Let’s take a trip into the past world of comics production.
Recently, a discussion bubbled up on Twitter about the origins of a particular cover drawing from back in the seventies.
This is the cover in question:
DC Comics has announced a special edition hardcover book that collects a whole bunch of classic Super Friends comics from the 1970’s. The solicitation found on PREVIEWSworld is as follows:
SUPER FRIENDS SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON HC VOL 01
From the Hall of Justice come these tales of the Justice League of America, inspired by their hit 1970s animated TV series! In these stories, the Justice League of America battles evil in the form of Queen Hippolyta, the Riddler, the Ocean Monster, and many more. Collects Super Friends #1-26, the Super Friends features from Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-41 and #C-46, and the ultra-rare Aquateers Meet the Super Friends #1.
In Shops: Jun 03, 2020
This cover art for this collection include a group figure drawing by Alex Toth, and also includes his signature. This image was taken from the original cover for The Limited Collections Edition presents Super Friends, which was published in January 1976.
That original publication is a sixty-four page book that had six pages of new Toth art and an essay from him about animation art. The rest of the book included JLA reprint stories.
So, the ironic thing is that the folks at DC are reusing this image from a book that had very little Toth work in it for a cover of a book that has even a less percentage of his work. The Super Friends series that is collected in the new volume consists of mostly Ramona Fradon pencils and Bob Smith inks.
What adds to the intrigue of this cover is the story of the Superman head in the Toth drawing. While all the figures are clearly Toth’s and his signature is on it, the Superman head and “S” are not drawn by him.
DC editorial staff back in the day (the seventies) had a particular idea about how they wanted characters such as Superman to be seen. Alex Toth had a distinctive style, and it did not match the style of, say, Curt Swan.
Rumors have it that Carmine Infantino, who was the publisher of DC Comics at the time, was particularly sensitive to it. If you look on the back cover of the original “Limited Collection Edition”, you will find another Toth Drawing of the team, and you can see the difference in the Superman heads and chests. There was some discussion of this particular head drawing being done by Curt Swan or Al Plastino, but we were unable to nail that piece down.
It is interesting to note that Wonder Woman was allowed to remain in the classic Toth style that he authored for the Super Friends TV show. She has a vastly different look from the contemporary comic book versions of this character.
I spoke with someone who worked in the production department around the time that this book was published. He said that they had a file of photostatic copies of heads and “S’s” that they would adjust for size and paste over what had been drawn, so that Superman’s visage would remain consistent in DC’s publications. Toth was not the only victim of this edict. Jack Kirby‘s Superman faces at DC were almost always redone to match the “house image”.
It is amazing to think of the physical tasks that went into creating comic books decades ago. Today’s production of comic books can literally not ever involve paper or ink until it is printed, and they have come a long way since Shatter, which was groundbreaking for its time.
This reminds me a story Howard Mackie told. He told a current editor at Marvel that when Howard was on staff at there no one had computers. The responding question was, “How did you make comics, then?”
This story of the Toth cover does have an amusing end. As you can see below the original art was at some point returned to Toth, and he gave/sold it to someone else named Curt Metz. As you can see in the header, he had humor about the replaced head. If you look very closely you can see the slightly different coloration of the paper of the Supes head and “S”.
One final note about the drawing. There was a poster made later that repaired the “editorial surgery” by taking the image of Superman’s face from the back cover and pasting it on the front cover drawing. It seems for this edition, DC went back to the “original publication” version.
I must give credit for the inspiration for this post to a late night Twitter conversation, between myself, Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell, Jeff Rose and initiated by Tom Peyer’s question “Holy Kirby! Who slapped a Curt Swan face on Toth’s Superman??” You never know what a bunch of comic geeks stuck at home will find to talk about.