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Prolific artist Al Plastino, who in recent weeks lobbied for the return of his original art for the 1964 story “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy,” has passed away after a battle with prostate cancer, Mark Evanier reports. He was 91.
Born Dec. 15, 1921 in New York City, Plastino began illustrating for Youth Today magazine after he graduated from the High School of Industrial Arts. His first comics credit was on Dynamic Publications’ Dynamic Comics #2, cover-dated December 1941.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Plastino returned to freelance work and learned in 1948 that DC Comics was searching for a new Superman artist; according to his website, the publisher paid $55 a page at the time. For the next two decades, Plastino drew Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superboy, Superman, Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane and Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and with writer Otto Binder created the Legion of Super-Heroes and Supergirl.
“For most of that time, he was the second-string Superman artist,” Evanier writes. “Wayne Boring was the main guy through the fifties, then it was Curt Swan. The stories they didn’t have time to do were done by Plastino.”
He also drew the Batman and Robin and Superman syndicated comic strips in the late 1960s before taking over the long-running Ferd’nand, which he worked on from 1970 until his retirement in 1989. Plastino also had a brief stint on Nancy, from 1982 to 1984, following the death of creator Ernie Bushmiller, and was even hired to mimic Charles M. Schulz on Peanuts. The exact nature of the assignment isn’t clear: Plastino’s website states he was to ghost Schulz while the cartoonist underwent heart surgery in the early ’80s. However, another account contends United Feature Syndicate was preparing a backlog of strips in the event that contract negotiations with Schulz, which were at an impasse, collapsed. Plastino’s strips were never used.
The artist, who lived in Shirley, Long Island, attended New York Comic Con just last month, and was surprised to discover his original art for the 10-page story “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy” was to be sold at auction on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Plastino drew the story in 1963 for DC Comics to promote Kennedy’s physical fitness program, with the issue intended to go on sale in late November. Following the assassination, editors quickly pulled the story and substituted other material, but President Lyndon Johnson’s staff later asked DC to publish the original, which was edited to add a commemorate page showing Superman saluting a ghostly image of Kennedy.
Plastino said he was told the artwork would be donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, where he presumed it had been for the past five decades; however, the library has no record of the donation. The current owner purchased the pages in 1993 at a Sotheby’s auction for $5,000. Plastino rallied support from the comics community, and Heritage Auctions put the sale on hold until questions about ownership can be resolved. Just last week the artist’s attorney asked that a judge order the auction house to reveal the identity of the seller.