all artwork copyright by DC Comics, Inc.
 

The Shuster Shop 1941-42

 

The most important of Joe's pre-war assistants were Wayne Boring , John Sikela and Leo Nowak.  After a few early stories in Superman 5-8,  Boring concentrated on the newspaper strip and occasional covers.  Leo Nowak and John Sikela concentrated on the comic book stories, often in an assembly line fashion in which Shuster would rough out the artwork, one of the two would pencil it in, and another artist, usually Ed Dobrotka, would ink everything except Superman and Lois's heads.

Leo Nowak (1907-2001) Leo, a musician and painter joined the Shuster shop in September 1940, replacing Paul Cassidy, who would continue to work occasionally from his new home in Wisconsin.

His first work appeared in Superman #10.  He remained with Shuster until early 1943 when he was drafted.  After the war he went into advertising art and began painting western murals.

Leo Nowak showed a bold, stocky up-front style, heavily relying on dynamic close-ups. A typical feature is a head and shoulder shot, with the shoulders diagonal across the whole panel. His work shown here is from Superman 13, "The Light",  November 1941, written by Jerry Siegel.

nowak

 

John Sikela  (1907-98) Perhaps next to Wayne Boring, John was the most important and long lasting of the Shuster ghosts.  Sikela began working in the Shuster shop in 1940.  His first solo job appearing in Superman 12 "Luthor and the Giant Animals of Baracoda Island" in September 1941.  Sikela often worked closely with Shuster, pencilling and inking over Shuster's layouts.  He also inked most of Ed Dobrotka's pre-war work.

Joe Shuster (layouts) with John Sikela, from Superman 17, "Man or Superman?" July 1942

 

 

Sikela's solo work showed much more invention and dynamics, with breathtaking scenery featuring aerial views and strange panel angles.  He used round and triangular panels frequently and his pages were crammed full of images.  His Superman, stretched out across the sky as if grabbing for his destination with his leading hand, seemed to exude earnestness, in contrast to Wayne Boring's  later version who seemed to be casually strolling thru the air, brooding about something-- the destruction of Krypton, I suppose. Sikela worked closely with Shuster in his early years and took over theSuperboy strip after the first couple of Shuster stories. He absorbed Shuster's round-headed kid design and seemed to enjoy the lighter tone of the Superboy stories. Even in 1960 his Superboy appeared to be substantially younger than Curt Swan's .

His Luthor in particular was maniacally evil and often depicted as having fangs.
  

John Sikela  from Superman 17 "When Titans Clash" July 1942, written by Jerry Siegel

Hi Mankin  (1926-1978) went to work for Jerry Siegel while still only a youngster of 15!  He stayed with Jerry's family and attended Cleveland High School all day while trying to ink Superman stories at night.  The pressures of life in a strange city, high school and work all at the same time, plus the resentment of the other artists in the Shuster studio caused him to quit after only one month.  He remembers working on one long Superman story during this time, which is as yet unidentified.  Mankin later went on to a career in animation (including Johnny Quest) and drew Johnny Quick and Gangbusters for DC as well as the Roy Rogers comic strip and Crimebuster and Daredevil for Lev Gleason, all in the fifties.

 

Hi Mankin from Adventure 190 page 3 Stand-In for 100 Convicts by Don Cameron(?) July 1953.

Ed Dobrotka (1917-77) probably joined the studio in 1941. He and John Sikela would trade off pencilling and inking duties, sometimes in the same story. He also worked over  the pencils of  Shuster, Wayne Boring and even Curt Swan!  One of the cleverest and most unique artists ever to touch pencil and brush to Superman, Dobrotka's work is marked by some of the most comical-looking supporting characters ever assembled.  He appears to have continued working with Sikela up into the early fifties and even inked an occasional Curt Swan Superboy story.
Because of the way they worked together it's often hard to tell he and Sikela's work apart.  Dobrotka's "S" symbol (visible most often when he's inking) featured a very short top S bar.  Sikela's (once again, visible when he inks) tended to approach a figure "8" in shape, a trait which became much more pronounced when he worked on Superboy in the late 50's.  Dobrotka also piled Clark's and Lois' hair much higher than any other artist and combed it straight back.  His flying poses were often quite exagerated, even by Shuster shop standards.

Ed Dobrotka and John Sikela from Superman 19 "The Case of the Funny Paper Crimes", November 1942

Ed did about half of the four page Lois Lane strips that were used as fillers about this time, as his style was deemed more appropriate to the sillier stories. I've always thought I've seen a touch of Basil Wolverton in his faces, particularly the villains . He also drew a few Starman chapters in All Star Comics and worked on Captain Triumph for Quality.

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