Saturday, August 14, 2010

Original Art Stories: The Weird Wally Wood

Hooray for Wally Wood!  How anyone can say that they enjoy comic book art and not appreciate Wally Wood is beyond me.  Seriously.  Wood was one of the finest artists that has ever emerged from the medium, sadly some people look more towards his failings as a person than his qualities as an artist.

I've always believed that there's a very fine line between genius and insanity and that when that line becomes blurred what might seem somewhat bizarre to 'normal' people is merely normal to the bizarre.  Wood had his demons that pursued him, right to the end, and, from all accounts, he could be somewhat unstable (to put a nice spin on things) and erratic, but his ability to draw anyone under the table was the gift that he had.  The price he had to pay for that gift was the tragic way that he both lived and died.

In his day Wood was as good as anyone out there and, for me anyway, he peaked to a degree with his work for EC.  If I wrack the brain a bit I'd hazard a guess and say that I first encountered Wood in the pages of a Mad Magazine reprint (as an aside, talking of vintage Mad, I love the story Starchie - not by Wood) and then worked my way back from there.  I saw his superhero stuff for Marvel and DC and often wondered who this artist was who was wasted on a back-up strip like Hercules for DC.  I had no idea what Wood's life was like, hell, I was a kidlet.  In later years I began to read about Wood and, to be honest, it upset me a lot.  Then I began to speak to those who knew him, Michael Netzer, Alan Kupperberg, Steve Mitchell - people who were there - and the image that began to emerge was a bit different from some of the printed pages.

In later years Wood turned to inking almost exclusively with devastating results - even Steve Ditko or Joe Sinnott couldn't ink Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby as good as Wally Wood could.  In some ways Wood was a wasted talent for comic books, but such is life.

"Woody, which is what we called him, was a very sweet child-like man, he was very nice, he was sweet, he liked to play, he liked music, and he liked to joke. He was also a very troubled man as all good souls are. His sensitivity to the callousness all around him caused him to retreat into his own worlds within him and he sought some comfort by doing so, sometimes with the help of alcohol or other substances - as do many good souls tortured at man's inhumanity to man all about. It's clear that any help he thought he'd receive from therapists was ill hoped for, as most therapists haven't the foggiest notion what troubles such sensitive spirits. Much in the same way as Don McLean sang about Vincent Van Gogh in Starry Starry Night - when Woody saw that there was no hope left in sight, on that starry starry night... well, we all know how that song ended. As a matter of fact, I had never seen him yell at anybody. He would have these wonderful wry jokes and you liked to be around him when he felt uplifted, but there were other times when Woody felt the weight of the world on his shoulders and he could display little patience for some of the vanities which characterized his environment. At such times, he preferred to keep to himself." -- Michael Netzer

This story comes from Weird Science #16 entitled "A Trip to a Star,", published by EC in 1950.  That's sixty years ago, and frankly it's still head and shoulders above a lot of the crap that's being published today.


Smurfswacker said...

Are those not young Wallace Wood and Joe Orlando piloting the spaceship (page 1, panels 2 and 3; page 2, panel 6)?

Steve Mitchell said...

My taste for comics has faded over the years. They just don't give me the same thrill they once did, but...WALLY WOOD, well, his stuff still thrills me. I think of his work as the comic art version of comfort food; pleasing, attractive, fundamentally sound in every way, and just plain good. "Woody" was unique, and in many ways, an under appreciated talent. He also may have been the best inker of all time. KIRBY - WOOD! Awesome! I never get tired of looking at his work.

Ian Miller said...

Smurfswacker, I do believe that is Woody drawing himself into the story. He used to do that from time to time. You can see this in a lot of Cannon strips, usually as background or expendable characters.