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.