FIVE QUESTIONS: DAN NADEL
The curious corners of comics history are a specialty of Dan Nadel, the author and art director of “Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980,” which is a follow-up to his 2006 book “Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969.” Here at Hero Complex we recently ran three excerpts from the new Abrams ComicArts release, and now we ask Madel five burning questions on the eve of his appearance at Cinefamily on May 30.
GB: We knew so many comic-book artists by the brightly colored adventures they put to paper, but away from the page, some of them had pretty grim and frustrating lives.
DN: That’s true — like a lot of artists in various media, they often led somewhat difficult lives — or at the very least, very interesting lives. One artist who falls into the “interesting” category is Pete Morisi, whose Johnny Dynamite is reprinted in “Art in Time.” Morisi was a striking stylist as a cartoonist and also, and this is somewhat unusual for the 1950s, he was a comics fan. He collected original art and sought out his artistic heroes.
Most fascinating of all, after drawing some of the best crime comics ever published, he became a cop himself, working the beat for a couple of decades and drawing comics during his off hours under a pseudonym. When he retired from police work, Morisi went back to comics.
Another fascinating case is Herbert Crowley, whose “The Wiggle Much” I published in “Art Out of Time.” Only just recently his niece contacted me, and I’ve learned that he was a well-exhibited artist, a sort of spiritual intellectual and a constant traveler in the 1910s and 1920s — Paris, Cairo, London, NYC and, finally, Zurich, where he became a member of Carl Jung’s circle. I never would have guessed at any of this from the work on the page.
GB: Give us a short list — who do you consider to be the greatest comic-book artists ever? And who would you consider the most underrated?
DN: Hmmm, this is pretty tough. For greatest ever (don’t make me rank them — that’s too brutal — and I’ll stick to Americans to make this at least semi-narrow): Jack Kirby, Robert Crumb, Gary Panter, George Herriman, Steve Ditko, Chester Brown, Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Kim Deitch,Chris Ware, Dan Clowes. For most underrated: Jesse Marsh, Rory Hayes, Ramona Fradon, Pete Morisi, Bill Everett, Ogden Whitney, Gene Colan, Frederick Opper, Carol Tyler, George McManus, Justin Green, Roy Crane, Bill Griffith, George Hansen, Aline Kominsky, Jim Steranko.
GB: How did you come to this project, and what were the challenges that presented themselves along the way?
DN: Both books evolved out of looking closely at how comics history has been written and contrasting that with talking to artists and making my own discoveries. It quickly became apparent that the standard narrative of comics history left out a tremendous amount of interesting work, often because it didn’t fit into a linear narrative. So a lot of what I’ve tried to do is both a recovery process and an attempt to show different paths forward too. By demonstrating that radical work has been done in comics for 100 years, it gives contemporary avant garde or unusual work a bit more grounding in the tradition. The challenges were mostly pleasant: having to choose between great artists and great stories; finding a focus for each volume; creating a decent and sensible sequence. That kind of stuff.
GB: What’s the weirdest vintage comic book you own?
DN: The weirdest is a wonderful 1940s comic all about tuna fishing, drawn in a clean-line superhero style. It’s a treasure of weirdness.
GB: What project is up next for you?
DN: At the moment, I’m working on the “other side” of my daily life — being a publisher for PictureBox. Just finishing a bunch of graphic novels with Brian Chippendale, Renee French and Ben Jones, as well as a book-DVD with Michel Gondry and Julie Doucet. I also continue to write regularly on Comics Comics , which I co-edit.
— Geoff Boucher
RECENT AND RELATED
ART IN TIME: Pat Boyette and the beguilding “Children of Doom”
ART IN TIME: Michael McMillian’s strange corners of outer space
ART IN TIME: Harry Lucey brought doomed characters to life
IMAGES: Top, a page of H. G. Peter’s work on Man O’Metal from “Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics” issue No. 13 in 1942, which is featured in “Art in Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980” by Dan Nadel
(Abrams ComicArts). Second, a photo of Dan Nadel and friend. (Credit: Kenna Kay). Third, the cover of “Art in Time.” Fourth, a page of Art Boyette’s work from “Art in Time” (Abrams ComicArt).