Masterful Marks pays tribute to the pioneers of comics using the very medium they’ve elevated. These are the men who’ve forsaken conventional thinking to turn their passions into careers. These are the oddballs who channeled their quirkiness via their work and gained a following from other oddballs. Sadly, these are also the unsung heroes who got screwed over by their superiors. All of their lives are complicated and fascinating reads, brought to life by a variety of award winning artists.
Editor (and writer of a few segments) Monte Beauchamp gathers a small group of comic book artists and has each create a brief biography for one of 16 legendary illustrators. There are some well-known comic book legends including Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz and Manga/Anime legend Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion). But then this book also focuses on legends who’re more illustrators than comic book artists, including Caricaturist legend Al Hirshchland, Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney. The strangest inclusion is Hugh Hefner, who may have tried to start a career as a cartoonist but isn’t known for his drawings. Arguably, the truest pioneers are comic strip creator Rodolphe Topffer and Lynd Kendall Ward, the father of the graphic novel.
The art design of each segment is as unique as the legends themselves. There are some whose artwork matches the subject’s art styles including Ryan Heshka matching Joe Shuster’s artwork for Superman, Marc Rosenthal (Dig!)’s with Chas Addams (the Addams Family), and Arnold Roth’s with Hirschfeld. There are a few who take a creative turn from the usual biography formula. In Schulz’s segment, Sergio Ruzzier (the Little Giant) portrays Sparky as a duck-like creature. In Disney’s segment, a rooster resembling Rooster Cockburn tells Walt’s life story to a duckling. My personal favorite is Harvey Kurtzman’s segment, where artist Peter Kuper (Kafka’s Metamorphosis) has to deal with the critical Kurtzman looking over his shoulder. The ending is unexpected and hilarious.
While reading these stories, I noticed a series of common themes with these people. There are some who fought in World War 2 and were affected both creatively and personally. Some have faced the crossroads between their creative passion and a more conventional living. Nearly all of them drew obsessively as kids (with a little encouragement from their parents. But the most common theme in this book was artists being screwed over by a superior. Siegel & Shuster took their crooked manager to court for financial compensation. Addams made the huge mistake of signing away his animation writes to his second wife. Probably the most notable is the sinister presence for Fredric Wertham, whose crusade against comic books lead to censorship for some of these artists. Despite these failures, these people never gave up. They always found a way to work around the bullies.
Masterful Marks is an entertaining look at the lives of complicated, fascinating men. Each 10 pages take us through a journey into a world of unique artistic design. Every life is a complicated journey of multiple rejections, creative development and quirky personalities. I would like to see Beauchamp make more volumes of this book. Some artists I’d suggest would be Will Eisner, Alan Moore and Harvey Pekar.
 You could argue Walt’s success is not so much as an animator is it is as a producer and storyteller. Legends who do combine comic books and Disney are Alex Toth (creator of the Zorro comic) and Carl Banks (who’s Donald Duck comics gave the character his trademark bad temper).