The Craftsman: Celebrating The Art Of Jerry Ordway
Since breaking into the comics industry in the early '80s, Jerry Ordway has gained a reputation as one of the industry's great multi-faceted craftsmen. He's an artist's artist, as adept at portraying emotion and expression as he is at illustrating intergalactic action sequences. He's a world class penciller, a respected writer, and well renowned for his inking and painting work. He's contributed to some of the most influential and best-selling superhero stories in history, and his work on Superman and Shazam over the course of a decade defined DC's two mightiest heroes for a generation of readers. And he's still going strong.
Ordway was born on November 28th, 1957 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He grew up as the youngest of three brothers, and discovered comic books at an early age by reading hand-me-down copies of Batman and Superman issues that a family friend would bring over.
His became a particular fan of Marvel's superhero titles as he got older, and began making his own comics in the mid-'60s, studying the art styles of John Buscema, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby, and John Romita, applying the storytelling lessons he learned to his own creations, and passing the results around to family and friends.
Through the '70s he worked as a typographer and commercial artist for firms in Milwaukee, while at the same time contributing to the fan press, creating original stories for small-run indie comics and illustrating pieces for various fanzines and prozines, including such noted publications as Fantafolio, The Comic Reader, The Comics Journal, and Mark Gruenwald's Omniverse.
Toward the end of that decade, he began taking on assignments from Western Publishing, producing art for Golden's line of activity books featuring Marvel and DC characters.
In 1980, DC Comics held a talent search at a convention in Chicago, Ordway attended in hopes of landing a gig with the company, and after showing them his samples (including some of his Golden pages), contacts were exchanged. Soon thereafter, he received his first assignment, inking a Carmine Infantino story in Mystery In Space #117, and by the beginning of 1981, accepted an offer to become a full-time DC freelancer.
Before long, he became one of DC's standby artists, becoming the regular inker for Roy Thomas' All-Star Squadron series, co-creating and pencilling the spin-off series Infinity Inc., and contributing to various annuals, anthologies, and special projects.
After hopping over to Marvel in 1985 to work with John Byrne on Fantastic Four, he returned to DC the next year as inker for the seminal Crisis On Infinite Earths series, joining forces with Marv Wolfman and George Perez to reset the entire DC Universe. Following that, he set to work establishing a new status quo for the Last Son Of Krypton on the ongoing Adventures Of Superman series, first alongside writers Wolfman and Byrne and then, as of issue #436, taking over double-duty as writer and artist.
For the next seven years, Ordway would go on to be one of the primary guiding forces behind the Man of Steel, contributing story and art to both ongoing titles, and playing a major role in events including Clark Kent's revelation of his secret identity to Lois Lane, Clark and Lois' subsequent engagement, and the bestselling and much-ballyhooed "Death Of Superman" and "World Without A Superman" storyline.
Ordway's portrayal of Superman was marked by a mix of high-concept action and quiet character development, an innate affinity for the character's central "truth and justice" ideals, and a willingness to experiment and incorporate unexpected elements in his stories, even going so far as to cite Jack Kirby's approach to Superman in his '70s Jimmy Olsen work as a central influence. (This was an unusual reference point in an era when opinions on Kirby's '70s output were far more mixed than they are today.)
Throughout this time, he also continued to handle other high-profile assignments: he drew the fan-favorite comic adaptation of the 1989 Batman film, a job where his skill for capturing likenesses truly shone (and which we revisited at length here and here, as part of our celebration of the movie's 25th Anniversary), and played a part in another DC-Universe-redefining event when he inked the five-issue Zero Hour limited series.
Ordway's next high-profile assignment was reviving and redefining the original Captain Marvel, beginning with 1994's The Power Of Shazam graphic novel, a 96-page hardcover that he both wrote and painted the full artwork for, then with an ongoing series of the same name that enjoyed a four-year run and served as a welcome counterpoint to the pervading atmosphere of the superhero market in that era, being neither "grim-and-gritty" nor gimmick-driven.
The series faced the difficult task of reconciling the traditionally whimsical tone of the Big Red Cheese's adventures with the sensibilities of modern-day DC, and did an admirable job, blending personality-driven drama and large-scale superheroics with just a bit of sincere silliness, and gaining a devoted audience in the process.
Through the '90s and 2000s, Ordway continued to work for a variety of publishers as both artist and writer, launching his co-creation WildStar in a four issue miniseries at Image (with writer/inker Al Gordon), illustrating issues of USAgent and The Avengers for Marvel, teaming with Walt Simonson for an arc on Wonder Woman, drawing a Brave And The Bold storyline for Mark Waid, taking on some pencilling assignments for WildStorm and America's Best Comics (including a few well-received issues of Alan Moore's Tom Strong), and making regular returns to the Superman family of titles.
He has continued to produce stellar work for DC, IDW, and other publishers. In 2007, he was the subject of one of TwoMorrows Publishing's 'Modern Masters' artist retrospectives; he's taken on various writing, inking and pencilling assignments; he collaborated with Steve Rude on an acclaimed short story for DC's Adventures Of Superman digital series; and he's co-created and illustrated the horror/crime series Semiautomagic with writer Alex DeCampi.
Through it all he earned a reputation as one of comics' most approachable and well-liked creators, maintaining an active schedule of convention appearances, doing sketches and commissions, and always taking time to talk with the fans who gather around his table.
So today, we at ComicsAlliance are pleased to wish Jerry Ordway the happiest of birthdays, and offer our thanks for all the years of great comics!