Memories of The Incredible Hulk by Sal Buscema

Sal Buscema, one of my favorite comic book artists, celebrates his 85th birthday on January 26th. I’m going to take a look back at how I discovered Buscema’s work as a young comic book fan. (Part of this retrospective is based on a couple of posts I did several years ago. I guess you can consider this a “director’s cut” or something like that.)

Appropriately enough, I first saw Sal Buscema’s artwork in two issues of The Incredible Hulk, one of the series with which he is most closely associated.

On several occasions Sal Buscema has stated that the Hulk was his favorite character to draw. As he related to Jim Amash in the book Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist, published by TwoMorrows in 2010:

“I identified with [the Hulk]. Do you know what I liked about the Hulk? … He’s totally unique. He’s monstrous, lumbering, huge, unbelievably strong, and he gets even stronger when he gets angry. He has the mentality of a child. It’s so completely different from anything that you’ve drawn before. Is there another character as unique? … He’s an anti-hero, and yet because of his unbelievable power… look at all the fantastic things he’s capable of doing and usually does. That’s the fun and the constant stimulation that I had with this character.”

Buscema was the penciler on The Incredible Hulk from issue #194 (Dec 1975) to #309 (July 1985), an astonishing nine and a half year run. During that time Buscema missed only seven issues. I believe his 109 issue run on the series has never been surpassed by any other artist.

The very first issue of The Incredible Hulk that I ever read was #285, cover-dated July 1983.  It would have been on sale in early April 1983. I was six and a half years old and my parents bought it for me.

Prior to this, I had watched reruns of The Incredible Hulk cartoon that had originally been broadcast in 1966, as well as the new Saturday morning cartoon that debuted in September 1982.  Of course I had also seen at least a few episodes of the television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.  So I was already familiar with Bruce Banner and his gamma-spawned alter ego. But The Incredible Hulk #285 was the first time I had the opportunity to read one of the character’s actual comic book adventures.

The Incredible Hulk #285 was topped off by a fantastic cover drawn by artists Ron Wilson & Joe Sinnott.  As a kid, I thought it was an amazing image.  The Hulk was fighting this giant orange figure seemingly made out of flames.  I hadn’t seen anything like that before. And, oddly, instead of striding around in his usual torn-up pants, on this cover the Hulk was wearing a shirt, tie, jacket and shoes. That said, his pants were still purple, so not everything about him had changed!

Flipping open the comic, I came to the first page of “Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life.”  The creative team was writer Bill Mantlo, penciler Sal Buscema, inker Chic Stone, lettered Jim Novak, colorist Bob Sharen and editor Al Milgrom.  This splash page once had the Hulk wearing a jacket & tie, his hair neatly combed.  Rather than running around on a destructive rampage, he is seated at a desk, narrating his memoirs into a Dictaphone.

Over the course of the next several pages the Hulk recounts how Dr. Bruce Banner created the Gamma Bomb. While attempting to save the life of teenager Rock Jones, who had wandered onto the test site, Banner was caught in the explosion of the weapon he created. The radiation now caused Banner to transform into a savage monster whenever overwhelmed by stress or anger. I distinctly recall that my seven year old self was surprised that in this flashback Banner’s assistant Igor, who set off the Gamma Bomb in an attempt to kill the scientist, was a Soviet spy, rather than an alien robotic infiltrator as he had been depicted in the animated episode “Origin of the Hulk” the year before.

Buscema drew an absolutely savage depiction of the Hulk in this flashback, as Banner transformed into the jade giant for the very first time, on the striking splash page seen at the top of this blog post.

Following this was an amazing two page spread by Buscema & Stone that illustrated the chaotic life of the Hulk over the next several years, the long and winding road taken by a green goliath who was more often than not hunted by humanity.  Among the numerous characters glimpsed in this flashback montage, my seven year old self recognized from the animated series the villainous Leader and his pink artificial servants, Betty Ross, her father the militant General Ross, and the equally belligerent Major Talbot. Of course I also knew who Captain America was.

I was surprised to find out that Bruce Banner’s identity as the Hulk was public knowledge, since in the cartoons it had only been known to Rick Jones. Years later I learned that the Hulk was probably the earliest major super-powered protagonist to have his secret identity revealed, way back in Tales to Astonish #77, which was cover-dated May 1966.

At the end of this montage, we come to the Hulk’s current status: At long last, after all this time, Bruce Banner has managed to gain control, to retain his human intelligence when transforming into the Hulk.

While the Hulk has been busy recounting his life, a crew of workers from Stark Industries headed up by Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, has been constructing Northwind Observatory, a laboratory where Banner can resume his scientific studies.  Turning back into his human form, Banner joins Lang to supervise the installation of the laboratory’s power core.  At the last minute, Banner discovers that the power core was not designed by Stark Industries, but acquired from a company called Soulstar.  Banner immediately recognizes the name, but before he can prevent it, the power core is hooked up, there is “a massive electromagnetic discharge,” and a strange being emerges.

This creature, we are informed, is Zzzax the Living Dynamo (aka the guy guaranteed to always get the very last entry in the Handbook of the Marvel Universe).  Looking something like a humanoid lightning bolt, Zzzax is a creature that feeds on the human life force.  Before the monster can consume the stunned construction crew, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and tackles this old enemy.

Unfortunately the Hulk comes to a realization: In his old savage, child-like persona, the angrier he got, the stronger he became, but now, guided by Banner’s rational intellect, the Hulk cannot easily become angry, meaning his strength is limited.  And so the gamma-spawned giant realizes that, instead of relying on brute force to defeat Zzzax, he must now find a way to out-think his fiery foe.

As a kid, I thought The Incredible Hulk #285 was a fantastic issue with an amazing bad guy.  Yep, the idea of an intelligent Hulk was unexpected, but I just shrugged and read on.  Mantlo’s script was a really good introduction to the character of the Hulk, neatly surmised through the plot device of Bruce Banner penning his autobiography.  The second half, with the Hulk fighting Zzzax, was really exciting.

On the art side of things, the work by Sal Buscema was high quality.  To the best of my knowledge, this was the very first comic book I ever read that was penciled by him.  As I mentioned above, Buscema would eventually become one of my all time favorite comic book artists.  A number of years ago when Our Pal Sal appeared at a NYC comic book show I had him autograph this issue.  It was actually my second copy, since I read the original one so many times as a kid that the cover eventually fell off.

In regards to Stone’s inking, it is pretty good.  Having subsequently seen a great deal more of Buscema’s work, I have to admit that there were others who did a better job finishing his pencils, among them Joe Sinnott, Gerry Talaoc, and Buscema himself.  In the aforementioned Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist he admits that he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Stone’s inking.  Looking back at it as an adult fan, yes, I tend to agree with him.  That said, back when I was a little kid completely lacking in any knowledge of the subtleties of inking, I thought the artwork by Sal & Chic looked just fine.  I guess that’s probably the more important thing.

Even though I really did enjoy The Incredible Hulk #285, because I was just a few months shy of seven years old I very seldom had a chance to go buy comic books on my own, so I ended up not reading another issue of the series for a couple of years.  When I finally did, it was issue #309.  And if I thought #285 was a bit odd, well, that next one was downright bizarre!

The Incredible Hulk #309 was cover-dated July 1985, exactly two years since the last issue I had read.  And it was quickly obvious that a heck of a lot had changed in those two years!

The cover to issue #309 was by Mike Mignola.  It’s a pretty early piece of work by the future creator of Hellboy.  But you can certainly see his potential as an artist in this unusual cover image.  This had to be the first time that I saw Mignola’s art.  It certainly leaped out at me as a distinctive piece.

“The Triad” is written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Gerry Talaoc, lettered by John Workman, colored by Bob Sharon and edited by Carl Potts.  The last time I had seen Bruce Banner he was in full control of his bestial alter-ego and had been accepted as a hero by the people of Earth.  Now, though, the Hulk appears to be somewhere far, far from home, struggling to string together a simple coherent thought.

Within a few pages, Mantlo quickly brought readers up to speed.  Buscema renders another of his dramatic flashback montages.  I learned that the now-intelligent Hulk was haunted by Doctor Strange’s arch enemy Nightmare, who twisted Banner’s dreams to re-awaken the green goliath’s bestial alter ego.  Nightmare hoped to use the Hulk as weapon against the Sorcerer Supreme.  However, Strange was able to help the remaining spark of Banner’s consciousness strike back at the demon.  Unfortunately the Hulk was left with no mitigating human influence, and became an uncontrollable monster.  Rather than have to destroy his old friend, Strange exiled the Hulk to the extra-dimensional Crossroads, which linked up to a myriad of other realities.

And, wow, poor John Workman, a highly skilled letterer, had to try to squeeze all of this information onto a single page! I recall my eight year old self squinting as I read this recap, trying to make out all that tiny lettering.

Now, in the present, after some time wandering the Crossroads, traveling from one strange world to another, the Hulk’s sentience is very gradually awakening.  And with this renewed awareness, the Hulk discovers he is now accompanied by a trio of unusual figures.  The Triad is made up of a blue-skinned demon Goblin, a young orange-skinned girl Guardian, and a shining magenta star Glow.  These mysterious figures were somehow linked to the Hulk, their purpose to help restore the Hulk’s psyche.

Walking through one of the Crossroads portals, the Hulk and the Triad are transported into the middle of a vast alien desert.  Although the desolate sands stretch as far as the eye can see, and the harsh sun beats endlessly down, the Hulk refuses to activate the “fail-safe spell” cast by Doctor Strange that would return him to the Crossroads when he feels discontented.  As a massive sandstorm sweeps in, the Triad attempt in vain to convince the Hulk to wish himself off this planet before they all perish.

Finally, having survived the brutal elements, the Hulk at last finds that which his inhuman senses had detected from far off: a lush oasis.  The Triad realizes that the Hulk was not on a mission of suicide, but was driven by the will to find this oasis, meaning his mind is continuing to heal and come back together.

This was a really odd story to read as a kid.  The Hulk was stranded on the other side of reality, fighting not some supervillain or the military, but the very elements, accompanied by an incredibly odd threesome.  Mantlo really crafted an unusual story, having the Hulk’s struggle against nature juxtaposed against the Triad’s examination of and insights into his mental state.  It is a very introspective tale.

At the time, I had no clue who the Triad was supposed to be.  Within the next few issues, Mantlo would reveal that they were the splintered aspects of Bruce Banner’s subconscious mind given form and independent thought.  Certainly this was a clever, innovative idea.  Reading issue #309 with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that Mantlo sprinkled the dialogue with a number of hints as to the true identity of the Triad.

Mantlo really broke a lot of ground with his run on Incredible Hulk.  Having already given us an intelligent Hulk, he has now exiled the jade giant from Earth and begun to embark on an examination of Bruce Banner’s psychological background.  A cursory glance at the Hulk stories that have been written in the decades since readily demonstrates just how much this influenced subsequent writers.

This issue’s artwork was absolutely incredible.  The thing that really struck me was the depiction of the Hulk by Buscema & Talaoc.  Obviously in other comic books and in cartoons the Hulk had always been a big, strong creature.  But this was the first time I had ever seen him drawn as such a huge, bestial, imposing figure.

The depictions of the Crossroads and the desert planet that the Hulk and his strange companions visited were very vivid and detailed.  Buscema did a great job on the pencils, crafting these alien environments.  And the inking by Talaoc was absolutely superb.  He created a tangible atmosphere of oddness for the Crossroads.  On the desolate world, his embellishments bring to life a harsh landscape that alternates between cutting winds and a brutal sun.

Buscema stated in the Fast & Furious book that Gerry Talaoc was one of his favorite inkers to work with…

“Gerry Talaoc was a terrific draughtsman and… he drew better than I did. He probably still does. [laughs] And the look of the book was great. I loved what he did. To me the final product was what counted.”

I agree that Buscema and Talaoc went together exceptionally well.  Talaoc really enhanced Buscema’s penciling without overpowering it.

Eight years ago I found out that Gerry Talaoc was retired and living in Alaska. I was able to mail a few comic books to him to get signed, and I made certain that The Incredible Hulk #309 was one of them.

On the letters page of The Incredible Hulk #309 editor Carl Potts revealed that this was Sal Buscema’s final regular issue penciling the series, ending his nearly decade-long run.  I don’t recall if this meant anything to me back then, since I was just a kid and really wasn’t paying attention to the credits.

Years later, though, I would learn about the behind the scenes circumstances that led to Sal Buscema’s departure from The Incredible Hulk.  Buscema and Bill Mantlo, who came on as writer with issue #245, had initially gotten along very well. Regrettably though, as Buscema recounted in Fast & Furious, after several years Mantlo started becoming much more hands-on and demanding in regards to the artwork & storytelling, requesting that Buscema draw pages in certain ways…

“What [Mantlo] was asking for was not good. I didn’t care for it at all, and I have to trust my judgment, because I’m the artist and he’s not. I hate to be this blunt about it, but the fact of the matter is that in many cases where Bill described what he wanted he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not an artist, because he had no concept – and I do not mean that derogatorily, but simply as a statement of fact – of the relationship of one object to another in a given space. He would ask me to draw things that were impossible to draw.”

Buscema reluctantly asked Marvel Comics to take him off The Incredible Hulk. It’s an unfortunate end to his historic run. Nevertheless, looking at his penciling for issue #309, it is apparent, to me at least, that Buscema was doing high-quality work on the series right up until his departure.

By 1985 it had become a bit easier for me to buy comic books.  So fortunately I was able to pick up most the next several issues of the series.

Mike Mignola came onboard as the new penciler.  A few issues later the entire team of Mantlo, Mignola & Talaoc relocated to the pages of Alpha Flight.  After brief stints by John Byrne and Al Milgrom, The Incredible Hulk gained a new writer, Peter David, who had a lengthy, brilliant run that has some of its roots in Mantlo’s work.

Looking back on Mantlo’s run on The Incredible Hulk, it was innovative and exciting.  Despite the difficulties he had working with Mantlo towards the end, the artwork by Buscema was superb. In 2012 a good portion of the Mantlo & Buscema run, issues #269 to #313, was collected in, appropriately enough, a triad of trade paperbacks: Pardoned, Regression and Crossroads.

From my recollection, the point at which Sal Buscema’s artwork really began to stand out in my mind was when he became the regular artist on Spectacular Spider-Man in 1988. His work on that series was outstanding. And so, when I later ended up looking back at those two issues of The Incredible Hulk that I had picked up as a kid, I now realized they had been penciled by Our Pal Sal, which only increased my appreciation for them. It’s great to re-examine them and really absorb the incredible skill Buscema displays with his dynamic layouts & storytelling. Just check out the action, energy and drama on display above, on page 20 of The Incredible Hulk #285.

I definitely recommend purchasing Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist. It is still available from TwoMorrows Publishing.

Credit where credit is due: The format of this piece was partly inspired by Alan Stewart’s entertaining and informative blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books. Hey, as the saying goes, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best! You can read Alan’s entries on Sal Buscema, which so far look back at some of his work from the late 1960s and early 70s. And if Alan keeps blogging (and I certainly hope he does) perhaps in another six or so years he’ll be discussing Our Pal Sal’s work on The Incredible Hulk.

In conclusion, I want to wish a very happy 85th birthday to Sal Buscema, and thank him for the many great, enjoyable comic books he’s worked on over the decades.

Some more Comic Book Cats highlights

Since July I have been posting Comic Book Cats entries daily on the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The object is to see how many different pencilers I can find artwork by featuring cats. These posts are being archived on First Comics News. Here are 10 more highlights, taken from entries 51 to 100.

Frank Robbins

House of Mystery #241, drawn by Frank Robbins, written by Jack Oleck and lettered by Ben Oda, published by DC Comics in May 1976.

“Paid in Full” is described by House of Mystery host Cain as an “eerie black cat tale.”  Hold-up man Cass, wounded in a shoot-out with the police, hops a freight train out of town.  Coming to in Kentucky, he is nursed back to health by elderly Martha Wright, who lives in a cabin with her cat Lucifer.  Unfortunately for Martha, Cass realizes she is a witch and threatens to shoot Lucifer if she does not use her magic to conjure up money for him.

Cass then orders Martha to give him “a new face, a new body” so that he can evade the police.  She creates a formula that will do this, and the criminal thanks the old lady by murdering her.  Burying her in the woods, Cass downs the formula.  It does indeed give him a “new” body, one that is only six inches tall.  And waiting for the now mouse-sized Cass is a very angry Lucifer, ready to enact revenge.

I know that my experience with Frank Robbins’ work parallels a number of other readers, in that initially I disliked it, over time I gradually learned to appreciate it, and now I now really enjoy his art.  I feel Robbins’ work was more suited to war, adventure, mystery and horror stories than superheroes.  DC’s horror anthologies were the perfect venue for Robbins’ talents.  He definitely drew the heck out of “Paid in Full,” rendering an atmospheric little tale that is capped off with a strikingly ferocious black cat on the prowl.

Tania Del Rio & Jim Amash

Sabrina the Teenage Witch volume 2 #58, written & penciled by Tania Del Rio, inked by Jim Amash, and colored by Jason Jensen, published by Archie Comics in August 2004.

Archie Comics decided in 2004 to take Sabrina the Teenage Witch in a manga-inspired direction, with stories & artwork by newcomer Talia Del Rio.  This direction lasted for 42 issues, with Del Rio working on the entire run.  She was paired up with frequent Archie inker Jim Amash.

In this scene from Del Rio’s first full issue, Sabrina is bummed at having been chewed out by her aunts for coming home late from a date with her boyfriend Harvey.  Unfortunately for Sabrina, matters soon become even worse, as her cat Salem reminds her that she has a report due at school tomorrow.  As a despondent Sabrina conjures up a can of Zap cola and sets to work on her report, a less than sympathetic Salem observes “It’s going to be a LONG night…”

Joe Eisma

Faith #10, drawn by Joe Eisma, written by Jody Hauser and lettered by Dave Sharpe, published by Valiant Entertainment in April 2017.

The various enemies of Faith Herbert, aka Zephyr, join forces to gain revenge on the telekinetic superhero.  Among the members of the nefarious Faithless is Dark Star, “a parasitic psiot entity currently trapped in a cat.”  Dark Star may look cute and cuddly, but trust me, he’s a major @$$hole.  Just don’t give him any champagne.  He gets drunk REALLY easily.

Faith was a really good comic book series.  Jody Hauser’s stories were both poignant and humorous.  She did a great job developing Faith Herbert’s character.  The artists who worked with Hauser on the miniseries and ongoing all did high quality work.

Joe Eisma has also drawn Morning Glories for Image Comics and several titles for Archie Comics.  He is definitely very adept at drawing teenage characters.

Auraleon

Vampirella #32, drawn by Auraleon and written by Steve Skeates, published by Warren in April 1974.

This back-up story features an early appearance by Pantha, the lovely feline shape-shifter who would go on to become Vampirella’s close friend.  This beautifully illustrated page sees Pantha transforming from her panther form back into her human self.  Pacing along beside her in the final panel is a black cat, who perhaps recognizes her as a kindred spirit.  After all, black cats have often been described as “mini panthers.”

Auraleon, full name Rafael Aura León, was another of the incredibly talented Spanish artists who worked for Warren throughout the 1970s.  He was one of the most prolific artists at Warren, rendering stunning, atmospheric work.

Auraleon also illustrated stories in various genres for Spanish and British publishers.  Tragically, Auraleon suffered from depression, and he committed suicide in 1993.

George Papp

Superboy #131, drawn by George Papp, published by DC Comics in July 1966.

“The Dog from S.C.P.A.” sees Krypto the Superdog joining several other super-powered canines as a member of the Space Canine Patrol Agents.  Krypto must rescue the other members of the S.P.C.A. from the clutches of the Canine Caper Gang.  The two sides fight to a draw, at which point the Gang agree to leave if Krypto promises to take them “to a new world, where there aren’t any canine agents.”  Krypto agrees, and the desperado dogs are elated at the thought of being able to carry on their larcenous activities unhindered… until they discover that Krypto has taken them to a planet with a different sort of S.P.C.A., specifically the Space Cat Patrol Agents!

What a great twist ending!  I’m just a bit disappointed that we never got to see Atomic Tom, Crab-Tabby and Power Puss team up with Streaky!

George Papp was one of the regular artists on Superboy from 1958 to 1968.  Among his other credits, Papp drew some of the early Legion of Super-Heroes stories and co-created Green Arrow with Mort Weisinger.  Unfortunately he was one of several older creators who were fired by DC Comics in the late 1960s when they requested health & retirement benefits.  Papp then went into advertising.  He passed away in 1989 at the age of 73.

Reed Waller

The Complete Omaha the Cat Dancer Volume 4, cover artwork by Reed Waller, published by Amerotica / NBM in 2006, reprinting Omaha the Cat Dancer #10-13, written by Kate Worley and drawn by Reed Waller, published by Kitchen Sink Press in 1988 and 1989.

My girlfriend Michele Witchipoo is a huge fan of Omaha the Cat Dancer.  She recommended that I spotlight Omaha in Comic Book Cats.

Omaha the Cat Dancer was created by Reed Waller in 1978.  Omaha initially appeared in several anthologies throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s.  An ongoing series began in 1984, and with the second issue Kate Worley became the writer. Waller and Worley collaborated on Omaha for the next two decades.  Worley unfortunately passed away in 2004. Subsequently her husband James Vance worked with Waller to complete the series.  Omaha was ultimately collected in eight volumes by Amerotica / NBM Publishing.

Omaha the Cat Dancer is set in a universe populated by anthropomorphic “funny animal” characters and is set in Mipple City, Minnesota, a fictionalized version of Minneapolis.  It stars Susan “Susie” Jensen, a feline who under the name Omaha works as a stripper and pin-up model, and her boyfriend Charles “Chuck” Tabey, Jr. aka Chuck Katt.  Initially conceived by Waller to protest against censorship and St. Paul’s blue laws, the series evolved into a soap opera.

As you can no doubt tell from the premise, as well as from Waller’s artwork, there is a great deal of sex and nudity in Omaha the Cat Dancer.  Although explicit, these elements are often utilized in the service of telling the story and developing the relationships between the characters.

B. Kliban

Cats by B. Kliban, written & drawn by Bernard Kliban, published by Workman Publishing Company in September 1975.

Bernard Kliban’s 1975 collection of cat cartoons has been referred to as “the mother of all cat books.” The book was a massive bestseller, and today Kliban’s iconic depictions of felines are recognized the world over. This cartoon from that book all-too-accurately captures the experience of becoming a “cat person.” You start off with just one, and the next thing you know…

Kliban’s cartoons also appeared regularly in the pages of Playboy for throughout the 1970s and 80s. He passed away in August 1990 at the age of 55.

Don Heck

Journey Into Mystery #62, drawn by Don Heck, published by Atlas / Marvel Comics in November 1960.

“There Is a Brain Behind the Fangs” is such an odd little tale. I’m just going to use the Grand Comics Database’s description:

“A man is convinced that dogs are secretly planning to take over the world. His friend hypnotizes a dog and proves that it cannot understand complex questions. Neither suspects that the dog has been hypnotized by the cat.”

Yes, that’s correct, dogs are planning to take over the world, but the actual masterminds behind the scheme are cats! That sounds about right.

Say, the cat in this story sort of resembles my own cat Nettie. You don’t think…? Naah, it couldn’t be!

Seriously, this story features some nice art by the often-underrated Don Heck. As has often been observed, Heck’s strengths lay outside of superheroes, and as that genre came to dominate comic books he was unfortunately asked to work within it more and more often. Heck’s work in mystery, horror, war, romance and Westerns was always very effective. As seen on this page, he was certainly adept at illustrating animals such as dogs and cats.

Kelley Jones & Malcolm Jones III

Sandman #18, penciled by Kelley Jones, inked by Malcolm Jones III, written by Neil Gaiman, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Robbie Busch, published by DC Comics in November 1991.

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve read Sandman. I had the first few trade paperbacks, but I lent them to someone over a decade ago, never got them back, and haven’t seen them since. So I had to be reminded of “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” from issue #18, which several people suggested I showcase. Here is a page of that story, taken from the digital edition. One of these days I should replace my copies of the physical books. Fortunately the trade paperbacks are easy to find.

Kelley Jones is yet another of those artists who when I first saw his work I was not especially fond of it, finding his figures to be grotesque and distorted. However, I very quickly came to appreciate Jones’ art. He excels at creating moody, atmospheric scenes. As seen here, he also draws some wonderfully detailed, expressive cats. Inking is by Malcolm Jones III, who was also paired with Jones on the Batman & Dracula: Red Rain graphic novel.

Gus Arriola

Gordo by Gus Arriola, published on November 6, 1977.

Comic book creator and fellow cat-lover Richard Howell introduced me to Gordo, the newspaper comic strip created by Gustavo “Gus” Arriola that ran from 1941 to 1985.  The series chronicled the life of Mexican bean farmer, and later tour guide, Perfecto Salazar “Gordo” Lopez. There were a number of animals that appeared regularly in Gordo, including three cats: an orange tabby named Poosy Gato, a black cat named PM, and PM’s kitten Bête Noire.

In this Sunday strip, we see Poosy trying to figure out a new place to take a nap, since he’s bored with all of the usual locations. Arriola definitely draws a cut cat and invests him with personality.

Arriola passed away on February 2008 at the age of 90.

Thanks for stopping by. Once again, please remember to check out First Comics News for the rest of the Comic Book Cats entries, as well as for the Daily Comic Book Coffee archives.

Sal Buscema: fifty years of comic books

Sal Buscema is one of my favorite comic book artists.  This month, November 2018, is the 50th anniversary his professional debut.

Sal is the younger brother of artist John Buscema.  While he was still working on honing his craft, Sal would occasionally do uncredited background inking on John’s artwork.  In 1968 Sal finally felt he was ready to enter the comic book industry on his own, and brought sample pages to Marvel Comics.  He was quickly hired by editor Stan Lee.

Sal’s very first credited work for Marvel Comics was on Rawhide Kid #68, inking Larry Lieber’s pencils. According to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, this issue went on sale on November 5, 1968.

Rawhide Kid 68 pg 1

Sal’s second job also came out that month, on November 19th.  Silver Surfer #4 was penciled by his brother John.  It is now well-known that John was often critical of inkers, believing that only a few really knew how to do his pencils justice.  He would have preferred to do full artwork, pencils and inks, but time and financial constraints often prevented this.  John, from having had Sal assist him in the past, knew that his brother would do a faithful job inking his pencils on this issue.

“The Good, The Bad, and the Uncanny” features an epic confrontation between the Surfer and Thor, who have been manipulated into combat by Loki.  It is often regarded as one of the high points of John’s artistic career, and from all indications he was satisfied with Sal’s inks on it, as well as on the next three issues.

(For an in-depth look at Silver Surfer #4 please head over to Alan Stewart’s blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books.)

Silver Surfer 4 pg 34

Sal had initially intended to focus on inking, but he was very quickly recruited by Marvel to pencil.  He was immediately thrown into the deep end, assigned the team book Avengers.  His first work was penciling the cover to issue #67, and a month later did the full interior pencils for #68, paired with writer Roy Thomas and inker Sam Grainger.  The issue featured the Avengers in a titanic tussle with the diabolical robot Ultron.

Sal went on to have a very successful career in comics.  He worked on nearly every Marvel title published in the 1970s and 80s.  Beginning in the mid 1990s he also began working for several other publishers.  Sal was blessed with speed, an incredible work ethic, and a strong sense of storytelling.  This meant that he could always be relied upon to turn in a quality job on time.

Avengers 68 pg 1

Although officially retired, Sal continues to work in comic books, primarily as an inker, most often paired with penciler Ron Frenz, who he has inked on numerous occasions over the past two decades, on a long run on Spider-Girl, as well as several other series.  Sal is also currently working with Guy Dorian Sr. on several projects.  Among these was the Rom storyline “Battle Scars” which saw Sal’s return to the cult classic Space Knight.

For a really good, informative look at Sal’s career and artwork, I highly recommend the excellent book Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist by Jim Amash with Eric Nolen-Weathington, from TwoMorrows Publishing.  The cover artwork is a wonderful showcase of Sal’s dynamic artwork, an explosive illustration by Sal of the Incredible Hulk and his longtime adversary the Abomination slugging it out.

Sal Buscema Fast Furious cover

I want to offer my congratulations to Sal Buscema on creating a half century of amazing comic book artwork. He has brought enjoyment to so many readers over the past five decades, myself included.  Thanks, Sal!

Happy 75th birthday Roy Thomas

Today is the 75th birthday to influential comic book writer, editor and historian Roy Thomas, who was born on November 22, 1940.  Additionally, this year marks 50 years of Thomas’ professional involvement in the comic book field, having started in it in the summer of 1965.

Happy birthday to Roy Thomas from Conan the Barbarian

It has sometimes been opined that while Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created the majority of the building blocks of the modern Marvel universe, it was Thomas, along with Steve Englehart, who structured them into a cohesive whole.  Thomas was often the writer who was chosen by Stan Lee to take over on various Marvel series as the editor-in-chief’s workload increased and the line of titles expanded.

Some of my favorite early work by Thomas was on Avengers.  He chronicled the adventures of Earth’s mightiest heroes from issue #35 (Dec 1966) thru #104 (Oct 1972).  During this six year period Thomas, often working with penciler John Buscema, introduced the Vision, Ultron, the Grim Reaper, the Black Knight, Yellowjacket, Arkon, Red Wolf, the Squadron Supreme and the Zodiac.

From Avengers #89 to #97, Thomas, paired with artists Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, John Buscema and Tom Palmer, crafted a lengthy storyline of intergalactic warfare & intrigue that came be known as “The Kree-Skrull War.” In addition to establishing ties between two extraterrestrial races first devised by Lee & Kirby, this story arc set the groundwork for the lengthy relationship between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.

Looking back on Thomas’ work on Avengers, one can see that he devised characters and stories that numerous other writers at Marvel would continue to utilize and built upon for decades to come.

Avengers 58 pg 10

Thomas was instrumental in convincing Lee and Marvel publisher Martin Goodman to approve a comic book starring Conan, the barbarian adventurer created by Robert E. Howard.  Conan the Barbarian #1 debuted in 1970, written by Thomas, with pencils by a young Barry Windsor-Smith.  Within a year and a half Thomas’ old collaborator John Buscema took over as penciler.  Thomas also wrote Marvel’s black & white magazine Savage Sword of Conan, which began in 1974, as well as a newspaper strip that ran from 1978 to 1981.

By encouraging Marvel to publish the Conan the Barbarian comic book, and then writing so many epic, memorable stories featuring the character, Thomas played a major role in making Conan a well-known, popular character.

Another landmark in Thomas’ career was the World War II superhero series The Invaders.  Thomas worked with veteran artist Frank Robbins on this book.  The Invaders was Thomas’ love letter to the Golden Age of superhero comics which he had grown up reading and for which he possesses a deep fondness.

Initially a team-up of Timely Comics big three Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch, Thomas would gradually introduce an entire cast of costumed heroes.  These were both of the genuine Golden Age variety, such as the Whizzer and Miss America, and of brand new characters he created to retcon back into the Marvel universe of the early 1940s, such as Spitfire and Union Jack.

Another aspect of The Invaders was that Thomas, Robbins and their collaborators devised a number of Axis villains.  If you look back at the actual Timely comic books of the early 1940s, aside from the Red Skull there really were no major super-villains who made a lasting impact, just a number of oddball menaces who were all-but-forgotten a couple decades later.  To rectify that, Thomas and Robbins introduced Master Man, Warrior Woman, U-Man, and Baron Blood as arch-foes for their heroes to fight.

Invaders 20 pg 1

Although the original run of The Invaders lasted less than five years, from 1975 to 1979, the various characters have been the subject of numerous revivals in the decades since.  Thomas himself has been involved in a few of these, returning to Marvel at various points to write new adventures of his Nazi-smashing heroes.

The length and breadth of Thomas’ five decade involvement in comic books is something that I cannot even begin to do justice in a short blog post.  For an in-depth look at his career, however, you need look no further than the magazine Alter Ego.  Edited by Thomas, this excellent magazine has been published by TwoMorrows Publishing since 1999.

Thomas was interviewed at length by Jim Amash on several occasions for Alter Ego.  Each of these examined roughly a decade of Thomas’ career, with the 1960s being covered in Alter Ego #50, the 1970s in #70, the 1980s in #100, and the 1990s in the just-released #136, with the late 1990s and beyond scheduled to be covered in the upcoming #139.  I’ve found these interviews to be extremely informative.  Thomas presents an honest and insightful recounting of his career.

Alter Ego 136 cover

Here’s the cover to Alter Ego #136.  In the center is a humorous cartoon of Thomas drawn by veteran artist Marie Severin.  Surrounding it are images taken from the covers of some of the series Thomas worked on at Marvel in the 1990s, specifically the four issue revival of The Invaders with penciler Dave Hoover, Doctor Strange, Secret Defenders, Avengers West Coast, and Thor.

I want to wish both a happy birthday and a happy anniversary to Roy Thomas.  Here’s hoping for many more years to come.