Heroes of the Comics: Portraits of the Legends of Comic Books
By Drew Friedman
Foreword by Al Jaffee
184 9x12-inch pages, color
Each of 83 giant, beautifully executed full-page painstakingly pointilist-like portraits appears opposite a page of biographical text that supplies birth and death dates and a helping of the most commonly held notions about the subject and his/her work, the sort of thing Wikipedia thrives on. This method results in a couple of errors: John Goldwater is credited with creating Archie, but Bob Montana pretty clearly did it; Humorama is the name of the publishing company, not the name of a magazine; neither the Pie-face Prince nor Reg’lar Fellas is mentioned in George Carlson’s write-up; Peter Parker’s saga began when he was in high school not college; George Evans is not credited with ghosting Terry and the Pirates; and the term “headlight” refers to the whole boob when given undue prominence, not “large erect nipples.”
But these are piddling criticisms. Friedman’s texts also offer tidbits of previously obscure information — Lev Gleason’s early career, for instance: Al Hollingsworth’s later career. Besides, this is a book of portraits, not biography.
And the portraits are delicious — some, like Jerry Robinson’s, depict the subject at the time of the first blush of fame; others, like those of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the only joint portrait in the book), at maturity. All show the subjects in what are presumably characteristic poses or settings. The roster includes most of the usual suspects — Jack Kirby (whose face, strangely, is obscured: Friedman choosing to picture his hands clasped in front of his mouth), Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Joe Kurbert, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, C.C. Beck, Lou Fine, Carmine Infantino (whose grin is, unhappily, more grimace than grin), Walt Kelly, John Stanley. But others are usually on the second tier of comics creators — Dick Sprang, Wayne Boring, Basil Wolverton, Otto Messmer, Lily Renee, Marie Severin, Jack Kamen, Ramona Fradon, Howard Nostrand, Russ Heath.
Publishers are included as well as artists and a couple writers (Wonder Woman’s William Moulton Marston, Gardner Fox, Fredric Wertham) — Max Gaines (ironically portrayed sitting on a dock, presumably at the lake where he drowned), Alfred Harvey, Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson, Martin Goodman, Woody Gelman, William Gaines, and Harry “A” Chesler, whose face I hadn’t seen before. (Others in this latter category include Carl Burgos, L.B. Cole, Boody Rogers — surprisingly — and Graham Ingels, Jack Oleck, and Jesse Marsh.)
In each portrait, Friedman resorts to a device of caricature, drawing the head and face proportionately much larger than the body.
Friedman’s 8-page introduction concludes with a wholly accurate description of the book: “These were the pioneers who helped to shape a new medium, the American comic book. Some are still celebrated, some are more obscure, some died forgotten, and some are vilified. Several became rich and famous, several were exploited, and some were bamboozled, but all of them are legends—the heroes of the comics.”