Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - Romance Comics in Plain Sight

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Chuck Gower

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Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - Romance Comics in Plain Sight

I'm going to warn you ahead of time - I may sound overly critical of Curt Swan's work here in this piece. I get that he was the definitive Superman artist for 2 1/2 decades. No question about that. But personally, I just never understood the huge fan love for his work, other than "I was 13 and these were my favorite comics." That I get. Going back and discovering his work after reading Neal Adams Superman stories? Hmmm...

Now I wasn't a big Superman fan as a kid, and really was more of a Marvel guy in general, but I've started to read some of these old DC books, because... well, because when it comes to cheap readers, there just tends to be a lot more DC than Marvel available. So we'll start with this cover. I've always felt Swan's figures for his covers were better than his interior art, and this is a good example. Superman looks properly proportioned here, and Lois actually looks like she has an attractive figure. 

There's probably a tiny bit more wasted space than needs to be here, and the action is nearly non-existent. It's practically the opposite of a Marvel cover where the characters almost seem to leap off the page. HOWEVER, this IS a romance comic, if not in specific genre (it's considered part of the Superman Family of books), most CERTAINLY in content. So in that respect, it shouldn't have the same, 'jump off the page' action as a normal superhero comic. 

It's not a BAD cover - it's okay. Professional. Does the job.

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(Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - Cover Dated January 1970 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - cover art by Curt Swan)

 

Yes. Professional. Does the job.

THAT is Curt Swan. As Gary Groth once wrote: 

"Swan is symptomatic of what the industry requires. They adore Swan at DC because they give Swan a --script and it says 'Superman flies out the window'...and there's Superman flying out the window. The --script says 'Clark Kent walking down the hall' and there's Clark Kent walking down a hall. He's just a technician who does exactly what's required of him."

 Unlike Groth (who's opinions on much of comics I DO respect - sorry fanboys), I'm ok with THAT aspect of Swan's work. He's a MAINSTREAM comic artist on the most MAINSTREAM Family of books. He's NOT Neal Adams. There's still a lot to be said for someone who can do the job exactly as told to do it. DC wasn't producing ART, as much as Groth, and many of us wished they would have. They were producing PRODUCT, and as such, Swan was a sturdy machine, pumping out what was asked on a monstrous monthly basis. He maybe did more work than any artist in comics, other than Kirby.

But unlike Kirby who was constantly soaring with new ideas and ways to express them, and ever-evolving as an artist, Swan was slow and steady and the same, same, same.

Which is part of my issue with him...

 

 

Another issue I have are the artists completely overlooked who I felt were far superior to Swan, and right here in this issue, we get to compare them back to back. Irv Novick got his start in the Golden Age (an early MLJ artist!), where his creativity was on display even in the infancy of the profession (you can read about some of it in my Undercover Archie blog). Here at the ripe old age of 53 (he was 4 years older than Curt), we see a splash page that is far superior to the cover. It's almost as if the editor told the both of them, "Draw me a full page of Lois cutting off a lock of Superman's hair, amused that it is robbing him of his powers", and THIS is the contrast in style between the two artists. And DC chose Swan's cover???

In Novick's, Superman looks furious, explosive, yet held back by Roman guards (it's a Samson and Delilah story), while Lois, looks sexually suggestive, in a position of relaxed power. The word ballons, editorial text, and title are all perfectly placed within the room that's left. 

Far superior to the cover.

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Irv Novick)

 

And speaking of Superman, which is Swan's 'speciality', let's look at the splash page for HIS story, featuring the Man of Steel. I personally find this layout boring. I can't stand Superman's bland body shape here, a constant annoyance I have in Swan's style. He looks like a husky 25 year old male instaed of a 'Man of Steel'. His entrance is pretty vanilla - stationary camera angle... And Lois? You may as well be drawing a 15 year old boy. I just don't get the excitement for this work. Neal Adams must've given some of these old timers a heart attack when he first came to DC.

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Curt Swan)

 

So let's look back at Novick's story and compare a Superman entrance. Superman's entrance is EXCITING, as it should be. It's at an angle that highlights he is descending down. His body language shows action. The expressions of the characters and even their subtle body movements, give us emotion and action within a scene that really ISN'T all that. This is a superb example of an exciting layout within a standard 5 panel page. It keeps the story going without even needing to read it. THIS is how you draw entertaining sequential story art.

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Irv Novick)

 

And even when it's a page that isn't full of action, Novick is a master draftsman. Below is a classic Z flow page construction, yet none of his angles are forced - he's using what comes naturally to tell the story in each panel - changing camera angles and perspective when needed. On top of that, he's keeping what could become easily cluttered and messy, quite tidy. 

Let's examine what's going on without reading.

Perry White is examing some pictures and discussing them with Clark and Lois.

Lois is holding the pitcures now and listening intently as White gives instruction.

Clark and Lois talk as they leave White's office.

Lois is looking on in surprise as a man is standing on his head.

A director walks Lois through a room where some perfromiers look to be doing some type of peculiar performance exercises.

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Irv Novick)

 

Below, Swan's is a little more heavy handed. The first two panels could very easily just be one and still show Lois' frustration as she runs from her doctor's office. And other than the second panel, it's difficult to tell Lois' emotion

Let's lay these out:

Lois is running down the street from a distance.

Lois is holding her head, upset, as she is nearer to us.

She looks determined, with tears on her cheeks as we see a close up that she is leaving? entering? Hospital parking.

She's driving somewhere, we see the back of her head from a distance.

She's etering a cave with a blank expression.

In the cave she sees a giant snake, man-sized snake, and we see she is shaking from a distance.

Hmm.

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Curt Swan)

 

As far as facial expressions, Novick's work in this issue is a great example of how well he told a story with his art. The facial expressions here tell you exactly how the characters are voicing what they're saying and work to help bring the printed page alive.

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Irv Novick)

 

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Irv Novick)

 

Now here's an example of Swan spicing up his page a bit. Superman is descending down at a camera angle that gives it a bit more action. It starts off in much better in style than some of the other pages in his story, but still is a little more bland than what we see from Novick in the same issue. It's not bad... again, it's functional. 

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Curt Swan)

 

In this day and age, you can hear even the average fan talk about and know who Curt Swan is. And he deserves it - he WAS a great, Hall of Fame name in the history of the hobby. But who talks baout Irv Novick? Many comic book fans, even fairly knowledgeable one's just aren't that aware of his work, and yet... he WAS a great artist that worked continuously in the business from 1939 until the 1990's! (He had a short exit of 5 years from 1946-1951 when he worked in advertising).

 

So it isn't so much my problem, with Curt Swan's work - it was efficient, I guess, iconic to many, and plentiful - the guy put out so much work it's mind boggling. I just think there were better artists out there, working within the same genre and style, who were in his same age group, who were BETTER and more creative and yet get almost no recognition compared to him.

And Irv Novick is a perfect example.

 

 

This IS a romance comic. And John Romita worked for 7 years at DC doing romance comics, before he went back to Marvel and helped change Spider-man from just another crime fighter, to a monthly soap opera of broken hearts and jealousy.

And good old Irv Novick was maybe just a bit influenced by Romita in his romance work...

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Irv Novick)

 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Robert Kanigher's story that opens the comic, "I Betrayed Superman", which is the story that Irv Novick did the art for. It takes a fun poke at the Stanislavski Acting method, calling the instructor here 'Stanislav', and it's pretty funny.

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Irv Novick)

 

The facial expressions, the sense of humor... it makes me want to read more Kanigher/Novick work.

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by Irv Novick)

 

For OE DOLLAR, ya can't beat it. And of course I love reading the ads as well!

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(from Superman's Girl Friend LOIS LANE #98 - on Newsstands November 13, 1969 - art by various. Ok, ok, I recognize Henry Scarpelli on the last issue of Leave it to Binky and in order: Kubert, Cardy, and Adams)

 


 

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Yes, a good read indeed. Your writing shows you put time and thought into your composition. I appreciate all the wonderful examples you provided also. Thank you for reminding about Irv Novick, I realy like his version of Lois. 

As a big Superman fan, I must say that the Silver and Bronze Age stories are hard to stomach. I've read some of these stories that have been reproduced with enhanced coloring, and printed in TPB form, and it's just hard...

 

...but reading an actual comic from the era, with the vintage ads, and that old paper smell, makes the stories easier to read. 

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