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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Happy 80th birthday Billy Graham!

Billy Graham, born July 1, 1935 - died 1999, was an African-American comic-book artist best known for his work on the Marvel Comics series Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, and the Jungle Action feature, "Black Panther".




Billy Graham came on the comics scene as the 70's Civil Rights Movement was at it's height. It was suddenly cool to be black and Marvel wanted to jump on the band wagon by creating the very first comic series dedicated to a black hero, Luke Cage, Hero For Hire!


Luke Cage's first appearance was in the first issue of his ongoing bi-monthly comic, Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, which debuted in June of 1972.. 
Marvel being the progressive company that they were, they wanted to get a black person to help work on Luke Cage, Hero For Hire. They didn't have any African-Americans working in the Marvel Bull Pen at the time so they went looking outside for someone. Billy Graham had been doing work for Warren Publishing on some of their titles like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Because he was untried, they had him ink the more seasoned George Tuska's pencils.

The Splash page from Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1, June 1972 with pencils by George Tuska and inks by Billy Graham.
This lasted for a number of issues but by issue #13, Sep 1973, Billy was penciling and inking Hero For Hire himself.
There was a pretty smooth transition when Billy took over the penciling duties from George Tuska as you can see from this page of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #13.
Then with issue #14 Billy was adding scripting to his duties, helping Steve Englehart with his story. I imagine Billy may have been helping Steve with authentic African/American slang of the time.


Billy finished out his stint on Hero For Hire with issue #17 and then moved on to Jungle Action,  featuring the Black Panther. Jungle Action was an epic work written by Don McGregor that was unique for it's time for having a massive story arc, called the Panther's Rage, which ran from issue #6 to issue #18. Billy jumped on with issue #10.


Billy Graham would push the boundaries of what a splash page looked like as seen here in this splash from Jungle Action #16, July 1975 with it's awesome title lettering. 
Graham had some great inkers on this series, many of them young superstars like P. Craig Russell, Klaus Janson, and Bob McCloud.

You can see Billy Graham's dynamic figure work in this splash page from Jungle Action #13, Jan 1975 inked by a young P. Craig Russell who would go on and become a famous artist in his own right.
Before finishing Frank Miller's famous Daredevil run, Klaus Janson would bring a strong noirish feel and realism to Graham's fluid figures and faces.

A young Bob McCloud, who went on to co-create the New Mutants with Chris Claremont, would bring a crisp, clean line to Billy's loose, impressionistic work.
Billy Graham would create wonderfully daring page layouts for Jungle Action.

It's fun the way Billy followed the Panther's upward movement on the left page and carried it over to the right page with a giant leap of the Panther in this double page spread from Jungle Action #17, Sep 1975

Here is an unused cover for Jungle Action #14, Dec 1974.

Billy worked for Marvel throughout the 70's and in the early 80's he followed Don McGregor to Eclipse Comics to work on Saber but then he dropped out of comics all together.


He was an actor and a stunt man as well as being a great artist and it seems that he moved on to Hollywood in the 80's and 90's.
He was a great artist, and a wonderful representative for African-Americans in comics at the height of the cultural revolution, creating wonderful African-American heroes and being a hero for all African-American comic lovers.

You can read the first issue of Hero For Hire here.

3 comments:

  1. Thank so much for this post. Mr. Graham doesn't get the attention he deserves.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dave Hartwell >>>
    Yeah man! I loved the Panther's Rage stuff by Mcgregor and Graham!

    ReplyDelete