January 6, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Wally Wood

Wally Wood, for lack of a better term, was a rock star.   He became an undisputed star of the medium in his twenties, drawing some of the best and most memorable science fiction ever created.   Wood's work habits were always petal to the metal, fueled by booze and cigarettes and all-nighters, but incredibly productive.   He pushed for the re-introduction of science fiction into comics, fought for the creative rights of the artist, and pioneered self-publishing through witzend and other publications.   His aliens are unique, his women are luscious and alluring.  He spent twelve years straight building Mad Magazine into an American institution.  And ending up leaving them (and other marquee comic jobs) for little perceived slights.  Wally Wood was a true American original.   Burned out, bitter, and brittle long before his time.  But his legacy continues to grow.

He was also a Connecticut native in the last years of his life.   My brother and I were fixtures at a little comic shop in Derby, Connecticut, named Space Traveler's Trading Post.  There we learned about Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Gil Kane and Wally Wood, among other greats.  My first Wood book was definitely a "Plop", the D.C. anthology series, with a disturbing story about a detective that started out as a straight crime noir narrative and ended up increasingly bizarre and full of monsters.  But the art was distinctive, clean and full of life.  It wasn't until years and years after the fact, but I learned that the poster at the head shop my dad stopped in, full of Disney characters engaging in all types of scandalous and lascivious activities, was a Wood creation.  And I remember sneaking at peak at a collection of Sally Forth when the owner wasn't looking (what can I say, I was twelve or thirteen).  I later found Wood's Wizard book, reprints of the old Mad comics, and eventually, thanks to Russ Cochran, I was able to get my hands on all of the Weird Science, Piracy, Valor, and other unparalleled Wood E.C. output.  But none of them were my most vivid memory of Wood.  I remember clear as day, a late afternoon/early evening, in late October, in 1981.   The owner of Space Traveler's, a pleasant and generous guy named Dave Armstrong, got a phone call.   Wally Wood had killed himself with a gunshot to the head.  Armstrong started to weep.   Not because it was entirely out of the realm of possibility.  Wood was facing dialysis, was blind in one eye, and had been debilitated by a series of small strokes, and his days of productivity were nearly gone.  Dave cried because Wood was a formative influence, a person whose art affected an entire generation, a local legend who cared about comics, comics professionals and fans.   Wally Wood was a master.  And he would create no more.

There are many fan sites and collections of Wood's art around the web, as well as in various books about the era and its great artists.  If you're not familiar with his legacy of fine stories and art, I recommend taking a long look.  Here is a small sampling to enjoy. 


  1. That was a great piece, Ray.

    I remember as a kid wondering why the Overstreet Guide kept noting 'Wood inks' on certain issues. My thought at the time was "Who cares?". Well, now I care - I'll buy anything with Wood pencils or inks. He made Kirby's Challs look gorgeous and really meshed well with Ditko in the mid-70s.

    Question: I know Wood is credited with the Fantastic Voyage adaptation, but to my eyes is seems to be watered down Wood in places. Do you know how much 'assistance' he had with that one?

  2. Hard to tell. He had a veritable boat-load of assistants throughout the seventies and indoctrinated them in the "Wood house style" so if it looks watered-down, I think it's fair to say that it's probably been done or at least partially done by a Wood assistant, but signed by Wood as his own. But the evidence is hardly conclusive, so you might unfortunately need to go on faith (and bid accordingly)

  3. I'm not Ray, but it's almost assuredly not pure Woody. That came out during one of Woody's busiest periods. I think that Adkins would have been working for Woody by then. And almost certainly Ralph Reese. There's not much of anything from that period that is unexpurgated Woody because he was just too damn busy.