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Al Plastino, R.I.P.

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As some of you may have heard, veteran comic book artist Al Plastino has been locked in a messy squabble lately regarding the ownership of the original art he drew in 1964 for a Superman story about President John F. Kennedy. The battle has come to a sad ending for Mr. Plastino, who died this afternoon. He was 91.

Plastino was, I believe, the only person alive who drew Superman comics professionally before about 1967. He started in 1948. His earliest known comic book work was in 1941 for a little-known company called Dynamic Comics. After serving in World War II, he freelanced in and out of comics until connecting in '48 with DC, where he worked until the early seventies. For most of that time, he was the second-string Superman artist. Wayne Boring was the main guy through the fifties, then it was Curt Swan. The stories they didn't have time to do were done by Plastino. He drew some memorable stories for the Superman line of comics, including the first stories of Supergirl and also of The Legion of Super-Heroes.

In 1966, he worked on the syndicated Batman newspaper strip and drifted into that line of work. He was an excellent mimic of styles and took over the art on the Ferd'nand newspaper strip in 1970, drawing it until his retirement in '89. At one point, someone at the syndicate got the brilliant (!) idea to replace Charles Schulz on Peanuts and they had Plastino draw several weeks to show that he could ape that style…which he could. There are several accounts of what happened next but they all resulted in Schulz being furious (though not at Plastino), Schulz staying on his strip and getting lots of apologies from the syndicate, and Plastino's strips never being published. He also worked on the Nancy strip for a time and possibly others. He was a very versatile artist.

I do not know how Mr. Plastino's passing will impact the battle over the Superman-Kennedy story. (You can read about it here. It sounds to me like someone at DC just fibbed about donating the artwork in the first place and it disappeared into someone's closet. I also suspect that they fibbed when they announced that an earlier version of the same story that was drawn by Curt Swan was donated to the Kennedy Library.)

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Plastino but folks who did said he was a good man and a dedicated professional. It's always sad to lose someone like that.