Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dream Teams of the Groovy Age: It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Swanderson!

Hey, hey, hey! Here's another groovy guest-post from Swingin' Sharon K.! Enjoy!!

Greetings, True Believers! Thought I’d toss a groovy treat your way, namely Andy Warhol’s 1981 tribute to Superman. It captures perhaps the most famous look of the Man of Steel--namely the incarnation created by that fabled entity known as Swanderson, a.k.a. Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, that delineating duo who defined DC’s Superman in the Bronze Age and beyond. Truly, theirs was a match made in comic book art heaven!

Now I know what you’re thinking: put any competent inker to work on pencils as beautiful and clear as Swan’s, and the finished result would naturally turn out glorious, right?? Well, it’s not as easy as it seems. While it’s true over the years Swan was paired with a plethora of good inkers –Stan Kaye, John Forte, Sheldon Moldoff, Mike Esposito, Dan Adkins, and others (including two I’ll name later), not all of them were able to spotlight and enhance Swan’s singular qualities. Some, alas, buried and/or distorted the simplicity and beauty of Swan’s lines.

But DC struck gold in 1962 when George Klein was paired with Swan (yep, the same George Klein who’s acknowledged to have inked Kirby on Fantastic Four #1). Klein contoured Swan’s pencils beautifully and provided a sense of structural depth that Swan’s work had sometimes lacked when embellished by other inkers. Swan-Klein became the house style for the Superman family of comics, primarily Superman, World’s Finest (Superman-Batman) and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Unfortunately in 1968 DC dismissed several veteran freelancers, including Klein—allegedly something to do with the talent asking for with unions and benefits (a subject for another time). Klein then landed the enviable assignment of inking John Buscema on the Avengers at rival Marvel. Klein did a superlative job on Big John’s pencils, too, until he passed away—far too early—in 1969. Klein’s style was never as slick or “high tech” as, say, Joe Sinnott’s, but it was just as precise and unfussy; and it perfectly suited the often frieze-like figures and scenes created by classicists like Swan and Buscema.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s the guy who followed Klein as Swan’s chief Superman/Legion inker: Jack Abel. Now, Abel had a strong style; his slick line was distinctive and provided a surface polish, but did not always suggest mass or weight—and boy, did he like to add those huge eyelash fringes on the ladies! When paired with the right artist, Abel was magical (think Colan/Abel on Iron Man; they sure made Shellhead’s armor gleam, didn’t they?)…but on Swan, not so good. Abel’s overwhelming inks flattened Swan’s art, obscured its nuances, and rendered it, well, unSwan-like. Tell me, how much of Swan do you see in this panel from Adventure #370?

So you see inking Swan wasn’t always a slam dunk. Now let’s take a look at the gentleman whom many consider to be Swan’s definitive inker, Murphy Anderson. Anderson, who’d worked in comics since the Golden Age (he celebrated his 83rd birthday this past July), was a triple threat who could pencil, ink, or provide the complete package--full art. And you know, when you think back to some of the most striking covers of DC’s Silver Age, chances are he had a hand in them:

But wonderful as Anderson’s work in the decades prior to the Bronze Age was, it was almost just a warm up for his 1970s duet with Swan on Superman. Anderson's style is very similar to Klein's, but Anderson added even more depth and dimension to Swan’s work. In particular, it was Anderson’s facility for rendering textures—hair…musculature…civilian clothing…heck, even superhero spandex—that effectively removed the Superman cast from the fairy tale fantasyland they’d inhabited previously and brought them into the real world. Anderson made Swan’s perfect beings look human and relatable, instead of too idealized or statuesque. And not to be crass about it, but Anderson made the characters’ costumes looked like clothing and not body paint. Oh sure--there was a lot of (deserved) noise made about what people like O’Neil, Adams, Giordano, and a host of other Young Turks were doing to make stodgy ol’ DC hip and contemporary—but Anderson’s contributions can’t be discounted here; his inks on Swan’s work indisputably modernized the Superman family. This “new look” for DC’s flagship franchise helped propel the characters—and the company—into the 1970s and beyond; and it ensured their fame would continue far beyond Warhol’s proverbial 15 minutes!


  1. I have always wanted to see Anderson ink Jerry Ordway. Roy Thomas assigned pencil-and-ink assignments to Anderson on a few of the Quality Comics characters stories in Secret Origins. I would've loved to see Ordway/Anderson on All-Star Squadron.

  2. Fantastic post. The very fact that we have the word 'Swanderson' says everything. Superman IS drawn by Curt & Murphy. End of story. This was the ONLY time Kal-El has EVER looked sexy or cool.
    And on Jack Abel.I always liked Jack on the few occasions we saw him on his own, but really didn't like him inking anybody else, particularly Colan. He was just too strong a stylist for anybody but his own work.

  3. I have to echo Pete's comments: "Swanderson" are THE Superman art team as far as I'm concerned. Not to slight any of the many, many other artists to have worked on Supes, but when I picture Superman it's their version I see.

  4. As a ten-year-old Superman fan I loved “Swanderson” and was totally bummed when Vince Colletta took over the inking chores on Superman and Action Comics. Supes was never the same again.

    Thanks for mentioning George Klein. Seems like nobody really remembers the guy anymore. I remember seeing reprints of his and Swan’s work in a 100-page issue, and being very impressed. Those were the days.

  5. Izbot,Pete, Cerebrus and Rich: glad you enjoyed the post. Swanderson certainly added class to the Bronze Age and beyond!

    Re George Klein: Rich, I agree Klein is criminally underrated. He was a huge part of my Silver Age experience and for my money, the Buscema-Klein Avengers art is Marvel's finest from the late '60s.

  6. Although you say Swan had a clean penciling style, I have to disagree. His pencils had this weird shading used to create perspective. It made it difficult to ink. Even Dick Giordano couldn't bring it out properly. Klein simplified it, making it flat but polished. Anderson brought it out beautifully, giving it depth. The other guy to get it was none other than Neal Adams. His work with Swan on the covers of many late 1960s DC comics provide many examples of how gorgeous and synergistic their pairing was.

    1. psst,let's not forget Bob Oksner.mmmm,yum!



Blog Widget by LinkWithin
Note to "The Man": All images are presumed copyright by the respective copyright holders and are presented here as fair use under applicable laws, man! If you hold the copyright to a work I've posted and would like me to remove it, just drop me an e-mail and it's gone, baby, gone.

All other commentary and insanity copyright GroovyAge, Ltd.

As for the rest of ya, the purpose of this blog is to (re)introduce you to the great comics of the 1970s. If you like what you see, do what I do--go to a comics shop, bookstore, e-Bay or whatever and BUY YOUR OWN!