Tuesday, December 31, 2013


DAN SPIEGLE: A LIFE IN COMIC ART is a recent book by John Coates about the now 93-year-old artist whose career stretches back to a long stint on the Hopalong Cassidy comic strip from 1949-1955, followed by a long stretch as one of the main adventure artists for Western Publishing until the 1980s, working on many film adaptations, Tarzan stories and his co-creation SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON. I'm mostly familiar with his work from the 1980s, where he drew long runs on BLACKHAWK and CROSSFIRE (both with Mark Evanier) and the "Nemesis" backup feature in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (with Cary Burkett). While he hasn't been as active in mainstream comics since the early 1990s, he has stayed busy with several projects (a lot of which I didn't know about until I read this book), as well as doing commissions for fans (his art agent's site is here).

The bulk of the text of this book is a recent long interview of Spiegle by Coates (plus a reprint of an earlier short 1972 interview by Dan Gheno), which provides a timeline for the illustrations.  There are some great recent drawings in the beginning where he provides the layout for the chicken farm his family owned in 1930 and the pharmacy his father opened in 1934. Those show a great flair for realism and establishing an accurate sense of place that served him well in the type of comics he'd draw. There's nothing too deep in the interview, a few amusing anecdotes but mostly just Spiegle doing a professional job, sometimes on scripts he wasn't that enthusiastic about.

It was good to see a lot of examples of his pre-1980s work, which I'm only slightly familiar with. It would be great to see some sort of reprint of some of the best of those (as far as I know the only real reprint has been some over-priced books of SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON stories, which I hope Spiegle is getting something for, although he didn't even know they existed until Coates mentioned them). I'll definitely need to get a few more samples of that stuff. It was also interesting to see bits of his more recent work, including a TERRRY AND THE PIRATES strip and a western story published in a 2011 book that I didn't know about.

In addition to the interview, the book also has a few short essays by Spiegle, his wife Marie and their children, which gives a nice peek as the part of his life off the page, pieces by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones about how they went from fans of his work, without knowing his name, to friends and colleagues.

There's also a good selection of his recent work on commissions for fans, featuring samples from all the big highlights of his career. I especially like a few of the Blackhawk pieces.

Overall a very enjoyable book, although unfortunately far too short to really give more than an overview of a career as vast as Spiegle's. I know it's given me a few books I have to dig up.

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