Curt Swan

Curt Swan

Portrait of Curt Swan by Stan Drake.
Born Douglas Curtis Swan
(1920-02-17)February 17, 1920
Died June 17, 1996(1996-06-17) (aged 76)
Nationality American
Area(s) Penciller
Notable works
Action Comics
Adventure Comics
Awards Inkpot Award, 1984
Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame, 1997

Douglas Curtis "Curt" Swan (February 17, 1920 – June 17, 1996)[1] was an American comic book artist. The artist most associated with Superman during the period fans call the Silver Age of comic books, Swan produced hundreds of covers and stories from the 1950s through the 1980s.


Early life and career

Curt Swan, whose Swedish grandmother had shortened the original family name of Swanson, was the youngest of five children. Father John Swan worked for the railroads; mother Leotine Hanson had worked in a local hospital. As a boy, Swan's given name – Douglas – was shortened to "Doug," and, disliking the phonetic similarity to "Dog," Swan thereafter reversed the order of his given names and went by "Curtis Douglas," rather than "Douglas Curtis."[2]

Having enlisted in Minnesota's National Guard's 135th Regiment, 34th Division in 1940, Swan was sent to Europe when the "federalized" division was shipped initially to Northern Ireland and Scotland. While his comrades in the 34th eventually went into combat in North Africa and Italy, Swan spent most of World War II working as an artist for the G.I. magazine Stars and Stripes. While at Stars and Stripes, Swan met writer France Herron, who eventually directed him to DC Comics.[3]

During this period Swan married the former Helene Brickley, who he had met at a dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and who was stationed near him in Paris in 1944 as a Red Cross worker; they were married in Paris the following year. Shortly after returning to civilian life in 1945 he moved from Minnesota to New Jersey and began working for DC Comics.[4] Apart from a few months of night classes at the Pratt Institute under the G.I. Bill, Swan was an entirely self-taught artist.[5] After a stint on Boy Commandos he began to just pencil pages, leaving the inking to others.


Adventure Comics #296 (May 1962), cover art by Swan, inks by George Klein.

Initially, Swan drew many different features, including "Tommy Tomorrow" and "Gangbusters",[4] but slowly he began gravitating towards the Superman line of books. His first job pencilling the iconic character was for Superman #51 (March–April 1948).[6][7] Many comics of the 1940s and 1950s lacked contributor credits, but research shows that Swan began pencilling the Superboy series with its fifth issue in 1949.[8] He drew the first comics meeting of Superman and Batman in Superman #76 (May–June 1952).[9] The two heroes began teaming on a regular basis in World's Finest Comics #71 (July-Aug. 1954) in a story which was also drawn by Swan.[10] Swan always felt that his breakthrough came when he was assigned the art duties on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, in 1954.[11]

Swan didn't take to line editor Mort Weisinger's controlling style. Swan discussed this period in an interview: "I was getting terrible migraine headaches and had these verbal battles with Mort. So it was emotional, physical. It just drained me and I thought I'd better get out of here before I go whacko." After leaving comics for the advertising world in 1951, Swan soon returned, for National's higher paychecks. And as biographer Zeno notes, "The headaches went away after [Swan] gained Weisinger's respect by standing up to him."[11]

Around 1954, Swan unsuccessfully pitched an original comic strip for newspaper syndication. Called Yellow Hair, it was about a blond boy raised by Native Americans.[12] A couple of years later, starting with the episode of June 18, 1956, Swan drew the Superman daily newspaper comic strip, which he continued on until November 12, 1960.[13]

In the view of comics historian Les Daniels, Swan became the definitive artist of Superman in the early 1960s with a "new look" to the character that replaced Wayne Boring's version.[14] The Composite Superman was co-created by Swan and Edmond Hamilton in World's Finest Comics #142 (June 1964).[15] Swan and writer Jim Shooter crafted the story "Superman's Race With the Flash!" in Superman #199 (Aug. 1967) which featured the first race between the Flash and Superman, two characters known for their super-speed powers.[16] Over the years, Swan was a remarkably consistent and prolific artist, often illustrating two or more titles per month. Swan remained as artist of Superman when Julius Schwartz became the editor of the title with issue #233 (Jan. 1971), and writer Denny O'Neil streamlined the Superman mythos, starting with the elimination of Kryptonite.[17] Among Swan's contributions to the Superman mythos, he and writer Cary Bates co-created the supervillains Terra-Man[18] and the 1970s version of the Toyman[19] as well as the superhero Vartox.[20] Writer Martin Pasko and Swan created the Master Jailer character in Superman #331(January 1979).[21]

Later life and career

Swan's cover for Superman #423 (Sept. 1986), the first half of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?".

After DC's 1985 12-issue limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths and with the impending 1986 revision of Superman by writer/artist John Byrne, Swan was released from his duties on the Superman comics. Critic Wallace Harrington summed up Swan's dismissal this way:

. . . the most striking thing that DC did was to completely turn their back on the one man that had defined Superman for three decades. . . . They closed the door and turned out the lights on the creator that had defined their whole line. With no real thanks, no pomp nor circumstance, DC simply relieved Curt of his artistic duties on Superman. Curt Swan who had drawn Superman in Action, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Superman, and World's Finest, and drew Superboy in Adventure Comics, who was the quintessential Superman artist of the 1960s, '70s and '80s. He became was just another victim of the 1980's implosion. Gone.[22]

Swan's last work as regular artist on Superman was the non-canonical 1986 story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", written by Alan Moore.[23]

After this, Swan continued to do occasional minor projects for DC, including the artwork of what is thought to be one of the rarest Superman comics ever published, titled "This Island Bradman" (written by David P. Levin), a comic book that was privately commissioned in 1988 by real estate tycoon Godfrey Bradman as a Bar Mitzvah gift for his son,[24] as well as an Aquaman limited series and special in 1989, and various returns on illustrating Superman, including the prestige format graphic novel one-shot Superman: The Earth Stealers in 1988.

In 1995, Swan did four illustrations for Penthouse Comix[25] for the Larry Niven essay "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," which detailed the problems that Superman would face in having sexual intercourse and reproducing with a human woman, using arguments based on humorous yet logical reconciliations between physics, biology, and the abilities of Kryptonians as presented in the Superman comic books.

Swan's swan song was five pages published posthumously in the 1996 special Superman: The Wedding Album.[26]

Swan died June 17, 1996. Helene Swan died at the age of 91 on January 27, 2012.[27]

Art style

Comics historian Arlen Schumer praised Swan's ability to depict "the spectrum of human emotion, from agony to anger, mournful to mirthful."[28] As characterized by critic Paul Gravett, Swan's Superman made ". . . Krypton's last son in exile, the alien in our midst, into someone like us, who would think and feel as well as act, who was approachable, big-hearted, considerate, maybe physically superpowerful yet gentle, noble yet subtly tragic."[6] In a similar vein, Swan biographer Eddy Zeno calls Swan "the Norman Rockwell of . . . comics."[29] Gary Groth, the editor-in-chief of The Comics Journal, remarked that "Swan is symptomatic of what the industry requires. They adore Swan at DC because they give Swan a script and it says 'Superman flies out the window'... and there's Superman flying out the window. The script says 'Clark Kent walking down the hall' and there's Clark Kent walking down a hall. He's just a technician who does exactly what's required of him."[30]

With his frequent inker Murphy Anderson from 1970–1974 and 1988–1989, the pair's collaborative artwork came to be called "Swanderson" by the fans.[6] Despite his and Anderson's success together, Swan's favorite inker was Al Williamson, with whom he only worked with for a short time, from 1985–1986.[31]


In 1985, DC Comics named Swan as one of the honorees in the company's 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great.[32]

Swan's favorite story – one of the few he both pencilled and inked – was "I Flew With Superman" from Superman Annual #9 (1983), in which Swan himself appears and helps Superman solve a case.[6]

In a story titled "Swan's Way," issue #92 of the Legion of Super-heroes (May 1997) memorialized Swan with a cameo appearance as an art teacher.

Elliot S! Maggin:

We were both philosophical products of the message we spent a career delivering to the hero-worshippers of the world. We both believed in truth, justice and the American way: a personal torah. It was good finally to learn that we had so much in common when finally we gave each other the space to reveal it.[33]

Alan Moore:

I'd like to have asked him how much [Swan] identified with Superman, how much of himself he put in there. I feel that he probably did on some private level; that there was some sort of a moral strength that he aspired to, that he drew into those figures. Something almost indefinable, but some essence of himself.[34]


  1. Curt Swan, Social Security Death Index details, FamilySearch gives June 17, 1996, as the date of death, and was verified by a family member; verification date can be the same as the death date, or one or more days afterward.
  2. Swan's former wife Helene, in Zeno, Eddy. (2002). "Helene Swan". Curt Swan A Life in Comics. Lebanon, New Jersey: Vanguard Productions. p. 56. ISBN 978-1887591393.
  3. Zeno "The First Fifteen Years", p. 10
  4. 1 2 Curt Swan at the Grand Comics Database
  5. Zeno "The First Fifteen Years", p. 17
  6. 1 2 3 4 Gravett, Paul (2002). "Curt Swan: A Superman Walked Among Us". Comic Book Marketplace. Archived from the original on April 14, 2012. Retrieved March 28, 2009.
  7. "Curt Swan". Lambiek Comiclopedia. 2012. Archived from the original on September 21, 2012.
  8. Zeno "The First Fifteen Years", p. 13
  9. Manning, Matthew K.; Dougall, Alastair, ed. (2014). "1950s". Batman: A Visual History. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 50. ISBN 978-1465424563. Batman and Superman finally came face-to-face in this landmark issue that teamed the Dark Knight Detective with the Man of Steel for the very first time in print...thanks to writer Edmond Hamilton and iconic Superman artist Curt Swan.
  10. Manning "1950s" in Dougall, p. 54: "This issue combined the two super heroes in a new format of 36 pages. The cover story was dedicated to Superman and Batman's adventure, a tale written by Alvin Schwartz and penciled by Curt Swan."
  11. 1 2 Zeno "The First Fifteen Years", p. 16
  12. Zeno, p. 158
  13. Zeno "Swan and the Superman Newspaper Strip", p. 46
  14. Daniels, Les (1995). "The Superman Family Strength in Numbers". DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes. New York, New York: Bulfinch Press. p. 118. ISBN 0821220764. By 1961, Swan's new look would replace Wayne Boring's patriarchal version. Swan's Superman became definitive, and ultimately he would draw, as he says, 'more Superman stories than anybody else.'
  15. Forbeck, Matt "1960s" in Dougall, p. 84: "In this tale from Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan, an angry janitor received the powers of the entire Legion of Super-Heroes."
  16. McAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1960s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. Since the dawn of comics' Silver Age, readers have asked 'Who's faster: Superman or the Flash?' Writer Jim Shooter and artist Curt Swan tried answering that question when the Man of Steel and the Fastest Man Alive agreed to the U.N.'s request to race each other for charity.
  17. McAvennie "1970s" in Dolan, p. 144 "New editor Julius Schwartz, new scripter Denny O'Neil, and regular artist Curt Swan removed the Man of Steel's greatest weakness from the face of the Earth."
  18. McAvennie "1970s" in Dolan, p. 150: "Scripter Cary Bates and artist Curt Swan chose an inopportune time for Superman to meet Terra-Man, a spaghetti Western-garbed menace who rode a winged horse and wielded lethal alien weaponry."
  19. McAvennie "1970s" in Dolan, p. 158: "Writer Cary Bates and artist Curt Swan gave Superman all the 'fun' he could handle with the savvy new Toyman in Action Comics #432."
  20. McAvennie "1970s" in Dolan, p. 161: "Fans of John Boorman's 1974 sci-fi film Zardoz, starring Sean Connery in revealing red spandex, could appreciate writer Cary Bates and artist Curt Swan's inspiration for Vartox of Valeron."
  21. McAvennie "1970s" in Dolan, p. 180: "Writer Martin Pasko and artist Curt Swan introduced...the Master Jailer."
  22. Harrington, Wallace. "Commentary: A Fine Way to Say Thank You", Superman Home Page. Accessed March 28, 2009.
  23. Manning, Matthew K. "1980s" in Dolan, p. 220: "In 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?', a two-part story written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Curt Swan, the adventures of the Silver Age Superman came to a dramatic close."
  24. "Superman #nn Bradman Private Commission". n.d. Archived from the original on January 3, 2014. This comic was commissioned by English property tycoon Godfrey Bradman for somewhere around £10,000 (around $18,000 back then) to celebrate his son Daniel's 13th birthday (Bar Mitzvah) and was given out to his friends to mark the occasion.
  25. Niven, Larry (w), Swan, Curt (p), Swan, Curt (i). "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" Penthouse Comix 5 (January–February 1995), Penthouse
  26. Manning "1990s" in Dolan, p. 275: " The behind-the-scenes talent on the monumental issue appropriately spanned several generations of the Man of Tomorrow's career. Written by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, David Michelinie, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern, the one-shot featured the pencils of John Byrne, Gil Kane, Stuart Immonen, Paul Ryan, Jon Bogdanove, Kieron Dwyer, Tom Grummett, Dick Giordano, Jim Mooney, Curt Swan, Nick Cardy, Al Plastino, Barry Kitson, Ron Frenz, and Dan Jurgens."
  27. "Helene R. Swan, 91, real estate agent, traveler". The New Canaan Advertiser. Hersam Acorn Newspapers. February 2, 2012. Archived from the original on March 12, 2012. Retrieved March 10, 2012. Helene Rose Swan, a longtime resident of Westport...died after a long illness on Friday, Jan. 27, at Waveny Care Center, surrounded by her family. She was 91, and the wife of more than 35 years to the late Curtis D. [sic] Swan.
  28. Schumer, Arlen in Zeno "The Curt Swan Gallery", p. 100
  29. Zeno "Summation", p. 185
  30. Groth, Gary (Fall 1982). "John Byrne at Dallas". The Comics Journal (75). Fantagraphics Books. pp. 62–74.
  31. Zeno "New Glories in the '80s and '90s", p. 40
  32. Marx, Barry, Cavalieri, Joey and Hill, Thomas (w), Petruccio, Steven (a), Marx, Barry (ed). "Curt Swan The Definitive Superman Realized" Fifty Who Made DC Great: 27 (1985), DC Comics
  33. Zeno "Elliot S! Maggin", p. 77
  34. Zeno "Alan Moore", p. 167

External links

Preceded by
Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen penciller
Succeeded by
Pete Costanza
Preceded by
Wayne Boring
Action Comics penciller
Succeeded by
John Byrne
Preceded by
Al Plastino
Superman penciller
Succeeded by
Jerry Ordway
Preceded by
John Byrne
Action Comics penciller
Succeeded by
George Pérez
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