A Twitter thread by Iron Spike.
I wanna talk about the best thing I saw at @bdangouleme, last weekend. But first!
If you're a cartoonist, you probably recognize this image. (And if it's your first time seeing it? Right Click, Save As! You'll be glad you did.)
This chart is how I first heard of Wally Wood.
Because of this chart, I had a faint understanding of who Wally was- a respected draftsperson from the Golden Age of US comics.
But one of the featured gallery shows at Angoulême 2020 was a retrospective of Wood's work. And my respect for the guy has gone through the roof.
(And before we go on, I'd like to acknowledge I don't speak French, and was helped immeasurably in my appreciation of the show by live-at-the-time translations provided by my pal, @Le_Woodman! Thanks dude!)
Wally Wood- who didn't like being called "Wally," and usually signed his work "Wallace Wood,""Woody," or "Wood-" Was a THREE TIME art school dropout who started working in the 40s, after being discharged from the military, as a background artist on Will Eisner's "The Spirit."
The show, very purposefully, opened with the originals for “My World,” a 1953 comic Wood drew from an Al Feldstein script for EC Comics. Note to self portrait in the final panel.
This caption details Wood’s years with EC Comics, who hired him not just for his ability, but the fact that being an actual veteran lent a desired realistic and unglamorous air to his work for their war comics.
Note the mention of being shut down by the Comics Code Authority.
One of Wally’s war comics for EC. None of that “glory of noble combat” stuff here, the situation feels authentic, and the action messy and desperate.
And if course, he worked for EC Comics, so he was gonna inevitably wind up drawing a zombie or two.
From my heart and from my hands, why don’t people understand, my intentions? ~🎶
And hey, here was an unexpected treat: I had no idea Wally and EC had adapted Bradbury‘s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which was pretty much required reading for any kid growing up during the Cold War.
Save the date, everybody.
Some would argue, and not entirely without merit, but this was pretty much the best it got for Wally. Surrounded by peers who considered him an equal, and employed by a boss who valued and appreciated his work immensely.
EC Comics would become defunct as a publisher in 1956.
After EC essentially folded, Wally we continue to produce for newspaper strips, article illustrations,magazines, and Mad Magazine.
Providing a hand for scale there just so you can see how goddamn huge those Prince Valiant originals are.
Perhaps you might have also noticed that Wally is getting exactly zero goddamn credit for the work he did on that Prince Valiant comic.
This is going to be a recurring theme. Strap in.
But before things get all TOO dire, a goofy series I liked a lot: a “Aren’t the kids of today going to make for RIDICULOUS adults if they don’t change?!” set from the mid-century.
People have always done this. Always.
These caption says... A lot. And there was exactly one not-very-remarkable page of Daredevil on display in the entire exhibition, which also probably says a lot.
The CliffsNotes version is, Cuddly Comics Grandpa wasn’t crazy about crediting other people.
And for the record, Wally isn’t the only guy around with a story like this.
I‘m an artist, too. And so, I’ll never be down with that image rehab. Never.
After an experience to remember, courtesy of Marvel and Stan Lee, Wally attempted to strike out on his own, co-founding the publisher Tower Comics.
Marvel and DC’s chokehold on distribution ensured it only lasted four years.
But things were still almost OK! Wally was only in his early 40s, and could still bounce back. He was still resilient, still an optimist, still willing to experiment.
Publish somewhat irregularly for nearly 20 years, Witzend was the OG of OGs. It predated Zap Comix, as well as publishers Last Gasp and Kitchen Sink Press. It also featured a swoonworthy lineup of talent, and a strange little mascot.
Remember that face.
(Also, note the presence of Leo and Diane Dillon in that lineup??? Illustrators of easily the most intriguing books of my childhood library???)
So at this point, Angoulême is now showcasing, just for me, an alternative publisher-slash-artist, a risk-taker who won't stay beat, with an appreciation for technical polish and an unusual vision of publications low on editorial interference and high on creative freedom.
y e a h .
And that, folks, is how your pal Spike went from Wally Who Now to We Stan A True King in 25 minutes.
In a move I can empathize with and also deeply envy, Wally didn’t stay editor of Witzend long, symbolically selling the magazine for a dollar to a trusted friend so he could focus on his own contributions.
And holy crap, I think this is my favorite stuff of his.
This whole time, of course, Wally was still putting out plenty of freelance work. He co-designed this series of trading cards, for example. Maybe they're familiar.
That's okay. It was awhile ago.
But yeah, Wally did a lot of work for Topps. In addition to Mars Attacks, he produced Ugly stickers. (Not a criticism, that's literally what they're called.) He also did animation design for commercials... and experimented more, in a genre I never knew existed.
Did you know that there was an ENTIRE MICRO-INDUSTRY Dedicated to selling goofy titty comics to US soldiers in Vietnam? Cuz I sure didn’t!
I laughed at this one especially, because US newspapers have an entirely different comic, ALSO called “Sally Forth.”
On that body.
I want to say “Good for Wally!” here, but.
I got the strong impression, especially further along in the exhibition, that he didn’t enjoy making this sort of work.
You’ll see what I mean.
But for now, I wanna bring up a fairly important note.
Wally, because apparently he wasn’t COMPLETELY FUCKING RELATABLE enough, yet? He’s been noodling over an as-yet-unpublished fantasy epic in relative privacy for some time, at this point. Since childhood, basically.
Ultimately called "The Wizard King Trilogy," it was a bit of a pulpy piss-take on Lord of the Rings.
Here's the cover for volume 1, originally published in 1978.
And here's an original copy of volume two of the trilogy, "Odkin Son of Odkin," which came out in 1981, reportedly thanks to the assistance of multiple other artists.
But the trilogy didn’t take off. By the late 70s, he was buying his groceries by producing lowbrow illustrations and erotic comics, many for Al Goldstein’s infamous SCREW magazine. And despite the fact his SCREW art is still making the rounds to this day, he wasn’t loving it.
In a word, Wally was bitter. Witzend, while still publishing, wasn’t making a big splash, and he didn’t own it anymore, anyway. His fantasy epic was met with indifference. And his disdain for art made inside corporate systems sometimes expressed itself in… Memorable ways.
Maybe you’ve seen this.
Yeah, this was Wally. Published in The satirical magazine “The Realist,” months after Walt Disney died.
Try to see this with 1967 eyes, if you can. Just try to absorb how intensely disrespectful this is.
Wally was not OK.
This is from Wally’s 1975 reprisal of the comic this exhibition opened with, “My World.” “ My Word” is the work of the same man, 22 years further along in his career, And not particularly thrilled about where he, or anybody else, has ended up.
Big OOFs, all around.
And topping it all off, a new self portrait.
Wally clearly hasn’t forgotten the good old days. “Spafon“ was a nonsense word used by space aliens in EC Comics to express surprise.
The message is pretty clear. “I am an alien. I am trapped here. The joke’s on me for doing this.”
“My Word” Was published in the first and last issue of Big Apple Comix, by Flo Steinberg. (Stan Lee’s secretary, by the way. she would quit in 1968, after being denied a five-dollar raise. She knew what she was doing.)
Wally knew the good times were over.
Increasingly infirm, he suffered kidney failure and a stroke six years after producing this comic. The stroke caused him to lose the sight in his right eye, which was probably the final straw.
Wally Wood shot himself in the head in 1981. He was 54 years old.
His friend, collaborator, and the purchaser of Witzend, Bill Pearson, Carefully collected and archived a lot of Wood’s original art… much of which was subsequently destroyed in a massive house fire.
Witzend would continue to publish until 1985 under Pearson’s guidance, ultimately producing 13 issues.
And that’s pretty much all there is to say.