Curt Swan, one of the artists most responsible for defining the look of Superman, was born 100 years ago today. The artist, who passed away in 1996, left DC with such a wealth of material -- both published and left in inventory drawers -- that unseen images from his time as a DC artist have continued to appear more or less right up until the current day, with a story he drew -- "An Enemy Within" -- appearing in Action Comics #1000 in 2018 with a new script provided by Crisis on Infinite Earths scribe Marv Wolfman (and a custom Dynamic Forces variant created from a Swan sketch).
Swan joined the Superman family of books in 1949, taking on art chores for Superboy. He became a fan-favorite in 1954 when he became the artist on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and would go on (along with collaborator Murphy Anderson) to develop the look of the definitive Superman for 30 years. He was eventually let go when, following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Superman titles got a major overhaul from writer/artist John Byrne.
During his time on the titles, Swan would draw the Superman family in Action Comics, Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, Superman, World's Finest, and the Superboy stories in Adventure Comics.
Born in 1920 as Douglas Curtis Swan (his family name, Svensson, had been shortened after immigrating to the United States), Swan served in the Minnesota Naitonal Guard as a young man, eventually being sent to Europe during World War II, although he worked primarily as an artist for Stars and Stripes, a magazine distributed to American soldiers.
After successfully pitching an adventure strip that ran in newspapers (Yellow Hair, about a blonde boy raised by Native Americans), Swan would be hired on in 1956 as the regular artist on the Superman newspaper strip -- material that has recently been reprinted by IDW Publishing.
During his time on DC's main-line comic books, Swan would co-create dozens of characters, including Terra-Man, the Jack Nimball Toyman, Vartox, and Master Jailer, some of whom have gone on to feature prominent on The CW's Supergirl.
Swan's final work as the regular artists of the Superman titles was in the beloved story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?," which gave the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman a happily-ever-after. The story was written by Alan Moore and the first half, somewhat ironically, was inked by George Perez of Crisis on Infinite Earths fame. After John Byrne left Superman in 1988, Swan would come back briefly to hold down the fort until the series' new regular artist, George Perez, could get up to speed.
Swan's last Superman story was a short tale that appeared shortly after he passed away in Superman: The Wedding Album, the issue in which Superman and Lois Lane get married.
In the post-Crisis era, as the trade paperback market exploded and fans started to look down their nose on some of the "sillier" stories of the Silver and Bronze Age comics, it's probably "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" that has been seen by the most "mainstream" audiences. Superman as defined by Swan, though, adorned decades' worth of merchandise, clothing, and comic books. Dan Jurgens, who would later go on to be the definitive Superman creator of the 1990s, once had to re-draw an issue of Booster Gold to bring it more closely in line with the post-Crisis take on Superman after having too closely adhered to the "Swanderson" style.
To close out our brief look back to Swan's career, then, we reached out to Jurgens to ask his impression of the artist whose Superman he grew up with.
"When I think of the quintessential Superman artist, I think of Curt Swan," Jurgens told ComicBook.com. "His association with the character was a long and remarkable one, and there is no doubt that he defined the look of Superman for numerous generations, me included. His Superman was regal, his Clark, Lois, Jimmy and Perry quite humane.
"Curt was a kind, gentle soul who was incredibly proud of his contribution to the Superman mythology. As a child, when I was just starting to understand the differences among art styles, when there weren't even credits in the books, I thought of Curt Swan as 'the good' Superman artist.1comments
"I was wrong.
"He was the best Superman artist."