Larry Lieber, May Your Webs Never Wiggle!

Back after too long an absence: deadlines are implacable (just finished proofing galleys for Steve Canyon Volume 9, which is chock-full of terrific material) and some family commitments placed their demands upon me (including a wedding in my wife’s family, which took me out-of-state earlier this month) … but the crunch is over, so at last I have a chance to offer a hearty “Salute!” to Larry Lieber, who stepped down in September from penciling The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip after an incredible run that spans more than three decades. I’ve selected ten examples of Larry’s work on the wall-crawler’s newspaper adventures, grouped loosely by theme. Peter Parker’s far-famed bad luck is on display in these three strips from January of 1981 and July and October of 2001:

I had a lengthy interview with Mr. Lieber, who was utterly charming and entertaining. I had a (*ahem!*) marvelous time speaking with him! We ran portions of that interview in our Spider-Man Volume 3, and will have more excerpts from it in future volumes, but here is more from Larry about the work and artists who made major impressions on him both before he turned professional and in his early days as a pro. It was great to hear how closely he followed one of our currently-ongoing LOAC series! Take it away, Larry …

“When I started to learn to draw, I looked at the newspaper strips, because I thought strip artists were the best artists. Of course I and a million other artists would look at Alex Raymond’s stuff. I used to cut it out of the paper every day. Syd Shores did it, and he told me to do it. I got into the habit — every day I’d cut out the Rip Kirby – it was wonderful stuff! Looking at Rip Kirby, you could study it for drawing. Raymond’s hands – how he got those fingers, beautiful! And he was a master at folds. The way he did folds, it was almost a formula. It was just beautiful. Some artists came along later who thought it was too much of a formula, and those were artists who looked at models and did it more naturally, the way a fold will go. It doesn’t always go gracefully and beautifully.

“And then, years later, my favorite artist of all was Stan Drake. I just got to appreciate his drawing – his expressions! He put a life into it that nobody else had ever done. So he was my favorite — him and Raymond.”

Mr. Lieber studied the strips, but he felt his future was in comic books. He made his mark early in the Marvel Silver Age on superheroes such as Ant-Man, Thor, and Iron Man, and eventually the Marvel Universe was translated into the newspaper strip. Here is a small selection of dailies in which Larry renders the mystic master, Dr. Stephen Strange (from an April, 1992 sequence); the man without fear, Daredevil, from January of 1993; and Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner (December, 1996):

When it came to comic book artists whom he studied and sought to emulate, Mr. Lieber told me of his great admiration for Jack (King) Kirby and “Big” John Buscema. “When I met John Buscema, I said to him, ‘I know you – you sold your soul to the devil!’ And he looked at me, so I said, ‘Nobody draws that well who hasn’t sold his soul to the devil. You just can’t do it any other way!’ That just came out of me. I think he was a complete drawing course – the beautiful women! And he drew the most powerful figures, and he could draw the most sensitive figures. I never saw an artist who could do all of that.

“I mean, his drawing was just that much better than anyone else’s – the grace, the smoothness, the action. There are many artists in comics that did different things – Gil Kane, I always loved his layouts, the best layout man, Romita, several others – but if you look at Buscema, he’s really not a comic artist, Buscema was an illustrator. Kirby did fantastic poses – I remember looking at Dr. Doom, and I saw Buscema first, and he did it beautifully, with Doom sitting on a throne, relaxed and gesturing. When you look at Jack’s, it won’t have the same beautiful drawing, but the pose is just as good. I used to love these scenes of Jack’s where he’d had a million people, all of them doing different things. If Kirby drew a group of people – lets’ say military men charging over a hill, it’s a war thing – every one would be different, at least a little bit. Any time he did a crowd, everybody would be slightly different, so it added interest.”

Mr. Lieber was no stranger to Doctor Doom, having co-written and -penciled the lord of Latveria’s first full-length solo story, in 1969’s Marvel Super-Heroes # 20. He returned to Doom in the newspaper strip, as shown in the March, 1992 newspaper installment below, which is followed by his 1981 rendering of another Doctor, known as Octopus, and a July, 2001 daily featuring another classic Spidey villain, the Scorpion:

The Amazing Spider-Man strip is in good — and familiar! — hands with Mr. Lieber’s retirement: artist Alex Saviuk — who has penciled the Spidey Sunday page since 1997 and in recent years has also inked Larry’s pencils — is assuming the full-art chores on the dailies. He’s sure to do an exemplary job, but I’m mighty pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Lieber, and I applaud his longevity and versatile work on the world’s favorite wall-crawler.  After all, only Larry Lieber has drawn — Spidey Sneakers!

‘Nuff said, pilgrims!

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