Al Plastino, R.I.P.
Alfred John Plastino (December 15, 1921 – November 25, 2013) was an American comic book artist best known as one of the most prolific Superman artists of the 1950s, along with his DC Comics colleague Wayne Boring. Plastino also worked as a comics writer, editor, letterer and colorist.
With writer Otto Binder, he co-created the DC characters Supergirl and Braniac, as well as the teenage team the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Born at Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Center in Manhattan, New York City, on December 15, 1921, and raised in The Bronx, Plastino was interested in art since grade school. He attended the School of Industrial Art in New York City, and afterward began illustrating for Youth Today magazine. He was accepted into the college Cooper Union but chose to continue working as a freelance artist. His earliest known credited comic-book work is as penciler-inker of the Dynamic Man and Major Victory superhero features and Green Knight medieval-adventure story in Dynamic Publications' Dynamic Comics #2 (cover-dated Dec. 1941). Before the war, Plastino inked some issues of Captain America.
With the outbreak of World War II, Plastino and his brothers were drafted, and he served in the U.S. Army. There, a sketch he had made for a model airplane he had designed caught an officer's attention, leading to his being assigned to Grumman Aerospace Corporation, the National Inventors Council and then the Pentagon. He was assigned there to the Adjutant General's office, where he designed war posters and field manuals. After his discharge he began working for Steinberg Studios, drawing Army posters.[
While working out of a studio in New York City with two other cartoonists in 1948, Plastino showed sample art of Superman to DC Comics, which offered him work. Now settled in the comic book field, he largely dropped other commercial work for two decades. Early on at DC, Plastino was forced to copy Wayne Boring's style until the editors became comfortable with his own style. He did 48 Superman covers as well as countless DC stories.
Plastino worked on several titles within the Superman family of comics, including Superboy and Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane. With writer Otto Binder, he co-created Supergirl in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Plastino also drew the Superboy story in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) that introduced the Legion of Super-Heroes, a teen superhero team from the future that eventually became one of DC's most popular features; with writer Binder, Plastino co-created the first Legion characters: Cosmic Boy; Lightning Lad (as Lightning Boy) and Saturn Girl. He drew the first appearance of the supervillain the Parasite in Action Comics #340 (Aug. 1966).
Plastino's "pride and joy" was a story he drew for Superman #168 (April 1964, scheduled for publication Feb. 1964), titled "Superman's Mission for President Kennedy." The piece was done in collaboration with the Kennedy administration to help promote the president’s national physical fitness program. In the story, Superman visits the White House, and trusts President John F. Kennedy with his secret identity. The story was produced shortly before Kennedy was assassinated, which led to the cancellation of its publication. At the behest of President Lyndon Johnson, it was published two months later, in Superman #170 (June 1964), with Plastino adding a title page showing a ghostly figure of Kennedy looking down from the heavens at Superman flying over Washington, D.C.
In the early 1970s, Plastino was one of the artists DC assigned to redraw the heads of Jack Kirby's renditions of Superman and Jimmy Olsen, fearing that Kirby's versions were too different from the established images of the characters.
Veteran comic book artist Al Plastino has been locked in a messy squabble lately regarding the ownership of the original art he drew in 1964 for a Superman story about President John F. Kennedy. The battle has come to a sad ending for Mr. Plastino, who died this afternoon. He was 91 and had been battling prostate cancer for some time.
Plastino was the only person alive who drew Superman comics professionally before about 1967. He started in 1948. His earliest known comic book work was in 1941 for a little-known company called Dynamic Comics. After serving in World War II, he freelanced in and out of comics until connecting in '48 with DC, where he worked until the early seventies. For most of that time, he was the second-string Superman artist. Wayne Boring was the main guy through the fifties, then it was Curt Swan. The stories they didn't have time to do were done by Plastino. He drew some memorable stories for the Superman line of comics, including the first stories of Supergirl and also of The Legion of Super-Heroes.
In 1966, he worked on the syndicated Batman newspaper strip and drifted into that line of work. He was an excellent mimic of styles and took over the art on the Ferd'nand newspaper strip in 1970, drawing it until his retirement in '89. At one point, someone at the syndicate got the brilliant (!) idea to replace Charles Schulz on Peanuts and they had Plastino draw several weeks to show that he could ape that style…which he could. There are several accounts of what happened next but they all resulted in Schulz being furious (though not at Plastino), Schulz staying on his strip and getting lots of apologies from the syndicate, and Plastino's strips never being published. He also worked on the Nancy strip for a time and possibly others. He was a very versatile artist.
We do not know how Mr. Plastino's passing will impact the battle over the Superman-Kennedy story. (You can read about it here. It sounds to me like someone at DC just fibbed about donating the artwork in the first place and it disappeared into someone's closet. I also suspect that they fibbed when they announced that an earlier version of the same story that was drawn by Curt Swan was donated to the Kennedy Library.
We never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Plastino but folks who did said he was a good man and a dedicated professional. It's always sad to lose someone like that.