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!