Latvian "Father" of Spiderman dies

  • 2000-02-17
  • By J. Michael Lyons
RIGA — Most people in Latvia have heard of the comic book heroes Superman, Batman and Spider Man. But probably few if any have heard of Gil Kane, a Latvian-American artist who breathed life into the comic book world's most famous characters for a new generation.

Kane, called by many one of the two or three most influential artists in comic books, left Latvia in the late 1920s and died Jan. 31 in his Florida home. He was 74.

In Kane's Feb. 5 obituary in the Times of London, the paper called him "one of the acknowledged masters of comic book art."

Born Eli Katz, Kane's parents emigrated to New York from Latvia in 1929 when he was just three years old. There he grew up watching Errol Flynn movies and reading pulp fiction while his father managed to support his family as a poultry merchant.

Kane dropped out of high school at 15 and began doing bit sketching and in 1944 moved to comic giant DC Comics, home then to the fading "Green Lantern", where he honed what would later be his forte — the superhero.

After an 18-month Army stint near the end of World War II, Kane returned to DC and began to revive Green Lantern, giving the famous hero a new look.

He later revived The Atom then moved to Marvel, where he went to work recreating The Incredible Hulk, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man.

In 1971, Kane wrote what was acknowledged as the first graphic novel, "Blackmark".

By the 1980s he was back at DC to take on Batman and Superman and provided inspiration for a new generation of comic book artists.

"The reason Gil was one of the two or three most influential artists in the business ever is because his work never dated," said comic book writer Mark Waid in an interview with Scripps-Howard News Service. "If anything, it simply got more dynamic year after year."

After a stint doing animation, Kane returned to comics by 1990 where he worked until he died in Miami.

One of the last works to bear Gil Kane's name will be released in March or April and will feature his Green Lantern.

Fittingly, the work is titled "Legends of the DC Universe."