Tuesday, June 7, 2011

17 - PS Artists—60 Years of Dedicated Service

In its 60 years of publication, PS Magazine has had eight contractors engaged to provide creative art, publication design and pre-press services. The nature of the procurement process varied from "directed sole-source" to "negotiated controlled price" to "low-bid."

The longest serving was Will Eisner, with 227 issues produced over 21 years. The shortest tenure was that of Steve High and Jeff Jonas who found it too tough a slog after four issues. Similarly, Zeke Zekely defaulted after six issues, with Murphy Anderson—who had lost the contact to Zekely in a low-bid face-off—stepping back in to maintain continuing publication. At this point in time (No. 702, March 2011), the 150 issues produced by Backes Graphic Productions (Jack and Diane Backes) stands second to Eisner's output in number of issues. Joe Kubert with 124 issues is third, and gaining. Murphy Anderson's two turns totaled 111 issues.

Will Eisner (Will Eisner Productions), Issues 1-227 June 1951-October 1971

Will Eisner relinquished the PS Magazine contract in October of 1971. He produced two hundred twenty-seven issues, with PS 1 appearing in June of 1951. There is a strong thread of his tradition, technique, taste, and thought reflected in the creative efforts of the seven art contractors who have followed him.

The centerspread above is from his PS 80 (June 1959) and the one below is from PS 21 (June 1954).

Graphic Spectrum Systems, Issues 228-251 November 1971-October 1973

This group that acquired the PS art contract immediately following Will Eisner's final PSefforts in the fall of 1971 should really be called the Eisner Alumni Association. The business name that they picked was Graphic Spectrum Systems. Dan Zolnerowich, Mike Ploog, Chuck Kramer, Bob Sprinsky, and Ted Cabarga worked for Will Eisner on PS 227 and for themselves on PS 228.

The precise organizational structure and hierarchy remains hazy, but Ploog says that it was a partnership and that his signature and Sprinsky's were the ones on the contract. The group only survived one two-year contract. That and the mid-contract departure of one of the owner-artists leads to speculation that it was a committee with several co-chairs. The hanging question, "Who was in charge?" remains unanswered. It is well established that Kramer left New York for Israel to live in a kibbutz. Ploog recalls that Kramer bailed out of the operation before the end of the contract.

There has been an ongoing impression, even among the supervisory PS staff of the period, that Kramer was calling the shots. Part of this conclusion no doubt resulted from Kramer's known giant ego and his aggressive manner. Kramer's signature on thirteen of the first fourteen covers probably contributed to that conclusion. On the other hand, the permanent disappearance of Kramer's signature after PS 244 (March 1973), could establish the halfway-point of the contract as the time of Kramer's departure.

Kramer and Ploog both had mastered Will's inking quirks to a degree that it was difficult for anyone not of the cognoscenti to tell the difference between their work and Will's, much less separate that of the two of them. On the other hand, original work by each was readily identifiable.

At the end of the group's contract, all of them walked away except Zolnerowich, who signed on with Murphy Anderson, the old Eisner hand who was the PS contractor succeeding them. Murphy is a quiet, competent, respected artist who comes from the mountains of western North Carolina. He probably was the oldest one in the Eisner shop. He successfully bid for the task and performed admirably for the next ten years—except for a six-month period when Sponsored Comics (see below) low-balled the bidding and then defaulted on the contract after six issues.

The centerspread posted below is from PS 234 (May 1972).

Visual Concepts (Murphy Anderson), Issues 252-308, November 1973-July 1978 Issues 315-368, February 1979-July 1983

After two years in the hands of the post-Eisner group, the contract was won by Murphy Anderson, who produced PS 252 (November 1973) through PS 308 (July 1978).

Murphy had already established himself as a multi-talented artist in the stables of DC Comics (National Periodical Publications) in the 1960s and 1970s. Murphy was considered to be not only one of their best pencil artists but an amazingly talented inker, inking not only his own pencils, but embellishing the pencil work of others.

The team of Curt Swan (pencils) and Murphy Anderson (inks) on Superman in the 1960s and 1970s produced the Superman 'look' that the average Baby-Boomer sees in his mind when he thinks of Superman. Murphy also drew Hawkman, the Flash, Batman, and virtually all of the DC characters.

Other artists in Murphy's shop included: Frank Chiramonte, Augie Scotto, the previously mentioned Dan Zolnerowich, Creig Flessel, Craig Daniels, Howard Berman, and Murphy's son (Murphy III), wife Helen, and daughter Sophie.

The centerspread posted below is Murphy's, from PS 265 (December 1974).

Sponsored Comics, Issues 3ugust 1978-January 197909-314 A

Zeke Zekely's Sponsored Comics in Beverly Hills, California, held the PS contract for only six issues, PS 309 (August 1978) through PS 314 (January 1979).

The continuities were done by Dan Speigle, who drew movie and television adaptations for Gold Key comics. Titles such as Lassie, Fury, and The Misadventures of Merlin Jonescome to mind. Some fans of Alfredo Alcala, who died in 2000, feel that PS 314, from this period, reflects his work.

For chronological continuity between Zekely and Perspective Instructional Communications, see Murphy Anderson's second tour of duty (above) carrying the artistic ball following Zekely's default.

The centerspread posted below is from PS 309 (August 1978).

Perspective Instructional Communications, Issues 369-424 August 1983-March 1988

Perspective Instructional Communications was located in San Diego, California. Steve High and Jeff Jonas were the main artists. Working with this group in the mid-1980s, Malane Newman was the only female creative artist in the magazine's long history.

The centerspread posted below is from PS 374 (January 1984).

Air Superiority, Issues 425-428 April 1988-July 1988

High and Jonas launched Air Superiority (also in San Diego) on their own and obtained the PS contract following Perspective's tenure. They produced only four issues before defaulting on their contract.

Backes Graphic Productions, Issues 429-578 August 1988-January 2001

Backes Graphic Productions was located in Princeton, New Jersey. Jack and Diane Backes were the owners, with Diane also working on page layouts. Their production manager was Mark "Sparky" Dobrowolski and the lead artist for most of those years was Scott Madsen. Other artists were Augie Scotto (who had worked with Murphy Anderson), Vic Scarpelli, and Brian Orlowski. Staff members were Saronda Stevens, Karen Mamo, and Allison Backes.

In the twelve years that Backes Graphics held the contract, Madsen probably drew morePS stories than anyone except Will Eisner, but Joe Kubert, now starting his eleventh year with the PS contact, is closing in on him.

The Front Cover posted below is from PS 443 (October 1989).

Tell-A-Graphics (Joe Kubert), Issues 579-(currently 703) February 2001-ongoing

Joe Kubert's Tell-A-Graphics Company in Dover, New Jersey, won the PS art and pre-press production contract in 2000. They began working on PS 579 in October 2000 and continue today under a renewal that is written with options for extensions. The unique factor in play here is that Kubert's production of the magazine draws on the resources of the highly regarded Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, which was established 1976 in New Jersey.

Kubert worked for Will as a young boy. His job was to erase stray pencil lines and fill in black areas with ink, freeing up more established artists to go on to more important tasks.

Joe, as did Murphy Anderson, hit his stride as an artist for DC Comics in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. He is especially known for drawing SGT Rock, Tarzan, The Enemy Ace, Our Army at War, and The Losers, along with DC characters such as Superman, Batman, andHawkman.

Kubert is widely known and respected for his graphic novels. Since beginning his affiliation with PS, he has produced Yossel: April 19, 1943, Jew Gangster, a SGT Rock original graphic novel (written by Brian Azzarello), a Tor mini-series, and the original graphic novel Dong Xoal, Vietnam 1965.

His right-hand man and production manager, Pete Carlsson, coordinates an extensive team of artists.

The Front Cover posted immediately above is from PS 629 (April 2005). and the art posted below is a feature panel from the Continuity in PS 643 (June 2006).



  1. ¶ Eisner Saluted Gunsmoke in PS

  1. PS Sixtieth Anniversary Edition

  1. ¶ A Covey of Connie Covers

  1. PS Sixtieth Anniversary Celebration

  1. ¶ Early Covers Put Eisner and PS in Hot Water


  1. Great overview of the PS staff over the years. I knew about Eisner, Anderson and Kubert, but it was interesting to get a brief history of all the teams.

    Best wishes,

    Michael T.

  2. Hi
    Very nice overview. I'd like to make one comment.
    Steve High and Jeff Jonas were never owners or officers at Air Superiority Associates.
    We both left Perspective on our own terms and ended up working on various contracts there. When the PS Magazine contract was up for bid we put together a winning proposal at ASA based on assurances that we could produce the magazine within the assigned budget. We were pleased to win the bid as it vindicated our desire to procure an experienced staff and do a better job of it than we had been forced to at 'skin-flint' Perspective. Sadly soon after we began work on the new contract the management of ASA fractured over personal lines and the CEO and COO combined to make some really idiotic decisions. They refused to allow us to honor the contract we had procured. However the company's other issues had already caught up with it and sadly we were heading for a flame out even before the default notice was issued by the Editorial staff over technical issues.
    Sadly ASA went down in flames and with it any chance that we could pick up the pieces and do the work we wanted to do on PS Magazine to make it better than our previous efforts. The good news is that Joe Kubert eventually took PS Magazine over which was the perfect match of great artistry with technical brilliance, Joe was an inspiration to us all, a real giant, along with Will Eisner.
    Jeff Jonas