Syd Shores: A Life in Comic Books
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Sydney Shores was so fascinated by comic strips such as Flash Gordon and Prince Valiant that it inspired him to start drawing at a young age. He won an art contest as a teenager and was displayed in the Brooklyn Museum. Syd also won an art contest sponsored by a dog food company, showing the mistreatment of puppies. (This was possibly his first published artwork ever.) He later attended the Pratt Institute of Fine and Applied Art in Brooklyn, studying commercial art, where he met Selma, who would later become his wife. Although he is known for having worked in the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, he didn’t immediately work in comics, instead working for years in his uncle’s whiskey bottling plant at first. He later started working for his wife’s cousin, Phil Sturm, at Harry “A” Chessler’s shop where he worked under artist Mac Raboy and Sturm. He did mostly menial work, but he would later remember how he’d watch Raboy’s slow yet beautiful work emerge. (It should be noted that some sources say Selma’s cousin was Harry “A” Chessler. However, Syd Shores’s daughter, Nancy Shores Karlebach, says Phil Sturm was actually Selma’s cousin.)
His first comic book inking was for “The Terror” which saw publication in Timely (forerunner of Marvel) Comics’ Mystic Comics #5 in March 1941. Looking back at that work, Syd would later remark that it was a terror indeed! When he felt his samples were good enough to apply at Timely, he did just that. That led him to being hired by Joe Simon as the publisher’s third employee. He would start off embellishing work by Jack Kirby. Syd would later ink two of Kirby’s Vision stories in Marvel Mystery Comics #21-22. He credited Kirby as being an inspiration along with Hal Foster and Alex Raymond. (While at Timely, he became an unofficial mentor to another future Marvel legend, penciller Gene Colan.) When Simon and Kirby left Timely Comics, Shores and Al Avison would pencil and ink their Captain America series. In many issues, Syd was credited as “associate editor,” but he was the unofficial art director under editor Stan Lee.
Syd would have to take a break from artwork. During World War II he served in the US Army as part of General Patton’s Third Army, fighting in France and Germany. He suffered an injury in France, earning him a Purple Heart later that year. He was reassigned to an engineering outfit after four months in a hospital in England. Two years later, he was discharged from the Army. Not wanting to talk about his service, Syd returned to Timely as art director. There he worked on titles for the Sub-Mariner, Human Torch and Captain America, as well as co-creating the Blonde Phantom. He worked on Western titles like The Black Rider and Kid Colt, Outlaw; jungle titles such as Jann of the Jungle series and Lorna, the Jungle Girl; and war comics like Battle Action and Battle Brady. When Timely branched out from superhero and humor comic books, it added crime titles. Shores drew the covers for their first two issues of their crime books in 1947, Justice #7 and Official True Crime Case Comics #24. In 1948 Timely eliminated nearly all of its staff positions, so, like many, Syd went freelance.
The artist went on to produce work for Timely (later Atlas Comics), Avon and Orbit Publications. For a few years in the early 1950s, Syd, Mort Lawrence, and Norman Steinberg started a comic book studio. It didn’t last, unfortunately, as one artist died and another one left the comic-book field. Shores returned to freelancing in the mid-1950s, also producing magazine illustrations and painted covers. Some of the work was in the lurid “men’s adventure” magazines such as Escape to Adventure and Man’s Prime. Like many artists, in the late 1950s he struggled to make a living in comic book art. During this time there was a hysteria surrounding comic books, leading to congressional hearings and the Comics Code.
The Silver Age saw Syd returning to inking Kirby’s Captain America at Marvel Comics. He would ink seven of the first ten full-length issues under Kirby. He also inked a run of Gene Colan’s Daredevil. But Syd Shores was not solely a superhero artist. He inked Dick Ayers and Don Heck on the World War II war comics Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders, which was later renamed Capt. Savage and His Battlefield Raiders. His Western works include pencilling and occasionally self-inking the “Tales of Fort Rango” premiere tale in Western Gunfighters #1, Red Wolf in both Marvel Spotlight #1 and Red Wolf #1-8, and The Gunhawks. He also pencilled and inked many horror titles, including Chamber of Darkness, Tower of Shadows, Creatures on the Loose, and Monsters on the Prowl. Some of his latest work before his death was Ghost Rider #1-2 (Sept-Oct 1973) and two-thirds of the “Voodoo War” story for Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie #5 (May 1974). He was also the artist on Dracula Lives #2 (1973).
Syd Shores died in 1973, but his legacy continues today. His first love was always comic books, although he is also known for magazine illustrations. His unique ink work has been described as bold and rough hewn with photorealistic brushwork. He would ink using undiluted India ink with a #4 brush almost exclusively, with a pen sparingly for straight lines. His work influenced many who came after him, and continues to be listed among many fans’ favorite Silver Age embellishers.
Text written by Inkwell Awards Core Committee Member Ray Burke (©2023 Ray Burke.)