January 29, 2012
Warren King Revisited by Mark Heike
I made mention of this unheralded but great comic book artist of the Golden Age in a post several months ago, but I feel he deserves a closer look. I was showing some of his most impressive art to my wife Stephanie a few days ago, and once again expressing my bewilderment at the fact that almost NO ONE, not even other self-acclaimed comic art experts seem to know anything about him. Steph opined that since the overwhelming majority of his comics work was in the early MLJ comics, which have been rather pricey for many decades; perhaps he’s simply not been seen. So, we’re presenting just a few of his spectacular pages from the early 1940s (he was very prolific in the MLJ titles), and telling you what little I have unearthed about the man himself. Born in 1916, he would’ve been in his mid-to-late 20’s when he was working for MLJ, which may account for the fact that his work was more polished than the younger artists that handled most of the rest of the features. He worked at some point as an assistant to cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and started out in comics toiling in the Harry “A” Chesler shop, from whence most of the early MLJ creators (like Charles Biro, Bob Wood, Jack Cole, Mort Meskin, Jack Binder, Irv Novick, Lin Streeter and Bernie Klein ) emigrated once that company put together it’s own editorial staff. Before devoting most of his labors to MLJ, King did work on a few stories for Victor Fox’s line of comics; on The BANSHEE in Mystery Men, and SPIDER QUEEN, in Eagle Comics. We have reprinted one SPIDER QUEEN story here at AC, in the now-out-of-print Men Of Mystery #85, but I do not believe that particular story is drawn by Warren King. Between 1940 and 1944, King drew virtually ALL the major MLJ costumed heroes at one point or another, as well as a number of the non-costumed adventure features as well. He drew The FOX and CAPTAIN FLAG in Blue Ribbon Comics; BLACKJACK in Zip Comics; The HANGMAN in Pep Comics; and The BLACK HOOD,The WIZARD, BOB PHANTOM, KARDAK the MYSTIC, KAYO WARD, and KEITH KORNELL in Top Notch Comics at various points. Some accounts list him as having drawn The SHIELD, as well- though I’ve never seen an example of his artwork on that character. And though I find no other corroborating accounts, I once owned the last issue of Jackpot Comics, which had a MR. JUSTICE story obviously drawn by Mr. King. His finest work may have been on The FIREFLY, another Top-Notch strip. Originally created and drawn by thre tragic Bob Wood, King took over after the first two episodes and seemed to illustrate every FIREFLY story after that, running from Top-Notch 10-27, the character’s last Golden Age appearance. In addition to his daring, dynamic layouts; bold figure work and dramatic faces, King also must’ve taken a hand in coloring many of the strips he did, as they often had moody, multiple-screen tones NOT seen on other artist’s strips in the same books with his. An artists actually coloring- or even CARING about the coloring of his artwork in the Golden Age was almost unheard-of; but it’s apparent that King did. After his stint at MLJ, King apparently did some work for the very obscure Albrecht Publishing Company, on their title The Conquerors, plus a feature called SANDY; then the equally-little-known E. R. Ross pubs’ MISS SHADY strip. He is also reported to have done some work on the Fawcett comics of the late-1940’s, but it’s not clear on what features. He was apparently active doing covers and interiors on romance books and other non-costumed features for St. John occasionally up until 1954. By the mid-1950’s, he was moving into syndicated newspaper cartooning, and became an acclaimed editorial cartoonist, even winning the National Cartoonists Society Best Edotorial Cartoonist Award in 1968. He was also cheif staff cartoonist and cheif editorial cartoonist at the prestigious New York Daily News. He passed away in 1978.