Friday, September 3, 2010

Don Newton: Fan to Pro

It would be an understatement to say I enjoy the art of Don Newton. His Phantom grabbed me as a child and made me want more!
I am not the only person who feels this way.
I have taken info from different sources for this bio, but I'd like to let Don's work be your main focus as you read.


                                                                Don Newton was born in St. Charles, Virginia but after being diagnosed with asthma at the age of four, the Newton family moved to Arizona. Don Newton began drawing at a young age, with comic books being a major influence on his early artwork. He was a big fan of Batman and Daredevil, and an even bigger Captain Marvel fan. Though he collected comics as a child, by the time Newton reached high school other interests replaced his desire to collect comics. Newton threw away his entire collection and thought he was through with comics.

 Newton Finds Comics Fandom
By the mid 1960s, Don Newton was teaching art at Mountain View Elementary School in Phoenix. He also worked part time as a student art reviewer for the mail order "Master Artist's Painting Course." Newton eventually discovered comic book fandom, while searching for a source to purchase old comics. A friend gave him a copy of the Rocket’s Blast Comicollector (the RBCC). Don sent the publisher, Gordon (G.B.) Love, a sample of his work which eventually saw print as the back cover to The Golden Age #3, another fanzine Love published under the auspices of the Science Fiction and Comics Association (SFCA). 
The SFCA Years
Newton became an artistic staple of all the SFCA publications during this period. Between 1968 and 1973 he produced almost two-dozen covers for the RBCC. Newton did not limit himself exclusively to the publications of the SFCA; he also worked for most of the major fanzines during these years. In all Newton’s work appeared in over 100 fanzines.

Newton did one major strip during this time, which ran for more than a year in the RBCC called The Savage Earth. Over a period stretching from 1968 to 1970 the science fiction strip appeared in issues 60-70 of the RBCC'. Issue #65 of the RBCC sported a Newton Savage Earth painting as its cover.
Newton tried for years to leverage his connections in fandom into work at DC Comics or Marvel Comics, but he was at a distinct disadvantage, living in Arizona. Marvel in particular wanted their artists close at hand. Newton finally set his sights a little lower and sent some sample pages to Nicola Cuti at Charlton Comics where his first professional comic book work was published.
Charlton Comics

Newton's first work for Charlton appeared in Ghost Manor #18, March, 1974. Besides drawing for the Charlton horror comics, Newton also began painting covers for their horror and romance books. The September 1975 issue of Midnight Tales saw the last of the new horror work that Newton would do for Charlton.

The Phantom
In October 1975 Newton's first issue of the Phantom, #67, was published. Newton was stylistically reinventing the character, and his first work on the character just happened to be a retelling of the Phantom's origin, written by Joe Gill. Newton provided the cover painting, all interior artwork and some reworking of the script.
Although the story, "Triumph of Evil!," is attributed to Joe Gill, Newton would later claim that he "re-wrote 50% of [the] #67 script."  Within a few months, Newton would have even more control over the character.
Newton would pencil and ink all of his Phantom work and would supply a cover painting for every issue he drew. Newton rewrote and drew issue #68, but issue #69 only featured a cover painting by Newton. There was much confusion at Charlton over who would write and control the book. The fallout from this was a late script for issue #69, Newton having a hand in all future stories, and Bill Pearson being hired to color the interiors of the Phantom.

During the rest of Newton’s short run on the book, he basically wrote, penciled, inked and painted covers for issues #70-74. This run featured two classic Newton pieces at Charlton. Issue #70 of The Phantom stars Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Claude Rains and is a mixture of Casablanca, The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Newton’s final issue of the Phantom features the Phantom of 1776 meeting Ben Franklin. It has a striking Phantom cover, the Phantom of 1776, sword in one hand, flintlock pistol in the other in front of a smoky background of the Declaration of Independence and a tattered 13-star American flag.

The Death of Charlton
Newton had always seen Charlton as a stepping-stone to Marvel Comics. While still working for Charlton, Newton did do work on the Giant-Size Defenders #3, January 1975. Newton penciled 12 full pages and also penciled or inked panels on two other pages. Although he was supposed to follow Jim Starlin's layouts, Newton once said he "wound up erasing 90% of his [Starlin's] stuff."

Newton also did some small uncredited inking on a few of the "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" magazine over Mike Vosburg, and a frontispiece for the Savage Sword of Conan #6, June 1975. In early 1976, Newton did a single painting for Roy Thomas, which years later, became a cover for Thomas' magazine at TwoMorrows Publishing, "Alter Ego."
Newton inked the April 1977 issue of Ghost Rider, #23. The book had pencils by Don Heck. Newton was able to use his connections with Dan Adkins to land some covers for the Marvel black & white magazine line, for which Adkins was the Art Director. He produced a cover for Marvel's Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction Annual #1, as well as a cover the "Rampaging Hulk, " that was never used. The small amounts of work from Marvel eventually dried up for Don.

 DC Comics
Newton began his career at DC with DC Special #28, July 1977. Newton contributed the pencils on anAquaman strip, "A Creature of Death and Darkness!" inked by his old friend Dan Adkins. Newton would draw Aquaman off and on for the next three years.

The New Gods
Later that same month saw the release of Newton's first series at DC, The New Gods #12. Dan Adkins inked most of his work on the New Gods. It was during his tenure on this strip that Newton left his job as a junior high school art teacher to go work full-time as an artist. Newton did eight issues of the New Gods, issues 12-19 and two more New Gods stories that appeared in Adventure Comics.
Star Hunters
In the middle of Newton's run on The New Gods, he did the designs and first two appearances of a new DC strip, the Star Hunters. They premiered in DC Super-Stars #16, October 1977 written by David Michelinie and inked by Bob Layton. Newton did all of the character and hardware designs for the series. He also penciled the cover. Star Hunters #1 followed the next month with a 17-page story by Michelinie, Newton, and Bob Layton. Dissatisfied with Layton's inking of his pencils, Newton dropped the Star Hunters book after this single issue.

Newton took over as the regular penciler of Aquaman with issue #60. Newton's four issues marked the end of the book although he would continue drawing the character in Adventure Comics for the next year or so, alternating issues with Don Heck.

One of Newton’s life-long ambitions was to draw Captain Marvel and he fulfilled this desire in 1978 when he was signed as the new penciler for the Shazam! Book. Newton wrote friends of his excitement at being given the opportunity to visually “redefine" the character of Captain Marvel.
His first effort was in issue #35 of Shazam!, which also ended up being the final issue of the book. Although the Shazam! book was cancelled, the Shazam! feature was quickly moved into World's Finest Comics, which, at the time, was a big Dollar Comic featuring 68 pages of new stories and art. His first Worlds Finest issue, #253, is dated November 1978. Don would draw Shazam in 28 issues of

World’s Finest, ending his run in July 1982 in issue #281.
After its run in World’s Finest, the Shazam! Strip moved to Adventure Comics. Newton’s last work on Captain Marvel appeared in the September and October 1982 issues of Adventure Comics.
Newton began drawing the Batman strip beginning with Batman #305, November 1978, featuring an 8-page Batman back-up strip, “With This Ring – Find Me Dead!” The same month Newton was the “Guest Penciler” on the Batman strip in Detective Comics #480. Newton followed it up with another back-up story in the very next issue of Batman.

Within six months Don Newton became the regular penciler of Detective Comics. Newton would also do back-up stories in Batman, featuring Batman or Robin or Catwoman for the next two years before beginning a two-year stint on the main Batman strip beginning in late 1982. Newton also did a couple of issues of the Brave and the Bold, starring Batman. In total, Newton did 79 stories featuring Batman or members of the Batman family during his tenure at DC.
Marvel Comics
In 1979 Newton returned to Marvel. He wanted to draw Captain America, but John Byrne was doing Cap at the time and The Avengers was the closest Marvel could do to fulfilling that request. Newton took the assignment when he was promised Joe Rubinstein as his permanent inker on the book. Newton had loved the inks that Rubinstein had done on The New Gods years earlier and jumped at the opportunity to work with him again.
Newton only finished the pencils for two issues before returning to DC. Those two issues of The Avengers became Avengers Annual #9, half of which was inked by Rubinstein, half by Jack Abel.

In 1981 Don Newton again left DC for Marvel. As was the case the first time, better money was one of the factors that pushed him to Marvel. Marvel had other artists, such as Val Mayerik, call Don to entice him into working at Marvel again. Unlike last time, Joe Rubinstein was not part of the deal. The Avengers #204 featured inks by Dan Green. Newton was so upset with the end result that he left Marvel and never worked for them again.
DC Again
During the time that Newton was drawing this second attempt at The Avengers book, he was contacted by Paul Levitz who promised him some additional advertising artwork, should Don return to DC. After the disastrous Avengers job by Green and again the lack of scheduled work from Marvel, Newton agreed to accept a new contract with DC and never worked for Marvel again.

Green Lantern
Don opened 1982 with backup stories in Green Lantern #148 and #149. For #148 Don penciled an 8-page Green Lantern Corps story inked by Dan Adkins. This story has a little bit of everything in it: space battles, Guardians, alien civilizations, everything, except humans. The story is the first appearance of Ch'p, the squirrel-like Green Lantern of H'lven, who would later go on to win a measure of fame in the Green Lantern Corps series as well as Green Lantern: Mosaic.

It would be two years later before Newton returned to Green Lantern. Green Lantern #181 is the only DC comic he ever inked, a 6-page Tales of the Green Lantern Corps story "One Night in a Bar on Lawrel-Hardee XI" written by Paul Kupperberg, penciled and inked by Newton (lettered by his friend John Clark). In Don’s obituary, which ran in most DC comics for a month, Dick Giordano said of this work, “To my mind, Don's final statement was the Green Lantern Corps story he penciled and inked that appeared in Green Lantern #181. He showed us how to do it right.”

Infinity Inc.

In 1983 Newton had worked with Roy Thomas on a proposed re-launching of the Shazam! series featuring a new member of the Marvel Family, Captain Thunder (basically a black Captain Marvel). The new Shazam! book was never “green lighted” by DC, but this marked the first time that Thomas and Newton would work together, and was the catalyst for Thomas asking Newton to take over the Infinity, Inc. title. Newton had always told DC that other than Batman and Captain Marvel the only book he would like to draw was the All-Star Squadron. Thomas tapped into that interest by proposing that Newton draw Infinity, Inc., featuring the children of the original All-Star characters. Newton jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, this collaboration did not last long.
According to the wife of Don's only son, Anthony:

"Don's death was a result of a short battle with throat cancer. He had suffered what was to be thought a sore throat which didn't seem to be going away and was than diagnosed as cancer. It took him quickly and he was penciling up to the last few days until he suffered a stroke in his home. After being admitted to a local Mesa hospital a heart attack is what ended this great man's life. Anthony was 15. He has stated that " you could look in his eyes and tell he was gone" at the time of the stroke. He has left a legacy with all who knew him. An amazing son, father, and artist. Not surprising his son is right up there with him artistically. I mean talk about genetics let alone a 15 year aprenticeship!"
The first issue scheduled to contain Don's art was Infinity Inc. #11, February 1985, but because of his sudden death, Roy Thomas re-arranged the schedule of the books. He used a Newton penciled a 5-page framing sequence to surround an 18-page story drawn by George Tuska and Mike Machlan as his introduction. Newton's pencils are inked by Tony DeZuniga for that story. Newton was to
begin penciling the entire book with issue #12, but the letter page in issue #11 told the world that tragedy had already struck. The book started with a fill-in issue that DC had solicited earlier, giving DC time to react to Don's sudden death, and the fact that they had to restructure the book sequences.
While Newton went suddenly into the hospital in a coma, Don's friend, letterer John Clark, sent in the first three pages of Infinity Inc. #12 to Thomas. Joe Rubinstein was brought in to ink them and Newton’s Phoenix friend Clark lettered the pages at Thomas' request. Jim Shooter let Rubinstein out of his Spider-Man contract for a month so that he could ink the fill-in issue Newton had done, as a final tribute to Don. It became Infinity Inc. #13, April 1985. This was Newton's last published original work, a 23-page story, "A Thorn Grows in Paradise," written by Roy Thomas. 
His eventual replacement?  Todd McFarlane.  It became McFarlane's first major body of work.
Don Newton died August 19, 1984 and the world became a poorer place.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Don Newton talent shone through even in his early fanzine work. His transition to mainstream comics was no surprise and he did wonderful work on so many titles. It's a shame he left us so early.