Sunday, August 14, 2011

Musings on the great Wally Wood

I'll always associate Wally Wood with artistic titans Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. All three worked for Marvel in the magical year 1965; all three were highly distinctive and totally involved in their visions. Wood’s work at Marvel was minimal, seven issues of Daredevil and assorted inking jobs, yet he left an indelible impression on my mind. His art had a brilliant gloss to it, a fairy tale quality that drew you in. His figures were heroic, his women curvaceous (despite restrictions by the Comics Code, Wood's Karen Page exuded sexuality); his machinery detailed and shiny. 

My earliest Wood memory. Daredevil # 9, Aug 1965

Wood was always around in the 1960s and 1970s, although you’d never know where his art would pop up. After he quit Marvel, Wood was the prime player at Tower comics, writing stories, drawing, inking and providing layouts for other artists. His covers for Dynamo, Thunder Agents, Noman and Undersea Agents were striking in their simplicity. Wood also worked for DC, Warren, Gold Key and showed up for another short stint at Marvel in the early 1970s, He produced artwork for Science Fiction mags, book covers and Topps bubblegum cards. He did commericial work for TV Guide and ads for Alka Seltzer. 

Dynamo # 3, March 1967

Wood published witzend, a fanzine which was instrumental in not only giving creators an opportunity to go outside the restrictions of the Comics Code, but to own their creations.  Artists such as Steve Ditko came on board, originating Mr. A. Wood's fantasy worlds were populated with odd little figures, monsters, gremlins and elves that sprouted from his subconcious. There was a child like quality to much of his work, a kid inside of Wood that had to escape. Much of his cartoonish art seemed tailor made for animation, but although copied, the original rarely made it to the screen.     

Wood's offbeat imagination at work


Wood's inking was exquisite. Everyone looked great rendered by Wood: Gil Kane, Gene Colan, Mike Sekowsky. Some say his style  was overpowering, but I saw his collaborations, especially when paired with Ditko and Kirby, as a blending of elements. Wood understood what was important in the pencilled stage. He enhanced but did not dilute.

Jack Kirby pencils, Challengers of the Unknown # 8, July 1959
Gene Colan pencils, Captain America # 126, June 1970 

Steve Ditko pencils, Stalker # 1, July 1975 
By the early 1970s I became aware of Wood’s past and reveled in the many reprints of his brilliant EC work, including his science fiction classics, and Mad, where his satirical side exploded in all directions. The impish, child-like humor would continue into his self published work and remain an essential element throughout his career.

The Spawn of Venus

I distinctly recall reading about Wood’s suicide while riding on a bus in 1981. It headlined the news in the Buyers Guide, and columnist Cat Yronwood devoted a good deal of her column to Wood's life and career. Wood’s passing shook me up, particularly due to the way he died. A true tragedy, it instilled an awareness that my favorite artists and creators were human and would not be around forever. Now, all these decades later, only a handful remain.

It was also a great loss because Wood was still relatively young, but not having taken care of his health, he wore down quickly. Like some of his brilliant peers, Wood lived in his own world, and anything he considered outside interference - notably editors - was an irratant. He stood on the outskirts of comics, looking through the windows and gazing at the clouds. His imagination took him to distant galaxies, or worlds where odd little creatures ran rampant, but the special qualities of Wally Wood can only be admired by us normal folks.

                    I’m glad he stopped by to entertain us for a spell.  

The King of the World, 1978

To learn more about Wally Wood's art and career I highly recommend visiting
Horray for Wally Wood
which is linked on my bloglist.

A special thank you to Barry Pearl for technicolor assistance  


Doc V. said...

A beautiful whimsical reminisce, Nick! I adore Wally Wood's art and completely forgot he inked Gene Colan back in 1970 on Captain America. What a gorgeous combination!

Batton Lash said...

Nice essay, Nick! But when did Wood ink Sekowsky? That I'd like to see! I agree; I thought Wood enhanced the best of a penciller, rather than overpowering him (or her-- look at Wood's inks on Marie Severin's "The Cat!"). His inking on Gil Kane during the late 60's was exquisite. Wood's inking on Bob Brown's "Superboy" made me wish they switch that team to the Superman character!

Nick Caputo said...

Mike and Batton,

I'm glad you liked my post. It's hard for me to do justice to Woody, he was so versatile and incredibly talented, but I hope I gave a little taste of what he meant to me.

I also loved his work over Gil Kane and really should include an example here. It was a great combination on Capt. Action, Teen Titans and various mystery stories. I enjoyed his work over Bob Brown as well, but he inked so many artists with style and made many look better.

Wood inked Sekowsky on a Wonder Woman story, during the non-costumed period (A favorite of mine). I believe he also inked Sekowsky on a mystery story or two as well.

Barry Pearl said...

What a great and important post. Wally wood and his talent should not go unforgotten.

Nick, You know this, but the first comic I read by myself was the ”Caveman From Krypton” from World’s Finest. I liked comics, until, one day, when I sick, my mother brought me home a “Challengers of the Unknown” by Kirby and Wood. I loved comics from that day on, Wood’s inking on Kirby was perfect, the pages were just wonderful. I had no idea, though, that he was living on borrowed time too.

I remember his great Daredevil story where he fought Namor in his new uniform. Bill Everett’s first creation defeated Everett’s last creation. The story was wonderful. I also like his work on Dr. Doom.

What a treat it was, in the 1980s to get hold of Cockrum’s reprints of the EC era. Wood’s stories in Shock and Crime Suspense were highlights, but his sic fi was incredible.

Wood, Everett, Kirby, well, they just don’t have talent like that anymore.

Batton Lash said...

Wow! Never saw that WW issue. And I thought I remembered every comic from that era! Wood gave a nice polish to just about everyone. I wonder what his inks would've looked like on Infantino?

-Batton L.

Nick Caputo said...

Barry and Batton,

Yes, Wood was gone all too soon. That DD # 7 was exquisite, it gave a sense of dignity to Namor and unrelenting courage for Daredevil, since their powers were so mismatched. Wood exuded drama in his pencils, but also a sense of fun (I always liked the "Woodworth's" signs in the backgrounds for thouse older folks that get the joke).

Wood over Infantino would have been interesting, as would almost anyone I can think of. How about John Buscema, Steranko or Barry Smith?

Kid said...

Woody was the best inker on Kirby, in my humble opinion. Actually, he did "dilute" - but in a positive way. He diluted the abstractness and idiosyncracies of Kirby's art, while enhancing its strengths.

Nick Caputo said...


No need to be humble around here! Wood did something special with Kirby's pencils and your points are noted. We wholeheartedly agree that Wood was an excellent inker for Kirby. Another Kirby inker I love is Bill Everett, who I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about somewhere down the line.

Batton Lash said...

Speaking of Wood's depiction of Namor, was the rumor true that Wood was supposed to draw the Sub-Mariner feature that was to begin in Tales to Astonish (if memory serves correctly, that series would've started three months after DD #7). Does anyone know if that's true and if so, what's the story behind that?

Doccomix said...

Great article, Nick, as usual. However I should point out that Wood died in 1981, not 1980.

Nick Caputo said...


I believe that The Comic Reader mentioned Wood was going to draw Sub-Mariner, and it would make sense since Stan would have used that DD issue as a try-out. Before that happened I believe that Wood had a falling out with Stan and decided to only ink, and then Tower came along.


I'll corect that error. Thanks for pointing it out.

Doug said...

I didn't find Wally Wood until 1990. I wasn't aware of who he was as I was still learning the ropes on early Marvel. I remember walking the streets of South Austin and stumbling across a copy of Dynamo #3 at a local comic shop (Southside comics). Coincidentally, I had just heard of this comic and Wally Wood while surfing the old usenet group rec.arts.comics.misc. I picked it up and tracked down more of his work. I wish I he had produced more work and that it was easier to track down. I also rank him up there with the greats, Kirby/Ditko/Eisner/Barks, and wish I could find more of his work.

Nick Caputo said...


Vanguard publications has published a lot of worthwhile Wood material and I'm sure there will be other projects in the years ahead.

Paul Chadwick said...

Insightful and true:

Kid said...

Woody was the best inker on Kirby, in my humble opinion. Actually, he did "dilute" - but in a positive way. He diluted the abstractness and idiosyncracies of Kirby's art, while enhancing its strengths.

Wood inks on Kirby was exquisite. And Kirby's women, for once, were beautiful.

Nick Caputo said...


I've greatly enjoyed your Concrete tales over the years. Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Wood inked Sekowsky in Wonder Woman #195. - Jeff Clem

Anonymous said...

Wood inked Sekowsky in Wonder Woman #195.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Jeffrey,

Yes, I have that issue. A nice combination.