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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #203

Look! Under the fold! It’s an artist! It’s a comics legend! It’s…

7/22/07

203. Curt Swan

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Curt Swan, who has drawn Superman bending steel in his bare hands and changing the flow of mighty rivers! Curt Swan, the man who drew Superman over a span of decades! Curt Swan, the definitive Super-artist!

Born in 1920, Swan was the right age to find himself drafted into the army during the second World War. It was here that he began to seriously consider making a career out of his art, and found himself working for DC Comics once he returned to civilian life. He started out on features like Boy Commandos and Tommy Tomorrow, but it was a fill-in job on Superman that sparked his lengthy, legendary run on the character. Editor Mort Weisinger saw something in Swan that led him to choose the new kid as the leading Superman artist in the mid-’50s. Curt brought some changes to the character– smoothing him out, softening his appearance, and bringing added realism to his world. His Superman would become the model for the character for the next three decades.

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During his run on the character, Mr. Swan drew a host of classic stories. The Death of Superman! The Luthor/Brainiac team! The Amazing Story of Superman Red and Superman Blue! His style evolved over time as he grew into the character and began to instill more life and emotion into ol’ Supes. His art changed with the times (and also with the inker) and became better and better. When Superman was given that slight revamp from Denny O’Neil in 1971, Swan remained on the books as that one constant that saw Big Blue through.

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In 1986, the big DCU reboot had arrived, and Curt drew his “Swan” song on Superman, the much-acclaimed Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, the “last” Superman story. It was quite fitting for the artist who had drawn the character so well, and for so long, to draw his final adventure. After this, Curt went into a sort of retirement, though he’d return to the character again, in the Earth Stealers graphic novel and in a recurring feature in Action Comics Weekly. He’d also contribute pages to the milestone 700th issue of Action Comics. It’s in these last two that he worked with Roger Stern, a great comics writer who seems to read this blog. I’d love to hear any Swan remembrances Mr. Stern may have.

Unfortunately, Curt Swan passed away in 1996. His final comics work appeared posthumously in the Superman Wedding Album, as Clark and Lois tied the knot. We lost a great artist when Curt Swan died, and Superman will never be the same again.

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Good-bye, Curt. We’ll miss you.

As a young lad, I never got into Curt’s artwork– I was into other styles. I get it now, though, I see what I so foolishly overlooked. Curt’s comics were filled with brilliantly realized characters who displayed a terrific range of emotions. He brought life and verve to Superman and his enemies and supporting cast. He made Superman real. And I, for one, will treasure his artwork for quite a long time to come.

To read Curt’s story from the man himself, read his “Drawing Superman” article hosted at a fantastic Superman site I forgot to mention, Superman Thru the Ages. I’ve got them to thank for the sequentials that appeared in today’s entry.

Thankfully, there’s a legion of Curt Swan fans across the internet who remember him and pay tribute to him. You can read these fine remembrances from Paul Gravett, Dial B for Blog, the Superman Super Site, and Superman Thru the Ages. They’re all lovely pieces.

That’s all for today. And yes, I didn’t put an archive link above the fold, so feel free to use this one.

22 Comments

Rohan Williams

July 22, 2007 at 5:12 pm

I love Swan. Like you, I wasn’t necessarily his biggest fan when I was younger, just because I grew up with Byrne and Ordway and Jurgens and Grummet and Bogdanove and Guice, but whenever I came across older stories in reprint collections or wherever, I was impressed by his work.

Of course, since then I’ve gotten pretty heavily into Swan’s stuff, and you’re right, his strengths were absolutely his great emotional range and his ability to make the stories feel like they were happening in a ‘real’ way. ‘Verisimilitude’, to quote Richard Donner.

Andrew Collins

July 22, 2007 at 6:23 pm

I believe the last thing published while he was still alive was an issue of Swamp Thing that Mark Millar wrote with Curt Swan in mind. It was a great issue of the series too. I was very sad to learn he passed away shortly after it came out.

So, is this Superman week? If so, I hope we see Steel at some point.

We already saw Steel, back during Black History Month.

This has absolutely nothing to do with Curt Swan per se, but I really, really need to express my love for those panels above. “Wow, check it out! There’s two of us, and each is a hundred times smarter!” “Cool! Our first order of business: to notice our costumes are different colours!”

I loved his work in the recurring feature in Action Comics Weekly. It felt like an extended newspaper Sunday strip.

I also encountered his work in those old Superman comics at a relatives house a s a kid I mentioned before. Maybe that was part of the charm? I’m sure it was.

I love Curt Swan’s stuff. Great style. I always liked how he made Superman seem to look like he was kind of disappointed in the criminals or something.

All of that, and not a single mention for his work essentially defining the Legion of Super-Heroes? For shame, Mr. Reed! Also, the Legion does not yet have a 365 Things entry yet either! DOUBLE shame! And if the Legion doesn’t have an entry, even worse that Brainiac Five, one of the best DC characters ever, doesn’t! TRIPLE shame!

(Also, Curt Swan drew my favorite Superman story ever, the Bronze Age one where Jonathan Kent comes back from the dead thanks to the power of helpful aliens who owed him a favour, and where Superman fights an evil hippie with magical wishing powers.)

I think Swan’s art specifically sold me on the Superman and Legion Showcase volumes. The range of emotions he lent to characters made it much, much easier to enjoy the stories presented within.

Best Superman artist ever.

Curt Swan was THE Superman artist that I grew up with, especially considering that the alternative was generally Wayne Boring, whose figures I found, then, stiff and unrealistic. It was, in fact, Swan’s “realism” that attracted me so much, as well as his ability to characterise a wide variety of characters, giving them easily distinguishable faces and figures, an ability not always in evidence nowadays. One of the many factors that made the Denny O’Neil revamp so memorable for me was that Swan was finally inked by Murphy Anderson, who brought out the best in so many “realistic” artists of the time, especially Infantino and Kane. Swanderson was for a long time the definitive Superman team for me, and it took me a while to appreciate other artists on the Man of Steel.
In time, I learnt to be aware of his limitations, but Swan still provided me with many fond memories of an era. He will be sorely missed.

I, too, didn’t like Swan’s style in my younger years. Almost didn’t buy “Whatever Happened…” because of it. But in recent years I’ve learned to apreciate it. Even recognize it through whatever inker/finisher he went in later years.

The Kirbydotter

July 23, 2007 at 10:17 am

Yessiree!
Curt Sawn will always be the best Superman artist ever.

I pretty much ignore any Superman stories not drawn by him, with a few exceptions of course. I did like John Byrne’s run after Crisis on Infinite Earth. Jeph Loebs and Tim Sale’s SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS, and a few others.

Curt Swan, like Jim Aparo, was an artist we took for granted. Never the “hot” artist, but a reliable one who did his best whatever the job and/or quality of scripts. He was also the one who got me hooked on the Legion of Superheroes. The Sundays-style two pages Superman strip in the ACTION COMICS (during the John Byrne era) was the best thing in that anthology. It didn’t hurt either that he was finally reunited with Murphy Anderson on inks. The Swanderson team! A classic team if there ever was one! (okay, there was also the Andru/Esposito and a few others). But I am among those who think that Curt Swan best inker was George Klein who had a cleaner and fuller brusk stroke that Murphy’s multiple short fine strokes.

I would also recommend Curt Swan occasionnal fill-ins in Ordway’s cool POWER OF SHAZAM series. Swan mostly did flashback stories about the golden age adventures of Fawcett heroes like Ibis, Spysmasher, etc.

One of the most prized volume of my collection is the harcover edition of CURT SWAN: A LIFE IN COMICS published by Vanguard. Tons of sketches, paintings, commercial art, and, best of all, the model sheets for Superman’s cast of characters with many different facial expressions. Swan was a master of facial expression that maybe only Neal Adams could challenge. You should see the model sheet for Legion of Superheroes! Every legionnaire’s face has his own hair-style, even the guys! Everyone one of them unique and different from the other. Easy for the girls, but the guys in the 50′s and 60′s comics all had the same look back then! Not when they were drawn by Curt Swan though!

There are two categories of Superman artist.

1. Curt Swan

2. Everyone else.

Curt Swan is the definitive Superman artist.

Since you asked, Bill…

Working on Superman with Curt Swan was one of the great pleasures of my career. That he took time to call and tell me how much he enjoyed drawing my stories was a thrill beyond my abilities to describe.

Curt was a great artist and a gentleman in the best sense of that word. It felt good to see him lionized at conventions in his later years.

It’s hard to believe that over a decade has passed since we lost him. We will miss him forever.

– Uncle Rog

Regarding Swan and the Legion, Legion of Super-Heroes #92 (May 1997) pays homage to Swan in a story called “Swan’s Way”. Several Legionnaires are thrown back in time to the 1950s and Swan appears as a high school art teacher.

Swan’s contribution to the Superman mythology cannot be overstated. Even with subpar inkers, his work was great. In the hands of inkers like Murphy Anderson and George Klein, it was magnificent.

And when is DC going to publish a Sand Superman TPB? They’re on a Silver Age kick, so I hope sooner rather than later.

Many thanks, Roger!

Excellent choice.

When I first got into comics, Curt Swan was my absolute favourite artist.

I’m not so fond these days, and he represents a lot of what makes it hard for me to read old school now, but I still remember thinking he was the bees knees

Dennis Michael Montgomery aka Benoit

November 8, 2007 at 11:04 am

I have Muscular Dystrophy and as a teenager I couldn’t run around like the other kids, but I could draw some and even though I was poor I bought comic books. Because, I was poor, I was careful and picky buying comics. If it had a Swan cover I bought it without hesitation. Sometimes this gusto would go a bit sour on me when I got home and open the comic only to find Wayne Boring. Talk about disappointment! At the time, I didn’t have enough intellect to know why I didn’t like Boring, but I knew that I liked Swan’s art a whole lot more.

One day, I was admiring one of Superboy’s cover done by Curt Swan and started rambling on to my mother on how much I liked it and wondered how Swan drew the figures. My Mother said, “Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him?”

So, I did.

About three or four weeks later (maybe more) he responded. Talk about thrilled! In his letter which he penciled he included some examples of how he drew the body and head and how they are proportioned. He also encouraged me and advised me to practiced, practiced, and to practiced. This was what I needed and I went to it. I was elated.

I wrote him two more letters and again he answered.

Even though, I never became a hot shot artist I still remember and cherish the advice and the time he gave me.

Curt Swan was a great man. And is still one of my art heroes along with Neal Adams, Michangelo, Rubenss, and Norman Rockwell.

Dear Bill:
I’m happy to know that, even if it was later in his professional life, Curt Swan received a well-deserved recognition from the fans; I rate him as one of the top comic book artists, along with Russ Manning, Alex Toth, Winsor McCay, Hal Foster, Mike Mignola and others. I read a lot of Superman stories by Swan, years before I knew his name, (or new as much about comics artwork as I know, nowadays), and the quality of his artwork always stood out. Examining his art, now, I can see that his anatomy was always flawless, his composition never less than good or adequate, his perspectives were always correct, and, of course, his facial expressions. (At least, every art by him, that I ever saw, was like that.) Aside from that, from what I’ve read here, he was also a fine man. Knowing that, I’ll miss his art even more.

Anybody know where I can find those Legion costume sketches that Swan did on line?

For me, both Boring and Swan were wonderful. And, I could never “get” why many others preferred the Marvel art…just didn’t do it for me. For me, it was Superman, the Flash, Swamp Thing, Adam Strange, and several scifi titles. I still have a pretty good collection of “Silver Age” Superman and some other titles. In another category, there was Wally Wood, who was amazing, with his EC covers and such. His work was truly original and exciting. I even belonged to his fan club for while in the eighties!!

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