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

Earth Shattering Disasters: the perfect comic book for 2020

I went over to JHU Comic Books in Manhattan on Tuesday to buy the latest issue of Alter Ego magazine from TwoMorrows Publishing, and to look for a few other things. Due to Covid-19, this was only the fourth time since March that I’ve set foot in a comic book store, so I decided to spend some time browsing. Skimming though the back issue bins, I came across this:

Yes, I could not think of a more appropriate comic book to read in the year 2020 than one entitled Earth Shattering Disasters! Sadly there were no pandemics, economic meltdowns or murder hornets within these pages, but still plenty of interest to the comic book aficionado.

DC Special was an anthology series published by DC Comics from 1968 to 1971 and then from 1975 to 1977, running for 29 issues. Most issues of DC Special were reprints that centered around themes such as Wanted! The World’s Most Dangerous Villains, Strangest Sports Stories Ever Told or Super-Heroes Battle Super-Gorillas, or that spotlighted the work of specific creators, namely Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert.

The final three issues of DC Special contained brand-new material. DC Special #28 (cover dated June-July 1977) seems to be a thematic sequel to the all-reprint issue #18, which was sub-titled Earth Shaking Stories. This time, though, Earth Shattering Disasters contained three brand new stories.

The dynamic cover to DC Special #18 is drawn by Al Milgrom, then only 27 years old, who at the time was working as an editor and artist for DC Comics. Having grown up seeing Milgrom’s work for Marvel in the 1980s, it’s interesting to now see an earlier example of his work featuring DC mainstays Batman and Aquaman. If you squint, you can also make out a trio of Legion of Super-Heroes members in the background.

Opening this issue, we come to a table of contents page drawn by the great Jim Aparo. It took me a bit of time when I was younger to develop an appreciation for Aparo, but since then I’ve come to regard him as one of the very best artists DC had in their employ during the Bronze Age.

By 1977 Aparo was already well-regarded for his depictions of both Batman and Aquaman, having drawn numerous stories featuring those two characters over the previous decade. This is, however, one of the very few times Aparo drew anything involving the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s nice to see his depictions of Timber Wolf, Phantom Girl and Brainiac-5, even if it’s only a single image.

The first story, “And the Town Came Tumbling Down,” has Batman facing Quakemaster, a disgruntled architect who threatens to destroy Gotham City with man-made earthquakes. This tale is interesting in hindsight since a little over two decades later in 1998 DC Comics would do a massive year-long storyline involving Gotham City being devastated by an earthquake. Of course, back in 1977 comic book stories were much more self-contained, and this is very much a one-off tale. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see Batman face off against a brand new villain rather than encountering one of his regular foes like the Joker or Penguin for the umpteenth time.

“And the Town Came Tumbling Down” is written by Bob Rozakis, who did a fair amount of writing for DC between 1975 and 1989, although nowadays he better known for his nearly two decade stint running DC’s production department.

Pencils are by John Calnan, an artist who is probably not too well known nowadays. Most of his work for DC was on their anthology titles, but he also drew a number of Batman issues in the late 1970s.

Calnan is inked by Tex Blaisdell, an artist who spent most of his career working on syndicated comic strips. Blaisdell was often paired with penciler Curt Swan on the Superman titles during the Bronze Age, which was unfortunate, as I really don’t think their styles meshed well. Blaisdell’s inking definitely feels like a much better fit over Calnan’s pencils. The two of them turn in a good, solid job on this story.

“A Creature of Death and Darkness” opens with Aquaman facing off against modern day pirates, but the action soon shifts to a battle with a humongous blob-like creature that threatens to consume the Hawaiian Islands.  The story is written by Gerry Conway, a prolific creator at both Marvel and DC during the 1970s and 80s.

This story is notable for being the very first DC Comics work by Don Newton. As with a number of his Bronze Age contemporaries, Newton got his start at Charlton Comics.  Having honed his craft on Charlton’s horror anthologies and The Phantom, Newton then moved into the “big leagues,” so to speak, becoming a regular artistic presence at DC Comics until his untimely death at the age of 49 in August 1984.

Newton is inked here by his friend and neighbor Dan Adkins. Starting out as an assistant to Wallace Wood in the mid 1960s, Adkins went on to do some superb inking over a variety of pencilers such as Gil Kane, Paul Gulacy, P. Craig Russell, Curt Swan and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Adkins also occasional did full artwork, both in comic books and on magazine covers & illustrations. The collaboration of Newton and Adkins certainly works well on this story.

The final entry in this issue, “The City That Stopped Dead,” is the primary reason I picked this up. I’m a huge fan of the pre-Crisis Legion of Super-Heroes.

I’d never read this story before. The only time it’s been reprinted was in Legion Archives Volume 13, which had a low print run and currently goes for between $300 and $600 from various online retailers! Um, no thank you! It’s much cheaper to just search out the original issues, which is exactly what I did.

This is an early Legion story by Paul Levitz, who would later go on to write some of the team’s all-time greatest adventures in the 1980s. Levitz is often upfront about the fact that his later Legion of Super-Heroes work was better. Nevertheless, considering he was only 21 years old when he wrote “The City That Stopped Dead,” it’s a pretty good effort.  The Legion’s five on-call members leap into action to save 30th Century Metropolis when the city’s Fusion Powersphere is sabotaged, causing a catastrophic blackout.

Penciling this one is Arvell Jones, one of the members of Detroit comic book fandom who entered the comic book biz in the 1970s. Jones drew a number of series for DC and Marvel, most notably a two and a half year run penciling All-Star Squadron in the mid 1980s and the first six issues of Kobalt from Milestone / DC in 1994.  He did a nice job on this, so it’s a shame that he only drew a couple of other Legion issues after this.

Inks are by future Iron Man and Valiant Comics superstar Bob Layton. At the time Layton was only 24 and, as with several of the other creators on DC Special #28, early in his career. Nevertheless, Layton’s inking here is already polished, displaying the artistic flair that he has consistently demonstrated in the decades since.

DC Special #28: Earth Shattering Disasters is the sort of comic book that if I had been old enough to buy it when it had come out I would have enjoyed it. It has some of DC’s best characters in a trio of exciting stories written & drawn by a line-up of talented creators. Plus you got 34 pages for 60 cents! Adjusted for inflation, that’s $2.58 in 2020 money. That’s a great value, considering nowadays you can’t find a 20 page comic book for less than four bucks!

So, yeah, if I had been ten years old when this was released in the Spring of 1977 (as opposed to ten months old, which is how old I actually was back then) I’m sure I would have eagerly snatched this off the newsstand. As a 44 year old reading it in 20202, I can still enjoy it. It’s a product of a slightly less complicated era, a time when comic books already featured a high degree of craft, yet were still more accessible.

I realize the industry has changed a great deal in the last 40 plus years and that the market now usually requires stories that are decompressed and “written for the trade,” as the saying goes. Nevertheless, I miss these types of “one and done” tales.

Of course, that’s the great thing about back issues (and, consequently, collected editions of vintage comic books): there are literally decades of older material out there for us to enjoy.

Martin Pasko: 1954 to 2020

Longtime comic book & animation writer Martin Pasko passed away on May 10th.  He was 65 years old.

DC Comics Presents 1 coverBetween 1973 and 1982 Pasko wrote a great many stories for the various Superman titles at DC Comics.  On quite a few of these he was paired with longtime Superman penciler Curt Swan.  In 1978 Pasko, working with artists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dan Adkins, launched the Superman team-up series DC Comics Presents with a well-regarded two-part story costarring the Flash.

In the mid 1970s Pasko also wrote Wonder Woman.  The first part of Pasko’s run had him wrapping up “The Twelve Labors of Wonder Woman” storyline.  Several issues later the series shifted focus to the Earth-Two’s Wonder Woman during World War II.  This was an effort to align the book with the first season of the live-action television show starring Lynda Carter.  Pasko’s final two issues, #231-232, were plotted by his friend Alan Brennert, his first work in comic books.  Brennert & Pasko’s story, which was drawn by Bob Brown, Michael Netzer & Vince Colletta, had Wonder Woman teaming up with the Justice Society.

All of this was slightly before my time as a reader, as I was born in 1976.  I have read some of those Superman and Wonder Woman stories in back issues or trade paperbacks.  However, the first work by Pasko that I vividly recall from my childhood was his early 1980s revival of the Swamp Thing with artist Tom Yeates.Swamp Thing 6 cover

Pasko wrote the first 19 issues of The Saga of the Swamp Thing.  He and Yeates created some genuinely weird, spooky, unnerving stories during this year and a half period.  I vividly recall the two-part story from issues #6-7, which had Swamp Thing encountering a bizarre aquatic creature with eyeball-tipped tentacles that could transform people into one-eyed monsters.  The shocking cliffhanger in issue #6 definitely seared itself onto my young mind and left me wondering “What happens next?”

I think Pasko’s work on Swamp Thing is often underrated, overshadowed by the groundbreaking Alan Moore run that immediately followed it.  I know that I’m not alone in this estimation.  A number of other fans also believe Pasko’s Swamp Thing stories are due for a reevaluation.

Swamp Thing 6 pg 17

During this time Pasko was also working in animation.  Among his numerous animation credits, he wrote several episodes of Thundaar the Barbarian, which had been created by fellow comic book writer Steve Gerber.  It was Pasko who devised the name Ookla for Thundaar’s massive leonine sidekick.  As he recounted years later, he and Gerber had been attempting to come up with a name for the character when…

“We passed one of the entrances to the UCLA campus and when I saw the acronym on signage, the phonetic pronunciation leapt to mind.”

I was a huge fan of Thundaar the Barbarian when I was a kid.  I doubt I paid any attention to the credits back in the early 1980s, but years later, after I got into comic books, when I watched reruns of the show, the names of the various comic book creators involved in it, including Pasko, leaped right out at me.

E-Man v2 5 coverPasko was the writer on the first several issues of the revival of E-Man from First Comics in 1983, working with artist Joe Staton, the character’s co-creator.  As I’ve previously written, I just don’t feel that Pasko was a good fit for E-Man.  It really is one of those series that was never quite the same unless Nicola Cuti was writing it.  Nevertheless, I’m sure Pasko gave it his best.  There is at least one issue of E-Man where I think Pasko did good work, though.  I enjoyed his script for “Going Void” in issue #5, which featured a brutally satirical send-up of Scientology.

Pasko got back into writing for DC Comics in late 1987, writing a “Secret Six” serial drawn by Dan Spiegel in Action Comics Weekly.  He soon picked up another ACW assignment, featuring the revamped version of the Blackhawks conceived by Howard Chaykin.

This past January on his Facebook page Pasko recounted how he came to write Blackhawk in ACW.  When asked to take over the feature from departing writer Mike Grell by editor Mike Gold, Pasko initially accepted it only because of the lengthy, ongoing strike by the Writers Guild…

“I took the assignment because I had no choice–I needed the money–but it turned out, in the end, to be the most fun I ever had writing comics. I haunted the UCLA Research Library, immersing myself in everything I could learn about the post-WWII era in which the series was set, making Xeroxes of visual reference for the artist and having the time of my life.

“But my greatest thanks are reserved for that artist, my fantastic collaborator, the impeccable storyteller, Rick Burchett. Which is why this stuff is tops among the work of which I’m most proud. That stuff was all YOURS, Rick.”

Pasko & Burchett returned to the characters with an ongoing Blackhawk comic book that launched in March 1989.  It was a really enjoyable series, and it’s definitely unfortunate that it only lasted a mere 16 issues, plus an Annual.

Blackhawk 2 pg 19

In 1992 Pasko became a story editor on Batman: The Animated Series, working on 17 episodes of the acclaimed series.  He wrote the episode “See No Evil” and co-wrote the teleplay for the episode “Paging the Crime Doctor.”  Additionally, Pasko co-wrote the screenplay for the 1993 animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which was released theatrically.

DC Retroactive Superman 1970sIn the later part of his career Pasko contributed to several nonfiction books.  He also wrote the occasional comic book story for DC.  Among these was the special DC Retroactive: Superman – The 1970s penciled by Eduardo Barretto, which gave Pasko the opportunity to write the Man of Steel and his Bronze Age supporting cast one last time.

I never had an opportunity to meet Martin Pasko.  I narrowly missed him at Terrificon a few years ago.  Fortunately, Pasko was very active on Facebook, and I was one of the many fans who he enthusiastically interacted with there.  He wrote some really great stories in his time, and will definitely be missed.