Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Another Golden Age Comic Book Artist Dies

Last month saw the passing of Green Lantern creator Martin Nodell. Now another Golden Age comic book artist has passed on. Hardin "Jack" Burnley, who worked on both Superman and Batman as well as co-creating Starman with Gardner Fox, died on December 19 at the age of 95.

Burnley started his career as an artist with King Features Syndicate in 1929. He was the youngest artist ever to have his own syndicated feature. At the time most of his work involved drawing cartoons for the sports sections of newspapers. Among others, he provided work for journalist Damon Runyon. It was in 1940 that he first started working for National Comics (later to become DC Comics). He provided the cover for World’s Fair Comics #2, 1940, which was the first time that Superman and Batman were ever featured together in an illustration. He also illustrated chapters of some of the Justice Society of America's adventures in All Star Comics. Burnley was the first artist to illustrate both Superman and Batman besides their creators. For many years he also illustrated the Superman and Batman newspapers strips.

In comic book fandom, however, Jack Burnley is perhaps best known for having created Starman with writer Gardner Fox. Starman was Ted Knight, who invented a gravity rod which gave him a number of different abilities. He first appeared in Adventure Comics #61, April 1941. For a time he was also a member of the Justice Society of America. The character met with only a little success during the Golden Age ceasing to appear in print in 1944. When the Justice Society of America was revived in the Sixties, however, so was the original Starman. Over the years he would appear with the group several times. Eventually he would be a regular character in the Starman comic book of the Nineties, in which his son took over the mantle of Starman.

In 1947 Burnley left comic books to return to illustrating for newspapers. He worked for both the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph and the San Francisco News. He retired in 1976.

Burnley was one of the best artists of the Golden Age. To a large degree he was responsible for Superman as we know him today. Having come from the field of sports illustration, Burnley was among the first comic book artists, if not the first, to actually pay attention to musculature in his illustrations. He gave both Superman and Batman more muscles than their original artists (Joe Schuster, who co-created Superman, and Bob Kane, who co-created Batman) had. His style would prove influential on future generations of comic book artists. Until the Silver Age most superheroes would be absolutely musclebound. As both the co-creator of Starman and one of the first artists to actually detail muscle structure in his illustrations, he certainly had an impact.

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