38 Comic People and Things We Said Goodbye To in 2019
1. MAD (est. 1952)
When the news broke earlier this year that talks between Sony and Disney to include Spider-Man in future Marvel films were at an impasse, the internet’s legions of amateur comedians leapt at the chance to poke fun, enlisting everyone from Spongebob Squarepants to The Guy from the Guy-With-Girlfriend-Looking-at-Other-Girl Meme to take potshots at Sony, Disney, Marvel or all three.
It was the kind of Goliath vs. Goliath battle the internet loves to lampoon, and while there was a happy ending for Tom Holland fans the avalanche of memes about the story was a perfect example of the uphill battle MAD was fighting in its final years. In a world where millions can post their own cartoons, parodies and snappy answers to stupid questions at any moment of the day, how can a monthly humor magazine — even the king of monthly humor magazines — hope to compete?
MAD began in 1952 as the brainchild of Harvey Kurtzman and EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines. The first issue was almost entirely written by Kurtzman, with art by him and EC regulars Wally Wood, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin. Originally a comic, MAD turned into a magazine for its 24th issue, right around the time the Comics Code Authority came into effect (though Gaines always maintained the switch was done to keep Kurtzman from accepting a job offer from another publisher, it’s hard to deny the timing of the change allowed MAD to neatly sidestep the restrictions of the code).
Following Kurtzman’s departure in 1956, incoming editor Al Feldstein brought aboard contributors like Don Martin, Frank Jacobs, Mort Drucker, Antonio Prohías, Dave Berg, Sergio Aragonés — these names (and many more) would stay with the magazine for decades and collectively become famous to generations of MAD readers as “the usual gang of idiots.”
It’s almost impossible to describe the effect MAD had on American culture in the 20th century. Other magazines aimed at kids — always careful not to incur the wrath of busy-body grown-ups — emphasized the values most parents wanted their kids to embody: honesty, patriotism, good sportsmanship, a healthy deference to authority. Not MAD. Not that Gaines and his gang were against those kinds of things (except maybe the “deference to authority” part); they just weren’t going to send kids out into the world believing that all politicians are honest, all celebrities are upstanding citizens, and all business executives only want what’s best for America.
At its peak in 1974, MAD was selling more than 2 million copies per issue, and you can bet almost every one of those copies was passed around among kids searching for sense in a mad-deningly complicated world. “MAD was often rude, tasteless, and childish — which made it all the more potent as a tributary of youth culture,” wrote literary critic Jeet Heer in The Nation. “The kids who read MAD learned from it to distrust authority, whether in the form of politicians, advertisers or media figures. That was a lesson that successive generations took to heart. Without MAD, it’s impossible to imagine underground comics, National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, The Daily Show or Stephen Colbert. In the historical sweep of American culture, MAD is the crucial link between the anarchic humor of the Marx Brothers and the counterculture that emerged in the 1960s.”
Gaines declared the magazine ad-free in 1957, a policy that would last until MAD‘s 403rd issue in 2001, nearly a decade after Gaines’ death. While the extra revenue allowed for color and a better paper stock, for many fans it was a sign that MAD wasn’t the magazine that it used to be (it also didn’t help that this was around the time a lot of the longtime contributors started to retire).
The original MAD ended its 550-issue, 65-year run at the end of 2017, when its offices moved from Manhattan to Burbank, CA; none of the magazine’s New York staff made the move, and only a handful of writers and artists remained regular contributors. A new #1 issue came out in 2018, but the revived magazine’s run was short-lived. In July 2019, DC announced the 10th issue would be the last to appear on newsstands, with future issues containing reprinted material and sold only through comic shops and subscriptions. For all practical purposes, the magazine that millions grew up with was gone.
Weird Al Yankovic, who became MAD‘s first guest editor in 2015, was among the many fans who took to social media to mourn the end of MAD: “I am profoundly sad to hear that after 67 years, MAD Magazine is ceasing publication. I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid — it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.” Magazine’s fate made public July 3
2. Ernie Colón (b. 1931)
“Strange to say, I never kept up with comics,” Ernie Colón told The Comics Journal in 2007. “Interesting thing to say for someone who’s made a living from comics. I occasionally read graphic novels, particularly those that are well-reviewed or that friends recommend, but I rarely read regular comics. I once told a fan of mine that I did not even have a copy of the Amethyst series, and he was kind enough to send me a complete set. Looking over those pages was enjoyable. Yet for me, it is always a question of what is happening now and tomorrow.”
That desire to always look forward explains a lot about Colón’s career. With a portfolio spanning more than six decades, Colón effortlessly went from children’s comics to heroic fantasy to superheroes to documentaries to biographies and back again, moving between genres with incredible ease. His refusal to rest on his laurels made him more than just a “kiddie artist” or a “fantasy artist.” For generations of fans, he was the comics artist — and even if he never made a habit of collecting his own work, you can bet there were a lot of grateful fans who did.
Born in Puerto Rico, Colón and his family moved to New York City when he was 10; while growing up in the Bronx and Brooklyn, he gorged himself on adventure newspaper strips by artists like Milton Caniff and Will Eisner. After finishing high school at the School of Industrial Art, he worked at odd jobs until 1955, when he was hired by Ham Fisher to ink backgrounds on the Joe Palooka strip. Unfortunately, Fisher’s death a month later meant the end of that job, and the young artist soon found himself at doorstep of Harvey Comics. He started out as a letterer on their line of kids’ books but quickly became one of their most prolific workhorses, churning out (by his estimate) about 15,000 pages of Richie Rich, Casper, Little Dot, Hot Stuff and other books starring the rest of the Harvey gang.
“My favorite character was Richie Rich,” he said in 2007. “He had the potential to be another Tintin. He was an adventurous boy with a lot of money. The early stories emphasized how much money he had — how big his piggy bank was, his pool, his house and so on. I can take credit for steering the character toward adventure stories. My attitude was, ‘Let’s show what the money can do.’ He can use the money to travel — he has his own jet, after all. I wanted to turn him into a world traveller. We even sent him into space — I remember a couple of covers where we showed him in a spacesuit or a rocketship.”
While churning out pages at Harvey, Colón also freelanced for other companies like Warren, Atlas, Western and Marvel, where his knack for fantasy didn’t go unnoticed by the folks at DC. With his time at Harvey coming to an end, in the early ’80s Colón began the next major phase of his career at DC with Arak, Son of Thunder. He followed that up with Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld (still a cult favorite among fans), the science-fiction graphic novel The Medusa Chain, mini-series like Cosmic Boy and Underworld, and fill-in issues across the DC line. Following a short stint as a DC editor, Colón rounded out the ’80s and ’90s with (among other credits) Damage Control, Scooby-Doo, Magnus: Robot Fighter and adaptations of classical literature for Boys Life magazine.
Then came 9/11 — or specifically The 9/11 Report, the 2006 graphic novel he co-authored with Sid Jacobson based on the official government report about events leading up to the attacks. Colón went to great lengths to make the information in the massive document as accessible as possible, and to avoid making any partisan statements. Two years later, the two produced a sequel, After 9/11: America’s War on Terror, again offering a dispassionate look on recent historical events. Clearly enjoying his time on the non-fiction side of the business, Colón followed those up with biographies of Anne Frank, Che Guevara and Vlad the Impaler, a graphic-novel treatment of the Warren Commission’s report into John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and 2017’s The Torture Report, a critical look at the CIA’s use of torture on prisoners in the aftermath of 9/11.
“The first thing that has to be said when describing Ernie’s professional life in comics is that he was amazingly versatile,” said Dan Mishkin, Colón’s collaborator on Amethyst, at a memorial service held Sept. 7. “I believe that versatility came from how thoroughly he understood comics and how they worked. And if you’re thinking that any comic book artist has to know how comics storytelling works, I regret to inform you this is not the case. But Ernie knew. It was a delight to see him solve problems of visual narrative, the genius moves he seemed to pull effortlessly out of his hat.” Died August 8
3. Ken Bald (b. 1920)
As a teenager, young “Kenneth B. Bald” of Mount Vernon, NY, won a drawing contest that netted him a whole dollar and his first art credit in 1936’s More Fun Comics #9. In 2017, Guinness World Records officially declared him the world’s oldest comic book artist when he came out of retirement to do a variant cover for Marvel’s Contest of Champions #2 (a title he lost the following year to MAD’s Al Jaffee). In between those two jobs, he… well, let’s just say he kept busy.
After attending Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, Bald joined the Englewood, NJ, studio of Jack Binder, one of the early comic-book packagers who supplied publishers entering the new field with ready-made comic artwork. His first known professional comics work is the story “Justice Laughs Last,” starring the super-speedster Hurricane, in 1941’s Captain America Comics #7. Other early credits include features starring Golden Arrow, Spy Smasher and Bulletman for Fawcett Comics.
From 1943 to 1946, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, seeing combat across the Pacific theatre while rising to the rank of captain. Returning home, he resumed drawing the adventures of Timely characters, including Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, the Blonde Phantom and Millie the Model. He pencilled the first appearance of Namora, the Sub-Mariner’s cousin, in 1947, and co-created the short-lived Sun Girl with an uncredited writer in 1948.
Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Bald juggled freelancing assignments from Fawcett, American Comics Group and other comic publishers with pulp magazine illustrations and advertising work for clients like Hertz and Xerox. But by 1957, with comic work drying up and many publishers going out of business, he found himself a new vocation. Featuring the adventures of a business executive turned detective, the comic strip Judd Saxon ran until 1963, just a year after Bald launched a second strip, Dr. Kildare, based on NBC’s popular medical drama.
Dr. Kildare one proved to be far more popular, outlasting the TV show it was based on by nearly 18 years (the last daily strip appeared in 1984). Apparently enjoying the process of converting TV shows into comic strips, in 1971 Bald created a third strip, Dark Shadows, based on the Gothic soap opera that aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971. Running for only a year, the daily strip was signed “K. Bruce” because of contractual obligations. (Pomegranate Press collected the entire 52-week run in 1996.)
Bald retired from the comic-strip business when his Dr. Kildare strip ended, but from 1981 to 2004 he was creative director of Gem Studios, a Manhattan art studio that generated storyboards for TV advertising clients including Coca-Cola, Right Guard, FedEx and AFLAC. His personal papers, encompassing more than 2,900 pieces of original art (including art for Dr. Kildare and Judd Saxon), were donated to Syracuse University.
“Because of the many contributions he made to the comics industry, as well as the epic length of his career, Ken Bald deserves to be much better known than he is in the present day,” wrote The Comics Journal’s Steve Ringgenberg in tribute. “Many comics creators are given legendary status if they hang in there long enough, but Ken Bald really was a legend.” Died March 17
4. Howard Cruse (b. 1944)
When Alabama-born Howard Cruse returned to his home state in 2002 for Birmingham’s Pride celebrations, he told a local newspaper his younger self could never have imagined such a thing happening in his youth. “When I lived in Birmingham in the ’70s, it was hard to imagine a gay pride parade or any vital gay movement,” he told the Birmingham Post-Herald. “I’ve been very pleased to observe from afar those things develop over the years.”
He may have observed from afar, but he was far from having nothing to do with helping to make the event possible. Perhaps more than anyone else, Cruse earned the title of “godfather of queer comics” by being one of the earliest underground cartoonists to tackle LGBT issues — bringing those issues out into the mainstream of American culture — and by being one of the most vocal proponents for giving LGBT cartoonists a place to find their voice.
After working in local television in Alabama for a decade, Cruse first gained attention in the 1970s with his contributions to underground publications — particularly his series Barefootz, which featured Headrack, a gay supporting character. In 1979, after a move to New York City, he was hired by publisher Denis Kitchen to edit Gay Comix, a new anthology highlighting LGBT comic book authors and characters.
He followed that up in the 1980s with Wendel, a comic strip that appeared in The Advocate and became a forum for Cruse to tackle topical issues like AIDS, gay-bashing and closeted celebrities with a combination of humor and anger. Cruse wove his own life into Wendel, drawing more than a little inspiration from his own relationship with his partner, Ed Sedarbaum, whom he met in 1979. (They would eventually marry in 2004.)
In 1995, DC’s Paradox Press published his 210-page Stuck Rubber Baby, a semi-autobiographical graphic novel that explored issues related to homosexuality and racism in the South during the years of the civil rights movement. Winning multiple awards and translated into several languages, it centred on the fictional city of Clayfield but also depicted some real-life events, like the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four young girls in 1963.
As an active member of New York’s gay community, Cruse (along with his partner) joined direct-action groups like ACT UP and Queer Nation; he even ran against an anti-gay Democratic state senator from Queens in that party’s primary in 1998. Though his efforts to unseat his opponent fell short, it was definitely a sign of the political shift taking place in the New York City borough thanks to activists like him.
Later in life, Cruse contributed to the queer comics anthology series Juicy Mother, which first appeared in 2005. In 2009, he self-published From Headrack to Claude, a collection of his gay-themed strips, including the never-reprinted 1976 Barefootz story where the character Headrack came out, interspersed with commentaries on his career and life.
“I am so sad and stunned,” wrote cartoonist Alison Bechdel when she heard of his death from lymphoma. “He is one of the sweetest people I have ever encountered, period, and he was super generous to me when I was a young cartoonist coming to him for advice. What a blow. The world has lost a true comics superhero.” Died November 26
5. Gahan Wilson (b. 1930)
In one cartoon, a vampire is sitting on a park bench, feeding the bats. In another, a man staring at an eye chart reads shrinking letters that spell out “I am an insane eye doctor and I am going to kill you” while his doctor quietly approaches from behind. In another, two women admire the shark hanging over the fireplace: “I had it stuffed and mounted as a sentimental gesture since it was the one that ate most of Roger.”
If Gahan Wilson’s life could be reduced to a movie pitch, it might go something like “The Far Side meets The Addams Family.” Or to put it another way: if you had a nickel for every story written about Wilson that featured the word “macabre,” then you’d be rich enough to pay someone to switch your head for that of a giant crayfish. (“Harry, I really think you ought to go to the doctor.”)
Born in Evanston, IL, Wilson served in the U.S. Air Force and went to the Art Institute of Chicago before shopping his cartoons around to prospective publications. In a story posted on his website, he recalled how he had struggled early in his career to convince editors that their readers would appreciate his cartoons. His big break came from a fill-in cartoon editor at Collier’s magazine who didn’t know the conventional wisdom about his work. “Not being a trained cartoon editor, he did not realize my stuff was too much for the common man to comprehend, and he thought it was funny,” Wilson wrote. “I was flabbergasted and delighted when he started to buy it!”
Wilson’s horror-tinged cartoons and prose fiction appeared in Collier’s, Playboy and The New Yorker for nearly 50 years, while his multi-panel strip Nuts — a cynical take on Charles Schulz’s Peanuts — ran in National Lampoon during the 1970s. In addition to his work as a cartoonist, he was an extensive film reviewer and illustrator; among other projects, he illustrated Jerome Beatty Jr.’s children’s science fiction series starring Matthew and Maria Looney, Roger Zelazny’s Gothic homage (and final book) A Night in the Lonesome October, and published cartoons and film reviews for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. In 1975, he designed the World Fantasy Convention Award, which was modelled after his idol, H.P. Lovecraft.
“I’d make a joke about it, but nobody joked ever about Death as well as Gahan, or, I suspect, for as long,” said Neil Gaiman, who wrote the introduction to Gahan’s book, 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons. “I really, really liked Gahan. He was one of the people you admire before you meet them who live up to your expectations and hopes when you do. I’m deeply sorry he’s gone.” Died November 21
6. Tom Spurgeon (b. 1968)
For all the criticism Tom Spurgeon could dish out about comics and the comics business, he reserved his harshest criticisms for himself. “None of us could line-edit or proofread worth a damn,” he said in We Told You So: Comics as Art, an oral history he co-wrote about his days at The Comics Journal. “We always ended up after every issue with a stomach ache because of things we could have done better.”
Born in Muncie, IN, Spurgeon’s father, a newspaper editor, would let him and his brothers help choose the strips to run on the comics page of the Muncie Star Press. And while it’s tempting to think of his career as a straight line from his dad’s newspaper to starting his own publication covering comics, Spurgeon actually went from university to two years at a seminary before landing a job at a home shopping channel warehouse. Fortunately, he had picked up enough freelancing work between his studies and shifts at the warehouse to get himself hired at The Comics Journal. “I was pre-Internet, a solitary comics reader,” he said in a 2016 interview with TCJ, “and the thought of working on a magazine I enjoyed about a subject I loved was way more appealing than watching people sniff underwear at a Home Shopping Network warehouse.”
With a self-deprecating wit and an encyclopedic knowledge of the medium, Spurgeon edited Fantagraphics’ The Comics Journal from 1995 to 1999, going from “solitary comics reader” to a major influencer in comics journalism, if not the entire industry. He strove to make the magazine more accessible to larger audiences by doing things like inviting more European and small-press comics into the mix while using his platform to advocate for better working conditions for comics professionals. His efforts earned TCJ multiple industry awards, including four consecutive Eisner Awards for Best Comics Journalism.
Spurgeon left TCJ in 1999 to launch a comic strip, Bobo’s Progress, with artist and longtime friend Dan Wright. Later re-titled Wildwood, it ran in about 80 papers from 1999 to 2002. In the meantime, he continued to freelance for TCJ and other media outlets while working on a Stan Lee biography with journalist Jordan Raphael.
Then, in 2004, Spurgeon launched The Comics Reporter, a comic news site that reflected his tastes in comics and made him a regular online presence for the next 15 years. When he wasn’t keeping fans up to date with news, reviews, random musings and birthday congratulations, he co-wrote a book about John Romita Sr. and took on the job of executive director for Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, a four-day comics festival in Columbus, OH.
At the end of his essay “All of These Things That Have Made Us,” written after undergoing surgery in 2011, Spurgeon wrote, “When I die, I may or may not be remembered by a larger group of people for a moment or two. A smaller group of people will keep me with them for a longer while. Eventually those people will die as well, and I’ll truly be gone. It’s more than enough. People come to comics because they want to matter, but in every way that’s important they already do.” Died November 13
7. Tom Lyle (b. 1953)
The pride of Jacksonville, FL, Thomas Stanford Lyle — Tom to his friends and fans — broke into the professional comics business in the mid-1980s, with books like AC’s Starmasters and Eclipse’s Airboy and Skywolf.
In 1988, he teamed up with writer Roger Stern to create DC’s Starman starring… well, one of several Starmen DC has introduced over the years. This one was Will Payton, an average guy who wakes up from a coma one day with fantastic new powers (no doubt Lyle could relate to the story of a mild-mannered freelance artist struck out of the blue with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity).
It was solid work, but it wasn’t attention-grabbing stuff — certainly not compared to Lyle’s next project, 1991’s Robin, the character’s first solo mini-series. That series by Lyle and Chuck Dixon went through several reprints and spawned two top-selling sequels, Robin II: Joker’s Wild and Robin III: Cry of the Huntress, transforming Lyle into a fan favorite at the height of the ’90s collecting mania.
In 1993, Lyle moved over to Marvel, where he worked on a number of Spider-Man projects; among other highlights, he created the hoodie-and-red-Spandex look for Scarlet Spider, who first appeared during the company’s Clone Saga storyline. During his time at Marvel, he also worked on books starring Iron Man, the X-Men, the Punisher and Adam Warlock.
In 2005, Lyle became a professor of sequential art at Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design, where he held a Master of Fine Arts in illustration. As Marvel noted in an online tribute, “In addition to his work as a professor, Lyle worked as SCAD’s Internship Coordinator to help connect students to art, design, and editorial internships to build their careers. Lyle continued to teach for more than a decade, inspiring the next generation of artists as a beloved mentor and friend.”
“Tom’s work on both Spidey and the Scarlet Spider were epic,” said writer Dan Slott when he heard the news. “That Scarlet Spider design, Tom’s design, will always be an amazing touchstone for Spidey fans like me and all generations past, present, & future.” Died November 19
8. Ron Smith (b. 1928)
Born the son of a structural engineer, Ron Smith planned to become an engineer himself until his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. Enlisting as a pilot with Great Britain’s Empire Flying Training Programme, he flew Spitfires that performed photo reconnaissance behind enemy lines.
After his discharge in 1947, he decided to focus on an art career and went to work with the Gaumont British animation studio before going into comic book illustration in 1949. For the next several decades, he worked on humor and adventure strips for a number of British titles, including Knockout, Hotspur and Warlord. Then, in 1979, he added a brand-new anthology named 2000 AD to his workload — a move that, if I can borrow his homeland’s tradition of reserved understatement, raised his profile somewhat among British comic fans.
“(Ron Smith) was the Dredd artist of my youth,” wrote British comics writer Al Ewing. “His Dredd had a knowing, arch quality. The straight man in an insane world, but seemingly in on the joke.” As one of the core artists on the Judge Dredd strip, Smith was involved in several of Dredd’s iconic stories, including “The Day the Law Died,” “The Otto Sump Ugly Clinic” and “The Judge Child Quest.” He also co-created a number of recurring characters, like the anarchist anti-hero Chopper (who would be spun off into his own series) and Mayor Dave, an orangutan who becomes a leading politician in Mega City One.
As the most prolific Dredd artist in the early 1980s, Smith was the obvious choice to draw the character’s spinoff newspaper strip, which ran in the UK’s Daily Star from 1981 to 1998. He also drew for other IPC titles, including M.A.S.K., Eagle, Wildcat and Toxic Crusaders, before retiring in the 1990s.
“Ron was one of the artistic stalwarts of 2000 AD during the 1980s,” said 2000 AD editor Matt Smith. “Like (fellow Dredd artist) Carlos Ezquerra, his style was uniquely his own — you never mistook a Ron Smith strip — and he filled his panels with comical grotesques, his Mega-City One full of living, breathing loons. A 2000 AD legend, he will be greatly missed by fans and fellow creators alike.” Died January 10
9. Everett Kinstler (b. 1926)
“I was honored by the comic convention, about five or six years ago,” Everett Kinstler once told The Comics Journal. “I couldn’t believe what I saw, out in San Diego. Forty thousand people there that day, three days, 120,000 people. You look down from the hotel room and I could see like a snake, the Great Wall of China, people looked like caviar, down there, just little dots, and they were giving me the Inkpot Award. I know you think it is because of my good looks and charm and talent, but nothing to do with that. I was the only one left alive.”
Born in New York City, Kinstler was attracted to art at a young age, dropping out of high school at 15 to work in the brand-new comic book industry. Citing Alex Raymond, James Montgomery Flagg, Milton Caniff and Hal Foster among his influences, he produced hundreds of pages for Marvel, DC, Avon, Ziff-Davis, Pines, Fawcett and others, dabbling in just about every genre but eventually specializing in Westerns and romance.
He joined the Army near the end of the Second World War, serving at New Jersey’s Fort Dix from 1944 to 1946. When he returned to civilian life, he did more pulp magazines and lurid paper covers — what he called “cowboys and cleavage”– while working more often with Avon because it was one of the few comic outfits that allowed artists to sign their name.
Moving into the 1950s, he left the comics field to focus on magazine and book covers, and he soon found himself in demand as one of the nation’s pre-eminent portrait artists. Astronauts, titans of industry, sports legends, entertainment moguls and even presidents — Richard Nixon was the first, followed by Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and both Bushes — were immortalized by his brush. (Kinstler also did a portrait for Donald Trump, but it was commissioned before his entry into politics.)
As reported in his New York Times obituary, some of Kinstler’s famous subjects became his friends, but in at least one case it was the other way around: Tony Bennett, a friend from his school days and an accomplished painter in his own right, sat for Mr. Kinstler. “He was my greatest friend and my greatest teacher,” Bennett said after Kinstler’s passing. Died May 26
10. Cal Massey (b. 1926)
Born and raised in towns surrounding Philadelphia, Calvin Massey discovered his passion for art at an early age; when his mother noticed he liked to draw, she gave him crayons that he used to trace around comic strips held up to the window. After graduating from Philadelphia’s Hussian School of Art in 1950, he freelanced for comic publishers like St. John, Lev Gleason and Cross Publications, where his artwork graced the interior of the first comic book starring Mr. Television himself, Milton Berle.
It was also in the early 1950s that he found himself picking up more assignments from Marvel (or Atlas as it was known at the time), contributing pencils and inks to books across the company’s line: Astonishing, Battle, War Action, Adventures into Terror, Spellbound, Marines at Battle, Tales of Justice. In the days when anthology titles ruled and Marvel was keen to pump out multiple books of whatever genre was selling that month, an artist might be called upon to do anything at a moment’s notice: war, horror, sports, romance, you name it. Fortunately, Massey could do it all… especially the war stuff. “As a comic book illustrator, I drew blood and guts all the time, but you got to do what you got to do,” Massey once said, joking he once got “battle fatigued” from drawing so many war stories. Still, he credited those early-career strips for making the rest of his art career possible.
When comic freelancing opportunities began to dry up in the latter half of the 1950s, Massey moved on to magazine illustration and advertising work for agencies in Philadelphia and New York. Eventually, he joined the Franklin Mint as a designer and sculptor, creating more than 200 commemorative medals during his time there. Other significant works of his were a bas-relief showing two French West Indian immigrants arriving at Ellis Island (part of the Statue of Liberty Foundation’s renovation project in the 1980s) and the Patriots of African Descent Monument at Valley Forge, which he designed to honor black soldiers in the Revolutionary War.
Massey remained active as an artist almost up to his death, creating hundreds of paintings, illustrations, designs and sculptures over a career that spanned nearly 70 years. He was particularly known for his images of striking African-American figures, such as his Angel Heart and The Ashanti Woman. “Calvin led a fabulous life,” said Iris, his wife of 56 years shortly after he died. “He was the only black artist that has both a statue that he designed in Valley Forge Park and at Ellis Island, at the Statue of Liberty. He designed Olympic medals. There were just so many fabulous things he did. It would have been unusual for anybody to have done in a lifetime.” Died June 11
11. Justin Ponsor (b. 1977)
Born in San Diego, Justin Ponsor was an aspiring artist stocking shelves at a California Toys R Us store when he had a chance meeting with John Nee, then president of WildStorm Comics. That led to his first first gig as a colorist, working as part of WildStorm’s team on 1996’s Backlash/Spider-Man #1.
Going freelance in 2000, Ponsor worked for CrossGen, Marvel and DC before committing to a long-term, near-exclusive relationship with Marvel in 2005. Among his credits were issues of New Avengers, Infinity, Uncanny X-Men, Spider-Men, Death of Wolverine and many of the issues set in Marvel’s Ultimate universe — including the first to introduce future Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse star Miles Morales to the world.
Ponsor, who frequently signed his name as J-Po, went public with his cancer diagnosis in 2017 and continued to work while receiving treatment — even posting pictures of himself earlier this year working on Avengers pages while in his hospital bed.
When his family announced his death on his Facebook page, the outpouring of emotion from the comics community was overwhelming. “One of the most brilliant colorists in the comic book industry,” said Marvel in a statement. “The best and brightest of this age,” said Rob Liefeld. “A genuinely nice person,” wrote Dan Slott. “An amazing colorist, with a passion for Muppets and Legos,” said Amy Chu.
A few days after his passing, frequent collaborator Brian Michael Bendis shared a photo of the two of them at an event in Portland, Ore, shortly after Ponsor’s first cancer scare. “I think Justin is a brilliant colorist — one of the greatest of all time,” he wrote. “A storyteller. A comic book cinematographer in the best possible sense. Most of the best comics I have ever made have had his name on them. He was deeply proud of Miles Morales and his contributions to everything we did.” Died May 18
12. Suleiman Bakhit (b. 1978)
When a razor blade attack by extremists left Jordan’s Suleiman Bakhit with a scar down the left side of his face, he saw it as a sign he was doing something right. Plus, he told The New York Times, “It’s improved my dating life exponentially.”
The comic book author and son of a former Jordanian prime minister was on the receiving end of that attack for daring to provide Muslim children with heroes — specifically, superheroes inspired by Arab mythology. In 2006, he and a team of writers and artists launched Aranim Media Factory (Aranim being a fusion of the words “Arab” and “anime”). Some of the company’s biggest hits were Element Zero, a kind of Arab Jason Bourne character, and Princess Heart, a re-telling of The 1,001 Nights.
Bakhit decided to fight extremism with comic heroes when he asked children in poor neighborhoods in Amman and Syrian refugee camps about their heroes. The children told him they don’t have any, but they had heard a lot about political figures like Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (who led the group that evolved into ISIS).
From those interviews, he decided the urge to join extremist groups came more from psychological issues rather than economic or religious reasons: “This is much more about a sense of belonging, a sense of identity and a call to adventure… it’s about narratives. Right now, all governments are saying to kids is, ‘Don’t be a terrorist.’ The extremists are saying, ‘Be a hero.’ It’s obvious which narrative is stronger. We need to claim that narrative space back.”
A few years before he died at age 41 after a long battle with cancer, he travelled to the Oslo Freedom Forum to give a speech on his work. While speaking, he held a comic book in his hand and referred to it as a weapon, but one that doesn’t kill: “A weapon of hope, a weapon of inspiration, it’s a weapon of heroes.” Died August 14
13. James Hudnall (b. 1957)
Born in Santa Rosa, CA, Hudnall was a software consultant who couldn’t give up on his childhood dream to write comic books. In 1985, that dream led him to a job at Eclipse Comics as a marketing director; that in turn led to Espers, a comic he created with David Lloyd (V for Vendetta) about a disparate group of people with psychic powers.
From there, he went on to write for Marvel (Alpha Flight, Strikeforce: Morituri), Malibu (Hard Case, The Solution), Image (Solar Lord, a revived Espers) and DC, where his 1989 graphic novel Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography fleshed out the revamped origin of Superman’s arch-nemesis. Another series of his, 1994’s Harsh Realm, was adapted for television by X-Files creator Chris Carter in 1998; he and co-creator Andrew Paquette successfully sued Carter and Fox Television when they failed to receive creator credits on the short-lived show.
Hudnall switched from comics to teaching, publishing and internet development in the late 1990s, though he occasionally returned to writing with works like 2004’s 2 to the Chest from his own company, Dark Planet Productions, and Image’s The Psycho in 2006. In later years, he also found the time to express his libertarian thoughts through a series of comic strips and blog entries, working with Batton Lash (see below) on the Breitbart-owned site Big Hollywood.
A diabetic, Hudnall’s right leg was amputated in 2015, but he remained active in the comics scene almost to the end; he received the Inkpot Award at the San Diego Comic Con in 2017 for his career in comics. He died one day short of his 62nd birthday.
“I looked at him as a bit of a mentor/inspiration,” wrote fellow writer Dan Wickline in a tribute to Hudnall. “When I put out my first comics, he critiqued it and gave me tips on lettering, including the font he was using. My comics improved immediately because of James.” Died April 9
14. Batton Lash (b. 1953)
“Probably the most asked question I get at conventions, in interviews and at store signings is: ‘Are you a lawyer?'” Batton Lash once wrote. “My reply is to paraphrase that old Robert Young commercial: ‘I’m not a lawyer, but I draw them for comics.'”
Born in the sleepy hamlet of Brooklyn, Batton Lash — who was almost always decked out in a suit and tie at public functions — had a habit of finding people who just assumed he was a lawyer. But no, like he said he only drew them in the comics; specifically, the lawyers inhabiting the pages of Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre, a strip he wrote and drew that would later become known as Supernatural Law.
Lash attended New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he studied under comics legends Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman. After graduation, he did book and magazine illustrations, paste-ups at an ad agency, and worked as an assistant to Howard Chaykin before he was invited in 1979 to create a comic strip for a weekly newspaper. He noticed the area where the Brooklyn broadsheet was distributed included a large number of courts and law offices — places that offered a natural audience for a humorous strip about the law. Following the unusual case files of Alana Wolff and Jeff Byrd, Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre ran until 1996. (It was also picked up in 1983 by the National Law Review, where it continued until 1997.)
Lash’s legal background amounted to doing courtroom sketches for the John Gotti trial, so he relied on personal research and input from his longtime friend, lawyer Mitch Berger. Maybe it was his exposure to the legal system that led him to become such a strong supporter of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, publishing in 2005 a special CBLDF-themed issue of Supernatural Law (copies of which were donated for the CBLDF to sell at conventions).
Aside from Supernatural Law, Lash amassed a list of writing and art credits that boosted his reputation for being a little offbeat, from issues of Simpsons Super Spectacular and Radioactive Man for Bongo Comics to The Big Book series for Paradox Press to the script for what’s probably the single greatest inter-company crossover of all time, Marvel and Archie’s 1994 one-shot Archie Meets the Punisher.
Lash will perhaps be best remembered by fans for accomplishing that rare feat: creating and nurturing an independent comic series, most of it in black and white, that maintained a fan following for more than 30 years. As for his fellow professionals, when the news broke about his death after a two-year battle with cancer they turned out in droves to pay tribute to one of their own. Writer and DC executive Mike Carlin summed it up best: “Batton was simply cool in every way… and one of the nicest and gentlest of men.” Died January 12
15. Greg Theakston (b. 1953)
For most of the 1970s, Greg Theakston contributed to fanzines in the Detroit area and helped organize the Detroit Triple Fan Fair, one of the first conventions in the U.S. dedicated to comic books. After high school, he worked with Jim Steranko at his Supergraphics publishing company in Reading, PA, before moving to upstate New York in 1972, where he began illustrating for men’s magazines. He also inked samples of Jim Starlin’s early pencils, which helped Starlin land his first work for Marvel in 1972.
As for Theakston, he continued to build a large portfolio working in books, magazines, movie posters, storyboards and advertising artwork. On the comics side, he was a frequent MAD contributor over the years and completed various assignments from Marvel, Warren, Image, Archie and DC. In the 1980s, he was frequently called in to do inks over Jack Kirby’s pencils; for instance, all of Kirby’s original artwork for DC’s Who’s Who in the DC Universe series was inked by Theakston, and he’s one of three inkers credited in Kirby’s The Hunger Dogs graphic novel.
In addition to his own artwork, Theakston was known as a comics historian and preservationist. In 1975, he founded Pure Imagination, an imprint that published collected editions featuring stories and artwork by legends like Alex Toth, Wally Wood, Basil Wolverton, Steve Ditko, Lou Fine and, of course, Kirby himself, about whom Theakston produced an estimated 200,000 words in his books. He’s also credited with perfecting the “Theakstonization” process of bleaching color from old comic pages in order to restore them for reprinting purposes. Before digital scanning, this method was considered the best way to get clear copies of artwork for which no original art existed, and it was used for many archival comic book projects.
Fittingly, Greg Theakston died on April 22 — the birthday of Bettie Page, the famous pin-up model Theakston started a fanzine about (The Betty Pages) in 1987. “Greg helped me on my Basil Gogos book and a few other things,” wrote artist and author J. David Spurlock on Facebook after Theakston’s death. “Thanks to his books and video interviews with Jack Kirby, and his preserving of Kirby’s pencil art Xeroxes, the comics community and historians may have reaped more from Greg’s work than Greg ever did.” Died April 22
16. Bill Schelly (b. 1951)
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created MAD and Revolutionized Humor in America… James Warren, Empire of Monsters: The Man Behind Creepy, Vampirella, and Famous Monsters… Sense of Wonder: My Life in Comic Fandom — The Whole Story… Founders of Comic Fandom: Profiles of 90 Publishers, Dealers, Collectors, Writers, Artists and Other Luminaries of the 1950s and 1960s… if we can judge a comic fan by the length of his book titles, then Bill Schelly was one of the biggest comic fans out there.
The pride of Walla Walla, WA, Schelly decided to become a fanzine publisher after seeing his first amateur publication about comics in 1964. Launched with his friend, Richard Shields, in February 1965, Super-Heroes Anonymous was the first in a string of fanzines he edited and published until 1972. In 1970, while attending the University of Idaho, he changed the format of his fanzine Sense of Wonder to include more articles and artwork about the history of comic books. By the end of its 12-issue run, Sense of Wonder included the first attempt to chronicle the entire career of comics pioneer Will Eisner, as well as work about other giants like Steve Ditko and Frank Frazetta.
In his autobiography, Schelly speculated that his passion for comics — and superheroes in particular — may have come from the fact that, as a closeted gay man, he identified with Superman’s need for a secret identity. “Should he tell his friends his secret,” he wrote in Sense of Wonder: My Life in Comic Fandom. “What if, in the case of Peter Parker’s frail Aunt May, it would be too much of a shock? His enemies might use that knowledge to destroy him or his loved ones.” It was in printing his fanzines and meeting other fans of the medium that he found the companionship he felt he was missing out on in his life — and when he came out to his fellow comic fans, he found he was no less welcome in the club.
In 1995, Schelly founded Hamster Press and published The Golden Age of Fandom, the first of nine books published between 1995 and 2004. He followed those up with critically acclaimed biographies of comic legends like Harvey Kurtzman, John Stanley, James Warren and Joe Kubert for Fantagraphics, as well as a coming-of-age novel (Come With Me) and a collection of essays (The Bill Schelly Reader). He received the Inkpot Award for Fandom Services at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2011 in recognition of his many contributions to comic fandom.
When news broke of Schelly’s death from complications related to his recently diagnosed multiple myeloma, the tributes poured in from fans and comic professionals alike. “Reading Bill Schelly’s fond, funny and nostalgic memoir was like going home again,” said Game of Thrones author (and former fanzine fellow himself) George R.R. Martin. Film critic Leonard Maltin: “(Schelly) is living proof that a lifelong passion can pay off in countless ways, both personal and professional.” Over at his News From ME blog, Mark Evanier writes: “I’m sure going to miss talking to him on the phone and at conventions, and I’m sorry we aren’t going to get all the other books that he would have written.” Me, too. Died September 12
17. Kazuhiko “Monkey Punch” Kato (b. 1937)
“To be honest, I don’t really like the name Monkey Punch,” Kazuhiko Kato told the Anime News Network in 2003. “The way I got this name was from the editor of the magazine that discovered me when I was writing doujinshi [self-published works]. He chose the name for me. I really don’t know how he came up with it, but I couldn’t really refuse him or disagree with him, so it just kind of stuck.”
Kato’s Lupin III debuted in the first issue of the Japanese magazine Weekly Manga Action in 1967. At the time, Kato — the son of a fisherman from the northern island of Hokkaido — had been in the manga business for only two years; he made his debut with Playboy School writing under the name Eiji Gamuta. When the magazine editor who discovered him suggested Monkey Punch as a pen name, Kato only went along with it because he figured his next series was only going to be a three-month project.
It didn’t quite work out that way. The story of a professional thief who targets the world’s most precious treasures, Lupin III went on to become a phenomenally successful media franchise, spawning numerous manga, six animated television series, seven animated feature films, two live-action films, television specials, music CDs, video games and even a stage musical. (Kato himself directed the 1996 animated film Lupin III: Dead or Alive.)
Many other manga artists and anime directors have cited Monkey Punch as an influence, and Lupin III regularly scores high in polls and surveys about the country’s most beloved manga and anime series. Since 2012, a festival dedicated to Lupin III has taken place annually in Kato’s hometown of Hamanaka. Among his many honors, Kato received the Inkpot Award at San Diego’s Comic-Con International in 1981 for his contributions to popular culture. Died April 11
18. Kazuo Koike (b. 1936)
Those of us who take a little more time than others to find our true vocation in life (ahem) can look to Kazuo Koike for inspiration. Born in Japan’s northern Akita Prefecture, Koike studied law but couldn’t pass Japan’s national bar examination. He then studied writing with novelist Kiichirō Yamate, but found no success there; he later found work at the national Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he came into comics via Saitō Productions, the studio of popular gekiga artist Takao Saitō.
At the time, Koike was a rarity — a manga writer who came from outside the writing business — and he quickly made his mark on Saitō’s Muyōnosuke (1967), a period drama about a sword-wielding bounty hunter, and Golgo 13 (1968), the adventures of a professional assassin for which Koike served as founding scriptwriter with Saitō. But it was his next project that would cement his reputation as one of Japan’s premier manga writers.
After breaking with Saitō’s studio, Koike approached artist Gōseki Kojima to help him create a new period drama aimed at young male readers. Dubbed Lone Wolf and Cub, the series follows the story of Ogami Ittō, an executioner in feudal Japan who’s forced to flee with his three-year-old son and become a professional assassin after a rival clan massacres his entire household and frames him as a traitor to his shogun. “One of the major themes is the parent-and-child relationship in Japan,” Mr. Keiko told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2006. “The parent-and-child relationship today is not so good.”
Running from 1970 to 1976, Lone Wolf and Cub sold more than eight million copies in collected form, spawning a series of feature films (for which Koike wrote many of the screenplays). Though Koike worked on dozens of manga projects over the years, Western readers will most likely remember him for Lone Wolf and Cub because it was one of the first Japanese comics introduced to English-speaking fans (Frank Miller, a huge admirer of his work, provided artwork and an introduction for First Comics’ 1987 translation). In 2000, Dark Horse began releasing the series as the first manga series to be published in North America straight to graphic novels that corresponded with the Japanese releases.
In 2004, Koike and Kojima became the second and third Japanese talents admitted to the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame, following Osamu Tezuka. One of his final written works was a tweet from his Twitter account paying tribute to Monkey Punch, his peer from the old days who died six days before him. Died April 17
19. James Rochelle (b. 1970)
James Rochelle started out in the comic industry in 1994 after graduating from the Art Institute of Seattle. He was first hired by WildStorm, and worked for three years on titles like Gen13, Backlash/Spider-Man and Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty. He left WildStorm in 1997 to pursue work in the video game industry as a texture/shading artist, working on games like 1999’s Star Trek: Hidden Evil.
However, that didn’t mean he was out of the comics business; he continued working as a colorist on titles like Strangers in Paradise, Mage: The Hero Discovered, and Steampunk. In 2001, he joined CrossGen Comics full-time, where he got to work on books like Negation, Route 666 and Forge.
After the company went bankrupt in 2004, Rochelle returned to games, becoming a Lead Artist at Sony Entertainment Online. He continued to freelance on comics, contributing his talents to Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Out of Reach, Tales of the Fear Agent: Twelve Steps in One and End League. He also illustrated for the Star Wars Galaxies trading card game.
“[I was] saddened to hear of the unexpected passing of WildStorm alum color artist James Rochelle,” tweeted WildStorm founder Jim Lee shortly after Rochelle’s death. “As gifted as he was good-natured, kind and brilliant — James was one of the great colorists who defined the look of our studio. No job could properly contain his many talents. RIP, buddy.” Died February 2
20. Hsu Mao-sung (b. 1937)
Born in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, Hsu Mao-sung developed an interest in drawing at a young age. He started his comic career in his 20s, creating martial arts-themed works at a time when that was a major focus of films and novels in his home country.
In 1962, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government started censoring comics, setting up a committee to review books and imposing strict limits on what could be depicted. For instance, the characters in Mao-sung’s works were not allowed to fly or even jump too high, and images of blood or people being killed were forbidden. “The people reviewing our drawings made a mess of our artwork,” he said in an interview in 2017. “They had no sense of art.”
While these restrictions caused about half of the artists in the nation’s small comic industry to leave the field, Mao-sung persevered and stood out by incorporating elements of hand puppetry shows into his artwork. By now a household name in Taiwan, he taught his craft to apprentices and established a publishing house, providing a place for younger artists to hone their skills.
Switching to religious comics in the 1980s, his final masterpiece — published just last year — was a 10-year, 760-page hand-drawn comic book about the life of Buddha. In 2017, he received a Special Contribution Award from the government for his contributions to Taiwan’s comic industry. After his death, Taiwan’s Minister of Culture paid tribute by saying he was an inspiration to younger generations. Died December 7
21. Ellen Vartanoff (b. 1951)
Colorist, curator, art teacher, amateur Egyptologist: Ellen Vartanoff wore a lot of hats over the years. But she’ll likely be remembered by the people who knew her as one of the most passionate comic fans they had ever met.
Her first stirrings of fandom took place in the late 1960s, when she founded a science fiction club at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, MD. Over the years, she would become a longtime member of several fan clubs in the Washington, DC, area, where she would regularly drop in to learn about the latest books, movies and plays that other club members had seen and read.
“Ellen was a walking Wikipedia of information about DC and Marvel characters,” wrote blogger Mike Glyer in a tribute to Vartanoff. “Every time I saw her at a club meeting, she’d have a sketchbook, and would sketch and listen in the way many other fans knit and listen. She’d organize expeditions to every new Marvel and DC film.”
Though she made a living as an art teacher, specializing in teaching traditional art and comics to children, she was an active member in early Marvel fandom and even got to lend her coloring talents to Marvel and DC, including issues of Captain Marvel written by her brother-in-law, Scott Edelman. She also contributed art to two fan-developed books inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edgar Rice Burroughs in the Second Century and The Mucker/Return of the Mucker. Died March 17
When Toronto cartoonist Teva Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 37, she began publishing short comics about her declining health and facing the end of her life in the magazine The Walrus (Canada’s answer to The Atlantic).
In 2016, she collected her work in the graphic memoir In-Between Days: A Memoir about Living with Cancer. Her darkly funny observations about awkward party conversations and navigating the medical system as a cancer patient won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Non-Fiction and was a finalist for Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for non-fiction.
“In the beginning, I was just drawing for myself. It was about having the thoughts and clarifying them by bringing them out in the open,” she said in a CBC interview. “Humor is an excellent coping mechanism when you’re sick. You have to be able to laugh at things.” Died April 27
23. Cristina Morán (b. 1942)
Puerto Rico’s comics community mourned the loss of Cristina Morán this past March. As founder of the Metro Comics store in Guaynabo, she was fondly remembered by the island’s artists as someone who would buy and promote their comics without even stopping to consider how well they might sell.
Along with being a huge supporter of Puerto Rican comics, she was willing to take chances as a businessperson by going where her customers were. According to Rafael Serra, creator of the comic Laziva, many comic shop owners in the 1990s questioned her decision to open a comic shop in the San Patricio Plaza, a massive shopping mall located south of San Juan. Today, Metro Comics is one of the few establishments dedicated to the sale of comics in Puerto Rico and the only one located in a shopping center.
Morán’s memory was honored at the store’s Free Comic Book Day event in May; her husband and daughter, who continue to manage her store, placed a photo of “the matriarch of comics” on a shelf behind the cash register so she could keep smiling at everyone who come through her door.
“Cristina always opened her doors for new local talent,” wrote artist Elias Gambit Meléndez in an online tribute. “Always supported them and always had words of encouragement. She always made me feel at home when I walk in the store. She owned this store for 28 years, a woman that owned a comic store in a male-dominated industry in a small island in the Caribbean, talk about being a badass. The industry of comics, local comics in PR wouldn’t and won’t be the same anymore.” Died March 9
24. Mark Alessi (b. 1953)
In the early 1990s, Mark Alessi was a millionaire entrepreneur thanks to his tech start-up Technical Resource Connection (TRC). He could have taken that money and ran or used it to start up another tech company, but instead he chose to take on the big comic publishers with his own ideas for how a comic company should be run.
Founded in Tampa, FL, in 1998, CrossGen Comics had a different approach to the business, bringing in most of its writers and artists (many of them hired away from Marvel and DC) as full-time employees who worked out of an office, as opposed to freelancers working from home. The chance to have a steady salary and health benefits appealed to many comic professionals, and major talents like Mark Waid, Barbara Kesel and Ron Marz were soon joined by others, some of whom got their first high-profile assignments in the industry thanks to CrossGen.
Their company’s first comic, a preview book called CrossGenesis, came out in January 2000 and provided an overview of the characters in CrossGen’s flagship titles. Six months later, publication of those titles began in earnest, with books like Sigil, Scion, Mystic and Meridian leading the charge. Like the Big Two publishers, CrossGen’s books covered a variety of genres with the characters all inhabiting the same shared universe.
While CrossGen was ambitious in its goals — it was one of the first publishers to take digital comics seriously, offering its entire library online for subscribers — by 2003 it ran into financial issues that led to some freelancers and staff members speaking out and leaving the company. In a 2016 interview, Alessi said the company ran into money problems when his stock holdings — which he got from selling TRC and used to get start-up capital — had dropped in value; he also blamed the DreamWorks studio for delaying planned adaptations of CrossGen properties.
Regardless of the reasons, CrossGen filed for bankruptcy in June 2004, causing the abrupt cancellation of its entire line. In November of that year, the Walt Disney Company announced it had purchased CrossGen’s assets for $1 million. (Marvel revived the imprint briefly in 2011 with the mini-series Ruse, Sigil and Mystic.) After the sale, Alessi went back to the tech business where he reportedly worked until his death. Died March 29
25. Lee Salem (b. 1946)
Over his 40-year career at Universal Press Syndicate as either editor or president, Lee Salem discovered Cathy in the 1970s and The Boondocks in the 1990s, oversaw Doonesbury, The Far Side and FoxTrot, and helped develop strips like For Better or for Worse, Cul-de-Sac, La Cucaracha and Calvin and Hobbes.
He was also known for coming to the defence of his cartoonists over what they put in their strips. When Lynn Johnston’s For Better or for Worse featured the coming out of a teenage character, dozens of newspapers rejected the storyline for fear of offending conservative readers — but Salem never wavered in supporting his artists’ freedom to express themselves on the comics page.
“He was someone who had an eye for non-mainstream voices,” said Lalo Alcaraz, an artist and activist whose comic La Cucaracha got syndicated thanks to Salem. “He’d always stand up for Garry’s (Trudeau) Doonesbury when people were trying to dump the strip, which he did for me, too.”
Salem was also at the forefront of returning intellectual property from syndicates back to cartoonists, with the best known case involving Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes. Despite the strip’s massive popularity with readers, Watterson refused to license it, rejecting opportunities to turn his characters into cartoons, T-shirts and plush toys. Realizing that Watterson would drop the strip if the syndicate exploited those rights without his permission, Salem gave the rights back to Watterson.
“Lee gave so many of us a chance to say things that had never been said on the comic pages, through the kind of characters that had never been seen,” said Cathy creator Cathy Guisewite. “He saw big possibility in little scribbles, gently guided us, and was an absolute rock behind us. He gave us time to find our voices and earn our space.” Died September 2
26. Mike Raub (b. 1951)
Here’s how Kurt Busiek describes that fateful night he proposed to his future wife: “The Dream Factory was also where Ann was working when we got engaged — we’d known each other in college, and she’d gone to work for Mike [Raub] when she was back home in Connecticut, and I’d drive up to the Dream Factory on Friday nights to get the week’s comics and meet up with Ann, and after closing up she’d drive back to her parents’ house, switch over to my car and we’d go out to dinner or to the movies or something.
“In fact, I almost proposed to her in the Factory — I had a big bouquet of flowers in my car, and was planning to wait until closing time and propose in the store, when we were alone. But Mike, who knew I was planning to propose but didn’t know the details, wouldn’t take the hint and leave. He decided he’d close up that night, to give us more time with one another, and not all the ‘No, no, don’t bother, it’s fine’s would get through.
“So we weren’t alone, Ann drove back to her parents’ house and switched to my car — which had a very large and fragrant bouquet of flowers in it, hard to miss — and said, ‘What are those for?’ So I wound up proposing in her parent’s driveway.”
Aside from his accidental appearances in real-life rom-coms, Raub was best known among comics folks as the owner (1985-1994) of the Dream Factory chain of comic shops in Connecticut and New York. According to his obituary, “Mike took such pleasure from bringing these stories of heroes and heroines to thousands of people up and down the East Coast with his stores.”
In the 1990s, he was part of an attempt to open a national chain of comics shops, but sadly any dreams of seeing a comic shop in every mall in America were dashed by the economics of the comics industry at the time. When he left the comics retail business, he went on to a successful career as an on-air personality on several Connecticut radio stations. Died March 19
27. Peter Fonda (b. 1940)
His father was actor Henry Fonda and his big sister was actress Jane Fonda, so no one was too surprised when Peter Fonda joined the family business. After working on Broadway in the early 1960s, the youngest Fonda guest-starred on TV shows like The Naked City, Wagon Train and The Defenders before graduating to bigger roles in films like Lilith and The Young Lovers.
But by the mid-1960s, he had (in the words of one magazine writer) “a solid reputation as a dropout,” taking part in the counter-cultural movement and eschewing conventional leading-man roles for the chance to work with Roger Corman and appear in more offbeat projects like Wild Angels and Spirits of the Dead.
Then came 1969’s Easy Rider, the iconic movie he co-wrote and starred in about two hippie bikers travelling through the American Southwest to the tune of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” A Hollywood rebel playing one of cinema’s most famous rebels — no wonder he was drawn to the role of the most (in)famous rebel of all, the deal-making Mephistopheles in 2007’s Ghost Rider.
“I was thrilled,” he said in a 2007 interview when asked about getting the call to play the devil. “I thought nobody would ask me to play that kind of role. It was Avi [Arad, the film’s producer] who said, ‘Maybe Fonda would be good.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll be good. I’m going to play this character like no one has played this character before.'” Died August 16
28. Rutger Hauer (b. 1944)
“I don’t know what the appeal is,” Rutger Hauer once said about himself. “I can see I’ve got blue eyes and I don’t look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I can’t understand the fuss.”
Born in the Netherlands to actor parents, it was probably inevitable the restless young man would channel his energies into an acting career of his own. He started in Dutch television in 1969 and by the early 1980s had made his way to Hollywood; his most indelible role came along in 1982 when he played the murderous but sympathetic leader of a gang of rebel replicants (artificial humans) opposite Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in Blade Runner.
Though a flop at the box office when it was first released, the film became a hugely influential cult favorite (and one of the century’s 100 best American films, according to the American Film Institute), setting the stage for the rest of Hauer’s career. (Fun fact: Hauer wrote his own dialogue for the film’s climactic face-off with Ford, and much of the film’s staying power is directly credited to his electrifying performance.)
Though he could play heroes or villains with ease, most audiences enjoyed seeing him be the bad guy, whether as the head vampire in 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a corporate villain in 2005’s Batman Begins, or the irredeemably corrupt Cardinal Roark in 2005’s Sin City. Despite his reputation as a screen heavy, though, he was passionate about social causes as an outspoken sponsor of Greenpeace and the founder the Starfish Association, a non-profit devoted to AIDS awareness. Died July 19
29. Luke Perry (b. 1966)
It’s a tale as old as time: kid from a small town (Fredericktown, OH, in Luke Perry’s case) moves to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a star — only it took a while for stardom to happen for the young man born Coy Luther Perry III.
After more than 200 auditions, in 1985 he finally landed a TV commercial and was cast in a Twisted Sister music video, two gigs that led to roles on the soap operas Loving and Another World. Everything changed in 1990, though, when he was cast as bad boy Dylan McKay on the megahit teen drama series Beverly Hills 90210.
That role made him one of the biggest teen heartthrobs of the decade, and he leveraged his fame to star in films like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 8 Seconds, The Fifth Element and Normal Life. He also enjoyed the chance to do voice work for several animated shows, playing himself on The Simpsons (“My face! My valuable face!”) and Family Guy, and playing Rick Jones for several episodes of 1996’s The Incredible Hulk.
After making guest appearances on TV shows like Will & Grace, Spin City, Law & Order: SVU, Oz and Criminal Minds throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Perry returned to the teen soap game with Riverdale, the steamy drama based on the gang from Archie Comics — this time as the caring dad to America’s favorite sexy redhead. “I think in some ways this character is the closest thing to me that I’ve ever played because he’s a guy that loves his kid,” the father of two said. “That’s really all he’s about. That’s what I’m about.” Died March 4
30. René Auberjonois (b. 1940)
When René Auberjonois was cast as the shape-shifting constable Odo on 1993’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he joked: “I hope DS9 will replace Benson on my tombstone.” He was referring to the 1980-86 ABC sitcom in which he played the snobbish chief of staff to a bumbling governor — and yes, it’s fair to assume most fans who heard of his passing likely first thought of his role as the gruff security officer on a Starfleet space station. But the veteran character actor was far more than either of these long-running shows.
Born in New York City to a mother descended from French royalty, Auberjonois worked with several different theatre companies in his youth, earning a Tony Award in 1969 for his performance alongside Katherine Hepburn in Coco. Aside from his extensive theatre work, he played Father Mulcahy in the original film version of M*A*S*H in 1970 and racked up hundreds of film and TV credits in everything from Mod Squad and Love, American Style to Boston Legal and Batman Forever.
Not content with merely conquering stage, screen and television, Auberjonois’s versatility also made him a highly sought-after voice actor for radio dramas, audiobooks and animated films and TV series. Fans of comic-based entertainment might recognize his voice in Avengers Assemble (Ebony Maw), Young Justice (Mark Desmond/Blockbuster), Justice League (Kanjar Ro and a Guardian of the Universe), 1996’s Richie Rich (Professor Keenbean), The Savage Dragon (Horde), 1992’s Batman (Dr. March), 1988’s Superman (General Zod) and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (DeSaad).
And then there’s a fun project called From Beyond the Grave, a 1972 “rockomic” album starring Spider-Man and produced by New York’s Buddah Records. The audio play — complete with musical interludes by “The Webspinners” — starred Auberjonois as everyone’s favorite wheatcake-snarfing nephew, along with audio appearances by the Kingpin, Lizard, Vulture, Green Goblin, Aunt May and Doctor Strange. “To this day, it’s either his voice or Paul Soles’ from the ’67 Spidey cartoon that I hear when I read comics,” writes blogger Dan Greenfield in a review of the LP. Moves like a spider, grooves like a man… Died December 8
31. Michael J. Pollard (b. 1939)
Let’s be clear: there are a lot of reasons why I don’t have a successful career in show business. Lack of acting talent, terminal stage fright, a level of attractiveness that I would rate at about “not too hideous to look at” — the list goes on. But if by some miracle I were to start a career in acting at this point in my life, I think I could do worse than choose veteran character actor Michael J. Pollard as my guide.
After studying drama at the famed Actors Studio (where a young Marilyn Monroe was one of his classmates), he made his theatrical debut in 1958 in Broadway’s Comes the Day, where he co-starred with George C. Scott and Judith Anderson. His cherubic face, short stature and ability to project weirdness (of both the lovable and the dangerous kind) landed him plenty of roles in the early years of television, where he specialized in playing characters much younger than his actual age on shows like Lost in Space, Star Trek and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
His big break came in 1967, when he earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the role of C.W. Moss, a child-like garage mechanic turned getaway driver in the classic film Bonnie and Clyde. While the nomination led to more offers to play offbeat characters, it didn’t lead to much in the way of leading-man material (though he earned rave reviews playing Billy the Kid in 1972’s Dirty Little Billy). Over the years, he alternated between TV and film projects, working opposite such stars as Steve Martin (Roxanne), Bill Murray (Scrooged), Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell (Tango & Cash), and Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy, in which he played the techno-whiz creator of Tracy’s famous two-way wrist radio).
When the 1988 syndicated series Superboy introduced the first-ever live-action depiction of Mr. Mxyzptlk to the world, Pollard stepped into the imp’s fifth-dimensional shoes: in Season 1’s “Meet Mr. Mxyzptlk” (written by comics legend Denny O’Neil) and again in Season 2’s “Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk” (also by O’Neil). Given the show’s limited budget, it makes sense they went with an actor who wouldn’t need too much in the way of make-up or special effects to play a vertically challenged magical being with a bowler hat. Like I said: lovably weird. Died November 20
32. Eddie Jones (b. 1934)
Born in Washington, PA, Eddie Jones was working at a Los Angeles gas station when a friend invited him to an acting class. That led to an apprentice job in summer stock, even though he had only seen one play prior to his first stage appearance. With 45 years of theatre experience and dozens of film and TV credits to his name — including choice roles in Trading Places, A League of Their Own, The Rocketeer, Seabiscuit and The Terminal — it’s fair to say he found steady work after that first gig.
But Superman fans will likely best remember him as Clark’s dad from TV’s Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman. Running for four seasons (1993-1997) on ABC, the show followed the budding romance of Clark and Lois (Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher) while working in the big city — though thanks to his super-speed, Clark’s Ma and Pa were always nearby to offer some sage advice to their super-son. (“Do you love her, son?” “Yeah, I do.” “Well, then tell her.”)
“Eddie was a true pillar of our company from its earliest days,” wrote the Interact Theatre Company of Los Angeles, where Jones was a longtime member. “Everyone who knew Eddie as a friend, or had the good fortune to share the stage with him, was touched by his gentle and generous nature. He will be deeply missed by all.” Died July 6
33. Harold Prince (b. 1928)
It’s hard to name another person who had as much of an impact on American theatre in the 20th century than Harold “Hal” Prince. Cabaret, West Side Story, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd, Damn Yankees, The Phantom of the Opera… it might be easier to list all the Broadway shows he didn’t have a hand in bringing to life. For more than seven decades, he was either producing or directing a Broadway production, and it wasn’t unusual for him to be doing both.
We can add to the list the short-lived It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman!, the 1966 musical based on the Man of Steel and other citizens of Metropolis (but not, oddly, Lex Luthor or any of Superman’s other established villains; the villains in the show were a ten-time Nobel Prize-losing scientist and a cranky Daily Planet columnist).
Prince produced and directed the campy salute to the Man of Steel, complete with sets designed to mimic panels on a comic book page and several lively numbers, including one (“You’ve Got Possibilities”) that went on to become a cabaret standard. Despite positive reviews, the original production (with the late Bob Holiday in the title role) had a brief run of only 129 performances over four months; a drastically shortened version of the show starring David Wilson and Lesley Ann Warren aired on ABC in 1975. Since then, the show has been revived several times by theatre companies across the U.S. and around the world.
Prince once (modestly) summed up his career as “putting unlikely shows on Broadway that ultimately made history,” and in the case of It’s a Bird… he was right. Died July 31
34. Alvin Sargent (b. 1927)
“When I die, I’m going to have written on my tombstone, ‘Finally, a plot,'” Alvin Sargent reportedly said prior to his death. Funny line, but his career suggests he found more than a few decent plots along the way.
After a stint in the Navy, the Philadelphia native started writing for television in 1953, where he spent years producing scripts for shows like Route 66, Ben Casey and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He soon learned he had a knack for taking books and plays and transforming them into scripts for the big screen, winning two Adapted Screenplay Oscars for 1977’s Julia and 1980’s Ordinary People, both based on novels. Other head-turning screenplays of his included Paper Moon, I Walk the Line, What About Bob? and Unfaithful.
Later in his career, he also wrote the screenplay for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 — often cited as one of the best superhero movies ever made — and Spider-Man 3, along with rewrites of the first Spider-Man film and 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man.
His advice to other writers was as punchy as one of Spidey’s fight scenes: “You must write every day. Free yourself. Free association. An hour alone a day. Blind writing. Write in the dark. Don’t think about what it is you’re writing. Just put a piece of paper in the typewriter, take your clothes off and go! No destination… pay it no attention… it’s pure unconscious exercise. Pages of it. Keep it up until embarrassment disappears. Eliminate resistance. Look at it in the morning. Amazing sometimes. Most of it won’t make any sense. But there’ll always be a small kernel of truth that relates to what you’re working on at the time. You won’t even know you created it. It will appear, and it is yours.” Died May 9
35. Christopher Dennis (b. 1967)
As Christopher Dennis once told the story, he was just another kid in Hollywood working as a waiter when his customers kept remarking on how much he resembled Christopher Reeve, the actor who famously donned Superman’s tights in 1978’s Superman. Sensing an opportunity, Dennis put on his own cape and started walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard, spending the next several decades posing for tourists in exchange for tips.
His local celebrity led to appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and appearances in a few films, including the 2007 documentary Confessions of a Superhero, which followed the lives of people behind the costumed characters walking the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was able to make enough from his appearances to afford an apartment not far from the strip, a place he crammed full of Superman memorabilia that he bought, found or had given to him over the years.
Sadly, his fortunes took a turn for the worse in recent years; he told a local reporter in 2017 that a homeless person beat him with a golf club and stole his costume, leaving him unable to continue his trade. He survived for a while by panhandling, but with the help of a friend he raised enough money online to a buy a new Superman costume and return to the Walk of Fame.
Homeless at the time he died, his body was found inside a used clothing donation bin; police believe he was looking for something to wear. After his death, the Superman Museum in Metropolis, Ill., said on Facebook: “We want to take a moment to extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends and fans of Christopher Dennis, better known as ‘Hollywood Superman’… Chris has had many struggles and ups and downs over the years. We hope that he is at peace now. And we pray for comfort to those who loved and cared about him.” Died November 2
36. Oreo the Raccoon (b. 2009)
Let’s be clear: Oreo was a star long before Guardians of the Galaxy, appearing on British television shows and gracing the cover of a nature book prior to Hollywood animators using his likeness to create the wise-cracking Rocket.
But it’s safe to say his involvement with two hugely successful Marvel films was the highlight of his showbiz career; he even walked down the red carpet for the first film’s premiere with director James Gunn. (Gunn also posted a lot of pictures of himself with “Mr. Oreo Raccoon,” as he was called on set, while they were making the film.)
His death was announced by Quinta Layla, the Portugal-based group that took care of Oreo in his final days. “You have been an amazing ambassador for raccoons everywhere,” said a post on the Guardians Facebook page. “You loved all people of all ages and other animals, too, and were never phased by anything, be it a walk down the red carpet as Rocket Raccoon, a trip to a hospice to visit a sick child, or anything else that came your way. You just enjoyed everything and it showed.” Oreo was survived by his sister Anoushka, his niece Podge, and his friends Harvey and Biggles. Died February 7
37. Vertigo (est. 1993)
Technically, the first Vertigo comic was the first issue of 1993’s Death: The High Cost of Living, a three-issue mini-series starring the perky personification of death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories. But the seeds for the DC imprint were planted earlier, in stories by writers like Gaiman (Sandman), Alan Moore (Swamp Thing, Watchmen) and Grant Morrison (Animal Man, Doom Patrol) — stories that pushed the envelope of what most Americans thought comics were capable of doing.
Actually, we can look back even further to… well, here’s what DC editor Karen Berger said in 1993 when she introduced Vertigo to readers: “I didn’t read comics as a kid, and like many women I was not in tune with the superhero genre that totally dominated comics… It was on House of Mystery, an anthology title of memorable and unmemorable stories alike, that I began to work on what many people call the ‘weird’ stuff: stories that probe into the complex and ofttimes dark facets of human nature, tales of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and other odd things.”
Eager to find new audiences and a bigger share of the direct market, DC executives backed Berger’s plans to create a new mature-readers imprint; writers and artists also welcomed the chance to produce more experimental — and, importantly, creator-owned — content. Existing DC properties like Deadman, Kid Eternity and Shade the Changing Man were re-imagined in edgier ways while a slate of brand-new titles (Preacher, Fables, 100 Bullets, Y: The Last Man and many more) earned their keep with industry awards, fan approval and lucrative licensing deals.
When DC announced a line-wide relaunch in 2018, it re-branded Vertigo as “DC Vertigo” (Berger had left the company five years earlier), but that phase didn’t last long; just over a year after that, the publisher announced the Vertigo imprint would be retired in January 2020 (also eliminated were the DC Zoom and DC Ink imprints for children and younger adolescents). The change was explained as part of a consolidation into a more unified branding: books for readers age 8-12 would carry the “DC Kids” logo while books intended for mature audiences would be published under “DC Black Label.”
While some Vertigo fans consoled themselves by saying it was just a name change, others still felt a sense of loss. “I’ve always believed that DC Vertigo was central to the health of the American medium,” said writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Hellblazer) in a post responding to the news. “A giant media company putting relatively serious resources into serious work that the company would not own but simply believed should be published? That was a major statement about original, creator-owned cross-genre/non-genre narrative art and its importance. Something of importance sailed away at sunset tonight, and I suspect we may not see it again.” Imprint’s retirement announced June 21
38. The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip (est. 1977)
It may be stretching things to say Spider-Man was at the height of his popularity in the mid-1970s, but there was that live-action TV show starring Nicholas Hammond. And his appearances on The Electric Company, too, that was also a thing. Oh, and the Japanese Spider-Man show! Can’t forget that. Huh. So I guess those were good times for everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. No wonder Marvel tried to ride that wave by breaking into the hip and happening medium of newspaper strips.
Actually, Stan Lee and John Romita tried to get a syndicated Spider-Man strip going as far back as 1970, but the series wasn’t picked up until 1977, when the first daily Spider-Man strip appeared Jan. 3. For the next 42 years, a succession of writers (Lee and an uncredited Roy Thomas from 2000 to 2019) and artists (Romita, Fred Kida, Larry Lieber and Alex Saviuk, among others) created a soap opera-style strip that featured plenty of Marvel’s familiar characters while adding a few of its own. Most of the story arcs ran eight to 12 weeks in length, and there was very little continuity between the strip and Spidey’s adventures in other media (though the arrival of the MCU in recent years meant characters like Iron Man and Rocket were more likely to drop by).
While Spidey fans made many jokes about the strip — particularly its many examples of Peter Parker’s cowardice and clumsiness — the fact remains it was successful in an era when serialized adventure strips were few and far between. And the success of that strip made it easier for Marvel to sell the syndicates on later strips starring the Hulk, Howard the Duck and Conan the Barbarian.
In a statement, Marvel said it was discontinuing the Spider-Man strip to make way for “great new stories and art to explore even more corners of the Marvel Universe,” suggesting future plans to use newspaper comic pages to promote Marvel’s other heroes. Regardless of what comes next, expect a lot of Spidey fans to feel the same as the Comic Curmudgeon’s Josh Fruhlinger: “I will definitely mourn the end of my beloved feeble, whiny superhero.” Final original strip published March 23
Also leaving us in 2019:
- Arturo Rojas de la Cámara (b. 1930), Spanish cartoonist, January 8.
- Denis Sire (b. 1953), French comics artist and illustrator, January 16.
- Tomi Ungerer (b. 1931), French book illustrator, cartoonist and film poster designer, February 9.
- Malky McCormick (b. 1943), Scottish cartoonist, April 15.
- Chris Reccardi (b. 1964), American animator, storyboard artist and cartoon director, May 2.
- Jorge Longarón (b. 1933), Spanish illustrator and comic strip artist, May 10.
- Armando Salas (b. 1946), Spanish cartoonist, June 30.
- Guillermo Mordillo (b. 1932), Argentine cartoonist and animator, June 29.
- Pepita Pardell (b. 1928), Spanish animator pioneer, cartoonist and illustrator, July 11.
- Stu Rosen (b. 1939), American voice director and actor, August 4.
- Giulio Chierchini (b. 1928), Italian comics writer and artist, August 18.
- Massimo Mattioli (b. 1943), Italian comics writer and artist, August 23.
- Donald Rooum (b. 1928), British writer and cartoonist, August 31.
- Kim Seong-hwan (b. 1932), South Korean comic strip artist, September 9.
- Richard Williams (b. 1933), Canadian animator, voice actor and director, August 16.
- Jouko Innanen (b. 1952), Finnish cartoonist, October 1.
- Dana Fradon (b. 1922), American cartoonist, October 3.
- Philippe “Tome” Vandevelde (b. 1957), Belgian comics writer, October 5.
- Bohdan Butenko (b. 1931), Polish cartoonist, October 14.
- Purita Campos (b. 1937), Spanish cartoonist, illustrator and painter, November 19.
- Sudhir Dar (b. 1932), Indian cartoonist and illustrator, November 26.
- Serge Lindier (b. 1953), French designer and comic book artist, November 29.
- Stuart J. Knickerbocker (b. 1925), American cartoonist and animator, December 14.
- Gerry “Komikero” Alanguilan (b. 1968), Filipino comic book artist, December 21.