Page 4: Jumbo Comics Comic Artists

The history of the artists that worked on the Sheena comic strip stories within the Jumbo Comics is much simpler than the story of the Sheena cover artists (see link to previous page above) because there are a lot less of them.  I mentioned on the Jumbo Comics covers page that the Iger's studio used a handful of artists to render the female form on their comics.  The principle Sheena artist, Bob Webb, who is discussed below, never actually drew the figure of the heroine, as this task was reserved for artists who were considered specialists in Good Girl Art (GGA).  The term, which is a little misleading, refers to a genre of art that was commonly featured in pulp magazines, comic books, and crime novels.  These publications had lurid, gaudy covers to attract the eye of the predominantly-male buyer, and attractive women were featured heavily.  The definition given by Richard A. Lupoff in The Great American Paperback: An Illustrated Tribute to Legends of the Book is very instructive:

"A cover illustration depicting an attractive young woman, usually in skimpy or form-fitting clothing, and designed for erotic stimulation. The term does not apply to the morality of the 'good girl', who is often a gun moll, tough cookie or wicked temptress."

Comic historians today refer to Fiction House Comics (FH) as one of the leading purveyors of GGA.  Sheena was definitely the most popular FH title, but it wasn't the only title released by that publishing house to feature beautiful girls.  In fact, all Fiction House stories in all Fiction House books contained gals, babes, dames, cupcakes, cuties, dolls, nymphs, minxes, and broads.  By the truckload!

In their essay, Sheena of the Comics, Black and Feret mention that the stable of "good girsl" artists at Fiction House included Matt Baker, Jack Kamen, John Forte, "and other artists in the Iger Shop."  Baker, the most famous, is discussed below.
This is also an appropriate place to mention that every one of the Sheena stories published between September 1938 and April 1953 was attributed to W. Morgan Thomas.  It was common practice at Fiction House to use pseudonyms on their strips.  Will Eisner's Hawks of the Seas, for example, is accredited to Willis Rensie, a rearrangement of his name.  Morgan Thomas' name also appears on the early FH spy story, ZX-5.  The artists were allowed to write their own name, or use a pseudonym, as they wished, but the writers were never allowed to use their own names.

The first comic artist to illustrate Sheena was Mort Meskin (below).  As mention on Page 2: The Origin of Sheena, Jerry Iger and Will Eisner had created Sheena for an English tabloid called Wags in 1937, and Meskin was one of the staff artists on their payroll.  He was born Morton Meskin in Brooklyn in May 1916.  He was a talented, imaginative child who enjoyed reading pulp magazines and went on to become art editor of the school newspaper at high school.  He studied at Art Student's League in New York after high school and graduated from the Pratt Institute in 1938.  Iger and Eisner gave him his first break in the comics industry when it was in it's infancy.  He was only 21 when he became the first artist to draw Sheena, an achievement that has earned him a place in the annals of comic history.  Meskin's Sheena art appears in the first five issues of Jumbo Comics, and much of that was derived from the Wags plates used a few years earlier (see Page 1: Sheena Prehistory).  Meskin left Fiction House in late-1939 and began working for the Harry "A" Chesler shop, where he specialised in superheroes like Bob Phantom, Mr Satan, Shield and Wizard.  In 1941 he moved to National/DC Comics, the home of Superman, where he was assigned to work on the Vigilante strip.  His first efforts appeared in issue No. 42 of Superman's own Action Comics.  While working at DC he and the other comic artists became excited when Citizen Kane was released in 1941, because of the novel and creative approach taken to visual design on that film.  They all saw the film many times (Meskin saw it 15 times) and attempted to incorporate some of it's concepts into their comic art.  One of his most notable achievements at National was his work on the Jonny Quick strip, while he continued to work on Vigilante as well as Starman and Wildcat.  Meskin stayed at DC until 1949, but during that period also did work for other comic studios like Marvel, Gleason and Spark.  In '49 he began working for Prize, where he illustrated several features.  He spent some time working on horror comics at Atlas, an early incarnation of Marvel, and returned to National, now called DC, in 1956.  There he continued to produce fine work on war stories, science fiction tales and romances, and contributed to the Mark Merlin series.  In later life he left the comics industry and became an illustrator and art director for an advertising agency.  He died in April 1995, aged 79 (Meskin & Lambiek).

Meskins' biographers mention that he was very influenced by cinematic art and translated a lot of these concepts into his comic art.  This is evident in his motion picture-style stylised drawings and his flowing panels.  Some of this influence can be seen in the first Sheena story, especially in the way scenery from one panel flows seamlessly into the next (right).

Bob Powell took over the task of drawing the Sheena stories from issue No. 7 of Jumbo, and did almost all of the stories up to No. 27.  He was born Stanley Robert Pawlowski in Buffalo NY in October 1916.  Like many of the 1930s comic artists, he studied at the Pratt Institute in New York City and began his comic career at Fiction House.  It is believed that his first published story is the uncredited 3-page story, A Letter of Introduction, featuring the well-known ventriloquist Oscar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, in Jumbo Comics No. 2, published in October 1938.  Fiction House supplied comic art to many publishers and Powell's work appeared in Wonderworld Comics and Mystery Men Comics for Fox Features, Speed Comics for Harvey Publications, and Crack Comics, Military Comics and Smash Comics for Quality Comics.  However, he is best known for his work on the early Sheena comics, and more specifically, for being the artist who first gave her the leopard-spotted outfit.  When Eisner left Fiction House to join Busy Arnold's Quality Comics, he took several FH artists with him - Nick Viscardi, Chuck Cuidera, Lou Fine, and Powell.  At Quality, Powell helped out with the co-writing of the premiere of Blackhawk in Military Comics (right), and co-created Spirit of 76 for Harvey's Pocket Comics.  When Eisner began publishing The Spirit Sunday Comic Book section in 1940, Powell began contributing the artwork for the Eisner-written back-up feature, Mr Mystic.  He eventually took on the writing as well and continued with Mr Mystic until 1943, when he joined the Air Force.  The same year he officially changed his name from Stanley Pawlowski to S. Robert Powell.  After the the war Powell began working for himself and contributed artwork to Shadow Comics for Street and Smith, Strong Man for Magazine Enterprises, Man In Black for Harvey Comics and several well-known titles for Marvel - Human Torch, Daredevil, and The Hulk.  In 1961 he became art director for Sick magazine, where he stayed until his death in October 1967, aged only 51.  He used many pseudonyms during his career, among them Arthur Dean, Bob Stanley, S. T. Anley and Buck Stanley (Wikipedia & Lambiek).
    Click on image to enlarge:
There is a good example of Powell's early black-and-white Sheena art on Page 1: Sheena Prehistory and an example of later art from Jumbo Comics above.  His early work has a slightly primitive quality to it and the postures of the figures are a little stiff.  However, there is also a freshness and charm about it, possibly because of its nostalgic value as one of the early surviving examples of Sheena art.  He later developed a very clean and elegant style that is totally unique and instantly recognisable.  He is definitely my favourite Sheena comic artist.  The examples of his later work, after he left Fiction House, shown in the Wikipedia article about him (see Lynx below) indicate that he evolved into an exceptional artist.

I have been unable to find any comprehensive biographical information about Robert Hayward Webb (below), except that he began working for Fiction House in the early 1940s.  His first Sheena story appeared in Jumbo Comics No. 28, which appeared in June 1941.  Black and Feret say that when he first took over the feature he drew it in a very Powell-like way, but within a few years he had developed his own style.  They also point out that despite the fact that Webb illustrated every Sheena story in Jumbo Comics, from No. 28 (, through to the last issue, No. 127, he never drew a Sheena cover.  His stories were usually between 10 to 15 pages long and though he handled all of the penciling and layout chores for the Sheena stories he never actually drew the Sheena figure.  As mentioned above, this task was reserved for the Good Girl Art aficionados who were masters of the feminine form, like Matt Baker or Jack Kamen.  The feature was created in an assembly line fashion, with each artist contributing his own elements.  Lastly, Webb's principal inker, David Heames, would ink over the entire strip to obliterate any discernible differences in the different artist's styles.  Webb produced a staggering volume of work on Sheena between 1941 and 1953 and is considered the Sheena artist.  The main image at the top of this page is a Bob Webb Sheena splash page, but the GGA artist's contributions were obviously significant.

Webb also provided the artwork for The Hawk, which also appeared in Jumbo Comics.  When Sheena was given her own title in the spring of 1942 Webb would also provide all of the stories for all 18 issues of Sheena through to the final issue in winter of 1952/53. He also produced several issues of the Classics Illustrated series - Frankenstein (1945); Mysterious Island (1947); and Kidnapped (1948).

In his essay, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, Bill Black points out that when he acquired his first Jumbo Comic (issue No. 73) he wasn't particularly impressed by the art style of the comic generally. He was, however, very impressed by the rendering of Sheena, and the gorgeous female villain whose long dark hair was pulled down over her naked breasts in the tale, War Apes of the T'kanis.  The art he was impressed by was the Good Girl Art experts.  The art he wasn't so keen about was Webb's.  His animals are unnaturalistic and and comical, his villains and natives are grotesque caricatures, and the overall effect is amateurish and clumsy (right).  His earlier Powell-influenced style is even more ridiculously cartoonish, although it should be conceded that he did improve considerably over time.  It is a sad statement that the person considered to be "the" Sheena artist, who dominated the feature for over a decade, did such a ham-fisted job of it.  The salvation, however, lies in the fact that the GGA artists depicted Sheena with feminine allure and graceful beauty, despite her adventurous nature.  The master of them all, Matt Baker, will be examined next.


Clarence Matthew Baker (below), the most well-known "good girl" artist, was born on 10 December 1921, possibly in New York City.  He studied at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art there when he was a young man and began his career as a comic artist at the Iger Studio in 1944.  As Iger provided artwork on demand for several publishers, Baker's work appeared in comics by numerous publishing houses - Quality, Fox, St John, and of course, Fiction House.   He is best known for two characters - Sky Girl and Phantom Lady.  Sky Girl (right), a comedic-adventure featuring a leggy would-be flight gal, first appeared in the pages of Jumbo Comics in November 1944.  Phantom Lady was redesigned and reinvigorated by Baker for Fox Comics in 1947, after she had been dropped from Police Comics, an earlier Quality publication.  Baker also illustrated Tiger Girl, who appeared in Fiction House's Fight Comics, and from 1952 to 1954 he collaborated on a syndicated newspaper comic strip named Flamingo with Ralph Rutte.  Other features he worked on were Canteen Kate, South Sea Girl, Glory Forbes and Kayo Kirby.  He is generally credited with being the artist on Rulah, Jungle Goddess, from Aug 48 to Jun 49, but this is unconfirmed.  In later years he worked on romances and several other titles for St John Publications and freelanced for Atlas Comics, the 1950s forerunner of Marvel.  Baker is also credited with penciling what is arguable the first graphic novel, a digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes With Lust (1950). Throughout the 50s he drew western stories for Atlas - Western Outlaws, Quick Trigger Action, Frontier Western, and Wild Western, but worked much more prolifically on that company's romance titles - Love Romances, My Own Romance, and Teen-Age Romance.  Matt Baker's stellar career was cut short when he died abruptly in August 1959, aged only 37.  He was one of the first African American comic artists (Wikipedia & Lambiek).  See the link below for other interesting Fiction House stories from Frank Bonilla.

Baker's individual contributions to the art of the Sheena covers and features is difficult to categorise because no documents have survived and also because of the inkers' efficient methods of blending the styles of the GGA artists with those of the feature artists.  As mentioned in the discussion of Bob Webb above, there is still an appreciable difference between the inelegant art of the Sheena feature generally and the seductive flowing lines of the Sheena figure, and her female antagonists, as rendered by Baker and others.  He was a brilliant stylist with an immense amount of control of the medium and an incisive eye for detail.  He drew with strong confident lines and his ability to combine realism and seductive allure only added to the charm of his creations.  1950s "leg art" would not be the same without Baker.

For many years Frank Bonilla, long-time Sheena aficionado, corresponded with Jerry Iger's lawyer.  Many of the snippets of information about the workings of Fiction House gleaned over that period are included in a piece that Frank contributed to a comics fanzine, Alter Ego No. 26, July 2003.  Click on the image at right to read the full article.  It discusses which actresses were used as the inspiration for various Fiction House characters, a comparison of the different approaches taken to Sheena and Rulah; and outlines an aborted Fiction House project - Horrors of the Jungle - that planned to kill off Sheena.  Definitely worth a look for curious fans of obscure comics trivia.


Click on the image below to view a complete set of Jumbo and Jungle Comics covers, and examples of other Fiction House titles:

The Great American Paperback: An Illustrated Tribute to Legends of the Book, by Richard A Lupoff, Collectors Press 2001
• Essay Sheena of the Comic Books, in TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla, by Bill Black and Bill Feret, Paragon Publications, 1992
The Art and Life of Mort Meskin website, by Peter and Phillip Meskin
• Comic artist biography information is from the Comiclopedia at the Dutch website,
Wikipedia online encyclopedia
• Essay Sheena Queen of the Jungle, in The Golden Age Sheena, edited by Bill Black, Paragon Publications, 1999

• Splash page from Jumbo Comics No. 88, Jun 46, was pilfered from an eBay auction item
• The photo of Mort Meskins was pilfered from an eBay auction item
• The example of early Mort Meskin Sheena art is from the 1985 Blackthorne Publishing replica of Jumbo Comics No. 1 (tinted by me)
• The photo of Bob Webb is from The Iger Comics Kingdom by Jay Edward Disbrow, Blackthorne Publishing 1985
• The unidentified late 30s or early 40s Bob Powell Sheena page was pilfered from an eBay auction item
• The collage of Bob Webb's artwork (from top to bottom) is from: (a) Jumbo Comics No. 81; (b) Jumbo Comics No. 77; (c) Selva No. 29, the Mexican equivalent of Jumbo Comics
• The drawing of Matt Baker is from The Iger Comics Kingdom by Jay Edward Disbrow, Blackthorne Publishing 1985
• The excerpt from the Sky Girl story is from Jumbo Comics No. 81 - private collection
• The detail from the splash page of Jumbo Comics No. 88 was pilfered from an eBay auction item
• The montage of Fiction House covers below was created from a CD-Rom of comic covers in my private collection
• Read a biography of Mort Meskin and see many examples of his comic art at The Art and Life of Mort Meskin, a website run by his sons, Peter and Philip Meskin
• Read a biography of Bob Powell and see some examples of his comic art at Wikipedia
• Read a biography of Matt Baker at Wikipedia
• See a fine collection of original comic art, including works by the artists discussed her, at art4comics' Jungle Girl Art Gallery page

SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2006 Paul Wickham