R.I.P. Norm Breyfogle, 1960-2018

The news is sad: Norm Breyfogle died on Monday at the age of 58. Man, that sucks. But we should celebrate his comics work, because it brought nothing but joy and admiration!

Breyfogle will always be known for his stunning run on three different Batman titles from 1987 to 1995 or so (he drew some Batman stuff afterward, but not regularly). He began drawing Detective Comics with issue #579 and became the regular artist with #582, and with writer Alan Grant he created some amazing and indelible characters (many of whom were one-offs, which makes their endurance even more amazing). He moved on to Batman in 1990, then began a new title, Shadow of the Bat, in 1992. He also drew the first official Elseworlds book, the beautiful Batman: Holy Terror, in 1991. He then moved over to Malibu comics before becoming a bit of a vagabond in the 21st century – in later years he implied that he was persona non grata at DC and Marvel and that kept him from getting work, which would be a shame if true. He had a stroke in 2014, and his financial difficulties moved DC to finally reprint his Batman work, which was published at a time when DC compensated their creators much more than before or later and therefore did not often reprint the work because they would have to pay the creators more (I wish I had the sources for this, but I’ve read it enough to believe it, so if it’s untrue, I apologize, although I have heard it from different sources, so there is that). Anyway, I don’t know if Breyfogle’s death is a direct result of the stroke, but I can’t believe it wasn’t somehow a cause.

Breyfogle also drew Whisper in the mid-1980s, which is (naturally) beautiful work, he drew an awesome-looking Anarky series in 1997/1998, he drew a very cool Ditko-esque Hellcat series in 2000, as well as a somewhat surreal Spectre series in 2002-2003. The last few series he worked on regularly were Of Bitter Souls for Speakeasy/Markosia in 2005/2006, the alternate reality “Life with Archie” books in 2009-2011, and a terrific run on Batman Beyond in 2012/2013.

I’m not sure why he didn’t get more work as he got older. It could be as he said, or it could be that he was an old-school artist whose style didn’t mesh as well with new digital coloring, a fate that has befallen many artists, unfortunately. Breyfogle had a unique style, one perfectly suited to Batman, as he used sweeping lines very well and a simplicity in facial expressions that was excellent for the soap opera elements of superhero comics. He was a master storyteller, as his fight scenes are superb – he often used very thin horizontal panels to show each move that his hero (usually Batman) made as he dispatched gangs of thugs, and readers could see how one man could possibly be that bad-ass. His Batman was extremely humane, as he smiled and showed more emotions during Breyfogle’s run than perhaps any time in his history, and Grant used Bruce Wayne a lot, and Breyfogle did a tremendous job humanizing him, as well. His villains were excellent and bizarre, a great fit for the stories Grant wanted to tell. Breyfogle created the Ventriloquist and Scarface, the first of many amazing villains, and he also created Mr. Zsasz, who’s not a great villain but has a great look. His other characters were mainly one-offs, but their designs linger – the aborigine who stalks the men that stole his sacred objects; the drug-addicted yuppie whose evil inner voice is represented by terrifying red eyes; the Corrosive Man, who drips toxic waste with every step; the Ratcatcher and his army of rodents; the tulpa that Batman can’t defeat on his own so he allies himself with Etrigan to take it on; the many Clayfaces in a four-part story (where he drew a wonderful Looker as well); Anarky was his creation too; and one of my favorite villains ever, Cornelius Stirk. He painted a Ra’s al Ghul graphic novel in 1993 which is absolutely stunning, something everyone should own. He wasn’t the first Batman artist I saw, but he’s definitely my favorite.

It’s a bit sad that Breyfogle never quite got the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, although in recent years, as people who were reading comics in the late 1980s have become more vocal on-line, his reputation has gotten larger. I’ve written quite a bit about Breyfogle, and if you’re interested, you can check out some of his art at these links (the Wayback Machine links don’t always show the artwork, but they do preserve the excellent comments, including the ones that Norm himself made):

Norm Breyfogle: New Talent Showcase #11 and Marvel Fanfare #29 (Wayback Machine link)
Norm Breyfogle: Whisper #10 (Wayback Machine link)
Norm Breyfogle: So much Batman!!!!! (Wayback Machine link)
Norm Breyfogle: Hellcat #2 (Wayback Machine link)
Norm Breyfogle: Of Bitter Souls #2 (Wayback Machine link)

Plus, I wrote a long post about his run on Detective (although I need to update it to include his work on Batman, because I inexplicably left it out): Comics You Should Own: Detective #583-594; 601-614 (Wayback Machine link)

DC has reprinted some of his Batman work in one nice hardcover, and the other should be out soon. If you’re unfamiliar with Breyfogle’s art, I encourage you to get one or both of them, because they’re simply amazing. So let’s toast one of the top five Batman artists of all time!

11 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Really shocking news. I knew about the stroke a few years ago, but I thought he had recovered for the most part – 58 is just way too young to go.
    This is a nice summary of his work, Greg. I’d just add that he also did some work on Archie comics – part of the Archie gets married story lines – that I’ve always been curious about.
    He was, though, definitely one of the top Batman artists.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: I did mention his Archie work! I’ve never read it, but I did look at a few issues when they came out, and I just figured I’d get it when it was collected, but I never did. I’m not even sure it has been collected, so I guess I need to do some research!

      1. Edo Bosnar

        So you did. Sorry; I read about 2-3 obits in quick succession, and got mixed about which ones mentioned which stuff he had worked on. I will add, though, that besides the ‘Life with Archie’ stories, at around the same time he also did the art on what was apparently a separate Archie graphic novel called Goodbye Forever.

  2. Ecron Muss

    There’s something Kirby-esque about Breyfogle, in that his art is full of dynamism, movement, energy.

    But he had something uniquely his own. I loved his work.

    As the late-80s turned into the 1990s and a certain art style became all the fashion, sadly he got left behind, perhaps because his art DIDN’T look like everyone elses.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Ecron: I do think the tastes changing hurt him, which is idiotic. I know some artists adapted their styles to fit what was popular, and I’m glad he never did. He mentioned in the comments at the old blog that he did work pretty regularly, which was nice, even if he wasn’t on a high-profile book. It’s nice to see a lot of people on Facebook doing tributes to him, because I know in pre-internet days, I often felt like I was his only fan, as many people I knew in person didn’t care for his art. Such philistines! 🙂

  3. Louis Bright-Raven

    Like so many of us, Norm’s lack of product in more recent years (prior to the stroke) had far more to do with the political / ass-kissing games that go on behind the scenes in this industry than his abilities, Greg. I don’t know if he was ‘persona non-grata’, but it’s true that Norm was never apologetic for who he was and he seldom if ever backed down to editors who tried to manipulate him. That kind of creator often gets pushed out as the editorial merry go round changes, because we’re all supposed to just kiss ass and do what we’re told.

  4. Jazzbo

    Damn, I just found out that Carlos Ezquerra passed away a couple days ago, too. That’s two of my Top 10 favorite artists dying within about a week of each other. Both he and Breyfogle will be hugely missed.

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