27+ Comics People Who Said Goodbye In 2018
1. Stan Lee (b. 1922)
Where do I begin? No, seriously — where do I even begin? Stanley “Stan the Man” Martin Lieber was there almost at the beginning, fetching lunches and erasing pencil lines as am office assistant hired by his cousin’s husband. Soon enough, he was editing Martin Goodman’s entire comic line, churning out Westerns and monster stories to beat the band until he and his artist collaborators found lightning in an ink bottle in the early 1960s, turning an also-ran publisher into a cultural juggernaut (which, as we well know, nothing can stop). When he left the world this year, he was indisputably one of the few people in the business recognized around the world as the progenitor of some of our most beloved superheroes.
Note I said “progenitor” and not “creator” — “progenitor” gives me a little wiggle room to suggest his involvement in the birth of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Black Panther, etc., is not as simple as folks on either side of the who-created-what debate would have you believe.
We could go down many rabbit holes arguing over how much of the credit for creating those characters should go to Lee and how much of it should go to the many great artists he was blessed to work with. But the truth is with all the different accounts of who did what, we will never know with absolute certainty how those characters came to be. So instead of getting into those muddy waters, I’m going to come at this from another angle; namely, that Lee earned his place in the pantheon of comic-book legends long before we even start talking about which characters he did or didn’t dream up.
How so? For starters, he showed up. Goodman appointed Lee his interim editor when Lee was only 19, after Joe Simon and Jack Kirby left the company. Lee showed a knack for the business side of comics that led to him remaining as editor-in-chief (as well as art director for much of that time) until 1972, when he succeeded Goodman as publisher. (He moved to California in 1981 to develop Marvel’s TV and movie properties.) In all that time, Lee had plenty of chances to bail out of the comic business — and he almost did at a low point in his career in the 1950s, where he was forced to lay off almost all his staff — but he still kept showing up for work. Whether he stayed out of fear or because he wanted to create comics he loved is besides the point. If he had walked away, if he had ever followed through on chucking the whole idea of working in comics to pursue another career option, then there’s a very good chance that Marvel’s corporate history would look very different… and there’s a good chance none of us would have discovered many of the Marvel characters we know and love today.
The man also recognized talent. Take it from someone who has sat in the editor’s chair title once or twice in his career: being an editor can suck. You’re regularly caught in the middle of battles between your publisher, your advertisers, your freelancers and your readers… you’re forever running up against deadlines… any small mistake in the copy could cost you a reader or an advertiser, or even (gulp) spark a lawsuit… and then, when you’ve finally finished that issue and you take a moment to feel good about yourself, that one moment is all you get before it’s time to get to work on the next one.
On the other hand, one huge perk of the job is the ability to choose who you get to work with. And on that score, Lee had an almost preternatural ability to choose some of the best talents in the business, and to get the best out of them. Giants like Kirby, Ditko, Heath and Wood come to mind, obviously, but the list of exceptional artists who passed through Marvel’s doors in the 1950s and ’60s is mind-blowing. Ayers, Maneely, Severin (both John and Marie), Wildey, Kane, Brodsky, Sinnott, Hartley, Abel, Andru, Buscema, Romita, Morisi… I could be here all day and still not get through the list. And every single one of those people was hired by Lee to do what they did best. If we’re going to praise an orchestra for creating an energetic and genre-defining — if not generation-defining — sound, then it seems only fair to give the conductor a nod for bringing them together.
I could go on talking about the many stories of generosity and encouragement his friends and co-workers have shared over the years… or his courage to stand up for civil rights at a time when it would have been safer to stay quiet… or his uncanny ability to forge a sense of community and brand loyalty among Marvel’s readers… or his defiance of restrictive Comics Code guidelines that directly led to better things for the industry. But beyond all that, I think what Lee will be most remembered for (certainly in his later years) is his unceasing promotion of Marvel books — of all comic books — as a valid art form.
Lee was so ubiquitous on the comic scene for so long that it’s easy to forget what the industry’s image was like before Lee became Marvel’s full-time ambassador. Back in the day (as in, the industry’s earliest years), no one saw the point of promoting a product that sold itself; by the mid-1950s, when comics were seen as a bad influence on kids, most artists were leaving their comic work off their resumes, never mind going out to promote their industry.
By the time comics were somewhat respectable again — the late ’50s and early ’60s, when DC dominated the field — most people who thought about the faces behind the comics (if they thought about them at all) likely imagined a lot of pipe-smoking, middle-aged men hunched over their drawing tables. Lee’s genius was in recognizing the comic business needed a face, someone who could embody the gee-whiz optimism of the medium and spread the word about what was happening in the business. “Stan Lee didn’t just make comic books,” said pop culture commentator Nathan Rabin. “To me, he was comic books. He embodied the medium. He was its unofficial official face in no small part because he was an upbeat, charismatic, handsome, energetic man with a gift for gab and genius for branding and self-mythologizing.”
“I used to think what I did was not very important,” Stan Lee told the Chicago Tribune in 2014. “People are building bridges and engaging in medical research, and here I was doing stories about fictional people who do extraordinary, crazy things and wear costumes. But I suppose I have come to realize that entertainment is not easily dismissed.” No — no, it isn’t, sir. And you were a big part of the reason why. Excelsior. Died November 12
2. Steve Ditko (b. 1927)
Every body of work has its recluses, its geniuses who shun the public spotlight and demand to be judged solely by their work. J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Bill Watterson, Emily Dickinson… but I would humbly submit that Steve Ditko puts all of them to shame, both as an artist and a recluse.
The early details of his life are easy enough to suss out. He was born in Johnstown, PA, on Nov. 2, 1927. His father worked at a steel mill and his mother was a stay-at-home mom to four (Ditko was second-oldest). He developed an interest in comics from his father, who loved Prince Valiant, and from Batman and the Spirit, both of which debuted as he entered his teens.
After graduating high school, Ditko served in the army, drawing for a military paper while stationed in post-war Germany. After his discharge, he moved to New York City in 1950 and studied under Batman artist Jerry Robinson at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (later the School of Visual Arts). By 1953, he was getting work as a professional comics artist, including at the studio of Captain America creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. He began drawing for Atlas Comics in 1955, working with Stan Lee on many suspense and science-fiction stories that made good use of his uniquely eerie style.
Here is where we go from established facts to legend. Much like the genesis of Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four, there are several stories out there about the origins of Spider-Man, who debuted in the last issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy #15 in 1962. Accounts differ on who first came up with the name and the idea to give a teenager spider-based powers, but some things are indisputable: (1) it was Ditko who created Spider-Man’s web-shooters, red-and-blue costume and overall look; (2) it was Ditko who dictated Peter Parker’s original dorky appearance and typically adolescent attitude; (3) it was Ditko who designed Vulture, Sandman, Kraven, Doctor Octopus, and other baddies in a spate of super-villain visualization that’s unparalleled in comic-book history; (4) Ditko received a plot credit starting with Amazing Spider-Man #25 to go with his artist credit, an acknowledgement that his was the guiding light behind Spider-Man’s many travails, including the now-classic sequence of panels from Amazing Spider-Man #33, in which Spider-Man struggles with an existential battle while being crushed under heavy machinery:
Not content with bringing one iconic character to life, Ditko created Doctor Strange the following year, in Strange Tales #110. For all the beautifully wrought fight choreography, facial expressions and costume designs that Ditko could pack into his Spider-Man stories, his Doctor Strange tales allowed him to really let loose, spinning far-out images of fantastical dimensions that positioned Marvel very well to capitalize on the psychedelic vibe of the Sixties. (Lee, who often travelled to college campuses to talk comics with the kids, repeatedly denied Doctor Strange stories were inspired by artists taking drugs.) As Bradford Wright wrote in Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America: “Dr. Strange remarkably predicted the youth counterculture’s fascination with Eastern mysticism and psychedelia. Never among Marvel’s more popular or accessible characters, Dr. Strange still found a niche among an audience seeking a challenging alternative to more conventional superhero fare.”
Ditko left Marvel in 1966; a notice in the July 1966 edition of Bullpen Bulletins said simply: “Steve recently told us he was leaving for personal reasons. After all these years, we’re sorry to see him go, and we wish the talented guy success with his future endeavors.” Ditko didn’t explain his reasons for leaving, though it likely had something to do with his dissatisfaction with the more commercial direction that Spider-Man was heading under Lee’s guidance. Whatever his reasons, Ditko referred to his departure in a cryptic message in 2001: “I know why I left Marvel, but no one else in this universe knew or knows why. It may be of a mild interest to realize that Stan Lee chose not to know, or hear why, I left.”
Ditko moved on to Charlton, where the page rate was low but he was allowed more freedom to create characters like Blue Beetle and the Question. In 1967, he created Mr. A, the ultimate expression of his growing Objectivist beliefs, for Wally Wood’s witzend magazine. A move to DC in 1968 saw him create the Creeper and Hawk & Dove, the latter in tandem with writer Steve Skeates. He returned to Marvel in 1979, where he worked on Machine Man, The Micronauts and Speedball the Masked Marvel. He continued working for them as a freelancer into the 1990s; among his last creations (with writer Will Murray) was Squirrel Girl in 1991, an offbeat character who has since gained a massive cult following.
In the decades following his seminal work on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, Ditko never gave any interviews; even with the publicity surrounding the release of movies starring those two characters, he steadfastly refused to step into the spotlight. Stories abound of individuals receiving a kind letter of encouragement from him or chancing across his small New York studio and being welcomed warmly by the man — but even when he was approached by writers and filmmakers hoping to bring his story to the public, he declined to take part. When BBC television host Jonathan Ross and writer Neil Gaiman approached him for a documentary released in 2007, he greeted them politely but refused to be quoted or photographed during his 25-minute chat with Gaiman. “The first rule of Steve Ditko is, we can’t share Steve Ditko with you,” Ross said at the time.
Ditko maintained his Manhattan studio until his death, where he continued to write and draw — though how much, and what unpublished material remains, is unknown. Also unknown is exactly when he died; he was found alone in his apartment by police (Ditko never married or had children). A sad end to an influential life, perhaps… but on the other hand, Ditko died as he lived — letting his art speak for itself. And oh, did it have so much to say.
“Ditko took what was a very good superhero comic strip and really turned it into something revolutionary,” Blake Bell, author of Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, told the New York Post in 2012. “It was Ditko who wanted to ground the strip in reality, to see what it was like to be a hero through the eyes of a teenager and to struggle.” Discovered dead June 29
3. Russ Heath (b. 1926)
In a fair and just world, Russ Heath would be as famous and celebrated as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and other legends in the business whose names appear in the opening credits of your favorite superhero films.
Alas, despite his long career — he started in comics shortly after World War II and was still drawing well into the 2000s — he was never attached to any breakout character, and he tended to specialize in genres (war, satire, Westerns) that film studios typically pass over in search of their next comic-based hit. Because of this, he’s more famous among fellow artists as a superior draftsman than he is among the general public. That’s a shame, and someone should do something about that.
Born Russell DeHart Heath Jr. in Manhattan, Heath grew up in Montclair, N.J. In a 2011 interview, he credited his attention to detail to his father, an actual former cowboy, who took him to Westerns at the local movie house and pointed out the factual errors in the films.
Drafted into the army in 1945, Heath spent nine months stateside drawing cartoons for his base’s newspaper. After the war, he looked for steady work to provide for his young family, and found it in the offices of Timely Comics. One of Stan Lee’s first assignments for him was the Two-Gun Kid, a character created by Lee and Kirby. Soon, he was drawing Westerns, true crime, superheroes, and war stories for many different publishers, but especially for DC and its war line.
It was around this time he was becoming known for his realistic drawings of tanks, planes, soldiers and other objects of war. He came by this realism honestly, buying helmets and uniforms from army surplus stores to use as references and sometimes building models before drawing a piece of machinery for one of his stories. It was likely because of his expertise as a war artist that he was commissioned to draw the full-page illustrations of Revolutionary War and Roman battle scenes for the toy soldier ads that graced the back covers of thousands of comics in the 1960s and ’70s.
Ironically, Heath’s most famous pieces are panels that hung in museums around the world without his name being attached to them. His art in 1962’s All-American Men of War #89 was the inspiration for pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s paintings Brattata, Whaam! and Blam, all produced in 1962 and 1963. In 2014’s “Bottle of Wine,” a comic strip about Lichtenstein’s appropriation of his work, Heath wrote, “The Museum of Modern Art invited me to the opening when they displayed it. However, I couldn’t make it due to deadlines… but I figure Lichtenstein owed me a drink at least.”
While the art world debated whether Lichtenstein and other artists who worked in that vein were creating art or merely copying it, Heath got on with the business of making a living. Together with writer/editor Robert Kanigher, he co-created The Haunted Tank and Sea Devils for DC, assisted Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder on their Playboy strip Little Annie Fanny, worked on Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella for Warren, launched a Lone Ranger comic strip with writer Cary Bates, and worked as character designer and layout artist for such TV cartoons as The Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour, G.I. Joe, Blackstar and The Karate Kid.
Heath returned to comics and superheroes in his later years, contributing to books starring Batman, Moon Knight and the Punisher. He also pencilled and inked Disney’s official comic adaptation of its 1991 film The Rocketeer. His last comic-book story was a four-page flashback sequence in Marvel’s The Immortal Iron Fist #20 in 2008.
Asked by The Comics Journal in 1987 where he drew the line with superheroes, Heath said: “I am very literal. If Superman jumped over a building and hit the pavement, the pavement would shatter and the feet in Superman’s costume would be gone… I have to believe it can happen or I won’t draw it.” Died August 23
4. Marie Severin (b. 1929)
When Marie Severin felt someone had gone too far at one with one of EC’s horror stories, she didn’t raise a fuss with Bill Gaines or Al Feldstein; she simply colored the panel dark blue. “Feldstein called her the conscience of EC,” writer Frank Jacobs once said. “Nevertheless, it was Marie who stretched out Gaines on a stockroom table and created his death mask out of plaster of Paris. Her dream was to see the office walls lined with the masks of the horror comics crew.”
Severin was working on Wall Street when her brother, John, brought her into EC’s offices in 1949 to color virtually all the company’s titles; she left EC in 1955 and followed her brother to Marvel (then Atlas) in 1956. She left the comics field when Marvel let go of most of its people the following year, but was welcomed back in 1964 when the company was on the rise. As a production staffer, she performed the usual production tasks — color, inks, touch-ups, promotional art, letters-page illustrations — but it didn’t take long for her co-workers to realize they had a talented cartoonist in their midst.
When she was assigned to draw illustrations that ran in a 1966 Esquire article about Marvel’s influence on college campuses, she caught the eye of publisher Martin Goodman, who started wondering asking why she was tucked away in production. “Mr. Goodman saw it and he told Stan, ‘What is she doing in the production department? Give her some art work,’” Severin said in a 2002 interview. “Then Ditko quit, and there I am on Doctor Strange. I must have been worth something, they kept me on for 30 years. That’s how I got into the drawing — it had to be on a fluke.”
What wasn’t a fluke was Severin’s obvious skill as an artist; within a few months, she was drawing the Doctor Strange half of every issue of Strange Tales and the Hulk half of every issue of Tales to Astonish. And when Marvel decided to launch a MAD-style parody comic called Not Brand Echh, Severin’s art was front and center. “She could do humor, she could do horror, she could do adventure, she could do cartoons,” Lee was quoted as saying in the book Marie Severin: The Mirthful Mistress of Comics. “She could do almost anything you asked her to do and she did it all beautifully, like the true pro she was.”
Those runs were the exception, though; for the most part, Severin wasn’t given a chance to create a book from scratch or work on a flagship series. Instead, she worked as Marvel’s chief colorist until 1972, and often acted as the go-to penciller or inker any time someone left a job or missed a deadline. Most of her work — including behind-the-scenes tasks like fixing faces, redrawing panels or making corrections to the art of credited artists — went uncredited. By the 1980s, she was doing fill-ins for titles as diverse as Spectacular Spider-Man, The A-Team and Muppet Babies while getting assigned to special projects (illustrations for toys, costumes and movie tie-ins) and working on Marvel’s line of children’s books.
She continued to work in comics until her retirement in 2002, the year after she was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame. Comic-Con International presented her with its Icon Award in November 2017 because “her natural adeptness with coloring enabled her to blaze the trail for women who wanted to enter what was then an almost exclusively male field.” Died August 29
5. Norm Breyfogle (b. 1960)
There are worse things in life than to be remembered as one of the great Batman artists of your time. Though Norm Breyfogle’s portfolio included pages published by Marvel (Avengers, Black Panther, Hellcat, Marvel Fanfare, and Moon Knight), First (American Flagg, Whisper), Archie (Archie Loves Veronica, Archie Loves Betty), Valiant (Bloodshot) and other publishers, there’s a good reason why many of the stories announcing his death led with headlines like “R.I.P. iconic Batman artist Norm Breyfogle.”
“There was a time when Norm Breyfogle’s depiction of Batman was absolutely iconic and embraced by readers all over the world,” tweeted writer/artist Dan Jurgens. “When I close my eyes and think of Batman (which I do oddly often and occasionally professionally), I see Norm Breyfogle’s cover for Batman 465,” said writer Tom King. “The protector and his ward. The bats in the night. The cape and the shadow. RIP Mr. Breyfogle. Thank you for the beautiful dreams.”
The pride of Iowa City, Breyfogle’s first published comic work — a young fan’s proposed redesign of the Robin costume — appeared in 1977’s Batman Family #13. He studied painting and illustration at Northern Michigan University while working as an illustrator for a local magazine and a graphics company. In 1984, he pencilled a six-page story for DC’s New Talent Showcase, which led to freelance work with Eclipse and First Comics.
Breyfogle’s first Batman art appeared in 1987; over the next eight years, he and writer Alan Grant would introduce a host of new characters to Gotham: Scarface/Ventriloquist, Ratcatcher, Mr. Zsasz, Amygdala, Mortimer Kadaver, Joe Potato, The Corrosive Man, Jeremiah Arkham and (their personal favorite) Anarky. With Alan Brennert, he created 1991’s Batman: Holy Terror, an alternate-reality Batman story that was the first to feature DC’s “Elseworlds” logo. He followed up his Batman work with stints on The Spectre, Angel Gate Press’s Black Tide, and First Salvo’s The Danger’s Dozen, among other projects.
Breyfogle reunited with Grant in 2011 to produce DC Retroactive: Batman – The ’90s, which he followed up with art for DC’s Batman Beyond Unlimited digital comic from 2012-2013. Tragically, he suffered a stroke in 2014 that caused paralysis on his left side, affecting his ability to draw. Fans and industry friends stepped in to help cover his medical bills, with Marvel, DC and the Hero Initiative also offering support. “I’m crying tears of joy every day,” he said shortly after his stroke in response to the outpouring of help he received. “It’s almost like my stroke has been a blessing.” Died September 24
6. Mort Walker (b. 1923)
By itself, it’s an amazing feat: at the time of his death, Mort Walker — creator of Beetle Bailey, Hi & Lois (with fellow cartoonist Dik Browne) and an assortment of other newspaper strips — was the longest-serving original creator of a comic strip still being published, depicting the daily shenanigans of Camp Swampy for an incredible 68 years.
But beyond being one of the comics page’s most prolific artists, Walker also had a sincere reverence for comics as an art form. For years, he worked to keep a National Cartoon Museum — featuring more than 200,000 pieces of original cartoon art, much of it from his private collection — running. He also authored The Lexicon of Comicana in 1980, a semi-serious book establishing what all those comic strip symbols — like the punctuation marks that replace swearing, or the flying droplets around a figure’s head indicating stress or hard work — are called. (Grawlixes and plewds, in case you were curious.)
Born in El Dorado, Kan., and raised in Kansas City, Mo., Walker sold his first cartoon at age 12; by 14, he was selling gag cartoons to Child’s Life, Flying Aces, and Inside Detective magazines. In 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Italy, where he was placed in charge of an Allied camp for 10,000 German POWs. He was discharged as a first lieutenant in 1947 (later calling his time in the army “four years of free research”) and graduated the following year from the University of Missouri, where he was editor and art director of the college’s humor magazine, Showme.
Moving to New York to pursue a career in cartooning, he used his college experiences to create Spider, a one-panel series about a slacker college student he did for The Saturday Evening Post. The idea of putting Spider in the army morphed into Beetle Bailey, a strip that debuted in 1950 and would eventually run in 1,800 newspapers in 50 countries, for a combined daily readership of 200 million. Other strips soon followed: Hi & Lois, a spin-off of Beetle Bailey starring Beetle’s sister and her family (1954), Boner’s Ark (1968), Sam and Silo (1977), The Evermores (1982) and Gamin and Patches (1988).
On top of his own cartooning, Walker was also an avid fan of other comic artists’ work. “Mort began to collect comic art casually, and then very seriously,” wrote Cullen Murphy, a friend of Walker’s, in The New York Times shortly after Walker’s death. “He was appalled by the disregard often accorded to this work. One catalyzing moment: finding original Krazy Kat strips, by the masterly George Herriman, being used to plug a leak in a ceiling at a newspaper syndicate. With the help of like-minded cartoonists and some farsighted university professors, Mort became a vocal force for preservation. Founded in 1974, his Museum of Cartoon Art — he always referred to it, with strains of his native Missouri, as ‘the mu-zimm’ — grew into a major repository.”
The museum went through several name changes and relocations before it closed for good in 2002. The collection — valued at about $20 million — merged with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University in 2008. Died January 27
7. Michael Fleisher (b. 1942)
Michael Fleisher’s parents divorced when he was four, and for the next several years he spent his Saturdays with his visiting father taking in movie double features. “I saw two Westerns every Saturday for years,” Fleisher said in a 2010 interview. “So it wasn’t very hard to write [Westerns] at all.” That’s putting it mildly; the Jonah Hex stories he wrote over a dozen or so years rank among the best Western comics ever published.
Born in New York City, Fleisher’s comic career began in the early 1970s when he began a series of encyclopedias about Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. Spending all that time in DC’s files led to writing opportunities — first with Joe Orlando’s line of horror books, then an acclaimed run of Spectre stories he did with artist Jim Aparo, as well as many chances to play in the Bat-verse (where, among other things, he wrote the first origin story for the Penguin).
But it was his work with Jonah Hex (a character he took over from Hex co-creator John Albano in 1974) where Fleisher relished the chance to go wild — he even hurled the tight-lipped anti-hero into a Mad Max-esque future in a brand-new book (called simply Hex) when his long-running title was cancelled.
Shortly after losing a libel suit (see below), he went back to school while writing for the British comics magazine 2000 AD. After receiving his doctorate in anthropology, he left comics to work as a freelance consultant, working with humanitarian organizations in the developing world on global issues like human trafficking and landmine disposal.
He didn’t completely leave the writing life behind, though; in 2007, the same year DC re-released his original three Encyclopedia volumes, he self-published both Shambler, a fictionalized version of life in the comics field in the 1980s, and a reprint of his Chasing Hairy novel from 1979. “I think writing is wonderful,” he told The Comics Journal in 1980. “I think to be a writer is to live a blessed life.” Died February 2
8. Harlan Ellison (b. 1934)
It’s one of history’s little quirks that people whose lives were intertwined by fate often check out in close proximity to each other. Political rivals Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died within five hours of each other on July 4, 1826. Spider-Man’s parents, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, both left us within months of each other. Ditto Swamp Thing creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson last year.
And then there’s the curious case of Michael Fleisher and Harlan Ellison, plaintiff and defendant in one of the oddest court cases to ever involve the funny books. In 1980, Fleisher sued Ellison, The Comics Journal and TCJ editor Gary Groth over comments Ellison made in an interview published in the magazine’s February 1980 issue. In that article, Ellison referred to Fleisher and his writing as “twisted,” “crazy,” “lunatic,” “bugfuck,” “derange-o” and lots of other similar words and phrases.
Fleisher demanded the magazine run a retraction and an apology written by him; Fleisher sued when Groth refused, claiming $2 million in damages. When the case went to trial in 1986, Ellison testified: “The only part of what I said about Mr. Fleisher that is quite clear is that I was praising him inordinately, praising him for excellence.” (It took the jury 90 minutes to agree Fleisher had not proved his case.)
That sounds like something Ellison would say about a fellow writer of provocative words. “He lives for conflict,” Dark Horse editor Diana Schutz once said of him; Psycho author Robert Bloch described Ellison as “the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water.” The prolific writer attributed his strong sense of right and wrong to his exposure to comics at a tender age: “Very early in life I learned from comics the difference between good and evil, honor and integrity, rational and irrational behavior.”
He must have picked up some writing tips as well; from his short stories (“I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”) to his critical essays (“The Glass Teat”) to his teleplays (Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever”) to his dozens of comic writing credits, Ellison was an often combative force of chaos who revelled in shaking up the status quo, and in showing dismissive critics what so-called “lowbrow” forms of literature could do in the hands of a master.
“‘Gadfly’ is what they call you when you are no longer dangerous; I much prefer troublemaker, malcontent, desperado,” he once said. “My stories go out from here and raise hell. From time to time, some denigrater or critic with umbrage will say of my work, ‘He only wrote that to shock.’ I smile and nod. Precisely.” Died June 28
9. Gary Friedrich (b. 1943)
Born and raised in Jackson, Missouri, Friedrich was a high-school friend of future Marvel writer and editor-in-chief Roy Thomas. He edited a newspaper in Jackson (“I was working about 80 hours a week for $50,” he recalled in 2001) and later worked in a factory assembling waffle irons when Thomas — by now writing at Marvel — called him up and suggested he try working as a freelancer in the comics business. Friedrich was on a Greyhound bus the next day to start a new life in the big city with Thomas as his roommate in a Greenwich Village apartment. “The Village was a really neat place to be at that time,” he once said. “I began to let my hair grow and become a real New York hippie.”
With a recommendation from Thomas in hand, Friedrich went to Charlton editor Dick Giordano, who assigned him to their romance line of books. Friedrich wrote such classic tales as “Tears in My Malted” and “Too Fat to Frug” while honing his superhero skills on Charlton’s Captain Atom and Peter Cannon… Thunderbolt books. Soon enough, he was working on a variety of titles for Marvel, from Sgt. Fury (which earned him back-to-back Alley Awards for Best War Title) to Modeling with Millie to the company’s line-up of Western books, including The Ghost Rider, a book he launched with artist Dick Ayers about a Western hero who uses gimmicks to appear supernatural.
He must have liked that name, because it wasn’t long before he re-purposed it for another, much more popular character. After the Comics Code Authority relaxed the rules and allowed supernatural creatures to appear in comics, Marvel went all in with books starring Dracula, the Frankenstein monster (with another title scripted by Friedrich), the Son of Satan… and Ghost Rider, a stunt motorcyclist-slash-demon powered by infernal forces to punish the wicked.
Friedrich then settled into becoming one of Marvel’s utility players, diving in to write a few issues of The Incredible Hulk or Daredevil before moving on; it was during this time he also worked on a set of Superman cards for Topps, wrote stories for men’s magazines put out by Marvel publisher Martin Goodman and co-wrote three music reference books that came out between 1970 and 1972. By 1975, he was also freelancing for the short-lived Marvel competitor Atlas/Seaboard Comics, working on titles like Ironjaw and Morlock 2001.
Friedrich left the comics business in the late ’70s and returned to his home state, where he spent several years as a truck driver and courier in the St. Louis area. He returned to the business in 1993 to write the first issue of Bombast, one of several titles published by Topps which featured characters created by Jack Kirby.
When the first Ghost Rider film came out in 2007, Friedrich filed suit against Marvel, Sony Pictures and other entities alleging his copyright to the Ghost Rider character had been violated. The case went on for several years, with a 2011 judgment finding against Friedrich on all but one count. Adding insult to injury was Marvel counter-suing him; both parties reached a settlement in which Friedrich agreed to pay Marvel $17,000 in damages and to stop promoting himself as the creator of Ghost Rider. That decision was reversed in 2o13 and later that year Friedrich’s attorney said both sides had “amicably agreed to resolve all claims.”
Upon hearing of his friend’s death, Thomas wrote the following online: “As many of you will know, he did considerable work for Marvel during the late 1960s and 1970s, and for Charlton in the 1960s, including a remembered run on SGT. FURY, stints on CAPTAIN AMERICA, DAREDEVIL, SHIELD, and others, and of course the basic concept/creation of the motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider at Marvel. I’d known Gary since I was in college and he still in high school, when he
came to work at the Palace Theatre in Jackson, MO, and some of my
happiest memories of our days in the rock band he founded circa 1962 and
which existed for a couple of years.” Died August 29
10. Nick Meglin (b. 1935)
You know what they call a guy who works at MAD magazine for 48 years? “The office temp.” For real, what is it with that place? Mort Drucker clocked in 54 years before he retired. Paul Coker and Frank Jacobs both put in 57 years, while Arnie Kogen wrote articles for MAD for 58 years. For crying out loud, Al Jaffee started drawing cartoons for the magazine back in 1955 and he’s still at it today. Maybe people just really like working there.
If that’s the case, then Meglin was a big part of the reason why. Publisher Bill Gaines often called Meglin — who was responsible for recruiting many of the artists and writers who came to be known as “The Usual Gang of Idiots” — “the heart of MAD” and “the soul and conscience of MAD.” Over the decades, the MAD masthead charted his progress from “Ideas” to “War Correspondent” (during an army stint) to “Editorial Associate” to “Associate Editor” to “Editor,” a position the Brooklyn native held for 20 years until his retirement in 2004. (His business cards used to identify him as MAD‘s Tennis Editor due to his love of the sport.)
Though he had only a handful of bylines in the magazine over his career, he was an invaluable behind-the-scenes contributor to the magazine’s satirical attitude, coming up with cover concepts and much of the editorial material and house ads in between the articles. “He rewrote or punched-up articles that were in need of extra laughs,” wrote Mark Evanier in a tribute. “And he recognized comedic talent in writers who submitted work and encouraged them and guided them. At least half of MAD‘s best writers during that period were ‘found’ by Nick, as were many of its artists.” He also popped up in the magazine’s ad parodies, once as a motorcycle cop who had just pulled over editor Al Feldstein.
Outside of MAD, Meglin proved himself a true Renaissance man, writing lyrics for musical theater productions (including a musical based on the film Grumpy Old Men), drawing sketches for Opera News, writing (with artist Jack Davis) the Superfan strip for Pro Quarterback magazine, and authoring several books on art and humorous illustration, a natural outgrowth of his work as an instructor at the School of Visual Arts.
“[Al] Feldstein was not humorous. He appreciated humor, but he didn’t inspire humor,” Al Jaffee told The Washington Post. “Nick inspired humor. He was a bit zany… He had a great appreciation for the satirical viewpoint — he was gifted with that kind of natural understanding.” Died June 2
11. Carlos Ezquerra (b. 1947)
In 2010, Carlos Ezquerra — the artist who first designed Judge Dredd — told fans on a 2000 AD message board that he had been diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer and had one of his lungs removed. “OK, one less lung but… who the hell needs two for drawing?” he wrote.
Ezquerra started out in his native Spain, working on war comics and Westerns for Barcelona-based publishers. He began his career in British comics in 1973 with assignments for romance titles like Valentine and Mirabelle; he soon found work on the war comic Battle Picture Weekly, drawing the adventures of the Dirty Dozen-inspired “Rat Pack” and later the strip “Major Eazy.”
IPC writer and editor Pat Mills, who launched 2000 AD in 1977, turned to Ezquerra to come up with character designs for a futuristic lawman. Judge Dredd’s helmet, kneepads and eagle-motif epaulette were instantly iconic, but what really impressed Mills were the cityscapes Ezquerra developed for Mega-City One, Dredd’s dystopian beat. Dredd debuted in the second issue of 2000 AD while Ezquerra returned to drawing for Battle for a few months… but he would be back to team up with original Dredd writer John Wagner to produce what many Dredd fans considered the character’s classic period.
In 1978, Ezquerra created — again with Wagner — the character Johnny Alpha for the strip “Strontium Dog,” which first appeared in the comic Starlord and became a 2000 AD staple when the two comics merged. He was almost the only artist to draw the character; he reportedly refused to illustrate a 1988 story in which the futuristic bounty hunter was killed off because Ezquerra had become so attached to the character.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Ezquerra collaborated numerous times with writer Garth Ennis on such books as Bloody Mary, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade, War Stories, A Man Called Kev, Hitman and Preacher.
“He put the work ahead of ego, turning down easier paydays to pursue strips like the ground-breaking El Mestizo, a black slave fighting in the American Civil War – hardly typical fare for British war comics,” said 2000 AD editor David Bishop. “Decades into an incredible career, he dove headfirst into creating comics on computer when others were content to play it safe. His work is the imagery that generations of readers have grown up enjoying.”
In a statement after his passing, 2000 AD said: “It is no exaggeration to call Carlos Ezquerra one of the greatest comic book artists of all time, and his name deserves to be uttered alongside Kirby, Ditko, Miller, Moebius, and Eisner. Yet this doesn’t really do justice to someone whose work was loved by millions and has had an influence far beyond the comic book page. From Judge Dredd to Strontium Dog, from Rat Pack to Major Eazy, Carlos has left us with a legacy of stunning and distinctive work that was and always will be 2000 AD.” Died October 1
12. Momoko Sakura (b. 1965)
Born Miki Miura in Shimizu, Japan, Momoko Sakura started her career as a manga artist in 1984; two years later, she started the Chibi Maruko-chan series in the August 1986 issue of the Japanese monthly manga magazine Ribbon. Set in suburban Japan in 1974, the simply rendered, nostalgia-drenched series — starring a nine-year-old girl in a family of six named Maruko — was based on her own childhood.
After its debut, Chibi Maruko-chan (which ran for 10 years) went on to spawn one of Japan’s most beloved anime. Maruko-chan arrived on the screen in a 1990-1992 series from Nippon Animation, followed by three feature films (including 2015’s Chibi Maruko-chan: A Boy from Italy); a second TV series that has run for more than 1,000 episodes since 1995 is still airing. Because of her anime appearances, Maruko-chan is one of the most famous characters in Japan, and she’s watched by young and old alike in more than 60 countries. (The first theme song of the series, “Odoru Ponpokorin,” even became a hit single in Japan in 1990, selling almost 2 million copies.) Sakura wrote the teleplays for most of the episodes in the first series, as well as the first 219 episodes of the second (she was able to supervise the screenplays from Episode 220 up to her death from breast cancer this year).
Aside from her signature creation, Sakura also created the surreal fantasy manga Coji-Coji, which ran in Sony Magazines’ Kimi to Boku from 1994 to 1997 and spawned an anime series of 100 episodes, as well as a Sega Dreamcast party game. She worked with Marvelous Interactive to create the game, and also collaborated with Nintendo on the Game Boy Advance’s Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival. She also designed the characters for the Xbox 360 game Every Party in 2005.
Fiercely private in real life, Sakura’s funeral was open only to family members and close friends, and was held before her production company posted a statement on its website about her death, complete with an illustration of Maruko and her friends.
“I feel so sad about her demise, which came too early,” wrote Soichi Aida, the editor-in-chief of Ribbon, in a statement posted on the magazine’s website. “But the bright smiles of Maru-chan and her friends will keep shining in the minds of readers ranging from kids to adults.” Died August 15
13. Mike Noble (b. 1930)
As a child living in London during the Second World War, Mike Noble was evacuated from the city, but returned in time to endure much of the Blitz. Studying commercial art after the war’s end, at 17 he joined an advertising studio but found the meticulous reproduction of everyday objects limited him in scope. In 1949, he was called up for National Service and for 18 months was in the 8th Royal Tank Regiment in North Yorkshire after which he spent three years in the UK’s Territorial Army, where his artistic talent came in handy producing graphics of military hardware.
Noble’s first published comic strip (the field in which he was active for 5 decades) was Simon and Sally, a strip for the British comic magazine Robin, which ran from 1953 to 1959. In 1958, he started a long run of regular work in comics, with the strip “Lone Ranger and Tonto” for Express Weekly followed by “Range Rider” for TV Comic. In 1965, he started work on TV Century 21, illustrating “Fireball XL5” and, later, “Zero-X” and “Captain Scarlet.” He also contributed “Star Trek” to the later incarnation of TV21, but the demise of this comic led him to follow Alan Fennell (his editor at TV Comic and TV21) in illustrating such strips as “Timeslip” and “The Famous Five” in Look-In.
“It was his work on TV Century 21, starting with Fireball XL5 in colour in 1965 that would confirm him as one of the British comic greats,” wrote downthetubes.net founder John Freeman. “He eschewed the look of Gerry Anderson’s puppet creations for a realistic more approach that energised the comic — and set his style for decades to come.”
“To me, he was the ultimate illustrator of the TV21 and Gerry Anderson universe within the comic strip medium,” said artist Graham Bleathman, well-known himself for his work inspired by the Supermarionation shows of the 1960s. “He captured the spirit of Century 21 perfectly whilst adding so much to it; many of his panels in TV21 had ‘over the shoulder’ shots which, even if it wasn’t deliberate, gave the impression of events unfolding before a camera lens, perfect for the ‘newspaper of the future.'” Died November 15
14. Angelo Ty “Bong” Dazo (b. 1962)
When news of Angelo Ty “Bong” Dazo’s death from liver cancer spread though the comics community, many of his fans and fellow professionals flocked to social media to express their sympathy and share their memories of the Filipino artist, who’s perhaps best known in North America for his work on such titles as Deadpool, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Thunderbolts and War of Kings.
One of the most heartfelt tributes came from comic agent David Campiti: “Back in February of 2000, I held my first-ever Creating Comics Seminar in Manila, a two-day event which 84 artists attended seeking guidance and representation, including Meryl Calanog (“Jinky Coronado”), Stephen Segovia, and… Angelo Ty ‘Bong’ Dazo. ‘My nickname’s based off of Bong-Bong Marcos, a Filipino senator… and it always makes me sound like I’m high,’ he told me, laughing.
“A big, powerful presence ‘built like Buddha’ with talent and personality to match, Bong Dazo was the first Filipino artist to sign a contract with the new Glass House Graphics Asia agency. He was already a well-established presence in his country’s comics scene, as well as an animation director and sculptor who created customized action figures for a hobby. He revelled in the classic Filipino style while adding the sense of over-the-top power and drama found in the likes of such American artists as Kirby, Kane and Buscema.
“Bong began referring to himself and me as the ‘King Koalas,’ which was just absurd enough to stick. We referred to each other as ‘Koala’ for years, often sending silly koala photos to each other and photographing ourselves together with our stuffed ‘stunt koala’ in the photos. He was rarely without a sweaty towel on his shoulder, a loud opinion on his lips or, alas, a cigarette in his hand.”
Dazo completed a cover for Dabel Brothers’ The Meg before his failing health forced him to pass on drawing the adaptation of the best-selling novel (and the 2018 film). It was likely his last professional piece.
Capiti noted that Bong had texted him on June 15 to reveal he had cancer, and that he was selling off his toys and original art to cover his medical bills. “I guess this is it,” he texted Capiti. “Thanks for fulfilling my dreams, Koala. Many, many thanks.” Dazo died shortly after sending that text, just two weeks after his 53rd birthday. Died June 29
15. Jack Tremblay (b. 1926)
The way it works for most Canadian comic artists getting into the business is this: start out in Canada, build a portfolio, move to the U.S. and find fame and fortune. It’s nothing personal against our home and native land; sometimes you’ve just got to go where the work (and the money) is.
Jack Tremblay found a different path. Born in Providence, R I, he followed his family to remote Thunder Bay, ON, and then settled in Montreal when he was eight years old. He was an avid artist in his youth, and sold many of his handmade comics around his neighborhood for a nickel apiece.
The start of World War II led to the Canadian government banning the import of “non-essential” materials, which included American periodicals and comics. Several Canadian publishers jumped on the opportunity to meet the demand (some of them borrowing more heavily than others from their American counterparts). One such company was Toronto-based Bell Features, founded in September 1941 and home to heroes like Johnny Canuck and Nelvana of the Northern Lights. In its second issue of Wow Comics, Bell announced a drawing contest; three issues later, Tremblay received special mention as one of the winners, winning a pair of roller skates for his efforts.
By the eighth issue, when Tremblay was only 16, he was part of the Wow Comics team with his own feature about fighter pilot Crash Carson and his Devil’s Angels squadron. Crash Carson remained in active duty until Wow Comics #16 and Tremblay made another feature called “Wings over the Atlantic” for the first three issues of Bell’s Commando Comics.
At 18, Tremblay joined the Paratroop Corps of the Canadian Forces. Sadly, he never returned to comics after the war; Canada’s Golden Age was effectively over when the import ban was lifted and local publishers couldn’t compete with the flood of American books coming across the border. He freelanced for ad agencies and illustrated books about Canadian history and folklore, and turned to painting fine art in the 1970s under the name Jean-Jacques Tremblay.
Tremblay’s early work as a comic artist was largely forgotten until historians started to explore that era in Canadian history; in his later years, he regularly attended comic festivals together with his son, an underground cartoonist who goes by the pen name Rick Trembles. In 2014, he joined other “Canadian whites” greats as the latest inductees of the Giants of the North Hall of Fame during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Died November 11
16. Mark Campos (b. 1962)
Born in Reno, Nev., Campos found a home in Seattle’s alternative comics community. He first made his mark in the Seattle zine culture in the 1980s, creating funny self-published mini-comix that are considered among the best offerings of this movement. Over the following years, he paid the bills working in a copy shop while contributing art to 1988’s Gay Comix and Itchy Planet, 1992’s Hyena, Roberta Gregory’s Naughty Bits in 1996, and other alternative publications. His work also appeared in several Seattle newspapers and Cartoon Loonacy, the small press publication of the Amateur Press Association.
In 1994, Mu Press published his two-issue Places That Are Gone, a comic about a Seattle cartoonist who becomes depressed as he contemplates the changing city that he loves. On the mainstream side, his art appeared in DC’s Darkstars, Guy Gardner and Blood Pack in the 1990s, along with Marvel’s Journey into Mystery and Uncanny Origins.
Campos was also a member of Finecomix, a Seattle-based collective of cartoonists who collaborate to help push comics as an art form. He wrote all the stories in their 2005 anthology Moxie, My Sweet. Later in his career, he contributed to anthologies like Danny Hellman’s Typhon (2008) and James Burns’ Real Magicalism (2008).
In October 2017, Mark Campos launched a crowdfunding campaign for a new autobiographical book called Casino Son, in which he tries to reconcile his Mexican heritage with American life in general, and Reno’s casino culture in particular. The mini-comic was sold at the Latino Comix Expo in Long Beach, Calif., in November 2017.
Without explanation, Campos took his own life early this year. His death stunned the Seattle arts community; a fundraising campaign to help his family pay for funeral expenses quickly exceeded its goal.
Said The Comics Journal’s Paul Tumey, who named Casino Son as one of his favorite comics of 2017: “One Thanksgiving, he and David Lasky were at my house and we started drawing comics. I watched Mark draw and create fully realized characters and scenes out of thin air with the same sort of fascination I’ve watched skilled cartoonists like Charles Schultz draw in documentaries. His hand was sure, never hesitating, and his wit was keen. Mark Campos was the real deal.” Died January 18
17. Carlton Hames Ware (b. 1943)
As William Jones wrote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, his friendship with Carlton Hames Ware began about 40 years ago, when he found some Classics Illustrated comics at a Little Rock flea market. He noticed the neatly penned name “Hames Ware” or the initials “CHW” on the covers; the dealer said those books came from the collection of a local comic fan that Jones should look up.
“What I didn’t know about Hames when we met in 1978 was that he was already something of a legendary figure in the developing field of comics-art scholarship,” Jones wrote. “From 1973 to 1976, he and co-editor Jerry Bails (known as the ‘Father of Comic Book Fandom’) produced the four-volume Who’s Who of American Comic Books, which meticulously documented the careers of Golden Age artists. Hames interviewed many veterans of the comics-art shops. His profiles of them, along with his colleague’s, have formed the foundation for decades of serious research in the newly respectable field of comics studies.”
Jones goes on to note that Ware was a great teacher as well, always eager to offer panel analyses or offer anecdotes about the artists he interviewed that made them seem more than the assembly-line workers they were seen as by the industry at the time: “He made artists live again in anecdotes gathered from his years of interviews, and he punctuated his stories with the voices of the subjects, capturing, for example, the exuberance of Robert H. Webb, illustrator of the CI editions of Two Years Before the Mast and The Dark Frigate, who in retirement declared with satisfaction: ‘I used to draw boats, and now I build them!'”
About those voices: in addition to his invaluable work as a comic historian, Ware was also a regular voice-over artist for both local and national audiences. Though he never (to my knowledge) gave voice to a comic-book character, he reportedly did a fine Mark Twain impression for a local library campaign, and supplied the haunted narration of the sea captain who rescues the monster in a radio play adaptation of Frankenstein.
Shortly before his death from cancer, Hames donated his notes and paper to the Comics Collection in Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. “I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to get to know this kind-hearted and brilliant man,” wrote curator Karen Green in a Facebook post. “I will miss him more than I can say.” Died September 5
Born and raised in the frozen wilds of Canada’s far north (including, to my eternal delight, a few years spent in my middle-of-nowhere hometown), Kidder began her acting career in the late 1960s acting in Canadian films and TV shows. Making her way to California, she shared a beach house with actress Jennifer Salt, hosting parties where guests like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma and Susan Sarandon regularly dropped in.
After scoring roles in films like De Palma’s Sisters (1973) and The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) opposite Robert Redford, Kidder catapulted to fame playing a certain spunky reporter who catches Superman’s eye, in 1978’s Superman (a role she reprised in three sequels). Not that playing an iconic character didn’t have its downside: “It was exciting, but for a while being typecast as Lois made my vanity and narcissism scream. Hadn’t people seen my other work?” she told The Guardian newspaper in 2005. “But now my grandkids watch it and think I was Superman’s friend, so that’s a thrill.”
Kidder struggled with mental illness for much of her life, a situation made worse by a 1990 car accident that left her in debt and led to her using a wheelchair for almost two years. She became a passionate advocate for mental health issues after speaking out about living with bipolar disorder. More recently, she became a political activist (she was arrested outside the White House in 2011 during a protest against TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline) and moved to Montana to get away from the spotlight. Not that her activism or self-imposed isolation kept her from acting; among her late-career credits was a memorable guest-star role on Smallville with her former Superman co-star Christopher Reeve.
In August, a statement released by Park County coroner Richard Wood said Kidder “died as a result of a self-inflicted drug and alcohol overdose” at her home in Livingston, a small town near Yellowstone National Park. “It is important that we recognize the toll mental illness takes — on those who struggle with it, and on their families,” her sister, Annie, said to Canada’s Global News. “Our family hopes that everyone who struggles is able to — without any feeling of shame — seek out and find help.” Died May 13
19. David Ogden Stiers (b. 1942)
For a character who’s been around as long as he has, the Martian Manhunter took his time showing up in places outside the comic books. Most fans might remember his appearance on the 2001 Justice League cartoon as his official onscreen debut, and technically it is… but that wouldn’t have been the case if a certain CBS television pilot had made it to air.
Filmed in the beautiful city of Vancouver, BC, 1997’s Justice League of America didn’t set the world on fire with its… ah, creative interpretation of Justice League regulars like Green Lantern and the Atom (comic writer Mark Waid once called the pilot “80 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”). But one thing the pilot got right was scoring great talent like Miguel Ferrer (as a weather-controlling villain) and David Ogden Stiers, who lent his dignified presence to everyone’s favorite Martian.
Born in Peoria, Ill., Stiers played Shakespeare festivals and studied acting at Juilliard before appearing in Broadway productions and scoring credits on such TV shows as Kojak, Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He’s best known to TV audiences as M*A*S*H’s Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, a role that earned him two Emmy nominations.
Aside from his numerous film and TV roles, Stiers also lent his aristocratic voice to dozens of voice roles, most memorably the enchanted clock Cogsworth in Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast. As for comic-based projects, his credits include voicing the Penguin in 2003’s Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, Gorilla City’s Solovar in several Justice League episodes, the villainous Dr. Odium in Static Shock… and, of course, the Martian Manhunter.
“I went through three hours of make-up [for Martian Manhunter] and all the while I was talking to the guy about how, if the show ran, we were going to simplify this so I didn’t have to sit there,” he told IGN in 2002. “And then you go through the chemical burns on your face trying to remove the stuff. Once I got on the set, I was very careful not to do anything anachronistic. A couple of times I joked, but mostly I stayed off in a corner and tried not to scare anyone. I loved it and I was very sad that it didn’t run.” Died March 3
20. Chuck McCann (b. 1934)
So if you could have any kind of show-business career in the world, what would you choose? I know the obvious choice for a lot of people would be world-famous movie star, but honestly, who needs that kind of pressure? Me, I would opt for a career path similar to Charles John Thomas “Chuck” McCann’s. Why? Because boy, did he look like he was having a lot of fun doing it.
Born in Brooklyn, the third-generation performer and son of a singing bandleader was already a show business veteran by age 11. He began his career as a child actor on radio, and by age 19 had appeared on The Steve Allen Show. For the next 17 years, he and puppeteering partner Paul Ashley appeared on numerous local children’s shows, including Rootie Kazootie, The Gumby Show and Chuck McCann’s Laurel & Hardy Show. This was around the same time he got into voice acting, doing everything from Bob Kane’s Cool McCool to voicing Sonny the Cuckoo Bird for Cocoa Puffs commercials.
A move to Los Angeles led to frequent guest appearances on network television shows like Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, Columbo and The Bob Newhart Show. The ’70s also brought him fame in a long-running series of commercials for Right Guard anti-perspirant, playing the enthusiastic neighbor who appeared on the other side of a shared medicine cabinet opposite actor Bill Fiore.
While adding to a film resume that included films like Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It, McCann returned to voice acting, lending his versatile voice to such ’80s and ’90s classics as Pac-Man, G.I. Joe, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, DuckTales, The Powerpuff Girls, Animaniacs… and 1994’s Iron Man and Fantastic Four, where he played the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing for 26 episodes.
“His work was legendary,” said his publicist, Edward Lozzi. “What baby boomer doesn’t know ‘Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?'” Died April 8
Melniker started at MGM in 1939 and worked his way up the company ladder, eventually becoming an executive VP and chairman of the film selection committee at the studio. In that role, he personally greenlit such MGM classics as Ben Hur, Doctor Zhivago and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
After he left MGM in 1979, he became an executive producer on movies like 1975’s Mitchell and 1976’s Shoot… but it was a decision he made in 1979 that changed the course of his career. That was the year he teamed up with a 28-year-old kid named Michael Uslan to buy the film rights to Batman — a decision that would lead to his placement in the credits for every Bat-film from 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns all the way to this year’s Batman Ninja and Teen Titans Go! to the Movies. In between his Dark Knight adventures, Melniker — again in partnership with Uslan — produced films based on other DC properties, including 1982’s Swamp Thing, 2004’s Catwoman, 2005’s Constantine and 2008’s The Spirit.
Wrote Uslan in a touching Facebook tribute: “In 1979, Ben believed in me and in my outlandish idea to buy the rights to Batman in order to show the world the TRUE Batman as created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, a creature of the night who stalks disturbed villains in the shadows, in a series of dark and serious movies. Ten long years later, thanks to the relentless efforts of Ben, we succeeded, changed the comic book industry, changed the movie industry, and changed history.” Died February 26
22. Richard Alan Greenberg (b. 1947)
Think back to the first time you saw the 1978 Superman film. Before Krypton, before the helicopter scene, before Otisburg… when was the first moment in the film you realized you were about to witness cinematic greatness? If you said “during the first five minutes of the opening titles,” then you can thank Richard Alan Greenberg for his special brand of magic.
After teaching at the University of Illinois and the Institute of Design in his native Chicago, Greenberg produced Stop, a short film shot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention held that summer in the Windy City. It took the top prize at at the New York Film Festival Student Competition, which led to a job working for Pablo Ferro, who had done the title design for such classics as Dr. Strangelove and Bullitt.
With his brother, Robert, Greenberg launched R/Greenberg Associates in 1977, a company that would go on to produce titles and visual effects for such films as Home Alone, Die Hard, Last Action Hero, Alien, Ghostbusters, True Lies, Goodfellas, The Silence of the Lambs and Predator — the latter scoring Greenberg an Oscar nomination for best visual effects.
But before all that, their first major film gig was designing the opening titles for Richard Donner’s Superman. The now-familiar whooshing effect, with each credit rushing towards the screen as if at light speed, is an iconic piece of filmmaking now, but back in those pre-digital days creating that effect was easier said than done.
“We had no idea how to do it!” he said in an interview with Art of the Title, a blog about title sequence design. “For about two weeks we kept trying to figure it out… Those titles were created by re-working the idea of what the animation stand was; you would literally move the camera on the rostrum stand and cap it at particular points to create a kind of three-dimensional motion. Everything we did until the mid-’80s was pre-computer — Superman is all pre-digital. It is more beautiful, in a way, than digital work could have been.” Died June 16
23. Norman Gimbel (b. 1927)
“The Girl From Ipanema.” Paul Williams’ “Canadian Sunset.” Roberta’s Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name.” The theme songs from Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and The Paper Chase. All the songs from Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure. To say that Normal Gimbel was one of the most prolific lyricists working in Hollywood is a bit of an understatement. But for our purposes, there’s only one song for which we’ve come to honor him today, and that’s the one and only theme song to Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman.
Born in Brooklyn in 1927, Gimbel worked in the recording industry for decades, first achieving success by writing chart-topping songs like “Canadian Sunset” (1956). In 1964, he created a global phenomenon when he wrote his English version of the Brazilian song “Garota de Ipanema.” With vocals by Astrud Gilberto and saxophone by Stan Getz, “The Girl from Ipanema” was not only a global hit single, it became the signature tune of the bossa nova boom, taking the slinky Brazilian fusion of samba and jazz around the world. The song became a standard, with only the Beatles’ “Yesterday” having been recorded more often. (You can also hear it in the soundtrack of dozens of TV shows and movies, including 2005’s V for Vendetta and 2017’s My Little Pony: The Movie.)
Later in his career, Gimbel would win a Grammy for writing (with collaborator Charles Fox) “Killing Me Softly With His Song” for Roberta Flack in 1973 and an Academy Award for “It Goes Like It Goes,” which he wrote with David Shire for the 1979 film Norma Rae. But it’s fair to say his larger cultural impact will be his contributions to 1970s TV theme songs, including that one song about the gal fighting for our rights in her satin tights. The song in all its wonderful cheesiness is so indelibly identified with everyone’s favorite Amazon that Patty Jenkins, director of 2017’s Wonder Woman movie, was asked why it wasn’t worked into the big-budget film (try to imagine a bunch of Batman Begins fans demanding the same for the 1966 Batman theme song).
In a Facebook post, Robert Folk, who wrote about 15 songs with Gimbel, called him “an incredible talent, brilliant in every way, and one who had successfully navigated every genre in popular music… I remember one of countless moments with Norman so fondly, when after a playback via phone of a newly finished song for a prominent filmmaker, he said to me privately, ‘Don’t ever tell them how easy this work is for us, and how much fun we’ve had writing these songs, or else they’ll never pay us all this money again!'” Died December 19
24. Elizabeth “Betty” Tokar Jankovich (b. 1921)
When journalist, film documentarian and lifelong Archie fan Gerald Peary set out to find the real-life inspirations for the Riverdale gang, his quest brought him to the doorstep of Elizabeth Tokar Jankovich. At the time a retired widow living in New Jersey, in her youth Jankovich briefly dated Bob Montana, the artist who introduced Archie, Jughead and Betty to the world in 1941’s Pep Comics #22. She wasn’t even aware of her role in history until Peary and his chief researcher, Shaun Clancy, revealed it to her, and she was the guest of honor at the 2015 premiere of Peary’s film, Archie’s Betty. “To have all this publicity at the age of 94, it is ironic, isn’t it?” she said to a local newspaper at the time.
Her family immigrated from Czechoslovakia to the U.S. in 1929, when she was 8. As a young woman, she commuted with her sister, Helen, from their home in Perth Amboy, NJ, to lower Manhattan to work in the cafeteria at the Western Union Building, which housed the offices of MLJ Comics. The sisters met Montana and his colleague Harry Lucey in the lobby of the building, hit it off, and decided to go out on a date. Helen and Lucey eventually got married, but Jankovich broke it off with Montana after about nine months and they went their separate ways.
Their relationship clearly left an impression on Montana, though; when Peary met with Montana’s widow (he died in 1975), she told him that Montana said his inspiration for Betty was a girl he once dated who went on to marry the police chief of Perth Amboy. Making the Elizabeth = Betty claim even stronger were several background mentions of “Miss Tokar” or “Betty Tokar” in early Archie comics, which were unearthed by Clancy over the course of his research.
“My last phone call with Betty was about 3 months ago in which she was telling me she was very thankful for everything that I helped reveal in reference to Archie but that she was getting very tired,” Clancy wrote in a Facebook tribute shortly after her death. “After communicating with her for 8 years, there was no doubt in my mind that Betty Tokar WAS Betty Cooper.” Died August 10
As Neil Gaiman explained it, the credit belongs to Mike Dringenberg, the artist who pencilled Death’s debut in 1989’s Sandman #8: “In my original Sandman outline, I suggested Death look like rock star Nico in 1968, with the perfect cheekbones and perfect face she has on the cover of her Chelsea Girl album. But Mike Dringenberg had his own ideas, so he sent me a drawing based on a woman he knew named Cinamon Hadley… and I looked at it and had the immediate reaction of, ‘Wow. That’s really cool.'”
Born Cinamon Lou Hadley in Barstow, CA, the artist, body-piercer, fashion designer and sometime mime was friends with Dringenberg when the two both lived in Salt Lake City. In a 2011 interview with Slug magazine, she recalled she didn’t think much at the time of Dringenberg’s request to base a comic book character on her. Later, when she found a copy of a Sandman comic featuring Death at a friend’s home in Houston, she excitedly called out, “Hey, this is me!”
In that same interview, Hadley also talked about how being Death has changed her life. “People either want to meet me [because they admire the character] or they don’t… they think I’ll be stuck up,” she said, adding that even her girlfriend (later her fiancée) didn’t want to meet her at first: “She said, ‘I figured you were going to be so self-absorbed.'”
Diagnosed last year with advanced stages of small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma (a cancer of the endocrine system), her friends managed to raise $10,000 of the $15,000 needed for immunotherapy treatment before she passed away. Wrote Gaiman on Twitter: “Rest in Peace, or head off to your next adventure, Cinamon Hadley. You gave Death of the Endless her face and her smile.” Died January 6
26. Bongo Comics (est. 1993)
As Simpsons creator Matt Groening once put it, he started Bongo Comics because of what he didn’t see in the marketplace in the early 1990s: “I go into comic book stores and look at all the stuff, and for the most part it looks like fairly grim science-fiction and superhero stuff… I guess I just thought there was room out there for funny comic books.”
Named after the rabbit from Groening’s comic strip Life in Hell, Bongo Comics launched in the fall of 1993 with the bimonthly Simpsons Comics and Radioactive Man, and the three-times-a-year Bartman and Itchy & Scratchy Comics. Other titles based on The Simpsons and Futurama followed — Treehouse of Horror, Lisa Comics, Futurama Simpsons Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis and, of course, Comic Book Guy: The Comic Book — as well as non-Simpsons titles like Heroes Anonymous and Sergio Aragonés Funnies.
It was a natural extension of the Simpsons empire; Bart and the rest of the kids in Springfield were huge comic fans, just like the show’s writers (and the feeling was mutual, judging by the many cameos from comic creators over the years, from Stan Lee and Alan Moore to Neil Gaiman and Alison Bechdel). Bongo’s stories were original works (though they sometimes functioned as unofficial sequels to television episodes), allowing fans to go to places in Springfield that even the show hasn’t explored after 30 seasons.
But nothing lasts forever, and Bongo announced in July its flagship title Simpsons Comics, due out in October, would end with issue #245. Gail Simone, one of the many people in the business whose career got a boost from Bongo, penned a tribute to the defunct publisher: “Culturally, Simpsons were often the ONLY comics available on some newsstands. They were also one of the few non-superhero books to have loyal followers AND casual readers… I’m sad to see them go. I wish more mainstream readers had read the books, because in 25 years they published some of the funniest, smartest and best-drawn comics out there.” Ceased publishing October 2018
27. Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (est. 2006)
“Do you realize what this might do for pop culture?” Steve Geppi asked rhetorically when talking about his Entertainment Museum’s move to the Library of Congress. “Side by side, you might see the Gutenberg Bible, the original art for Amazing Fantasy #15 and Action Comics #1.”
The comic publisher, distributor and part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles opened his museum in 2006 in the former B&O Railroad station, near the Orioles’ home stadium. Though he tried his best, Geppi couldn’t get the crowds he had hoped to see, and so he donated more than 3,000 pieces — vintage comic books, original art, photos, dolls, trading cards, posters, newspapers, buttons, pins and badges — to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, 40 miles down the road.
Along with first editions of many highly sought-after books, one of the collection’s showpieces — and one that Geppi never put on display — is a set of six storyboards by Disney animator Ub Iwerks for 1928’s “Plane Crazy,” the first Mickey Mouse cartoon produced by Walt Disney (“Steamboat Willie” was made later, but it was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon released).
Though the museum’s closing is a loss to the people of Baltimore, Arnold Blumberg, a former curator at Geppi’s museum and professor of popular culture at the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland, said having the collection in a location that’s already a magnet for students and tourists will keep an appreciation of comics as a part of popular culture alive.
“To demonstrate the history, really, of American culture in general, through these comic characters we grew up with — I don’t know of any other place that uses them in that way,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “The idea that all this material is going to the Library of Congress and will be available for people to see and to utilize in academic pursuits… I think it’s a wonderful step forward.” Closed June 3
Also leaving us in 2018:
- Marley Carib, 70, Japanese manga writer (Old Boy), January 7.
- Jan Steeman, 74, Dutch comics artist (Roel Dijkstra, Noortje), January 24.
- Bill Lignante, 91, American comics artist, February 27.
- F’Murr, 72, French comics artist (Le Génie des alpages), April 10.
- Antonio Lupatelli, 88, Italian illustrator, writer and comics artist (Pingu, Le Storie del Bosco), May 18.
- Takahiro Satō, 41, Japanese manga writer, July 3.
- Frank Giroud, 62, French comics writer, July 13.
- Jon Schnepp, 51, American animator, filmmaker and voice actor (Metalocalypse, Space Ghost Coast to Coast), July 19.
- John Blair Moore, 70, American comic book artist (Darkwing Duck) and editorial cartoonist, August 5.
- Édouard Aidans, 88, Belgian comics artist, September 6.
- Szarlota Pawel, 71, Polish comic book artist, September 7.