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CSBG Archive

Underappreciated Artist Spotlight – Ramona Fradon

Here’s the first of Scott’s Underappreciated Artist Spotlights – BC

I was invited to hop aboard the good ship CSBG to help everyone see the goodness in old funnybooks.

I thought a good way to get started is to post a week long series of Underappreciated Artist Spotlights. The purpose of these spotlights is to shine some light on a creator who may not be mentioned in the same breath as a Kirby or Adams, but who nonetheless has made a real mark in the comic book business.

This is a series that has run intermittently over a Classic Comics at CBR for the past 5 years so some of you may be experiencing a bit of déjà vu, but that’s really just a sign of ageing.

I can’t think of a better place to begin than a look at the wonderfully charming art of Ramona Fradon.

From what I remember reading in Trina Robbins’ book on the history of women cartoonists, there was a long, long stretch of time (20 years?) during which Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin were the only female artists working as artists for a major comic book publisher. This was quite a decline from the 1940s, when female creators were not quite so rare.

You tend to hear a lot more ‘war stories’ about Marie than you do Ramona, as the antics of the Marvel Bullpen were reported on a regular basis. Ramona may not have been quite as plugged into the industry as Mirthful Marie, but she has certainly produced an impressive body of work.

What we do know is that she got her start at DC around 1950 and did some work on crime books like Mr. District Attorney and Gang Busters before getting a regular gig on the Aquaman strip. She went on to co-create Metamorpho before taking time off to raise a child. When she returned in the 70s, she worked on a variety of books, most notably Super Friends where her fluid pencils were Super Friendly for young kids. She even did some work for Marvel, including pencils on Fantastic Four #133. She left the comic book world around 1980 to take over the Brenda Starr strip (working on a female character for the first time?) until retirement in the mid 90s.

My first exposure to Ramona’s work was through the Super Friends comic book in the mid to late 70s.

As I began to buy Silver Age books, I found Metamorpho to be strangely appealing (it was also available for next to nothing) and picked up quick a few of those. That title seemed different than anything else I’d seen up until that point.

Eventually, I began buying old issues of Adventure Comics and World’s Finest. I absolutely loved her take on Aquaman and his whole underwater world. I know that many Aquafans tend to love either the Nick Cardy or Jim Aparo versions of Aquaman but, in my opinion, Ramona’s Aquaman holds its own.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ramona a few years ago at a convention. We had a long chat discussing her time in the industry and her various projects (her time on Plastic Man in the 70s remained a favorite).

I had a copy of DC’s Gangbusters #21 from 1951 and asked her to confirm that she had drawn one of the stories. She told me that she hadn’t seen it in decades and that it was indeed one of her first jobs. She did a quick critique of her work, and I was impressed by how she spotted every little weakness in the artwork (it was pretty solid artwork for a new artist). I asked her to take the copy of the book home with her as her family would probably get some enjoyment of out seeing it.

I could not pass up buying two of her wonderfully rendered pencil drawings. I got the first one for my wife, as she loves manatees (we saw some on our honeymoon in Belize).

The 2nd group shot caught my eye immediately – her Blackhawk and Doctor MidNite are superb.

These photos don’t do justice to the artwork.

19 Comments

I also discovered Fradon’s art on Super Friends back in the 70s; it was my first American comic book series. While the art style in general imitated the cartoon’s, the designs of various original heroes and villains- including the Global Guardians, whom everybody forgets were created in THAT series- were wonderfully creative. Another now-forgotten superhero team, the Elementals, was also created (I assume) by Fradon in the SF series; they got TWO different sets of costumes, in fact, since in the story the character’s first ones proved impractical for their powers. Too bad the team was never used again.

Well there’s two things then. I also love Ramona’s work – well the stuff I’ve seen which is mainly Metamorpho and my wife and I saw manatee in Belize on honeymoon.

That is some nice work. Similar in style to JRsr.

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

August 26, 2008 at 9:46 am

Ms. Fradon is indeed a great artist with which to begin this column. The Aquaman Archives should be on every comic fans shelf.

Hey DC, how about a Showcase Presents the Superfriends?

I too had the pleasure of meeting Ramona a few years back at a convention in New York. I had actually gone to track down one or two other Silver Age artists, not at the time thinking much about her or her work. But I have since come to appreciate her style.

One of my all-time favorite comic book stories is Metamorpho’s debut appearance in the Brave and the Bold. Fradon’s art was wonderful. I believe she was inked by Charles Paris. A great origin.

The Aquaman Archives features some great work by her.

I really love that manatee! The level of detail is awesome!

Weirdly reminds me of a Brian Bolland piece…

Ramona Fradon is a tremendously talented artist — a great visual storyteller. Based solely upon the one time I met her, she’s a fascinating person also.

Kudos for bringing her some well-deserved recognition!

She’s one of my all-time favorite artists. Those pencil drawings are gorgeous.

I love her lush line and fully-realized settings. She could do really bizarre stuff, but make it so endearing.

Suggestions for under-appreciated artists or writers of the Silver & Bronze ages:

Alfredo Alacala
Arnold Drake
John Severin
Marie Severin
Nick Cardy
Pablo Marcos
Jeffrey Jones
Frank Robbins

FunkyGreenJerusalem

August 26, 2008 at 9:04 pm

That Aquaman piece you brought is superb!

FunkyGreenJerusalem

August 26, 2008 at 9:05 pm

John Severin

Does John Severin count as under appreciated?

He’s got some very vocal fans, and he’s still taking jobs these days (like the Punisher MAX one-shot he did. That was some great stuff).

It’s too bad she retired so early,as well as not doing much more work for marvel.

[...] Brian Cronin introduces us to the work of classic DC Comics artist Ramona [...]

Oh wow, you own the manatee picture! I saw that on the site that takes her commissions and thought it was incredible!

Brian, those are great originals. Thanks for this. I have a number of her comic books since I was the right age to be collecting stuff like the PLASTIC MAN revival.

One more factoid: her husband, Dana Fradon, is a New Yorker cartoonist.

Thank you so much for posting this. I discovered Fradon earlier this year after starting to collect Metamorpho comics and am now a huge fan. Beautiful work indeed.

Man, Ramona Fradon’s the awesomest. Lots of *stuff* going on, but absolutely no wasted lines.

[...] Frank Miller, George Perez, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams,  EC’s Johnny Craig, Steve Gerber, the under-appreciated Ramona Fradon, Alex Toth, Joe Kubert, Howard Chaykin, J. M. Dematties, Kieth Giffen, Gil Kane, Law and [...]

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