Remembering Jack Kamen

August 9, 2008

On August 6, 2008, it was reported that veteran Golden Age artist Jack Kamen passed away in Florida at the age of 88. Jack was one of the more prolific artists who started out doing backgrounds in the Harry Chesler Comic Shop around 1940 and wound up a steady contributor to Bill Gaines' EC (Entertaining Comics) group during the 1950s, where he produced over 160 stories and 11 covers. While Kamen never reached the level of popularity as Wally Wood or Graham Ingels, his consistant contributions to EC were part of the "EC experience" that continues to make their publishing output some of the most reprinted comics in the market today.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 29, 1920 and during his earliest childhood years decided he wanted to become a fine artist or illustrator. During the late 1930s he took lessons at the National Academy and the Art Student's League and shortly afterwards broke into the business doing pulp illustrations for Standard Publications. From there he graduated to the Harry Chesler Shop where he began as a background artist working on Bulletman and Spy Smasher, and other stories being supplied to Fawcett Publications. By 1941 Jack was working for the Jerry Iger Shop where he met a very young Al Feldstein then breaking into the business. Most of Kamen's work for Iger fed into the Fiction House line of titles, turning out popular features such as "Rip Carson" and "Kayo Kirby," among others. He also freelanced a few things to Timely/Marvel Comics before being drafted into the Army during World War II. While in the service, Jack illustrated and helped put together training manuals and visual aids for G.I.s headed overseas, then later on, after being re-assigned to the Signal Corps, saw action in New Guinea and the Philippines.

After serving four years in the military Jack found his way back to the Iger Shop who was supplying complete books to Fiction House and other publishers. He was assigned to begin work on the "Ghost Gallery" and "ZX-5" features for JUMBO COMICS. As superhero comics were phasing out of popularity, being replaced by crime, romance and jungle titles, Jack found himself sitting next to fellow Iger Shop artist Matt Baker, where the pair turned out an abundance of covers and pages for Rulah, Jungle Goddess and other miscellaneous jungle and romance titles for Fox Features Syndicate. Baker and Kamen soon became known as two of the best artists in the business for drawing beautiful women with grace and style. After marrying his high-school sweetheart, the Kamens settled down on Long Island and began raising a family. He worked for the Iger Shop during the day and took lessons in painting and illustration at nights under Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central School of Art in Manhattan. He also started penciling, inking and signing his name to a daily newspaper strip called Inspector Dayton that was distributed overseas through Iger's Phoenix Features Limited. From here Kamen branched out, free-lancing for other companies such as Avon and Harvey, pencilling and inking crime, western and romance jobs.

When Jack dropped by EC during the Winter of 1950 he was hired by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein to work for their romance books which were, unfortunately, not selling and about to be cancelled. Jack finished two romance stories for Gaines Modern Love comic and then found out that the company was moving into a different area of entertaining comics. His next two assignments showed up in the "New Trend" first issues of Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, dated May-June, 1950, then proceeded into the horror and crime titles when EC introduced Tales From The Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear, that same year. After Gaines and Feldstein unsuccessfully tried to have Kamen do horror in the same vein as Graham Ingels, they turned to cleaner stories for him to draw, and almost always featured beautiful women. The humorous story of these events was parodied in "Kamen's Kalamity!" published in Tales From The Crypt #31 (Aug.-Sept. 1952). His clean, slick, modern style of art was perfect for Crime SuspenStories and later Shock SuspenStories, as he became the master of tales dealing with philandering husbands and wives where murder usually prevailed, then unexpectedly backfired on the spouse. Eventually he worked on all the EC New Trend titles, except for MAD, Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. Feldstein let Jack do one story for Panic #1 titled "Little Red Riding Hood," and also let him take on some of the cover assignments for Crime and Shock.

When EC's horror and crime books came to an end in 1955, Jack produced all the stories and cover art for Gaines' "New Direction" title Psychoanalysis. At one point Gaines and Feldstein took some of Jack's work on this title and tried to sell it as a newspaper strip idea to the syndicates. The New Direction titles turned out to be a short-lived venture and was followed by EC's "Picto-Ficton" comic magazines. Working secretly at home on the project, Kamen supplied all the art for the first issue of Shock Illustrated, which debuted during the summer of 1955. When EC introduced Crime Illustrated and Terror Illustrated in magazine form a month later, Kamen's art was nowhere to be found. Instead, they put him to work on a new Confessions Illustrated title where Jack produced some of the best romance art of his career. In an interview conducted with this author in May of 2005, Jack commented about the Picto-Fiction magazines: "Yes. I loved it. It really gave us the chance to get away from always doing the straight line work in comic books. I loved it."

When EC folded their Picto-Fiction titles in 1956, Jack had already been involved with an art agency doing illustration and advertising work for various companies. During the coming years he produced art for numerous clients, including The Vick's Company, U.S. Steel and Reynolds Aluminum. In 1961 he took on the job of art director for an illustrated children's encyclopedia to be published by Harwyn Picture Encyclopedia. During this project he hired many of his old EC artist alumni to help provide drawings for each entry. After working in advertising for many years, Jack went into semi-retirement, continuing to work for his son's various companies, and doing an occasional outside job.

His son Dean grew up to become one of the more successful inventors of the past twenty years in the medical field. Jack helped work up preliminary product designs and illustrated some of the brochures and pamplets to help advertise these new products. One of Dean's greatest inventions was the portable dialysis machine, which patients use to undergo dialysis at home, rather than traveling to their local hospitals several times a week. Wally Wood might have been a successful candidate for this treatment had he lived long enough to try it.

Jack Kamen was very proud of his family during these final years of his life. He leaves behind his wife Evelyn, three sons and a daughter. He will be sorely missed by EC aficionados everywhere.

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