Celebrating the Centennial of George Tuska, Comics’ Consummate Craftsman!
George Tuska was one of those rare artists who could truly do it all; one of the comics industry's most prolific illustrators, who took on countless series and characters in a career that spanned six decades. But while his professional trademarks of adaptability, consistency, and longevity guaranteed him regular assignments, a devoted fanbase, and consistent employment for the length of his life, they also make him an easily-overlooked figure when trying to condense the history of comics into simple, slimmed-down narratives.
Because really, George Tuska enjoyed a number of different careers, and with each, he reached a different audience. He was born in in Hartford, Connecticut, attended the National Academy of Design in New York, and after a shot stint designing jewelry, made the leap to working in the comic industry. In the late '30s and early '40s, he provided art for a number of adventure and superhero series, working for publishers including Fox, Fiction House, Quality, Harvey, and Fawcett, and pencilling stories for Captain Marvel Adventures and Will Eisner's The Spirit and Uncle Sam titles.
He served time in the Army during World War II, and in coming back to comics after his discharge, soon established himself as the top artist on Lev Gleason's groundbreaking Crime Does Not Pay, a title that pushed the limits of acceptable depictions of violence, inspired legions of imitators, paved the way for crime and horror to become the medium's biggest-selling genres, and would eventually help inspire nationwide paranoia over the corrupting influence of comics on the youth of America.
As the 1950s dawned, Tuska continued to diversify his creative portfolio --- he still worked for Gleason, did art for some titles published by competing publisher St. John, and began to contribute to a company that had originally been known as Timely Comics, but now, under the guidance of editor Stan Lee, was rebranding as Atlas, and would eventually become Marvel.
For the remainder of the decade, Tuska produced a vast and varied catalog of work, illustrating crime, horror, war, mystery, and western titles galore. He also met with modest success as writer/artist of the syndicated Scorchy Smith newspaper strip, and in 1959, stepped down from most of his other professional obligations in order to take over as full-time artist of the National Newspaper Syndicate's Buck Rogers feature.
He held the syndicate cartoonist post for the next eight years, but the audience for old-fashioned sci-fi was dwindling, and by the time Buck Rogers finally wound down in 1967, Tuska had already cleverly positioned himself to step back into full-time comic book duty. He'd started actively freelancing again in 1964, working on a Watcher backup story in an issue of Tales Of Suspense for his old boss Stan Lee at Marvel, and handling art chores for some scattered issues of Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents for new publisher Tower.
By mid-1968, Tuska had established himself as an invaluable asset to Marvel, juggling stints on Captain America and Avengers and The Hulk and X-Men, and depicting each with equal enthusiasm and aptitude. And so, when Iron Man's newly-launched title suddenly found itself without a regular penciller, Tuska was tapped to step in and take over. He remained onboard as the book's primary artist for the next ten years.
But of course, given his twin qualities of speed and reliability, he couldn't just sit back and enjoy defining the look of Ol' Shell-Head for an entire generation --- he also became one of Marvel's all-purpose utility players throughout the '70s, one of a handful of artists that defined their "house style" and seemed to bounce back and forth between titles and assignments when and where ever they were needed. (In fact, there were months where it seemed that he and Sal Buscema were single-handedly producing the bulk of the company's titles). If there was an issue running late, if a new series was being rushed into production, if a story needed a reliable storyteller to step in and shepherd it to completion, odds are George Tuska could take it on and still not miss a beat on his regular Invincible Iron Man assignment.
In 1972, Tuska became the first artist to depict Luke Cage, pencilling the debut issue and most of the first year's worth of the eponymous Luke Cage, Hero For Hire series, and returning to the title in 1974 to oversee its conversion to the more conventionally titled Luke Cage, Power Man. His other artistic highlights of this period include launching the short-lived Black Goliath title with writer Tony Isabella, and his stints on The Champions, Planet Of The Apes, The Avengers, and Sub-Mariner.
By the late 1970s, Tuska moved on from Marvel and spent most of the remainder of his career at DC, working on Firestorm, Green Lantern, Justice League, and various other characters and titles, and pencilling the fondly-remembered World's Greatest Superheroes newspaper strip from its inception until late 1982. He stopped taking on regular work in the late '80s, but continued to do occasional commissions and special projects up until he passed away in 2009 at age 93.
His career spanned eight decades, and his professionalism and skill persevered through trend after trend, speaking to each new influx of readers. For some, he's the #1 crime artist; for others, he's the definitive depictor of Iron Man or the guy who made Luke Cage's tiara and yellow silk shirt look totally streetwise.
So on the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1916, we celebrate the artistic legacy of the great George Tuska --- a creator who could draw practically anything, while fitting into whatever stylistic restraints and deadlines were thrust upon him, and whose craftsmanship and artistry transcended genre and generation.