December 8, 2009

Golden Age Artist Spotlight - Basil Wolverton

Basil Wolverton was, if nothing else, one of comicdom's originals.   His art was in turns, organic, cartoony, grotesque, surreal, absurd, and workmanlike, and always idiosyncratic.  Wolverton's art influenced a whole generation of Underground artists, including Robert Crumb.  His images, in places like The Bible Story continue to amaze and entertain new generations.  He was one of the very first artists to create new material for submission to the newly formed comic book market, and unlike the vast majority of creators, he eschewed the studios and workshops of New York City, instead operating entirely by mail out of Vancouver, Washington.  Perhaps due to this arrangement, his work is scattered across various companies and mediums.   Wolverton handled comic projects for Timely/Marvel, Centaur, Novelty, E.C., Fawcett, Gleason, and D.C.  (My personal favorites being the alliterative, zany, pun-filled Powerhouse Pepper and scifi serialesque Spacehawk).  He created posters and trading cards for Topps, greeting cards, caricatures, advertising, drawings for various magazines and periodicals, and starting in 1958, illustrated what many consider his magnum opus, The Bible Story.   In six volumes from Genesis to Samuel, Wolverton adapted the text of the Bible and provided hundreds of b&w illustrations for the work. These six volumes were published from 1961-68 by Ambassador College. In the early 80s they were reprinted and rest of the Old Testament was added with newer illustrations by Wolverton.   Wolverton was also a minister in Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, so his assignment was also an expression of faith.   The church itself was of the evangelical, prophetic, end-times-are-coming variety, which is vividly (and at times disturbingly) rendered by Wolverton in his interpretation of the Old Testament, in particular the chapter covering the Book of Revelations.  You want to put the fear of God in kids, show them Basil Wolverton's Book of Revelations.  He's probably the closest thing to Hieronymus Bosch since the Middle Ages.  But there are beautiful, powerful, illustrations as well as the jarring.  Using pointillism and woodcut techniques, Wolverton moved beyond the tools of ink and posterboard, and created art that reflected his entire career by standing breathtakingly unique.  Wolverton was elected to the Will Eisner Hall of Fame at the San Diego Comic-Con International Convention in July of 2000, in recognition of his lifelong contributions to to the industry. He was also inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1991. He's one of my personal favorites, as I was intrigued from the first "Plop!" cover I saw with his art.  Collecting his work has been a challenge, but a fruitful and satisfying one.

Here's a complete comic index provided by Basil Wolverton's son, Monte (an excellent artist as well):



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