Curt Swan Legendary Artist of Superman for
Over 30 Years
Discuss Curt Swan here
Buy Curt Swan a Life in Comics
One of the artist I grew up with was Superman artist
Curt Swan. At the time I think I sort of took his work
for granted always looking forward more to seeing someone's
John Byrne for example, but now as an adult I really
appreciate the clear crisp sort of classic look Swan brought
to Superman comics. I really miss seeing his type of art,
and the type of stories that accompanied those Silver Age
Here's some info about Curt Swan I got from wikipedia.org.
The artist most associated with Superman during the period
fans and historians call the Silver Age of comic books, Swan
produced hundreds of covers and stories from the 1950s
through the 1980s.
Curt Swan, whose Swedish grandmother had shortened the original
family name of Swanson, was the youngest of five children. Father
John Swan worked for the railroads; mother Leotine Hanson had worked
in a local hospital. As a boy, Swan's given name Douglas was
shortened to "Doug," and, disliking the phonetic similarity to
"Dog," Swan thereafter reversed the order of his given names and
went by "Curtis Douglas," rather than "Douglas Curtis."
Having enlisted in Minnesota's National Guard's 135th Regiment, 34th
Division in 1940, Swan was sent to Europe when the "federalized"
division was shipped initially to Northern Ireland and Scotland.
While his comrades in the 34th eventually went into combat in North
Africa and Italy, Swan spent most of World War II working as an
artist for the G.I. magazine Stars and Stripes. During this period
he also married the former Helene Brickley, who he had met at a
dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and who was stationed near him in
Paris in 1944 as a Red Cross worker. Shortly after returning to
civilian life in 1945 he moved from Minnesota to New Jersey and
began working for DC Comics. Apart from a few months of night
classes (at the Pratt Institute) under the G.I. Bill, Swan was an
entirely self-taught artist. After a stint on Boy Commandos he began
to just pencil pages, leaving the inking to others.
His Work on Superman
||Initially, Swan drew many
different features, including "Tommy Tomorrow" and
"Gangbusters", but slowly he began gravitating towards the
Superman line of books. His first job pencilling the iconic
character was for Superman #51 (MarchApril 1948). Many
comics of the 1940s and 1950s lacked contributor credits,
but research shows that Swan began pencilling the Superboy
comic book with its fifth issue in 1949. Swan always
felt, however, that his breakthrough came when he was
assigned the art duties on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, in
It wasn't all smooth sailing, as Swan at first didn't take
to line editor Mort Weisinger's controlling style. Swan
discussed this period in an interview: "I was getting
terrible migraine headaches and had these verbal battles
with Mort. So it was emotional, physical. It just drained me
and I thought I'd better get out of here before I go
whacko." After leaving comics for the advertising world in
1951, Swan soon returned, for National's higher paychecks.
And as biographer Zeno notes,
"The headaches went away after Swan gained Weisinger's respect by
standing up to him." There were other times when Swan got frustrated
at DC, and years later Marvel Comics attempted to lure him to their
company, but he stayed loyal to DC, as their benefits were good and
the work was steady.
Around 1954, Swan unsuccessfully pitched an original comic strip for
newspaper syndication. Called Yellow Hair, it was about a blond boy
raised by Native Americans. A couple of years later, starting with
the episode of June 18, 1956, Swan drew the Superman daily newspaper
comic strip, which he continued on until November 12, 1960.
Over the years, Swan was a remarkably consistent and prolific
artist, often illustrating two or more titles per month.
||After DC's 1985 12-issue limited
series Crisis on Infinite Earths and with the impending 1986
revision of Superman by writer/artist John Byrne, Swan was
released from his duties on the Superman comics. Critic
Wallace Harrington summed up Swan's dismissal this way:
. . . the most striking thing that DC did was to
completely turn their back on the one man that had defined
Superman for three decades. . . . They closed the door and
turned out the lights on the creator that had defined their
whole line. With no real thanks, no pomp nor circumstance,
DC simply relieved Curt of his artistic duties on Superman.
Curt Swan who had drawn Superman in Action,
Jimmy Olsen, Superman, and
World's Finest, and drew Superboy in Adventure Comics,
who was the quintessential Superman artist of the 1960s,
'70s and '80s. He became was just another victim of the
1980's implosion. Gone.
Swan's swan song on Superman was the non-canonical 1986
story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", written
After this, Swan continued to do
occasional minor projects for DC, including an Aquaman limited
series and special in 1989, and various returns on illustrating
Superman. Unfortunately, he had not planned well for retirement, and
needed to keep working to survive. His marriage dissolved, in some
ways due to a recurring drinking problem. Swan's last published
story was five pages published posthumously in the 1996 special
Superman: The Wedding Album.
Swan was living in Wilton, Connecticut, at the time of his death. He
was survived by his former wife Helene, daughters Karen and Cecilia,
and son Christopher.
Swan's artwork on Superman was a contrast to
Wayne Boring, his Golden Age predecessor. Critic Arlen Schumer
praises Swan's ability to depict "the spectrum of human emotion,
from agony to anger, mournful to mirthful." As characterized by
critic Paul Gravett, Swan's Superman made ". . .
Krypton's last son in exile, the alien in our midst, into
someone like us, who would think and feel as well as act, who was
approachable, big-hearted, considerate, maybe physically
superpowerful yet gentle, noble yet subtly tragic." In a similar
vein, Swan biographer Eddy Zeno calls Swan "the
Norman Rockwell of . . . comics."
With his frequent inker
Murphy Anderson from 19701974 (and then again from 19881989),
the pair's collaborative artwork came to be called "Swanderson" by
the fans. (Despite his and Anderson's success together, however,
Swan's favorite inker was Al Williamson, with whom he only worked a
short time, from 19851986.)
Swan's favorite story one of the few he both pencilled and inked
was "I Flew With Superman" from Superman Annual #9 (1983), in which
Swan himself appears and helps Superman solve a case.
In a story titled "Swan's Way," issue #92 of the Legion of
Super-heroes (May 1997) memorialized Swan with a cameo appearance as
an art teacher.
In the Superman-based television show Smallville (TV Series),
Christopher Reeve made a guest-appearance in two episodes as
character Dr. Virgil Swann, who knows all about Kal-El and his
origins. This was an allusion to Swan.
Mark Hamill's character "Don Swan" in Comic Book: The Movie is
likely a tribute to Swan.
"Swan was the best, a quiet man and not much noticed and
consequently underrated because he never caused a fuss; he simply
delivered anything an editor asked for, met any challenge and did it
with the reliability of the tides."
When it came time for Warner Brothers to do a decent film of
Superman, it was Swan's figure that Christopher Reeve emulated. It
was that grace, that strength, that humanity that Swan brought to
the character. When asked whether he had a 'model' for his Superman,
he said that he was a combination of many things. Part Johnny
Weismuller, part Raymond "Rip" Kirby and part George Reeves,
'although I didn't want him to look exactly like Reeves, even though
I got a profile or two correct. . . . I drew him to look like a nice
guy, someone you'd want on your side.' . . . When Clark looked at
you and winked, it was as if he were letting you in on the big joke
that no one in the story could see except you and him. Swan made
Superman come to life for the reader.
Elliot S! Maggin:
We were both philosophical products of the message we spent a
career delivering to the hero-worshippers of the world. We both
believed in truth, justice and the American way: a personal torah.
It was good finally to learn that we had so much in common when
finally we gave each other the space to reveal it.
I'd like to have asked him how much [Swan] identified with
Superman, how much of himself he put in there. I feel that he
probably did on some private level; that there was some sort of a
moral strength that he aspired to, that he drew into those figures.
Something almost indefinable, but some essence of himself.
Buy Curt Swan a Life in Comics
The artwork of Curt Swan (1920-1996) defined the look of "Superman"
for over 30 years. His amazing skills of storytelling, draftsmanship
and design brought a realism and sense of wonder to The Man of
Steel's adventures, making them the best-selling comic books of
their day. Filled with iconic artwork, this biography traces the
artist's career from its beginning on features like "Gangbusters" to
his widespread regard as the Dean of American comics and, later, his
frustrations with an industry that viewed his dignified work as
unfashionable. It features one-to-one interviews with Curt Swan's
family members as well as with comics legends Joe Kubert, Carmine
Infantino, Murphy Anderson and others.
Curt Swan books
Curt Swan Superman Face Expression Sheet