Basil Wolverton (July 9, 1909 – December 31, 1978) was an
American cartoonist and illustrator, and "Producer of Preposterous
Pictures of Peculiar People who Prowl this Perplexing Planet." His
many publishers included
Marvel Comics and Mad magazine.
His drawings have elicited a wide range of reactions.
Elder said he found Wolverton's technique "outrageously inventive,
defying every conventional standard yet upholding a very unusual sense
of humor. He was a refreshing original." But
Jules Feiffer stated, "I
don't like his work. I think it's ugly."
He was posthumously inducted into the comic book industry's Jack Kirby
Hall of Fame in 1991.
1.1 Early life and career
Powerhouse Pepper and Lena the Hyena
1.4 Later career
2 Personal life
5 External links
Early life and career
Wolverton as a senior in high school, 1927.
Born in Central Point, Oregon, he later moved to Vancouver,
Washington, and worked as a vaudeville performer and a cartoonist and
reporter for the Portland News. At age 16 he sold his first nationally
published work and began pitching comic strips to newspaper
syndicates. His comic strip, Marco of Mars, was accepted by the
Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929 but never distributed
because it was deemed too similar to Buck Rogers, which debuted that
Disk-Eyes the Detective and Spacehawks were published in 1938 in
Circus comics. In 1940, Spacehawk (a different and improved feature)
made its debut in Target Comics , published by Novelty Press. It ran
for 30 episodes (262 pages) until 1942.
Other Wolverton characters include Scoop Scuttle, a newspaperman who
ran as a backup feature in Lev Gleason Publications' Daredevil Comics
and Silver Streak Comics; and Mystic Moot and his Magic Snoot in
Fawcett Publications' Comic Comics and Ibis The Invincible. "Bingbang
Buster and his Horse Hedy" was a three-page backup story in Lev
Gleason's Black Diamond Western #16–28 (1950–1952).
Powerhouse Pepper and Lena the Hyena
Wolverton's humor feature Powerhouse Pepper, about a superstrong if
none-too-bright boxer, appeared in various comic books published by
Timely Comics, the 1930s and 1940s precursor of Marvel Comics, from
1942 through 1952. The strip was characterized by alliterative,
rhyming dialogue, screwball comedy and throwaway gags in background.
The Timely titles, such as Joker Comics, Gay Comics and Tessie the
Typist, debuted a number of his spin-off characters and features,
including Flap Flipflop, The Flying Flash (who later appeared in
Charlton Comics' Jack in the Box #13), Leanbean Green, "Cartoon Crime
Mystery" featuring Inspector Hector the Crime Detector, Doc Rockblock,
"Picture Poems about Peculiar People", "Funny Boners", Dauntless
Dawson, "Hothead Hotel", "Bedtime Bunk", "Foolish Faces" and more.
Five issues of a
Powerhouse Pepper comic book were released in 1943
and 1948 by Timely, but not all the covers were by Wolverton and
many interior pages were also not devoted to Wolverton strips.
Li'l Abner daily strip by Al Capp, introducing Basil Wolverton's "Lena
In 1946, Wolverton won a contest to depict "Lena the Hyena", the
world's ugliest woman, a running gag in Al Capp's
Li'l Abner newspaper
strip where Lena remained unseen beneath an editorial note stating her
face had been covered to protect readers. Capp, responding to popular
demand, announced a contest for artists to submit their
interpretations. Among 500,000 entries, Wolverton's was the winner;
it appeared in a
Li'l Abner daily and Life magazine. Wolverton's fame
briefly led to Life and Pageant printing his caricatures. The Lena
portrait typified the unique "spaghetti and meatballs" style he
employed regularly thereafter.
In the 1950s, Wolverton produced 17 comic-book horror and
science-fiction stories for Marvel and other comic-book publishers,
including one story by author Daniel Keyes, which led to him being
"hailed for creating uniquely grotesque monsters". Among these
tales were "The Brain Bats of Venus" for Mister Mystery #7 and "Where
Monsters Dwell" in Marvel's Adventures into Terror #7, the title of
which was later used for a 1970s Marvel reprint series.
Wolverton first appeared in Mad with a single panel in #10, drew Mad
Reader! for #11 and also contributed an iconic Lena-like image to the
cover of #11, which was billed as the "Beautiful Girl of the
Month". Although Wolverton contributed sporadically to the
title—appearing in just nine issues over two decades—his work was
memorable enough that, in 2009,
The New York Times
The New York Times dubbed him "The
Michelangelo of Mad Magazine". E.C.'s other humor title, Panic,
Al Feldstein (who later became Mad's editor for 30 years)
also used Wolverton's art on a Panic cover, though publisher William
M. Gaines was not a fan of Wolverton's work. Other humor magazines
from other companies such as Cracked, From Here to Insanity and
Cockeyed also featured Wolverton's work, as did an issue of Ballyhoo.
In 1968, Wolverton did the Ugly Posters series of trading cards for
Topps, displaying his trademark twisted headshots.
In 1973, he returned to mainstream comics, illustrating several covers
for Joe Orlando's satiric
Plop! at DC Comics. Comix Book, a joint
Marvel Comics and Denis Kitchen's Kitchen Sink Press,
featured two strips by Wolverton, "Calvin" and "Weird Creatures".
Wolverton was baptized into Herbert W. Armstrong's Radio Church of God
in 1941 and was ordained as an elder in 1943. As a board member of
that church, he was one of the six people, including Armstrong and his
wife, who re-incorporated the church in 1946 when it moved its
original headquarters from Oregon to California. Wolverton died on
December 31, 1978, at age 69.
Wolverton's son, editorial cartoonist Monte Wolverton, draws in a
style similar to his father's; the younger Wolverton also worked for
The Plain Truth and contributed to Mad. Several cartoonists have been
influenced by Wolverton's "spaghetti-and-meatball" style, including Ed
"Big Daddy" Roth.
Books by Wolverton or collecting his work include:
The Bible Story (1982)
Wolvertoons: The Art of
Basil Wolverton (1990)
Wolverton in Space (1997) (ISBN 1-56971-238-7)
Powerhouse Pepper (2001) (ISBN 1-56097-148-7)
Basil Wolverton Reader Vol.1 (2003) (ISBN 1-56685-017-7)
Basil Wolverton Reader Vol.2 (2004) (ISBN 1-56685-027-4)
Basil Wolverton: Agony & Ecstasy (2007) (ISBN 1-56685-041-X)
(reprints from The Bible Story)
The Original Art of
Basil Wolverton (2007)
The Wolverton Bible (2009) (ISBN 978-1-56097-964-7)
The Culture Corner (2010) (ISBN 978-1-60699-308-8)
Spacehawk (2012) (ISBN 978-1-60699-550-1)
Creeping Death from Neptune: The Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton
Vol. 1 (2014) (ISBN 1-60699-505-7)
Basil Wolverton at the Lambiek Comiclopedia
^ Both quotes from Wolvertoons: The Art of Basil Wolverton, edited by
Dick Voll. (Fantagraphics Books, 1990) ISBN 1-56097-022-7,
^ a b c Vadeboncoeur, Jim, Jr. "Illustrators: 'by Basil Wolverton'".
JVJ Publishing. Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved
January 6, 2013.
^ a b c d e
Basil Wolverton at the Grand Comics Database
^ Lee, Stan. Secrets Behind the Comics (Famous Enterprises, 1947), p.
^ Stanley, John. "Comics That Draw Gasps, Not Smiles", San Francisco
Chronicle, Sunday, September 25, 2005, pp. PK [???] – 24.
^ "The Michelangelo of Mad Magazine" (slideshow), The New York Times,
^ Stewart, Bhob (February 1, 2010). "
Topps #6: Basil Wolverton".
Potrzebie. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved
January 6, 2013.
^ Dewey, Pamela Starr. "The Worldwide Church of God". Field Guide to
the Wild World of Religion. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
"Basil Wolverton". Wolvertoon.com (
Monte Wolverton official site).
Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved January 6,
Basil Wolverton at the Comic Book DB
Gallatin, Gene, ed. "The
Basil Wolverton Website". (fan site
Basil Wolverton estate). Archived from the original on
April 30, 2011. Retrieved January 6, 2013. CS1 maint: Extra text:
authors list (link)
"Mad Magazine Contributors: Basil Wolverton". Doug Gilford's Mad Cover
Site (fan site). Retrieved January 6, 2013.
"Basil Wolverton's The Apocalypse". HollywoodJesus.com. Retrieved
January 6, 2013. Used courtesy of Zondervan Bible Publishers
Blackstone the Magician
Land of the Lost
Tales from the Crypt
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Three Dimensional E.C. Classics
Incredible Science Fiction
Comics Code Authority
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History of Mad
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TV show spoofs
Berlin v. E.C.
The Mad Magazine Card Game
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ISNI: 0000 0000 6304 4044
BNF: cb120408772 (data)