To comic fans, heaven would be an eternal comics convention, attended by departed comic talents with unlimited creativity and imagination. This “HeavenCon” certainly sounds like an out-of-this-world idea, which brings us to our topic of the day – comics talents who have passed on, which is a follow-up to our look at inactive talents a fortnight ago. Judging from this list, one thing is for sure: there’s one heck of an Artist Alley in that great comic-con in the sky.
Jack Kirby (1917-1994)
The comics industry and fans will forever be indebted to Kirby. Since joining the industry in the 1930s, he was instrumental in the creation of legendary characters such as Captain America, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Hulk and Iron Man, many of those with Stan Lee – ushering in the Age of Marvels! His influence was not confined to the Marvel Universe, as he also popularised romance comics (in the 1950s) and gave the DC Universe the ahead-of-its-time Fourth World in the 1970s.
Though he had some hiccups along the way, such as having his Superman illustrations redrawn during his DC stint and a legal wrangle with Marvel for the return of his original works, Kirby will forever be known as The King!
Ross Andru (1927-1993)
Say “Ross” to a comic-book fan and it is highly likely you will hear the name “Alex” in response. However, to fans from the Silver and Bronze Ages, there is one more beloved Ross: Ross Andru, whose work illuminated the pages of titles such as Amazing Spider-Man, The Flash, Metal Men and Wonder Woman.
Andru’s influence pales in comparison to Kirby’s, but he did contribute to some highly significant milestones, including the first Superman-Spidey crossover, the Punisher’s first appearance, and the second Flash vs Superman race!
Michael Turner (1971-2008)
Sadly, Turner’s career is the shortest on this list of great names, but his two-decade involvement with the industry left us with wonderful memories, especially his mesmerising rendition of the fairer sex. To put it plainly, Turner’s work is synonymous with bad girls, having made Sara Pezzini aka Witchblade a household name; and let’s not forget all those lingerie shots of the Top Cow line’s ladies.
Turner’s specialty and expertise in illustrating women is second to none, and apart from immortalising Witchblade, he also set the standard for the likes of Fathom and Supergirl.
Carmine Infantino (1925-2013)
Known fondly as “Mr DC Comics”, Infantino was an influential talent during the Silver Age, helping to revive the Batman title in 1964, and also co-creating iconic characters like Barry Allen and Wally West, Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, Black Canary, Elongated Man and Deadman. His contribution to DC was not just on the drawing board, though – he was also instrumental in recruiting other notable names such as Dick Giordano, Joe Kubert, Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil. Arguably, his biggest “catch” was The King himself, as Infantino got the Marvel legend to commit to a DC contract.
Ironically, Infantino later did the reverse a few years later by “defecting” to Marvel – contributing to the pages of Star Wars, Spider Woman and Nova!
Mike Wieringo (1963-2007)
Famed for his work on The Flash (where he helped introduce Impulse) and Fantastic Four, Wieringo’s work smacks of a kinetic energy that brings out the fun in everything he draws. While he also had stints on Adventures Of Superman, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Robin, and his own creation Tellos, his best works were arguably with writer Mark Waid, collectively churning out memorable runs on The Flash and Fantastic Four.
John Buscema (1927-2002)
Crom! If Kirby has the honour of igniting the Age of Marvels, Buscema has the undisputed honor of pencilling at least one issue of every major Marvel title! Buscema is renowned for his work on the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Avengers and Thor, but his real claim to comics immortality are his 200-plus stories about a certain Cimmerian named Conan.
Buscema has drawn everyone in the Marvel Universe that existed during his six-decade career. His crowning glory, however, is probably the offbeat “adventure” with Stan Lee via the 2001 Just Imagine Stan Lee With John Buscema Creating Superman one-shot for DC!
Ernie Chan (1940-2012)
Another legendary Conan penciller and inker whose raw pencils are just magnificent. Together with Buscema, the duo made Savage Sword Of Conan an artist’s reference source. Chan – sometimes also credited as “Ernie Chua” – hailed from the Philippines (he migrated to the States in the 1970s) and was a pioneering Asian artist who worked for both Marvel and DC Comics. His best work is on Conan and with the Buscema brothers – John and Sal.
Joe Kubert (1926-2012)
I once asked a Malaysian artist who is an alumnus of The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. whether he ever met the great man, and after he replied “yes”, he went on to share what a great artist the man was, saying: “He could draw an elephant using a thick paint brush!”
While that sums up Kubert’s versatility, his legacy goes beyond war comics and a host of epic DC adventures. Besides his two sons, Andy and Adam, becoming great comics creators in their own right, he also groomed notable talents such as Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, Amanda Conner, Scott Kolins and Steve Lieber.
Darwyn Cooke (1962-2016)
Famed for his work on DC: The New Frontier (which also received the animated feature treatment) and Catwoman, the comic artist-cum-designer carved out a unique storyboard-esque style that made him famous in the industry and among fandom. Drawing wasn’t his only forte, as Cooke also wrote the first six issues for Superman Confidential, which won him the Joe Shuster award for “Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Writer”. He followed that up with a bang by landing a combo writer-artist stint on the landmark Watchmen prequel Before Watchmen: Minutemen.
Dave Cockrum (1943-2006)
There are three people to whom the X-Men owe their high profile: Len Wein, Roy Thomas and Cockrum, who was the artist on the classic Giant Size X-Men #1. That milestone moment introduced a new X-Men team, featuring the first appearances of Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler. Despite not achieving the stellar heights set by the Chris Claremont-John Byrne-Terry Austin run, Cockrum’s contribution to the X-Men has a special place of its own, as he was key in putting the “uncanny” back in the book’s name!
He tried to emulate his X-Men success at DC, via the Legion Of Super Heroes, but failed to generate the same kind of impact. Subsequent attempts at team books came via The Futurians, which fared no better than his Starjammers. Still, Cockrum was always the go-to guy at Marvel in the 1980s for covers and character design (having firmed up the look of Black Cat and Ms Marvel’s respective costumes).