A Personal Tribute to Wally Wood
Wallace Allen Wood, who went by the pen name of Wally Wood was a staple of the comic book industry from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Wood was one of the first artists whose style I recognized and sought out. A friend of my parents had decided that their son was too old to be reading “funny books” anymore and gave them to me. As I recall there were Superman, Batman and the Flash. There also was a variety of Gold Key cartoon character books. At the bottom of the box was a copy of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7. I doubt that the comic actually was glowing, but it sure felt like it.
I have a very vivid memory of sitting in the back of my Mom’s VW bus and reading the final story in that comic. One of the heroes, Menthor is killed. Nowadays that’s not a big deal. You wait a couple months and then, miraculously our hero returns. Not so in this instance. Menthor was shot in the back five or six times then crawls through and subsequently blasted by an invisible eye beam. All this, to warn his fellow T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents of a trap. The remaining agents gather “in stunned disbelief” around his body. They then all go into a berserk rage and destroy the Warlord’s base and many of the Warlord’s minions are killed. The issue ends with a astonishingly page of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents at Menthor’s funeral, swearing vengeance against the rest of the Warlord group.
The story’s artwork is credited to Dan Adkins, Wally Wood and a post-Spider-Man Steve Ditko. Even with the assistance of two very strong and unique artists, Wally Wood’s personal art style dominated the work. Wood’s work was very lush and curved. His characters had a sense of weight. His reeditions of machinery were ultra-detailed and had dials everywhere. This was totally different than what I was seeing in other comic books. Who was this guy?
Back in the late 1960’s, there were NOT a lot of options for locating back issues or learning about the history of artists. The only real resources were the two volumes of The Steranko History of Comics and Jules Feiffer’s book, The Great Comic Book Heroes. No mentions of Wally Wood that I can recall in either histories. Where was this guy?
Mad Magazine then started reprinting their early comic books as supplements to their giant size editions. The first 23 issues of Mad came out as comic books but switched over to a magazine format to escape the Comic Book Code, Dr. Frederick Wertham and the Kefauver Senate hearings about the evils of comic books. The early Mad comics spoofed a lot of comic books characters. There was Superduperman, Batboy and Rubin, Prince Violent, and on the front page of each of these stories was the stylized name “Wood”. Mad, at that point was being published by E.C. Comics. In the mid 1950’s they produced such titles as Tales from the Crypt, Shock Suspense Stories, Two-Fisted Tales and Weird Science. Wood contributed stories to almost every issue of those comics. Here was that guy!
Now that I knew what I was looking for, I found Wally Wood’s footprint everywhere. Before he had done the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, he was the artist of Daredevil issues #5 through 11. He was the creator of Daredevil’s iconic red costume and billy club. His art would occasionally appear in the Warren horror magazine, Creepy. In 1975 he provided artwork for the Atlas/Seaboard title The Destructor. In 1976, Wood created the look for D.C.’s Power Girl. I even found his artwork on record covers.
In 1979, I was trapped in boarding school. Somehow I found out that Wally Wood was going to self-publish his own graphic novel, The Wizard King. For the princely sum of $10.00 the book could be mine. I have no idea where I scrounged up the money from (and I probably wouldn’t want to at this point) but I was able to obtain a money order and send away for it. A week later I received an absolute treasure trove. Not only was there a copy hard-back of The Wizard King, there were three issues of a large format comic called Cannon. There was another large format book called Sally Forth. There were stacks of flyers, copies of drawings (including a nude Power Girl) and a card stating I was now a member of F.O.O. (The Friend of Odkin). At that moment, Wally Wood became my personal hero. I went in quest of anything and everything he had ever done.
In 1981 reading, at the time, the latest issue of The Comics Journal, I found out that Wally Wood was dead. He had killed himself. The article painted a whole different story of the man whose art I loved. Wood suffered from depression. He was furious about the limits imposed on him by the comic industry. He smoke and drank too much. Having to be subjected to dialysis multiple time a week was too much for him. He chose to end it. It was the first time (but certainly not the last) I ever mourned the passing of someone in the comic industry. None of my friends read comics so there was no one I could talk to about his passing. I mourned alone.
The only positive that came from Wally Wood’s death was a sudden influx of indexes of his work began appearing. My favorite artist was dead but he lived on in back issue bins and mail order comic companies. His impact on artists continue today in a piece compiling his called 22 Panels That Always Work. My daughter, who is an artist herself, has a copy of it hanging over her desk.
There have been a number of scholarly books about the life of Wally Wood. Twomorrows Publishing released Against the Grain, Mad Artist Wallace Wood, in 2003, edited by Bhob Stewart. In 2006 Wally’s World by Steve Starger and J. David Spurlock was published by Vanguard. In 2012, IDW put out Woodwork, Wallace Wood 1927-1981. More recently, in 2017, Fantagraphic Books released The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood also edited by Bhob Stewart along with J Michael Catron.
If you are looking to experience Wood’s art, there are various reprint volumes available of his time at E.C. Comics, particularly the Russ Cochran sets. D.C. Comics reprinted all of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comics in their Achieve series. Fantagraphic books recently published a two volume set of all the issues of Wood’s self-published magazine Witzend. Vanguard Publishing, under the leadership of J. David Spurlock, has been annually releasing, collected volumes of the Wally Wood’s stories he did for Victor Fox’s line of books (among others) in the very early 1950’s. Each volume focuses on different comic book genres. For those of you with large wallets, IDW released an artist edition of some of Wood’s E.C. Work
I highly recommend all of these books
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