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Happy Birthday Ramona Fradon!

Or, as I think of her, the artist who drew MY Aquaman.

I was always fond of Aquaman, even before I was reading comics; the Filmation cartoons got me hooked, and then I discovered there were BOOKS, too. As I’ve mentioned before, Aquaman headlined the very first book I ever bought for myself, the Big Little Book Scourge of the Sea. Best thirty-nine cents I ever spent.

That was in late 1968, when I was seven years old. Unfortunately, a year or two later, by the time I was really getting into comics, Aquaman’s own book had been canceled. (This was to be a recurrent annoyance over the next three decades, as any Aqua-fan could tell you. I know the current one’s a hit and I’m very pleased that Jeff Parker’s about to take it on, but old-timers like me are still always braced for the ax to fall.)

Anyway, I liked Aquaman, but at age nine I didn’t really have access to back issues or anything like that. He was still in the Justice League, and he’d pop up in Brave & Bold or World’s Finest once in a while, but that was it. Then one day in the spring of 1971, this showed up on the spinner rack.

Sometimes things hit you at just the right moment. There was a lot of silly stuff in that comic but to nine-year-old me it was just a big bag of awesome. I loved the Human Flying Fish and the evil gangster shark, and I especially enjoyed discovering the actual origin of Aquaman.

And Ramona Fradon just drew the hell out of all of it. Dick Giordano did the cover, I think, but the stories were all classic reprints from Ramona Fradon’s years on the strip and they were amazing. I can still stare at this page, over forty years later, and remember what it felt like to see it the first time. It was epic. Don’t sneer at me about how Aquaman just “talks to fish.” Look at that page.

Fuck YEAH he talks to fish. When Ramona Fradon drew it, talking to fish became something huge and heroic. Even today that panel still gets me– “My mother’s last words have come true! I am ruler of all the oceans!” And it’s the art that sells it.

I admire Nick Cardy’s Aquaman enormously, and Jim Aparo’s as well… but Ramona Fradon’s is mine.

I dug her Metamorpho too, and Plastic Man– both showed an antic sense of humor that I think today’s DC could use more of.

And as much as I despised the animated Super Friends– it was pretty weak tea compared to the Herculoids or Jonny Quest or, hell, even the Filmation Superman/Aquaman Hour– the comic book that spun out of it nevertheless charmed me, because of the irresistible combination of scripts from E. Nelson Bridwell and the art of Ms. Fradon.

I think there are a couple of paperbacks collecting those stories, and an upcoming Showcase Presents collection on deck as well.

Decades later, I got to meet Ms. Fradon in person at the San Diego Con and found her to be extremely gracious and patient with me, especially considering I was stuttering and a little starstruck.

But she was clearly used to putting fans at ease, no matter the age. Probably my favorite moment was when a shy little girl was staring in awe at the penciled artwork on her table and Ms. Fradon smiled at her and said, “Come look, it’s all right. See, girls can do this too!”

If, by chance, you ever get to a show where Ramona Fradon is exhibiting her work, treat yourself. It’s gorgeous, and she hasn’t missed a step in… good God, it’s got to be something like fifty or sixty years now.

If you aren’t able to travel to a convention where she is appearing, I’d recommend the issue of Alter Ego from 2007 that spotlights her work, if you can find it. Hell, I’d recommend it just for the cover.

And there’s The Art of Ramona Fradon, coming in January from Dynamite.

It’s a book that’s long overdue.

Anyway, this is all the long version of Happy Birthday, basically. Ms. Fradon had a birthday this week and it’s as good an excuse to write about how much I admire her work, and run a bunch of it here to demonstrate why, as any. I’d also point you to Scott’s “Underappreciated Artist Spotlight” featuring her work that ran here, a couple of years back.

Many happy returns, Ms. Fradon, and thanks again.

Everyone else, I’ll see you next week.

20 Comments

Holy Poo! Look at those sketches on the table in front of her! They’re magnificent!

^ sorry. Got excited there and forgot to identify myself.

Geez Greg, sometimes I think you and I are some kind of weird Corsican cousins or something. That Super DC Giant Aquaman was one of the first comics to just completely blow me away. Those Aquaman stories turned me into a fan of the character and more importantly a fan of Fradon, although at the time I didn’t know who she was. Side note, the Super DC Giant, Plastic Man that came out around the same time, was also a major influence, and I own copies of both to this day.

So nice to be able to have an appreciation like this that isn’t posthumous. That is some great art. I hope I’ll get the chance to meet her at a con. I love Metamorpho and Plas, and that Aquaman stuff sure looks great.

A warm and sincere happy birthday greeting to Ms. Fradon from me as well.
She wasn’t MY Aquaman artist (I’ll date myself by saying that honor goes to Aparo), but I have read reprints of her Aquaman stories (including that origin story you mention here) and I can see why so many consider her the definitive Aquaman artist.
For me, Fradon will always be associated with the Super Friends, and that is by no means a put down. I absolutely loved that series: fun, all ages stories that don’t insult your intelligence, with absolutely lovely art. It’s nice to hear that the series will get a Showcase volume, but I’d prefer a color edition that’s more comprehensive than those two trades that were published over a decade ago.

As a Marvel guy, I am not familiar with her work outside a single issue of FF, but those drawings on the table are great. And only twenty five bucks!??

And Happy birthday, Ramona!

Ms. Fradon is not only un-posthumous, she’s at the top of her game. In First Second’s delightful new anthology
“Fairy Tale Comics”, which just came out last month, Fradon steals the show with her sly rendition of a complex tale from the Arabian Knights about a man who happily marries a turtle. Our daughter goes crazy for it, even though she’s too young for some of the subtle jokes Fradon puts in. You would never guess from comparing the art styles that Fradon’s career is 40 years longer than most of the contributors.

I’ve never been a big fan of anything but her Metamorpho work. That being said, her pencil art is incredible. It’s too bad that someone doesn’t just shoot that for a book and bypass the inking stage.

I agree with everything you wrote, Greg. Ramona Fradon was, and is, and amazing artist. I really love her art. I admit, I don’t think I’ve read many of her Aquaman stories. (Have any of those issues been reprinted in those b&w Showcase volumes?) But I think she did amazing work on Metamorpho. I have a couple of sketches by her. Yep, at age 86, her drawing ability is better than ever. She recently wrote & drew a children’s book, The Dinosaur That Got Tired of Being Extinct, and even though I’m 37 years old, I want to get a copy. It looks so cute!

I don’t even care about Aquaman or any of that but my wife and I got a sketch from her a few years back. It was an awesome Wonder Woman. She was really nice too. Hopefully I get to see her again.

87 years young. Good on her.

Count me in as another one who had his mind totally blown by that exact Aquaman comic as a kid. (Not in 1971 because I was an infant, but I think I found a well-worn copy in a quarter bin 7 or 8 years later.)

nice article and tribute to Ramona there greg for after all seeing all her art work including tackling aquaman who back then and still is the rodney dangerfield of super heroes. plus amazing she is still doing her art.

Went and checked on that first Aquaman Showcase volume and found most of the first 200 pages have Fradon’s artwork from back-up stories in Adventure Comics and she also drew his first Showcase try-out issue. Strange how they moved those back-up features around. He went from Adventure to Detective to World’s Finest which ran concurrently with the start of his own title with Ms Fradon handling the WF shorts.

The book takes you from Adventure Comics #260 (May 1959) to Aquaman #6 in late 1962.

Thank you for the information, JohnJ. Now I know what I’m picking up from the TPBs next time I’m at the comic shop.

I’ve long been an admirer of Fradon’s work, though I identify her more with Metamorpho than Aquaman. (Just haven’t read many of her Aquaman issues!) It’s great to see her still doing work; she’s been doing some great stuff in Spongebob Comics recently.

She’s so great. The Haney/ Fradon Metamorphos are just perfect comics.

This made me think: With so few female artists working, historically, on mainstream superhero comics, who was THE female artist of each comic-buying generation? In my case, having bought comics mainly during the early to mid 1990s, off the top of my head, only Jan Duursema comes to mind.

Wow. This is amazing art. I’m more of a Marvel fan then DC, especially the silver age material so I’m not as familiar with DCs artists except for the bigger names as I should be. I’ll have to get my hands on her art! Amazing.

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