John Buscema: Giant Artist, Giant Heart


As a high-school kid, I’d fly up from Naples to New York City in the summers to do what I could at the comic-book publishers there. DC and Marvel were the biggies. DC was at 575 Lexington Avenue, and they wouldn’t give me the time of day; they were corporate. Marvel, over at 635 Madison Avenue, was more welcoming.

The wonderful man who took me under his wing, for some reason, was John Buscema. He was big, bearded and a bit scary at first to a green kid. And, man was I green. Within a few minutes, though, I realized that Mr. Buscema, in spite of his being a “real” comics artist– and one of the very best– was also a sweetheart and remembered what being green felt like. I worshiped him. I don’t know if he usually worked at the Marvel office, or was just there hanging out, but I was glad he was around!

He didn’t give me a lot to do and what I did do I probably did to excess. I bought an electric eraser and some various eraser sticks for it and reported in every day. I remember cringing whenever I saw a Jack Kirby page ready for erasing after being inked. Mr. Kirby drew with the softest pencil imaginable on a plate-finish board and it was all a smudgy grey-graphite mess for me to clean up!

The prime memory I have of that time was the day artist Gil Kane came to the “Marvel Bullpen,” which wasn’t a bullpen at all. I worked in a crowded closet using a cardboard box for a drawing table. Mr. Kane sat at one of the real drafting tables in the bigger room and started roughing out something in pencil. I sneaked over to watch, and was stunned. Kane could draw faster than I could think. It shattered me. I slunk back to my little closet and burst into tears. Here’s one of Kane’s rough sketches found on the Web:

Mr. Buscema found me and sat me down for a lecture: “Jimmy, we get paid by the page, not by the hour; no salary in this business. Gil’s fast and good because he’s smart and talented, but also because he’s been doing this for 25 years. Don’t over-react; you’ll get there.”

But I knew in my heart that no; I would never get there. I didn’t want it bad enough. As I went back to Newark that evening I knew my comic-book career was over before it really started. But I also knew that I had gained a friend who was a rare person; a giant with a giant heart.

John Buscema was called the Michelangelo of comics and take a look at some of his work to see why. His anatomy’s as good as Kubert’s and his ability to frame a scene is almost scary. He also had some of Jack Kirby’s ability to convey power and force:

A wonderful man; best known today, I guess, for his work on the early Silver Surfer and Conan the Barbarian.

The wonderful coloring on this Buscema Conan drawing is by a fellow in Morocco who goes by the name of bekkouri, and he did a stunning job:

And I still have my old electric eraser:

Thanks, WordPress!


Just received an email from Kevin, an editor at WordPress, that they’ve chosen my most recent blog entry, about the passing of Joe Kubert, as one of their daily Freshly Pressed featured blog entries. It should be in tomorrow or Wednesday’s edition (link below).

Evidently, Freshly Pressed, on the WP homepage, highlights 19 blog entries a day from the over 428,000 blogs they publish as being worthy of note. So I’m excited, honored and pleased to be included in such a group!

I started this blog at the encouragement of two special friends, and am still feeling my way through the process. During my current job search, I find myself with idle hands and you know how dangerous that can be!

My main goal is to provide entertainment to whomever stumbles across this space, and maybe start some discussions that are worthy of interest. I love writing and graphics, and this blog allows me to keep my hand engaged in both.

Anything else, like this Freshly Pressed mention, is gravy!!!


Freshly Pressed from WordPress!

Joe Kubert Has Passed . . .


I never met Joe Kubert in either of my stints in the comic-book world, but I spoke with him on the phone a few times. Mr. Kubert, a pioneering artist who worked mainly for DC Comics, had started a school for cartooning and graphic arts in Dover, New Jersey. There were two young friends and employees of mine in whom I saw great potential.

I spoke with Mr. Kubert about them both. These conversations were about ten years apart, but Mr. Kubert had the same two questions about the young men I was touting: “Are they good? Will they listen?”

Both young men attended his school to their decided benefit. He and his staff taught them what they needed to know to augment their talent with real-world chops. After a couple of years at the Kubert School, both these young men were not only pro-level cartoonists, but could handle any graphic assignment someone might throw at them. They not only knew the theory but how to get it done without a lot of floundering around. Both young men have done well in their careers, thanks to Joe Kubert. There are many others who can say the same thing.

When I first saw Joe Kubert’s work, in some of the DC war comics, I didn’t like it. It was gritty and a tad ugly to my eye.

Then I saw his work on the revamping of the Hawkman feature in the early 1960s. His work on Hawkman soared; it was lyrical and clearly showed the joy and freedom of flight.

Thus I began to realize that Joe Kubert was simply a better artist than I had encountered before. He was capable of creating more than pretty drawings; he was gifted enough to produce emotional drawings based upon realism. War was ugly, so he drew it ugly; flying was about grace in the air, and he drew it that way.

His composition skills were equal to his draftsmanship; he did tons of covers for DC where his covers were the best thing about the book and where the poor artist who did the interior pages just wasn’t Kubert’s equal.

He was a pioneer, yes, but he also was driven to teach what he had learned to new generations of artists. He gave back and provided leadership to many young people who will carry his legacy into the future.

Thanks, Mr. Kubert.