Jim Keefe is the current artist of the Sally Forth comic strip, he is also the writer and artist of the Flash Gordon comic strip - both available at ComicsKingdom.com. A graduate of the Joe Kubert School, Keefe likewise teaches Comic Art. Teaching and speaking engagements include SVA in Manhattan, Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs, The University of Minnesota and most recently the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
The last time I saw him at C2E2 in Chicago he had to leave abruptly as he was called to do some courtroom sketches. To see him take off harkened back to newsmen of the 1940s racing off to catch a story. And that’s how I’ll remember him…
I had to make a run to an Extended Care facility recently (I was scheduled to pick up meds for someone – not an unessential visit). Upon entering I had my temperature taken and had use of surgical gloves before bing admitted. While I was waiting an unnamed incident happened on the floor above us so the unit was put into lockdown – no one could come in or out unless it was deemed absolutely necessary by staff. Residents who wanted to get a smoke started to congregate. Very quickly some started getting impatient – then indignant.
One heavyset man in a motorized wheelchair started yelling at the staff, “I’m 70 years old – you can’t tell me what to do! They don’t tell us nothin’ here! What is this – a PRISON?!“
Tensions in the room kept getting higher as the lockdown continued. The yelling continued. Throughout it the staff stayed calm, obviously accustomed to such behavior and refusing to escalate the situation by echoing the patient’s aggravation.
Eventually the lockdown ended and the residents/patients got their smokes – crisis averted.
A very small reminder to me of the countless number of doctors and staff who are on the front lines dealing with the endless ramifications/repercussions of this pandemic head on – day in and day out in. The work being done on our behalf by the medical profession right now is incalculable and I am in awe of their dedication and sacrifice. And the inconvenience of self isolating on my part seems pretty small in comparison.
Back in the mid 1980s I tried out classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a semester. Currently at MCAD you can major in Comic Art, but back then comic art was not a thing. In fact it was generally frowned upon.
I was in a film class, and the assignment was to bring in something of interest to us and then talk about it while being filmed (something about getting comfortable in front of a camera I guess). I brought in the recently released Cycle of the Werewolf novella by Stephen King – with beautiful illustrations by the one and only Bernie Wrightson.
Wrightson’s magnum opus Frankenstein had been released just prior and he was (and still is) a god of illustration to me.
While I talked about my admiration for Wrightson’s work, fellow students off camera started talking within earshot. The gist of it was, a hack writer hired a hack comic book artist – and it’ll be an instant hit to the mindless masses – but it was far from ART.
Hearing this I started talking into the camera a little louder how great an artist Wrightson was and how he was not the “hack” some people thought.
This bias against comic book art was mirrored by the teachers in those years, and as the vibe at MCAD wasn’t right for me I left. Within a year I had found out about and enrolled at the Joe Kubert School, so a win-win for me. Suffice it to say most of my new classmates were big fans of Wrightson as well.
In my experience, animation and cartooning has always been looked down on by the fine arts community, or at best given a condescending pat on the back. To me, sequential art is the best way to tell a story – and the artists who excel in the field are Masters. With the rise in popularity of “graphic novels” here in the US there’s been more mainstream acceptance of sequential art, but for the rank and file in the arts community I don’t see that much has changed.
That said, I don’t care. I’ve been working in this field for over 30 years now and am surrounded by people that have the same love of cartooning/comics/anime/manga that I have. Ends up there’s no need to waste time banging heads with people who unfortunately are limited in their thinking of what constitutes Art.
And that’s my two cents.
That said… Here’s to Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017). A master of pen and ink who’s work still remains an inspiration to me. The gold standard to shoot for every time you pick up a Series 7 Winsor & Newton brush.
Here’s a quick video of Bernie Wrightson from 1987, with an intro by Harlan Ellison. Wrightson talks about his work on Swamp Thing and Frankenstein among other highlights – Enjoy!
Last but not least, a poignant tweet from Neil Gaiman from when Wrightson died…
Addendum: Bernie Wrightson’s work on Frankenstein has since toured Art museums across the country as part of the Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters exhibit. They are truly breathtaking to see in person.
To see so many different comic book artists on display in this show was just phenomenal. A shout out to Guillermo del Toro for providing a worthy showcase of these extraordinary masters of comic art – Vive la résistance!
First one off is Michael O’Sullivan from the graphic novel Road to Perdition. It was written by Max Allan Collins with fantastic art by Richard Piers Rayner.
Set during the prohibition era of Al Capone and Elliot Ness, Michael O’Sullivan is a ruthless but honorable enforcer of Irish mob boss John Rooney. When he is betrayed – resulting in his wife and child being murdered – O’Sullivan sets out to protect his only surviving child and exact revenge.
In 2002 it was adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.
Follow up graphic novels by Max Allen Collins include On the Road to Perdition drawn by José Luis García-López and Steve Lieber, and Return to Perdition drawn by Terry Beatty.
From Banshee to Siryn to Silver Banshee it seems like many Irish comic book characters have superhuman vocal traits – drawn from the old Irish folklore of the Banshee. The Black Canary is no exception.
Created by the writer-artist team of Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, the Black Canary is a master in hand-to-hand combat. Her superpower is the canary cry, an ultrasonic vibration when she screams that can disable an opponent.
Daredevil was created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett – and later retooled by Wally Wood.
While growing up in the gritty Irish-American neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, Matt Murdock saves a pedestrian by pushing him out of the way of an oncoming truck but in doing so is struck by a radioactive substance that falls from the vehicle.
His exposure to the radioactive chemicals blinds him, but also heightens his remaining senses giving him superhuman abilities.
The Netflix series Daredevil draws heavily from Frank Miller’s take on the character.
I highly recommend the acclaimed graphic novel Daredevil: Born Again by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli (pictured above).
Secret Agent X-9
I’m sneaking a comic strip character into the mix here…
Secret Agent X-9 was created by writer Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and drawn by artist Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon) and first ran in newspapers on January 22, 1934. In the 1960s it was written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson and relaunched as Secret Agent Corrigan.
Though never referred to as Irish, when I wrote and drew a cross-over story between Secret Agent X-9 and Flash Gordon in the year 2000, that’s what I always had in the back of my mind.
Side note: And when X-9 and Flash first come face-to-face, I had no other than legendary EC artist George Evans draw the page…
And last but not least…
Captain America was created by the legendary team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941. The iconic cover of Captain America punching Hitler in the face came out a full 8 months before the United States even entered the war.
From a 2016 Buzz.ie article by Ruairi Scott Byrne:
While Captain America may be a representation of the ultimate American, it turns out that the Marvel superhero is actually just a good ole Irish lad at heart.
Chris Evans, who portrays Cap in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has revealed the character’s deep Irish roots and how his own Irish family made him a better man.
“There are a lot of similarities between us. I was raised a good Catholic Irish boy at heart, so was ‘Cap’,” the actor told the Irish Sun. “Our sensibilities and ideologies come from that. That sense of morality, very much stems from that.”
“The difference is Cap was first generation Irish. His folks actually came from Ireland, they came over at the turn of the last century. Yeah, I read all this in the notes, Marvel sends it to you, they want you knowing your research.
“So everything he knew from a young age was Irish. And that’s a big part of who he is, that moral code he lives by, you know, you could totally call him Captain Ireland,” he said.
Evans hails from Boston and revealed that ‘being a good catholic boy’ helped to teach him his manners.
“My heritage is a little more diluted, there’s Italian but we were definitely an Irish Catholic house. I’m a good Catholic Irish boy. And I like to think I’ve held onto that.
“I think my attitude is very reflective of that. I like to be direct and to the point but also polite and respectful at the same time,” he added.
Are there characters I’m missing? If so please comment below.