Friday, March 13, 2015

Irwin Hasen

Aw. We lost another comics pioneer today, with the death of Irwin Hasen at nearly 97. He had a good run.

Mr. Hasen drew comic books almost as soon as the form existed, working on titles such as The Green Hornet, Green Lantern and The Flash beginning in 1940. He created the DC character Wildcat. After serving in World War II he returned to comic books, then began the work he may be best remembered for, the comic strip Dondi, in 1954.

I didn't know Mr. Hasen but I met him a few times, and he was always happy to share his wisdom and stories with anyone who asked. He was short, charmingly profane, and told great tales about the Depression Era gangsters and prostitutes he'd known growing up on the tough streets of New York City. Some of them might have been true.

Below is a blog post I wrote in July 2006, after running into Mr. Hasen at the San Diego Comic-Con. As I've mentioned elsewhere once or twice, being called an "S.O.B." by Irwin is a highlight of my comics career. He was one of the Golden Age greats. I'm sorry we've lost him but I'm glad we had him.

With Irwin Hasen at the Society of Illustrators in New York, 2006.
JULY 2006

I love the old guys.

The comics industry is famous for devouring its own. I know good, professional artists in their thirties forced out of the business for lack of work while thousands of eager teens line up with sketchbooks in hand ready to take their places. Short memories and fickle trends turn today's creative heroes into tomorrow's tired hacks. There's precious little appreciation or respect for the men and women who began and built the business--many of them still alive, some of them still working.

I've mentioned how I originally met Irwin Hasen in February at my book launch party at the Society of Illustrators in New York. I saw him again the next day at the New York Comic-Con, selling prints of the old DC characters he drew plus originals from his long-running comic strip "Dondi." I only took the time to greet him briefly, and left New York regretting that I'd let an opportunity slip through my fingers.

Last Thursday I saw Mr. Hasen again, set up in Comic-Con's Artists Alley. No one was at his table; in fact, I had to elbow my way through a line of fans queued up to meet the Hot Young Artist at the table next door to get to him. I reintroduced myself and we had a nice conversation.

I looked over his table and saw only prints. No originals.

"Oh, I remember you had some Dondi originals in New York," I said, disappointed. "I was really hoping to see them."

Mr. Hasen gave me a conspiratorial nod, pulled a portfolio from under the table, and slid out a dozen "Dondi" strips. We continued to talk as I flipped through them, figuring out which one I wanted to buy. At last I chose my prize.

"You've got a good eye, you S.O.B.," said Mr. Hasen, eyes twinkling. "You picked the best one."

My original "Dondi" strip from 1968 is huge, nearly two feet wide. No contemporary artist I know of works that large, mostly because the shrinking space newspapers devote to comic strips these days doesn't allow for the kind of detail Mr. Hasen drew, as in Panel 1 below.

They don't make 'em like that anymore.

EDITED TO ADD: Here's a very good profile of Mr. Hasen the New York Times did in 2011. Recommended reading.

EDITED TO ADD MORE: Mark Evanier posted this trailer for a documentary about Mr. Hasen. I haven't seen the film, but this trailer gives you a good sense of the gentleman and what it was like to talk to him for even a few minutes. I don't think they make characters like him anymore.

AND here is his obit in the New York Times.

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