Sad news this Comic Art Friday…
George Tuska, a comic artist whose career began in the earliest days of comic books, passed away last night at the age of 93.
Only a week or so ago, I received notice via the Comic Art collectors’ e-mail list that Tuska had decided to stop accepting new commissions. I’m reminded of our local hero, Charles Schulz, whose final Peanuts strip appeared in newspapers on the day of his death. It’s almost as though these gentlemen had been drawing for so long that when they decided to stop drawing, they had nothing left to live for.
Tuska’s life in comics began in 1939, when he began working for the legendary Will Eisner. Although Tuska would eventually draw every genre of comic known to humankind, his original specialty was crime stories, in particular the gritty sort that appeared in Lev Gleason’s infamous Crime Does Not Pay.
In the 1960s, Tuska became one of the busiest artists in the superhero genre. He was the regular penciler on Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man for nearly a decade (September 1968-January 1978), and while he was by no means the first artist to draw Iron Man, Tuska’s depiction of the character was the seminal one for a generation of Marvelites. Even today, when I close my eyes and think “Iron Man,” it’s the George Tuska version I envision. Tuska had a knack for making Tony Stark’s armor come alive — in fact, he drew Shellhead’s supersuit in a way that made it seem almost as pliable as Batman’s cape, yet still metallic somehow. He was, I think, the first artist to subtly change the expression on Iron Man’s faceplate to reflect the emotions of the man inside. It wasn’t technically authentic, maybe, but it worked.
From my perspective, Tuska’s other key achievement at Marvel was his work on Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, the first mainstream comic book to bear the name of a black superhero in its title. Tuska illustrated the first three issues of the series, then returned to draw several more, beginning with issue #7. When the title of the book changed to Luke Cage, Power Man, Tuska once again came back to the character, adding another dozen or so issues to his credits. Again, as with Iron Man, when I think of Luke Cage, it’s Tuska’s depiction that I most associate with the character.
Perhaps because of his experience on the Cage title, Tuska was the artist Marvel chose to draw another series featuring an African-American hero, Black Goliath. Other Marvel titles to which Tuska contributed significantly included The Avengers, Sub-Mariner, X-Men, Ghost Rider, and the Western series Kid Colt, Outlaw. He also drew the first several issues of the Man-Wolf series in Marvel’s monster anthology, Creatures on the Loose.
Tuska was known in the industry as “King of the Fill-In” because his adaptable style and speedy production made him invaluable as a fill-in artist — drawing a single issue of a title when the regular artist took time off, or fell behind schedule. At Marvel, he drew dozens of fill-in issues throughout the ’60s and ’70s, touching practically every book Marvel published during that span at least once.
After leaving Marvel in 1978, Tuska assumed the art chores on DC’s World’s Greatest Superheroes newspaper strip, a job he held for 15 years. During this period, he also drew comic books for DC, mostly in the various Superman titles.
Tuska retired from comics in the mid-1990s. As noted earlier, however, he continued to draw commission projects until shortly before his death. Although I never was fortunate enough to commission him, the artwork shown above is a commissioned piece I picked up from another collector five years ago. It’s not dated, but I believe Tuska drew it sometime in the early part of this decade. It’s Tuska’s Iron Man in a classic action pose, doing battle with the Hulk. Everything you need to know about the artist’s style and approach to layout and character is right there on the page.
According to his friend and biographer, Dewey Cassell, Tuska is survived by his wife of 61 years, Dorothy, their three children, numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends, and a legion of fans.
Thanks for all of the wonderful art, Mr. Tuska. Those sure were some great times.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.