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CSBG Archive

John Buscema’s Back Pages

Every day this month I will share with you the first (at least as far as I know) U.S. professional work by a notable comic book creator. Here is an archive of the creators who have been featured so far.

Today’s featured creator is John Buscema!


It is no accident that when Marvel did a book titled “How to Draw the Marvel Way,” John Buscema is the artist they used. Outside of Jack Kirby, Buscema was THE most prominent artist at Marvel during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s (John Romita comes close, of course, but Romita stuck mostly to Spider-Man, while Buscema did EVERY comic).

Decades before he became the face of Marvel, Buscema actually got his start AT Marvel, well, Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel, but still! Working for Stan Lee, Buscema began work as a staff artist in 1948 when he was just 20 years old.

His first comic book story appeared in August 1948, in issue #3 of Lawbreakers Always Lose.

Here it is…

In 1949, Buscema did one of his, if not his very, first comic book cover…


I’m not being sarcastic but 100% serious here: I’d love for Marvel to colllect books like Man Comics. I bet they’d be fascinating insight into the culture and social mores of that era. Such an interesting cover. Would such a book even be able to fly today?

Wow– The only clue that this is Buscema is the generous hips on the ladies.

Pete Woodhouse

March 24, 2011 at 9:11 am

Can anyone else see a Caniff influence? A lot of artists starting in the 40s did style themselves after Milt Caniff: Infantino drew in a similar style then, for example. And that cover – boy, even for Marvel, that’s a LOT of text and blurbs.

Awesome! I’m sure there’s a HUGE Caniff infulence. John Romita has cited Caniff as a major influence and they are about the same time period.

I’m sure Marvel will get around to making Masterworks of titles like these eventually. We’ve gotten some great Atlas era stuff already and VENUS is next up!

Wow! I LOVE John Buscema, especially when inked by George Klein or Joe Sinnott, LOVELOVELOVE him! I can’t see any of his characteristics in these pages, and that’s what make this any outstanding post. Thank you kindly for the experience!

“Wow! I LOVE John Buscema, especially when inked by George Klein or Joe Sinnott, LOVELOVELOVE him!”

That’s funny that you say that, because in “Sal Buscema: Comic’s Fast & Furious Artist”, Sal said that John loathed the way Joe Sinnott inked his work, complaining that Sinnott overpowered the pencils and made it look like Sinnott’s style instead of his. Ditto for Ernie Chan, another guy who I personally LOVED when he inked John or Sal, yet both of them were unhappy with his inks because Chan would overpower their pencils. In fact, John hated the way pretty much anyone except Dan Adkins inked his pencils. He wasn’t even thrilled about Sal inking his work, but if push came to shove, he chose Sal as “the lesser of two evils”.

It’s interesting in that in trying to make John sound like a perfectionist, Sal (unwittingly) makes him sound really anal retentive and petty.

Interesting stuff George N.

Didn’t JB tend to deliver rather loose pencils? This might account for the prominent influence the various inkers have had on his work, It’s true guys like Chan and Alcala, and the Filipinos in general, had a potent and unsubtle inking style. I liked both of these inkers over JB, and I liked Sinnott, Klein and Palmer. All rendered a very different Buscema,

Only when, too seldomly, did JB inked his own work, did we get a glimpse at the pure thing, but I really think that, whoever was supplying the embellishes, there was never much doubt that the great JB was ever in evidence,

John Tate = David Bowie?

Marvel should revive Lawbreakers Always Lose. That’s a great title.

“Didn’t JB tend to deliver rather loose pencils?”

Yes, but according to Sal’s book that basically started (or was the last straw) when John worked on Silver Surfer and he would hand in tight pencils to Joe Sinnott and would get frustrated with the quality of the finished work. From that point on he pretty much only handed in breakdowns.

“It’s true guys like Chan and Alcala, and the Filipinos in general, had a potent and unsubtle inking style.”

You can toss Sonny Trinidad in there as another guy that John Buscema didn’t like inking over his pencils.

I always loved when Ernie Chan inked over the Buscemas, especially Sal, because he just brought out a three-dimensional quality that I felt was lacking in Sal’s work. Now mind you, Sal is my favorite penciller of all time, but his work in general is is very angular and flat. When Chan inked his pencils on Incredible Hulk, though, they just popped off the page, mainly because, like you pointed out, Chan’s inks were so potent the finished product had traces of Sal’s linework, but was just dominated by Chan.

The differences between the two brothers was like night and day; John grumbled to Stan all the time about his unhappiness with the inkers assigned to his books, while Sal would just suck it up and let it go. Sal’s attitude was, whoever is inking my stuff is doing the best job that he possibly can, so who am I to cause trouble and cost him a paycheck?

The Sal Buscema book is a great read for those of us who grew up on 1970’s Marvel. He has such hero worship for John that he spends almost an equal amount of time talking about his brother as he does about himself. Like I said before, as much as Sal tries to chalk his brother’s complaints up to him just being a perfectionist, you really get the sense that JB was a bit of a dick when it came to dealing with inkers.

What appears to be lost to most of the late John Buscema fans is the [sad..?] fact that Big John really disliked comics but stayed in them his whole life for the paycheck. His dream was to be a painter or ‘storytelling illustrator’, anouncing once that he’d like to produce visual narratives with what we’d call nowadays splash pages only – a single illustration per page [like one Silver Surfer and Galactus graphic novel in the 80’s I presume] to tell the story. What he loved the most was – drawing only, pure and simple, being loyal to comics because of the chance to do what he loved the most. Many an artist and editor stressed the fact that the best JB artwork could be found ON THE BACKS of his comic pages where he really let his imagination, pencil and brush fly.
His own inking – when time and deadlines allowed – was his most favourite but his brother Sal remained his best and first choice when someone else was to embellish his pencils. That’s the fact he stressed in several interviews and to me personally when I had the honour to meet him in London UK at their UKCAC local convention in 1995. Yes, the old Silver Surfer written by Stan Lee was the last series JB applied tight penciling on, after that he’s created that famous ‘drawing science’ of lightboxing the quick breakdown clean-ups as his final artwork for inkers to interprete – hence the differences between Palmer’s, Chan’s, Nebres’, Stone’s, Sinnott’s or DeZuniga’s embellishments — and the late Master disliked, unfortunatelly, almost all of it — save his brother Sal’s inking. His legacy is gargantuan and he’ll remain forever as the Artists’ Artist in the comics medium.


Sal Buscema says the same thing in his book, although he suspected that John liked doing comics more than he let on. JB loved doing the Conan book, for example, because it allowed him to do more nature stuff and fantasy elements than he had in his superhero books.

Sal and John approached the inking issue from two totally different perspectives. The first thing that Sal made clear was that no matter how much he didn’t like the way the inker embellished his pencils, Marvel was the client/boss, they gladly paid him and praised his work, and that was that. He even flat out says, he didn’t like the way a lot of guys inked his stuff, but he would have NEVER complained about an inker because, like him, the guy was just trying to earn a paycheck, and if it was good enough for Marvel, then everything was copacetic.

John, on the other hand, constantly complained to Stan Lee about his inkers, as in, going to Stan and saying “I don’t like the way this guy inks my stuff; get me someone else”. Which to me, when you are part of a process, with a writer and an inker, is kind of messed up. The work was more than acceptable to his bosses, and yet he would still take it on upon himself to complain about a fellow artist to his editor.

That to me is being a dick. It doesn’t take anything away from the awesomeness of his work, it doesn’t take anything away from his being “The Master” or “the Artist’s Artist”, but it kind of makes you wonder why he would undercut a fellow artist like that. Especially if he disliked comics but stayed in it for the paycheck; maybe he should have been happy that his work was being seen by a huge audience and he was making good coin from it as opposed to bemoaning it and putting it down like he was some misunderstood genius. Maybe be more grateful and humble about it like his brother Sal.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but that’s the way I see it.

@George N:
– nothing harsh about this, mate. You’ve got the right to see it and feel about it as it suits you. Yes, Conan and Tarzan — and Thor to a certain extent – were JB’s favourite characters, he passionatelly hated FF, Spidey and such. I had the honour of speaking to Sal Buscema in 1994 prior to John Buscema’s appearance next year in London. Sal praised his brother and proudly said about their collaboration what’s already known but frankly I doubt that JB would be so insensitive towards his colleagues struggling to make the ends meet by moaning about their [lack of..?] contribution to his art. Quite the contrary, being openly uncaring about the comics medium he used to tell J.Romita Sr. not to sweat over the pages he was working on, just to finish and deliver them ‘because it’s only comics’. What’s being said about his stance towards J.Sinnott’s inking might actually be true about Chic Stone’s embellishment. In spite of being outspoken and stressing how he dislikes comics, he was The Pro and one of the most articulate, gentle and patient artists dealing with people… maybe it’s just my impression from speaking to him personally or watching him deal with the crowd, I don’t know… He’s passed away and deprived us of what he used to announce as his written statemets about the comics medium and everything about them. Only his gargantuan legacy remains and our personal impressions. I dearly hope that he’ll be remembered not only as one of the greatest artists-illustrators but also as a good, polite and pleasant human being.

One thing that seems a little at odds with the notion that JB disliked doing comics might be his involvement in developing his own comic art school in the 1970’s. This coupled with his instructional comic art books, under the Marvel aegis, do not indicate a man hostile to the medium.

An accomplished artist actively seeking to pass his skills and experience onto others instead suggests a man with a measure of passion for his profession. I doubt his sole motivation for these things was money; a man with his talent could have earned it less masochistically.

@benday-dot: your stance is totally logical and in place. And yet – I can speak only from my own privileged experience gained during conversations with the late JB in March 1995 – Big John persisted that he HATED comics and he did them only thanks to the ‘golden contract’ he’s had with Marvel that treated him royally.

Now, the famous art-school for comics artists — he did create it out of love FOR DRAWING and it kind of ‘masqueraded’ as a comics drawing school/course but in essence provided the knowledge and technical approach to the propper drawing discipline. Inability to balance his professional & family obligations and deadlines plus commuting that took a lot of his time extinguished his enthusiasm to proceed with the school but gave the boost to the book we all have and still love – DRAWING COMICS THE MARVEL WAY which is based on the course, edited and submerged in Stan Lee’s flamboyant prose. I tend to think that the great John Buscema appeared to be a grumbling gentle giant with a golden heart, rough outside and really gentle soul. That’s how I’d love to remember him, besides his stellar artwork.

“A grumbling giant with a golden heart and gentle soul?” I suggest that we shove Mother Teresa out of the way and fast-track John Buscema into sainthood.

All joking aside, JB sounds like he went through what thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people go through on a daily basis: Hating your job but sticking with it because it provides you with a paycheck. In his case, a very HANDSOME paycheck and fame to go with it.

It’s nice to hear that he was a gentleman around fans and such, although I’ve yet to come across an artist (save for Greg Capullo) who wasn’t professional and cordial around fans, whether at conventions or in private. Certainly I think that he was smart enough to know that these people were the ones that provided him with the lifestyle he enjoyed.

I will always have a sweet spot for his superb work on the Conan movie adaptations, which was some of my favorite work of his. There was just something about him when he penciled and inked his own work, and worked in the sword and sorcery fantasy realm of Robert E. Howard, that made his work pop off the page.

“Wow– The only clue that this is Buscema is the generous hips on the ladies.”

And could I add to that, the hairdo of Sarah Tate, which is the same as Sue Storm’s, Scarlet Witch’s and a thousand others…;)

[…] the most extensive exhibition of Buscema’s art in history. It’s 300 pages long. Incidentally, Comicbook Resources have uploaded his first printed comics work, from 1948, as part of a month-long pledge to dig up […]

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