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John Buscema, 74; Comic Book Artist

January 19, 2002|ALFONSO A. CASTILLO | NEWSDAY

John Buscema, a revered comic book illustrator whose pencil breathed life into Spider-Man, the Mighty Thor and Conan the Barbarian for a half century, died Jan. 10 in Port Jefferson, N.Y., after a bout with stomach cancer. He was 74.

'There are very few people in our industry who have escalated to living legend status. John is among those few people," said Joe Quesada, editor in chief of Marvel Comics.

He may not have written the book on how to draw comics, but he did illustrate it, namely the popular "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way," published in 1976.

Despite being considered one of the master draftsmen of his trade, relatives and colleagues said he was a reluctant comics superstar.

'Comic books for him just provided a very good living, but his passion was the fine arts," said his son, John Jr. of South Salem, N.Y.

Buscema attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan by day and studied life drawing and design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn by night. With dreams of becoming a painter, Buscema spent countless hours visiting museums and observing the works of the Masters.

In 1948, he responded to a classified ad placed by Timely Comics, which would become Marvel Comics, and went to work as a staff illustrator earning $75 a week before being laid off in 1950.

Buscema later entered advertising, illustrating paperback covers and textbooks.

In 1966, Buscema's former boss Stan Lee asked Buscema to return to work at Marvel. "When things picked up, he was one of the first people I called because he was so good," said Lee, former Marvel editor in chief and co-creator, with Steve Ditko, of Spider-Man. "He was one of the best artists I have ever known."

Buscema would work for Marvel for the next 30 years, along the way working on a who's who of superpowered luminaries.

At heart, Buscema always considered himself a creator of the fine arts and preferred more rustic, earthly characters such as Thor and Conan the Barbarian, which he illustrated for two decades.

Along with Conan, Buscema earned much of his recognition in the comic book community for his work on "The Silver Surfer" and "The Avengers," featuring a pack of superheroes.

In the 1970s, Buscema founded his own art school, teaching a small group of students the Buscema style in a New York City hotel for a few years.

Buscema retired from Marvel in 1996, but soon found himself tackling several projects, including commissioned work that sold for several thousand dollars, and he released a book of his sketches.

Buscema reunited with his former boss, Lee, for his final comic, which was published by DC Comics late last year.

Besides his son, Buscema is survived by his wife, Dolores, of Port Jefferson; daughter Dianne Buscema-Gerogianis of Port Jefferson; and four grandchildren.

A funeral service was held Monday.

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