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Pete Morisi (1928-2003)

Thunderbolt cover by Pete MorisiPete Morisi, NYPD cop and long-time comic book artist, has died, at age 75.

Morisi's career started in the 1940s with work for Fox, and concluded in the 1980s a cover or two for small presses, with many stops in between, but the vast majority of his work was published by Charlton Story Press. Charlton was king of the "also-ran" publshers, and most Morisi titles were imitations of more successful properties.  His features included THE MASKED RAIDER (who might have been the Lone Ranger), GUNMASTER (another Lone Ranger imitation, with elements of Zorro stirred in), JOHNNY DYNAMITE (brutal noir detective stories), KID MONTANA (Western), VENGEANCE SQUAD (a sort of Mission Impossible pastiches) and THUNDERBOLT (his only super-hero of note).  He also drew reams of ghost stories for Charlton and a few for DC, which also picked up THUNDERBOLT and published new material featuring the hero, albeit by others.

Morisi wrote much of his own material, especially some wild KID MONTANA stories that featured the cowboy hero fighting dinosaurs and such.  (The Kid was also unusual in that he was drawn as being clearly middle-aged.) Some sources are reporting that he also wrote VENGEANCE SQUAD, but I think that's incorrect.  In the 1950s, with the comics industry on the rocks, Morisi became a cop.  Thereafter, he signed his comics work as "PAM," his initials, to keep his NYPD supervisors from knowing about his moonlighting.

The story everyone tells about Pete Morisi involves an editor's suggestion that he emulate the work of George Tuska, another long-time comics artist who was renowned for his work on crime books.  Though willing to follow the advice, Morisi felt constrained to ask Tuska's permission, and even to offer the other a royalty.  Tuska granted permission but declined the offer, and Morisi embarked on a career of artistic mimicry that confused editors and indexers for many years.  At the end of his comics career, however, Morisi shifted gears a bit and began using photo reference extensively, resulting in a different look.

Morisi's work was straightforward and even stolid, but it had some goofy moments.  His space aliens tended to dress like Egyptian mummies, for example, and I vividly recall a Gunmaster story in which the masked marksman treats his bullets with antiseptics so that the miscreants he shoots won't get infections.  His most significant works were probably Johnny Dynamite (done for Comic Media), well-written and well-drawn, when the hard-boiled crime genre was still relatively new; and Thunderbolt, one of the first super-heroes to invoke Eastern mysticism in a non-condescending, ongoing way.  Both were continued by other hands, neither to particularly good effect.

-- Pierce Askegren

Posted October 14, 2003

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