The Life and Art of Murphy Anderson
by R.C. Harvey
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a comic by Murphy Anderson, but I’d heard his name thrown around quite a bit throughout the ten years I was a devoted comic geek. The extent of my knowledge was that his name was synonymous with Silver Age DC books. Little did I know this was just the tip of a very large, finely rendered iceberg. The Life and Art of Murphy Anderson chronicles the artist’s career from his adolescent doodles on up to his present semi-retirement.
The first aspect of this book that needs to be broached is the confusing narrative voice. The text is culled from a handful of interviews with Anderson done by R.C. Harvey, the credited author. Harvey worked these interviews into a chronological, first person narrative, but Anderson had the final edit. Perhaps it is the under-used English major in me, but I like to know whose voice is telling the story. I managed to quell this inner geek’s ramblings reasonably quickly though, and found the book very engaging.
Anderson is best known for his hugely influential stints on Hawkman and The Spectre during the ’60s and ’70s. But The Life and Art… thankfully allots equal time to the projects he cut his teeth on, like the Sputnik-spawned projects Buck Rogers and Space Adventures. Anderson’s professional career began with P.S., the Army’s preventative maintenance guide •a monthly magazine aimed at educating and entertaining soldiers on proper weapon care• and his own color separation company, Visual Concepts.
In the fashion of a well-lived life, there are an extraordinary amount of digressions in the book, which is roughly divided up into the different phases of Anderson’s career. To Anderson’s credit these slips into nostalgia are often about his unsung contemporaries and influences from the beginning of his career, and these digressions often provide the most interesting moments. For example, the slight falling out between a young Anderson and an equally young and impatient Stan Lee, or Anderson’s push toward a smaller sized artist’s page in comics, the subsequent disdain many of his colleagues had at the time, and how it eventually became the industry standard.
The book is wonderfully illustrated with pieces of artwork spanning Anderson’s career, but I would have also appreciated artwork from some of the influences and contemporaries he refers to throughout the book. In the text, Anderson makes many comparisons between his art and others’ and it would have been nice to actually see examples instead of just having his words to go by. It’s likely I want these extraneous things included because my attachment to Anderson is not very strong. It’s equally likely that those who will want to read this book are hardcore Anderson fans and the amount of his art in this book should satiate their hunger for quite a while.
The English geek in me has gotten loose again and is insisting I talk about the ending of the book, or rather the lack of one. Much like the rambling nature of the rest of the book, the ending suddenly presents itself as though Harvey’s interviewing recorder just ran out of tape. I would have preferred a break from the interview-culled material and a summation by the author, his thoughts on Anderson’s career and future endeavors, some sort of wrapping up. It’s such a glaringly inappropriate way to end a retrospective I can’t imagine how Anderson or Harvey couldn’t come up with a better sense of closure. However, Anderson was an artist and the eight subsequent pages of pin-ups and sketchbook artwork are the true ending to the book. And even Geeky has to admit, it’s an entirely appropriate ending.