When last we left our story, I was at a panel discussion with Dan Didio and some DC artists and writers and he was asking questions of the audience and panelists. One of them was a very interesting question to which I had what I thought was a brilliant, insightful answer, and even had relevance to the ostensible reason for me being there:
“Who was the first artist you started following and did you start following comics for the character or the artist?”
Funny thing about that…
Of course, growing up, I saw Archie and Casper the Friendly Ghost comics and superhero comics, and I was aware that the art was different for Archie and Casper than it was for Batman. However, the first time I actually noticed a specific artist’s art as being distinctive of of other artists was when I saw the original Captain Marvel.
Though I was not yet sophisticated enough to tell the difference between C.C. Beck and Kurt Schaffenberger, I did realize that the Big Red Cheese, in both reprints of old stories from Fawcett Publications and the contemporary stuff from DC, was not like what I saw in Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and other superhero comics (which was what most of my other comics were). It was simpler, clearer. One might say it was more “cartoony,” but the simplicity disguised the mastery of the medium that Beck and Schaffenberger had. The storytelling was always clean and concise. The anatomy was proportionate and believable.
However, in 1981, DC decided to give Captain Marvel a makeover. Out went that simple style of Kurt Schaffenberger (who was drawing the hero at the time) and in came the slightly warped but realistically detailed work of Don Newton. I actually avoided reading those stories in Action Comics because I did not like seeing that art for Captain Marvel. I spent hours trying to think of which artists would be able to draw the World’s Mightiest Mortal in the appropriate style, and did not understand that calling for such a change back was a lost cause. DC wanted to update the look, and there it was.
Now, of course, I recognize the quality and skill of Newton’s art. I also see how he was able to realistically distort faces and features for comedic effect. Captain Marvel always was a quasi-comedic character, and one of the challenges faced by DC when they revived him was how to keep the lightness and whimsy in the character while making him relevant and appealing to the modern world. It was a shame I did not read too many of those stories, either, because some of them were quite good, and some of them actually went into the hero’s past and explained aspects of his origin, powers, and backstory that had not been explored before.
So that would have been an interesting thing to share with Dan Didio and the lineup of artists, writers, and editors on stage. It would have also been interesting to see his reactions and hear his thoughts, considering what DC has done with the character and the concept under his watch at DC.