Saturday, June 17, 2023

Wallace Wood and Me


My first favorite comic book artist was Warren Kremer, although I didn’t know his name then. The first artist whose name I learned was Tony Tallarico (believe it or not). Gil Kane then became my favorite artist from his Batman covers, his Atom and Green Lantern stories, and his Hulk and Captain America work at Marvel. Soon enough, though, I found myself obsessing on Jack Kirby’s art. Steve Ditko, Jim Steranko, Gene Colan, Marie Severin, Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan, and Neal Adams were also early favorites. 


But it was Wally Wood—WALLACE Wood—whose work really thrilled me. I had discovered him first in Marvel back issues of Daredevil, then T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents from Tower, Captain Action from DC, and soon enough his splendid Warren work, then the impressive record album covers he did with Dan Adkins. And Superduperman in the Mad Reader paperback! It would still be several years before I ran across any of his amazing EC artwork or even his stunning work in the later black and white Mad.


But I taught myself to draw by trying to draw like Woody. Tried to, anyway. I tried to copy his shadows and his lighting in particular. I wasn’t any good at it. I followed his work wherever I found it after that, though, bouncing back and forth between Marvel, DC, and the black and white pages of Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. 


When he started his official fan club and began self-publishing, I was there, and even had him sign most of the books I ordered directly from him. I discovered Cannon and Sally Forth, probably my favorites of all his work. And King of the World! The Wizard King.


By that point he was also doing more adult work such as his Alice in Wonderland in National Screw and the Weird Sex Fantasy Portfolio. When I saw an ad for a flat-out porn mag with all Wallace Wood comics, I had to mail-order it but I was horribly disappointed in that clearly he was no longer what he had been. The second volume was even worse. Despite his name on the cover again, to this day I don’t believe Wood had much to do with that book at all. A posthumous third volume would be all reprints from healthier days. 


While I had no doubt that Woodwork had seen better days by that point, I was not prepared for the news of his passing via suicide. When I saw the TBG cover that day, I was excited at first, thinking the issue would have a new interview or new art or something. My mother had just died and I was in need of some good news to cheer me up. The news I got was definitely not good.


I continued to be a Wood fan, of course, and strived to collect as much of his work as possible, reprints or originals. My discovery of EC blew me away! 


Many years later, one of my first blogs was the first ever blog devoted entirely to Wood and his work. Hooray for Wally Wood remains up, although mostly inactive in recent years. 


As the 21st century hit, more and more books began coming out on Wallace Wood. I couldn’t keep up. I did pick up TwoMorrows’ Against the Grain, an anthology of Wood-related pieces by various authors, edited by former Wood assistant and friend, Bhob Stewart.


Imagine my surprise some years later when I get a call out of the blue from Bhob Stewart, a legend in comics and SF fan circles, telling me he was working on a second edition of Against the Grain and he was actively soliciting new articles from different perspectives…and he wanted ME to contribute! I was offered the choice of writing about Wood’s socially conscious Shock SuspenStories contributions or his Mad and Panic work. I chose the former, but when I had trouble with my writing, Bhob let me switch to funny stuff instead.


We spoke on the phone a number of times. He was so excited about the new edition and asked me to help him come up with a new name for it. We kicked around some I’ve long since forgotten but then word came that Bhob had died! It seems he had been ill for some time and may well have even been calling me, unbeknownst to me, from hospital stays. 


Bhob’s book was in limbo. Eventually, the publisher, Fantagraphics, announced that it would be released. In fact, it would now be two separate volumes, The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood. While the resulting books weren’t exactly what Bhob Stewart had told me he wanted, both volumes were beautifully packaged with incredible art choices. I remain honored to have a byline in the first volume, seen here, alongside so many friends, colleagues, and recognized experts on Wallace Wood and his work. 


Today would have been Wood’s birthday, and it seemed like a good time to reflect a bit on my own relationship with his work. After all, “When better drawrings are drawrn, they’ll be drawrn by Wood! He’s real gone!” Gone…but never forgotten.


No comments:

Post a Comment