Schaffenberger’s ‘Archie’ period

From Metropolis to Riverdale

This guy drew for just about everybody.

Comic book artist Kurt Schaffenberger (1920-2002) worked for Fawcett Publishing, Classics Illustrated, American Comics Group, Premier, Atlas (the predecessor of Marvel), DC Comics and a smattering of independents.

He was following the work. There were some rough times, some scary dry spells, during Kurt’s half-century-plus career drawing the funny books.

Kurt is best remembered as an important early Captain Marvel artist, and DC Comics’ quintessential Lois Lane artist. Adding to his uniquely all-encompassing resume was his brief stint drawing for Archie Comics. This occurred around 1971 for about a year. It was at a time when, Kurt believed, he was temporarily blackballed from DC. The exact Archie Comics titles and issue numbers remain a mystery.

And if anyone would know which Archie issues Kurt drew, it’s my old buddy (and another comic book artist) Howard Bender. It was Howard, an eagle-eyed collector, who compiled the exhaustive “Schaffography” — a complete-as-possible catalog of Kurt’s comic book work — for my K.S. biography “Hero Gets Girl! The Life and Art of Kurt Schaffenberger” (TwoMorrows Publishing).

But a few years back, Howard somehow acquired low-res scans of two Archie pages that he and I are convinced were drawn by the old master. Well, there’s no doubt of it. Yes, Kurt was working virtually incognito, for two reasons: No. 1, Archie didn’t give credit back then. No. 2, artists were directed to draw in the Archie “house” style, which, if you’ll forgive the double-negative, discouraged non-conformity.

But Kurt left behind a few clues.

In the first of the two pages, Archie is wearing Captain Marvel’s thunderbolt logo — an “in” joke, as well as a clue for the many fans of Kurt’s Fawcett period. Also, the anatomy on Archie and Reggie is a bit more solid than usual for an Archie comic — a telling subtlety. Finally, the van being driven by the “Rolling Rocks” was, on a personal level, familiar territory for Kurt. His son, Karl Schaffenberger, owned a van in which he drove his own rock band, the Henchmen.

In the second page, Archie meets two members of the Rolling Rocks. These lighthearted, cartoony characters likewise harken to Kurt’s Fawcett days.

Here’s what Kurt told interviewer John G. Pierce of his Archie period: “I found Archie refreshingly simple compared to the exacting realism demanded by the Superman line or romance or mystery stories. I would describe my favorite and natural style as a sort of caricatured realism. At Archie, I worked directly with Dick Goldwater or his assistant, Victor Gorelick.”

Here’s what Gorelick told me about Kurt’s Archie period, when we spoke in 2002: “I remember him coming up and bringing his work in. Richard Goldwater was the managing editor at that time. He was working more directly with Kurt, giving him scripts and so forth.”

I asked Gorelick if he felt Kurt adequately adapted to the Archie “house” style.

“Well, it still had a little bit of an ‘adventure’-type look to it,” Gorelick said with a laugh. “I mean, he was a very good artist. It was a little different style. He did draw all the characters the way they were supposed to look — the heads and so forth. But he did have a little bit more of a realistic approach, actually.”