Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chuck Bednarik, otherwise known as Concrete Charlie

The full transcript of an interview with football Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik I did for FHM magazine in 2005.

Chuck was the last of the 60-minute men, two-way players, and was flying bomber missions over Nazi Germany when he was 18 years old.

When he speaks, you’d better listen.

J: Okay, you know I’m recording this and you’re okay with that, right?
C: Yeah.

J: State your full name, please.
C: Charles P. Bednarik

J: Date of birth?
C: May 1, 1925

J: Great. Where did you grow up, and what was it like there?
C:  I grew up in Bethlehem, PA. My parents migrated to this country from Czechoslovakia, from the Slovakia part. As I grew up, in my early days, I couldn’t speak English ’til I went into the first grade. I went to a Catholic school, for eight years.
When I was a kid, I played sports right there on the street. Traffic was light, there were few cars in those days. We played football right on the streets. Of course, for us in those days, a football was a stocking stuffed with rags or leaves. That was our football. For a baseball, my parents would save 25 coffee bags and send away for a baseball. That’s the way I grew up.
Lehigh University was only three blocks away from our place, so occasionally, we’d scale the fence and we’d play on grass until some guy named Quigley would chase us and we’d run like hell back over that fence.
But more than anything, we’d play right on the streets.

J: What would possess you to play tackle football on paved streets?
C: Ah…we didn’t hurt each other too badly, I guess. Like I said, there was really no other place to play unless we snuck on at Lehigh University, and what they called their “upper field.” That was grass. Now that’s where we played really hard. That’s where you’d really knock the hell outta a guy. Maybe on the blacktop, you’d ease up on a buddy just a little so you didn’t kill him.

J: So Catholic school toughens a man, no?
C: Yeah, we had nothing but Priests and Nuns as teachers there and if you misbehaved, boy, they beat the shit outta you. And they didn’t let up. They had you scared. That’s the way I was brought up for eight years.
By junior high school, I went to Broughal Junior High in Bethlehem. That’s where I got my first organized football training, from a real coach.
Following that, I was in high school, and the coach asked me what position I was going out for. I told him “I don’t know.” He gave me a football to take home over the weekend and said, “You look like a center. When you come back here on Monday, that’s what you’ll be, so start practicing.” So I went home and practiced snapping the ball between my legs. Of course, in those days, we played offense and defense, too. But that’s how my football career started, in Liberty High School in Bethlehem.
Then, when World War II came, I turned 18 and I couldn’t wait to get into the service. And that’s when I went.

J: Why? You must have had college scholarship offers.
C: All my friends were being drafted. I lost all my friends. They were going to exotic places, but exotic places to me were like the training facilities in New York or Ohio! I couldn’t wait to go.

J: How old were you when you started flying combat missions over Germany?
C: Eighteen years old. I took basic training as was assigned to the Air Corps. I was in the B-24s. We trained in Idaho, and I was assigned to a crew and sent overseas. I turned 19 years of age during my fifth mission, I remember.

J: What was the closest you ever came to death there?
C: Every mission was close. We flew over Cologne, and Berlin, and oh, my goodness! The anti-aircraft guns…good God. It started 10 minutes before you even got to your target to drop your bombs. You flew through that flak for 10 minutes and all around you, you’d see planes exploding and parachutes opening and bombers going down like crazy. You’d hear the flak penetrating your plane—Pshew! Pshew!—making noises that scared the hell outta you. You’d come back and you’d look at your plane, and could count anywhere from 40 to 100 holes—some as big as your head.
One time, we got hit pretty good, and I called the pilot—I was a waist gunner, on the back side of the plane—and said, “I think we have a big hole under the wing where the wheels come down.” Sure enough, we came in to land, they lowered the gear and the wheels were flat, shot full of holes. We had to crash land.

J: How many missions did you fly?
C: 30. I flew the entire 30, and after you finished 30, you were relieved and sent back home. Boy, as you’re on 27, 28…all you do is pray, “Dear God, don’t let these Nazi bastards shoot me down…” I grew up pretty religious, pretty Catholic, and when I was over there, I turned really religious. We had a chapel, and I was attending Mass every day. They say there’s no such thing as an atheist on a foxhole. I tell you, there’s no atheists in chapel the morning you’re flying your 29th mission neither.

J: Your generation, the World War II generation, is sometimes referred to as “the Greatest Generation.” Do you believe this to be true?
C: Yeah. These wars today…that’s stupid. Iraq and stuff? We had a guy, Hitler, he wanted to dominate the world, and I think had we not stopped him…good God, he might have done it. He had already conquered most of Europe.

J: Getting into your NFL career, you played 14 years there. How many games did you miss?
C: Three.

J: Just three?
C: Yeah, I had a cracked rib that punctured my lung. It happened in a pileup. It cracked, I spit up some blood, and…that’s not bad I guess. Three games for a punctured lung.

J: What does it feel like? Thank God, a punctured lung has never happened to me.
C: Well, when you breathe, you have to take a deep breath, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was some pain. But when I was playing, all I knew is that you played. You played. You played two-way, both offense and defense, or some son-of-a-bitch was going to take your job. There were none of these pussycat players, as I call them, who you have playing today.

J: Pussycat players?
C: Yeah, for God’s sake. That’s what I call the game today. Pussycat football, as far as I’m concerned. A guy weighs 350, 360, maybe 380 pounds, he only goes one way, and he’s suckin’ for air. And they’re all millionaires! Pussycats! Boy, that just pisses me off…
When I played, we went both ways, we stayed on the field. I was in good condition. And the positions that I played—center and linebacker—I was hitting on every play. I made contact on every single play. A defensive halfback? This jerk Deion Sanders? He couldn’t tackle my wife, to start with. And how often does a defensive cornerback come up and make contact? They consider him a two-way player? Some consider him the greatest two-way player? That just pisses me off.

J: Now I understand you once had a biceps muscle severed from the bone in a game…
C: Yeah. It’s still gone.

J: How did that happen?
C: I dunno. It’s just one of those plays. Just the way I tackled somebody once. I tackled somebody, and they hit me pretty hard, too, and hit me just right. Man, that sucker snapped and to this day…right now, I try to flex that arm, and it just comes up like this weird bubble.

J: What did it feel like? To have a biceps separated from the bone?
C: Well, it was hurting a little bit. A little bit. But that didn’t cause me to miss any games. They just gave me a shot in the arm, and there you go.

J: Did you miss any time from that?
C: I think two plays. We were a different brand of kids in those days. Not like, again—my favorite expression!—pussycats. Overpaid and underplayed. Remember that—my favorite two words today—overpaid and underplayed. And three words—“pussycats.”

J: Didn’t you almost get the NFL kicked off TV way back in the day?
C: (chuckles) Yeah. Chuck Noll gave me a dirty shot with his forearm that got up in my face. Knocked my helmet right off. I said, “You son of a bitch! I’ll get you after this game!” So I went after him. We went at it. And this was on national TV, right when the NFL was new on TV. Bert Bell, the commissioner at the time, told me we couldn’t have that, couldn’t have players brawling after the game while the TV cameras were still rolling—the network wouldn’t like that. He fined me and so forth. And he made me apologize personally to Noll the next time went to Cleveland. I don’t blame the commissioner; he was just doing his job. But it was a half-ass apology. And a half-ass acceptance, I think. I don’t know for sure how Noll feels about that today. But I liked Bert Bell. He was a good guy.

J: We can’t do this interview without talking about you laying out Frank Gifford. You knocked Gifford out of the game for a year and a half with what was a perfectly clean, legal hit. But do you ever feel any remorse for that?
C: No. No. Not at all. That’s the name of the game. That’s just football.
When you’re on that pattern, the down-and-in, you gotta look for the ball, then you gotta look for a guy like me. I don’t think Gifford ever saw me, and he sure as hell can’t remember now. But as soon as he caught that ball, I hit him chest-high with my shoulder and forearm. His head snapped backwards, the ball flew in the air, and one of our guys, Chuck Weber, fell on the ball. Mind you, we’re ahead 17-13, and they’re driving down for the winning score. This was on the 9-yard-line. I saw Chuck Weber land on the ball, and unbeknownst to me, Gifford is out light a light behind me, stretched out on the ground. I clenched a fist and said “This…fucking…game…is…OVER!” That’s what you see in that famous picture. Some people say I was doing a war dance over his body. But I didn’t know until I turned back around that he was laid out.
That’s what I still do sometimes when I autograph that photo. I’ll ask someone if the want the whole autograph, the whole thing. If they do, I’ll write, “This…fucking…game…is…OVER! Chuck Bednarik.” Or sometimes I’ll put in f-dash-dash-dash. I figure that’s okay, ’cause I’m not using the name of God in vain. That’s just what I just figure is an “expletive.”

J: Has Gifford “forgiven” you?
C: I’ve seen Gifford many times since then. I admit, it took a few times before he was even friendly towards me. But I saw him in Canton one time, at the Football Hall of Fame. He said, “Hey, Chuck—I made you famous, didn’t I?” Well, Frank Gifford, I guess you did. If you’re gonna knock someone out, do it in New York. This was in New York, and he was their most popular player. If you’re gonna do something big, do it in New York. Man, that made headlines. If that same play happened in Cleveland or Detroit, it would have been just another play.

J: You made the final tackle on the final play of the 1960 NFL championship game as the final two-way player in NFL history. Does it ever occur to you just how perfect that moment is?
C: No. Not really. But as the years go by, I think about the game, because that was the last time the Eagles won the championship. They got close this last year, but I am not very friendly with the Eagles’ current management and ownership. They don’t give a damn about us. So why should I give a damn about them? I had my book, Bednarik: Last of the 60-Minute Men, and I approached the owner, Jeffrey Lurie, here at training camp at Lehigh. I gave him one of the books and said, “How about buying one for each of your players? Fifteen bucks a book. If you buy 100 books. That’s $1500.” He said, “Oh, I can’t do it. It’s in our contract, we can’t give the players gifts.”
That son-of-a-bitch. Ever since then, I’ve said I hope they never win a title. They got close this last year, and believe it or not, I rooted against them in the Super Bowl. As long as I’m alive, I want that 1960 team to be the last Philadelphia team to win an NFL championship. The year that I die, I hope they win the title. Let ’em. Just not as long as I’m still alive.

J: When you were playing, what was your peak salary?
C: $27,000. That was 1960. During the season, every year, I had a job selling concrete. That’s where I got the nickname “Concrete Charlie.” They’d say, “He’s as tough as the concrete he sells.” We’d have a meeting in the morning at nine o’clock, practice two hours from 10 ’til 12, then I’d have a sandwich, and go to work. I’d visit job sites where I was selling concrete, go to contractors and sell ’em more concrete. During the season. In fact, I’m still getting a little pension from the company today. But that’s what we did. We had a job to supplement the income we made from football. We weren’t making the kind of money these bastards are making today.

J: So what is an appropriate salary for a NFL football player today? Say, a really good one?
C: Oh, boy…I’d say $100,000.

J: You’re definitely angry with the Eagles. Are you angry with pro football in general?
C: Oh, yeah. I don’t give a shit about it today. These guys are making so damn much money.

J: You once famously said that the NFL could pick you up in a limousine, give you front row seats on the 50-yard-line, and you still wouldn’t go to a game.
C: That’s right. I said that. I admit it—I’m bitter. Look at this owner! He’s a billionaire, and he turns me down for $1500 for my book. That’s bullshit. That was the end of it right there. What does that tell you? What does that show you? He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about me. So why should I care about him?

J: Is there anything the Eagles or the NFL could do to make it up to you?
C: Oh, no. Oh, no. No. No. No. No. No. Again, ask anyone who played in my generation how they feel. I assure you. They’d have the same reaction.

J: What do you think specifically about Terrell Owens and the “Sharpie incident”? You see that, and as an opposing player on the field, what would you do?
C: I’d kick him right in the ass! That stupid bastard! Who the hell does he think he is? In my day, that wouldn’t have lasted very long. There would be 11 guys looking for his number next time he’s on the field.

J: How about as a teammate?
C: As a teammate…maybe it’s a little bit different question. Ah…maybe I’d think it’s funny. But I’d definitely take him aside after the game and tell him, “You just don’t do that.”

J: You see a Terrell Owens, a Freddie Mitchell, and they’re wearing the same uniform you are. Are they fit to be Eagles?
C: Who’s that other guy?

J: Freddie Mitchell?
C: Yeah, I don’t know him.

J: Loudmouth, calls himself “FredEx,” ’cause he delivers, even though he’s mediocre at best? Eagles wide receiver?
C: No, I don’t know him…

J: If you could lay out any one player today, Gifford-style, who would it be?
C: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think I should answer that question. I might create a problem in that. I don’t think I’ll answer that question.

J: Tell the truth: Is it just too many to choose from?
C: Yeah. It’s not one. It’s not 10. There’s a good three dozen.

J: Are there any of today’s players you actually respect?
C: Well, the Eagles’ current quarterback, Donovan McNabb, is a pretty classy kid. And I recall, watching him in college at Syracuse, I was here watching him on television and I told my wife, “You watch out for this guy—he’s good.” Sure enough, he’s turned out to be a pretty good quarterback and I respect him.
They other guy I like is the Eagles’ coach, Andy Reid. I respect him. Had the Eagles won the Super Bowl, I would have been happy for him and him only.

J: If you had to guess how many times your fingers got broken in the course of your career, how many would you guess?
C: Oh, it’s not too bad. Not too many. Maybe 12 or 13.

J: That seems like a lot. How bad are some of the breaks?
C: Well, I’m looking at one finger right now, and I don’t know if it’s turned quite 90 degrees. I got two fingers right next to each other, same hand, and one goes left and one goes right.
You see, you’d come up to make a tackle, and your hands are open, of course. You hit somebody, and if he’s going full blast, well, it’s gonna break some bones. Especially if he ducks and you get up around the helmet. That’s how fingers get busted.

J: How do your hands feel? Are they arthritic?
C: No, they’re pretty much okay.

J: Can you still play the accordion?
C: Yeah, I just picked it up earlier this morning. I was playing a couple songs. Croatian songs. I can hit it all, except maybe a couple of the high notes.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Of Watchmen #1, and $155,000

Lucky me, I'm doing some writing for Wired these days, a great and quality-ass publication. You can check out the results of the Watchmen #1 cover art auction and more HERE.

More to come soon, I promise!

Jim McLauchlin

Quick add, as a few people have asked: ALL 12 covers were sold as ONE lot at a Sotheby's auction in 1993. Then-Wizard magazine publisher bought all 12 for $17,250. After a 10% buyer's premium, his total bill was $18,975 for the lot.

Now go read the Wired piece again!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Russ Heath's New Knee

Feel free to hop on over to for a cool-ish piece I wrote on Russ Heath a while back. I promise it will have tales of lost wallets, broken wrists and Playboy Mansion. Really.

Jim McLauclin

Photo above by Lori Matsumoto.

Tragic Genius: Wally Wood

Here once again is the text of the Wally Wood feature I just wrote for Wizard magazine in 2010.

On a Hero Initiative-related note, the organization came into being about 19 years too late for a Wally Wood, but I've often wondered if a Hero-like organization could have prevented Wood's tragic end. Like so many things Wally Wood, perhaps we'll never know.

I found the piece very difficult to write. The subject matter is not always very pleasant. But I hope that in the end, you as a reader will get a circumspect view of Wood, and see the amazing warmth and his genius that accompanied his tragic, but very human, flaws.

Jim McLauchlin

Sub: Wally Wood was an artistic hero to an entire generation, a pillar of the legendary EC Comics, and one of comics’ first successful self-publishers. And then he killed himself.

For Wizard magazine

The County of Los Angeles keeps seven pages on file pertaining to Wally Wood. The pages are maintained by the Department of Coroner, as part of its mission is “the investigation and determination of the cause and manner of all sudden, violent or unusual deaths in the County.”

The death of Wally Wood certainly fits all those categories. Sudden. Violent. Unusual.

Sometime around midnight on Halloween night, 1981, Wallace Allen Wood pressed a Charter Arms “Bulldog” model .44 caliber revolver to his right temple and fired.

“GSW to head (T&T). No note. Recent despondency over health. Was to be put on dialysis today,” the case report notes. “GSW” tells us it was a gunshot wound; “T&T” denotes through and through—the bullet passed through his skull on the right side, and went out the left. The bullet, a Smith and Wesson Special, round nose and bare lead, was found on a pillow “directly under the decedent’s head.”

Wallace Allen Wood committed suicide in a sweaty, cheap apartment at 15150 Parthenia St. in what is now known as the Panorama City section of Los Angeles. This is a fact.

It is also a fact that Wally Wood was one of the most talented artists comics has ever seen, a giant whose work on Mad, Weird Science and more inspired generations.

And in between these two inescapable points lies a man’s life.

To say that Wally Wood was a complicated man would be an understatement.

“To me, he was a great friend and mentor,” says artist Ralph Reese, who worked under Wood in the 1960s.

“He was just an engine of rage. I really can’t put it any more specifically than that,” says artist Howard Chaykin, who later worked under Wood circa 1970.

“Everybody who actually met him, liked him,” says Larry Hama, another Wood assistant. “He had his problems, but he was a stand-up guy.”

“Wally was a very talented artist, but he was a dour, humorless person, at least when relating to me,” says Al Feldstein, Wood’s editor at EC. “I found him difficult to talk to, almost impossible to criticize, and often depressed.”

“You can’t talk about Woody without talking about drinking,” says longtime comics writer and editor Denny O’Neil, himself a recovering alcoholic.

All these things are, of course, true. Human beings don’t fit conveniently into single, carefully labeled pigeonholes. Wally Wood was all these things: Great friend, mentor, engine of rage, stand-up guy, depressed, alcoholic.

But what made him “him,” what made him so quintessentially Woody, was his immense talent, and exactly that complicated personality.

Wally Wood started drawing at age two, doing his best to copy the comic strips he loved best in the newspaper. He particularly obsessed over Hal Foster’s “Prince Valiant” and Milton Caniff’s “Terry and the Pirates.” His mother lovingly bound many of his early drawings into a book using her sewing machine.

Wood wanted to be a cartoonist since his earliest days, and by age 20, decided to try his hand in the field. He spent one term at the Minneapolis School of Art, but didn’t take well to formal education. “Decided they couldn't teach me anything; they had the same idea,” Wood wistfully recalled in his National Cartoonists Society bio.

But Wood moved to New York, and soon got his first break. By October of 1948, at age 21, he was working for Will Eisner as a background artist. By ’49, he was working on Westerns and romances for Fox Comics. By 1950, he was assisting artist Harry Harrison on EC Comics stories, when his biggest break came.

“I had given Harrison and Wood a few assignments and quickly came to realize that Wally was being exploited by Harry, and that the work was actually all Wally's,” longtime EC Editor Al Feldstein recalls. “I managed to have a private conversation with Wally, encouraged him to free himself from Harry, and told him that I would give him work if he did. The rest is history.”

History, indeed. EC Comics exploded just as Wood did, morphing its old crime, Western and romance titles into new books such as Tales From the Crypt, Shock SuspenStories, Two-Fisted Tales, and Weird Science. Sales shot through the roof. EC had a goldmine of great artists such as Harvey Kurtzman, Johnny Craig, Al Williamson—hell, even Frank Frazetta would do the occasional story. Wood was surrounded by stars, but he shone as brightly as anyone.

“Wally Wood would come in with a story and three artists would crowd around him and just faint, just poring over every brushstroke and every panel,” EC Publisher Bill Gaines recalled in a 1983 Comics Journal interview.

Howard Chaykin notes the Wood influence throughout the EC line. “Certainly Johnny Craig was influenced by him, whether he was aware of it or not,” Chaykin says. “The way he drew science fiction influenced Frank Frazetta, and thus influenced everybody who was post-Frazetta.”

But even in happy times in a booming business, something always seemed a little…off…about Wood. He had a tendency to keep people at arm’s length.

“I didn’t know Woody all too well,” admits Jack Davis, another legendary artist in the EC stable. “Really about the only time I’d see him is when we’d show up at the office at the same time to drop off work. And then maybe we’d go to lunch. He was a pleasant man, but he’d always be looking over his shoulder, his eyes shifting around, as if he was worried about something.”

EC continued to hum along, and Wood with the company, until Seduction of the Innocent rocked comics’ world in 1954. The book by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham tried to link comics to juvenile delinquency, and public outcry led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority and the gutting of EC’s line. Edgy horror comics were all but outlawed, and EC was left a shell of its former self. Only Mad continued, and Woody continued with it, supplementing his work and income with advertising jobs, comic strips, and magazine covers.

But the cracks at the base of Wood’s life were starting to show. Although he remained a top-name artist for many years, most fans and critics consider his EC work from 1950-54 to be his best. There was also the drinking. “It was after I took over the editorship of Mad [in 1956] that I really noticed that there was a serious problem,” Al Feldstien says. “It became a huge problem for me when his work was getting sloppy and unacceptable.”

Wood himself was getting sloppy. He was arrested on a Mad editorial trip to the Virgin Islands, and eventually fired from Mad entirely. But comics and art remained a passion for Wood, and he remained in the field. Trading card jobs, comic strips and more continued to roll in, and Wood himself rolled on to the hot new player on the scene, Marvel Comics, in grand fashion.

A cover blurb on December, 1964’s Daredevil #5 proclaimed, “Under the brilliant artistic craftsmanship of famous illustrator Wally Wood, Daredevil reaches new heights of glory!” Ten months later, on Avengers #20, another blurb boasted, “Special note to art lovers: Wait’ll you see Wonderful Wally Wood’s inking of Don [Heck]’s drawings in this great ish!” In a day and age in which NO ONE got cover credit, Wood somehow was getting it…even as an inker.

“It just goes to show what great respect Stan had for Wally’s work,” says Roy Thomas, who joined Marvel in 1965 as Editor Stan Lee’s first assistant. “He was just wild for him. His whole style—penciling, inking, the whole thing. And he thought that Wally had his own following from the EC stuff and Mad that would help Marvel.”

The problem was, the help was sparse. Even on a bimonthly schedule, Wood penciled and inked only four issues of Daredevil, before Bob Powell was brought in to help. Wood stuck around to pencil part of Daredevil #9, and ink #9-11. The Avengers inking stint lasted three issues.

Credit where credit is due: Wood gave Daredevil’s costume a much-needed redesign in Daredevil #7, and he even wrote #10. He also saved a life.

Ralph Reese was a 16-year-old comics fan, runaway, and escapee from a juvenile detention facility when he showed up on Wally Wood’s doorstep in 1965. “Wood kind of took me in as an assistant, paying me $50 a week. I washed his brushes and so on,” Reese remembers today. “To me, he was almost a father figure.”

Wood taught Reese the trade, and started building up his own studio as he worked on T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for Tower Comics. Come 1966, Wood was approached by artist Dan Adkins, who was working on a fanzine called Outlet and wanted a drawing from Wood for the book. “He said he’d do a drawing in trade for me helping him out with a deadline he was chasing,” Adkins recalls. “And the fanzine became witzend. He convinced me he could do a better magazine than me. He knew more people.”

witzend launched in the summer of 1966, with contributions from Wood, Ralph Reese, Al Williamson, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Roy Krenkel and more. It quickly became one of the most influential comics of its day, and in the minds of many, the very first “underground” comic. Wally Wood suddenly found himself one of the most significant publishers of the counterculture 1960s.

But even that success was short-lived. After four issues, Wood sold the magazine to witzend contributor Bill Pearson for a mere $1. Wood was largely sober during the witzend period, but had other problems. “He was seeing a psychiatrist the whole time I was working for him,” Dan Adkins recalls. “He’d see him twice a week, just someone to talk to. I think [Wood’s wife] Tatjana was seeing the psychiatrist with him. He had some prescriptions, he was taking medicine.”

Wood’s personality was certainly obsessive. Paradoxically, what made him great…also made him weak. “He was a workaholic. Like many other successful artists, he was really most comfortable when behind his desk, and like many of us, somewhat less successful at making a life outside of his work,” Ralph Reese says. “He never really had any hobbies or outside interests. Too much stewing in your own juices is not necessarily a healthy thing.”

Adkins saw much of the same in Wood. “Wally! Jesus! From the word ‘go,’ he put in a lot of work,” he says. “You could see he was frustrated by all the work he had to do. He was meticulous in a lot of things. He had 36 different bottles of ink he’d keep, in shades from black all the way down to a light gray. You made your own grays then by diluting the ink with water. And he’d mix and keep all 36 bottles up, all the time.”

Larry Hama, another Wood studio protégé who went on to a lengthy comics career, saw Wood’s intensity up close and personal. “When he got into something, he’d just pursue it,” Hama says. “I taught him how to cook a couple simple dishes once, then I went away for a week. When I came back, I found he had just been cooking those same things, over and over. And not because they were the only things he knew how to cook. It was just because he discovered something new, and he had to get into it, master it, discipline it.”

Mastering his life was a different matter. Wood’s marriage to comics inker and colorist Tatjana Wood (who declined to be interviewed for this article) ended in divorce by the late 1960s. A marriage to a second wife, Marilyn, ended quickly. And the drinking started anew.

Artist Howard Chaykin worked briefly in Wood’s studio in 1970-71, and saw Woody’s pain. “He was kind of at the end of his rope. He was not a healthy guy,” Chaykin says. “He felt betrayed by so many circumstances. He was a classic untreated drunk. It’s a shame, because he was one of my artistic heroes. He was an astonishing artist who just ran out of steam.”

As the 1970s wore on, Woody started to wear out. The drinking worsened. He showed up at a convention wearing one shoe. He started to push friends away. “Like many alcoholics, when he was drinking, his personality totally changed,” Ralph Reese notes. “I never spent that much time around him when he was drinking.”

Wood started to develop kidney problems, and a 1978 stroke left him with diminished vision in one eye. As fast as Wood was deteriorating physically, he was even worse off mentally. “Larry [Hama] and [artist] Jack Abel and I had gone down to see him at the VA hospital just after he had a stroke,” Ralph Reese recalls. “He looked to be in very bad shape. I asked him about his plans, what he was gonna do after he got out of the hospital. He said, ‘I’m gonna go get a drink.’ You know…what can you say to that? I had a feeling then that might be the last time I saw him alive. Like I said, he really looked bad. He looked sick. He looked old. He looked beat up by the world.”

Woody likely felt beat up. In a 1980 interview with Shel Dorf in The Buyer’s Guide, he remarked, “I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week for years. Being a comic book artist is like sentencing yourself to life imprisonment at hard labor in solitary confinement. I don’t think I’d do it again.” By February, 1981, Wood was told by doctors at a VA hospital that his kidneys were operating at 10%, and that he should get on a list for transplant. It was then that he made his last, desperate move.

Comics was looking like a dead end for Wood, but animation was a possibility. Wood moved to Los Angeles to be near Hanna-Barbera Studios. He was looking for work there, and more to the point, was looking to sell Hanna-Barbera on a property he owned called The Wizard King. Panorama City was far from the most fashionable neighborhood in L.A., but it was cheap, and close to Hanna-Barbera at a mere 11 miles away.

But a Wizard King deal never came to pass. Wood found work doing some pornographic comics for a local publisher, and took appointments at a VA hospital on L.A.’s Westside. His final doctor’s appointment was October 30, 1981.

Around 9 p.m. on Saturday, Halloween night, Woody was chatting with some residents in the courtyard of his apartment building. He talked about the pain he was feeling, his loss of vision, and the fact that he was scheduled to start dialysis Monday. Woody then quietly slipped inside apartment #71.

Three days later, on November 3, 1981, Barbara J. Friedman, Wood’s publisher, called the Los Angeles police. She’d been phoning Woody for a few days, getting no answer. She asked if the police could check in on him. At 9:55 a.m., the police entered Wallace Allen Wood’s apartment. GSW to head (T&T). No note.

Police could find no next of kin. Barbara Friedman offered to take care of funeral arrangements.

Many in the comics industry were surprised, but few were shocked, when the news of Woody’s death rippled back to New York. The inevitable question of “why” was bandied about. People knew of Woody’s alcoholism, the stroke, the kidney problems. But the deeper “why” of what made Wallace Allen Wood take his life remains unanswerable. Ralph Reese might come closest to a final answer.

“I never understood what drove him to destroy himself,” Reese muses. “We talked a lot, but…I dunno. I guess he never really had a father. His father was a lumberjack, so he was never really home much. And when he was, he would be drunk and beating on him. I guess that left some kind of hole in him that he could never fill. Somehow, he could never get the love he wanted or needed.”

The love is there now. Woody’s legacy is a massive one. “There was such a warmth and appeal to his stuff that’s missing from so many others’ seminal work,” Larry Hama observes. “You look at a Jack Kirby, and you get this strong, graphic feel. But in Woody’s stuff…I dunno. There’s just a lot of heart. And he had such a wide range—horror, sci-fi, and the humor stuff. The Wally Wood humor stuff in Mad was just as good—if not better—than his more serious stuff with knights in armor and spaceships. And his stuff is just as believable, just as fun, anywhere across that range.”

Howard Chaykin considers Wood one of the two most important artists—along with Alex Toth—of the postwar generation. “Out of Wallace Wood, you get that dramatic realism and unembarrassed verisimilitude of everybody from Johnny Craig to Michael Golden to many artists today,” Chaykin says. “I can’t think of Adam Hughes without seeing Wallace Wood in him. The characterization he exhibited in human faces was amazing, and continues to knock the hell outta me to this day.”

Woody was also a teacher. Larry Hama, Dan Adkins, Ralph Reese, Howard Chaykin, Paul Kirchner, Joe Orlando and more learned volumes with Woody at their side. And Woody loved passing the knowledge along. “You have to have a certain facility to teach, and Woody had it,” Larry Hama says. “He liked to talk about the process. Lord knows a lot of people are great draftsmen, but they can’t talk about it, can’t transfer that knowledge. Woody thought about the process a lot, grappled with it, developed methodologies and mechanical fallbacks. And he could explain it to you, transfer that knowledge to you. You could learn an awful lot at that font.”

The font continues to flow. It was Wallace Allen Wood who ducked into apartment #71 one fateful Halloween night, never to be seen again. But through the lives he touched, the generations he inspired, the artists he taught, and the mountain of work he created, Woody lives on.