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April 1, 2008

Jim Mooney, 1919-2008


Jim Mooney, one of the most versatile creators in mainstream comic book history whose prolific output graced nearly every year of the North American comic book industry's existence, and an artist that enjoyed memorable runs at both Marvel and DC Comics, died in Florida on March 30. He was 88 years old.

imageMooney was born in Los Angeles and went to New York in 1940 in search of artistic work, eyeballing the comics industry for the relatively crude nature of a lot of its output. His first jobs came from Ace; he then moved to Timely Comics (later Marvel) where he met editor and lifelong close friend Stan Lee. Lee didn't have a lot of work for the young artist, so he worked at a variety of houses: Fox, Quality, Fiction House among them. He worked on staff at Quality and Fiction House. Mooney also spent a short amount of time working for the Eisner-Iger studio/shop. During this time he worked in the superhero genre but also in funny animal comics, which were particularly popular near the end of World War II.

Mooney described the peculiar nature of working in the then-deplored comics industry in an interview with Adelaide Comics:
I was exposed occasionally to people's feelings, that if you were doing comics you might do better if you went out on the street and pimped. [laughter] And you'd make money instead of having a bad reputation and making very little. I was somewhat sensitive to it, but not too much. A little later Stan came up to visit me when I was living up in Woodstock, New York. One of the guys I knew was a gun dealer and later was doing some pretty unsavory things, selling guns to different countries that might be getting ready for revolution [laughter] but he felt that comics were utterly reprehensible and he came over to talk to us and he asked Stan what he was doing and Stan said, "Well, I'm into publishing." He said, "Oh, what are you publishing?" and Stan very reluctantly said "Comics." The guy said, "Comics!! You're doing that terrible stuff?" [laughter] Stan handled it very nicely but it was a rather sticky, embarrassing situation.
imageAfter World War II, Mooney settled into a long run at top publishing house DC Comics, where he drew the bulk of his comics work for the next two decades. (One memorable side trip was a brief run for 1950s Marvel iteration Atlas on its Loma, The Jungle Queen title.) This made him one of those rare artists that moves from a variety of knock-offs of a character (in this case DC's popular Batman) to drawing the adventures of the character itself. In addition to his run on Batman features, Mooney drew issues of the influential team book World's Finest, and a number of features starring characters and concepts Superboy, Supergirl, Dial H For Hero, and Tommy Tomorrow. The Supergirl run may be his most fondly remembered. He drew that character from her second adventure well into the 1960s.

Changing styles eventually drove him from DC, at a time they were looking to modernize and better compete in a more wide-open, competitive and devotee-centric comics market. What may be a surprise to some who follow the career arcs of cartoonists, Mooney found work not at a smaller publishing house but the industry ascendant Marvel, still helmed by his old friend Stan Lee. At that company he would enjoyed a long run on several titles. One of his early assignments was working on Martin Goodman's The Adventures of Pussycat feature, which capitalized on his talent drawing attractive women characters. Mooney told the Adelaide Comics interviewer that he hadn't moved to Marvel earlier because of the disparity in page rates. Mooney informed Comic Book Artist that one of the advantages when he finally began working for Marvel is that it was a generally more pleasant place for him to work than DC.
I used to dread going into the offices at DC, but I looked forward to going into Marvel, and I think one of the real nice pleasant things, and a lot of the guys who have great memories say the same thing. You'd come in, and Flo Steinberg would be there, and she would say (in her marvelous enthusiastic voice), "Stan, Jim Mooney's here," and that would just make me feel great, as if I were very important. Then I realized everybody else got that same treatment, which was darn nice. I'd occasionally hang out in the bullpen and shoot the breeze, but I don't have too many bullpen anecdotes, because I really wasn't there all that much. The one thing I really liked, and I haven't had that experience before with Stan when we collaborated on the funny animal stuff, we'd get together for a story conference in the early '70s, and Stan would act these things out, and I'd think, "This is amazing, I've known this guy for years, I've never seen anything like this!" He'd jump up on the desk, and go through the motions, the actions that he expected either from the Green Goblin or whatever the heck it was we were doing, and he was having such a great time with it, it was contagious. I'd begin to think, "Hey, this is kind of fun, I'm enjoying this."

Not only was Mooney working for the hot publisher of the moment, he would draw a number of pages of its most popular character: Spider-Man. Mooney inked John Romita Sr., worked on a number of issues of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, drew Spider-Man in his Marvel Team-Up title and also contributed to Marvel's important 1970s educational crossover Spidey Super-Stories. In the 1970s the veteran Mooney entered into an unlikely partnership with the writer Steve Gerber, who passed earlier this year. Mooney's rock-solid mainstream American comics artwork with Gerber and his co-writer Mary Skrenes on all ten issues of Omega the Unknown lent that title much of its odd and unforgettable air. In his personal reminiscence and obituary, the writer and comics historian Mark Evanier notes that in the mid-1970s Mooney arranged for steady work if he moved from Florida, making him an unlikely early member of the fraternity of comics moving from the New York metropolitan area in the industry's later decades.

In recent years Mooney performed work for the smaller publisher Claypool, began to attend comics convention where he met a number of fans, participated on panels and sold original art, and did a variety of commissions.

He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Anne.

dial h image nicked from Don Markstein's Toonopedia site
posted 8:20 am PST | Permalink

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