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December 11, 2006

Martin Nodell, 1915-2006

imageMartin Nodell, mainstay artist of the American comic book's first great flush period and either the sole creator or co-creator of the Green Lantern character, depending on if you emphasize design and concept or first comic book story, died on Saturday morning in West Palm Beach.

Nodell was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Chicago Academy of Art and the Chicago Art Institute near the height of those institutions' influence on the commercial and illustrative art fields. Moving to New York City, he also attended classes at the equally well-known Pratt Institute. He began freelancing for minor comics houses in 1938, but soon grew tired of the shaky nature of the comics business at its lower runs and forged a relationship with Sheldon Mayer at All-American Comics, a company that would eventually be absorbed into industry leader DC Comics. His break into the big times came with the creation of the Green Lantern character for All-American, to which the writer Bill Finger was assigned to complete his first comic book story.

The Green Lantern character is an interesting one for superheroes because it combined a magical background, via a mystic ring that exuded an energy that obeyed the commands of its wearer, with a superpower that expressed itself through active and passive elements, a perfect match for the comic book form in which anything could be drawn by an artist with an active imagination. In a way, the Green Lantern character could be said to be the most comic bookish superhero of them all, enjoying a status on that level with characters like Batman and Superman as the best-realized of the single-device superheroes, but never enjoying the crossover success into other media, probably because of the uniquely creative nature of the character's power when put into use. Both the original Green Lantern and the science fiction-style 1950s makeover of the character continue to play an important role in DC's ongoing storylines.

In 1947, Nodell left DC for Martin Goodman's Timely, where for Editor Stan Lee he drew their big three superheroes: Captain America, the Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner. In 1950, he left comics for advertising, and enjoyed a long career in that field, a highlight of which was working on launch of the phenomenally successful Pillsbury Doughboy campaign.

In 1987, some 11 years after his retirement, an art assignment or two led to Nodell being rediscovered by a comics fandom eager to connect on a personal level with the remaining members of what had been termed comics' "Golden Age." He became a fixture on the convention circuit for several years after that, drawing for fans and charming attendees with kind overtures, smart conversation, and the affectionate interaction clearly on display between the artist and his beloved wife and constant companion, Carrie. The larger comics community was in a way very protective of the Nodells, coming to their defense if they weren't treated well at a show, and solemnly noting Carrie Nodell's passing in 2004. Those works of art directly for fans were Mr. Nodell's final contribution to comics art. His last published work one source cites as coming in 1991, although I recall a Superman-Green Lantern pin-up being published by DC after 1994.

Martin Nodell was 91 years old.


Mr. Nodell's entry can be found here, and his wikipedia entry here. Mark Evanier's usual, sterling remembrance can be found here. He points to Mike Catron's video including Mr. Nodell here. Maggie Thompson and several pros remember Nodell here.
posted 2:16 am PST | Permalink

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