on the series for three years. After the meandering, confusing events of “The Crossing” and the controversial Heroes Reborn that saw Rob Liefeld take over the book, Busiek & Perez’s run was warmly received by long-time Avengers readers.
Now here’s another one of those occasions when I am going to go against conventional fan wisdom. The truth is I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about Busiek’s writing on Avengers; I feel Busiek is an amazing writer on smaller, intimate, character-driven stories set against the epic backdrops of superhero universes, something he’s demonstrated again and again with his incredible work on Astro City. Same thing for Thunderbolts from Marvel, which was a very character-centric series. In contract, Avengerswas the epic superhero event book, and I just didn’t feel that Busiek quite had the faculty to pull off those sorts of stories. (Just my personal opinion, so feel free to disagree.)
That said, Busiek did really solid work on the character-driven subplots in Avengers involving the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Wonder Man, and Carol Danvers / Warbird, as well as his own creations Silverclaw and Triathalon. And of course Perez did an incredible job illustrating Busiek’s stories, both the action scenes and the quieter character moments. I certainly appreciated the stunning costume Perez designed for the Scarlet Witch. And that bellydance sequence featuring Wanda from Avengers vol 3 #19 (Aug 1999) seen above was absolutely gorgeous, a superb example of Perez’s storytelling abilities.
In the early 2000s Perez signed an exclusive contract with startup publisher CrossGen Comics. Perez penciled the quarterly double-sized CrossGen Chronicles, followed by the monthly series Solus. I only read a handful of the CrossGen titles, but I picked up a couple of issues of CrossGen Chronicles specifically for Perez’s artwork.
One of the things I appreciated about the CrossGen books was that it was not a superhero-centric universe. CrossGen enabled Perez to stretch his boundaries and work in the genres of fantasy and sci-fi / space opera. He did some incredible work for them. Regrettably CrossGen only lasted a few years, going bankrupt in 2003.
Back in 1981 Perez had begun penciling a Justice League / Avengers crossover, but the project was left uncompleted due to editorial conflicts between DC and Marvel Comics. Two decades later, in 2002, the Big Two at last came to an agreement to work together and publish a crossover between their two superstar teams. Even though Perez was signed to CrossGen, he’d included a clause in his contract with them that if Justice League / Avengers ever happened he would be allowed to draw it. And so he was reunited with Kurt Busiek and colorist Tom Smith to produce the long-awaited meeting of the Justice League and Avengers in four double-sized bookshelf issues.
JLA / Avengers once again gave Perez the opportunity to draw his casts of thousands. The absolute highlight of the event was the wraparound cover to the third issue, on which Perez depicted every single member of both teams up to that point in time. Tom Smith recently recounted that it took him two whole weeks just to color that cover.
It seems like everyone has a George Perez story, so here’s mine: I met writer Marv Wolfman at a comic con in White Plains NY in June 2000 and had him autograph my copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, the historic (and at the time absolutely permanent) death of Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. A few months later, at a store signing in Connecticut, I met artist Jerry Ordway, who had inked that issue,and I had him autograph it, too. He smiled and said “I’d better leave room for George Perez to sign it.” I responded that he didn’t have to do that, since I didn’t expect to ever meet Perez (and, really, I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity, because he was such an incredibly popular artist). Ordway just smiled again and autographed the book, leaving several inches space between his and Wolfman’s signatures.
Fast forward a few years, and low & behold none other than George Perez was a guest at a comic con in Manhattan. Of course I brought along my copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, and Perez autographed it in between Wolfman & Ordway’s signatures. So, a big “thank you” to Jerry Ordway for his foresight.
I wish I could regale you with some fascinating anecdotes about my meeting George Perez. The simple fact is, in the couple of minutes I spoke with him he came across as a good person, and that’s it. From everything I’ve heard Perez was always like that; he always made an effort to be friendly to all of his fans, to greet them with a warm smile.
About a decade later Michele and I were at New York Comic Con. We ran into Perez when he was between panel discussions or something; I don’t recall the specifics. I just remember that Michele had had a copy of Wonder Woman vol 2 #19 with her, and she went up to Perez and asked him to sign it. I think he was talking with someone, or maybe he was on his way out of the room, but whatever it was he was doing he paused, turned to Michele, smiled, pulled out a sharpie, and autographed her comic. That’s the type of person Perez was, always making time for his fans.
George Perez was an incredible artist and a genuinely decent person. He will definitely be missed. I wish to offer my condolences to his family, friends and colleagues for their loss.
Legendary comic book artist and forceful advocate for creators’ rights Neal Adams passed away on April 28th at the age of 80 years old. During a career that spanned six decades, Adams had groundbreaking runs illustrating Batman, Deadman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Superman for DC, and Avengers and X-Men for Marvel, as well as working in the horror, sword & sorcery and humor genres.
I was born in 1976 and didn’t start reading comic books regularly until the late 1980s, so I was not around when Adams made an absolutely seismic impact on comic books, both as an industry and as an art form.
For a very insightful look at Adams’ work from the perspective of someone who was following comic books in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I highly recommend reading my friend Alan Stewart’s blog post on The Brave and the Bold #79, published by DC Comics with an Aug-Sept 1968 cover date, an issue Alan refers to as “one of the most historically significant comics of Neal Adams’ career.”
Even though I wasn’t there when Neal Adams shook American comic books to their core, I nevertheless wish to pay tribute to the man and his work. So here is my own personal experience at discovering his incredible artwork.
By the 1980s Adams had mostly removed himself from mainstream comic books, having found the fields of storyboarding, advertising, and graphic design to be much better paying ones. He was releasing some creator-owned projects, first through Pacific Comics and then through his own Continuity Studios. Unfortunately for me they got lost in the glut of the early 1990s comic book explosion, because I simply did not know to look for them.
With the benefit of hindsight, I wish that I had picked up those comics, and that Adams had been able to do more with those characters, especially Ms. Mystic, who I’ve always felt has a wonderful design. (I did later pick up a few of these as back issues.)
So… three and a half decades ago there were no trade paperback collections reprinting older comic books or digital editions readily available to read. There was no Wikipedia or social media. All that I had as a 13 year old comic book fan in 1989 was letter columns and editorial pages in current comic books. From time to time Neal Adams’ name would be mentioned… and I really had no way of knowing who he was.
The first occasion when I ever saw Adams’ work must have been in the collection The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told which DC Comics released in November 1988 ahead of Batman’s 50th anniversary. I bought that book in 1990, and I read it religiously.
Neal Adams penciled two of the stories in that collection, “Ghost of the Killer Skies” from Detective Comics #404 (Oct 1970) and “Half an Evil” from Batman #234 (Aug 1971), both of those in collaboration with writer Denny O’Neil and inker Dick Giordano. The book also had smaller reproductions of a few of Adams’ covers, among them his evocative artwork for Batman #227 (Dec 1970), a stunningly atmospheric piece that when I finally saw it full-sized years later took my breath away. (That particular cover can be viewed at the top of this blog post.)
While I certainly liked Adams artwork in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told well enough, I had no way of putting it within its proper context. His penciling was nice, but it didn’t seem all that different from what I was used to seeing in comic books. I liken it to someone completely ignorant of cinematic history viewing Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and having the reaction of “What’s the big deal?” Because just as the innovations Welles had pioneered in his filmmaking eventually became commonplace in movies, the storytelling & stylistic choices pioneered by Adams had become thoroughly suffused in American comic books by the early 1990s.
I think that I FINALLY began to understand just how important Neal Adams was when in the late 1990s and the early 2000s DC at long last began reissuing his work. I was at last able to read Green Lantern / Green Arrow and the Batman: Tales of the Demon collection featuring the Dark Knight’s first encounters with the diabolical Ra’s al Ghul, both of which Adams did with writer Denny O’Neil.
Likewise, the epic Avengers storyline “The Kree / Skrull War” and the late 1960s X-Men run that Adams penciled with writer Roy Thomas and inker Tom Palmer (with Adams serving as an uncredited co-plotter) were both collected together by Marvel Comics in the year 2000.
Adams’ artwork on all of these was absolutely breathtaking. I also discovered that he drew some astonishingly great covers for DC throughout the 1970s. The more I saw of Adams’ work, the more I grew to appreciate it.
On Facebook comic artist Scott Williams shared the below two images, along with the following commentary:
“Someone on Twitter posted these two images side by side. One, a page from X-Men #54 by Don Heck, and the other from X-Men #56 by Neal Adams, both from 1969. Same characters and storyline. My point is not to in any way disparage Don Heck, but to demonstrate what a tectonic impact Neal had in comics. Couldn’t be a more stark and clear example (garish reprint coloring aside here) of how Neal changed the game forever.”
For the record, the full credits for X-Men #54 are apparently breakdowns by Don Heck, finished pencils by Werner Roth, and inks by Vince Colletta. Heck and Roth are both good, solid, underrated artists who seldom receive their due. Pencilers such as Heck and Roth were the vital foundation of the American comic book industry, guys who could tell a clear story and hit deadlines month after month.
But, yeah, when you place Adams side-by-side with them, basically drawing the same scene as Heck & Roth , it totally enables you to see exactly what Adams brought to comic books in the late 1960s, and why it was so Earth-shaking.
Just as important, perhaps even more important, as Adams’ artistic legacy was his continual fight for creators’ rights in the comic book industry, which has for all-too-long regarded talent as interchangeable, disposable cogs in the machine. Among the creators Adams helped out where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and Russ Heath. Over on 13th Dimension former DC Comics writer / editor / publisher Paul Levitz discussed this aspect of Adams’ career…
“What I didn’t know is that as Neal began shaking up the look of comics, he began devoting much of his energy to shaking up the processes. Creative people were treated very poorly in the field in those years, and most of the leaders in the community were afraid to champion the cause because of the likely consequences. The disparity of power between the owners of the comics companies and the creators was an immeasurable gap, and at its base waited carnivores ready to devour agitators. But a modern Don Quixote had no fear…
“Of the many fights won or ignored, the one that was most visible was being part of the team (with Jerry Robinson and Ed Preiss) that labored to restore Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s credit to Superman, and economic dignity to their lives. Jerry was probably the more suave negotiator, Ed the wise lawyer… but Neal roared the loudest. And they won.”
Adams was also a teacher to young up-and-coming artists who hoped to enter the comic book biz. Among the many creators he mentored over the years were Frank Brunner, Howard Chaykin, Larry Hama, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz, Buzz , Henry Martinez and his own son Josh Adams.
Living in the New York City area most of my life, I was very fortunate to have met Neal Adams on several occasions at comic cons and store signing. In spite of the fact that he was a hugely popular creator who was frequently mobbed by fans, Adams always came across as polite and patient to everyone who came up to his table. He always had a smile on his face.
There was one time he was at Big Apple Comic Con about a decade ago when his table wasn’t busy and I had the opportunity to chat with him for a few minutes, and I asked him about something I had been curious about for a while. In the pages of X-Men #62 (Nov 1969) Adams had been the first artist to draw Magneto without his helmet. The features & hair he gave Magneto were very close to those of Quicksilver… so much so that a decade later this became the basis for establishing that Magneto was the father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
I asked Adams if in giving Magneto that particular visual he had intended for the character to be Quicksilver’s father. Adams gave me one of his smiles and explained that he liked to plant “seeds” in his storylines that he or other creators could then use to develop future storylines if they so choose.
Adams then smiled again, leaned in conspiratorially, and told me he had something to tell me, but I had to promise not to tell anyone else about it, and I agreed. (Since he’s now passed away I feel comfortable recounting this.) Adams said he had an idea for another X-Men story that he hoped to do one day. Adams observed that the Beast in his furry blue form had the same distinctive hairstyle as Wolverine… so he wanted to reveal that Wolverine was Hank McCoy’s father.
Honestly, it sounded completely bonkers to me! But I am sure that if Adams had ever gotten around to actually doing it then it would certainly have been a memorable story.
Another time I saw Adams at a convention he was penciling a page for the Batman: Odyssey project at his table while talking to fans. Observing him up close laying down this detailed pencil work and these intricate, dramatic layouts while simultaneously carrying on conversations just left me in awe.
Neal Adams always looked a decade or so younger to me than he actually was. For example, when he was in early 70s he didn’t look much older than 60. I guess that’s why I expected him to live, well, not forever, but certainly much, much longer. Still, 80 years is a good, long run, especially as he was still creating quality work right up until almost the end, capping it off with the Fantastic Four: Antithesis miniseries written by Mark Waid that was published in 2020.
So much more could be said about Adams; you could literally write books about him. I’ve blogged about him a few times in the past; the links are below.
My sincere condolences to Neal Adams’ family, friends, and colleagues for their loss.