Original Art Stories: Dave Hunt, Inker

Dave Hunt is one of the most under-rated and overlooked inker to emerge from the 1970s. During his long career he managed to work over the pencils of artists such as Ross Andru, John Romita, John Byrne, Curt Swan, Kurt Scahffenberger, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Sal Buscema, Tom Morgan, Keith Giffen, George Perez, Jim Mooney, Don Newton and Keith Pollard, to name but a few. Hunt’s ink line was highly sympathetic to the pencil artist and he was always able to remain true to the artist he was working over at the same time as enhancing the strengths that existed and masking weaknesses. Along with Terry Austin, Hunt remains one of the best inkers to work with John Byrne at Marvel in the 1970s, providing a solid base for Byrne to build upon, and he performed the same service for Curt Swan at DC at the same time.

Starting out as an assistant to both Mike Esposito and Frank Giacoia, some of Hunt’s first work was over the pencils of Ross Andru on The Amazing Spider-Man, indeed one of Hunt’s first ever jobs was the classic Amazing Spider-Man #129, the issue which introduced the Punisher to the world. One of Hunt’s skills came in studying those he worked with, and he wasn’t afraid to both ask questions and take direction from those had come before him. Dave Hunt may never have been considered a ‘superstar’ artist, yet he was always there and seeing his name in a credit box meant that the art would be of a consistent and high standard, no matter who the penciler was. The fact that Hunt was routinely assigned a range of diverse and talented pencilers to work with just shows the regard in which he was held at both companies. In the following text you’ll read how Dave entered the comic book industry, along with some of his thoughts on the artists he worked with over the years. The text is culled from an interview done for the Andru & Esposito book, which to help explain the emphasis on Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.

It’s almost a coincidence, and a bit of luck on my part, as to how I broke into comics and art. I just fell into it and in doing so I fell into something that was just perfect for me at the time and place. I was a very lucky guy. If I made it up I never would have thought of it. I went to college and bounced around. I started as a science major and bounced and bounced around until I found what I was destined for. It took a long time and I finally became an art major in college and I fell into book design and started working for a publisher in New York. After a few years I became pretty bored doing that and laid myself off. Eventually, and I’m not sure why, I was doing art work which was kind of based on underground comics. On a whim I brought that up to Marvel and they hired me on the spot. That’s why I saw I’m so lucky in one sense, because I managed to fall into what I was destined to do. As a kid I was gravitated to drawing with ink. Not many kids actually do that, but I did. I found some old pens and I grew up drawing with ink. I loved comics as a kid and I made comics, but never did I think that I’d do it professionally. But I did make up comics, science fiction, Blackhawk kind of stuff.

Frank Giacoia was the guy who actually hired me but Mike Esposito was working on staff around that time too. He was in the office pretty much all the time and so was Frank. Mike was a down to earth kind of a guy. No pretence, very sure of himself and he was a consummate professional. He knew what he could do and he did it full blast. He was a complicated man. Mike and I had so many laughs over the years. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten so much. I can see me sitting next to Frank and I can see Mike over there and we’re all laughing our heads off. Just yesterday I got a comp copy of Essential Dr Strange from Marvel. So much of this I’ve forgotten about and I don’t remember ever doing what I did, but I actually worked on a couple of Dr Strange books with Mike and Frank. There’s my credit line right there but I don’t remember ever doing it.

I was fearless in those days. The very first I ever really felt daunted by being presented with work was when I was at DC comics and I was handed my first job. “Ok, you’re so smart Dave, ink this!” and it was a Superman story by you know who. That kind of made me think, that really was the first time I felt like “Hmmm, am I up to this or not?” A couple of issues later I realized I could actually ink Curt Swan and get paid for it. The splash page was a full face of Superman and that’s when I really thought “Okay…can I do this or not?” Fortunately I did. But I was pretty fearless as far as Ross was concerned. By that time I’d inked a lot of stuff and I felt pretty confident.

I saw Ross Andru several times and found him really interesting straight away. Ross would come in maybe once a month or so, and since I was working on his Spider-man I made a point of getting to know him and found him fascinating. Ross was a really good artist. I think that Don Newton was born to do what he did, and Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger; I really like both of them so much. You’ve probably heard that Ross didn’t really like doing what he did. He really didn’t want to be a bullpen cartoonist. He was an artist first and foremost. He was a natural drawing kind of guy and he really loved to draw, and think about drawing and had a sense about realism. However the first thing that came to his mind wasn’t Spider-man. I was an artist but I never though about comics first and foremost either, but I was able to blend in pretty well. Ross didn’t like it that much. I would class Ross as an intellectual, in the same way as Gil Kane. When I would speak to Ross he would remind me of Gil Kane because we would never talk about comics; we would talk about everything else in the world but comics, and very often about drawing itself and what it meant, and what it means to draw and how one draws.

I’d talk to Ross on occasion, especially when we were doing Spider-man. He told me a couple of things that I found very interesting about his approach to drawing. His approach to drawing was to kind of conceptualize it. He would think about drawing, let’s say, two figures in a room. Then in his mind he would move around the space in that room and he would visualize those two figures in that room. He would zoom in and get a close up, back off and he’d get a very cinematic approach in a way. I’ll always think of Ross that way, always floating around in a room and drawing what he saw. The other thing he told me about drawing was that he was always aware of the silhouette of the main character in a panel. The silhouette was very important to him and if you ever saw his penciled work you can see how heavily outlined some of the figures are because they were very important to him as far as composition goes. His pencils were really rough because he would erase and erase over and over and grind in the outlines of the figures and change the outlines. The pencils were very rough but they were beautiful as well.

I’ve learnt things from several inkers that stood me well, but Mike’s best advice was ‘Dave, keep the brush moving’. He said ‘You can sit and stare, but keep the brush moving’. That was one of the three best pieces of advice I ever got and it stood me well for many years, because we weren’t rich guys and I had to keep the brush moving and so did Mike. He lived in an upscale neighborhood in Long Island and he liked that lifestyle, but at the same time he turned out an incredible amount of work.

I primarily knew Ross as a Marvel artist and as Mike’s best friend. They really were good friend and quite different. I call Ross an intellectual and Mike certainly wasn’t. Mike was the production guy, Ross was the pencil guy but they were both idea guys and a perfect match. It was a very strange relationship which is why we’re both interested in them. I’m very much the kind of person like Ross was which is why I gravitated towards Mike. I feel as an artist that Ross was an artist and Mike was a cartoonist and very professional. Ross was the ideas man which I can relate to. I never saw their Metal Men stuff first hand; I only ever saw it after I knew the guys. It’s a creation that’s probably their major work because it showed both of the guys. It has the wide eyed aspect of Mike and the inside intellectualism of Ross and it’s all combined together seamlessly into one piece. It’s a thing unto itself, it’s like the children of both Mike and Ross; if they ever had a kid together then it’d be the Metal Men.

It wasn’t too long before I became aware of their history because we bullpen guys were always talking. We were usually in the one room which made things even more interesting. Marvel comics when I first joined them in August 1972 were incredibly small. I walked through the door, there as no security, it was a door which I opened up and I was in Marvel comics. At that point they were basically one room. There were a couple of small offices, Stan Lees and that was about it. We moved shortly after several times and they became bigger and bigger until we had one entire floor in an office building. The classic picture I have of Marvel comics was one room in which you had Morrie Kuromoto, Danny Crespi, Frank, Mike, I and a round robin of other people. So within that small room we were talking all the time and I would come home and my teeth would be hurting from laughing. I loved it so much because it was not like going to the office; it was like going to the circus every day. Frank was incredibly funny and he had a great sense of humor. Frank was the kind of guy who could make you laugh your ass off in two seconds. It was like a dream.

At the time I never thought of all the history. It’s only in recent years, especially since I’ve been reading magazines like Alter Ego that I’ve really become aware of comics history. I didn’t really appreciate Mike and Ross’ roots at that time. That being said Mike would talk about his past and his past success and we would laugh about it. I have Up Your Nose t-shirts. He told me about a lot of the stuff that he did that was amazing at the time, like Mister Mystery, which was a real down and dirty horror comic. He would talk about a writer friend of his, Harry Harrison, who was involved with that. It was really like hearing ancient history from Mike. As a new fan I actually bought a lot of the comics that they did and I still have some copies of their early stuff signed by Mike.

I missed getting into comics fandom by a few months. I stopped reading comics probably about a year before Julie Schwartz started letter columns and the origins on fandom. I was that close and I probably would have become involved in this, but I missed it. I got married and did other stuff, and was a book designer and missed the whole thing. So I came into comics as an outsider and I was lucky in that respect because if I had been a fan like Len Wein and Marv Wolfman then I would have come in that way, but I didn’t, so I was always kind of like an outsider. Also when I think about myself at the time I got into comics in ’72 it was a very transitional time. There weren’t that many people my age. There were the older guys like Ross and Mike, and Bill Everett, Marie Severin and on and on and on. And then there were kids, real young kids running around and I was kind of in between. John Romita used to call me ‘The Kid’, but there wasn’t a selection of names for me because I was lost. There was nobody my age there at that point.

As you know John Romita took over from Steve Ditko on Spider-man. Ditko was a stylist. The art was very flat in a way and when John came in suddenly Peter Parker lived in this three dimensional world. A lot of people saw that, but I didn’t, and it was only when I met John that I could look back and see what happened. John drew me a three dimensional world and he was very proud. He showed me a book about movie making and there as an article about John Romita talking about his cinematic approach with camera angles and he was very proud of that. That’s the way John drew. I think Ross did it differently. John’s world was a fantasy world; Ross brought it into the real world. The real New York city, the real Coney Island. Ross made you believe that the Kingpin was a real huge guy. John still had that sense of fantasy about comics whereas Ross really brought it very close to home and that’s the difference between those two. I know how self effacing how John is and it’s very strange. He’s JOHN ROMITA and he has such self-doubt. It’s real, and not a game he’s playing.

I wasn’t that good at drawing big bulky superheroes, but I was good at drawing places so I started to assist everyone. And from the get go I was a really good inker before I even knew I was. John had me do things all over the place and he had a lot more confidence in me than I had. We did some wonderful outside jobs, toys, advertising jobs, and he would ask me to help him to put Spidey into the real world. If you look back on that stuff you’ll see Spidey floating around in Manhattan, well that’s me.


Steve Miller said…
I always liked to see Dave Hunt inking Curt Swan. I think he was my second favorite Swan inker after Murphy Anderson.
Bob Almond said…
Joe Sinnott was just talking about Dave about 3 weeks ago....said how he used Dave as an assistant and that he was great. When I mentioned Dave's solo work, Joe didn't remember that, even when Dave did fill-in inks on FF. I thought that was funny.
Dale said…

Finally some information on Dave Hunt. I started reading comics about 1980 and can remember seeing his name in collaboration with artists I loved - Curt Swan on Superman, Don Newton on Captain Marvel, Kurt Schaffenberger on Superboy. His inkwork always looked clean and solid and it was obviously he work hard at enhancing the artist's style.

Later on I saw Al Williamson on Curt Swan and was blown away, but always appreciated Hunt's ability to remain true.
Anonymous said…
Hunt inked 70s John Byrne correctly: a smooth line that didn't detract from the cartooniness. Unfortunately Byrne's later pen/marker work didn't measure up to Hunt's (although it *was* popular for awhile.)

I didn't know whether Hunt would look good over Gene Colan, but they worked on a "Little Shop of Horror" adaptation, and, well, never fear...
alxjhnsn said…
Dave is on Facebook if you are interested.

Matt Wieringo said…
Thanks for this. Hunt over Byrne on MARVEL TEAM-UP is some of my favorite comic art of all time. Truly wonderful stuff.
In many ways, Dave Hunt created me. The first pro I met was Keith Pollard, during the time he was penciling Fantastic Four and later breaking down Spider-Man. From these interactions in the late '70s (I was in high school and aspired to be a Marvel penciler), I decided to learn to ink my own work, and eventually write and letter -- and while I was at it, create my own characters. I became an auteur the long way around.

The reason for this was Dave Hunt.

As Keith himself said, "I turn in my [Fantastic Four] pencils, and Joe Sinnott somehow turns it into art."

Keith was doing full pencils on FF, but Sinnott could have just as easily finished breakdowns. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case with Spider-Man, where Keith was doing breakdowns, penciling the Spidy figure tightly but leaving everything else including background characters very sketchy. Dave Hunt was not a finisher, and the results were not pretty.

I knew at once that I didn't have the temperament for that kind of career -- submitting pencils to Marvel, not know whether they'd be assigned to someone great like Joe Sinnott, or a hack like ...

I can see now, just from the samples on this blog post, that Dave Hunt clearly was a conscientious craftsmen if perhaps not a finisher, and that my impressions of his work based on one issue of Keith's Spider-Man were rather distorted and didn't tell the whole story.

I guess it's too late to become a Marvel penciler now. But anyway, I have Dave Hunt to thank for sending me on my way to a more satisfying career creating my own characters and inking my own work. :)

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