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Underappreciated Artist Spotlight – Mort Meskin

Here’s Scott’s next piece – BC.

What can I say about Mort Meskin? I absolutely adore his artwork. It is stylish, it is clean and it has always struck me as very dignified.

As a younger reader, I had not idea who Mort Meskin was, as I would have only encountered his artwork from time to time through reprints, but I probably wasn’t paying much attention to the credits. The first time I truly recall Meskin’s artwork catching my eye was in the 60 Years of DC Comics book published in the mid-90s. This picture demonstrated Meskin’s technique to show Johnny Quick’s speed.

I loved it! I have since come into possession of that issue (More Fun #96) and it is one of my most prized books.

Meskin’s story is an interesting one, and perhaps a little bit sad. Unlike many of his contemporaries such as Kirby, Eisner and Kane, Mort Meskin’s status in the comic book world seemed to diminish over time. In the 40s, Meskin was given some nice assignments at DC and really excelled on Vigilante and Johnny Quick, two back-up strips that were often better than the headliner.

I’ve included a couple of fine example of Meskin’s artwork on both titles. The first is a splash page reprinted in the 100-Page Flash #229.

The Vigilante image is from Action Comics #77 – I just love Vig’s body position in the bottom left panel.

As Meskin did some work on the Nedor superhero title with Jerry Robinson and did a lot of work through the 50s for Simon & Kirby’s Crestwood titles. Take a look at the handsome page from Young Love #17.

By the mid-50s, he (like many other artists) had a tougher time landing jobs. The latter part of his career was spent back at DC and was given less than stellar assignments on for anthology titles such as House of Secrets and My Greatest Adventure (Mark Merlin is no Johnny Quick!). I have read tidbits here and there about Meskin’s bad nerves and his rough relationship with Mort Weisinger at DC, but I have never read a definitive telling of that story. In some ways, it seems that this man who had so much talent and whose comic book career started with such a bang, left for the ad game in the mid-60s without much fanfare. Although respected by his peers, Meskin never achieved demigod status, and never really got to sink his teeth into a big name project.

If you compare Meskin’s artwork of the early 40s to his artwork in the early 60s, you might be shocked that it is the same artist. I’ve included a page from House of Secrets #65 so you can compare both eras.

His 40s work (often signed Mort Morton Jr.) was full of panache, with plenty of action, interesting sound effect techniques and the splashiest of splash pages. At first glance, his 60s work seems stiff, dark and lacking in dynamism. Initially, I was turned off the 60s work, but I have come to appreciate it much more in recent years. The art is simply quieter, and Meskin seems to focus more on moving the story along. I have also read that he was now inking much of his own work (I believe Jerry Robinson and George Roussos did much of the earlier inking), and Meskin was experimenting with different techniques. Someone with more of an art background can comment on that issue. What I now feel is that Meskin’ artwork was not deteriorating, but rather it was maturing. He was trying to move in a different direction, while at the same time working within DC’s ‘house look’. I still don’t like it as much as his earlier stuff, but I find it to be quite interesting. Here’s a good opinion piece by someone who prefers the later Meskin work – it includes a good samples of his artwork.http://www.meskin.net/ifoughtthecloc…lockstext.html

All in all, Meskin was one of the best – highly influential on many artists, including Jack Kirby. Unfortunately, he was never able to grow as an artist like many of his peers and his name is slowly being forgotten. If only DC would publish Archive Editions of Johnny Quick and Vigilante!

10 Comments

Meskin and (the equally underappreciated Roussos) were two of the finest artists of the Golden Age. My own favourite of his Johnny Quick tales is ‘The Curious Cargo of the Bonnie Bess in which Meskin drew Quick operating in Aquaman territory.

A Johnny Quick Archive? Not too likely from a company that has thus far ignored Lou Fine’s work on the Ray and the Black Condor!

Maybe they’ll do a Johnny Quick archive to cash in on Speedster fever, arround the time of Flash: Rebirth….

According to Blake Bell’s book, he was a big influence on Steve Ditko.

I had no idea Johnny Quick’s original comics looked this great. I only knew him from his role as part of the Flash’s extended supporting cast in Waid’s run.

What a rad feature this is! I hope it becomes regular.

And let’s not forget his work on Starman…

Hi,

I just wanted to let folks know that I have begun a Yahoo group on Mort Meskin:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Mort-Meskin

I am currently hard at work on a book of Meskin’s life and art for Fantagraphics, in conjunction with his son Peter, and with a foreword by Jerry Robinson. The group has been up for less than a week and already has been extremely active. Join us!

Steven

[…] scan is from a story on CBR from two years ago where they did a feature on Underappreciated Artists spotlighting Mort Meskin. In the article the writer talks about his first visual introduction to Johnny Quick in the 60 […]

When I first saw Meskin’s work I thought it was Jack Kirby. I mean the style, layout: Jack Kirby. It’s TOO CLOSE , you know; and these two people existed in the same time frame. Were friends in fact.
Now the BIG question: was it Meskin imitating Kirby, or was it Kirby imitating Meskin. There’s NO WAY around it. Something OCCURED that nobody’s talking about.

Hi Paul,

Having studied Meskin for the last several years, while there are similarities, I don’t really see them as that close. It depends which period is being discussed. In the earliest work Kirby’s was more dynamic, and Meskin’s more refined. Meskin made great use of negative space and his figures looked more choreographed and less action backed than Jack’s. When the both were working at S&K the opposite became true: Kirby’s work looked more refined and Meskin’s more emotional. Personally I see more of his influence on Ditko during this period than a similarity to Kirby’s, although I do believe Meskin was attempting to work in a house style.

In my book from Fantagraphics “From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin” Jerry Robinson, who worked along side both, has this to say: “They were both very well advanced in their styles, their storytelling, their theories about the comics. I knew both of their thinking, so I don’t think either one influenced [the other] to a degree to change their style or change their vision, they were already advanced.”

I meant to add: if you would like to discuss further with visual examples you should consider joining:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Mort-Meskin

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