Saturday, October 17, 2009

Comic Book Legend George Tuska Passes On

Comic book legend George Tuska, an artist whose career spanned nearly 70 years, passed on October 15 at the age of 93. He had worked on everything from the newspaper strip Scorchy Smith to comic book The Invincible Iron Man to Superman.

George Tuska was born on April 26, 1916 in Hartford, Connecticut. Tuska first developed an interest in art when he looked through his brother's pulp magazines. When he was eight years old and in hospital for appendicitis, an elderly patient taught him how to draw cowboys and Native Americans, and Uncle Sam. He practised drawing ever since that time. Tuska's father died when he was fourteen.

George Tuska moved to New York City when he was seventeen, where he lived with his cousin Annie. His first job was designing women's costume jewellery. When he was eighteen he enrolled at the National Academy of Design in New York City. His primary influences were comic book artist Lou Fine, comic strip artists Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, and illustrators Dean Cornwell, Harold Von Schmidt, and Thomas Lovell. His first work in the comic book industry was for Will Eisner and Jerry Iger's studio. Through Will Eisner and Jerry Iger's studio, Tuska contributed work to such Fox Comics comic strips as "Cosmic Carson" and "Zanzibar the Magician. His first published work in comic books appeared in Mystery Men Comics #1, August 1939. The same year, 1939, Tuska  went to work for the Associated Press newspaper strip Scorchy Smith.

Eisner and Iger later provided material for Quality Comics. After Will Eisner and Jerry Iger dissolved their partnership, George Tuska would also work for Harry A Chesler's studio. It was while with the Chesler studio that Tuska contributed work to Captain Marvel Adventures for Fawcett.After leaving the Chesler studio, Tuska worked for Eisner again, contributing to "Uncle Sam," "Kid Dixon," and even The Spirit strip syndicated by Quality to newspapers. During World War II, Tuska served in the United States Army.

Following World War II George Tuska worked on the Lev Gleason title Crime Does Not Pay. He also worked freelance on such titles as The Black Terror and the Doc Savage comic book. He also returned to work on the newspaper strip Scorchy Smith and worked on the newspaper strip Buck Rogers He returned to comic books in the Sixties, where he went to work for Marvel Comics. His first story for Marvel was for "Tales of the Watcher" in Tales of Suspense #58, November 1964. It would be at Marvel that he would begin a nine year run on "Iron Man," his first issue being The Invincible Iron Man #5, September 1968. He is possibly the artist most identified with the hero. While at Marvel, he would also work on "The X-Men," "Sub-Mariner," "Ghost Rider," "Luke Page, Power Man," and other titles.

Tuska later worked for DC Comics, where he illustrated "Superman," "Superboy," and "Challengers of the Unknown."

In many respects I think George Tuska was underrated. There are those who have characterised his work at Marvel as flavourless and ordinary. While that may well be true of some of his work he did at Marvel, especially the many fill in issues he did there, it is hardly true of his entire oeuvre. In many respects  his portrayal of superheroes was much more realistic than the Jack Kirby model so popular at Marvel. His illustrations of heroes had musculature that was more anatomically correct, and he portrayed their displays of strength more realistically as well. Punches were delivered with the whole body, not simply the arms. Indeed, in many respects Tuska's art showed influence from the pulp magazine covers of old, with superheroes readying themselves for the violence which they often faced. He was also much more creative in his layouts than many artists. He was not content to imitate Kirby as many artists at Marvel were, but designed layouts that were energetic and unrestrained, yet free of any gratuitous imagery. George Tuska's versatility and ability to create art relatively swiftly may have resulted in some subpar work, but it hardly characterised the best of his work. Particularly in his long run on The Invincible Iron Man, George Tuska excelled as an artist.

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