October 15th, 2003
Mark Evanier provides a concise and expert overview of cartoonist Pete Morisi's life and career over at his weblog for October 13th, but I didn't want to let the opportunity pass without saying a few words about the man we also knew as P.A.M. upon hearing the news of his recent death at age 75.
Rarely has an artist made such an impression on me with such a small body of work, but the 8 issues he masterminded of his creation, PETER CANNON...THUNDERBOLT, that Charlton Comics published back in 1966 and 1967 has had an influence over me far beyond its meager volume. Perhaps it was his writer/artist designation--far from an industry standard in those days--that caught my fancy. Or maybe it was his unique mix of Eastern philosophy with tried and true pulp magazine staples in his quirky tales. His hero's alternating red and blue uniform--hearkening back to the costume worn by the Golden Age Daredevil--had it's own subliminal charm as well. But I think what REALLY sold me on the pseudo-anonymous P.A.M.--initials used to keep his superiors at the New York City Police Department from realizing just how he spent his evenings and weekends--was his artwork.

While obviously borrowing from industry favorite George Tuska at an employers suggestion early in his career, he fashioned a style and approach that was nonetheless wholly his own. I always thought each of his panels looked like a perfectly frozen tableau, the action caught precisely at it's most dramatic moment. No, it didn't shoot kinetic sparks of excitement off the page--rather it mesmerized with it's frequently symmetrical and always elegant designs. A thick, confident inking line, sparse but sufficient backgrounds, even the wider than norm gutter areas between panels--all these elements combined to make Pete Morisi's work unlike any other I'd seen up to that time. And, in truth, since...

I managed to scare up a couple of his "Kid Montana" strips in various Charlton western titles during the late sixties, bought the mid-seventies VENGEANCE SQUAD series merely for his art, and, through the miracle of reprints and back issue sales, discovered much of his fifties work for Comic Media, most delightful being his noirish detective feature, "Johnny Dynamite". But, y'know, it's those 8 issues chronicling the adventures of Peter Cannon and his pal Tabu that I'll always remember most...

DC Comics, which bought the old Charlton Action Heroes after the demise of the Derby, Connecticut based company, tried their own version of Thunderbolt in the early nineties. It lasted 12 issues, and sad to say, I don't recall it as being particularly inspired. What I do recall is hearing that, just a few years earlier, Morisi wrote and drew a short feature (4 or 5 pages, tops) recapping the genesis of his signature character for DC's then ongoing SECRET ORIGINS anthology title. Only--wouldn't you know it?--that book was canceled before this much anticipated featurette could make it onto the schedule!?! There was some hope of squeezing it into the ongoing T-Bolt title, and for this, if no other reason, I was rooting for that book's survival, but alas and alack, 'twas not to be.

For my money, Pete Morisi--a creator who lavished obvious care and intelligence when concocting his scripts as well as a singular vision when bringing them to life with pencil and brush--graced far too few comic books, and hasn't been seen between the covers of one for far too many years. Well, given this sad turn of events, there's not much to be done about that now. But somehow, some way, wouldn't it be nice if that short little Thunderbolt swan song of the once and always P.A.M. could find it's way out of limbo and into the public arena? It's probably as a good a testament as any regarding the effect Pete Morisi's work has had on me that I've spent more time thinking about that lost little gem over the past decade than I have about many far more heralded projects...

Whatever happens, I just want to go on record as being thankful for what the late cartoonist did share with us, and express my sincere admiration for his woefully underappreciated talents. He won't be forgotten--not around these parts.

Y'know, playing cops and robbers may've been a fun game growing up, but playing cops and cartoonists with the one man who could do both-- now THAT'D be awesome! Rest easy, Mr. Morisi--you've earned it.

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