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Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: Underappreciated Artist Spotlight – Joe Staton

Joe Staton has drawn so many wonderful comic books, and yet you rarely see him listed in top 10, top 50 or even top 100 list of top artists. I’ve always found this to be a bit odd, as while he may not be a Kirby or Ditko, he definitely had a distinctive look and is an extremely effective storyteller. It can’t be mere coincidence that so many of my favorite books were drawn by Joe Staton.

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Like so many great artist of the late 70s and 80s (Aparo, Byrne, and Zeck to name a few), Staton cut his teeth at Charlton Comics. Charlton was the perfect environment for many young artists as the work was plentiful and the minimal editorial interference really allowed them to find their own voice. Staton’s finest work at Charlton was on E-Man, collaborating with Nicol Cuti. I discussed E-Man a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say that the mixture of action, sci-fi and satire was certainly ahead of its time and Staton was the perfect artist to mix up all of these elements.

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Aside from E-Man, Staton worked on countless projects at Charlton – including art on licensed properties such as Six Million Dollar Man and Space: 1999. This was all solid work, if unspectacular. Where Staton really excelled, however, was in the world of horror. During the 70s, Charlton had a plethora of horror anthologies, so Staton’s work pops up all over the place. His more cartoony style really works in the horror genre, much as Jack Davis’ did for EC back in the 50s. ‘Film Freak’ from Haunted #20 is a great example of his fine horror work at Charlton.

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Eventually, Staton began to do some work for DC and this is really where he made his mark. I believe that the first book I ever owned with Joe Staton artwork was All-Star Comics #70, which is a really fun little tale featuring Star Spangled Kid and Wildcat, with a little Huntress thrown in for good measure. I was probably 5 or 6 when I read this one, so perhaps Staton’s less detailed line work appealed to me, but it still looks great 30 years later. Staton works well in Earth-2 as he gives the characters a much more classic look – his Superman is a bit Wayne Boring and his Batman is a bit Dick Sprang.

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Speaking of Batman, Joe Staton drew on of the finest Batman tales of ever produced (and the “Greatest Stories” folks at DC agree with me. Brave and the Bold #197, is an absolutely beautiful Earth-Two Batman story written by Alan Brennert. It’s a love story, as Bruce and Selina finally open up to each other and all of the walls they’ve built to protect themselves come tumbling down. It really is quite touching, and a comic that should be in everyone’s collection, in my less than humble opinion.

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Lastly, let me mention Staton’s excellent work on the Huntress strip that ran as a back-up in Wonder Woman during the early 80s. This was the rare case where the back-up was far superior to the main strip, and the only reason it was worth picking up Wonder Woman back in the day. DC finally listen to the cries of fans and published a collection of these stories a couple of years ago. For my money, the Levitz/Staton Joker arc, is as good a Joker story as you’ll find.

Along with the stuff I’ve mentioned above, Staton also had a long, fine run on Green Lantern and was part of many key projects at DC during the 80s. He was heavily involved with First Comics, working as art directors for a number of years. These days, I believe he draws the Scooby Doo book, which seems to be a long way from the Dark Knight. I actually find it ironic that Staton has fallen out of favour when there has been shift towards a more ‘animated’ look in comics. If you look at Staton’s Batman, you’ll see that it bridges the generational gap from Dick Sprang to Bruce Timm. At least DC recognized that fact, and had Staton do some work with Paul Dini in the late 90s. Staton is a true master, who will likely always be seen as a journeyman by most fans and that’s a shame.

Joe Staton Essentials: E-Man, Brave & Bold #197, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps (1981), Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter

As I noted in the comments – I’m editing this to add this page from Blackhawk #271, the only Staton page in my collection.

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For my random talk about classic comics, feel free to stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent

Also, feel free to drop me a line at Scottshouldbegood@yahoo.ca

42 Comments

Gosh, I do love Joe Staton. Yes, he’s a bit cartoony sometimes, but it works. Also, I adore those Green Lantern issues…he did such a fabulous Guy Gardner. He also did a gorgeous Huntress. I guess I’ll have to track down the E-Man stuff.

Agreed all the way around. Joe Staton is a long-time favorite since his All-Star run.

He is a wonderful story-teller.

I do enjoy Staton’s artwork. One of my personal favorites is his Power Girl mini he did with Levitz.

Loved Staton’s Charleton horror work, as well as his DC superheroes. I read all of them, but was never a big fan of his E-man art. The characters always appeared distorted. I always felt his E-Man was channelling Eisner’s Spirt or maybe Plastic Man, just not done as well.

I’m pretty much the opposite of Paul. I love the early E-Man but pretty much can’t stand any of his other stuff. It is too cartoony for me but that’s why it works for E-Man who I saw as a hippy Plastic Man.

I agree completely about both the Huntress and Brave and Bold 197. In fact, I think B&B 197 might be the first time anyone tried to draw the Golden Age Batman Dick Sprang-styled– previously everyone drew him like the modern Batman but with out the oval on his chest.

Joe Staton also drew one of my favourite post-Golden age runs on Plastic Man in Adventure Comics. He used all the energy he put into E-Man and elevated Marty Pasko’s pretty obvious (but still funny) scripts into something side-splittingly funny. He littered every panel with brilliant sight gags.

And I really like the Joey Cavaleri / Staton reboot of the Huntress from ’89. That was a great series– brilliantly drawn by Staton, who used his loose style to create a dark, unsettling vision of New York. I wish it hadn’t been ignored by nine million subsequent creative teams because it’s the only post Batman’s daughter version I’ve ever liked.

Staton’s work on the “Femme Noir” mini-series from Ape Entertainment has been really cool so far.

A nice overview of Staton’s career, but I’m afraid his stuff has never been my cup of tea….particularly with “serious” storylines (such as the death of the Earth-2 Batman. Distractingly cartoony).

Well done review.
I’m not a fan of Joe Staton’s style either. I must admit loving the retro-Batman job on The Brave & The Bold.

Very good conversation here, folks. I knew that he wasn’t for everyone – but I never quite realized just how polarizing Staton’s work could be. As I mentioned, the Charlton horror stuff is really great and I’d be interested in seenig that Femme Noir book.

I meant to mentioned it, but forgot. I do actually own a piece of Staton art. It’s a somber, subdued final page from an 80s Blackhawk back-up. I’m amend the original column to include it.

He’s ALWAYS cartoony, but that’s just the man’s style. I’m surprised at how many things I liked him on, especially when he was drawing the Green Lantern storylines by Englehart.

All Star Comics was anything but a “fun little tale”, Scott! It was so boring that readers complained vociferously that nothing happened, and Levitz himself apologised in a letter column for that issue.

But great choice for an underappreciated artist.

For me Joe Staton’s E-Man was a breath of fresh air in the 70′s that was only rivalled by John Byrnne’s rise to prominence. However he was often at the mercy of his inker. Some of the guys really gave weight to his cartoony style while other, himself included, seemed to make it stiffer than it already was. My faves are still his E-man run, his Plastic Man run and his JSA run when he was inked by Layton. Unfortunately his later worked seemed rushed and sloppy to me. I have a Metal Men page from the 70′s revival the proves this point beautifully.

I love “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne,” and rank it as one of the best super-hero stories ever produced. Staton’s not a favorite, but he nailed that story.

Ajit – I couldn’t disagree more. All-Star Comics #70 starts with a termination of a meeting so the gang’s all there. Then it morphs into a much smaller story – and one that made me fall in love with Wildcat. His characterization was unlike anything I’d seen up to that point. Helena’s entry was also cool Hell, I even liked the high tech bank robbers. I haven’t read it in a few years, but if memory serves, it’s my favourite issue of that late 70s ASC. To each his own, I guess.

I have always enjoyed Staton’s work, and if you do too, you should really check out, “Going Sane.” It was a four issue arc on Legends of the Dark Knight written by J.M. Dematteis, and I think is Staton at some of his finest.

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

November 25, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Well, Mr. Staton would definitely make my list of favorite artists! Two comments:

1) I love the work of Neal Adams, Mike Grell, Alex Saviuk, and the late. great Gil Kane. But when I think of Green Lantern, it is ALWAYS a Staton drawn Hal Jordan that comes to mind.

2) Simply put, Earth 2 belongs to Joe Staton! I commissioned a piece of artwork from Mr. Staton a few years ago. It’s over at comicartfans.com. Search on “Staton Aquaman Dr. Fate” and you’ll see a wonderful recreation of one of those great old Earth 1 / Earth 2 explanation panels.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 25, 2008 at 5:39 pm

If Stanton’s not popular, I’d say it’s because he makes it look effortless.

I was thinking about this the other day whilst re-reading my trades of Eric Shanowar’s Age Of Bronze.
His art is detailed and his storytelling excellent – and yet he gets few props from fans – and I figured it out it must be because he doesn’t make his art scream ‘Look! Look at what I just did here!!!’ like a lot of artists will.
They make it look so simple, that it’s on the reader to realise how good the page actually is.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a page that makes me go ‘WOW!’ as much as the next guy, but there’s something special about reading a comic that has you totally engrossed, and it’s only after you finish that you truly appreciate how good the storytelling and art actually was.

Showcase 100, I’ve had my copy since I was a kid in the 70′s, 60 hero’s in a crisis-esque story, Staton was in Seattle 2000 or 2001 and I had him sign mine, I also loved those JSA earth 2 stories. later!

Glad to see Staton getting some love. Being in my late-20′s my only real experience with him is his mid-90′s Batman work. I still adore his portion of Two-Face Strikes Twice.

I read your blog its entertaining but I DEMAND you post more frequently. I want more content for free from strangers I don’t know! You owe me stuff for free because I am on the internet! Heh, just kidding. I have found a few fun blogs from hanging out here, I am sad when I have read them all.

Joe did some powerful inking on a stretch of the Incredible Hulk from issues #191-209. First inking over the last three Herb Trimpe books, then staying on for the transition to Sal Buscema. You could tell he loved the brush over the pen with beautiful, strong strokes that really complimented Sal’s cartoony style and flair. Easily one of Sal’s best inkers.

I remember recognizing Staton’s influence on Byrne right from the start, especially on his women.

I’ve never noticed anything wrong with Staton’s storytelling, but other than that I’m really not fond of his art. When he tries he can be mediocre – when he doesn’t he churns out ugly work like on Millenium.

Always been a big fan and have always wondered why he wasn’t bigger. I think he’s just one of those guys like his contemporary Jim Aparo, golden-ager Mort Meskin or the late and great Mike Parobeck – who were professionals and tradesmen rather than guys trying to sell posters of their artwork. His run on Green Lantern was in my opinion “defining” of the character, his JSA stuff incredible and on his short run on Superman he made a Superman that looked like he had power. Unfortunately, I think mainstream books recent trend of moving towards a more “realistic” look rather than cartoony – has left guys like him scrambling for work,.

I think he was at his best during the Englehart run on Green Lantern (with Bruce Patterson at the inks, specially)
There is a terrific issue -the explanation of the whole Predator/Star Shappire/Carol Ferris- where he reproduces the art of previous GL artists like Dave Gibbons and Gil Kane

I think the problem with the art on Millenium was more due to Ian Gibson’s inks, which aren’t bad in other places, but he was a poor match for Joe Staton.

That GL Predator story was fantastic- it looked almost like reprinted panels, but it was all Staton!

I also enjoyed his Legion work– he came up with Blok you know.

i’ll add my voice to the chorus singing Staton’s Green Lantern work as definitive–i always think of his rendition of Hal Jordan as the “true” Hal and of course, he created the modern image for Guy Gardner.

his run on Huntress in the 90s was great, too… it was cool the way the dark, pointillist inking gave an interesting, noirish cast to his usually cartoony figures.

E-Man will always been his magnum opus, of course.

It was Joe Staton and the Green Lantern Corps that got me into reading comics from the US (and largely DC) as a result. I’ve always loved his cartoony style, and I agree he drew a fabuloso Guy Gardener. Always enjoyed the detail he put into his work, giving it real character.

For samples of some of Joe’s work on the current FEMME NOIR miniseries (which I happen to write), check out the FEMME NOIR website, at http://www.femme-noir.com

The reviews have been very complimentary of Joe’s art on the series; it may be his career best.

I loved Joe Staton’s Huntress back in the day and I loved his Sprang-style Batman but Mlllenium was terrible. Worst. Crossover. Ever.

The favourite artist of my childhood. I always wondered what happened to him.

Probably one of the things that stopped him from becoming much bigger, was the fact that he was an artist and not a artist/writer ( or at least someone who worked closely with the writer ) – which a lot of the “up & coming” contemporaries of his at the time were becoming. Neal Adams, John Byrne, Frank Miller, George Perez, Keith Giffen and (later) Todd McFarlane & Rob Liefeld – were all guys that became “hot” artists that strayed both sides of the fence. Guys like Jim Aparo, Nick Cardy & Joe Staton were all great artists – but their popularity was undoubtedly linked to whatever writer they were saddled with at the time.

I loved his work on the revamped post Crisis Huntress reboot.

Scott, just to clarify, that wasn’t just my opinion of issue 70. Here is what Paul Levitz himself wrote in the letter column of issue 74: “A number of readers wrote in about the Strike Force stories, seeing them as fill-in stories. And frankly, in retrospect we have to agree that for a variety of reasons the past four issues of ALL-STAR haven’t matched the quality of the earlier ones.”

When that is a writer’s opinion of his own work you know the issues in question are anything but classics.

N.B.: I didn’t actually get to read the 1970s All Star Comics run until 2006, and issues 70 through 73 really didn’t seem all that bad but that could be because of the diminished expectations that come of reading contemporary decompressed comics.

Probably one of the things that stopped him from becoming much bigger, was the fact that he was an artist and not a artist/writer ( or at least someone who worked closely with the writer ) – which a lot of the “up & coming” contemporaries of his at the time were becoming. Neal Adams, John Byrne, Frank Miller, George Perez, Keith Giffen and (later) Todd McFarlane & Rob Liefeld – were all guys that became “hot” artists that strayed both sides of the fence.

That sounds doubtful considering that half of those artists became huge before they started writing and Giffen never really became that big as an artist (though personally I love his work).

I think that those “artist/writer” guys, even if they weren’t writers initially, had at least some major input into the stories they did – aside from just the visuals. Long before Perez got writing credits on New Teen titans – he had some major input on the stories being written. Hell, even Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – were essentially artist/writers back when they were “starting up” the Marvel comics age. You are right in that all these people were initially “known” people, as was Staton – which makes sense because comics are essentially a visual medium. What pushed them BEYOND – was the further input they put into their stories beyond the art.

Maybe there’s something there (and admittedly I didn’t have a clue Perez had written anything before Wonder Woman), but I really can’t see that applying to Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane

Even though both Liefeld and McFarlane have seemingly fallen out of fandom uber-desires, they did get pretty big at one time. McFarlane’s real growth appeared on Spider-Man, where he started to have more imput over where the series went aside from art – to the point where Marvel even created his own Spidey-title ( which at one time was a big deal ). Even in his early days, his art that went wayyyyyyy beyond where the script did, highjacked books like INFINITY INC ( though he did that mostly to sell pages at cons ). Liefeld’s input on NEW MUTANTS evolved it into becoming HUGE spin-off X-FORCE, and he is arguably the creator or at least co-creator of CABLE.

Getting back to the older guys, Ditko’s input into SPider-Man was so huge, that he quit the book in protest of Stan Lee’s “evolving” of the Peter Parker in the book was nerd loser into a romantic hero who’d have a redhead and a blonde fight over him. In Ditko’s eyes, that was not true to who the character was. Ditko was a guy who obviously wanted more input than just someone drawing a script. Despite his superstar status, he went to Charlton for a MUCH smaller page rate, just so he could do books in his own voice with no interference at all. Long before the IMAGE guys up and left Marvel to make a point, Ditko put his money where his mouth was, and did essentially the same thing.

Jeremy A. Patterson

November 29, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Staton also did the first issue of ‘Archie’s Super-Teens’ iin 1994. His style is well-suited for Archie.

He also worked on Bruce Hamilton’s line of horror magazines circa-1991!

J.A.P.

For me, he’ll always be the definitive Green Lantern/GL Corps artist. His run of Green Lantern was even better than Gil Kane’s in my opinion. I’m sure Gil Kane fans will be all over me for that, but Gil wouldn’t care anyways, as he considered that work to be “beneath” him.

I really really loved the Huntress back up strips i’m so glad they are finally being collected.

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