Dick Sprang is your friend if you prefer your Batman to be more surreal and offbeat. If you want your Batman deep in his cartoon roots, and not so allied with CSI, then Zap, Pow, Boom, Bang, it’s Dick Sprang!
The above image is from a lithograph that Sprang created for DC Comics in 1995. Comics Alliance does a wonderful job of going over the details. What it comes down to is, Sprang, along with a special select group of artists from the Golden Age, essentially did what they had to do. Sprang outshone many of them but he, like the rest, just did his work and let Bob Kane, “the creator of Batman,” take the credit for it. Flash forward a few decades, and people come to appreciate an artist like Sprang. You have DC Comics doing the honorable thing by showcasing his work in reprint volumes and even bringing the old man out of retirement to do a double-page spread. Sprang has left us but he is hardly lost to obscurity.
It was a notion that the Batman I was looking for lived in old issues of “World’s Finest” that led me to Dick Sprang and his magical world.
The Jokermobile, for instance, is a perfectly Sprangian concoction and is included in an insightful essay at Matt Seneca’s blog. Sprang was completely steeped in cartoonland wizardy. And that is what I’d like to see in Batman today!
The above work graces the cover of the current issue of “Alter Ego,” #107. What exactly this illustration was created for has been completely forgotten! But here it is back from the dead and quite a lively spectacle. You’ve got Robin tied up to a speeding truck while Batman is jumping off another speeding truck going in the opposite direction. Batman secures himself to the truck that Robin is tied to, manages to break the windshield and even control the steering wheel!
Inside the magazine, you will find a nice little interview with Dick Sprang, from 1993, conducted by Shel Dorf, one of the founders of the San Diego Comic-Con. The interview gets lost in the details as these fanzine type of things tend to do but that’s okay. Mostly, you get a sense of what it is was like back in the ’40s in New York hustling for illustration work and finally landing a big time gig. A man in a suit approaches, Sprang, a young eager artist. He asks him to draw three Batman pages of script in four days. Sprang delivers. Then he asks him to do a whole Batman comic book, fifteen pages in fifteen days, maybe sixteen if he needs it. But, there’s a war on, so there are no guarantees. Sprang’s work will be stockpiled in anticipation of laying off artists, including possibly Sprang himself. Sprang agrees and the rest is history. The interview does well with history but the forest gets lost for the trees. It’s only at the very end that any mention is made of Sprang’s use of composition. Sprang, being at heart a company man, plays down his accomplishments. But we do get a glimmer as when he says, “You can draw lines that illustrate the artist’s thoughts.” That Sprang did most eloquently.
Here are the particulars on “Alter Ego,” #107:
ALTER EGO #107 (84 pages with color section, $8.95) is a big BATMAN issue, featuring an unused Golden Age cover by definitive Dark Knight artist DICK SPRANG! Headlining this bat-centric issue is a SHEL DORF interview with SPRANG (Batman, the Superman/Batman team, etc.) and JIM MOONEY (Batman, Superman, Robin, Supergirl, Tommy Tomorrow, Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, Son of Satan, etc.)! Plus there’s rare and unseen Batman art by BOB KANE, JERRY ROBINSON, WIN MORTIMER, SHELLY MOLDOFF, CHARLES PARIS, and others! Part II of the TONY TALLARICO interview, conducted by JIM AMASH! Plus FCA (Fawcett Collectors of America), MICHAEL T. GILBERT in Mr. Monster’s Comic Crypt, BILL SCHELLY, and more! Now in FULL COLOR! Edited by ROY THOMAS.