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Gil Kane, Comic History Icon and Master of Dynamic Figure Art
This last week, the day of April 6th marked the birthday of the legendary comic book illustrator Gill Kane. Kane was a true master of dynamic fluid figures, each one bursting with life and loaded with action. On top of that he was an amazingly detailed storyteller, setting the mood every scene required with incredible effectiveness.
To celebrate, I've been re-reading some of Gil's Amazing Spider-Man stories, particularly issues #97 and 98, the two-part tale Stan Lee wrote that introduces the world of super-hero comics to the dangers of taking Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in particular and illicit drugs in general.
The most interesting thing about these issues wasn't altogether the subject matter, but the way that subject altered how those books were published.
Since the spring of 1955, all comics were published under the ever watchful eye of the Comics Code Authority (CCA). This even lasted until 2001 though by that point their influence was virtually non-existent. The Comics Code protected us from the dangers of things like line art portrayals of kidnappings, concealed weapons, witches, werewolves, vampires and ghouls among other things, all while upholding the wholesomeness of marriage in comic book love stories.
So in 1971 when issues 97 and 98 were due to be published, the CCA strongly objected to the edgy subject matter. So much so, that they absolutely refused to endorse Lee's storyline and wouldn't allow either issues to bear the ever-present CCA stamp that all comic publishers had on their covers. That may not seem so scandalous today, but this was a different time, the CCA's authority was absolute. Or so they thought.
Lee knew the strength of the story he had ready to go, they'd been suggested to him by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and he strongly felt this story should be seen by everyone. As Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics, Lee went out on a limb and made a landmark decision, published these issues anyway, exactly as planned only this time without the CCA stamp of approval. That may have been a wild and stressful week for Stan, but one of the end results was what many consider a major event in comics publishing and Gill Kane was right in the middle of it.
It wasn't the first time Gil had made comics history either. Gil was born Eli Katz in Riga, Latvia in 1926. His family emigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1929. He attended Manhattan's famed School of Industrial Art, but dropped out before his last year when he landed a job at MLJ comics doing production work. He was fired after three weeks, but that led to a job with Jack Binder's agency where he began penciling comics professionally. Soon after MLJ Comics rehired Kane with a raise and not long after that he began drawing stories for them.
Sticking to Gil Kane's historic comics work, I'll skip to the late 1950s where Kane, now a seasoned comic book artist was freelancing for DC known as National Comics at the time. He helped usher in the Silver Age of comics by completely reimagining the character of Green Lantern as test pilot Hal Jordan, creating the space super-hero we know today. He then drew the majority of the first 75 issues. In his series run, Kane and writer John Broome created a new supporting cast of characters like the Guardians of OA, Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire, the villain Black Hand as well as the second of Earth's Green Lanterns, Guy Gardner.
With writer Garner Fox, Kane also co-created The Atom, another great DC hero who would also join the Justice League of America along with Green Lantern. After working on titles like the Teen Titans, Hawk & Dove, drawing the Hulk in Tales to Astonish, creating an origin for Wonder Girl with Marv Wolfman and working on THUNDER Agents, Kane landed a job penciling the Amazing Spider-Man starting with issue number 89, inked by John Romita, That led to the famous drug issues (97-98) mentioned previously. It also led Kane into incredible work on the 100th issue of Amazing Spider-Man, another two-part story that introduced the Living-Vampire Morbius and also Peter Parker's two extra set of arms.
Then came possibly Kane's most impactful work. With writer Gerry Conway, Kane was responsible for Spider-Man's greatest heartbreak. In issues 121 and 122 of Amazing Spider-Man, they told the story of "The Night Gwen Stacy Died". Gwen had been Peter Parker's girlfriend and most likely they were on the path to matrimony. This changed irrevocably when Spider-Man and the Green Goblin had their greatest battle, leading to Gwen's fall from the George Washington bridge where she suffers a broken neck when Spider-Man tries to save her. In the following issue, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin was killed while trying to off Spider-Man. Unfortunately he didn't stay dead, but the original Gwen Stacy ultimately did.
In 1977, Kane created Star Hawks with writer Ron Goulart. It was a space-swashbuckling newspaper strip that ran until 1981 with Kane's ever-present active figures featuring his bold ink lines. Gil Kane kept working through the 80s and 90s for various companies including several issues of Action Comics and Superman for DC. He passed away January 31st, 2000 at the age of 73. He's among those few creators inducted into the Eisner Award and the Harvey Award Halls of Fame.
IDW in 2013 published the Gil Kane Spider-Man Artist's Edition showcasing several of Kane's original art stories from Amazing Spider-Man at the size they were drawn. Below you'll see many covers and pieces of art from Gil Kane's impressive legacy and incredibly large volume of work. Take a look, many of these can still be tracked down today in original single issues or in trade paperbacks.
Here's a comprehensive list of Gil Kane’s published comic book work and a link to his Wikipedia page to learn more:
published comics index