SYD SHORES By Alan Hewetson, Oct '73 Now And Then Times, v1 #2.
This is an intimate biography of the late Syd Shores,1916-1973. Syd began his comics
career when comics began, before most of today's talents were born, before comics had an
identity, before CAPTAIN AMERICA and SUPERMAN were household words. His contribution was
more than great, it was essential, for in the days of beginnings when artists were 'packaging'
comics, Syd was drawing them. Syd shores was an artist, who knew and understood that comics
were art, and he must be remembered as one of the true artists of the medium. And so we
begin – an affectionate portrait of Syd Shores...
Was it Tolstoy who once said: "art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling
what the artist has experienced"? Was it Tolstoy? If it was, it seems that Leo Tolstoy was
just as incurable a romantic as Sys Shores, for Syd had the graphic transmission of power
that defines art, and defines the expression of experience. There is a reality about Syd's
drawing, a feeling of life, an expression of his emotions and his love for life and art...it
has that 'something' about it which makes discussion of his work not an obituary, but a dialog
about something that is alive.
For example, let's say the picture is of CAPTAIN AMERICA jumping from one rooftop to
another. If the average comic artist were doing it, maybe you'd see a powerful man leaping
a building, muscles taut, frozen in the panel in mid-air, captured like a single frame from
a movie. But while photography is unquestionably art, it doesn't follow that art is a
photograph! Syd's picture would be REAL, it'd have depth and a quality of realism something
frozen doesn't have. CAP would be leaping, not "in a leap"- he'd have one foot still on the
ledge behind him, tense toes propelling the body forward; and the hands wouldn't be flailing
in mid-air or clamped shut in fists- cause that's not the way it would really happen- while
one hand grasped the famous red, white, and blue shield it'd also be grasping the other hand,
so that both arms would be fully stretched out in front of the avenger to give him AIM; the
security of knowing he could grab the ledge if he didn't quite make the jump; the proper
positioning for a good roll when he reached the other side. All the things a well-trained,
real-life CAPTAIN AMERICA would know and do- that's how Syd would draw.
What is important about this, is perhaps a might hard to grasp in these 1970s of Neal
Adams and Jim Steranko and the other great youngbloods. Syd was an artist in the medium
when there were few other artists. Jack Kirby and the late Bill Everett were perhaps the
He established a criteria, he intimated through his art that a knowledge of anatomy was
not a "help," it was an essential; he intimated that an expression of power was a definitive
understanding of the medium; his art intimated that comic people are artists, and there is
not a professional in the entire medium who fails to accord Syd this due.
One such professional is Stan Lee, Syd's co-worker for over 30 years. "Syd Shores was
one of the REAL PROS in the comic book field. He's been a top-flight penciler, inker, and
story-strip teller for more than three decades: He represents the BEST in the art of comic
books: talent, sincerity, and devotion to his craft."
While millions of readers out there are consciously, and unconsciously aware of Syd's
capabilities, Syd didin't appear to himself- or at least bashfully denied it whenever I told
him how great he was, which was quite often. It's not that he wasn't proud, he was, justly,
of his work. He just didn't think about it in those terms- like most pros he was full of
praise about the work of others, spoke highly of nearly everybody in the comics field, and
felt his association with them made it all worthwhile.
Who influenced your art Syd?
"Jack Kirby influenced my sense of dramatics. Jack Kirby influences everybody in comics,
though: Before I got really started in the field it was Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, they were
my gods back then, but Kirby was the most immediate influence."
How would you describe your own style?
"Well, I'm conservative in my approach to art, and that means I concede to being
realistic. But my sense of realism does not confine me, it doesn't stop me from distorting
action in order to create the illusion of dramatics."
"In humour I can distort with ease. There's not the pressure of knowing that this arm is
wrong here, or that arm doesn't look right there, and I feel free to make characterizations
that I would never do with a superhero or macabre piece. Expressions on faces, and people
themselves, the shapes of their bodies can be pulled out of perspective and things done with
them that can't be done with realism."
"Although, I suppose I should say one thing- in comic art a person is drawn normally at
seven heads in height. In superhero material, he's drawn eight or nine heads high. This is
distortion, sure, while everybody around the superhero- say in a crowd scene- may be seven
heads, the superhero is nine heads- making him look about ten feet tall. It gives an added
sense of power and drama to comic heroes."
Do all artists in comics draw characters at this height?
"No, but most of the artists in comic books do, although I've seen some work where the
people are drawn naturally, and normally, and they just don't look like good superheroes.
Kirby is a master at this idea of a powerful stand-off look to chief characters, he won't
make people look all that much taller, but he gives them power in having a tremendous chest,
huge over-sized hands and head, thick legs three times the normal thickness. Well, all
Kirby's work is beautiful."
Jack Kirby hired Syd Shores as an aspiring young artist when comics were just starting
in the GOLDEN AGE.
In 1940, unemployed and just married, Syd was looking around for work after his uncle's
whiskey bottling plant closed its doors. He'd worked seven years with his uncle as a
manager of forty men, a blender, the keeper of government records for the firm, having worked
his way up from the bottom as a truck driver when he joined the firm in 1933 at the age of 17.
At the age of 16 he'd attended the famous Pratt Institute in New York, where he studied
commercial art: "I loved art, and couldn't think of wanting to be anything else in life.
I remember one incident that's always struck me as funny. Ever since childhood I had
romanticized art class as being terrific, with beautiful, graceful, live nudes in class - real
pros with lithe bodies for anatomy studies.
"What a shock I got, while I can't recommend Pratt high enough- because it was terrific
for me- the nude we had to study was beyond belief! She was a broken down old nag, you looked
at her and got a low sinking feeling in your stomach!" But my mind wasn't really on her,
anyway. Pratt is where I met my wife-to-be; Selma was taking lettering and poster work in
a class called "advertising design." We waited seven years to get married, because there
was never any security in the whiskey business, until 1940 when I had some money I'd saved
behind me and we made the big plunge, a couple of months later the company went out of
business and I was out of work. Needless to say, I went through my savings pretty fast."
"Selma had a cousin who wrote comics, comic books that is, something that nobody had ever
heard of really. I went to see him, Harry A. Chessler, and he agreed to take me into his
studio which he shared with Phil Sturm, and Mac Raboy. For months I was just a joe-boy,
watching and learning and helping wherever I could. I studied Mac Raboy for hours on
end - he was slow and meticulous about everything, doing maybe only a single panel of artwork
a day, but it was truly beautiful work. After four months I tried my own hand at work, doing
a seven page piece called THE TERROR. I was proud of it then of course, but in looking back
it really WAS a terror! Amateurish, and crude- it was a monstrosity."
"I took it up to TIMELY COMICS to try to sell it, and wound up chatting with Joe Simon and
Jack Kirby, who were the only two people at TIMELY at the time. Kirby chomped on his cigar
a little and said IT had promise, that I showed promise, and offered me a staff job at $30 a
week, just essentially inking. My first job on staff was to ink the cover for CAPTAIN
AMERICA #1. I don't think I inked the WHOLE first issue, I think that Jack did that one
himself, I'm not sure, but shortly afterwards I was inking Cap regularly and a host of others."
"Stan joined the staff just about then, and there grew an enormous amount of staffers
within a short while. Some of the guys who'd been freelancing now came on staff, people
like Bill Everett and Carl Burgos, while Stan had worked into doing some writing. When
Simon and Kirby left in 1942 Stan did all the writing and was given the position of editorial
director, while I was the art director, although I got called "associate editor" in the books
that were put out around then."
"When Simon and Kirby left the gap for people to work on CAP, Stan took over writing it,
Al Avison started penciling, and I continued to ink. Al was taken by the service in '42 and
I started penciling CAPTAIN AMERICA, while Vince Alascia became my steady inker. Of course
I keep mentioning CAP because that was the big book that TIMELY had. We had a club called
the SENTINELS OF LIBERTY which kind of started fandom. Kids would send in for their cards
and badges and write long and flattering letters, something none of us had been used to at
all in this business. I was also doing MAJOR LIBERTY, YOUNG ALLIES and a million general
adventure spots at the same time."
In late 1942 Syd was inducted into the U.S. Army, and was shipped over to Normandy to be
in Patton's pounding Third Army. He saw service in France and Germany, until he was wounded
in Metz, France on Dec. 16,1944. He received the Purple heart.
He was hospitalized in Britain for four months, then finally re-assigned to an engineering
outfit, but before he saw any action the European war ended, and he became part of the
Occupation Forces in Germany. Syd was discharged in Jan. of 1946 and took back his old
job at TIMELY with publisher Martin Goodman. Once again he took over CAPTAIN AMERICA, no
longer a Nazi fighter, now fighting in the streets of Manhattan as a super patriot to
maintain the freedoms, as Syd himself had a few thousand miles away in Europe.
In the years to follow, Syd Shores would illustrate such Golden Age books as THE BLACK
RIDER, THE TWO GUN KID, KID COLT OUTLAW, BATTLE BRADY, SAILOR SWEENEY, THE HUMAN TORCH,
MARVEL COMICS, SUB-MARINER, MYSTIC COMICS, U.S.A. COMICS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, MAJOR LIBERTY,
YOUNG ALLIES plus countless other westerns, romance books, and macabre comics- all for TIMELY.
In 1948 all staff jobs were cut at TIMELY-turned ATLAS- except the essentials, such as
production staff, and the editorial position of Stan Lee. Everybody went free-lance,
including Syd, who now continued to do work for ATLAS, as well as several other comic
groups at the time, such as AVON PUBLISHING (for whom he did detective type stories)
ORBIT PUBLICATIONS (where he did his pride and joy- WILD BILL PECOS, and the famous
WANTED COMICS and CRIME DOES NOT PAY, which were hit so hard by Wertham in the early
fifties.) It was also during this period that Syd did THE BLONDE PHANTOM for ATLAS, one
of the most notable books ever to be produced by the Goodman organization- then located
in the Empire State Building.
By 1952, Syd was tired of working at home and wanted to get away from the monotony.
He opend a private studio with Mort Lawrence (who was doing WANTED COMICS and several
westerns for ORBIT), and Norman Steinberg (an artist for ATLAS-primarily doing war books)
in Hampstead, Long Island-later they were to move the studio to Freeport. By 1955 they
had planned to make the studio a showcase for local artists not commercial enough to have
their own gallery, but promising enough for their work to be on commercial display. They
also planned several syndicated strips, incorporating advertising into the actual artwork,
and got so far as to have samples and finished artwork on the project. The death of Norman
Steinberg stopped their plans and ended the studio altogether. Mort Lawrence quit comics
entirely and headed west while Syd returned to his studio at home and continued free-lancing
for the major outfits, notably ATLAS.
Then came '57, and the utter collapse of comics. Virtually no original material was
being published by any of the major companies, who, to save money, had gone to reprints.
Syd and just about everybody else, found themselves without an income and not even a hint
of future work.
Syd had always thought, during his formative years, that he would be an artist-only fate
threw him into comics. He now turned his attention to magazine illustration- a high paying,
but competitive field which required absolute quality and professionalism. Syd spent four
months getting into shape, studying, preparing samples for editors.
His work called for models and background reference for every illustration (a superb
example of his illustrative work is presented on the first page of this article); teaming
up with an inventive neighbor who would make numerous props for backgrounds, Syd recruited
his friends and family to pose for him, in highly disciplined and foreign situations, while
he set up weird lighting for accuracy, and clicked away in his basement with his Rollei.
Then he'd soup the negatives and prints in his own darkroom and…voila…all the comforts of
a professional studio, with professional looking models (principally because of their
endurance, knowing Syd) right at home.
I've seen Syd's files of photographs taken at these weekly sessions, and in a word,
they're REMARKABLE; the inventiveness of the man seemed endless.
In 1962-3-4 Stan Lee picked up MARVEL by its heels and turned it upside down into an
astonishing success. By 1965 it was in the race for leadership in the comics game,
attracting an enormous adult and college market, and by 1967 they'd grabbed the number
one spot in sales with a number of their books-the first time since 1942 with Syd's
CAPTAIN AMERICA. MARVEL tried to get Syd back into comics, and plagued him with quarterly
phone calls between '63 and '67- that's as long as it took… Syd was back in comics!
His first job in 1967 for MARVEL? You guessed it- inking Jack Kirby's CAPTAIN AMERICA
in a re-release of the character with a splash: BIG PREMIERE ISSUE! (reproduced elsewhere
in this feature)
Syd continued to ink CAPTAIN AMERICA again, as well as other first line books such as
SGT. FURY, THE NEW CAPTAIN MARVEL, IRON MAN, Gene Colan's DAREDEVIL, CAPTAIN SAVAGE, GHOST
RIDER, RAWHIDE KID, and THOR, at the same time doing countless covers for MARVEL"S entire
line of books. He then created RED WOLF, which he illustrated until his death.
He illustrated SKYWALD'S HELL RIDER magazine and the BRAVADOS and various westerns,
and illustrated several macabre stories for SKYWALD'S, WARREN'S, and MARVEL'S black
and white magazines.
There was also TALES OF THE MACABRE and DIRTY SOKS… two newspaper strips which Syd and
I teamed up to produce in 1970, which failed to materialize for lack of time on both our
parts. THE SATIRISTS, a venture into newspaper Canadiana. RADICAL IN POWER, which Syd
and I prepared as a new concept in large size adult reading for NATIONAL PERIODICALS; for
about two years Syd worked with Wally Wood, Ralph Reese, Nicola Cuti, and Jack Abel at a
jointly rented studio in Valley Stream on Long Island (The Wood Studio) where for a three
week period, Syd and I worked out RADICAL IN POWER, commuting to and from his house in
Bethpage, Long Island.
Syd never worked for NATIONAL, the major MARVEL competition, because Syd was a "Marvel
man." But for posterity it is interesting to note here that two weeks before Syd's sudden
death in June, an editor at NATIONAL contacted me to solicit Syd's art for various NATIONAL
comics. Of course, this never came to be, but Syd was delighted at the idea during our last
correspondence, which was on this matter, six days before his death.
The realms of Syd Shores' comics are as various as the medium itself…in 33 years he has
entertained literally millions upon millions of children. And adults, with the adventures of
CAPTAIN AMERICA, the acrobatic stunts of DAREDEVIL, the freaked out world of the HELL RIDER,
the weird vam-lady THE BLODE PHANTOM, the shoot-outs of WILD BILL PECOS, the gang-buster
action of CRIME DOES NOT PAY, and the explosive Indian saga RED WOLF.
It stands to reason that a man as talented as this biography demonstrates, was recognized
at an early age. His first artwork was displayed in the BROOKLYN MUSEUM while he was still
in High School. He won second place-a gold medal- for a poster contest run by the famous
WANNAMAKERS STORES FOUNDATION, with a humanist picture showing the brutal treatment of
puppies. Three years later. Pen stroke by pen stroke, it was copied by a professional
artist as an ad for a dog food company, in a major ad campaign. Syd was thirteen.
Before his death, he was daily in receipt of letters praising his work, asking about his
life and career, pleading for advice. At the comic conventions held in New York each year,
Syd met the fans and graced their requests for sketches and discussion.
In my last letter from Syd, he expressed his desire to get together with me at the 1973
Convention, and to talk about comics. Our love.
Syd Shores died on June 3rd of a heart seizure. His wife Selma writes : "It was
completely sudden and so unexpected..."