In Appreciation Of Artist Tom Sutton

Our old friend Michael Noble returns with a few things to say about one of his favorite artists:

Tom Sutton

Growing up with comic books, there’s something interesting that happens if you keep reading the books. It doesn’t matter how you got into it; whether it’s that first title taken off the spinner rack at the local Five And Dime or if it’s your introduction into collecting with a beaten up lot acquired at some rummage sale, the natural progression of the appreciation for the art goes something like this:

You read a book and you gravitate to a particular character or situation. You seek out more of the same and you become more and more familiar with those characters and situations. And, at some point, you’ll notice the artwork isn’t the same because a different artist is drawing in an issue, one you’re not familiar with.

Boom! Right there, you’ve been bitten by the bug of comic book art appreciation. It might not seem like any kind of acknowledgment right off the bat but what’s happened is you’ve become more ingrained into how the protagonist is rendered, how recognizable the backgrounds are, how you’ve gotten used to a particular style. Upset that comfort level with some other artist and you realize you’ve become attuned to some of the finer points of admiration for the work put onto the pages.

All of a sudden, you have your favorite. You see his or her name on the opening page and there’s a kind of gratification there. And, as your tastes branch out into different kinds of books, you stumble on that same familiar artist doing some other story you’re not used to and a little light comes on above your head: “Well this is cool! I didn’t know Joe/Joan Smith was doing this book!”

In a way (because we all have our different and unique variations on this theme of comic art appreciation) this is how I became a fan, indirectly though it might be, of Tom Sutton.

It had to be in the pages of the Warren Magazines Eerie and Creepy I first ogled his stuff. I was relatively new to comics and didn’t have all that much in the way of a collection, certainly not any of the titles Sutton usually appeared in. The spiffy thing about Eerie and Creepy was the fact you got a healthy helping of varied styles from a gaggle of artists … and some pretty funky stories to boot. Stories that made their art shine. Along with just about every artist under the sun you might recognize, Tom Sutton was generously sprinkled in the mix … and occasionally on multiple stories within a book.

It wasn’t long before my book collecting became feverish I stumbled on my first Charlton books. And there, I discovered, was Tom Sutton strewn across a bevy of different titles. I only had a handful of Charlton books in my stash – Ghost Manor, Ghostly Tales and Haunted (you see where my tendencies skewed) – but within those books was where I really began noticing Sutton. And the thing that really struck me was the way he drew faces. Sutton injected a lot of emotion and depth into the characters he drew and those features were telltale in their expressions. Grim, deep lines in the evil, nefarious ones; shock and awe in the surprised victims; and frightful foreboding in his monsters. Being rather young when I first saw this stuff, I wasn’t privy to all these details right off the bat. But the way he drew conveyed a mannerism that pulled at you, engaged you to the characters and gave them visuals which kept you turning the pages. My simple kid mind just knew this was cool (sometimes forbidden) stuff and it kept me coming back for more.

But I began losing interest in the monsters and creeps (along with Sutton’s art) I so dearly loved. My tastes morphed into an affection for superheroes, more so of the Marvel variety than the DC kind. And I devoured those as readily as I could get my hands on them. That’s when the different art styles really came flooding at me. (That’s an entirely different story.)

Then came the more “sophisticated” comics, mainly Heavy Metal and artsy one-shot magazines showcasing particular artists – Richard Corben, Arthur Suydam, Jean Henri Giraud (Moebius), and many other flamboyant creators.

Additionally, Marvel began putting out its large format black and white comic magazines – Savage Tales, Monsters Unleashed, and Planet Of The Apes among many others. This is where my eyes really opened up to Sutton’s creativity and craft.

In issue #12 of the Planet Of The Apes magazine, Sutton did a story under the banner “Future History Chronicles” called “City Of Nomads.” To put it in no uncertain terms, his artwork on the story simply gobsmacked me. Painstaking pencil work with lush, detail-filled backgrounds and, of course, those familiar emotive characters (apes mind you!) with structure and design in their faces that conveyed exactly, precisely, what they were experiencing without the need of words. And if that wasn’t enough, a few pages into the story came this incredible double spread of an island ship named Hydromeda so chock-full of drawing minutia it wasn’t even funny. What it was was awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping. I mean … even the title lettering was elaborately stippled!

A few issues later? He did the same thing with another chapter of “Future History Chronicles,” this time with another double-page spread for the tale “Graveyard Of Lost Cities.” The time it must have taken to put the piece to paper had to have been days on end. (It wasn’t until years later I discovered not only did Sutton work some of these pieces on art boards the size of tabletops but he often infused them with overlays adding to the feel of enormity in his works.)

I knew the guy was off-kilter when I saw his stuff in some of the horror titles he drew but his Planet Of The Apes efforts were off the rails. (While I’ve enjoyed most of his product, I confess his Apes’ labors are my absolute favorites.)

To date, I’m still discovering all the nifty output Sutton created. My most recent purchase of his is the 9th volume of The Chilling Archives Of Horror Comics by Yoe Books, “Tom Sutton’s Creepy Things,” a nice primer of his works and a terrific little compendium showcasing his macabre style. Highly recommended.

Want to be enthralled by the works of Tom Sutton? (Surely some of the illustrations in this piece have given you an appreciative look, right?) All you need do is visit <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Sutton#Paradox_Press“>his Wikipedia page and take a gander at all the titles he contributed to over the years. It’s more than impressive – it’s overwhelming.

Just like much of Sutton’s artwork …

Epilogue by Jim “Dr. Dim” Fitzsimons:

I want to concur with Michael that Tom Sutton was quite good at the macabre. I don’t know a lot of his work, but he is responsible for the artwork in my two favorite issues of Marvel Comics’ Werewolf By Night (issues #9 & #10). Mike Ploog, a giant in the comic book industry, had been doing most of the artwork for that title’s early issues and I love it.

However, the two issues Sutton drew and inked for the series (the first page of which you can see on the left) represent my favorite depiction of the Werewolf. I like Sutton’s better than Ploog’s or Bill Sienkiewicz’s or Gil Kane’s. Each of those artists brought something special to the Werewolf, but I like Sutton’s the best. There’s something more sinister to the characters, not just the Werewolf, he drew in that two book story. I blogged about that story here.

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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