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Today is Memorial Day, the day when we remember and honor those Americans who have fallen while serving their country in the military. Here at Capeless Crusader, we’d like to show our appreciation for those who have served by taking a look at just a few of the comic creators who have served their country. Though none of these men died while serving, they are all no longer with us, and we thought that it would be nice to shine a spotlight on a few of the less well-known creators who honored us with their service.
One of the earliest writer/artists, Burgos is perhaps most famous for having created the original Human Torch in Marvel Comics #1 in 1938. He spent the early part of the 1940s doing freelance work for Timely (Marvel’s original company name), headlining the Human Torch’s solo book as well as co-creating The Thunderer.
But when America entered the Second World War, Burgos left comics for military service. According to Jim Steranko’s History of Comics, Burgos joined the Air Force, where he trained as an infantry ranger and was deployed overseas as a rifleman before transferring into the Army Signal Corps and eventually finishing his service in an Engineering Division.
Following the war, Burgos returned to comics and to Timely, then called Atlas. However, he was segueing into advertising, and comics became more of a sideline. He drew covers for Atlas during this period, and participated in their short-lived attempt in the 1950s to revive their super-hero line by drawing some Human Torch stories. By the time Atlas became Marvel in the Silver Age, Burgos was nearly through with comics. He drew a solo Johnny Storm story for “Strange Tales” in 1964, an irony since earlier in the 1960s Burgos had unsuccessfuly sued Marvel to assert ownership over the Human Torch, whose title and powers had been used to create the Fantastic Four member. By the 1970s, he had become a magazine editor, notably for Eerie Publications. Carl Burgos passed away in 1984.
Like Carl Burgos, Shores got his start in comics working for Harry Chesler’s studio, learning his trade from comics’ earliest artists. His first professional work got the notice of Timley editor Joe Simon, who hired Shores at the company’s third employee, after Simon himself and Jack Kirby. As Shores later recalled, “My first job on staff was to ink the cover for Captain America #1. I don’t think I inked the WHOLE first issue, I think that Jack did that one himself, I’m not sure, but shortly afterwards I was inking Cap regularly and a host of others.”
Once Simon and Kirby moved on in 1942, Shores and Al Avison took over art chores on the title, alternating inking and pencilling duties until Avison went into the military, and Shores took over pencilling full time. At the same time, Shores was promoted to Timely’s art director.
But soon, Shores too was called up into active duty, and shipped out to Normandy as part of Patton’s Third Army. In 1970, Shores spoke about joining the Army, “It seemed they needed a lot of men for the infantry at the time. I was called up, and so my artistic eye was used to qualify me as an expert marksman in an infantry regiment. Curiously it was the same regiment that Jack Kirby was in. We never saw each other in combat, and only recently did we find that we were in the same outfit!”
He fought in France and Germany before being wounded in Metz, France in 1944. He received a Purple Heart, and after recovering in England for a time he was reassigned to an engineering outfit and sent to Germany as part of the occupation forces. After mustering out, he returned to Timely as art director, but soon found himself out of a staff job when Timely downsized in 1948. Going freelance, he spent much of the 1950s and early 60s illustrating men’s magazines.
Shores returned to Marvel in the 1960s, where he found himself once again inking Jack Kirby’s art on the “Captain America” series. He became one of the premiere Marvel inkers of the 1960s, and continued working for Marvel through the 60s and into 1970s. Syd Shores worked right up to the end, completing most of the penciling of a short story for Tales of the Zombie #5 before dying of heart seizure at the age of 59.
Curt Swan was one of those kids who seemed to be preternaturally skilled as an artist. He began drawing at an early age, and even in elementary and high school, teachers asked him to contribute drawings for a variety of purposes.
When he turned 18, Swan joined the National Guard, and in 1940, he was inducted into the Army, 34th Division, 135th infantry. Eventually promoted to sergeant, Swan’s unit was deployed to Northern Ireland. It was here that Swan’s artistic abilities were discovered, and he was transferred to London where he began his assignment as an illustrator for Stars and Stripes, the army publication devoted to keeping servicemen informed and keeping their morale up.
Following the War, Swan was hired at DC Comics. He spent his early years working on various titles, honing his craft until he became incredibly speedy and detailed, able to turn out 3-4 pages per day. At $18 a page, Swan was able to make $10,000 in his second year, a handsome salary for the 1940s.
In 1955, regular “Superman” artist Wayne Boring left the title following a disagreement with Dc over page rates. Curt Swan took over, and was encouraged to make the character this own. Swan made the Man of Steel less cartoony, more realistic, with an expressive face and fluid, organic movements. From 1955 until 1986, Curt Swan drew Superman, defining the character for generations of readers. When Dennis O’Neil took over writing Superman for a time, he said of Swan, “Swan was the best, a quiet man and not much noticed and consequently underrated because he never caused a fuss; he simply delivered anything an editor asked for, met any challenge and did it with the reliability of the tides.”
Over his three decades on the character, Swan drew “Action Comics”, “Superman”, “Lois Lane”, “Jimmy Olsen”, “World’s Finest” and the Superboy feature in “Adventure Comics”. In 1985, to pave the way for incoming superstar John Byrne’s revamping of Superman, Swan was forcibly “retired” from the Superman books. His final work for the character was the classic Alan Moore written story “Whatever Happened to the Man of the Tomorrow?” Of Swan, Moore said, “I’d like to have asked him how much (Swan) identified with Superman, how much of himself he put in there. I feel that he probably did on some private level; that there was some sort of a moral strength that he aspired to, that he drew into those figures. Something almost indefinable, but some essence of himself.”
Curt Swan passed away June 17, 1996.
Nick Cardy began his career when he joined the Eisner & Iger studio sometime in 1940. The studio would produce various material for different publishers throughout the industry, and it was here that Cardy learned his craft. He worked for a few other studios as well before he began his military service.
Initially drafted into the 66th Infantry, Cardy entered a competition to design he patch for the division. His designs of a snarling panther won the competition, and was assigned an office job at HQ. General Shelby Burke saw some of Cardy’s cartoons, liked them, and asked that he be assigned to his corps. The only opening was as a corporal in the motor pool, and as the outfit was sent to Europe, Cardy found himself assigned as part of a tank crew as the assistant tank driver.
Candy saw combat, and was awarded two Purple Hearts. Of his service he said, “I was just one of many. I wouldn’t have been there if they hadn’t sent me there. There were no heroes out there. I never saw men go into battle who were heroes; sometimes you’re so scared.”
By 1950, Cardy was working at DC Comics, beginning with “Gang Busters”, before breaking out with his work on “Tomahawk.” In the 1960s, he made his reputation by drawing the first 39 issues of “Aquaman” and then drawing the first appearance of the Teen Titans in 1965. When the team got its own book in 1966, Cardy was the regular artist, pencilling or inking (sometimes both) all 43 issues of the title. Cardy left comics in the mid-70s and entered the commercial art field. He passed away in 2013.
These are just a few of the men and women in the comics field who served in the military over the years. Here at Capeless Crusader we’d like to thank every one of them for their service, and on this Memorial Day remember those who have fallen.