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R.I.P. Murphy Anderson

He wasn't a superstar like Neal Adams or Jack Kirby but to fans of my generation, Murphy Anderson was DC Comics. He was the look of the company throughout the sixties, the same way Dan DeCarlo was for Archie or Kirby was for Marvel. And now he's gone, at the age of 89.

I don't really have an anecdote or anything to share, though I did get to meet him once at the San Diego Comic-Con and he was extraordinarily gracious; especially considering how stuttering and starstruck I was. He was hugely interested in the middle-school cartooning classes I taught and had several helpful suggestions that I instantly incorporated into what I was doing when we got back home. Julie remarked later, "What a sweet man." Which he was. He had scribbled his address on a post-it and asked me to mail him one of the student zines but I somehow lost it between the con and home and felt guilty for YEARS about not being able to follow through as I'd promised. I was nursing the hope that he'd make it up to Emerald City one of these years and I'd get to apologize (and maybe introduce him to Brianna, all grown up now, whose work he'd admired when I showed it to him.) But now, of course, that won't be happening.

I mostly knew his work as an inker on Curt Swan's Superman, who never looked quite right when someone else inked him. To my eyes, it's the Swanderson Superman that's the 'real' one; even though there have been other artists drawing the character that I like better, none of them are as REAL to me-- those other comics feature just drawings of the actual guy as portrayed by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson.

In that same way, Anderson's Justice League became MY Justice League, because of the head shots he did of the team that were on the covers for a while when I first was buying the book. No JLA story ever felt quite right without a row of those headshots on the cover or at least on the splash page. (When modern guys like Ordway or Perez incorporated that riff into their versions of the League, especially the JLA-JSA crossovers, it never ever failed to make me smile and remember Murphy Anderson.)

As the sixties became the seventies I'd see Anderson's solo art jobs reprinted in the Giants and 100-Page DC books and it crystallized my vision of what the DC universe looked like. In the same way that I thought of Jack Kirby whenever I heard "Marvel heroes" (even the ones he didn't draw) if someone said "DC heroes" to me it was the carefully-crafted Murphy Anderson version of those characters that appeared in my head as the default.

The JSA revival stuff was my favorite though, with Anderson filtering the Golden Age crudeness through his own carefully-honed stylistic perfection.

This pinup of the Justice Society may be my favorite thing he ever did.

Everything I admire about Murphy Anderson's work is in that picture. The weight, the naturalism, the believability he brought even to Ma Hunkel and that damn bucket on her head... somehow, he makes it work. They look like they're really having their picture taken and everyone is in character.

Here's another one that shouldn't look natural and plausible, but it does. I bought this one off the stands, back in the day, and looking back on it, I have to give it up for the artist that made all those C and D-listers on the back cover look worthy of standing with Superman.

Super Chief? Air Wave? That's pretty much the opposite of an "all-star line-up," and they're all just standing there in a typical sort of sixties DC pose... ready to solve the puzzle, beat the gimmick, and end by hauling the cursing villain to jail where someone will make a bad pun and they'll point and laugh at the bad guy clinging to the bars.

I outgrew that stuff pretty quick once I found a comics rack where I could keep up with Marvel's 'continued' stories. But it was the sixties DC that was my gateway drug to all of comics... and its visual sensibility, the craft and polish and illustrative detail-- that was all Murphy Anderson. He and Carmine Infantino, whose work he'd inked on my first-ever comic book (Flash #178) got me here.

I'm glad that I at least got a couple of minutes to tell him so, in my stuttering fumfuh'ing way, and that I found him to be as gentle and decent and gracious as the characters he drew.

Rest in peace, sir.

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