A friend of mine owns the original art to a page of what he (and I) consider the zenith of Wally Wood’s creative genius, “The Mad ‘Comic’ Opera” (MAD #56, July 1960, written by Frank Jacobs). It is a lush piece of work, a cartooning tour de force that causes wide eyed disbelief on the printed page and gasps of astonishment when viewed in its larger, original form. “The Mad ‘Comic’ Opera” is an amazing moment in time, a moment that offered Wood a piece of work which allowed him to show off everything he had learned in his preceding dozen or so years as a comic book artist.
There is not a false note or creative misstep in a single panel of this six-page feature, not in layout or story telling, not in his use of Duotone to bring depth and dimension to the black and white page, and certainly not in his ability to do pitch-perfect parodies–albeit as “real people”–of the comic strip characters populating the story The operatic death scene of Dagwood Bumstead alone would have been enough to cement a lesser artists’ reputation; in the hands of Wally Wood, it was just one panel among some three dozen bits of perfection.
Wally Wood may never have been better, and, in his later and sadder declining years, he often operated at a level that was, in comparison to “The Mad ‘Comic’ Opera,” heartbreaking but which, viewed on their own, were still better than three-quarters of what anybody else was doing. It is also no secret that Wood frequently employed assistants and ghosts to help him turn out the volume of work he produced, but their use was no concession to quality or creative control. As Michael T. Gilbert wrote in the article “Total Control: A Brief Biography of Wally Wood” from Alter-Ego Volume 3, #8, “In the ’50s he mainly worked with Joe Orlando, Harry Harrison, and Sid Check. In later decades he was assisted by Dan Adkins, Ralph Reese, Wayne Howard, Larry Hama, and Bill Pearson, to name a few. No matter. The end result was unmistakably Wood. Helpers or not, the quantity and consistent high quality of the pages were unbelievable. He was always in control of the final product.” (more…)