Oddity 3: Peanuts

31 Oct

The most popular, and arguably the best-beloved comic strip in American history is  Peanuts, by Charles M. Shulz (1922 — 2000). Above is a sample of his charming artwork for the strip…


Notice the signature in the last panel? Who is this guy Plastino?

It’s Al Plastino (1921–  ), a cartoonist best known as a superhero illustrator for DC Comics characters such as Superman, Supergirl (whose debut he drew) and Superboy:

Art by Al Plastino
At right, Al Plastino draws Superman. In the center is Joe Simon, while at right Bill Vigoda ddraws Archie. Photo taken at New York’s Armory in 1949

Where on Earth did this strip come from? Shulz was famously individualistic about his strip, never so much as employing assistants to ink or letter. And why choose a superhero artist like Plastino?

There are two explanations put forth.

One concerns tense 1977 contract negociations between Shulz and his distributor to the newspapers, United Features Syndicate. Shulz wanted a bigger share of ownership. UFS was afraid he would leave the strip. In this scenario, Plastino was commissioned to take over Peanuts if Shulz walked, and a reserve of strips was built up. However, when negociations finally worked out to Shulz’s satisfaction, Plastino’s efforts were shelved.

Plastino wasn’t as absurd a choice as might seem. He had considerable experience in comedy strips and in ghosting other cartoonists’ styles, most notably with his 19 years (1970 — 1989) on Ferd’nand:

Art by Al Plastino

The other scenario was advanced by Plastino himself. He claims the syndicate commissioned the strips in 1983, when Shulz underwent heart surgery,  in case Shulz were incapacitated. But the replacement strips were never needed.

Whichever theory is correct, it’s agreed that the hiring of Plastino was kept secret from Shulz; when he learned the facts years later, he wasn’t happy. The Plastino strips were destroyed.

One more look at the Peanuts that never was:

Art by Al Plastino

Plastino has been out of comic books for forty years now; comic book fans, rather unfairly, mainly remember him as one of the infamous retouchers of Jack Kirby’s faces for Superman in Kirby’s 1970 run on Jimmy Olsen as seen below:

SupersJO133pg19_smlPencils by Jack Kirby; Superman redrawn by Al Plastino; background figure inked by Vince Colletta

This is a pity; yet Plastino, excellent craftsman though he be, left behind no distinctive body of work. He was a chameleon.

Al Plastino in 2007

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