Dan DeCarlo — arguably the comic book artist whose art was seen by more people than any other creator in the history of the field — died at the age of 82 on Wednesday morning of an heart attack.
While DeCarlo had a long and varied career, he is best known as an Archie Comics artist. In addition to creating Sabrina, Josie and the Pussycats and Cheryl Blossom, DeCarlo’s style was adopted as the company’s house style in the 1950s, and DeCarlo trained other studio artists to draw Archie and friends in his signature style.
In recent years, DeCarlo became entangled in a bitter legal dispute with Archie Comics over ownership over Josie and the Pussycats, a suit brought on by the live action Josie movie. DeCarlo created Josie — named after his real-life wife — in the 1960s as a newspaper strip, but when he was unable to sell it to the newspaper syndicates, the character found a home at Archie Comics.
The suit marked the end of over 40 years of work with Archie, but DeCarlo found work with today’s comic publishers, most notably with Bongo Comics.
“He’s been described as the Jack Kirby of teen humor comics, and that’s pretty accurate,” Bongo’s Bill Morrison told CBR News on Wednesday, “But I’d go in a different direction calling him the Carl Barks of teen humor books. Even as a kid I knew looking at Dan’s work that it was something special. Carl was the good ducks artist. Dan was the good Archie artist. There was always this added mixture of sex appeal, humor … the way he laid out a story was so clear and concise, but really brilliant.
“He’d been doing stories for our ‘Bart Simpsons’ title and we have a lot of his work in our archives. If we’ve got enough for a whole issue we’ll do a Dan DeCarlo tribute issue.
“One of the last things he did was the Jingle Belle story for Paul Dini’s Jingle Belle book which I had the pleasure of inking.”
“Dan penciled six pages of the newest book, ‘Jingle Belle Jubilee,’ which came out last month,” Dini told CBR News on Wednesday. “I had a story where Jing, the disgruntled daughter of Santa Claus, met up with an equally disgruntled young Halloween witch. They shared their respective family issues on a TV talk show and wound up becoming friends, even while their fathers got into a fist-fight. As with all Dan’s best work, his rendering was funny and beautifully drawn with the girl characters adorable as always in that unique DeCarlo style.
“I first worked with Dan about seven years ago on a ‘Batman Adventures’ annual. I had come up with a short story called ’24 Hours’ which chronicled the amount of time it took Harley Quinn to land back in trouble after being released from Arkham Asylum. Bruce Timm inked the story on overlays, which slightly disappointed Dan. He had hoped he’d get his original pencils back with Bruce’s inks on them: ‘So they would be worth something.’ That was Dan, self-deprecating all the way.”
Working with DeCarlo was “humbling and exhilarating at the same time,” Dini said. “It was always a joy to see how he’d handle a new character, especially a cute girl. When I told him about Jingle Belle a couple years ago, he thought it was a fun idea and expressed his desire to do something with the character. My reaction was ‘You want to work on my rinky-tink little book? How sweet can life get?’
“It was tragic that when he was at an age when many cartoonists are revered as treasures by more beneficent publishers, Dan felt spurned and slighted by the owners of properties that prospered greatly from his contributions. Still, he was esteemed by fans and professionals the world over, and he often told me he was very grateful for the support he received from them over the past few years.”