I’m in the process of moving, and while packing up my collection I came across a couple of books that I wanted to keep with me for the next couple of weeks before leaving. The first was the Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? prestige collection and the other was DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories TPB, something I’ve been meaning to get to for months now. Of course, one of the major reasons for setting these collections aside was the fantastic artwork of Curt Swan.
I didn’t grow up with Swan’s work in the way I did a Jack Kirby, or a John Buscema. I read Superman, of course, but if it wasn’t earlier reprints featuring the work of greats like Wayne Boring, etc. then largely it was the Post-Crisis work of Byrne, Ordway, Perez and others that I was most familiar with. It was only when I turned more of my attention to the historic aspect of the hobby some 10 years ago that I began to find out more about the fascinating folks behind the scenes, including the likes of Curt Swan. Unfortunately, one of my first introductions to Swan came in the form of a critic that didn’t hold his work in high esteem. The argument was basically that he was the anti-Kirby, that his work was static, uninspired and boring. I noted the criticism at the time, but seeing as how I usually don’t put too much stock in such things until I can check out the work for myself I just filed it away as one man’s opinion (though, regrettably, it’s a sentiment that I’ve heard in one form or another on a couple of occasions). But I have to tell you, as far as I’m concerned those critics couldn’t have been more wrong. I can certainly agree that Swan isn’t exactly Kirby in terms of the “dynamo” effect, but there are scant few that can rival him in that regard and it’s not a standard by which I judge all other artists. Everyone has their strengths and one of Curt Swan’s greatest is his ability to consistently tell sequential stories using perfectly rendered, crystal clear lines, that craft ideal versions of the classic characters we know and love so well. For example, I finished the “The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons” (Superman #166) last night and one of the panels that impressed me most was a simple one wherein Superman’s wife, half-hidden in shadow so as to retain the mystery of which gal Superman had married, comforted her “weaker” son, Kal-El II. The composition of the scene, and the two figures, was stunning and I could have pulled out two dozen examples of the same by the time the story had concluded. Curt Swan can draw anything, no matter how dull, no matter how fantastic, and make it a flawless part of the the story he’s telling. Only a select number of artists can make our heroes look as heroic, females as beautiful, or villains as creepy – and do so to anywhere near the consistent degree that Curt Swan did. And thanks to omike015 for sharing the following information at The Superman Message Board at Alvaro’s Comicboards that I also thought y’all might enjoy as it relates to Swan:
According to records at Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics, Curt Swan is DC’s #1 artist — putting his mark on 18,634 pages (making up 1,400 stories) over his career. To put that in perspective, his closest competition — Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane — are credited with 10,322 and 8698 pages respectively. Take a look at those numbers. Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane together barely beat the number of pages illustrated by Curt Swan over their respective DC Comics careers. Making that number even more impressive is that 85% (and likely more than that) of Swan’s work was in the Superman Family of titles.
Curt Swan passed away in 1996 and was still pencilling comics featuring Superman, and other characters, right up until his death. (Swan’s last DC work was published in, fittingly enough, SUEPRMAN: THE WEDDING ALBUM — which was actually published four months after his death). I really hope Swan understood the massive impact he had on DC and Superman and just how prolific he really was.
EDIT: For even more perspective, 18,634 pages averages out to over 31 pages a month — for 50 years! Furthermore, if I’m understanding the charts, these figures don’t include covers — of which Swan did plenty. Phenomenal!
Curt Swan really was a superman himself, in more ways than one.