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 dÃ©jÃ 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.