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Gil Kane; Innovative Comic Book Artist

Obituaries

February 02, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gil Kane, the comic book artist who spent more than half a century sketching such memorable characters as the Atom, Green Lantern, the Hulk, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man, has died. He was 73.

Kane, whose range extended to decorating stage sets and illustrating a comic book version of Richard Wagner's opera cycle "Der Ring Des Nibelungen," died Monday in Miami of cancer, said his Los Angeles representative, Harris M. Miller.

A self-taught artist who said it took him 25 years to grasp the artistic principles of perspective and figure drawing, Kane became known for his dynamic yet elegant figures, innovative fight scenes of superheroes and imaginative space drawings.

He worked steadily from the age of 16 until he was recently overtaken by his illness, and in his later years Kane became a thoughtful spokesman for the comic book industry.

In the 1980s, Kane spent about five years in Los Angeles, working on animation concepts for Hanna-Barbera and Ruby-Spears. But he soon returned to comics, illustrating the "Ring" for writer Roy Thomas in 1990 and drawing new versions of Superman and illustrating "The Edge" for frequent collaborator Steven Grant.

Ever the self-critic, Kane scoffed at a 1998 anniversary issue of his initial Green Lantern revival from 1959: "That crappy old stuff!"

But fans and collectors revered the work Kane did in that "Silver Age" of comics from 1956 to 1969. During that period, he redesigned the costumes of Green Lantern and, later, Captain Marvel and helped make the old superheroes familiar to new generations of readers.

In his eclectic career, Kane designed what LA Weekly termed "a delightful set," plastered with broken plates, shoes and doorknobs for a 1997 production of the play "Lovely!" at the Santa Monica Playhouse. His comic artistry was displayed locally in 1995 as part of the exhibit "KAPOW: A Showcase of Superheroes" at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.

Fittingly in his industry, Kane became a character in writer Alan Moore's "Awesome's Judgment Day: Aftermath," which Kane illustrated.

Moore cast the artist as himself, a freelance "imagineer," and scripted: "Once long ago, a tale processed had portrayed him as a prisoner of this imaginary realm. If so, no freedom was ever so sweet, for he is master of the mind-skies, mariner of epic tides. His name is Kane!"

The real Kane, who rated Moore "a remarkable writer . . . quite wonderful," said after reading the script: "I was really surprised at the opening and closing pages that cast me as a character."

Born Eli Katz in Latvia on April 6, 1926, Kane immigrated to New York with his family when he was 3. He grew up to be an avid reader of comics and pulp novels, so gravitated naturally into the business, beginning as a teenage inker. He served in the Army toward the end of World War II.

Kane worked extensively for DC Comics and Marvel but also freelanced for virtually every producer of the genre. He illustrated DC's panoply of lines from mysteries and westerns to Rex the Wonder Dog and science fiction.

But he neither hit his artistic stride nor became famous until the late 1950s when DC revived Green Lantern and Kane took over its illustration. He soon added a revival of the Atom as well.

Moving to Marvel, Kane drew the Hulk, Conan the Barbarian, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, Captain America, the Avengers and others and became a model for new comic artists who studied his style. Despite his prolific output, he liked to ink his own work, instead of leaving the details to assistants.

The innovative Kane also created a one-shot black and white comic in 1968 called "His Name Is Savage." Bleak, and for its time, shockingly violent, the spy story for adults was considered by many to be the first graphic novel. Others point to Kane's 1971 sword-and-sorcery "Blackmark" as the first of the genre. Kane wrote as well as illustrated both books.

Kane also drew the "Starhawks" comic strip for newspapers for five years.

The artist is survived by his wife, Elaine; son, Scott, and two stepchildren, Eric and Beverly.

Times staff writer Geoff Boucher contributed to this story.

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