Tom Sutton

Tom Sutton, aka "Sean Todd" (April 15, 1937, North Adams, Massachusetts - May 2002, Amesbury, Massachusetts) was an American comic book artist best known for his work at Marvel Comics and on Warren Publishing's line of black-and-white horror-comics magazines, particularly as the first story-artist of the popular character Vampirella. He is not the designer Tom Sutton


Early life and career

Sutton was raised in North Adams, Massachusetts, where father Harry was a plumbing, heating and air conditioning shopkeeper, and a machinest and gunsmith for General Electric and others. Influenced by the comic strip art of photorealist draftsman Milt Caniff and the illustrative Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, as well as by the EC line of 1950s horror comics, Sutton began drawing nudie schoolyard art for paying classmates.

He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in 1955, and worked on art projects while stationed at Fort Francis E. Warren, near Laramie, Wyoming. Later, stationed at Itami base in northern Japan, Sutton created the Caniff-style adventure strip F.E.A.F Dragon for a base publication. Sutton's first professional comics work, it led to a long-hoped-for placement on the military's Stars and Stripes newspaper.

At its Tokyo office of Stars and Stripes, he drew the comic strip Johnny Craig, a character name inspired by the EC artist Johnny Craig. Sutton recalled that he worked on this strip "for two years and some odd months. I did it seven days a week, I think. It was all stupid. It was a kind of cheap version of [Frank Robbins'] Johnny Hazard, I think it was".

On his return, Sutton attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on a scholarship, and began working as a freelance commercial artist. At one point, living and working in San Francisco, he became acquainted with the work of Robert Crumb and later expressed a desire for the kind of creative freedom he saw in underground comics.

Sutton became an art director at AVP, a company that produced film strips for marketing, and he was a director of animation for Transradio Productions. By the mid-1960s, he was married with two sons; his first marriage lasted five years, and he remarried in the 1970s. During the late 1960s, he was living in Boston's North End, and in 1970 he moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Warren and Marvel

Sutton's first two comic-book stories appeared the same month. His first sale, "The Monster from One Billion B.C.", was published in Warren's Eerie #11 (Sept. 1967), though it was originally commissioned for Famous Monsters of Filmland (where it was reprinted four months later). He also illustrated the five-page anthological Western story "The Wild Ones", written by Sol Brodsky, in Marvel's Kid Colt, Outlaw #137 (Sept. 1967). It was one of many Westerns he would draw for the company, including the introduction of the short-lived feature "Renegades" — The Fugitive times four, in the Old West — in Western Gunfighters #1 (Aug. 1970).

Sutton soon developed a trademark frantic, cartoony style that, when juxtaposed on dramatic narratives, gave his work a vibrant, quirky dynamism. That distinctive style helped establish the popular supernatural character Vampirella from her first story, "Vampirella of Draculona" by Forrest J. Ackerman in Vampirella #1 (Sept. 1969). Later, with writer Archie Goodwin, Sutton helped transition Vampi from cheeky horror hostess to serious dramatic character in the 21-page story "Who Serves the Cause of Chaos?" in issue #8 (Nov. 1970, reprinted in color in Harris Comics' 1995 Vampirella Classics series).

Though well-suited to horror stories, Sutton was also admired for his work on such science fiction series as Marvel's Planet of the Apes magazine and First Comics' GrimJack and Squalor, and for the humor title Not Brand Ecch, on which he appeared in nearly every issue with parodies of Marvel's own characters. He was not especially equipped to do superheroes, either by art style or temperament, once calling them "fascist." While he lent a hand very occasionally, Sutton stayed mostly on Marvel's supernatural heroes: Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange (in the 1970s series, plus Baron Mordo backup stories in the 1980s Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme). With writer Steve Englehart, penciler Sutton introduced the new furrily transformed X-Men character the Beast, who starred in a superhero/horror feature in Amazing Adventures #11-15 (March-Sept. 1972).

For the horror-oriented Warren, Sutton drew dozens of stories early in his career. He moonlighted for Warren competitor Skywald Publications, drawing the Frankenstein-novel sequel "Frankenstein, Book II" (serialized in Psycho magazine #3-6, May, 1971 - May, 1972) — using the pseudonym "Sean Todd" (writer-penciler Sutton and inkers Dan Adkins, Jack Abel and Sutton himself), to avoid the wrath of publisher James Warren. A separate story in Psycho #4, written by Sutton and drawn by him and Syd Shores, was credited as "Larry Todd" (writer) and "David Cook" (art). This was the result of someone having inadvertently inserted the name of real-life writer Larry Todd rather than usual pseudonym Sean Todd.

For Skywald's short-lived line of color comics, Sutton wrote and drew stories under his own name for the Western title Butch Cassidy and the horror title The Heap (no relation to the 1940s-50s Hillman Periodicals character later revived by Eclipse Comics). Sutton would draw Marvel's similar muck-monster Man-Thing as eight-page installments in the omnibus series Marvel Comics Presents in the late 1980s.

Later career

He wrote and drew horror stories for such Charlton Comics titles as Ghost Manor, Midnight Tales, Monster Hunters and The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves in the mid-1970s to early 1980s, and he produced painted covers for the company. In the mid-1980s, Sutton drew suspense stories for DC Comics' House of Mystery and House of Secrets, and he penciled virtually all 56 issues of DC's licensed series Star Trek. He also penciled the Harlan Ellison-scripted "Croatoan" in Heavy Metal volume two, #5 (Sept. 1978).

Near the end of his life, Sutton did commercial art for New England ad agencies, and, under the pseudonym "Dementia", he drew for Fantagraphics' Eros Comix line of pornographic comics.

Sutton was also a painter who had gallery showings of his bar-scene canvases. A limited edition portfolio of fantasy prints, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, was produced by Another World, Ltd., in 1978.

Police found Sutton dead in his apartment on May 3, 2002; it is unclear whether a medical examiner's determination of time or date of death was reported. News accounts did say he had died of a heart attack at his drawing board, during production of the book Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft, which the publisher posthumously dedicated to him. Eros' Dementia's Dirty Girls #1 (May 2002) included a tribute by Bill Pearson.


The Comics Reporter:
The comic work recognized by many as Sutton's best came in partnership with [writer] Doug Moench. Together, they created the "Future Chronicles" stories for Marvel's Planet of the Apes magazine. [For this] enormously elaborate and cleverly designed fantasy saga set on the world featured in the movies, Sutton worked with oversized originals to better show off his mixed-media work and allow for meticulous detail. The result was a lush, moody, and striking fantasy story to stand with any in mainstream comics history. ' He really made the work a joy, and pure fun,' Moench told [The Comics] Journal. ' This guy was so into the Future Chronicles, he wanted to put so much detail into it, he worked on these gigantic boards. It was [a] black-and-white [magazine], so it was already bigger than regular comics pages. Then he did that series twice up, these enormous things that would cover my desk. Right there it made it something special, the sheer physical size of it. The enthusiasm you could see in every brushstroke just made it so exciting'.



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