Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Late Great Irwin Hasen: DC's Last Golden Age Artist

Irwin Hasen, the legendary artist who created DC Comics superhero Wildcat with writer Bill Finger and created the comic strip Dondi with Gus Edson, died March 13 2015 at the age of 96. According to comic book writer and comic book historian Michael Uslan, Irwin Hasen was DC Comics' last surviving artist from the Golden Age of Comic Books.

Irwin Hasen was born in Manhattan on July 8 1918. He attended DeWitt Clinton High New York City. Immediately upon graduating high school he enrolled at the National Academy of Design, one of the oldest and most prestigious art schools in the nation. While attending the National Academy of design he sold drawings of prize fighters to the Madison Square Garden Corporation. Mr. Hasen's drawings would then be printed in various newspapers and magazines. After attending the National Academy of Design for three years, he enrolled in the Art Students League of New York.

Irwin Hasen began his comic book career freelancing for such comic book packagers as  Harry "A" Chesler,  Bert Whitman, and Funnies Inc. During this time he did work for such comic book publishers as Holyoke (where he contributed to Green Hornet Comics), Tem Publishing (for whom he created the character of Cat-Man), and MLJ Comics (for whom he created The Fox with writer Joe Blair--MLJ would later become Archie Comics). After freelancing for a time Irwin Hasen went to work for  All-American Publications, one of the companies that would become the modern day DC Comics. There he became the first artist to regularly draw Green Lantern following co-creator Martin Nodell. It was also at All-American Publications that he created Wildcat with writer Bill Finger (who also co-created Batman). Wildcat was prize fighter Ted Grant, who became a superhero to clear his name after being wrongly accused of a crime. Wildcat would prove to be one of All-American's more popular heroes and has continued to play a significant role in DC Comics to this day.

During World War II Irwin Hasen served as a prison guard  in the United States Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He edited the Fort Dix Post, as well as wrote the comic strip Sgt. Round-Step O'Malley and columns for the paper. He even set the type himself. Mr. Hasen would later say that it was his proudest achievement.

Following the war Irwin Hasen returned to work for All-American Publications, during which time it merged with sister company National Comics (publisher of Superman, Batman, et. al.) to form National Periodical Publications, essentially the modern day DC Comics. He once more drew Green Lantern stories, as well as stories for The Flash, Johnny Thunder, and the Justice Society of America. Working on the Justice Society of America feature he was the only artist to illustrate an entire issue of All-Star Comics (#39, February 1948). He co-created several supervillains, including Green Lantern foe Sportsmaster (with writer John Broome), Green Lantern foe Icicle (with writer Robert Kanigher), and Justice Society opponent Per Degaton (with writer John Broome). He also drew several covers while at All-American/National Periodical Publications, including covers for All-American Comics, All-Star Comics, Green Lantern, Sensation Comics, and Wonder Woman.

While working at All-American Publications Irwin Hasen drew The Goldbergs, a comic strip based on the popular radio show of the same name, that was published in The New York Post from 1944 to 1945. It was in 1954 that Irwin Hasen, as a member of the National Caroonists Society, went on a USO tour of Korea along with five other cartoonists, among them Gus Edson (creator of The Gumps). Messrs. Edison and Hasen struck up a friendship during the trip. The two of them then created the long running comic strip Dondi.

Dondi centred on a five year old Italian orphan of World War II who was taken in by two American soldiers (Ted Wills and Whitey McGowan). The boy had no memory of his parents or even his own name, but took the name "Dondi" after a Red Cross worker referred to him as "a dandy boy". Gus Edson wrote the strip and Iriwn Hasen illustrated it until Mr. Edson's death in 1966. Afterwards Irwin Hasen both illustrated Dondi and wrote its scripts with Bob Oksner providing help with the plots.

Dondi proved very popular. At its peak it appeared in over 100 major newspapers. In 1961 a film based on the comic strip was released. Unfortunately the film is often counted among the worst ever made and failed at the box office. Fortunately the film did not hurt the comic strip at all. In all Dondi ran for nearly 31 years. Having debuted on September 25 1955, it ended its run on June 8 1986.

Following the demise of Dondi Mr. Hasen became a familiar figure at comic book conventions. In 2009 he published a memoir, Loverboy An Irwin Hasen Story PB. Dan Makara directed a documentary short, Irwin: A New York Story, in which the nonagenarian discussed his work and his life. It debuted in 2010.

Ultimately it must be said that Irwin Hasen was not only the last of DC Comic's major artists from the Golden Age, but also one the best artists of all time. He had a clear, crisp style that at the same time did not sacrifice detail. Indeed, his work on the various All-American titles look more like something one might see in the better newspaper comic strips of the time. At the time perhaps only Alex Toth and Joe Kubert could match Irwin Hasen as an artist.

Of course, beyond Irwin Hasen's talent as an artist there is also the fact that he co-created characters with lasting appeal. Wildcat would prove to be one of the most popular characters at All-American Publications, one who has managed to survive well into the 21st Century. Indeed, the character even made his live action television debut last year in an episode of Arrow. The various supervillains that Mr. Hasen co-created (Sportsmaster, Icicle, Per Degaton, and so on ) would also prove to have lasting power. When National Periodical Publications brought back the Golden Age versions of The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, and so on in the Sixties, they brought back the supervilllains as well. Per Degaton alone would continue to appear well into the Naughts. Beyond his work in comic books, it must be pointed out that Dondi ran for a little over three decades, much longer than many comic strips. Compilations of the Dondi comic strips are still being published to this day. Ultimately Irwin Hasen proved to be not only one of the longest living artists of the Golden Age, but one of the most successful. He created some lasting characters and later transitioned into a newspaper comic strip where he also created a character with a good deal of longevity.

1 comment:

Jim Shelley said...

Excellent write up on Hasen! I'll be linking to this from my blog in an upcoming Wildcat post.