20 Comic Professionals Who Left Us in 2012
1. Joe Kubert (b. 1926)
A lifetime spent drawing the famous superheroes, valiant spacemen, iconic jungle lords and indelible images of war would be enough of a career for most artists. But then, Joe Kubert was not like most artists. Best known to comic fans for his work on DC’s Sgt. Rock (which he co-created) and Hawkman, as well as DC’s Tarzan adaptation in the ’70s, Kubert drew hundreds of comic stories and covers over the course of his career, which started in 1942. In 1976, he moved to Dover, N.J., and founded the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (later just The Kubert School), the first accredited school in the U.S. devoted entirely to cartooning. Dozens of artists working in the business today passed through his school’s doors, including Kubert’s own sons, Adam and Andy (for whom Joe often provided inks). Later in life, Kubert moved away from the superhero and fantasy genres to focus on non-fiction pieces (Fax from Sarajevo, Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965) and more personal works that delved deep into his Jewish heritage, such as Jew Gangster and Yossel. “I’ve known and interviewed many older comic book artists, and I usually find that their abilities diminish after a certain age,” comics historian and publisher Craig Yoe told The Jewish Daily Forward. “But the amazing thing about Joe was that in his 70s and 80s he was at the top of his game, still constantly and passionately drawing new comics and graphic novels of the highest caliber.” Died of multiple myeloma August 12.
2. Jean (Moebius) Giraud (b. 1938)
For those comic fans who came of age in the ’80s in small towns with one spinner rack to speak of (hi there), the name “Moebius” wouldn’t have meant much to them when they first saw it on the cover of a two-issue Silver Surfer mini-series. And those same fans (hi again) would not have had access to a worldwide web of information that explained why this guy with one name is actually one of the most celebrated artists of his time. Thank goodness, those fans grew up and found out who that “Moebius” guy really was. Born in France, Giraud has been described as the most influential bandes dessinées artist after Hergé (of Tintin fame); his Moebius pseudonym was known around the world thanks to his many science-fiction and fantasy comics rendered in a highly imaginative style (some of them appeared in Métal Hurlant, the magazine he co-founded that would inspire Heavy Metal). He was equally at home depicting the gritty realism of Western landscapes in his acclaimed Blueberry series. From 2000 to 2010, Giraud published Inside Moebius, a six-volume autobiographical fantasy in which he drew himself interacting with younger versions of himself and his many famous characters. Filmgoers also have him to thank for contributing storyboards and concept designs to such classic films as Alien, Willow, Tron, and The Fifth Element. His influence on French culture was so great that when he died, French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand said the death of Giraud and his alias meant that France had lost “two great artists.” C’est vrai, malheureusement. Died March 10 after a long battle with cancer.
3. Tony DeZuniga (b. 1932)
DeZuniga began his comics career at age 16 as a letterer for a weekly magazine in the Philippines, where he was born. In the late ’60s, he moved to New York City, where his work impressed DC editor Joe Orlando enough to offer him work in the company’s romance and horror titles. He became a regular contributor to DC’s books, most notably co-creating the Black Orchid (with Sheldon Mayer) and the most famous disfigured bounty hunter of them all, Jonah Hex (with John Albano). Trivia alert: In a 2010 interview, DeZuniga said he was inspired to base Hex’s distinctive look on an anatomy poster that depicted the layers of muscle and bone underneath the human face. Much as Alan Moore paved the way for the British invasion of comic artists in the 1980s, DeZuniga’s efforts heralded a 1970s influx of Filipino artists into the U.S. market, with the likes of Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo and Gerry Talaoc following his lead. After DeZuniga retired from two decades of drawing the adventures of Thor, Conan the Barbarian, the Phantom Stranger and many others, he became a video game conceptual designer and pursued other art projects, but he returned to Jonah Hex in 2010 with a graphic novel released to coincide with that year’s Jonah Hex film. Died of complications from a stroke May 11.
4. Ernie Chan (b. 1940)
Born Ernesto Chan in The Philippines, Ernie Chan worked for several years in the U.S. as “Ernie Chua” after a U.S. immigration official incorrectly spelled his name on his documents. As Chua, he was DC’s primary cover artist between 1975 and 1977; as both Chua and Chan, he drew many, many comics throughout the ’70s and ’80s, including stints on Batman (1975-77) and Detective Comics (1975-76) for DC and Conan the Barbarian for Marvel (1973-92), by far his most popular work. New of Chan’s passing hit the Filipino community hard, especially in light of the fact that it came just a week after DeZuniga’s death. “I am saddened to hear of Mang Ernie’s passing,” wrote comic artist Gerry Alanguilan on his blog. “I heard from Tina DeZuniga [Tony’s wife] that Ernie had been feeling sick during that convention [San Diego Comic Con], and he found out he had cancer soon afterwards. It’s sad to lose one, but it’s truly crushing to lose so many in such a short time.” Died after a yearlong battle with cancer May 16.
5. John Severin (b. 1921)
To EC Comics fans in the ’50s, he was one of Mad’s founding cartoonists and a regular contributor to the company’s war comics known for his relentlessly realist style. To generations of Cracked readers, he was that guy who did all the funny features that parodied movies and TV shows. To comic fans in the 2000s, his credits included The Punisher, Suicide Squad, Conan and — wait, this guy was still drawing comics more than 60 years after selling his first strip? Why, yes he was — and still showing the younger crowd how it’s supposed to be done. One of Severin’s great strengths as an artist was his eye for authentic details; shortly after his death, comic writer and blogger Mark Evanier wrote: “Jack Kirby used to say that when he had to research some historical costume or weapon for a story, it was just as good to use a John Severin drawing as it was to find a photo of the real thing. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” Died at his home February 12.
6. Al Rio (b. 1962)
Brazil’s Alvaro Araújo Lourenço do Rio (or “Al Rio” as he was known to fans) began his professional career in Rio de Janeiro in the early ’90s, doing illustrations and animation for Walt Disney. After joining the Glass House Graphics art agency in the mid-’90s, he began working for DC Comics, though his big break came when he succeeded J. Scott Campbell on Wildstorm’s Gen13. His knack for drawing some of the sexiest women in comics made him a fan favorite. At the time of his death, he was working on a book collecting all the sci-fi material he had created over the years, as well as two more focusing on his “good girl” art, Al Rio’s How To Draw Girls and a coffee-table book of his illustrations and sketches, The Sexy Art of Al Rio. “Few could draw as well, adapting to so many styles so effortlessly, as Al Rio,” said his agent, David Campiti, after his death. “We’d gotten together several weeks ago and were working hard on his projects, so news of his death came as quite a shock.” Died January 31 from an apparent suicide.
7. Sheldon Moldoff (b. 1920)
“Bob Kane” may have been the name attached to every early Batman story, but those in the know knew it took a lot of talented people to pump out that much Bat-Product; for many years, that talent included Moldoff. A kid from the Bronx who learned to draw using chalk and sidewalks, he sold his first cartoon at 17. It was chosen by editor Vin Sullivan to grace the inside back cover of Action Comics #1, a somewhat important issue in comic-book history. From there, Moldoff became a prolific artist for DC Comics (he drew the first Green Lantern cover image) and drew many of the early Hawkman stories. In the ’50s, he became one of the lead ghost artists on Batman, drawing many stories credited to Batman’s officially recognized creator; during this time, he co-created Bat-Mite, Ace the Bat-Hound, the original Bat-Girl, Poison Ivy, Mister Freeze and other classic characters still around today. After DC let him go during a mass layoff in ’67, he turned to animation and commercial work; his art for 2000’s Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest one-shot was the first comic work he had done in over 30 years. Died of kidney failure February 29.
8. Robert L. Washington III (b. 1964)
Together with John Paul Leon and Dwayne McDuffie (who also left us too soon), Washington created Static, the teenage sparkplug who ended up becoming the most successful character to come out of the Milestone line-up. Best known for co-writing the first 18 issues of Static, Washington also wrote Shadow Cabinet for Milestone Comics, Acclaim’s Ninjak, and stories for DC’s Extreme Justice and Valiant’s Timewalker. Like many other creators, he had difficulty finding work in the field following the mid-1990s comic-industry implosion; at times homeless, he received assistance from The Hero Initiative, a non-profit designed to help comic professionals through times of need. His last comic-book work was a one-page autobiographical strip for Hero Comics 2012, a charity comic released shortly before he died that helps raise money for the group. He was working for an online retailer in Long Island City, NY, at the time of his death. As one fan wrote on his blog, “So while it wasn’t a huge body of work, what there was from Washington was remarkable, a sense of fun and imagination applied to super-hero action in an entertaining way. I wish we’d had more of his unique voice.” Died of cardiac arrest June 7.
9. Manuel “Spain” Rodriguez (b. 1940)
Later in his life, Rodriguez would tell interviewers he was an “intense” comics fan in his younger years, but he stopped reading them after the Comics Code Authority came along and ruined everything fun about comics. True or not, his story is supported by the fact he once drew a zombie throttling Seduction of the Innocent author Fredric Wertham. Known as “Spain” to his fans, the Buffalo, NY-born artist was part of the wave of irreverent artists (R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson and Bill Griffith, among others) behind the profane and highly sexed-up underground comix of the ’60s and ’70s. Around the same time his work began appearing in Zap Comix, Spain created his best-known character, Trashman, an agent of violent revolution in America (and, with his large frame and dark beard, a not-entirely-coincidental dead ringer for Rodriguez). As noted in his obituary at The AV Club, “With his blocky style, pulpy story material, working-class Marxist politics, and background as a self-described juvenile delinquent and member of the Road Vultures motorcycle club, Spain introduced some flamboyant street cred to a scene that might otherwise have been dominated by middle-class white guys trying to trace their acid trips onto paper.” He was also good friends with the Grateful Dead’s Gerry Garcia… which really ought to surprise no one. Died November 28 after a long battle with cancer.
10. Sid Couchey
Ask your average comic fan which character hold the record for headling the most comic titles, and they might say Superman or Mickey Mouse, never realizing there’s a certain poor little rich boy who leaves them all in the dust. It took a lot of artists to pump out that much product over the years, and Sid Couchey was one of the more prolific ones, illustrating many stories starring Richie Rich, Little Dot and Little Lotta without ever signing his work. Though mostly remembered for his work for Harvey in the ’50s and ’60s (much of which has been reprinted many times over the years), Couchey worked on the comic strips Tommy of the Big Top and Tales from the Great Book early in his career; later in life, he took to magazine illustration and provided artwork for local causes and campaigns in the northern New York State and Vermont areas (including a mascot for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY). Speaking of northern New York, Couchey often added the names of nearby towns to his Harvey stories as an inside joke; a Little Lotta story, for instance, involved an athletic contest between the towns of Keeseville and Willsboro. Years after the story appeared, Couchey met a basketball coach from Keeseville, who had long been wondering how his town “ever got in that comic and why they had to lose to Willsboro!” Died of Burkitt’s lymphoma March 11.
11-12. Michael Clarke Duncan (b. 1957)/Ian Abercrombie (b. 1934)
Not strictly comic professionals, true, but in an age where every comic book is getting the Hollywood treatment, it seems only proper to give a shout-out to the actors who have brought our favorite characters to life. Duncan first achieved fame as the gentle giant in 1999’s The Green Mile, but his height (6’5″) and imposing frame — a stark contrast to his easygoing and friendly nature — made him a casting favorite when the script called for someone with a menacing presence, such as the role of Manute in 2005’s Sin City, or the voice of the CGI-created Kilowog in 2011’s Green Lantern. His appearance as the Kingpin in 2003’s Daredevil was probably his most controversial role, given the fact that the comic-book Wilson Fisk is a white man and Duncan is… well, not. But for all the quibbles critics may have had about that film, the choice of Duncan as New York City’s top gangster wasn’t one of them: as film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “Duncan in particular has a presence that makes the camera want to take a step back and protect its groin.” It’s fair to say Ian Abercrombie was never asked to project an aura of menace while fighting a blind superhero, but that’s only because he was perfectly suited for the many other roles he was born to play. Born in Grays, Essex, England, he began his theatrical career during the Second World War, moving to the U.S. at age 17. After a stint in the army in the late ’50s, he began a long and successful career in film and television roles; TV viewers might remember him best as Mr. Pitt, Elaine’s eccentric boss on Seinfeld. His very British demeanor made him perfect for the role of Alfred Pennyworth in the short-lived TV series based on the Birds of Prey comic, and his stentorian British voice brought life to Chancellor Palpatine in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Ganthet in the Green Lantern animated series (his death is honored at the end of the Season 1 episode “Regime Change”). Duncan: Died after a heart attack July 13; Abercrombie: Died from kidney failure January 26.
13. Marc Swayze (b. 1913)
Louisiana’s Marc Swayze got the job of drawing Captain Marvel comics the old-fashioned way: he applied for it. New York City-based Fawcett was looking for an artist to contribute to its newly created comic book Whiz Comics and so Swayze sent sketches of his work. Their response: “Come for an interview and be prepared to stay.” He would draw many Captain Marvel and Marvel Family stories between 1941 and 1953, and together with writer Otto Binder he created Mary Marvel, Billy Batson’s long-lost sister. The Second World War put his art career on hold, but he discovered another talent in the service, and he and Bing Crosby ended up entertaining the troops at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., as a song-and-guitar duo when the legendary crooner stopped by during a tour. He returned home and continued drawing for Fawcett until the company left the comics business. Years later, he would offer readers of Alter Ego a personal glimpse into the early years of the comic business with his column “We Didn’t Know… It Was the Golden Age!” In a 2000 interview with his hometown paper, he said his approach to his art was simple: “My personal philosophy was to use the art in storytelling so that even a child who couldn’t yet read could get a story out of it.” Died at his home October 14.
14. Josie DeCarlo (b. 1930)
If you’re thinking, “Hey, she’s got the same name as that Josie character from Archie Comics”… well, there’s a good reason for that. Born Josie Dumont in France, the French model met her future husband, Dan DeCarlo, while on a blind date in 1945. He spoke little French and she spoke little English, but they found a way to connect: “He would draw things for me to make me understand what he had in mind,” Josie told an interviewer. “He was really so amusing. Instead of just using words, he would use cartoons to express himself. Right away, we knew that we were meant for each other.” One day, Josie’s bouffant hairstyle and hair ribbon inspired her husband to create a character based on her look; it was a cat costume worn by Josie during a Caribbean cruise that gave him the idea to turn Josie into Josie and the Pussycats. After a newspaper syndicate rejected his idea for a strip, DeCarlo showed the strip to Richard Goldwater at Archie, where DeCarlo was working at the time, and the rest is history. After her husband’s death in 2001, she continued promoting his work by attending comic book conventions for as long as her health allowed. Said comic writer and columnist Mark Evanier: “She was a lovely lady, and every one of Dan’s many friends and fans loved her just as much as they loved Dan.” Died in her sleep March 14.
15. John Celardo (b. 1918)
Most comic artists at the start of the Golden Age didn’t see comic books as the place to be; to them, comics were a way to pay the bills while they landed a deal for a syndicated newspaper strip, which is where the real money was in those days. Celardo started his career drawing animals at the Staten Island Zoo in the 1930s; that training served him well when he signed on to draw, and later took over entirely, the Tarzan newspaper strip in the mid-1950s (he stayed on it until 1968 when Russ Manning succeeded him). When he wasn’t inserting social trends and current events into the timeless story of a man and his ape, he served as an art assistant at Fiction House (the comic publisher famous for its many jungle comics featuring scantily clad ladies), illustrated comics on packages of Topps chewing gum, and worked for a variety of Golden Age publishers, including DC Comics, American Comics Group, Quality and Standard. He spent the latter part of his career as comics editor for King Features Syndicate, home of such newspaper strips as The Phantom, Blondie, Family Circus and many more. Died January 6 at age 93.
16. Richard Alf (b. 1952)
Today, Comic-Con International is one of the biggest pop-culture events on the planet, attracting about 130,000 attendees to San Diego every year. But everything has to start somewhere, and in 1970 it was just 300 people, a hotel room, and the small group of volunteers that brought them together. Alf, who was just 17 at the time, was co-chairman of the first convention, sharing the role with fellow Comic-Con founder Ken Krueger; his financial support (and his Volkswagen Beetle) helped see the convention through the first couple of years. He gave up his volunteer position with Comic-Con in the mid-1970s to open a San Diego comic shop; he went on to pursue careers in commodity trading and outdoor advertising. Later in life, Alf helped researchers at San Diego State University document the early years of Comic-Con, which is now one of the hottest tickets in town for anyone who wants the scoop on upcoming comic, movie and TV projects. “His achievement is even more remarkable when we consider that he was only 17 years old when he and a small group of friends undertook the great adventure that would become Comic-Con,” said a statement on the Comic-Con website shortly after his death. “Today is truly a sad day for all of us.” Died of pancreatic cancer January 4.
17. Michael Rye (b. 1918)
It’s one of those debates that will likely rage across the Internet until the end of time: how do you spell the magic words that Apache Chief used to grow bigger? Inec CHOCH? Enek CHUK? Enuch CHUCK? Ineck CHOCK? One thing’s for sure: they picked the right fellow to say them. Born John Michael Riorden Billsbury in Chicago, Rye’s career as a TV and voice actor spanned decades, including dozens of radio, television, cartoon and video game roles. Children of the ’70s and ’80s might recognize him as the voice of Apache Chief and Green Lantern in all the Super Friends series, or as King Gregor and Duke Igthorn from Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, or as the Lone Ranger from his 1960s animated series, or as many other voices from Hanna-Barbera productions. Right up until the late ’90s, Rye also voiced television and radio commercials, and narrated thousands of industrial training films, videos and interactive software of all types. Died after a short illness September 21.
18. Ray Zone (b. 1947)
Dubbed the “King of 3D Comics,” Zone produced 3D adaptations of art for more than 150 comic books starting in the early 1980s. The artist and film historian credited his interest in 3D special effects to a Mighty Mouse 3D comic book that came out in 1953 — the first comic of its kind. His early collaborations with comic writer Jack C. Harris and Steve Ditko caught the attention of Archie Goodwin, who recruited him to work with John Byrne on 1990’s Batman 3D, a full-length 3D graphic novel. After that, Zone worked with Alan Moore and Grant Morrison to produce stories specifically written to accommodate stereoscopy. Among his many achievements in the art of 3D film- and image-making was a 1987 Inkpot Award from the San Diego Comic-Con for Outstanding Achievement in Comic Arts. Zone’s final comic projects included pages for DC’s Action Comics #851 and League of Extraordinary Gentleman: The Black Dossier. Died of a heart attack November 13.
19. Don Markstein (b. 1947)
In his own words: “Donald D. Markstein, born March 21, 1947, has been absorbing knowledge about comics and animation for more than half a century now. That’s how long it’s been since his parents became the first on their block to own a TV set. His fascination with the tiny, flickering, black-and-white re-runs of 1930s theatrical shorts was the beginning of a lifelong interest in cartoons, in all their forms.” That’s the start of his own entry in Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, a massive online encyclopedia of comic books, comic strips, cartoons dedicated to covering “the entire spectrum of American cartoonery.” Though the project began in 1999, he was a mover and shaker in fan circles as far back as the ’60s; together with his wife, Gigi, he founded Apatoons, an amateur publication that produced much scholarship and research about animation, and he also wrote and edited several books on comic history. At its peak, Toonopedia was updated once a day with one of Markstein’s write-ups that traced the history of a character or creator; as of this writing, the site is still accessible, but lacking the easy searchability and fun front page that was the site’s trademark for many years. While his opinions would occasionally creep into the copy, there was no debating his devotion to getting the facts straight, and many an online writer (including this one) came back again and again to reference the site. As one reviewer for Editor & Publisher wrote in 2002, “If you’re working on a story that deals with pop culture, that focuses on a particular time period, or that touches on classic villains and superheroes, Don just might become your own personal hero.” No “might” about it, friend. Died March 10 of respiratory failure following a prolonged illness.
20. Bill White (b. 1961)
Since we started with the passing of the founder of the Joe Kubert School, let us end with one of his many successful students. After studying animation at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Bill White contributed scripts, pencils and inks to DC Comics, Marvel, Archie, Harvey and many more. Among his famous “clients” were Donald Duck, Roger Rabbit, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo and Richie Rich. He own comic, the Vortex-published Kaptain Keen and Kompany, ran for six issues in 1986. In the animation field, his credits include Spümcø (Ren & Stimpy), Walt Disney Feature Animation, and DiC Productions (Inspector Gadget). He was also a frequent contributor to the Infinite Hollywood website, which posted a heartfelt eulogy after his passing. “Bill sort of compared himself to Charlie Brown, because he had rotten luck at times,” wrote blogger Newton Gimmick. “Yet unlike Charlie, Bill always carried a smile on his face and laughed at himself and his misadventures.” Died after a brief period of ill health October 27.