With the back of his shaved, shiny sconce turned to the camera, Marcellus Wallace points out to Butch the pugilist in Pulp Fiction that boxers don’t have an Old Timers Day. It’s true! Except for ex-Champs with millions banked, waiting to be fleeced by Don King and brotherhood of bottom-feeders, elder boxers aren’t afforded even the respect earned by age, let alone career lumps. There are countless examples available to teach us that, in the kingdom of bugs, the young eat the old.
There’s no Old Timers Day in comics either. The credo embossed on most editor’s desk blotters is vintage Abbie Hoffman: Don’t trust anyone over 30. Yeah, sure there’s exceptions?there’s Walt Simonson, Tom Palmer, Chris Claremont, and a gaggle of lucky others, but exceptions prove the rule, little brothers. The unarguable, sober reality remains that an Ageist attitude permeates among comics editors and publishers who just oughta know better. Many good artists and writers have been pushed off books long before their time only to make room for somebody’s less-than-talented home-boy or assistant-editor pal. Witness the shallow talent pool on Marvel’s X-books of the 80s. Witness Jim Aparo’s shove out of the Batman box. Witness the amnesia that takes hold when you bring up names like Herb Trimpe or Bob McLeod or dozens of others.
Aardwolf Publishing bucks the trend. For more than a decade, Aardwolf has been bringing out the polished, creative craftwork of seasoned industry vets. Not because they’re out of work and hire cheap (which, sadly, is often the case); and most assuredly not because Aardwolf feels sorry for the abandoned creators of an industry that eats its elderly. It’s business, baby. Simply put, Aardwolf hires yesterday’s stars because they are?honest Injun?better than most of the young studs you’ll find signing autographs at the convention tables today; better than those celebrated prima donnas who have little talent and less class.
The latest offering from Aardwolf is god’s 15 minutes. Trust me when I tell you you’ve got to have this one. It’s terrific. Better than terrific. Okay, it’s my book, but I’d say that it even it if wasn’t. Have I lied to you yet?
god’s 15 minutes is illustrated by some of the industry’s finest artists of yesterday and today because, frankly, they’re the same folks. Let’s look at a few:
Gene Colan, a.k.a. Adam Austin, a.k.a. Gene the Dean, a.k.a (well, you get the point) was born 1926 in the Bronx. His dad took him to see “Frankenstein” at the age of 5 and, to hear Gene tell it, he was never the same: He spent the rest of his days viewing life through a Universal Studios colored darkly. He says he was also influenced by the art of Syd Shores and Milton Caniff. You can see it if you know where to look.
Employed at Timely (Marvel’s early incarnation) nearly six decades ago, Colan caught the attention of an equally young Stan Lee who set him on titles like Menace, Mystic, and Journey into Mystery for sixty-bucks-a-week. He eventually wandered over to DC and worked on Sea Devils and Hopalong Cassidy?both titles representing the shift away from superheroes?but cleverly returned to Marvel just in time to participate in the Marvel Revolution.
Indeed, Colan’s whole approach was revolutionary. His style didn’t match other MarvelAge pioneers like Jack Kirby and John Buscema?he rejected clean lines in favor of mood and shadows. While his characters’ anatomy were always correct, their postures were inhuman, creating a sense of movement and tension. Throughout the Sixties, Gene worked on Marvel’s major titles, including Tales of Suspense, where he soon ushered Iron Man into his own book. But it was Colan’s enduring tenure on Daredevil (beginning with issue #20, which I actually own a page from) that lasted more than a decade. He successfully transformed DD from a poor man’s Spider Man into the Man Without Fear, a blind hero whose dark atmosphere matched the grim aesthetics of the character’s reality.
No one does mood better than Gene. I meant no one. I’ll say it again so there’s no mistake: No one. He’s handled every character without straining: Batman, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Dracula Howard the Duck, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, the Spectre? As another writer once pointed out, even the best hands in the business?and the best of Colan’s Silver Age peers?sometimes failed on certain books. Jack Kirby’s cubism, for instance, looked lousy on Spidey. But under Colan’s pencils, nothing ever seemed incomplete.
Colan was also the first to experiment with pencil-only work, which went straight from lead to a colorist. From an artistic point of view, his Nathaniel Dusk for DC?the seminal example of this little lab test?was hugely successful. Aardwolf Publishing also preferred to shoot Colan’s pencils without ink.
Colan is reason enough to pick up god’s 15 minutes. Here’s another reason: Joe Sinnott.
Like Gene, Joe was born in 1926. His childhood dream was to be a cowboy, but after high school, he joined the Navy Seabees and spent World War II in Okinawa. Then he worked for three years in a cement factory before finally entering the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now the School of Visual Arts) in New York City run by Burne Hogarth. While there, he published his first comic book work “Trudi,” a five-page filler in Mopsy #12 (1950) for St. John’s Publishing. He also worked for long-time Lone Ranger artist Tom Gill.
Joe finally went to work for Stan Lee in 1950, penciling and inking crime, horror, humor, and superhero books. He became Jack Kirby’s regular inker in 1965 on Fantastic Four?the book he’s best known for?but his superlative inking can also be found in countless other Silver Age titles, most notably Thor, Silver Surfer, Captain America, Avengers, Hulk, and Defenders. Sinnott was one of the three best inkers of his day. You name the other two.
Joe decided to semi-retire in 1992, but he continued inking the Sunday Spider Man comic strip for Stan Lee and King Features. And he did an outstanding job for Aardwolf on my futuristic story “Billboards.” Now go order god’s 15 minutes already! You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t!
Next week: We’ll look at three more artists from god’s 15 minutes: Mike Ploog, Marie Severin, and Herb Trimpe.
© 2004, Clifford Meth