Irwin Hasen may not be one of the best known artists of his generation, but his impact on comics is undeniable. As a Golden Age artist, Hasen worked on icons like Green Lantern and Wonder Woman; co-created Wildcat with writer Bill Finger and was the longtime artist of “Dondi” — a comic strip that ran for more three decades and was a popular feature locally in the New York Post. Hasen was the subject of a feature in the New York Times last year and at New York Comic Con 2012, Danny Fingeroth led a panel of Al Jaffee, Stan Goldberg and Paul Levitz in paying tribute to the 94-year-old Hasen.
After a brief delay, Fingeroth cued up “Hail to the Chief” and Mr. Hasen, a dapper man in a black suit, fedora and cane, ascended the stage and proceeded to do a Franklin Roosevelt impression, declaring, with a cigarette holder, “This is a day that will live in infamy in the comic book industry.”
“Where’s Feiffer?” he asked Fingeroth at one point, who explained that Jules Feiffer was in Europe but sent his regards. “As long as he’s alive,” Hasen said.
When asked how they first met, Jaffee said when he started out as a cartoonist, Hasen was too big for him to know casually. When Hasen swore at him, Jaffee said, “Don’t use love words with me, darling” before talking about Hasen’s work on “Green Lantern” and “Wonder Woman.”
“All that stuff was bad,” Hasen said dismissively. Jaffee launched into a story from their bachelor days when the two had gone out to dinner. Noticing that the couple at the next table was eavesdropping as Hasen talked about his new girlfriend, Hasen proceeded to talk in gory detail about how he hit her with a meat tenderizer, with Jaffee keeping a perfectly straight face, egging him on for minutes as the couple next to them was horrified. At a certain point, Hasen stopped and asked, “So where are you going on vacation this year?”
“That’s what cartoonists are about,” Hasen said. “They’re full of laughter and get rid of it by drawing pictures.”
Fingeroth asked Levitz to provide some context for how Hasen came up the comics business and Levitz talked about All-American Publications and the talent — and personalities — that worked there including Shelley Mayer, Robert Kanigher, Julie Schwartz, Joe Kubert and Alex Toth. “How did the police not cart you all away?” Levitz asked. Hasen mentioned Gerard Jones’ book “Men of Tomorrow,” which he described as “beautiful” and a great portrait of the atmosphere, before making fun of the publisher, the late M.C. Gaines.
Goldberg said his first meeting with Hasen was in 1952, when Hasen visited a class taught by the late Jerry Robinson. Goldberg and Hasen met again later on and lived near each other during the summer and would regularly meet for lunch. Goldberg was with Hasen at the Lucca Festival in Italy when Hasen met John Buscema and the two fell in love and became “the odd couple of comics.”
After Hasen broke into a song, Jaffee tried to put the outburst in context, stating when he first joined the National Cartoonist Society in 1950, the organization was a big deal and every year they’d put on an annual Christmas show where they’d write and perform skits about current events and inside jokes about cartooning. Hasen was a star every year.
Fingeroth showed some slides of Hasen’s work from the early years with characters like Catman, The Fox, Ferret, Wildcat and Wonder Woman. Levitz credited Mayer with good taste in artists and Hasen was a star. “Hasen was one of the first cartoonists who understood what a fight scene ought to look like. Jack Kirby was another,” Levitz said. “Most guys in first generation of comics artists knew more about running away from punches rather than throwing them, but Irwin drew punches just fine.”
Levitz further noted Hasen drew women well and asked how many models he had pose for him over the years. “They were my lady friends,” Hasen said. “They were my wonder women.” Levitz just shook his head and said, “I’m not going to ask.”
Despite his mockery of Gaines earlier, Hasen clearly had a lot of respect and love for the late Sheldon Mayer, detailing how Mayer taught him how to ride horses and their drinking trips in the Village.
Fingeroth asked J. David Spurlock to come onstage and share a few stories of Hasen. Spurlock spoke of Hasen and Julie Schwartz, who were best friends, but regularly argued like cats and dogs. One day in the lunchroom at the Kubert School, Spurlock recalled Alex Toth saying Hasen was his mentor.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Hasen said, calling Toth both brilliant and screwed up. “Alex Toth is the greatest cartoonist who ever lived. He must have picked up something [from me]. To me, nobody could beat him.”
As far as his recent graphic memoir “Loverboy: The Irwin Hasen Story,” which Spurlock published, Hasen said that it’s a very sexy book because “I had a very nice life.”
Fingeroth turned to Hasen when they were running out of time to give him the final word. A hoarse Hasen said simply, “I may have lost my voice, but I haven’t lost my charm.”
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