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Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: The Cover Art of Win Mortimer Pt. 1

Long before the likes of Alex Ross, Adam Hughes and Brian Bolland – there were ‘Go To’ Artists for comic book covers. From time to time a publisher would latch onto a particular artist in an attempt to convey a certain dynamic look across the entire line. Examples of this would be Alex Schomburg for both Timely and Standard/Nedor in the 40s, Neal Adams at DC in the late 60s, Nick Cardy at DC in the 70s and Gil Kane at Marvel in the 70s. You probably know about all those guys – but how about Win Mortimer?

James Winslow Mortimer was born in Hamilton, Ontario – just a 45 minute drive southwest of yours truly. He entered the comic book industry after serving in the Canadian Army during WW2. My initial exposure to Win Mortimer’s work was through the Spidey Super Stories. I later learned that he’d done some work for Gold Key as well as some short-lived assignments for Marvel and DC (Legion back-ups and Night Nurse come to mind). For all I knew, he was just one of those good, reliable yet nameless artists who really never made his mark in the industry. Was I ever wrong! For nearly a decade, Mortimer was the cover artist on many of DC’s top titles. One could argue that Win Mortimer was responsible for the company look at DC throughout the late Golden Age (or Atom Age – however you want to slice it).

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Win Mortimer’s name is often forgotten when people discuss the important Superman artists. That’s too bad, as he’s responsible for an incredible number of Superman-related covers (not to mention a 7 year run on the newspaper strip). The cover to Superman #90 fully demonstrates Mortimer’s skill at cover design. He was able to inject sufficient narrative into a cover while keep everything as clean and simple as possible. This cover features Clark Kent and three versions of his alter ego, and yet doesn’t even come close to being ‘busy’. I’ve included the cover to Adventure Comics #182 as a nice offset to the Superman cover, as there’s much more detail. The perspective here is absolutely fantastic – giving the reader a sense of vertigo. There is some dialogue, but the image is strong enough to stand on its own. I’m not going to declare that Mortimer was the first to design a cover like this – but I can’t help that think it had an influence on a number of the covers drawn by Romita Sr., Kane and Andru covers from the 60s and 70s.

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If you browse the Batman cover gallery from the late 40s until the late 50s, you’ll be amazed by how many iconic images were drawn by Win Mortimer. From the wonderful first Riddler cover from Detective #140 to the great “Return of Bat-Hound” cover to Batman #97 and beyond, Mortimer was responsible for dozens of memorable covers. The two I’ve selected are among my all-time favourites. The cover to Batman #61 is a great example of how Mortimer can keep a complex cover simple. We’ve got chalkboards, test tubes, blue prints, a Bat-Plane model and Batman and Robin and yet it comes across as clean, classic image. There a nice voyeuristic feel to it, as if we’ve been invited to witness a nice, quiet moment in the Batcave. Much more dynamic is the cover to Batman #84. Mortimer drew a ton of iconic Catwoman covers, but this is by far my favourite. It is beautifully designed with a great ‘worm’s eye view’ perspective. I love the way it seems as if Batman & Robin are swinging in from the top left corner of the cover.

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Win Mortimer provided covers for numerous series during this period, but he had the greatest impact on World’s Finest. The task is simple, and yet daunting. Take 3 of the best known characters in comics, and portray them in an inventive way. Sorry, but you cannot tie it into the narrative of the book, as Superman doesn’t actually share any adventures with Batman and Robin. The best word to use to describe Mortimer’s covers for World’s Finest is ‘whimsical’. I’m certain that these covers have been the butt of many of joke amongst the Snark-Set, but I find them to be very charming. The cover to World’s Finest #37 is absolutely brilliant. Who wouldn’t have killed for this as bedroom wallpaper as a child? I’m also particularly enamored with the cover to World’s Finest #45. Robin is able to do in the “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em” world what he could never do in the real world. I love the fact that Superman is banging on the glass in frustration. Classic!

Next week, I’ll take a quick look at some of Mortimer’s non-superhero covers for DC, which will include one of my top 12 favourite covers of all-time. For more comic book talk, stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent.

16 Comments

I’m not sure what the word for it is, but it astounds me when I read an article about someone the day after reading their bio in The Batman Annuals HC I bought last month. Seriously, how does that happen? Cool article, I’m looking forward to seeing more covers.

BTW, one of the items I read last night mentioned he tried to have the word “win” somewhere in the cover – as a signature, of sorts. Just a bit of trivia, but I’m going to keep my eye on the next batch of covers you present.

Cheers,

B

Thanks for bringing this brilliant artist into today’s spotlight Scott!
You describe those covers perfectly.
I love those late Golden Age whimsical covers!
I am happy to learn that WIn Mortimer was a Canadian too!

One of the very first comics that got me into reading was an issue of Spidey Super Stories that he drew back in the late 70′s.

I adore Mortimer’s covers from World’s Finest– 37′s cover is particularly superb in that it doesn’t even try to depict a scene, it’s just a funky design idea brought to life, and it’s stunning. It’s so atypical of comics covers from that era I still can’t quite believe he got away with using it. I think it’s that difference that makes it one of my very favourite 1940s covers

My strongest association when I think of Mortimer is my introduction to the Legion of Super-Heroes — he drew my first encounter with the Legion, way back in ADVENTURE #374.

I often forget how much I like Win Mortimer’s work on Batman and World’s Finest. I’m still an Adams / Aparo guy, but Mortimer definitely deserves to be considered in the top Batman artists of all times rather than being often overlooked. Thanks for reminding me and anyone else who reads your blog of his actual place in the great artists not only of his era, but of all time.

Mortimer was one of the first comic-book creators to focus on costumed heroes’ fictional daily lives, as opposed to their rock-’em-sock-’em battles. So many of those delightful WORLD’S FINEST covers show Supermen, Batman, and Robin just having fun, like the boys who were the magazine’s target audience. The BATMAN #61 cover above shows the Dynamic Duo at work—though it’s work (building a model airplane) those boys could experience themselves. In a way, his work presaged modern fans’ interest in the characters as personalities rather than in specific stories.

The World’s Finest covers remind me of the “Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories” covers with Mickey and Donald just hanging out.

Win Mortimer was clearly a man ahead of his time. I never stopped to sincerely appreciate the uniqueness of his covers and how groundbreaking they truly were. Until now. Great article!

I never knew who did all those great World’s Finest covers. Good stuff. Yet another great article, Scott. Your column is quickly becoming the one I most look forward to.

Brian – that’s interesting about the ‘win’, I’ll have to take a closer look at some of them.

kirbydotter – I should have noted that Mortimer was elected to the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame a couple of years ago.

JL – I agree – I think the cover would have thrilled hobbyists.

To all others – thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed it.

Please stop using these interactive ads – they are noisy and distracting!

March – that’s outside of my dept. You’ll have to talk to management.

Thanks so much for this article on one of my favorite artists! I am currently researching and working on some writing about Mortimer’s romance art, so I am definitely looking forward to seeing your picks for his non-superhero DC covers.

Thanks so much for for your article. I am Winslow’s Grandson. He was fun to grow up around . All the best . Jon

Hi Jon! I am very interested in learning more about your grandfather. You should contact me (http://www.sequentialcrush.blogspot.com) if you have some time. There hasn’t been much written about him!

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