October 16th, 2009


R.I.P. George Tuska

The venerable and veteran, and I do mean veteran, cartoonist George Tuska has passed away. I was a fan of his silver age and 70's (whatever the hell that age is called, Bronze Age -? Roy Thomas Age--? Last Hurrah Age --?) Marvel work, I followed his long Iron Man run, his work on Luke Cage, Hero For Hire/Power Man/White Man's Fever Dream, and if I recall correctly, he had a run on the oddball team book The Champions, or at least did some fill-ins (inked by John Byrne, iirc, of all people). My 70's Marvel is hazy these days, especially on all the fill-ins and secondary titles someone like Tuska would have contributed to, so that's most of what I recall, other than the connective pages in a Marvel Treasury Holiday collection, where he drew most of the Marvel icons tossing snowballs at one another in-between Christmas reprints. In fact, one of the reprints just may have been a Tuska-drawn Luke Cage mess, some dopey thing about some idiot villain in a terrible costume quoting Shakespeare or Dickens or something dumb like that. Sweet Christmas!

Anyway, I liked Tuska, I know many didn't, his stuff was cartoony and old school. I didn't mind, he got the job done with enough aplomb, and characters had decent fights and there was good flow and motion in a Tuska book, especially when he was "on". I recently read his Tower contributions to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents line and I thought they were kind of dismal, but a lot of the older pros seemed to knock the Tower stuff out quickly, I'm betting the pay was pretty lousy, and save for a few folks like Wood and Adkins, perhaps, it was hardly a labor of love.

One of Tuska's signature cartooning tics, at least during the 60's and 70's, was to draw a lot of folks with big damned teeth. Especially any character who was supposed to be a maroon, or a sharpie, or a putz. But the big teeth could spread to regular folks and heroes alike, and it was memorable (obviously). Sometimes I could just look at the teeth in a book and know it was Tuska if the inking marred the penciling. Geez, them teeth. Choppers, is more like it. If he ever drew Ironjaw the comics world would have fainted. Sometimes seemingly one big tooth represented the upper jaw, and sometimes terrifyingly buck-toothed individuals would flit around a Tuska page. It could be disconcerting. I'm going by memory here, and other stylizations I seem to recall are bodies in motion entering and slicing through the panels, which gave his pages some heft and motion, and often a tight foreshortening of hands, sometimes to the point where the hand would be thrust forward and bent down in a funny way, with little or no indication of the arm structure behind it. I always noticed this because as a kid I would trace Tuska hands, the lack of much forearm or arm behind it seemed like a wonderful way to get around drawing anatomy. Which is not to say Tuska couldn't draw arms, it was just a bit of business, like how often a cartoon character's bent knee will feature a foot dangling beneath it, with no shin or ankle to be seen. It often heightens the action, and can look dynamic. I also seem to recall Tuska's Iron Man, like Trimpe's, as having a helmet that somehow managed to emote -- the 70's saw a bunch of folks putting emotions across Ol' Shellhead's kisser, squashing and stretching the mouth and eye slits in expressive ways, a practice I never could completely reconcile as a kid. To this day I'm not sure how I feel about that approach, it was kooky as all hell, but kind of worked, I remember friends of mine hated whenever anyone drew an anguished Iron Man (he was always getting crushed in the suit back then. Ultimo crushed him, The Blood Brothers crushed him, Titanium Man crushed him, The Freak crushed him, folks really liked some fresh-squeezed Tony Stark back then. Nowadays it looks like Iron man is always getting hit with Photoshop effects. It ain't the same, baby. I say crush that bastard, Matt Fraction or whoever's writing Iron man these days. Crush him! Crush him good! Crinkle that industrialist in a can!).  Anyway, I liked Tuska's Iron Man just fine. Even if the Mandarin and Happy Hogan and everybody had crazy big teeth.

For a nice write-up of Tuska's long career and strengths as a cartoonist, please see Tom Spurgeon's fine obituary at The Comics Reporter. Tuska had been around a lot longer than I was aware of as a young Marvel reader, along with folks like Lee Elias and Frank Robbins I had no clue he'd been kicking around for decades and had done successful (and arguably stronger) work in the newspaper strip field and the golden age of comics I was surprised to learn this years back, comics was such a weird place as far as letting out information on the artists, even in the 70's and 80's, only certain fans seemed aware of the length and breadth of most superhero cartoonists' careers. You just assumed they showed up one day and went to work for Marvel or DC, and switched around between the two. I thought they were all in their 20's until Marvel published photographs of their writers and artists in the calendars and pages of FOOM. Which was a stunner, for me, back in the day. Adults drawing comic books? Old people adults?

Anyway,  R.I.P. George Tuska, he had a long run, drew many pages, and entertained many folks. Cool.