The first comic-related job I worked on was a book called Streetwise
, a book of autobiographical stories by a variety of fantastic comic book creators. Sam did a story for the book, and that served as my introduction to him. I didn’t know Sam very well, but he used to be a regular at Heroes Con, and I always made a point to talk with him and his wife, Sue, every year. I’m lucky enough to own a couple of pieces of his artwork as well. The best word I could use to describe Sam is ornery. Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice guy, and his wife is a doll, but he didn’t put up with nonsense. And I don’t think he particularly enjoyed doing shows either—it cut into the time he could be out riding his motorcycle instead.
Sam broke into comics in 1939, and like Bob Lubbers who broke in shortly after Sam, his first work came at Centaur. His brother Lew—who is better known for his later work as an illustrator for Life
, and Time
magazines, among others—broke in with him at pretty much the same time. (A third brother, David Charles, who went by “D.C.”, was also a comic artist for a time.) Sam worked mostly for Centaur and Harvey, where he created Fly-Man, until he entered the Navy during World War II. The war would have a profound impact on Sam’s career, as his magnum opus U.S.S. Stevens
was based on his experiences on board that vessel during that period.
After the war, Sam didn’t come back to comics right away. He sought better money working in lumber yards and such. But before long the itch returned and he started get assignments with Fox and Eastern Color. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get enough work to make it as a full-time artist until 1958 when he latched on with Charlton. He mostly did war stories for them, but also a western now and then. In 1960 he started getting work from Gilberton as well, mostly non-fiction jobs on topics like boating and war, as well some illustration work for Outdoor Life
magazine. Finally, in 1962 he got his own series at Dell, Voyage to the Deep
, a wonderfully crazy comic based on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
(but changed enough to protect the innocent)... which only lasted four issues. But at least Dell paged better rates than Charlton, and they kept giving him work until they turned their war books into reprint books.
So it was back to Charlton (he’d never fully left), where he then co-created two of the best features to ever come out of the company: “The Lonely War of Willy Schulz” (in Fightin’ Army
) and Hercules
. And in 1970, his “U.S.S. Stevens” feature began running in DC’s Our Army at War and Our Fighting Forces
—both books being bi-monthly, it meant “U.S.S. Stevens” was coming out every month. He kept working steadily for Charlton and DC through much of 1987, followed by several issues of Marvel’s Semper Fi
and the Marvel graphic novel A Sailor’s Story
. And I'm sure many of you will remember him inking Tim Truman for the Vertigo Jonah Hex
miniseries (all three of them) in the ’90s.
It was a long and eventful career, and Sam never really got all the praise he deserved, mainly because he rarely did superhero books. Hopefully those of you unfamiliar with his work will give it a look—much of it has been reprinted over the years. And for anyone interested, there is a GoFundMe campaign that started just after Sam went into hospice care. Please check it out.