by Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson

Just before the mad crush of New York Comic Con a crowd of comic book royalty gathered at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan to hear a stellar panel talk about Heroes of the Comics, Drew Friedman’s wonderful book featuring some of the best and least known artists, publishers and writers who brought the comics alive.

Heroes of the Comics by Drew Friedman. Cover portrait of Jack Kirby.
Heroes of the Comics by Drew Friedman. Cover portrait of Jack Kirby.

The Society of Illustrators was established in 1901 to promote the art of illustration. From the very beginning the monthly dinners were attended by some of the most well-known artists of the time like N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson and Maxfield Parrish. The Society also includes the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in a beautiful old building on the upper eastside that was originally a carriage house for J.P. Morgan’s secretary. Since New York is the birthplace of American comic books what could be more perfect?

Every single person who attended had some connection large or small to the event and there is no way to name all the prominent illustrators and comic book people who came out to celebrate this event. A few of the cognoscenti spotted were Carl and Nancy Gropper of the Will and Anne Eisner Family Foundation and Will Eisner Studios, Jim Salicrup of Papercutz, Paul Levitz, past president of DC Comics and comic book scholar and author and David Kasakove who co-wrote the article on Feldstein and Krigstein’s Master Race. The crowd was enthusiastic and there was a palpable sense of excitement. This is a credit to Drew’s beautiful portraits and the care he took with his biographies of each person. Heroes of the Comics is published by Fantagraphics and features a large full page drawing of each person with a one-page biography. The portraits are a genuine insight and reflection of the person and their contribution. Special kudos to Drew for his careful research so that the bios are accurate and help to add to the ongoing study of how it all began in comics.

Drew Friedman, Al Jaffee, Sean Howe and Karen Green, Society of Illustrators.
Drew Friedman, Al Jaffee, Sean Howe and Karen Green, Society of Illustrators.

Danny Fingeroth did the honors as Master of Ceremonies and in his usual cheerful and astute manner kept things moving along. Danny introduced the comic book royalty in audience including the artist Will Elder’s family—daughter Nancy Vanderbergh and her husband Gary and their children. Gary is the instigator of Drew’s book as he commissioned a portrait of Will Elder for Nancy and the whole project took off from there. Publisher Max Gaines and his son Bill who took over the business were represented by Cathy Gaines Misfud and her sister Wendy Gaines Bucci with some of their children. Chelle Mayer represented her grandfather Sheldon Mayer, a long time editor at DC and comic book artist and me, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson representing my grandfather, “the Major” Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the first publisher of comics with original art and scripts were all part of the comic book families present.

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Danny Fingeroth at Society of Illustrators panel on Heroes of the Comics.
Danny Fingeroth at Society of Illustrators panel on Heroes of the Comics.

 

Several of the portraits from the book were shown on a large screen and commented upon by Drew, Al Jaffee, Sean Howe who recently published Marvel Comics the Untold Story and Karen Green, fresh from her triumph as the instigator for the new Comics at Columbia exhibition and collection opening from the evening before. We could have stayed all night listening to the group talk about the people involved in comic book history. It was a special treat to have Al Jaffee speak about so many of the people he knew and had worked with.

Al Jaffee holds forth with Drew Friedman in foreground and Sean Howe in background
Al Jaffee holds forth with Drew Friedman in foreground and Sean Howe in background

Afterwards we enjoyed a lovely meal out on the terrace and were able to talk and catch up with old friends on a beautiful fall evening in New York. What more do you want for comic book heaven?

[Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson is writing a biography of her grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, military intelligence officer, prolific pulp writer, inventor and founder of DC Comics, with Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow) entitled Lost Hero. Her most recent publication is co-editing and writing an Introduction to a reprint of some of the Major’s adventure tales from the pulps entitled The Texas-Siberia Trail published by Off-Trail Publications. Nicky is a writer, editor and audio publisher and holds a Master’s in Classical Greek Mythology. She was featured in Women’s Enews with an article on Wonder Woman and San Diego Comic Con and appears frequently at Comics Conventions throughout the US speaking about early comic book history.]