Greg Theakston: 1953 to 2019

I was saddened to learn that comic book artist, publisher & historian Greg Theakston had passed away on April 22nd.  He was 65 years old.

As a teenager Theakston was involved in the Detroit area comic book fandom in the late 1960s and early 70s.  During this time period he was one of the organizers of the Detroit Triple Fan Fair comic book & sci-fi conventions.

Super Powers vol 2 1 cover smallTheakston, along with such fellow Detroit area fans as Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, Terry Austin, and Keith Pollard, made the jump from fan to professional during the 1970s.  From 1972 to 1979 Theakston worked at Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios, where he gained invaluable experience, learning the tools of the trade alongside his contemporaries.  Theakston was one of the so-called “Crusty Bunkers,” a loose-knit group of Continuity-based artists organized by Adams.  Throughout the 1970s the Crusty Bunkers would pitch in to help one another meet tight comic book deadlines.  Theakston was interviewed about his time at Continuity by Bryan Stroud, revealing it to be a crazy, colorful experience.

Theakston worked for a number of publishers over the years, creating illustrations for National Lampoon, Playboy, Rolling Stone and TV Guide.  His art appeared in a number of issues of MAD Magazine in the late 1980s and throughout the 90s.

Most of Theakston’s comic book work was for DC Comics.  In the 1980s Theakston was often assigned the high-profile job of inking the legendary Jack Kirby’s pencils.

Theakston’s inking of Kirby proved to be divisive.  Personally speaking, as a huge fan of Kirby, I like what Theakston brought to the table.  I do recognize that Theakston was not the ideal fit for Kirby’s pencils in the way that Joe Sinnott and Mike Royer were, but I nevertheless felt he did a good job inking him.

The Hunger Dogs cover

One of the things to recognize about that collaboration is that during this time Kirby’s health unfortunately began to decline.  As a result his penciling started becoming loser.  Theakston was often called upon to do a fair amount of work to tighten up the finished art.  This led to some creative choices on his part that were not appreciated by some.  I think Theakston was in a less-than-ideal situation, having to make those choices over the work of a creator who was already regarded by fans as a legend and a genius.  The result was a scrutiny of his inking / finishing more much more intense than if he had been working with almost any other penciler.

Comic book creator Erik Larsen observed on the website What If Kirby that Theakston possessed a definite fondness for the earlier work Kirby did with Joe Simon in the Golden Age.  This translated into Theakston inking Kirby with a heavier, darker line that evoked the Simon & Kirby stories of the 1940s and 50s, rather than the much more slick, polished embellishment that Sinnott and Royer brought to it in the 1960s and 70s.Whos Who Orion

Theakston inked Kirby on the first two Super Powers miniseries, the Hunger Dogs graphic novel that concluded the saga of Orion and the New Gods, various entries for Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe, and the team-up of Superman and the Challengers of the Unknown in DC Comics Presents #84 written by Bob Rozakis.

I enjoyed Theakston’s work on these various titles.  In my mind, the stunning cover painting for The Hunger Dogs featuring Darkseid that he did over Kirby’s pencils is one of the best pieces Theakston ever produced.

(Theakston’s inking on the Alex Toth pages in DC Comics Presents #84 was unfortunately much less impressive.  In his defense I will say that when someone other than Toth himself inked his pencils, the majority of the time the results were underwhelming.)

Theakston also inked fellow Detroit native Arvell Jones’ pencils on Secret Origins #19 (Oct 1987).  Roy Thomas’ story recounted, and expended upon, the origins of the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, characters who had been created by Simon & Kirby in 1942. Given his fondness for the work of Simon & Kirby in the 1940s, it was entirely appropriate for Theakston to work on this story. His inking for it certainly evoked the feel of Golden Age comic book artwork.Secret Origins 19 pg 19Theakston only worked for Marvel Comics on a couple of occasions.  Early in his career he painted the cover for Planet of the Apes #9 (June 1975) in Marvel’s black & white magazine line.  Almost a quarter century later Theakston painted a Kirby-inspired piece for the cover of the second Golden Age of Marvel Comics trade paperback (1999).

DC Comics Presents 84 cover smallIn 1975 Theakston founded the publishing company Pure Imagination.  Under that imprint he issued collected editions featuring a variety of Golden Age stories & artwork by such creators as Kirby, Alex Toth, Lou Fine, Wallace Wood, and Basil Wolverton.

Theakston developed a process for reprinting comic books that DC editor Dick Giordano later referred to as “Theakstonizing.”  As per What If Kirby, Theakstonizing “bleaches color from old comics pages, used in the restoration for reprinting.” Theakstonizing was used to publish a number of collections of Golden Age comic books in the 1980s and 90s, among these the early volumes of the DC Archives hardcovers.  Unfortunately the Theakstonizing process resulted in the destruction of the original comic book itself.  It’s a shame that so many old comics had to be destroyed to create the early DC Archives and other Golden Age reprints, but in those days before computer scanning that was the best way available to reproduce such old material. Additionally, as explained by Theakston’s ex-wife Nancy Danahy:

“Greg did everything to avoid destroying a valuable comic book for his Theakstonizing process. He would search for the ones with tattered, missing covers, or bent pages that devalued the book. It was only in a few instances that he used one in good condition, and only then if he knew the return on investment was worth it. He felt it would be better for the greater good to be able to share the work with more people than to let one book settle in a plastic bag on someone’s shelf.”

Beginning in 1987, Theakston also published the fan magazine The Betty Pages, dedicated to sexy pin-up model Bettie Page, of whom he was a huge fan.  Theakston is considered to be one of the people who helped bring Page back into the public consciousness, resulting in her once again becoming an iconic figure of American pop culture.  In the early 1990s Theakston conducted an extensive phone interview with Page that was published in The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2 in 1993.The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2 coverTheakston created several stunning, sexy paintings featuring Bettie Page.  One of my favorites is a striking piece featuring Page in short leopard-skin dress, silhouetted against a giant blue moon in the sky behind her, with two leopards crouching at her feet.  It saw print as the cover for The Betty Pages Annual Vol 2.Planet of the Apes 9 cover small

I can’t say I knew Greg Theakston very well. We met once in 2012, at the Comic Book Marketplace show in Manhattan, and we also corresponded by e-mail.  When I met him he certainly appeared flattered that I had gotten a tattoo of the Who’s Who pin-up of Beautiful Dreamer from the Forever People, which he had inked over Kirby’s pencils. He also appeared to appreciate my compliments concerning his work inking Kirby. Greg did a cute drawing of Bettie Page for me at that show in one of my convention sketchbooks.  He subsequently surprised me with a gift of his original inks for the Beautiful Dreamer piece, which I felt was a generous gesture.

I thought Greg was a talented artist who created some very beautiful paintings and illustrations.  All of my interactions with him were pleasant. I understand that over the years several others had much less amicable relations with him. Reportedly he was one of those people who could run very hot & cold, and that he was dealing with some personal issues.

Whatever the case, I do feel it’s unfortunate that Greg passed away. I know 65 is not young, but it’s not super-old either.  Judging by the reactions I have seen over the past week, he will certainly be missed by quite a few people, myself included.

 

Beautiful Dreamer tattoo

In my February 23rd blog post, I wrote about how back in May 2000 I came to start my theme sketchbook featuring the character Beautiful Dreamer from the Forever People, who had been created by the legendary Jack “King” Kirby.  At the end of that post, I mentioned that I also happened to have a tattoo of the character.  Here’s how that came about.

Jack Kirby passed away in 1994.  I am a huge fan of his work, and I have always regretted that I would never have the opportunity to meet him, much less get a sketch of Beautiful Dreamer by Kirby himself.  Also, pretty much all of Kirby’s artwork is way beyond my budget.  So I didn’t think I’d ever own an original piece drawn by him.  And then Michele came up with a suggestion, the next best thing, you might say… why not get a tattoo of Beautiful Dreamer?

I had previously gotten a Watchmen smiley face tattoo done by Becca Roach.  I was happy with her work, so I decided to go back to her for this new ink.  I searched through my collections of Kirby’s wonderful “Fourth World” stories.  I finally located the perfect image, a bio picture of Beautiful Dreamer drawn by Jack Kirby & Greg Theakston that appeared in Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #2.  It was later reprinted, along with all the other bios of the New Gods from that series, in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Volume Four.

I had the tattoo done on my left leg. Becca did impeccable work.  You can see it below, side-by-side with the original Who’s Who profile (click to enlarge):

Beautiful Dreamer tattoo

Becca is currently working at North Star Tattoo, located at 74 East 7th Street in NYC. You can view her tattoo work and her paintings on her website, http://www.beccaroach.com/

A few years later, at the 2012 New York Comic Book Marketplace, I met Greg Theakston.  In addition to his excellent work inking Kirby in the 1980s, Theakston is a talented artist in his own right, as well as a comic book historian, an expert on Bettie Page, and a publisher who has reissued a variety of Golden Age material through his Pure Imagination imprint.  I had corresponded with Greg on Facebook, but this was the first time I had a chance to talk face to face.  He remembered me very well, since I’d previously e-mailed him a photo of my tattoo.  He mentioned in passing that he thought he still had the original ink artwork from the Who’s Who entry.  I just shrugged it off, though, since I figured it was out of my price range.

So today I received a package in the mail from none other than Greg Theakston.  I wasn’t expecting anything from him.  I mean, a few weeks back he had asked me what my mailing address was, but I didn’t think anything of it, just guessing that he might send me a copy of one of his books or something.  But what I got in the mail this morning was much too small to be a book.  I opened it up, and discovered this:

Beautiful Dreamer Theakston inks

Yep, it was the original ink artwork that Greg did on vellum for the main image of Beautiful Dreamer from the Who’s Who bio.  In the 1980s, a great deal of Kirby’s artwork was inked separately on vellum via the use of a lightbox.  That meant that Kirby’s original pencils remained, in addition to the inked work which was then used for publication.

Of course, this means there’s still Kirby’s original pencil drawing somewhere out there.  I don’t know who owns it.  I certainly do know that at this point in time there is no way in hell I could afford to purchase it.  But that’s okay.

I am very grateful to Greg for this kind gesture.  To tell you the truth, my life has been very crazy lately, with a great deal of stress and a lot of emotional ups & downs.  I have had to put up for sale some pieces of comic book artwork from my collection that I really liked because I urgently need to pay bills. So this generous gift from Greg really means a lot to me.  Thanks!

New York Comic Book Marketplace: a convention report

Last Saturday I went to the New York Comic Book Marketplace comic convention at the Penn Pavilion near Madison Square Garden.  For those unfamiliar with the NYCBM, it is run by Mike Carbonaro, who back in the 1990s set up the Big Apple Comic Con shows.  One way to describe Carbonaro would be “David Johansen overdosed on Red Bull.”  He’s this high-energy character who seems to just bounce all over the place, a manic grin on his face.  Carbonaro also has the habit of attempting to fit as many comic book creators and retailers into as small a space as possible.  I would not recommend attending the NYCBM if you suffer from severe claustrophobia.  That said, Carbonaro and his associate, the very pleasant Allen Rosenberg, often do a great job of lining up some fantastic comic book professionals.  So I find it can be worth putting up with the cramped, crowded conditions to obtain autographs and sketches.

Of late I haven’t had much in the way of disposable income, so my main intention in going to the latest NYCBM was to meet creators and get some books signed.  The show had a number of Golden and Silver Age veterans as guests.  Some I had met before, others I had not.  In either case, it was an opportunity to talk with them, and let them know how much I enjoyed their work over the years.

The one creator who I really wanted to meet was the legendary Stan Lee who, in the 1960s, co-created pretty much the entire Marvel Universe with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.  Unfortunately, there were separate tickets to get Lee’s signature, and it was a whopping $50 an item.  So I had to pass.  (To this day, I mentally kick myself in the rear end that I did not get Lee’s autograph back in 1994, when he did a signing at a comic shop in White Plains along with Larry Hama, Ron Garney, and Richard Ashford.  The line for Lee was long, and I was an impatient teenager, so I didn’t get on it.  But in comparison to trying to meet Lee nowadays, I realize it was a much shorter wait.  And it was free!)

Luckily, I was able to meet several other great creators.  One was legendary Marvel artist Joe Sinnott.  This isn’t the first time I’ve met Sinnott, but it’s always a pleasure, since he is such a nice guy, as well as a fantastic artist.  Sinnott did some fabulous inks/finishes over numerous artists on various Marvel titles.  He was, in my opinion, the best inker Jack Kirby ever had on Fantastic Four.  Sinnott’s style perfectly suited the far-out science fiction elements of that series.  I love how he inked all the “Kirby-tech” machinery.  I didn’t have any copies of the Kirby FF issues to get signed.  Instead I brought along my copy of Giant Size Fantastic Four #3, which had Sinnott inking Rich Buckler’s magnificent pencils on the cosmic opus “Where Lurks Death… Ride the Four Horsemen!”  I’d already gotten Buckler’s signature on the book at last year’s NYCBM, and so I was happy to have the other half of the art team autograph it.

Giant Size Fantastic Four #3 autographed by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

I also met Allen Bellman, an artist who worked at Marvel in the 1940s and 50s.  I obtained a commission drawing of Captain America from Bellman through the mail in November 2010.  Bellman lives in Florida, but he makes appearances at conventions, and I did not want to miss finally meeting face to face with him when he visited New York.  He remembered me from our correspondence due to the fact that nowadays I’m in an area of Queens where his sister lived back when he was a kid.  Bellman used to take the trolley to visit her, and he was interested to learn that in certain areas of the neighborhood you can still see the old tracks after all this time.

Another individual who I had been looking forward to meeting was Greg Theakston.  Artist, historian, and publisher, Theakston inked much of Kirby’s DC Comics work in the 1980s.  His company Pure Imagination has released numerous volumes collecting formerly out-of-print early work by such legends as Kirby, Ditko, Will Eisner, and Alex Toth.  Theakston also published The Betty Pages, a magazine dedicated to legendary pin up girl Bettie Page, and he helped bring the “queen of curves” out of seclusion, interviewing her extensively before she passed away in 2008.  I purchased a copy of The Betty Pages Annual Volume 2, an interesting read with a large selection of sexy photographs.  He also autographed my copy of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Volume 4.  (I am a tremendous fan of Kirby’s New Gods titles, and I even have a tattoo of the Beautiful Dreamer character, based on artwork by Kirby & Theakston, on my left leg.)  I had a nice time chatting with Theakston, and he was kind enough to draw a lovely sketch of Bettie Page for me.

Greg Theakston sketching Bettie Page

One thing I noticed at the NYCBM was that a number of the comic book artists were charging for autographs.  I think this is a relatively new phenomenon, because I’ve been going to comic shows since I was in high school, and in the past creators never asked for money, unless you brought along a ridiculously large pile of books to get signed.  And I’ve always felt that if someone did that, then the creator probably should make a few dollars autographing literally dozens of comics.

However, this time around, even if you only had a few items, some artists wanted payment.  The most blatant example of this was Marvel Zombies artist Arthur Suydam.  Maybe I misunderstood him, but he seemed to be saying that he would not autograph anything unless you purchased one of his prints.  I only had a single book with me to get signed so I passed.  Maybe next time.

Also asking for payment was the aforementioned Rich Buckler, who wanted three dollars per autograph, not an unreasonable request.  Buckler, the creator of the groundbreaking Deathlok series, was a prolific artist at both Marvel and DC in the 1970s and 80s.  Unfortunately, I think since then that his art style is considered too “traditional” or “old school” or whatever by today’s editors.  Which is a shame, because Buckler is super-talented, and I would really enjoy seeing him draw a regular book again.  It would be great to see him do a Deathlok revival.  It’s regrettable that he’s forced to be charging for autographs.  I only had two books with me, so I happily gave him the money.  The person in front of me had a stack of probably fifteen to twenty comics, though, and they were being very, very picky, indicating precisely which spot on each cover Buckler should sign.  Given that sort of situation, I think Buckler was quite justified to be charging a small fee.

I paid ten dollars to get a signature from legendary artist Carmine Infantino.  Yes, I have a couple of other things signed by him, but given that he is getting up there in years and is not in the best of health, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to meet Infantino again.  It’s too bad I didn’t have one of those collections of his great Silver Age DC stories to get autographed, such as the Flash of Two Worlds hardcover.  So instead I had him sign one of the trade paperbacks collecting the Star Wars comics he drew for Marvel.  The guy in line before me had a stack of ten different DC Archives editions of Flash, Justice League, etc and I watched as he casually forked over one hundred bucks to Infantino to get them all signed.  Wish I had that kind of spare change!

I did have enough money in my budget for a few sketches.  In addition to the Bettie Page by Greg Theakston, I also got nice pieces done by Billy Tucci and Ian Dorian.  I posted scans on the Comic Art Fans website… http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=60

As I mentioned, the NYCBM was very chaotic, and I had to duck out for a while, get some fresh air, and sit down for a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  I don’t even like Starbucks, but I don’t know of any other coffee shops near Penn Station.  Still, despite the insanity, it was a fun show, and I enjoyed going.

Afterwards, I met up with my girlfriend, and had a nice, quiet, romantic dinner with her.  It was a lovely way to end the day.