Friday, February 13, 2009

Arts

Gil Kane, Comic-Book Artist, Is Dead at 73

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Published: February 3, 2000

Gil Kane, a comic-book artist who infused the Atom, Green Lantern and other characters with vibrant new life even as his own artistic aspirations propelled him to draw comic books of Wagnerian operas, died on Monday at a hospital in Miami. He was 73 and lived in Aventura, Fla.

The cause of death was lymphoma, said his wife, Elaine.

Known for the kinetic quality of his compositions, the self-taught artist represented an integral part of the resuscitation of superheroes in the 1960's, an era known as ''the silver age'' of comic books. He gave dynamic new interpretations to the Hulk, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man, and is often compared with Jack Kirby, who died in 1994 and is generally considered the greatest comic-book artist.

Mr. Kane drew tens of thousands of pages of superheroes for DC and Marvel comics, as well as dozens of smaller companies. It was a never-ending grind: comic-book artists, almost always freelance, were paid by the piece and received no benefits. Just two weeks before his death, Mr. Kane continued to crank out comic books.

But he elevated the form to new levels. He was a superlative figure drawer, said Gary Groth, editor of The Comics Journal, a monthly trade publication.

Paul Levitz, executive vice president and publisher of DC Comics, pointed to Mr. Kane's much-imitated manner of breaking away from standard boxes to draw much bigger, more dramatic illustrations. ''He was a young radical,'' Mr. Levitiz said, ''and to his death he was still on the edge of what was being done.''

Stan Lee, a legend in the comics world, chairman emeritus of Marvel and creator of Spider-Man, among other superheroes, said he loved working with Mr. Kane. ''I would just give him a rough idea of what I wanted and turn him loose,'' he said. ''He was fast, he was dependable, he had great storytelling sense.''

In a 1990 review in The New York Times of his comic-book depiction of Wagner's ''Ring'' cycle, John Rockwell said that Mr. Kane ''almost defined the shinily high-tech, extravagantly fanciful, heavily muscled superhero look.'' Mr. Rockwell called the treatment of the opera ''surprisingly faithful.''

The tall, silver-haired, almost regal man was born Eli Katz in Latvia on April 6, 1926, and emigrated to New York with his family when he was 3. His father scrambled to make a living as a poultry merchant, and Mr. Katz dropped out of vocational high school at 15 to seek work penciling comic books, the first stage of the process. Some artists would go over his lines in ink, others would add words, and finally some would add color.

His first job was at MLJ, the publishers of Archie. He took a job with DC just before going in the Army in 1944. He returned to DC after the war. The youth, who loved the swashbuckling Errol Flynn movies and pulp fiction, was working at the dawn of the new medium. The first comic book is generally said to have been produced in 1933, with the industry just beginning to pick up speed in the 1940's.

He labored to improve his drawing, practicing human forms daily. He once said it took him 25 years to perfect the artistic principles of perspective and figure drawing. ''He said that if you do it often enough, the hand takes over the brain,'' said his wife.

Mr. Kane is also survived by two sons, Scott of Santa Monica, Calif., and Eric, of Exeter, N.H.; a daughter, Beverly, of Hollywood, Fla.; and two granddaughters.

His breakthrough came in 1959 when he drew an early follow-up to DC's ''Flash,'' a feature that had been a hit in the 40's. He then revamped Green Lantern and Atom, which resulted in both winning their own titles. He illustrated them through the 1960's. ''That was the beginning of the resuscitation of superheroes,'' said Mr. Groth.

Mr. Kane often chafed at being part of an assembly-line system. He complained, for example, that the ''inkers'' who went over his pencil drawing for Green Lantern did not understand the diamond shape that he intended for the costume. ''They always made it look like a sleeveless sweater, which bothered me to no end,'' he told The Asbury Park Press in 1998.

Mr. Kane stayed in the business, going back and forth between the giants DC and Marvel, with many stops at smaller competitors. At Marvel, his depictions of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Conan, Captain Marvel, the Avengers and others, drew raves.

But he kept trying to step away from comic-book orthodoxy in order to work with greater artistic autonomy. He took the somewhat unusual posture for a visual artist of favoring more, rather than less, text.

Two products were a James Bond-style illustrated novel he self-published in 1968. Called ''His Name Is Savage,'' the exceedingly violent story occupied the whole book, rather than the 8 or 12 pages allowed in a conventional comic book. In 1971 he published a similar venture, a science fiction thriller called ''Blackmark.'' Mr. Kane, who for years worked in Los Angeles, was also involved in commercials, animated cartoons and set design. But he never strayed far from comics.

''He liked the storytelling and the fantasy,'' Mrs. Kane said.