Friday, March 9, 2012

The Late Great Sheldon Moldoff

Golden Age comic book artist Sheldon Moldoff, who drew superheroes from the original Green Lantern to Batman, passed on 29 February 2012 at the age of 91. The cause was complications from kidney failure.

Mr. Moldoff was born on 14 April 1920 in New York City, New York. He took to drawing early and was fortunate enough to live in the same apartment as fellow future comic book artist Bernard Baily (co-creator of The Spectre). One day Sheldon Moldoff was drawing with chalk on the sidewalk when the slightly older Mr. Baily came upon him. He asked the young Mr. Moldoff if he would like to learn to draw cartoons. Sheldon Moldoff took Bernard Baily up on his offer. By the time that Sheldon Moldoff was 17 he was already contributing freelance work to Detective Comics Inc. (one of the three related companies, along with National Comics Inc. and All-American Comics Inc., that would evolve into DC Comics). In fact, his first work appeared in the historic Action Comics #1 (June 1938), which featured the first appearance of Superman. Mr. Moldoff's contribution to the historic magazine was a sport filler on the inside back cover.

Sheldon Moldoff would go onto contribute not only to Detective Comics Inc., but also to All-American Comics Inc. and National Comics Inc. as well. In fact, he would create the iconic cover of Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) for All American Comics Inc., featuring the original Flash catching a bullet. He would also draw the first cover to feature the original Green Lantern, All-American Comics (April 1940). At Detective Comics Inc. he created the character of The Black Pirate, who first appeared in Action Comics #23 (April 1940).  One of Mr. Moldoff's greatest claims to fame would begin with Flash Comics#4 (April 1940). It was with that issue that he became the primary artist on the "Hawkman" feature. Drawing the character in the style of "Flash Gordon" cartoonist Alex Raymond, he became so identified with the character that many thought he co-created Hawkman with Gardner Fox rather than Dennis Neville.  For rival comic book company Quality Comics, Mr. Moldoff worked on Kid Eternity.

In 1944 Sheldon Moldoff was drafted in the United States Army. He was demobilised in 1946. Unfortunately, he was unable to find any work at National Periodical Publications (essentially the modern day DC Comics), so he sought work elsewhere. At Fawcett he worked on Captain Midnight, Tex Ritter, and Don Winslow of the Navy. It would also be for Fawcett that he would create one of the earliest horror comic books, This Magazine is Haunted. At E. C. Comics he once more worked with Gardner Fox, this time on the "Moon Girl" feature. At Pines he worked on "The Black Terror" feature. 

After he was demobilised in 1946, Mr. Moldoff went to work for Fawcett (where he did Captain Midnight, Tex Ritter,  Don Winslow of the Navy,and This Magzine is Haunted), Pines (where he worked on Tigra), and E. C. Comics (Moon Girl). In 1953 he became one of Bob Kane's ghost artists on "Batman." Working on the "Batman" feature when it was at its most bizarre in the Fifties, Mr. Moldoff would take part in the creation of such characters as Mr. Freeze (originally Mr. Zero--he was renamed for the TV series), Bat-Mite, and Ace the Bat Hound. In addition to working on the "Batman" feature, he would also do storyboards for Bob Kane's syndicated animated series Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse. With writer Robert Kanigher he created the supervillain Poison Ivy. Mr. Moldoff worked on "Batman" until 1967. In the process he became one of the artists most identified with the character (along with Dick Sprang), although because he was a ghost no one would know about his work on the character until much later.

Mr. Moldoff also did work on the "Sea Devils," "Superboy," and "the Legion of Superheroes" for National Periodical Publications. He created the syndicated animated series Marco Polo Jr. in 1972 and served as its producer and storyboard director. Mr. Moldoff also did work for the Big Boy restaurant chain, the Red Lobster restaurant chain, and Blockbuster Video.

Although he now best known as one of Bob Kane's many ghost artists on "Batman," Sheldon Moldoff's best work was arguably at All-American Comics Inc. On the "Hawkman" feature he created art that was very much like that of Alex Raymond. Mr. Moldoff's Hawman was fluid and dynamic, with plenty of detail. He brought the same sensibility to his covers for All-American Comics and Flash Comics. Some of the most memorable images of the original Green Lantern and the original Flash were created by Sheldon Moldoff. For "Batman" Mr. Moldoff had to emulate Bob Kane's somewhat cartoony style and he did so admirably. Like fellow "Batman" ghost artist Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff's work could be seen even when it was signed "Bob Kane." There was a simple elegance to Mr. Moldoff's Batman, a charm that was sometimes lacking Bob Kane's early work on the character (which was rather brief).

Here I must also say that Sheldon Moldoff was more than a great artist. He was also a consummate gentleman. While I never got to meet Mr. Moldoff, from everyone who did meet him I have heard that he was one of the nicest men one could meet. He always had time for his fans, who knew him by his nickname "Shelly." Sheldon Moldoff was a great artist who created the image of Batman that many Baby Boomers still carry in their heads to this day. He was also one of the nicest men to ever work in the comic book business.

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