Harry Lampert

Artist behind the comics superhero the Flash

Harry Lampert, comics artist, advertising executive and bridge instructor: born New York 3 November 1916; married 1942 Adele Birnbaum (one daughter); died Boca Raton, Florida 13 November 2004.

Harry Lampert was the artist behind the comics superhero the Flash. But that wasn't his only claim to fame: in a working life stretching from the 1930s to the 1990s, Lampert won acclaim and awards in the fields of comics, advertising and bridge.

The son of an immigrant Russian dairy farmer, Lampert graduated from high school in 1933 and promptly landed a job at the Max Fleischer Studios in New York, inking Popeye, Betty Boop and Koko the Clown cartoons. However, while the studio was making big bucks, the animators labouring in the aptly named sweatshops were not, so in 1938 Lampert took on extra work as a touch-up artist for the inaugural issue of a new comic-book called Action Comics.

Egged on by All-American Comics, the publishers of Superman, Lampert and the writer Gardner Fox concocted a new superhero who would be not just "faster than a speeding bullet" (like the Man of Steel) but "The Fastest Man Alive".

Sporting a steel helmet, wings on his feet and a skin-tight outfit in primary colours with go-faster stripes (lightning bolts) on his legs and chest, the Flash owed his look to Hermes, the messenger of the Greek gods, and his powers to a large slice of pseudo-scientific hokum. He first appeared in Flash Comics 1, cover dated January 1940, and is still in publication. (Ironically, Lampert only became aware of the super-speedster's enduring popularity well over half a century later when he was amazed to be invited to a comic convention.)

Lampert's preference, however, lay more in the field of gag cartoons: leaving the Flash after only five stories, he found a ready market for his brand of humour in the pages of Time, The New York Times, Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post. Throughout the 1940s he was to turn his hand to gag strips as well as to superhero and comic characters for "the Funny Books", including the King, Red, White and Blue and, his favourite strip, Droopy the Drew Field Mosquito for the US Army periodical Drew Field Echoes during his war service.

Nineteen forty-seven marked a turning point for him: he started a four-year stint teaching cartooning at the New York School of Visual Arts. More importantly, that year he founded the Lampert Agency, which he was to run for nearly 30 years, winning several industry awards, including a Golden Lion at the Cannes Film Festival for Best TV Commercial in 1967.

Retirement in 1976 saw him take up a third vocation: bridge. Moving to Florida in 1980, he became an instructor, President of the American Bridge Teachers Association (Abta), and the author of four primers on the game, including the definitive The Fun Way to Serious Bridge (1978). He was the recipient of Abta's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Alan Woollcombe

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