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George Tuska, R.I.P.

George Tuska, whose career in comics dates back to 1939 and his work in Will Eisner's studio, died around midnight on October 16 at the age of 93. The son of Russian immigrants, Tuska was born in Hartford, Connecticut on April 26, 1916 and grew up to attend the National Academy of Design. Even before graduation, he was assisting on the Scorchy Smith newspaper strip and making his way into the then-new form known as the comic book. In addition to the Eisner-Iger shop, he worked for a half-dozen other publishers and studios, including Fiction House, Fawcett, Harvey and Standard.

Drafted into the army, he served during World War II working as a technical illustrator at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. By the time he got back to New York and civilian life, the trend in comics was swinging from super-heroes to crime comics. He went to work drawing gangster stories for Lev Gleason and quickly became the star artist for that publisher's best-selling books, including the ironically-titled (because of how well it sold) Crime Does Not Pay. Not only did he draw most lead features and the occasional cover but other artists imitated his style. One, an illustrator named Pete Morisi, went so far as to call Tuska and ask for permission to draw like him. Tuska was flattered and told him to go right ahead.

Though Lev Gleason kept him busy, Tuska chose to freelance occasionally for other publishers, especially for Stan Lee at Timely Comics. When the comic book industry imploded in the mid-fifties, he segued to newspaper strip work, taking over Scorchy Smith for a time, followed by a long run drawing Buck Rogers. In the sixties, he was tapped to draw for Tower Comics on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and returned to work for Stan Lee at the newly-successful Marvel line. Lee found him to be a valuable utility man and he worked on many titles including The Avengers, X-Men, Captain America and Daredevil. He was the first artist on Luke Cage, Hero for Hire and became the primary artist on Iron Man for some ten years. From time to time, he picked up assignments for DC, where he was usually assigned to "team" comics including Challengers of the Unknown, Teen Titans, Justice League of America and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

At times, Tuska was regarded as a solid "work horse" artist — dependable but not spectacular. One month, DC assigned a Legion story to a young artist who was considered "hot" in the business but who was not particularly reliable. The young artist missed his deadline and at the last minute, the DC editors turned to Tuska to quickly draw the same script. To the relief of the staff, Tuska delivered efficiently…and the same day his pages arrived in the office, the young artist suddenly delivered his — so DC had two versions of the exact same story. The editors studied both, decided that Tuska's was more skillfully drawn…and published the Tuska version. In the late seventies, they also employed him to draw a newspaper strip featuring Superman and other star characters called The World's Greatest Superheroes.

Tuska was much admired by his fellow professionals for his drawing skills. A few openly admitted to envy at something else. Apparently, as Al Williamson once put it, "George couldn't walk into the office without all the secretaries wanting to sleep with him." But Tuska remained faithfully wed to his charming wife Dorothy for 61 years. He is survived not only by her but by three children and an unknown number of grandchildren and great-grandchilden.

I had the honor of interviewing George at the 1997 Comic-Con in San Diego — not an easy task for he was almost completely deaf for the last few decades of his life. Al Williamson was one of many peers who asked to be there to honor Tuska and at one point, Al called him, "The artist everyone wanted to be when I got into the field." George spent the rest of the convention being mobbed by fans and doing sketches of his past characters. That was his main source of income for the last twenty years and he had a constant stream of commission orders…proof of how many fans he had and how much his work was enjoyed for some seventy years.