By Tom Ward
When I heard the news it felt like I got sucker punched in the stomach.
My friend Al Plastino had passed away at age 91.
Al was a fantastic illustrator and comic book artist probably best known for drawing Superman in the comic books starting in the late 1940s. During his long and brilliant career he co-created Supergirl in 1959, using his lovely wife Anne Marie as his real life model.
During this period of time he helped to co-create a fictional superhero team called the Legion of Super-Heroes. He drew the nationally syndicated Batman newspaper strip in the late 1960s during the height of the Adam West TV show. Along the way he took over drawing syndicated strips like Nancy and Ferd’nand as well. He even did a six-month stint drawing Peanuts as a back up when Charles M. Schulz was ill; however, those strips were never used.
Al had the incredible ability to draw any type of subject with his trusty Number 3 Windsor Newton brush. During World War II Al worked at the Pentagon in the Adjunct General’s office where he drew and painted posters for the war. He heard that DC Comics were looking for an illustrator to do Superman. The people at DC liked his work and offered him the job. Al told me he wasn’t crazy about the job so he told them he wanted $ 50 a page. Back in the 1940s a regular artist only got $ 9 a page.
But much to Al’s surprise, they gave it to him.
A passion for golf as well
Outside of the love of his family and his artwork, another big passion of Al’s was golf. He has the distinction of winning the National Cartoonist Society’s annual golf tournament a staggering 17 years in a row. Al was a very accurate player, but he admits he never was a player who had a lot of length off the tee – I joked to him that was his kryptonite.
Even before his untimely passing he was getting out to the course around once a week, weather permitting. When Al and his son Fred came to Texas for the Dallas Comic Con event last year I took them over to Colonial C.C. and the Four Seasons at Las Colinas which are, of course, the host clubs for the local PGA Tour events. Al was so impressed with the two Texas golf legends, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, whose names are closely associated with those tournaments, that he drew a beautiful painting of Superman flying high in the clouds saluting the images of the two Texas icons.
Al mentioned to me he took the idea from the Superman comic book he drew in 1963 honoring President Kennedy. The President was assassinated while Al was drawing a special issue of the comic book on his physical fitness program. Now that comic book and splash page will be on display soon at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which just finished an emotional 50th anniversary tribute.
Sadly, within the past month Al found out that his prized artwork that was supposed to be donated 50 years ago never reached its destination and was to be auctioned off. Al told me he was devastated when he saw his artwork was up for sale and it upset him so much he was having trouble sleeping. Fortunately, a big fan of Al’s read about his dilemma in the paper and offered to help. It turns out she’s a high powered New York attorney who took the job pro-bono – Al was so pleased that someone had some to his defense.
Al was planning on coming to Texas with his son Fred in late February as guests of the Ben Hogan Foundation, where he was going to be the showcased speaker for their breakfast. While he was here we planned on going over to Dealey Plaza, where he was to be interviewed on film for their archives and to see his artwork on display there.
One of the things he told me he looked forward to the most was getting on the golf course and playing alongside me and Fred. I spoke with Fred recently and told him one day we will get together to play a round of golf in honor of his dad.
Finally, my sincerest condolences go out to Al’s wife Anne Marie, Fred, his three daughters (Mary Ann, Janice and Arlene) and his six grandchildren. I will miss my phone conversations with my friend. We joked about many different topics and Al was well versed in all of them. He had such a zest for life and he looked so good for his age that no one could believe he was in his 90s when I introduced him to people or showed them a photo of him.
He never lost his marvelous ability to draw; I have two recent pieces of art he did that adorn my office walls that I will cherish forever.
I will never forget Al Plastino and what his friendship has meant to me over the past few years. Al may have drawn numerous superheroes in his eight decades as an artist, but in real life he was a true Superman.
Rest in Peace, my friend, and God Bless You!
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com.