WALLACE WOOD

Wallace Wood was born in Minnesota in 1927. Growing up, he had a dream: to become the greatest comic book artist in the world. Wood dropped out of art school and moved to New York in 1948. He started at the bottom in the comic book art business and worked himself up to EC Comics, where he met Harvey Kurtzman, who wanted him for MAD1. Wood’s MAD illustrations were always phenomenal. Wallace Wood (his friends called him Woody) was an absolute genius, beloved by generations of comic fans and most especially revered by other artists. His crisp clear style set the standards high for comic book artists. Today, there is a cottage industry of books collecting various aspects of Woody’s incredible career.  As I write this tonight I find pages and pages of books collecting his work on Amazon, and 1700 hits on eBay. His work is collected and sought after all over the world. It is ironic that this most American of artists does not yet have a career-enveloping book on his life, showing his art like Kurtzman, Elder and Davis all do. I suspect the difference might be that those gentlemen were all still alive when many of the projects collecting their art were planned. It’s ironic that the best book I’ve read about Woody, the one that covers his career most completely, is from Spain. It’s called WOODWORK: WALLACE WOOD 1927-1981, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. There are of course several good books from America about Wallace Wood. Most of them focus on just one piece of his mammoth oeuvre. There is a biography called WALLY’S WORLD by Steve Starger and J. David Spurlock. The authors are to be commended for the fine job they have done sharing Wood’s life story. I have two complaints about the book. One, they don’t have much to say about his pornography. They kind of embarrassedly brush it under the rug. But it was always a huge part of Woody’s career, from the Disneyland Orgy to Gang Bang, it’s too important a piece of his puzzle to be dismissed in a study of his life. Two, they tell us he dreamed of being the best comic book artist in the world and then call him the second best comic book artist in the world. Jack Kirby is their number one. Taking nothing away from the brilliant and important work of Mr. Kirby, I feel like this was the wrong place to decide Wood was second best.2. Anyway it’s always very subjective to declare the “best” of anything. It’s like saying Artie Shaw was the best clarinetist in the world as Benny Goodman was blowing the roof off. Or vice versa. They were both right up there at the top. Kirby and Wood were both artistic giants. I also think that rumbling we heard when WALLY’S WORLD was published was Wallace Wood spinning in his grave at being second classed in his own story.3   

There seems to be a price to pay for creating at such an intense level, for burning so bright. I’ve heard it said that Woody had his problems with women (I find it difficult to blame him for the misogyny in his work given the context of the rampantly sexist times he was working in), he had multiple health problems and headaches, and he was an alcoholic. His final chapter is sadly a downward spiral. He had moved to California and was working on pornographic cartoon books when he committed suicide sometime around Halloween night 1981. He was 54 years old. It’s another California Halloween night as I sit here writing this, 33 years later, and all I can say is: Woody, thank you, thanks for the huge legacy of fantastic comic books and comic strips and paperback covers and magazines and illustrations and MARS ATTACKS trading cards and science fiction digests and 22 Panels That Always Work and all of the wonderful life-affirming adult work you left with us. Thank you for hours and hours of laughs and thrills and pure pleasure. I’ve loved your stuff for a lifetime. I don’t exactly understand how you created so much top quality art in just 54 years, but there is one thing I do know.    

Wallace Wood was the greatest comic book artist in the world.  

NOTES

1. Harvey Kurtzman on Wallace Wood (in a 1972 fanzine): “I think he delivered some of the finest work that was ever drawn, and I think it's to his credit that he put so much intensity into his work at great sacrifice to himself.”

2. Wallace Wood was given the National Cartoonist Society Award for Best Comic Book Artist in 1957, 1959, and 1965, the same year he worked inking Jack Kirby’s penciling at Marvel. Wood had achieved his life-long dream. Kirby has never been chosen for this award.

In 1989 the Harvey Awards initiated a JACK KIRBY HALL OF FAME to celebrate the world’s best comic book artists. The inaugural inductee was Wallace Wood.

This is from WOODWORK: WALLACE WOOD 1927-1981, edited by Frederic Manzano, about Wood’s contributions to Marvel’s DAREDEVIL:  “…His work drifted away from Kirby’s, the ‘official’ model at Marvel. Kirby always had a labored sense of movement and whenever he could he used foreshortening and diagonals. Wood kept things more suppressed and distant, but that didn’t come easy. Let’s think of the difference between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly… One was elegant and self-contained, the other high-spirited and unpredictable. We like both of them, each in their own way. Like Wood and Kirby.”

3.  Here is some promising news – a new book about the life and art of Wallace Wood is due out in spring 2015, edited by Bhob Stewart (1937-2014). We hope for the best.

Paperback Covers

Wallace Wood was one of those dynamos who seemed to excel at whatever he turned his hand to. With all his now-legendary comic book assignments he did not have a lot of time to do paperback covers, but those he did are all memorable. This is DOUBLE JEOPARDY by Fletcher Pratt, Galaxy Novel 30, 1957.  In addition to 60+ GALAXY magazine covers, Wallace Wood did the last six Galaxy Novel paperbacks. Digest size.

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SHAMBLEAU – C.L. Moore, Galaxy Novel 31, 1957. Digest size.

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ADDRESS: CENTAURI – F.L. Wallace, Galaxy Science Fiction Novel 32, 1958. After 31 digests, the last four Galaxy Novels are all paperback size.

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MISSION OF GRAVITY – Hal Clement, Galaxy Science Fiction Novel 33, 1958.

TWICE IN TIME – Manly Wade Wellman, Galaxy Novel 34, 1958.

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THE FOREVER MACHINE – Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, Galaxy Novel 35, 1958.

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MORE PUZZLE FUN – Martin Dell, Perma M4296, 1963. A puzzle book with “Tickle Title cartoons” credited to Wallace Wood.

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DYNAMO – Tower 42-660, 1966.

Harry Shorten, publisher of Midwood Tower, saw the success Martin Goodman was having with his Marvel Comics. He saw the money being made by DC Comics. So he created Tower Comics. His smartest move was to enlist Marvel & DC veteran Wallace Wood to create a new superhero series called THUNDER AGENTS.  Wood met the challenge head-on with a perfect series of new adventures. Reading them today for me was like discovering lost comics from a golden age.  Some of the comics were reprinted as Tower paperbacks. First up was DYNAMO.

NOMAN – Tower 42-672, 1966, The Invisible THUNDER Agent!

DYNAMO reprinted THUNDER AGENTS #1. NOMAN reprints the NoMan stories from THUNDER AGENTS #2- #5.

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MENTHOR – Tower 42-674, 1966. The THUNDER Agent With The Super Helmet!

MENTHOR reprints the Menthor stories from THUNDER AGENTS #2- #5.

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THE TERRIFIC TRIO – Tower 42-687, 1966.

THUNDER AGENTS ran from 1965 to 1969, when Tower Comics went out of business. The series lived on in various incarnations from several different publishers and were later known as Wally Wood’s THUNDER Agents. DC Comics bought the rights in the 21st Century. DC then republished the original Tower stories in their DC ARCHIVES EDITIONS.

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THE TERRIFIC TRIO – back cover.

 

Wood also did a couple children's books and some hardcover titles like THE RETURN OF CONAN (Gnome Press, 1957, not shown).

Magazines

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Wallace Wood also did some cartoons and illustrations for men’s magazines, including the February 1963 issue of PLAYBOY. He did a series called “Far Out Fables” for CAVALCADE (1965-1967), four of them are collected in EROS 38, shown below. In 1957, his cartoons appeared in DUDE and GENT, two men’s mags from the same publishers. This is from DUDE May 1957.

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DUDE July 1957

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Wood had two appearances in the September 1957 issue of DUDE, as an illustrator for “Brubbie Desbeck Goes To Mars”, and a full-page cartoon.

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DUDE September 1957

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Wallace Wood had two cartoons in GENT August 1957.

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Full-page color cartoon from GENT August 1957.

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Wallace Wood and Russ Jones share a credit for “Story adaptation and art direction” on Warren’s fumetti-style 1964 magazine THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, with stills from the movie. They added any scenes they did not have, so Wood makes a cameo appearance as a newscaster. 

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Wood was doing DAREDEVIL for Marvel in 1965 when editor Stan Lee asked him to create art for a new comic strip, not for a comic book but for the men’s magazine MALE, one of the other publications of Marvel owner Martin Goodman. The first appearance of busty S.C.O.R.E. agent PUSSYCAT in MALE ANNUAL #3 is credited to a Gabe Guttman, but there is no mistaking Wallace Wood’s style. 5 pages.

From PUSSYCAT #1:

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Pussycat #1 was Wood’s only strip in the series. The following appearances featured art by another great cartoonist, Bill Ward.  Later Pussycats have stories by Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother) and art by Jim Mooney. In 1968, Marvel collected 9 stories – #1 by Wallace Wood, 6 by Bill Ward, and 2 by Jim Mooney - in THE ADVENTURES OF PUSSYCAT Vol 1, No 1, featuring a cover and Pussycat centerfold by Bill Everett. It was a one-shot, and it is a bona fide collectible.  

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The February 1958 issue of NUGGET has 3-page gatefold. On the backs of those 3 pages is a 3-month calendar by an uncredited Wallace Wood. This is the first page. That baby Cohan on January 4 looks too much like Lt. Q.P. Dahl to be the creation of any other artist.

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NUGGET October 1958

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Wood did the cover for Forrest J Ackerman’s Warren magazine SPACEMAN 1965 YEARBOOK. The layout is reminiscent of his cartoon for the

 August 1957 GENT.

Wood also did the then-anonymous and now-legendary “Disneyland Orgy” for THE REALIST in 1966, and covers and stories for PURITAN, SCREW and NATIONAL SCREW (1976-79, not shown.)

THE COMPLEAT CANNON – Fantagraphics, 2001.

Collects the complete run of CANNON comic strips from Overseas Weekly. The target audience was adult males.

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THE COMPLEAT SALLY FORTH – edited by Bill Pearson, Fantagraphics, 2001.

Collects the complete run of SALLY FORTH comic strips from Overseas Weekly. The target audience was adult males.  

Copies of this oversize softcover are offered online for $260. to $590.  

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Books

There are dozens of books about Wallace Wood. The handful shown here are the copies I have on sale now. One of the earliest and most important to collectors was THE WALLACE WOOD TREASURY edited by Greg Theakston (Pure Imagination, 1980). The long checklist of comic book appearances is vital information, but the “Adult Material” section lists three magazines I own that proved not to have any Wood cartoons: CAVALCADE June 1967, NUGGET August 1957 and PLAYBOY December 1956.  

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Eros Comix has provided a lot of top-drawer adult material over the years, and Eros 38 was NAUGHTY KNOTTY WOODY (edited by Bill Pearson, 1998).

Although incorrectly labeled “the complete collection of Wallace Wood’s erotic work” (none of the Sally Forth comics are here), it does provide a tremendous line-up including “Far-Out Fables”, “Pipsqueak Papers”, “Malice in Wonderland”, “The Wizard of Ooz” and much much more. A seminal piece of the artist’s overall legacy.

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WALLY’S WORLD by Steve Starger and J. David Spurlock (Vanguard, 2006) not only tells the story of Wood’s life and death, it shows many key examples of work as well.

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WILD WOOD (Pure Imagination, 2010) is Greg Theakston’s follow-up of THE WALLACE WOOD TREASURY with 160 pages of comics, rarities, GALAXY illustrations, ads, reminiscences by other artists and previously unpublished humor art. In the introduction he talks about how much Wood despised THE WALLACE WOOD TREASURY. I suspect Wood might have felt the same way about many of the books telling his story in the years since his death.

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WOODWORK – WALLACE WOOD 1927-1981 edited by Frederic Manzano (Editions Deesse, 2010) is far and away the most complete career retrospective to date. The program from an art museum show in Spain, the mammoth 343-page hardcover includes a full career biography, hundreds of quotes from other artists, apprentices and friends, examples from each stage of Wood’s life and – best of all – entire reproductions of many of his finest achievements, like his art for the Ray Bradbury story “The Children” from WEIRD SCIENCE #23 (EC, 1954), “My World” from WEIRD SCIENCE #22 (EC, 1953), “To Kill a God” from VAMPIRELLA #12 (Warren, 1971) and dozens of other panels and roughs from MAD to THUNDER AGENTS to WITZEND. A must have.

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Among the rarities in WOODWORK is this 1964 record album cover.

WOODWORK is lovingly crafted and movingly written. Here is a quote from the text: “There are few artists who are as easily recognizable as Wood. Many of his tricks continue to inspire artists of today, because they work… His interest in the details brings an extra tactile, very sensual feeling to his work. Something much appreciated by the readers.”

 

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