Mike Kaluta knows The Shadow!

Was there ever a better version of the Shadow, in print or on radio, than O’Neil and Kaluta’s?
When these came out I was 13, and the local radio station had just started to play recordings of old time radio shows from the 30’s on Saturday nights. A perfect storm of Depression era atmosphere, I lay transfixed on the living room floor listening to Orson Welles maniacal laugh( you should hear the commercials: “You will skid out of control–without Goodyear Tires! HAHAHAHA The Shadow knows!” )  while looking at Mike Kaluta’s pulp-y images of a wraithlike Shadow creeping in and out of the darkness. Ruthless, elusive, without remorse, The Shadow killed people for just thinking about bootlegging! And whenever did you ever see a superhero with a schnoz like Kaluta’s Shadow?  The perfect proboscis for sniffing out rum-runners and the like.
These are still some of my favorite comics, and I’m sure I re-read them at least once every year or so.
What makes a great comic, a comic you return to year after year? In the end, I think it’s kismet, magic, undefinable alchemy-the perfect meeting of subject and creator. As much as I am a teacher and a student of all that goes into “Art” and its making, I trust more in that which you can’t control, can’t circumscribe by definition or analysis. Analysis-no matter how insightful(& necessary)-always comes up short in the end. I’m not sure anyone knew that Mike Kaluta was born to draw the Shadow-I don’t think any of the work he’d done prior gave the impression that he was the artist for it.
But boy was he! And these first few covers, apparently a combination of watercolor and
pen and ink-are still among some of the most  iconic and evocative images of the character  I know.

So when I first started this little project, these early “Shadow” covers were the first I chose. And initially, I was just going to sketch them out in b & w. I was well into it before I found I wanted to add color. The image above was my second shot at “The Shadow no.4”
Below was my first try-took about half an hour-45 minutes at my office desk, after working hours and when I wanted to wind down some from a busy day.
And yeah–I spent the rest of that evening re-reading this wonderful, classic comic book and drinking in the wonderfully inky images of Mike Kaluta.

One Reply to “Mike Kaluta knows The Shadow!”

  1. I used to read these comics when they came out. A few weeks ago I was in a used bookstore in LA and saw the same comic you have pictured, “Death is Bliss,” which I had purchased when it hit the stands in 1974. Couldn't resist, bought it. At the time, Kaluta's drawing style annoyed a lot of readers because he drew in that pulp style…he framed his panels like the dissolves in '30s movie serials. First time I've come across your blog; I grew up with the work of the artists you write about. They're worth remembering. Jazzy Johnny Romita! James Steranko did some great covers for the paperback reprints thatcame out about the same time. You probably recall the Blue Coal ads that used to play on a lot of the old Shadow radio shows…

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