R.I.P. Dan Spiegle (1920-2017)

Dan Spiegle passed away on Saturday.

If you weren’t familiar with Dan’s work, I feel sorry for you. He was, simply put, one of the most ferociously talented artists that comics have ever produced. And probably one of the most underrated by fandom.

Spiegle was a uniquely talented guy. He could do it all. He could go from the jungle adventures of Korak and Tarzan, to the humor and mystery of Scooby Doo, to doing dead-on likeness in licensed comics like Maverick or The Green Hornet, to war comics like Blackhawk, to the modern day tinseltown adventures of Crossfire and Hollywood Superstars. You don’t find many people in comics who are that versatile.

I combed through my collection of Dan Spiegle comics, and scanned a few of my favorite pages for you folks to enjoy. I hope they give you a hint of the variety and breadth of his work. Distinctive characters, expressive poses, detailed and well-researched backgrounds, atmospheric lighting, imaginative costuming, beautiful women, terrific likenesses, cool-looking aliens… He was great at everything you’d want a comic book artist to be great at.

Dan Spiegle Blackhawk
Blackhawk #263, 1983. Script by Mark Evanier, Art by Dan Spiegle.
Dan Spiegle Crossfire
Crossfire #3, 1984. Script by Mark Evanier, Art by Dan Spiegle.
Dan Spiegle Star Trek
Star Trek #19, 1985. Script by Walter Koenig, Art by Dan Spiegle.
Dan Spiegle Shadow Strikes
The Shadow Strikes! Annual #1, 1989. Script by Gerard Jones, Art by Dan Spiegle.

I could try summarizing Spiegle’s career in comics, but I couldn’t do any better than Mark Evanier’s remembrance of his old friend and collaborator. Please read Mark’s piece and then come back here to finish mine.

I first saw Spiegle’s work on Nemesis, an 8-page backup feature that Spiegle drew in The Brave & The Bold in the early 80s, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Yeah, he wasn’t as flashy as fan favorites like John Byrne or George Pérez, but MAN, could he draw, and MAN, could he tell a story. The first Nemesis backup I read was Part 3 of a 4-Part story, and while I might have been confused as to why all this stuff was happening, I was never confused as to what was happening.

Dan Spiegle Nemesis
Nemesis, The Brave & The Bold #175, 1981. Script by Cary Burkett, Art by Dan Spiegle.

I even got to interview Spiegle once, sort of. Back in 2012, I was working on my very first article for BACK ISSUE, and appropriately enough, it was about Nemesis, still a favorite after 30 years. And all things considered, I didn’t do too badly. I managed to track down the series’ writer, Cary Burkett, and Tom Tresser, the real-life friend of Cary’s who lent his name to Nemesis’ secret identity. So I definitely had some cool & informative quotes I could use.

But the person I was really nervous about interviewing was Dan Spiegle. I’d been a fan of his for three decades by this point, and I really wanted to do a good job on my first BI assignment and ask him some great questions. And after a brief phone conversation with Dan and his wife Marie, I steeled my courage and e-mailed over the very best questions I could think of.

I should have thought harder.

When I got Dan’s responses, it became very clear that I hadn’t done a good job in coming up with things to ask him. For the dozen questions I sent, no answer was longer than two sentences, and some were just a simple “No.” A good interviewer is supposed to ask things that get their subject talking, and I’d utterly failed at that. With my deadline looming, I didn’t have time for any follow-up questions, so I made the tough decision to not use any of my Spiegle interview in the article.

So here, for the first time anywhere, are “highlights” from my one & only interview with Dan Spiegle:

  • Was there anyone in particular you used as models for the characters?

No one at all.

  • Did you have any input on the storylines?

Absolutely not!

  • Was there an episode of the series that was particularly challenging to draw?

Not that I can remember.

  • Have you followed the character of Nemesis since you stopped working on him?

No.

Eat your heart out, Gary Groth. There’s a new comics interviewer in town.

I felt awful, but I don’t blame Dan in the least. If I’d asked him better questions, maybe I’d have been able to get better responses from him. But this experience proved to be a valuable lesson for me. I learned two very important things that served me well in all my future interviews:

1) Schedule your interviews early enough that you can ask follow-ups, and:

2) Always ask your subjects MORE than just Yes or No Questions.

I talked up Spiegle’s work on Nemesis, Blackhawk, and Crossfire in my Reprint These Comics column here a couple months back. I sent the link to Mark Evanier last month, and got a gracious response back from Mark. He thanked me for saying nice things about him, but especially for saying nice things about Dan. I hope that Dan or his wife Marie got to read the column, and if they did, they at least got an inkling of how much I appreciated Dan’s work.

In his later years, Spiegle did a lot of watercolor commission work, and he didn’t miss a step. I’m just going shut up for a bit and show off some of the great pieces he did in the last few decades. Keep in mind that these are the work of a guy in his 80s and 90s:

Dan Spiegle Hopalong Cassidy
Hopalong Cassidy
Dan Spiegle The Shadow
The Shadow
Dan Spiegle Maverick
Maverick
Dan Spiegle Scarecrow of Romney Marsh
The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

John Coates did a great book about Spiegle’s life and career, Dan Spiegle: A Life in Comic Art, that was published by TwoMorrows back in 2013. Do yourself a favor and use the link above to order a copy. You won’t regret it.

R.I.P. Mr. Spiegle. Thanks for all of the great entertainment.

3 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    To me, artists fall in 3 categories: 1) They wow you right off the bat; 2) They’re an acquired taste; and 3) Either you like them or you don’t.

    Dan Spiegle fell in the 2nd category. At first, I didn’t care much for his works. Later on, I came to appreciate and admire his works.

    The titles that I most remember is the Crossfire, and /crossfire and Rainbow series.

    Just an odd thought, how Mr. Spiegle draws women reminds me of Milo Manara, whose collections of work were published by Dark Horse.

    Mr. Spiegle will be missed.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    Spiegle was one of the first artist I ever encountered, as one of my first comics was Space Family Robinson. Star Trek had the bigger name; but, Space Family Robinson was THE sci-fi book for Gold Key, for many years, and I had several of them. Spiegle was great with the alien worlds and species, and his human protagonists He was like Alex Toth, in that he was the consummate storyteller, if not the “flashiest” artist. Gold Key was a place for storytellers, even if the stories weren’t as grand as DC or Marvel. Spiegle was doing everything, as you say, from adventure to humor, as well as tv and movie adaptations. Many a favorite Disney property turned up under his pen.

    When I got to see more of Spiegle, in the 80s, I knew he wasn’t George Perez or John Byrne; but, I also knew that when he was paired with a good writer, you’d get a heck of a story. When Action Comics went Weekly, his Secret Six and Mike Grell’s (as writer) Blackhawk were the only features I really enjoyed. It was a while before I saw Crossfire; but that thing was awesome.

    Dan Spiegle had a long life and a fine career, even if he didn’t get the fan recognition his talent deserved; but, I suspect he was more than content and had the respect of his peers.

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