Marvelous In Every Moment: A Tribute To Sal Buscema
If you’re a fan of classic Marvel, Sal Buscema is most likely responsible for many of your favorite comic book memories. He was one of Marvel’s most prolific and versatile artists through the ’70s and ’80s, working on some of the most famous sagas of the era, while also taking on a number of lesser-known (yet no less wonderful) assignments.
At one time or another, he drew pretty much every major Marvel title, including Avengers, Fantastic Four, Thor, Marvel Team-Up, Sub-Mariner, Daredevil, Nova, Eternals, Marvel Two-In-One, New Mutants, Iron Man, X-Men, Marvel Spotlight, Ghost Rider, Ms. Marvel, Marvel Premiere, Howard The Duck, Master Of Kung Fu, and all three major Spider-Man series (Amazing, Spectacular, and Web Of). He pencilled defining tales of Captain America and The Defenders, and a ten-year run on Incredible Hulk. And he’s also a skilled inker, whose collaborations with other artists, most notably his brother John Buscema, resulted in some of the most memorable books of the Bronze Age.
Silvio ‘Sal’ Buscema was born in Brooklyn NY on January 26, 1936, and was the youngest of four siblings. He grew up reading comics, and was inspired by his older brother John to pursue a career in art. He attended the High School Of Music & Art in Manhattan, and after graduating in 1955, he assisted his brother on some comic stories and worked at a couple of different commercial art studios before being drafted in 1956.
He spent his Army tenure stationed in Virginia, producing training films and illustrating charts and manuals. After his discharge, he worked at ad agencies in Washington DC and New York, and returned to the comics field in 1968, handling some scattered western stories and inking John on a quartet of Silver Surfer issues. By 1970, Sal began pencilling The Avengers, and in short order, he became one of Marvel’s go-to artists, handling every assignment with equal aplomb and dedication.
His pencilling style was reliably energetic but never flashy, filled with wide-stanced figures and expressive, caught-in-action facial expressions. There’s a wide-eyed, mouth open look that’s a particular trademark, depicting a degree of surprise and uncertainty that few other artists could capture – John Romita‘s characters looked glamorous, John Buscema‘s looked noble, Barry Windsor-Smith‘s appeared lost in thought, Jack Kirby‘s were hyper-dramatic, desperate and determined. But when Sal drew a hero or villain, he had a way of catching the moment right before or after the action, the split-second reactions where nothing seems certain.
This quality was a perfect fit for much of the material he was working with in the ’70s, stories by young authors like Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart that pulled characters in new directions and expanded on Stan Lee’s “heroes with problems” approach – Sal’s art captured the Hulk’s vulnerability, Valkyrie’s inner conflict, Nova’s teenage angst, Captain America’s crisis of faith.
The highlights of his Marvel tenure are numerous. He was the first artist to depict the Squadron Sinister (in Avengers #69). He launched The Spectacular Spider-Man title with Gerry Conway and Mike Esposito. He provided art for the Secret Empire saga in Captain America, which saw the hero battling the US government and taking on the new identity of Nomad. His 1975-1985 run on The Incredible Hulk defined the comic character for a generation who came to the series from the hit TV show.
His tenure on The Defenders is a particular favorite, a run written by Englehart, Len Wein, and Gerber, that contains some of the flat-out weirdest stories of the era – over the first four years of the title, Marvel’s “non-team” came into conflict with hate groups, genetically-engineered ultimate mutants, demons, cosmic entities, alien races, Asgardian miscreants, warrior women, male chauvinists, mystical mad scientists with head deformities, and the infamous Elf with a Gun.
And he didn’t limit his work to the mainstream Marvel universe, but also handled art duties on some of the greatest out-of-continuity short stories of the ’70s – yes, I’m speaking of the nonsensical and much-loved superhero Hostess advertisements.
In the ’80s and ’90s, he continued to be one of the most productive and professional talents in the business, producing the first fifty-odd issues of ROM: Spaceknight alongside writer Bill Mantlo, following Bob McLeod as the artist of New Mutants, drawing a handful of Thor issues for Walt Simonson, reuniting with his brother on Fantastic Four #297-302, teaming with Tom DeFalco and penciller Ron Frenz on Spider-Girl, working on select projects at DC, and returning to Spectacular Spider-Man for a jaw-dropping hundred-and-four consecutive issues.
In recent years, he’s remained an active and vital force, making occasional convention appearances and producing outstanding art for Marvel, DC, and IDW (including working on a Black Dynamite series that’s an affectionate stylistic throwback to his ’70s Marvel work). So today, in honor of his birthday, we at ComicsAlliance are happy to salute one of the all-time greats. Happy birthday Mr. Buscema, and thanks for all the comics!