By Tom Ward
Starting next week, the PGA Tour rolls into town for a two-week stay in the area. The annual “Texas Two-Step” begins with the Nelson and finishes with the Colonial. Golf fans will have the opportunity to watch some of the best players in the world up close and personal. Both of these tour events are well attended, because golf here in north Texas is very popular and the fans are very knowledgeable about the game.
One of the reasons for the popularity of golf in the state of Texas is because of its long, rich history due to the magnificent careers of gentlemen like Fort Worth’s Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.
Those two players had a huge impact in the game that is unparalleled even to this day. Hogan and Nelson would have celebrated their 101 birthdays this year.
Ironically, another world-famous personality celebrates a milestone birthday this year as well, but this person is fictional. That’s right, the Man of Steel turns 75 and he hasn’t lost a step in the process.
Superman is probably the greatest and best known of all the superheroes in comic book history, and one of my dear friends had the honor of drawing the character for many decades. His name is Al Plastino, and he’s a true living legend; an American icon in the comic book industry. At age 91, he’s still going strong. He’s the comic book equivalent to what Hogan and Nelson were to the golf world.
Last week I received a beautiful piece of artwork depicting Superman soaring high into the clouds saluting images of the late, great Texans Mr. Nelson and Mr. Hogan. During our recent phone conversation I asked Al what prompted him to draw this magnificent painting.
Al said,” I drew it because I’m a great admirer of truly talented people and when we were in Texas last year visiting, you took the time to show me and my son the great courses and told us about the deep, rich roots golf had in the area. I felt prompted to do something.”
Then Al caught me off guard when he paid me a greatest compliment I could imagine. He said, “I really drew it because you inspired me with your friendship and showed us how great the history of the game is in Texas. I’m very pleased with the drawing because it seemed fitting to pay homage to those two great golfers!”
Personally, I plan on taking a few of Al’s paintings to both Colonial and the TPC as well as Timarron, Trophy club and Shady Oaks – all courses with close ties to Hogan and Nelson. I know those clubs and any golfer would love to have a signed print of this spectacular piece of artwork drawn by a truly amazing man who, at the age of 91, can still draw and paint brilliantly.
A visit that left an impression
Last fall Al and his son Fred came to Texas for the first time to attend the Dallas Comi-Con as one of the headlining guests. During their visit I took them over to Colonial Country Club and TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas. Al said,” I was impressed with the golf courses and the statues of Hogan and Nelson. I really liked seeing Hogan’s old office and the trophy room at Colonial.
“Plus, I was just so impressed with everything you showed me and Fred on our short trip to Texas,” he said. “It was a really happy time and I loved being down there in the Lone Star State for the first time in my life.”
I asked Al if he ever had the chance to watch Hogan or Nelson play. He said,” I remember seeing Sam Snead, Tommy Bolt and a lot of the other guys, but I never had the opportunity to see Byron play and I might have caught a little bit of Hogan as his career was winding down.
“It was a different game back then because you could walk along with guys and there weren’t many gallery ropes.”
Al was quite the golfer himself and has the distinction of winning the National Cartoonist Society golf tournament 17 years in a row back in the days when he could really swing the golf club, sporting a low single-digit handicap. These days when Al tees it up usually with his son Fred and he’ll shoot in the mid to high 80’s easily breaking his age.
Al said, “ All my life if I liked a golf course where I was playing I would do something for them.” Al is well-known for his charitable work supplying his artwork for numerous worthwhile causes. His drawings and paintings have helped raised lots of money over the years for programs like Jerry Lewis’s Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons. In the past Al has drawn famous golfers like Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, to name a few, getting help from Superman on the course.
Al is probably best known for his work on the Superman comic books starting in 1947. During his long tenure at DC comics he also co-created SuperGirl in 1959 and the Legion of Superheroes, as well as co-created the villainous “Brainiac” character to battle Superman.
Al may not have created Superman, but he certainly helped the legendary character take flight with his terrific artwork in the comic books for generations of fans around the globe.
Bet you didn’t know…
Here’s a little bit of trivia about Superman that very few people know. When Al started drawing Superman he un-intentionally put that little curl in the man of steel’s hair. Al recalled,” It was totally accidental and looking back in those days I had a similar curl in my hair and I didn’t even realize at the time that I had added it to the drawings.” Al continued drawing Superman and other spinoff books like SuperBoy, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, etc., until retiring his work on Superman in late 1968. After that Al drew Batman for the daily newspaper strips, as well as “Ferdnand,” “Nancy,” and even did a six-month stint filling in for an ill Charles Schultz on “Peanuts.”
He told me he was paid for the work, but the strip never ran as it was used as a backup in case Shultz didn’t recover from a heart bypass. In 1963, nearly 50 years this upcoming November, Al was halfway through a special comic book featuring John F. Kennedy when he heard that our President was assassinated here in Dallas.
Al said, “ It was a story about Superman helping President Kennedy and his concern about youth fitness in our country. Then I heard the tragic news. Our new President LBJ asked that my work be completed and today my original artwork is housed in the Kennedy Presidential library.”
Al is in big demand these days, with the new Superman movie coming out next month and the 75th anniversary of the legendary Man of Steel. He’s been barraged with invitations as guest of honor at numerous national comic conventions across the country. “It’s nice that they are inviting me to all these conventions to give me awards, but that’s too much travel for me these days so I will only go to a select few cities like Miami,” Al said.
However, he did mention to me one place he wants to return to soon and that’s Texas. Al laughed when he said, “I want to come back and play those great courses with you and my son and see if I can shoot my age or less.”
If you would like to learn more about Al’s incredible career, please check out his website at www.alplastino.com Also, there is an autobiography about his life that should be out later this year that will go into greater depth and chronicle all his amazing adventures.
Over the past eight decades Al may have drawn numerous superheroes, but in real life he’s not only a classy gentlemen, he’s a real life Superman.
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com