Mart Nodell

Creator of the Green Lantern

Martin Nodell, comics artist: born Philadelphia 15 November 1915; married (two sons); died Muskego, Wisconsin 9 December 2006.

A stirring - if long-winded - incantation belonged to the 1940s superhero Green Lantern, the creation of the much loved comics artist Mart Nodell:

In brightest day, in darkest night
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power . . .

Green Lantern never quite made the premier league of American superheroes occupied by Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman: he wasn't the strongest (that was either Superman or Captain Marvel, depending on which small boy you asked), the fastest (the Flash or the Whizzer), the smartest (Batman or, well, Batman) or the most patriotic (Captain America or the Shield, both of whom wore variations of the Stars and Stripes as their outfits).

But Green Lantern did possess a super-powered ring, cast from part of a magic lantern he had stumbled across in his civilian guise as Alan Scott, a construction engineer, which endowed him with a range of abilities including flight and near-invulnerability to anything except wood. (Unfortunately, every 24 hours - and at inconveniently critical moments - the ring would run out of oomph, requiring him to recharge it from the lantern.) Plus, he had all the customary accoutrements of the masked mystery man-about-town - a theatrical cape and cowl, a domino mask, a sidekick (Doiby Dickles, a cabbie based on the film funny man Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello) and the obligatory secret identity.

He was just what Sheldon Mayer, editor at All-American Comics (half of what was to become DC Comics), was looking for to cash in on the new superhero craze, when Nodell walked into his office with the concept and design in late 1939. Nodell claimed he had been inspired by Wagner's operatic Ring cycle and the sight of a subway train worker waving his green railway lantern. Fine-tuned by the experienced writer (and Batman co-creator) Bill Finger, the gaudily clad vigilante first saw print in All-American Comics #16, dated July 1940, in an eight-page origin story co-written by Finger and Nodell and drawn by Nodell (under the pseudonym Mart Dellon).

The Lantern hit the spotlight immediately, gaining his own series the following year and co-starring in two others: All-American, which lasted until 1948 and issue 102, Green Lantern, which ran for 38 issues until 1949, the compilation Comic Cavalcade, and the team-up All Star Comics, until it too ceased in 1951. Thereafter the hero was put out to pasture, a victim of falling sales. (In 1959, the name was revived and successfully applied to a different character, and to date there have been several heroes of that name in what has become one of American comicdom's most enduring franchises.)

Nodell, born in 1915 and raised in Philadelphia, had taken the route followed by many comics artists of the era: training at the Art Institute of Chicago and the famed Pratt Institute of New York, followed by one-off cartoons in papers and pulp magazines from 1935 onwards. When the Superman-led superhero comics boom took off in 1938, he freelanced for many of the fly-by-night independent comics publishers that briefly flourished, before he struck it "lucky" (as he always put it) at All-American.

He stayed with the publisher till 1947, when he moved across town to work in-house at Timely Comics, the forerunner to Marvel Comics. However, poor pay and fewer prospects led him to abandon comics in 1950 in favour of better paid advertising studio work, in which he was to spend the rest of his career. It was while he was working for the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago that he drew the storyboards for the original Pillsbury Doughboy advertising campaign in 1965.

After retirement to Florida, Nodell and his wife Carrie were rediscovered by the comics fraternity and became highly popular fixtures on the comics convention circuit. He had one final, fitting reunion with his old creation: to mark Green Lantern's 50th anniversary, Alan Scott was reintroduced in the landmark issue Green Lantern #19, December 1991, for which Nodell was invited to draw a new nine-page story.

Alan Woollcombe

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