Friday, December 31, 2010

Episode #157: Happy Birthday, Al Plastino!

Albert John Plastino was born on December 15, 1921 in New York City. He now resides in Long Island, New York. Al had a number of relatives in his Italian family who lived long lives. A grandfather lived to the age of 98, and two aunts lived into their 90's. He is best known as an artist for the Superman family of titles for about 30 years. He co-created, with writer Otto Binder (and maybe editor Mort Weisinger) the Legion of Super-Heroes (subject of episode #115), and Supergirl (subject of episode #38).

Al had a love for art even from childhood. An older brother was an artist who encouraged his little brother's talent. His father would drop Al at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on a Saturday. Al would copy from the classical Masters, such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Monet, Raphael and others. This is how he learned how to draw in a variety of styles, which would be a handy talent in his comic book career. In third grade he had some drawings published in the yearbook, and by 6th grade he was painting backdrops for school plays. Al graduated from the High School of Industrial Arts in Nwe York City.

His first job was for the magazine Youth Today, where he was hired after winning the cover contest twice. Al's first comic book work was for the Henry Chessler shop. He then did freelance art work until WWII. He would be drafted, and his art talent would eventually get him assigned to the Pentagon to create posters for the war effort. Later he would be sent to New York City and the Steinberg Studio, to draw art for Army manuals.

It was while here that he heard about DC Comics' search for artists. Al sent a sample to Mort Weisinger, and thus began a long association with the Superman family of characters. He even negotiated a page rate of $50.00 per page, when the going rate for a beginner was $30.00. Al was never afraid to stand up to his editors when he thought he was right. He was able to work with Mort Weisinger because he never tolerated the editor's abuse. The only editor he couldn't work with was Murray Boltinoff. One editr Al thought was a nice guy was Jack Schiff.

Al was also the artist on the Batman comic strip, written by editor Jach Ellsworth for 8 years. Througout his comic book career he always had two accounts.  One was the comic strip and the other was Superman. He averaged two pages a day, and completed a story in two weeks, doing both pencils and inks. Al also drew covers, done after the story, illustrating a story point on the first page, or splash page.

One story he drew the art for almost wasn't published. He drew a story about President Kennedy asking Superman to lead a Youth Fitness campaign. During production, the President was assassinated, andthe story was pulled from production. It was finally released at the request of President Johnson (episode #49). One character Al hated to draw was Krypton. Drawing a regular dog was hard enough, but a flying dog with a cape was tougher. During Jack Kirby's time with DC, Al was asked to redraw Superman's face bythe DC editors. He would paste them onto the original art boards, and it was exacting work.

Al Plastino was the artist on a number of other comic strips. One was Hap Harper for United Features Syndicate. Another was Ferd'nand, a pantomime strip which ran in 400 newspapers worldwide. Al also inked the Nancy & Sluggo strip for creator Ernie Bushmiller. Ernie's lines were so tight that Al had to ink it with a fountain pen. During the 1980's Al ghosted six months of Peanuts strips for Charles Schultz when he underwent heart surgery. While Al wsa paid, the strips were never published and were possibly destroyed.

Al Plastino retired from commercial art in 1981. Afterward, he has enjoyed life with his wife, four children and six grandchildren in Long Island. He met his wife when she caught his attention as a possible model for Love Stories. Since he was 17 years older than she was, Al met her mother to prove he was legitimate and trustworthy with her daughter. They hit it off and he told his  future mother in law to call him Al.

He also loves to golf and fish. Among his old golfing partners was entertainer Jackie Gleason and comic strip artist Milton Caniff, creator of the strips Terry And The Pirates and Steve Canyon. Al still pursues his love of art, now painting oils and watercolors. His favorite subject is landscapes of areas around Long Island.

Al's first published Superman story was Superman, Stunt Man, from Action Comics #120, May 1948. The story was written by Alvin Schwartz. A movie director wanted to hire Superman to do some outlandish stunts for his next film. He went to a public appearance of the Man of Steel. When Superman signed everyone's autograph book, he was too fast for his own good, and signed the director's contract. Being the man he was Superman agreed to honor the contract. He performed all of the stunts, but in ways that somehow were never able to be filmed. Superman reminded the director that he had honored the terms of the contract, and to send his payment to the Daily Planet Aid Fund.

The next Al Plastino story featured on this episode was The Power Of The Parasite, in Action Comics
361, March 1968. It was written by a young Jim Shooter. An inter[lanetary mapmaker dissipated some Earth cloud cover with a special power beam, but became interested in a strange, glowing purple cloud. He brought it aboard, but it turned out to be the Parasite, whose body had disintegrated when he absorbed too much energy from his most recent battle with Superman. Reformed, the Parasite sucked some of the life force out of the alien, but got too greedy and killed him. Parasite got a job at the Daily Planet after putting on a disguise. He cleverly sucked a little of Superman's power away from him on several occasions, before revealing himself in order to finish off the Man of Steel. Superman got some help from another ship of intergalactic mapmakers, who took Parasite away to pay for the murder of their comrade.

Here's a toast to Al Plastino on his birthday. Happy Holidays, continued health and long life to you, Al!

Next Episode: Metropolis Mailbag, Superman #64! Our thrid annual Superman Christmas story.

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