Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

November 6, 2007

Paul Norris, 1914-2007

imagePaul Norris, best known in comic book circles for drawing the first adventure of the iconic character Aquaman and best known in comic strip circles for a 35-year run on the adventure feature Brick Bradford, died late last night after a period of ill health. The writer and comics historian Mark Evanier has the first word, and likely the most elegant.

Norris was born in Ohio, followed a relative on faculty at Midland Lutheran College to start his education there, rooming with a cousin. He left the school in order to pursue an opportunity to illustrate a syndicated cartoon halfway through sophomore year. He ended up at the Dayton Art Institute (then the Dayton School of Art) for more formal training, completing his education there. Like many cartoonists of his generation, he started in the bullpen of a newspaper as an illustrator and spot cartoonist, in his case at the Dayton Daily News.

Also like many cartoonists of the day, Norris made the move to New York in 1940s. The city was still the hub of published illustration, the home to the greatest and farthest-reaching strip syndicates, and had recently become the cradle of the burgeoning comic book trade. It is in the last of those three that Norris initially found work, for Prize Publications. At that point, working for Prize meant strips and feature for its flagship title Prize Comics, which had begun earlier that same year. Norris worked on Power Nelson, Futureman and launched features such as Yank and Doodle.

The assignment to draw the first Aquaman story came in 1941, in an issue of More Fun. The story was written by editor/writer Mort Weisinger. The character was later credited solely to Norris, Evanier notes, because of a lack of formal attribution on Weisinger's behalf. The character would enjoy a slow start but eventually become one of the more successful titles of the company mid-century resurgence, finding a place in its Justice League flagship, an articially successful title of its own, and some spin-off appeal. He remains one of those character who routinely headlines his own comic book, and retains some cultural relevance as one of its bigger names.

imageNorris provided his clients a clean, stripped-down version of the adventure comic strip style popular at the time, maybe halfway between the energy of the best comic book artists and the ornate, illustrative beauty of the most popular strip cartoonists. His career after a stint in the military at the end of World War II began to reflect those skills, although before joining the service he was briefly a part of PM's powerful strip line-up. Norris split time between being a substitute on King Features strips before settling in on Brick Bradford, and a comic book artist whose specialty seemed to be adventure comics, many featuring such strip characters, primarily at Dell and then eventually Western.

Norris finished with Brick Bradford in 1987. He was a well-liked figure in fandom -- Evanier speaks to his professionalism and courtesy regarding appearances at the San Diego Con until health issues kept him from attending -- and a figure of much speculation in creators rights circles as a living cartoonist behind one of their iconic characters who may or may not have been the beneficiary of Time Warner further seeking to establish its rights to the characters in a way that may have benefited Norris. He was in his last few years the subject of an art show at his alma mater and at least one major newspaper profile. He was the last living creator of one of DC Comics' big-name superheroes, and in that way among other his death marks the passing of a generation.

posted 1:18 am PST | Permalink

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