365 Reasons to Love Comics #197
And now, a look at one of the finest artists to ever grace a comics page. It’s hard, you know, to encapsulate an artist’s worth and career in such a small space as one of these entries. That goes double for this fellow. (As always, the archive is here. The reader survey is forthcoming.)
197. Jim Aparo
This Thursday will mark the second anniversary of Jim Aparo’s passing. I didn’t intend for the timing of this entry to work out that way, but here it is. Mr. Aparo’s art has an interesting effect on me because his name was one of the first I learned when I began to notice credit boxes in my comics, and his art was probably the first I could recognize just by glimpsing it. His figures were rock solid and distinctly hewn. His style was leaner and meaner than Neal Adams’, realistic but still reminiscent of old adventure strips. He penciled, inked, and lettered a huge quantity of his work. That, my friends, is commitment. Always a consummate professional, that Jim Aparo.
His start in the comic book industry happened at Charlton, where he drew a cool run on the Phantom, but it was at DC that he would find his home. The cool thing about Jim Aparo is that he defined everything he drew. He drew the definitive Spectre and Phantom Stranger. He drew one of the definitive Aquamans (along with Nick Cardy and Ramona Fradon). And, of course, he drew the definitive Batman, or my definitive Batman, at any rate.
One might not think his style would fit the genre, but he did draw quite a few supernatural stories in his day, the best of which were his Spectre and Phantom Stranger stories (the latter of which can be found in a Showcase volume). Whether mysterious or vengeful, these characters became fully-realized thanks to his art.
And, of course, I love Aquaman, so I can’t let Aquaman slip by. Boy howdy, was Mr. Aparo’s Aqua-art terrific. His Aquaman was strong and confident, in command of the oceans. When Aparo drew him, the character was put through hell, and his son was killed, but he kept on fighting. It’s great work.
Batman, however, is where Aparo shined. He drew the character in multiple titles for years on end, and his art never faltered. Aparo drew the death of Robin. He drew the breaking of the Bat. And, with scripts by Bob Haney, he wrote the raddest comic of all time, which you may know as The Brave & The Bold. Aparo worked his way through the entire DC Universe in this title, providing the art for bizarre but brilliant stories that set readers’ brains on fire. The series was distilled comics greatness. Heck, Aparo himself guest-starred in one fantastic issue, #124, seen at the top of the post. Here’s a page from it, borrowed from Erik Weems’ lovely tribute to the artist at Art & Artifice:
Aparo’s Batman wasn’t a myth, or a shadowy, wispy figure; he was clearly a man, flesh-and-blood, wearing a costume. His Batman was real, fully-formed, and intimidating. He was big and powerful but could be hurt, could be worn down. That didn’t make him any less unstoppable, however. And yes, Aparo’s Batman also hit people so hard that they exploded. That’s some muscle he’s packing. “Aparo!” should become a sound effect.
Be it in Brave & the Bold, Batman, Detective, or the Outsiders, Mr. Aparo drew a Batman to be reckoned with. He drew the Batman I remember, the Batman my childhood was captivated by. Batman and Aparo go together like Mike and Ike or peanut butter and jelly or kicks and faces. They made beautiful comics together.
Three cheers for Jim Aparo. He made comics awesome, and for that, we honor his memory, two years on. Can words really do his art justice? No– but I did my best.
For some more good Aparo stuff, check out this neat little Comic Book Artist interview. It’s good stuff.