Female Furies: feminism vs fascism

I recently had the opportunity to pick up the trade paperback collection of the six issue Female Furies miniseries DC Comics published in 2019. Cecil Castellucci’s story re-imagines Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters from a feminist perspective, and reads very much as a response to the Trump administration. Sadly the main aspects of Castellucci’s story are still all-too-relevant, as the blatant sexism & misogyny that Trump helped to once again make socially acceptable still linger on strongly in conservative circles, and the GOP continues its war on women’s rights.

I had never considered Darkseid and his dystopian hellhole of a planet Apokolips to be suffused with toxic masculinity. Nevertheless, the “Fourth World” stories written & drawn by Kirby were highly political, with Richard Nixon serving as one of the main inspirations for the arch-villain Darkseid, a character who was the literal embodiment of fascism, and one of his lieutenants, the propagandist Glorious Godfrey, being directly based on evangelist Billy Graham.

And, whether he specifically intended it or not, when Kirby introduced Big Barda in Mister Miracle #4 (cover date Sept 1971) he was making an advancement in the depiction of women in American superhero comic books. There had certainly been strong, powerful women in comics before, most notably Wonder Woman. Big Barda, however, was among the first occasions when a male superhero’s love interest was shown to be an equal partner, as well as his physical superior. There really had not been a relationship like Scott Free & Big Barda in superhero comics up to that point. And to then reveal there were numerous other powerful women on Apokolips who were Barda’s peers… that was certainly highly unconventional for the early 1970s.

Whatever the case, I think it speaks to the strength & flexibility of the characters & stories that Kirby created fifty years ago that Castellucci can so effectively utilize them to craft a feminist parable that is relevant to 21st century American society.

I would prefer not to describe the plot of Female Furies in detail, as I highly recommend picking up the collected edition, and I do not want to spoil the specifics. In short, the miniseries depicts how Barda and the other Female Furies struggle to gain acceptance by Darkseid and his male lieutenants, all of whom believe women to be naturally inferior to man. The Furies are subjected to discrimination & sexual harassment by the patriarchy of Apokolips in their struggle for equality.

An interesting aspect of the story is how Castellucci demonstrates that a patriarchy often turns women against one another, making them their own worst enemies. When their teammate Aurelie is selected for “special training” with Darkseid’s lieutenant Willik, the other Furies assume that Auralie is sleeping her way to the top. In actuality Willik wants to “train” Auralie so that he can get her alone with him to force her to have sex with him. When Auralie attempts to explain to her sisters what is happening, they accuse her of lying.

The brutal drill sergeant Granny Goodness, the Furies matron, is shown to be politically ambitious, craving to hold the same high rank as Darkseid’s other, male lieutenants. She will do anything to achieve this, including throw her charges to the wolves. When the Furies protest against their treatment by the men of Apokolips, Goodness basically tells them to grin & bear it. She pushes them to succeed in the field so that their successes will reflect well on her, enabling her to amass personal power.

In the end, Barda realizes that the women of Apokolips must work together if they are ever to overcome their oppression:

“Apart? We are held back from our true potential. United? We’re unstoppable.”

I do think the one area where Castellucci’s message falls short is with Heggra, the former Queen of Apokolips, and Darkseid’s mother. Heggra is one of those people who, regardless of gender, comes across at thoroughly rotten & irredeemable. Heggra was the one who ordered the murder of her son’s first wife, the sorceress Suli, solely because Heggra disapproved of their marriage and believed that Suli would make Darkseid too weak and empathetic. If Darkseid is a monster, then it is at least partially due to the machinations of his mother. When the emotionally hardened Darkseid later orders his own mother’s murder, it is difficult not to feel that Heggra has reaped what she has sewn.

I did appreciate that Castellucci gave Beautiful Dreamer from the Forever People a central role in the story. Beautiful Dreamer is a character who seldom receives any sort of spotlight or development. I liked how Castellucci showed Dreamer’s telepathic, hallucinogenic powers as playing a part in opening the Furies’ minds, and her faith & kindness demonstrates to them that there is another path for them to walk aside from the cold, totalitarian one of Apokolips.

Castellucci also presents an interesting characterization of Darkseid. Eschewing the terrifying cosmic menace that too many later writers have advanced, Castellucci returns to Kirby’s original conception of the lord of Apokolips. At heart, for all his incredible power, Darkseid is a coward, a miserable & unhappy being, and it is his own fears & insecurities that drive him to try to control & manipulate others.

At times Castellucci’s writing is bluntly unsubtle and her dialogue idiosyncratic. Perhaps on another project this might have been a defect. But the original Kirby stories were frequently operatic and allegorical, his scripting containing a particularly offbeat cadence. So Castellucci’s work here feels rather akin to Kirby’s own.  Perhaps the plot of Female Furies does not hold together as strongly as it could, at time meandering, but it is nevertheless a very passionate story in delivering its message.

The artwork on Female Furies is by Adriana Melo. She is a very talented illustrator & storyteller. Her previous work includes Star Wars, Birds of Prey, Ms. Marvel and Doctor Who. I’ve always appreciated how Melo has rendered female characters. She draws them as beautiful & sexy without ever making them exploitative. As I have observed before, I feel that women often excel at drawing female characters, because they understand the anatomy from firsthand experience, and know how women should stand and move. Melo’s work on this miniseries is very expressive, emotional and dynamic.

I also imagine it is no accident that Willik, a character originally introduced by Kirby, is redesigned in this minsieries by Melo to have a more-than-passing resemblance to the Disgraced Former Occupant.

The lettering is by Sal Cipriano & Carlos M. Manhual, and the coloring by Hi-Fi. The extremely striking cover artwork to the collected edition, originally used for issue #6 of the miniseries, is by line artist Joelle Jones & colorist Laura Allred.

The trade paperback also reprints Mister Miracle #9 (August 1972) by Jack Kirby & Mike Royer. It’s one of Kirby’s strongest Mister Miracle stories, as well as one of the main inspiration for the Female Furies miniseries by Castellucci & Melo. Half a century later Kirby’s work still holds up absolutely, demonstrating what a brilliant & groundbreaking creator he truly was.

Ron Lim vs Rik Levins, or how a teenage Captain America fan experienced his first major disappointment

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 30 years since this happened. It was the Summer of 1991, and I experienced my first significant disappointment as a comic book fan. But first, a little background is necessary…

I’ve been a fan of Captain America from Marvel Comics ever since I read issue #278 and issue #291 when I was a kid. My father got me a one year subscription to the Captain America series in 1985, and I read those issues until they fell to pieces.

Captain America #378 by Ron Lim & Danny Bulanadi, one of the favorite issues of my teenage years

I was 13 years old in 1989 when I finally started reading the Captain America comic book on a monthly basis. This was when my father began taking me to the comic shop every week, so it became much easier to follow the series.

I really liked Kieron Dwyer’s pencils on Captain America. In 1989 Dwyer was still a young, up-and-coming artist, but even then you could see how much talent & potential he possessed.

A year later Dwyer was replaced as the penciler on Captain America by Ron Lim, whose work at the time I actually liked even better. Lim was the artist on the book from January 1990 to June 1991, drawing issues #366, #368 – 378, and #380 – 386. He was paired with Filipino artist Danny Bulanadi on inks. Lim’s penciling on Captain America was absolutely dynamic, and I immediately became a HUGE fan of his work.

Some of the best work by Lim & Bulanadi was on the seven part storyline “Streets of Poison” that ran bi-weekly in the summer of 1990. Written by Mark Gruenwald, it involved the Red Skull challenging the Kingpin for control of New York City’s illegal drug trade, with Cap getting caught in the crossfire. Lim & Bulanadi drew some amazing action sequences as Cap fought against Bullseye and Crossbones.

Cap versus Bullseye from Captain America #374 by Lim & Bulanadi

So I was incredibly disappointed when Lim left Captain America and was replaced by Rik Levins with issue #387, which was cover-dated July 1991. I felt there was an immediate, steep decline in quality, and I was really upset 😭😭😭

(Keep in mind I was a teenager, and we all know how melodramatic they can be about really trivial things!)

Lim’s departure also coincided with long-time Captain America scribe Mark Gruenwald writing 1991’s six part bi-weekly summer storyline “The Superia Stratagem” which involved the female supremacist Superia gathering together an army of super-powered female villains on an island sanctuary and attempting to sterilize the outside world. A number of Cap fans, myself included, feel this storyline was the moment when Gruenwald jumped the shark.

Making this story even more ridiculous was the fact that at one point Cap and his ally Paladin, to infiltrate the island, disguise themselves as women. Yes, really. Yes, it was as ridiculous as you can possibly imagine.

What a drag! That infamous scene from Captain America #391 by Rik Levins & Danny Bulanadi

Now, I honestly don’t know if “The Superia Stratagem” would have been any more readable if Lim had been penciling it instead of Levins. I just feel that Levins didn’t have the strength as an artist to pull off making it work. It’s also worth pointing out that Lim was still penciling the covers for “The Superia Stratagem” and they were actually quite good.

The differences between Ron Lim and Rik Levins always stood out for me when I compared these very similar sequences from Captain America #266 and #297, as seen below. The first is penciled by Lim, and it’s got so much energy, with Cap having this determined look and gritted teeth as he comes swinging into action. The second one is by Levins, and Cap just has this really bland, bored expression on his face, and from his body language it feels like he’s performing a gymnastics routine rather than fighting for his life.

A comparison of Ron Lim and Rik Levins penciling similar action sequences

I hope none of this comes across as disrespectful to Levins. I did eventually develop a certain appreciation for him. I think his work on Captain America improved, beginning with the very bizarre-yet-entertaining “Man & Wolf” storyline (yes, the one that brought us Capwolf, a subject for another time), and his last year & a half on Captain America was quite good.

I also later discovered Levins’ work on Femforce and Dragonfly and other AC Comics titles, and it was so much better. I think Levins’ contributions to AC Comics were much more personal for him (he created several characters and wrote a number of the stories) so there was probably a greater investment in it, whereas Captain America was just a paying gig. (And, yes, Levins’ work for AC Comics is also a subject for another future blog post.)

A definite improvement: Captain America #410 by Levins & Bulanadi

It’s also definitely worth noting that Levins holds the record for drawing the most consecutive issues of Captain America, having penciled #387 to #422, a total of 36 issues. That even beats out Cap’s co-creator Jack Kirby, who actually only penciled 24 consecutive issues of the series (#193 to #214 plus Annual #3 and #4, for those keeping track).

Levins passed away in June 2010 at the much too young age of 59. In retrospect, I now consider him to be a very underrated talent, as well as a consummate professional, someone who was able to turn in good, solid work month after month. The closest Levins ever came to missing a deadline was when M.C. Wyman had to pencil the second half of Captain America#414. This in comparison to all of the high-profile “hot” artists were constantly dropping the ball and turning in late work in the early 1990s.

Having said all of that that, I nevertheless have to confess: All these years later I STILL keep hoping that one day Ron Lim will get asked to draw the monthly Captain America series again. He has occasionally returned to the character. Lim penciled the final issue of the “Heroes Reborn” run in 1997, and I can honestly tell you that I was absolutely thrilled when I picked up that issue and found he was the artist. More recently, in 2019 Lim drew the Avengers: Loki Unleashed special written by Roger Stern and, again, I snatched that baby off the shelves. It was so great to see Cap and the rest of the Avengers drawn by Lim once again.

Avengers: Loki Unleashed demonstrated that Ron Lim still draws an amazing Captain America

So if Marvel ever does give the assignment of drawing Captain America or Avengers to Ron Lim, yeah, I would definitely jump onboard to buy those comic books!

I actually met Ron Lim a couple of years ago at East Coast Comicon , and I had the opportunity to tell him that him leaving Captain America was the first time I ever experienced a crushing loss over a creator leaving a series. He explained that intially the plan was just for him to take a short break from Captain America so that he could finish penciling the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries after George Perez had to drop out halfway through. However, Marvel then asked Lim to pencil the follow-ups Infinity War and Infinity Crusade, so he never did have a chance to return to Captain America.

I made sure to let Lim know that as an adult I understood that from a career perspective it made perfect sense for him to move over to a high-profile project such as Infinity Gauntlet and its sequels. I think Lim found my anecdote amusing, and he seemed to appreciate the fact that I was such a huge fan of his work.

Wild Thing #1 cover by Ron Lim & Al Milgrom, signed by Lim… yes, I actually enjoyed this series!

Oh, yeah, having finally met Ron Lim at East Coast Comicon, what did I get signed by him? Was it an issue of Captain America or one of the Avengers-related books that he drew? Nope! It was Wild Thing #1. Yeah, I completely forgot to bring any of Lim’s work to the show to get signed, so I picked up Wild Thing #1 from one of the comic dealers. (I bought Wild Thing when it first came out in 1999, but those comics were among the ones that I got rid of when I sold off most of my collection several years ago.) At that point in time I just wanted to have Lim autograph something he drew, since I’m still a huge fan, and nowadays I care much more about creators than characters. I guess that just shows how much my priorities have changed since the Summer of 1991.

It now occurs to me that this is the perfect example of how unique our experiences as fans can be. Most other readers probably didn’t do much more than blink when Lim was replaced by Levins. But for me, I was at just the right age to really connect with the combo of Gruenwald & Lim on my absolutely favorite character, and when Lim then left the book it really felt like the apple cart was turned over, so to speak. I can now understand how it was such an unsettling experience for quite a number of fans ten years before when John Byrne left X-Men, or two decades earlier when Jack Kirby quit Marvel Comics entirely. So, yeah, it’s definitely a matter of individual perspective.

Happy 100th birthday to Lily Renée

Today is the 100th birthday of Golden Age comic book artist Lily Renée, who was born on May 12, 1921.

Lily Renée Wilheim was born in Vienna, Austria to an upper middle class Jewish family. Renée had an interest in art & illustration from an early age, drawing as a hobby and visiting art museums. As she recounted in an interview conducted by Jim Amash in 2008 for Alter Ego from TwoMorrows Publishing:

“I drew clowns, ballerinas, tigers, and scenes that depicted what you would see in theatres. My parents took me to the theatre, where I saw some ballets, and I also went to dance classes. When I was older, I went to the opera twice a year with my school.”

In 1939 the 14 year old Renée was forced to flee Austria a year after the Nazis occupied the country in the Anschluss. Renée was placed by her parents on a Kindertransport (Childern’s Transport) ship which was part of the movement that helped thousands of children escape from Nazi-controlled Europe ahead of World War II. She arrived in Leeds, England, and went to stay with a family in nearby Horseforth whose daughter she had previously been corresponding with.  Unfortunately the family that took her in believed they were getting an unpaid servant. The next year and a half was a difficult period for Renée as she struggled to survive in a foreign country, not knowing if her parents were alive or dead.

Jane Martin in Wings Comics #35 (July 1943)

Finally in 1941 Renée received a letter from her parents explaining that they had escaped to the United States. She hoped to join them, but her efforts were hindered by the British authorities. By now World War II had broken out, and Renée was suspected of being an “enemy alien” due to her possessing an expensive camera that had belonged to her family. She attempted to sneak out of the country, but was caught; however an anonymous stranger intervened and negotiated her release, and she was able to travel to New York City by ship.

Life in New York City in the early 1940s was a struggle for the Wilheim family, who had been left completely bereft. Crammed into a small apartment alongside other refugees, they attempted to make ends meet. Renée took on various artistic odd jobs to help out, such as painting wooden boxes, illustrating catalogs for the Woolworth’s department store, and modeling:

“There was somebody named Jane Turner, a very well-known fashion illustrator, who liked the way I moved, so she asked me to model for her at home in a lovely townhouse. The clothes were sent from the department store, and I was dressed in all these elegant dresses while she would draw me. Then I would go home in my old, outmoded clothes, and that was weird.”

Jane Martin in Wings Comics #35 (November 1943)

Renée’s mother saw an advertisement in the newspaper from comic book publisher Fiction House looking for artists. Renée had no knowledge of or interest in comic books, but she applied for the position in order to help her family. It was low-paying, unglamorous work, and Renée was uncomfortable working alongside the mostly male staff of Fiction House, many of whom would make crude comments to her, but she stuck with it out of necessity.

Despite the fact that Renée understandably saw comic book illustration as a means to an end, a way to pay the bills and put food on the table, she nevertheless produced exceptional, beautiful work during her short career in the field. Her pages were also distinctive for the highly unusual layouts and panel shapes she utilized.

After starting out erasing pencil lines on inked artwork and drawing backgrounds, she began regularly illustrating the adventures of aviatrix Jane Martin beginning with Wings Comics #31 (cover-dated March 1943) from Fiction House. Another of the features Renée worked on was The Werewolf Hunter beginning in Rangers Comics #16 (April 1944):

“Eventually, they tried me out on a feature, which was one that nobody wanted to do: “Werewolf Hunter.” I made it into something else because I didn’t want to draw wolves. I talked to the writer and convinced him it should be about magic, where people change into other creatures, not werewolves. So we did that, and it became quite popular.”

The Werewolf Hunter in Rangers Comics #24 (August 1945)

Starting with Planet Comics #32 (Sept 1944) Renée also began drawing the post-apocalyptic sci-fi / fantasy feature The Lost World.

The character Renée would become most associated with was Senorita Rio, a glamorous Hollywood actress & stuntwoman who, after her fiancé was killed during Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, faked her own death so that she could become a secret agent for the Allied Forces, fighting against the Axis Powers behind enemy lines.

Introduced in Fight Comics #19 (June 1942), Senorita Rio was created by artist Nick Cardy. Renée began drawing the feature with Fight Comics #35 (Dec 1944) and she quickly established herself as the definitive artist at depicting Senorita Rio’s thrilling, exotic adventures combating Nazi spies and fascist agents throughout South America. Renée was the regular artist on the Senorita Rio feature for the next three years.

Senorita Rio in Fight Comics #41 (December 1945)

As she would explain in 2006 when interviewed by Trina Robbins for The Comics Journal, the Senorita Rio feature became a source of escapism for Renée from her difficult existence:

“And I just wanted to say with all these comic strips and also this name Senorita Rio, it’s sort of like a fantasy. Senorita Rio got clothes that I couldn’t have, you know, she had a leopard coat and she wore these high-end shoes and all of this and had adventures and was very daring and beautiful and sexy and glamorous and all of that.”

It was also cathartic for Renée, a beautiful young woman whose existence had been upended by Nazi oppression, to draw the adventures of a character who looked much like herself fighting against the scourge of fascism:

“I could live out a fantasy, if only on paper. It was a form of revenge.”

Due to her signing her work for Fiction House as “L. Renée” or “L.R.” for a number of years it was not known that she was one of the early female artists in the comic book field.

Senorita Rio in Fight Comics #50 (June 1947)

In 1947 Renée married artist Eric Peters, another refugee from Vienna who had fled the country after his political cartoons earned the ire of the Nazis. In 1948 Fiction House relocated outside of New York.  Finding work at St. John Publications, Renée and Peters worked together illustrating several issues of Abbott and Costello Comics. Renée and Peters proved very adept at drawing the comedic misadventures of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Regarding the division of labor between them, Renée explained:

“[Eric] drew the Abbott and Costello characters, and I drew the girls, and did all the inking.”

Renée also drew stories for the various romance titles published by St. John. It was at St. John that Renée began signing her work with her full name.

Renée left comic books in the early 1950s, moving into freelance illustration, textile design and jewelry design, all of which at the time were regarded as much more respectable fields. She wrote two children’s books. After her husband passed away in 1990, Renée began taking classes at Hunter College, which inspired her to write several plays.

Abbott and Costello Comics #6 (February 1949)

Renée’s work in comic books was rediscovered in the early 2000s when one of her granddaughters contacted comic book creator & historian Trina Robbins. In 2007 Renée was a guest at the San Diego Comic Con and was nominated to the Friends of Lulu Hall of Fame. An illustrated biography, Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer, written by Robbins and drawn by Anne Timmons & Mo Oh, was published by Graphic Universe in November 2011.

Renée’s signature character Senorita Rio lives on, having been revived in 1985 by Bill Black of AC Comics to be one of the founding members of the all-female superhero team Femforce. AC has also reprinted a number of the Senorita Rio stories drawn by Renée. Fantagraphics reprinted several stories drawn by Renée in The Comics Journal #279 (Nov 2006).

The comic books published by Fiction House and St. John have entered the public domain and can be read on the Comic Book Plus website. The Grand Comics Database appears to have a fairly comprehensive listing of the stories Lily Renée drew. If you have not seen her beautiful, detailed artwork before then I definitely encourage you to view it online.

Lily Renée is a remarkable woman who showed great fortitude in surviving tremendous hardship during her teenage years. I am glad that she eventually was able to make a new life for herself here in the United States, and that she has lived long enough to see her beautiful comic book artwork be rediscovered to be appreciated by new generations of fans.

An interview with comic book artist Keith Williams

When I first got into comic books in the second half of the 1980s, and continued reading them as a teenager in the 1990s, one of the names I would frequently see in the credits was Keith Williams. He worked on numerous series: Alpha Flight, Transformers, Action Comics, Web of Spider-Man, Quasar, Robocop, Sensational She-Hulk, U.S.Agent, Ravage 2099, The Mask, Star Wars, and so on.

Keith is one of the various comic book creators who I have been fortunate enough to get to know on social media. He has always come across as a genuinely good person. Given Keith’s lengthy career, I felt it would be interesting to speak with him about his work in the medium.

This interview was conducted by e-mail between April and May 2021.

A recent photo of Kieth Williams at a comic book convention

BH: Hello, Mr. Williams. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start with the basics. When and where were you born? When you were growing up did you read comic books? What other interests did you have when you were young?

Keith Williams: Thank you for asking, Ben. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 16, 1957. My grandma gave me my first comic. It was Batman issue 184. I must have been 9 years old at the time. I always loved comics after that. I enjoyed watching astronauts fly into space, and for a while I wanted to be one.

BH: You attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan from 1976 to 1980. How did you find that educational experience?

Keith Williams: It was wonderful! The main reason I went SVA was because Will Eisner, the creator of The Spirit, was teaching there. My major was in Cartooning and Will brought fun and a lot of knowledge about the art and business sides of comic books. The other classes were fine and rounded out my art experience. I still have great friends that I talk to from my time there.

Sectaurs #6 (May 1986) written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Steve Geiger, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Janet Jackson

BH: I understand you entered the comic book field as a background inker in the early 1980s. How did that come about, and which artists did you assist?

Keith Williams: I knew Howard Perlin from high school, working on school shows together. He introduced me to his father Don Perlin. At the time he was the artist on Ghost Rider. I had shown him my inking samples. He saw that I had potential and took me under his wing. He mentioned my name up at Marvel when they were looking for a background inker for Mike Esposito. I was hired and have been working in comics ever since. Besides Mike Esposito there was Joe Sinnott, Bob Wiacek, Andy Mushinsky, Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, Vince Colletta, John Byrne, Bob Hall and a few more.

BH: Why did you decide to focus on inking?

Keith Williams: I focused on inking because I learned that I was better at it. I had great people to learn the skills of inking from. Inking became my foot in the door.

Alpha Flight #19 (Feb 1985) written, penciled & figures inked by John Byrne, backgrounds inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Andy Yanchus

BH: At Marvel Comics, you were also the first person to join Romita’s Raiders, the art apprentice program initiated by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and run by art director John Romita. What specific sort of work did you find yourself doing as one of the Raiders? How do you feel it helped you in terms of honing your skills and preparing you for a career as an artist in the comic book industry?

Keith Williams: As a Romita Raider, I, and the other Raiders were art correctors. We would fix storytelling if the panels didn’t flow correctly. If a character was wearing the wrong costume we would correct it. Assist John sometimes in cover design. John Romita was the Art Director at Marvel [and] everything would go through him meaning pages of art and he would assign us to fix things that needed fixing. While we were there as Raiders, we received a master class on how to create a comic.

BH: What was your first credited work in comic books, and how did you get assigned that job?

Keith Williams: My first credited work [was] Sectaurs for Marvel, 1985. I inked over Steve Geiger, another Raider. I think I started on issue 4. Mark Texeira moved on and they needed a new art team. It was a mini-series which ended on issue 7. I got the job because I was lucky enough to be in the office at the time.

Avengers West Coast #53 (Dec 1989) written & penciled by John Byrne, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by Bob Sharen

BH: In late 1984 you became John Byrne’s background inker beginning with Alpha Flight #19. You provided background inks on several issues of Alpha Flight, and when Byrne moved to Incredible Hulk for his all-too-short run you accompanied him. After Byrne left Marvel for DC Comics where he oversaw the successful post-Crisis revamp of Superman, you were his background inker on Action Comics in 1987. How did you come to do background inking for Byrne? What was the experience like?

Keith Williams: Mark Gruenwald, one of the editors at Marvel, came up to me and asked if I was interested in working with John Byrne on Alpha Flight as a background artist. Of course, I said yes. It was a great experience.

BH:  It’s noteworthy that Byrne saw that you were credited on all of those stories as the background inker, something that at the time was not expected, much less required. Do you find that this helped your career? Certainly as a young reader it was probably the first time I noticed your name.

Keith Williams: John put my name on the cover of the books and my name was right beside his in the credits. I would also get pages from the books we did. No other inker had ever done that for a background artist or would expect that to be done for them. I will always be grateful to him for doing it. He helped my career because of it.

Sensational She-Hulk #33 (Nov 1991) written & penciled by John Byrne, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Jim Novak and colored by Glynis Oliver

BH: Later on you had the opportunity to do full inking over Byrne’s pencils on Avengers West Coast #53 in late 1989 and on several issues of Sensational She-Hulk in 1991. How did you like that experience? As a reader, I felt you did a good job. Looking at that Avengers West Coast, in particular I was very impressed by the detailed, intricate inking you did on the sequence with Immortus in an alternate timeline where Queen Elizabeth I was executed instead of Mary, Queen of Scots. The storyline in She-Hulk where she ends up in the Mole Man’s subterranean kingdom and fights Spragg the Living Hill also had a lot of interesting, detailed work by Byrne. You did a fine job embellishing all those caves and rocky textures.

Keith Williams: Actually, working fully on John’s pencils, scared the daylights out of me. As an artist, you always feel there is still so much to learn. Am I ready? I guess I was. All of the background inking got me ready to do full inks with John and I loved making his lines come to life.

BH: Jumping back a bit, you and penciler Alex Saviuk became the regular art team on Web of Spider-Man with issue #35, cover-dated March 1988. How did you get that assignment, and how did you find it working with Saviuk? You stayed on Web of Spider-Man through issue #85 in early 1992, so I’m guessing it was a good experience. Of course, as you were a freelancer, I’m sure you were also grateful to have a regular monthly assignment.

Keith Williams: Jim Salicrup was the editor on the Spider-Man books at the time. He must have seen my work here and there in the office and tried me out. I worked over Steve Gieger on an issue of Web of Spider-Man and then worked with Alex. I guess he saw something in us working together and we stay together for almost five years.

Web of Spider-Man #35 (Feb 1988) written by Gerry Conway, penciled by Alex Saviuk, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Rick Parker and colored by Bob Sharen

BH: Speaking for myself, I find Saviuk very underrated. I feel he was overshadowed by Todd McFarlane on Amazing Spider-Man, which at the time was in the spotlight. I think that was a shame, because you and Saviuk were doing good, solid work month after month on Web.

Keith Williams: Alex is a great artist. I feel he’s up there with Romita in style. It was very enjoyable working with him.

BH: You worked on a wide variety of titles throughout the 1990s, inking a diverse selection of pencilers. I wanted to briefly touch upon the work you did for Dark Horse. You inked Doug Mahnke on The Mask Strikes Back and Bill Hughes on Star Wars: Droids, both of those coming out in 1995. Any particular thoughts on those two jobs? Mannke and Hughes both seem to have detailed penciling styles, so I wondered how you approached inking them.

Keith Williams: Doug Mahnke’s style on The Mask was different than any I‘ve encountered. It was zaniness stuffed into reality. Bill Hughes had more of a cartoon style which fit into the loony situation the Droids were put in. I try to go with the flow of the penciller. With Doug it would be more of a hard edge, using crow quill Hunt 102 pen point nibs. With Bill it more of a softer look. I used a Winsor Newton Series 7 No. 3 brush and a Gillotte 290 flexible pen nib.

The Mask Strikes Back #1 (Feb 1995) written by John Arcudi, penciled by Doug Mahnke, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Lois Buhalis and colored by Gregory Wright

BH: In 1994 you became the regular inker of The Phantom newspaper strip written by Lee Falk, inking George Olesen’s pencils. You were on the strip until 2005, when Olesen retired. Had you previously been a fan of The Phantom? Although it isn’t especially popular here in the States, it has an absolutely huge following in other parts of the world such as Sweden and Australia.

Keith Williams: I wasn’t really a fan of The Phantom. That was because it wasn’t in any of the newspapers in New York. I did learn to like it. The Phantom has a great cast of characters.

BH: I’ve heard working on a daily newspaper strip described as a grueling, endless treadmill run. What did you think of the work? How was it different from monthly comic books?

Keith Williams: I really had no idea what it was like to put out a six day strip every week. There was no time for a real vacation. So, even when I would go away on a trip, the Phantom would be with me. I’m not really complaining, because it was always better to have work than not. It was different than a comic book because, working on dailies, you only had as much as three panels to work on for a strip.

Star Wars: Droids #6 (Oct 1995) written by Jan Strnad, penciled by Bill Hughes, inked by Keith Williams, lettered by Steve Dutro and colored by Perry McNamee

BH: Finally, what have you been working on in the last decade and a half? Do you have any new projects coming out soon?

Keith Williams: Actually, I got to work for Marvel again with the help of Ron Frenz in 2019. It was a 10 page story in Thor the Worthy. Other than that, it’s been conventions and commissions for me.

BH: If people are interested in hiring you for commissions, what is the best way to get in touch with you?

Keith Williams: You can DM me on Instagram or Facebook: keithwilliamscomicbookart. You can also email me at keithwilliamscomicbookart@gmail.com.

The Phantom pin-up penciled, inked & colored by Keith Williams

BH: Thank you very much for your time!

Keith Williams: Glad to do it.

Frank Thorne: 1930 to 2021

Longtime comic book & fantasy artist Frank Thorne passed away on the morning of March 7th at 90 years old. Marilyn Thorne, his wife of many years, later passed away that afternoon.

Thorne’s career in comic books actually began back in 1948. He was a regular contributor to Dell Comics throughout the 1950s and 60s. From 1968 to 1972 Thorne was the artist on the Western adventure series Tomahawk published by DC Comics. He drew several comics for the short-lived publisher Atlas / Seaboard in the mid 1970s.

Red Sonja #9 (May 1978)

Thorne’s career entered what could be regarded as a “second act” in late 1975. Red Sonja, the sexy female barbarian created by Roy Thomas & Barry-Windsor Smith (inspired by the Robert E. Howard character Red Sonya of Rogatino), was given her own solo series beginning with Marvel Feature volume 2 #1, cover-dated November 1975. The first issue was written by Thomas and drawn by Dick Giordano. Paired with writer Bruce Jones, Thorne took over drawing Red Sonja in Marvel Feature with issue #2 (January 1976).

Thorne remained on Marvel Feature thru #7, the final issue. It was immediately followed by an ongoing bimonthly Red Sonja series written by Roy Thomas & Clara Noto. Thorne penciled, inked, lettered and colored the first 11 issues (January 1977 to September 1978), producing stunning and exquisitely detailed work.

Due to his striking rendition of Red Sonja, Thorne became very well-regarded and much in-demand for his depictions of beautiful women. He subsequently created a number of erotic fantasy series. Thorne’s sexy stories & artwork were also published in Heavy Metal, National Lampoon and Playboy.

Thorne’s book Drawing Sexy Woman, published by Fantagraphics in 2000, was an informal autobiography of sorts, with his recollections complemented by several dozen illustrations of lovely ladies drawn specifically for the book. It’s an interesting an offbeat look back by Thorne at his life and career.

Even more Comic Book Cats highlights

Since July of last year I’ve been posting Comic Book Cats entries on the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The object is to see how many different pencilers I can find artwork by featuring cats. Here are 10 more highlights, taken from entries 101 to 150.

John Paul Leon

Midnighter #8, drawn by John Paul Leon, written by Christos Gage, lettered by Phil Balsman and colored by Randy Major, published by Wildstorm / DC Comics in August 2007.

“Why the hell are cyborgs stealing cats in suburbia?” That’s the question the Authority’s resident super-viollent Batman expy finds himself asking when teammate Jack Hawksmoor convinces him to get back in touch with ordinary people by searching for a missing girl’s cat. The trail soon leads to the doorstep of the local mad scientist, with Midnighter ultimately liberating the abducted animals and finding an alternative source of test subjects for the loony doctor, namely human criminals. Yeah, Christos Gage’s story is a bizarrely effective blending of heartwarming feel-good moments and incredibly dark, twisted humor.

John Paul Leon’s art has always been impressively atmospheric. His early work on Robocop for Dark Horse and Static for Milestone demonstrated an artist who hit the ground running, and who has consistently improved since then. Leon later worked on The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, Earth X and Black Widow for Marvel, The Winter Men for Wildstorm / DC, and the much-underrated revamp of Challengers of the Unknown written by Steven Grant.

Thumbs up to Richard Guion for letting me know about this one.

Marcio Takara

Captain Marvel #8, drawn by Marcio Takara, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, lettered by Joe Caramanga and colored by Lee Loughridge, published by Marvel Comics in December 2014.

“Release the Flerken” has Carol Danvers at long last discovering that her cat Chewie is actually an alien from outer space known as a Flerken. Chewie lays a whole bunch of eggs, which soon hatch, presenting us with an army of adorable-but-dangerous tentacle-spewing space cats. Carol unfortunately has to leave Chewie’s offspring in outer space as there is no way she could possibly fit 117 more cats, as well as the necessary litter boxes, into her apartment! Fortunately she finds an outer space animal rescue center to take in the adorable kittens, um, Flerkens. Soooo, anyone here looking to adopt?

Marcio Takara has been working in comic books since 2006. His work has also appeared in numerous titles, including All-New Wolverine and Daredevil for Marvel, Green Arrow and Nightwing for DC, Dynamo 5 for Image and Incorruptible for Boom! Studios. I think he’s a great artist, especially since, as seen here, he does a great job drawing cats.

Irv Novick & Joe Giella

Batman #210, penciled by Irv Novick, inked by Joe Giella and written by Frank Robbins, published by DC Comics in March 1969.

“The Case of the Purr-loined Pearl” sees Selina Kilye recruiting eight fellow felonious females to don Catwoman costumes as part of an elaborate heist. Here we see Selina and her cat Slinky mailing out invites to the future members of her Feline Furies.

Irv Novick is probably one of the most underrated Batman artists. He turned in good, solid, professional work on numerous stories throughout the Bronze Age. Here he is paired up with inker Joe Giella, another artist who has a lengthy association with the Dark Knight, including a four year stint drawing the Batman newspaper strip during the 1960s. The combo of Novick & Giella works very well on this story.

The writer on this issue is the great Frank Robbins, another regular creative presence on Batman and Detective Comics from the late 1960s thru to the mid 1970s. Robbins wrote some very clever and imaginative Batman stories, as well as occasionally illustrating them. His artwork was spotlighted in a previous Comic Book Cats entry.

George Herriman

Krazy Kat, written & drawn by George Herriman, published on July 30, 1916.

The newspaper comic strip Krazy Kat ran from 1913 to 1944. The main characters were Krazy Kat, a playful, innocent black cat, and Ignatz Mouse, a mischievous rodent who frequently throws bricks at Krazy’s head. The naïve Krazy is hopelessly in love with Ignatz and thinks that the mouse’s brick-tossing is his way of returning that love. This Krazy-centric Sunday page is a good example of Herriman’s artwork, energy, humor and narrative style.

George Herriman was born in New Orleans on August 22, 1880 to mixed-race Creole parents. He began working professionally as an artist in 1901 when his illustrations were printed by the weekly satirical magazine Judge. Herriman’s work on Krazy Kat very quickly gained appreciation among critics and intellectual, and he has been cited as a major influence by numerous other artists throughout the decades. He passed away in April 1944 at the age of 63.

Inaki Miranda

Catwoman / Tweety and Sylvester, drawn by Inaki Miranda, written by Gail Simone, lettered by Taylor Esposito and colored by Eva de la Cruz, published by DC Comics in October 2018.

I don’t want to give away too much about this fun crossover between the DCU and Looney Tunes. Suffice to say the story eventually culminates in nearly every single cat and bird themed character from DC coming together in a monumental clash. Before that, though, we have Selina Kyle encountering the very animated, so to speak, Sylvester the Cat.

Inaki Miranda broke into comic books in 2003, working on the Judge Dredd feature in 2000 AD. He then drew Fables for Vertigo / DC, which led to work on a number of mainstream DC series.

Miranda did a great job on this special. The requirements of the project meant that he had to render Sylvester as much closer to a real-world cat. He did so quite successfully, managing to still retain much of the puddy tat, um, I mean pussy cat’s personality.

Sam Glanzman

Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle #5, drawn by Sam Glanzman, written by Don Segall and lettered by Charlotte Jetter, published by Dell Comics in January 1963.

A denizen of one of those mysterious lost islands in the South Pacific inhabited by cavemen, dinosaurs, giant animals and other fantastical menaces, the prehistoric Kona made his debut in Four Color #1256. Following that he starred in his own series which lasted for 20 issues (confusingly numbered from #2 to #21). The highlight of the short-lived Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle was definitely the stunning, detailed artwork by Sam Glanzman.

Issue #5 featured a gigantic cat. The titanic tabby is revealed to be Amsat, a previously-ordinary cat kept as a mouser on a U.S. Navy ship. Accidentally left behind on an island where the military was testing nuclear bombs, Amsat grew to giant size, eventually tussling with the sharks in the waters around his island home.

Amsat is obviously intended to be a dangerous animal, but Glanzman draws him just so cute and adorable that when “the Monster Cat” is finally defeated and killed I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.

Sam Glanzman is best known for the numerous war comic books he drew during the Silver and Bronze Ages. Among these were a series of autobiographical war stories about his service aboard the U.S.S. Stevens during World War II.  Glanzman also worked in the horror and Western genres. Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle enabled him to try his hand at “lost world” adventure-type stories, and he did some good work on the title. The entire issue is archived on the Comic Book Plus website.

Val Semeiks & Denis Rodier

The Demon volume 3 #8, penciled by Val Semeiks, inked by Denis Rodier, written by Alan Grant, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Robbie Busch, published by DC Comics in February 1991.

Having been introduced by Jack Kirby in the original run of The Demon, the next major appearances by Klarion the Witch Boy and his cat familiar Teekl were in Alan Grant’s revival. Grant invested The Demon with a blackly humorous tone, which was certainly a good fit for the diabolically mischievous Klarion and his shape-shifting kitty.  This scene, with Teekl dancing to Mussorgsky, certainly encapsulated the grim, bizarre comedy of the series.

The artwork of Val Semeiks & Denis Rodier certainly enhanced the nightmarish hilarity of Grant’s story. Their depictions of the Demon Etrigan, Klarion, Teekl, and numerous other unearthly fiends were both chilling and comical. Semeiks’ inventive storytelling also effectively created a tangibly askew mood.

Semeiks’ first work in the comic book field was on Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan for Marvel between 1986 and 1989.  Moving to DC, Semeiks had a three year run on The Demon, and following that penciled Lobo, which was also written by Alan Grant. Since then Semeik has worked on a variety of projects for the Big Two and several issues of Forgotten Realms for Devil’s Due Publishing.

Jim Aparo

The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #4, drawn by Jim Aparo and written by Steve Skeates, published by Charlton Comics in November 1967.

Housewife Ruth Roland is an anal-retentive neat freak (seriously, she should have married Felix Unger; they would have made a perfect match) is more than a bit perturbed when her husband’s two friends from college drop off their cat uninvited en route to a two year stint in the Peace Corps. Ruth’s worst fears are soon confirmed, as the cat begins to run amok, destroying her domestic bliss. And, of course, since this IS a horror comic book, things soon take an even more bizarre turn.

Jim Aparo got his start at Charlton Comics during the second half of the 1960s. Aparo drew a variety of material for Charlton: The Phantom, romance, sci-fi, Westerns and, of course, stories for their horror anthologies.

Even here, at the start of his career, we see that Aparo was doing solid work. I definitely love the very effective “My cat is an asshole” montage in the bottom panel. I can so totally relate! Aparo’s editor at Charlton was Dick Giordano, who in the late 1960s went to work for DC Comics. Giordano was soon giving Aparo work at DC.  Aparo was a prolific artist for the publisher over the next quarter century.  He became one of the definitive Batman artists of the Bronze Age. Semi-retired by the mid 1990s, Aparo continued doing occasional work for DC up until 2001. He passed away in July 2005 at the age of 72.

Christopher Weyant

The New Yorker, drawn by Christopher Weyant, published in July 2017.

It’s a political cartoon featuring a cat and a dog. I’m not going to say anything else, other than I found this one really funny. The angry expression on the cat’s face is hysterical.

Christopher Weyant is a regular contributor to The New Yorker. He has also illustrated several children’s books that were written by his wife Anna King.

Jim Davis

Garfield by Jim Davis, published on June 19 and July 15, 1978

Here are two early Garfield comic strips, the very first one which introduced fat, lazy cat Garfield and his long-suffering human Jon Arbuckle, and the one that revealed Garfield’s love of lasagna for the first time. (Our late, much-missed cat Squaky, who was on the chubby side herself, attempted to snatch lasagna off our stove on at least a couple of occasions.)

Garfield initially started out looking very different from the form that we are all familiar with today, but his slothful, greedy behavior has basically been the same since day one.

Jim Davis has used several uncredited assistants for most of the history of the Garfield comic strip.  So I figured I’d go right back to the very beginning, which is likely pure Davis, or close to it.  Davis has been up front about the fact that one of his main reasons for creating Garfield was to “come up with a good, marketable character” so I suppose he can’t really be criticized for relying on assistants in order to focus on the licensing end of things. Whatever his specific level of involvement in the day-to-day work of drawing the Garfield comic strip, it’s undeniable that he created a genuinely iconic character.

Thanks for stopping by. Please check out First Comics News to see all of the Comic Book Cats entries, as well as for the Comic Book Coffee archives. Although I’m no longer doing these on a daily basis, I am posting new entries whenever I happen to come across something by an artist I haven’t previously spotlighted.

Octobriana: Filling in the Blanks – Redux #1 preview

Octobriana, the Russian devil-woman who embodies the true spirit of the Communist Revolution and who fights against Soviet authoritarianism, made her debut 50 years ago. Octobriana was first introduced to the world in Octobriana and the Russian Underground by Petr Sadecký, published in the UK by Tom Stacey Ltd, 1971.

I previously discussed the character of Octobriana in my blog post The Octobriana Revolution which details both the highly unusual origins of the character and her publication history throughout the decades.

Octobriana and the Russian Underground

To celebrate fifty years of Octobriana, writer Stu Taylor, who wrote the character in the 1990s, is assembling Octobriana With Love, which he describes as “an all-new anthology that celebrates her 50th anniversary and features exciting takes on the character by some of the biggest names in comics today.” Among the creators who will be contributing to the anthology are Simon Fraser, Marc Laming, Stephanie Phillips and Marguerite Sauvage, with more to be announced.

Taylor will be launching a Kickstarter campaign in the Spring to fund Octobriana With Love. As a lead-in, Taylor is presenting Octobriana: Filling in the Blanks – Redux, a five-part “remaster” of the miniseries he wrote, with artwork by Dave Roberts, now with coloring by Sofie Dodgson and with new material.

I enjoyed the original black & white miniseries published by Artful Salamander in 1997. The first issue of the “remaster” looks great, and I’m looking forward to the next four issues, and to the publication of Octobriana With Love.

The first digital issue of Octobriana: Filling in the Blanks – Redux is available for purchase on the Octobriana Comic website. Below is a preview.

The Art of Steve Lightle

Yesterday I wrote a short retrospective on comic book creator Steve Lightle, who passed away at 61 years old on January 8th.  Lightle was a very talented artist who worked on numerous series during a career that lasted three and a half decades. I am going to spotlight some more examples of his artwork.  Here are ten of my favorite Steve Lightle covers and pin-ups.

1) Bolt Special (Spring 1984) – Steve Lightle’s earliest published work was for Bill Black and AC Comics. He drew several covers for AC, including this one. In addition to the title character, this features Tara the Jungle Girl, who would soon co-star in AC’s flagship title Femforce.  This cover really shows that Steve hit the ground running.

2) Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes #342 (Dec 1986) – This is definitely a fantastic showcase of Lightle’s work on the Legion, fitting the entire mid-1980s lineup onto a single cover. He really captured the individual personalities of the various characters. The coloring is by Anthony Tollin.

3) Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #23 (Jan 1987) – Lightle co-created Legion member Tellus with writer Paul Levitz. Lightle revealed in interviews that in designing Tellus he wanted to come up with a completely alien, non-humanoid being, and he put a lot of thought into developing the character. This pin-up really illustrates what a unique character Tellus is.

4) Who’s Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (Apr 1988) – Lightle contributed wrap-around covers to the first two issues of this seven part spin-off from the main Who’s Who project. On this first one Lightle draws several members of the then-current line-up alongside a flashback to the team’s first tragic battle with Computo, a story originally recounted during the Silver Age.

5) Classic X-Men #36 (Aug 1989) – Lightle drew a number of incredible covers during his three year run as cover artist on Classic X-Men. The assignment gave him the opportunity to revisit, and reexamine, many of the already-iconic moments from the classic Claremont & Byrne run. Lightle seemed to be especially inspired on his covers for the reprints of “The Darth Phoenix Saga,” with this image of the X-Men and Phoenix being especially stunning.

6) Who’s Who in the DC Universe #14 (Nov 1991) – Lady Quark is a somewhat atypical female superhero, possessing a more athletic physique, harder features and short cropped hair (apparently her look was based on Scottish singer Annie Lennox). Lightle does a fine job illustrating Lady Quark in this profile pic, showcasing her as a powerful, formidable being. The coloring is by Tom McCraw.

7) Marvel Comics Presents #127 (Apr 1993) – This cover with Ghost Rider and Typhoid Mary works well to visualize the duality of the later character, with the Spirit of Vengeance caught between her two personalities . The coloring on this is also very effective, and is probably by Steve himself or his wife Marianne.

8) Wonder Woman Gallery (Sept 1996) – Lightle certainly did a very beautiful pin-up of Princess Diana for this special. It’s unfortunate that he did not have too many opportunities to draw Wonder Woman. The coloring is by Tom McCraw.

9)  The Flash #161 (June 2000) – Lightle drew a lot of great pieces during his three year run as cover artist on The Flash, but many people (myself included) nevertheless consider this to be one of the best. This issue features a flashback to the honeymoon of the first Flash, Jay Garrick, and his wife Joan in Las Vegas in 1947, with Jay’s teammates in the Justice Society crashing the party. Lightle successfully evokes the feel of the Golden Age art styles from the original JSA stories. The lettering is by Todd Klein.

10) The Mighty Titan #3 (October 2014) – When writer Joe Martino was running the Kickstarter campaigns to fund The Mighty Titan he asked several established artists to contribute covers. Among them was Lightle, who drew the cover for issue #3. Lightle was a good person, and it was just like him to help an up-and-coming creator. I think it was Lightle posting this cover on social media that made me aware of The Mighty Titan in the first place, which led me to back the Kickstarter. The coloring is by Ross Hughes.

This list could easily have been twice as long. Steve Lightle drew so many amazing pieces of artwork during his lifetime. He will certainly be missed.

Kurt Schaffenberger: The Definitive Lois Lane Artist of the Silver Age

Welcome to the latest round of Super Blog Team-Up. We actually have TWO topics this time, “What If?” and Creators. I decided to spotlight a creator, because coming up with “What If” scenarios for how certain comic book stories could (or should) have gone is just too depressing. (What if Armageddon 2001 had used the original planned ending where Monarch was revealed to be Captain Atom? Sheesh, don’t get me started, we’ll be here all day!)

*AHEM!* So which comic book creator am I going to be spotlighting? The answer is Kurt Schaffenberger.

Kurt Schaffenberger, whose career stretched from 1941 to 1995, was born on December 15, 1920, meaning that TODAY is the 100th anniversary of his birth. I could not think of a more appropriate creator to blog about.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #42 (July 1963) written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Much of Schaffenberger’s work for the first decade and a half of his career was for Fawcett Publications, drawing Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr, the Marvel Family, Ibis the Invincible and other features. Regrettably, due to the lawsuit by DC Comics alleging that Captain Marvel was a rip-off of Superman, Fawcett ceased publication in late 1953. For the next few years Schaffenberger found work at publishers Lev Gleason, Premier Magazines and American Comics Group.

Then in 1957 Schaffenberger was offered work by none other than DC Comics, the company that had put his previous regular employer out of business. Otto Binder, who had been one of the best writers at Fawcett, quickly found work at DC (the irony of DC suing Fawcett because Captain Marvel was supposedly too similar to Superman, and then hiring the main writer of Captain Marvel to work on Superman, has been noted over the years). Binder then went on suggest that DC also hire Schaffenberger.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #1 (March-April 1958) written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Schaffenberger’s first assignment at DC was drawing Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane commencing with its debut issue, cover-dated March-April 1958. Schaffenberger drew nearly every issue of Lois Lane up to #81, a decade-long run. It was Schaffenberger’s work on this title that gained him a great many fans, and he is often regarded as the best Lois Lane artist of the Silver Age.

I have to admit, I am typically not a huge fan of the Superman stories from the Silver Age edited by Mort Weisinger. A significant part of my dislike is due to the depiction of Lois Lane. The character had started out in the late 1930s as a tough, intelligent, driven investigative journalist. However, by the 1950s, no doubt due to the conservative political & social climate in the United States, Lois had been reduced to a shrill, catty, manipulative shrew who constantly schemed to trick Superman into marrying her.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #65 (January 1965) cover by Kurt Schaffenberger

Having said all that, I feel that Schaffenberger’s fun, cartoony style was a really good fit for all of the zany antics that occurred with alarming regularity in those Superman stories of the Silver Age. So I love Schaffenberger’s art on Lois Lane. The stories in that series were so ridiculous and over-the-top that they definitely benefited from his style.

Personally speaking, I find the crazy, dysfunctional misadventures Lois and Superman and everyone else got up to during the Silver Age a lot more palatable when drawn by Schaffenberger, because his artwork makes all of it feel genuinely comedic.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #44 (October 1963) drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

Even when Lois and Lana Lang were acting horribly bitchy towards each other, fighting over which of them would get to marry Superman, as rendered by Schaffenberger their quarrels felt more humorous than sexist.

Schaffenberger certainly made Lois a very expressive character, investing her with a great deal of personality. This is very well demonstrated thru the model sheet of Lois by Schaffenberger seen below that saw print in Superman Family #164 (April-May 1974). It showcases how he drew the character throughout the 1960s. Schaffenberger definitely gave Lois a wide range of emotions.

The many faces of Lois Lane, courtesy of Kurt Schaffenberger

Also, Schaffenberger’s depictions of Lois were beautiful. Considering the fact that he had to work within the very restrained standards of the newly-established Comics Code Authority, and the staid fashions Lois typically wore (soooo many damn pillbox hats!) he was very successful at drawing a genuinely sexy Lois.

Stories would occasionally see Lois dressing in various period costumes. Schaffenberger always did a superb job on these, investing them with rich detail. For example, in “Lois Lane — Queen and Superman – Commoner” written by Leo Dorfman from issue #67 (Aug 1966), as part of a really convoluted scheme a gang of crooks kidnap Lois’ sister Lucy and force Lois dress up and act like famous historical monarchs. Schaffenberger excels at drawing her as these various queens. His depiction of Lois in the guise of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile is especially alluring.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #67 (August 1966) written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

By the time Schaffenberger’s run on Lois Lane concluded it was the late 1960s and American societal mores had definitely loosened. Schaffenberger began drawing Lois wearing less-conservative clothing.

In “Get Out of My Life, Superman” written by Dorfman from issue #80 (Jan 1968), Schaffenberger’s penultimate issue, we see Lois, furious at Superman for having forgotten her birthday (the image of a distraught Lois finding Superman sitting in a rainy junkyard pounding old cars into scrap is hysterical) breaks up with him and leaves town. Before departing Metropolis, she buys a whole new wardrobe and modes a few rather (for the time) risqué outfits. As always Schaffenberger does a fine job.

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane (January 1968) written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger

I am going to quote comic book historian Mark Voger regarding Schaffenberger’s work on the Lois Lane character and comic book…

“Kurt, that rascal, never shied away from rendering the feminine form in all of its natural, linear beauty. Lois had one tight waist, rounded hips and pin-up perfect gams (always in heels). The artist often poked fun at his own heroine when he depicted the gamut of emotions she couldn’t mask: curiosity when on the scent of a “scoop”; jealousy when Superman paid too much attention to rival Lana Lang; anger when confronting him about said crime; elation when wrapped in the Man of Steel’s bulging arms.”

Oh, yes… Schaffenberger also excelled at illustrating the numerous incredibly bizarre circumstances in which Lois regularly found herself embroiled. Seriously, WTF is going on with the cover to issue #73?!?

Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #73 (April 1967) cover by Kurt Schaffenberger

In early 1968 DC moved Schaffenberger, against his wishes, over to the Supergirl feature in Action Comics. Even though he was not enthusiastic about his reassignment, he nevertheless continued to do professional work, turning in nice art on those Supergirl stories.

Soon after this, Schaffenberger was unfortunately fired by DC after he supported the attempt by several freelance writers to unionize. In the early 1970s Schaffenberger drew a few stories for Archie, Marvel and Skywald. His aptitude for rendering beautiful women made him a natural fit for romance comic books.

“Mr. and Mrs. Superman” from Superman #327 (September 1978) written by Cary Bates, penciled by Kurt Schaffenberger, inked by Joe Giella, lettered by Jean Simek and colored by Gene D’Angelo

In late 1972 Schaffenberger again gained work from DC, and throughout the Bronze Age he was a regular presence in the various Superman titles, drawing stories featuring various members of the supporting cast. Unlike in the 1950s and 60s, Schaffenberger now often provided only pencils, rather than full artwork. He was paired with several different inkers, often with variable results. This offers another valuable demonstration of the importance of the inker in the look of the finished art.

Schaffenberger finally had the opportunity to once again draw Lois Lane regularly when he became the penciler on the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” back-up stories that starred the Clark Kent and Lois Lane of Earth-2 after they married.  Initially appearing in Superman #327 and #329 (Sept and Nov 1978) the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” feature then migrated to Superman Family, where it ran in nearly every issue for the next five years.

“Mr. and Mrs. Superman” from Superman Family #205 (January 1981) written by E. Nelson Bridwell, penciled by Kurt Schaffenberger, inked by Dan Adkins, lettered by John Workman and colored by Adrienne Roy

“Catch a Falling Star” from Superman Family #205 (Jan 1981) offers a good example of Schaffenberger’s work on the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” stories. Here he is inked by Dan Adkins, probably one of the best embellishers he received during the Bronze Age. Schaffenberger does a fine job penciling E. Nelson Bridwell’s story. Schaffenberger’s storytelling imbues Lois and Clark with a great deal of personality & emotion and effectively communicates the depth of their relationship.

I’ve always found the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” stories to be very enjoyable, and I hope one of these days they DC collects them together in a trade paperback.

Oh, yes, one other thing about Kurt Schaffenberger: even his signature was a work of art! Take a look below…

If you would like more information about Kurt Schaffenberger, I recommend Mark Voger’s book Hero Gets Girl! The Life and Art of Kurt Schaffenberger. It is unfortunately out of print, but a digital edition is still available from TwoMorrows Publishing.  Additionally, the recently released Alter Ego #166, also from TwoMorrows, contains a transcript of an informative panel discussion with Kurt Schaffenberger and his wife Dorothy from the 1996 San Diego Comic-Con.

Also, for the perspective of someone who read some of these comics when they first came out, head on over to Alan Stewart’s excellent blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books for his look back at Lois Lane #62 (Jan 1966).

Kurt Schaffenberger passed away on January 24, 2002 at the age of 81. Schaffenberger is, in my mind, unfortunately a rather underrated artist, and I feel he is due for a reappraisal. I certainly encourage everyone to seek out his work.

Thanks for reading. Here are the other Super Blog Team-Up entries:

SBTU Red

SBTU Gold

Richard Corben: 1940 to 2020

Longtime illustrator and comic book artist Richard Corben passed away on December 2, 2020. He was 80 years old. While I cannot say that I was a huge fan of Corben, I was certainly aware of his work, and I enjoyed it whenever I saw it.

I believe the very first time I saw Corben’s art was on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #33, published in June 1990 by Mirage Studios. In the early 1990s the TMNT series had a number of independent / non-mainstream creators doing story arcs or one-off tales. With hindsight, these probably offered me my first major exposure to creators outside of the Marvel and DC superhero ghetto. “Turtles Take Time” was a wild, entertaining time travel story written by Jan Strnad which Corben did a brilliantly hilarious job illustrating.

By the late 1990s I must have become much more aware of Corben and his work, and I picked up the Heavy Metal Fall Special 1998. Topped by a beautiful yet macabre cover painted by Corben, this special reprinted a number of the stories which he drew for the Creepy and Eerie horror anthologies from Warren Publishing between 1974 and 1977.

The selection of stories collected in the Heavy Metal Fall Special 1998 definitely presented the various aspects of Corben’s work. For example, “You’re A Big Girl Now” from Eerie #81 (February 1977) written by Bruce Jones demonstrated Corben’s aptitude for drawing beautiful women. In this case, to be specific, a very beautiful giant woman.

“Within You… Without You” from Eerie #77 (September 1976), also written by Bruce Jones, showcased Corben’s skill at rendering dinosaurs, fantastical prehistoric landscapes, and high tech sci-fi elements.

Another series that Corben worked on was the five issue Cage miniseries published by Marvel Comics in 2002 under their Marvel Max imprint. It was written by Brian Azzarello, lettered by Wes Abbott and colored by José Villarrubia. I wasn’t all that into the story, but I nevertheless enjoyed Corben’s artwork. Again he demonstrated his versatility by drawing an urban crime / “blaxploitation” type of adventure.

Although Cage was a”mature readers” miniseries apparently set outside regular Marvel continuity, Corben’s redesign of Luke Cage very soon became the default version of the character, and was seen when he appeared soon afterwards in Alias and New Avengers.

All of this is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. Corben was a prolific artist whose career stretched across half a century.

Richard Corben was a longtime contributor to Heavy Metal, and the magazine featured an obituary on its website. There is also an insightful 1981 interview with Corben archived there.