18 Talented Comic Professionals Who Left Us in 2010
1. Harvey Pekar (b. 1939)
At the start of the 2003 film based on his long-running American Splendor series, Pekar appears on stage and says to the audience: “If you’re the kind of person looking for romance or escapism or some fantasy figure to save the day, guess what? You’ve got the wrong movie.” That’s as good an epitaph as any for a man whose life’s work was chronicling the mundane details of his life as a file clerk in a Cleveland hospital, with occasional forays into such fun topics as social awkwardness, divorce and his bout with cancer (which he wrote about in 1994’s Our Cancer Year). Aided and abetted by artists like Robert Crumb, Frank Stack, and Gary Dumm, Pekar’s legacy is the legions of similarly autobiographical comics that find the sublime in the utterly ordinary and petty details of all our lives.
2. Dick Giordano (b. 1932)
Children of the ’80s (like me) will likely remember Dick Giordano as the editor who authored the “Meanwhile…” column that appeared in DC titles at the time, always ending his thoughts on comic conventions or rising cover prices with a stolid “Thank you and good afternoon.” Long before his promotion to DC’s executive suites (a vantage point from which he helped oversee the 1980s overhaul of DC’s entire lineup), Giordano was heralded as an inker par excellence within the industry, lending his talents to just about every DC title published in the ’70s, from the legendary Neal Adams-era Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow runs to 1978’s Superman vs. Muhammad Ali one-shot.
3. Frank Frazetta (b. 1928)
Are you a struggling artist trying to convince your parents to foot the bill for art school? Introduce them to the inspiring life story of Frank Frazetta: born poor, started in comics at age 15, worked his way through every comic company in the late ’40s and ’50s, moved into movie posters and animation in the ’60s, produced dozens of painted paperback illustrations that defined the sword-and-sorcery genre for generations of fans, knocked off a few album covers along the way, lived long enough to see one of his fantasy illustrations sell for a cool quarter-million, retired to a 67-acre Pennsylvania estate complete with an entire museum dedicated to his work. All in all, not a bad way for a Brooklyn boy to end up.
4. Jon D’Agostino (b. 1929)
Known as Dag to his colleagues, D’Agnostino was there at the beginning, using the pseudonym “Johnny Dee” as he lettered the lead story in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 and other landmark Marvel comics during the 1960s. But it’s his work with Archie Comics that he’ll be best remembered for; he joined the Archie staff in 1965 and worked there until his death, illustrating the adventures of the Riverdale gang and licensed properties like Sonic the Hedgehog.
5. Henry Scarpelli (b. 1930)
Another Archie Comics alum, Henry Scarpelli started out designing sales brochures for a newspaper syndicate before launching TV Tee-Hees, a cartoon panel that appeared in 150 newspapers during the ’60s and ’70s. His earliest comic work (aside from some brief funny animal work in the ’40s) included art for Dell adaptations of Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes and other memorable ’60s TV shows; from there, his ability to draw a humorous image led to much freelancing for DC, Marvel and Archie Comics, including work on groundbreaking humor titles like Stanley & His Monster and Angel & the Ape. In the 1990s, he was assigned to do the Sunday and daily Archie newspaper strip, which he did for more than 15 years.
6. Don Donahue (b. 1942)
If Robert Crumb’s recollection of the 1960s can be trusted — and yes, that is as dicey as it sounds — Donahue is the guy who made the first issue of Crumb’s Zap Comix possible by trading his hi-fi to a small-time printer in exchange for his services. “Soon after that,” Crumb wrote, “Donahue bought the press and learned how to run it himself. Many of the early underground comics were printed by him on that thing.” So while it’s technically possible the underground comix movement of the ’60s could have happened without Donahue and his Apex Novelties imprint, it would have been a way less far out scene, man. (Or something like that — my hippie-to-English translator isn’t always reliable.)
7. Violet Barclay (b. 1922)
Female artists were few and far between in the early days of the comic business, which wasn’t seen as a respectable place for proper young women to work. (The fact that most publishers tended to hire starry-eyed kids, fresh immigrants, or washed-up artists — the kind of workers who will take whatever meagre wages they were offered — didn’t help, either). Barclay, who also signed her work as Valerie Barclay and Violet Smith (her married name), started at Timely (Marvel’s forerunner) in 1942, inking stories for its funny animal, teen humor and career gal comics. She later freelanced for several other outfits in the ’40s and ’50s, mostly getting assigned romance comics (as was typical for many women artists at the time) before moving into commercial art later in her career.
8. Mike Esposito (b. 1927)
In a 2008 interview, Mike Esposito said his dream as a kid was to work for Disney as an animator, but his father refused to allow him to leave New York. The world of comics can only thank the senior Esposito for being so hard-headed. Alone and with his longtime creative partner, Ross Andru, Esposito churned out hundreds of war, superhero, and teen humor stories for Marvel, DC, Archie and other smaller outfits; an Andru-Esposito drawing of Wonder Woman appears on one of the 10 character stamps issued in the U.S. Postal Service’s 2006 commemorative stamp series “DC Comics Super Heroes.”
9. Kees Kousemaker (b. 1942)
Amsterdam’s Kees Kousemaker may not be a household name to North American audiences, but true connoisseurs of comic art will recognize Lambiek, the comic shop (and, later, the vastly informative website) that Kousemaker founded to celebrate comics and comic artists. Opened in 1968, his comic shop (the name is a misspelling of a popular Belgian comic character) is considered the first in Europe to focus exclusively on comics as an art form, and it has long served as a hub for artists and fans to come together. For his efforts, he was made a character in the Dutch edition of the Donald Duck weekly magazine in 2000 and knighted by the Dutch Royal Family in 2006 — though it’s probably a toss-up which honor would have pleased him more.
10. Fernando Fernández (b. 1940)
Another name not immediately recognizable to most North American fans, Barcelona’s Fernando Fernández started out working on war and romance comics in the ’50s and early ’60s for British publishers, painting paperback covers on the side. After leaving the industry for a while, he returned in the ’70s to work for Warren Publishing, writing and drawing 11 critically acclaimed stories that appeared in Vampirella over a two-year period. Showing an appreciation for dark fantasy (and the female form), his later work included a comic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and collaborations for sci-fi author Isaac Asimov. Later in life, he focused exclusively on his painting.
11. Barry Blair (b. 1954)
Born in Ottawa, Canada, Barry Blair spent a lot of his childhood moving back and forth between Canada and Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia. It’s very likely this exposure to Eastern cultures at a young age shaped his artwork, which displayed a definite manga influence at a time when Asian comics were still largely unknown in North America. Following his first professional work as an animator for Canadian television shows, he wrote and illustrated several series for Aircel Comics in the ’80s, including Elflord, Samurai, and Dragonring. Later, he did art and writing for WaRP Graphics’ expanding ElfQuest line, as well as a number of erotic stories and illustrations for other publishers.
12. John Hicklenton (b. 1967)
While his best-known comic work appeared in the British Comic 2000AD, John Hicklenton will perhaps be better remembered for his decision to end his life on March 19, 2010, following a 10-year battle with multiple sclerosis. A strident MS campaigner, he appeared in a British television documentary, Here’s Johnny, that followed his fight with the condition. “Drawing is my walking now, I run with it, I fly with it,” he said in the film. “I haven’t got MS when I’m looking at my pictures and I haven’t got it when I’m drawing them either. It gives me an ability to express that fear.” He completed his last book, 100 Months, the day before he travelled to Zurich to commit suicide.
13. Al Williamson (b. 1931)
The youngest in the famed EC stable of artists, Al Williamson made his first professional sale in 1951, arriving at EC a few months later to contribute to Tales from the Crypt. His photo-realistic style and strong brush line made him a natural for the firm’s science fiction titles (Weird Science and Weird Fantasy); when EC folded, he went to work for Atlas (before it became Marvel) and then reteamed with many of his EC colleagues at Harvey Comics. His proudest professional moment was probably taking on the writing and drawing chores for King’s Flash Gordon comic in the 1960s, which earned him the 1966 National Cartoonists Society Award for Best Comic Book. Later, he would work on the Star Wars comic strip and comic adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner, capping his career by inking acclaimed runs for Marvel and DC.
14. Jacques Martin (b. 1921)
Along with Georges Remi (Hergé), Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and Willy Vandersteen, French artist Jacques Martin was considered one of the great five of the ligne claire style, most prominently shown in Hergé’s own Tintin series. Following the Second World War, Martin met Hergé and collaborated with him on on several albums of The Adventures of Tintin (Tintin in Tibet, The Red Sea Sharks) while working on his own albums. He’s best known for his long-running series Alix, a series about a young Gallo-Roman man in the late Roman Republic that debuted in 1948 and is still running today, with Martin only turning over the writing and drawing chores to his assistants in the late 2000s.
15. Gilbert Gascard (b. 1931)
Another French artist and veteran of the Franco-Belgian comics genre, Gilbert Gascard (pen name Tibet) was one of the classic artists of Tintin magazine and creator of the famous “Chick Bill” and “Ric Hochet” series. He began his career as an assistant animator in 1947, moving into illustrations and comics a few years later. From 1951 onwards, he introduced such characters to the Tintin magazine as Jean-Jean et Gigi, Titi et Tutu and La Famille Petitoux.
16. Bill DuBay (b. 1948)
In a 1999 interview, publisher James Warren had this to say about Bill DuBay: “The first time I saw him I said, ‘You are too young to work for this company, too young to work for anybody. You are a callow youth. You don’t even shave yet. Let me see your work.’ I took one look and said, ‘You’re hired.'” DuBay immediately started writing and drawing for Warren’s publications, including Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, becoming editor of the entire Warren line in 1972 at age 24. DuBay, who also signed his work as “Will Richardson” or “Dube,” stayed in that role off and on until Warren folded in 1983, and later moved into animation after a few editing stints at Archie and Pacific Comics.
17. Howard Post (b. 1926)
Though best known for The Dropouts, a syndicated comic strip that ran from 1968 to 1982, Howard Post had a long and varied career in cartooning and animation that included stints with Paramount Pictures’ cartoon studio and with Hanna-Barbera. He broke into the comic business in 1945, doing features for Prize Comics and other small Golden Age publishers. During the 1950s, he drew humorous stories for Atlas Comics’ satirical magazines, as well as occasional stories in the Marvel forerunner’s horror comics, including Journey into Mystery, Uncanny Tales, and Mystery Tales. In the late 1960s, he created the prehistoric-teen comic book Anthro for DC Comics, which ran six issues after debuting in Showcase 74. While not one of DC’s most famous faces, Anthro has popped up many times over the years, including once in a 2010 episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
18. Jonny Rench (b. 1982)
Dead of an apparent heart attack at 28, Jonny Rench had already made a name for himself in the comic business by working as a colorist on such DC/WildStorm titles as Human Target, Gen13, Wetworks and The Programme. Raised in Medford, Ore., he returned to his hometown in 2008 and continued to work as a freelance colorist for both WildStorm and DC. At the time of his death, he had been planning to move to nearby Portland to continue his career.