|Born||Thomas F. Sutton
April 15, 1937
North Adams, Massachusetts
|Died||May 1, 2002
|Pseudonym(s)||Sean Todd, Dementia, TFS|
Thomas F. "Tom" Sutton (April 15, 1937 – May 1, 2002) was an American comic book artist who sometimes used the pseudonyms Sean Todd and Dementia. He is best known for his contributions to Marvel Comics and Warren Publishing's line of black-and-white horror-comics magazines, particularly as the first story-artist of the popular character Vampirella.
Early life and career
Tom Sutton was born and raised in North Adams, Massachusetts, where father Harry was a plumbing, heating and air conditioning shopkeeper, and a machinist and gunsmith for General Electric and others. He had a half-sister "seven or eight years older than I am" from his widower father's first marriage. Influenced by EC Comics and the comic strip art of Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, Sutton drew nude art for paying schoolyard classmates.
He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from high school in 1955, and worked on art projects while stationed at Fort Francis E. Warren, near Laramie, Wyoming. Later, stationed at Itami base in northern Japan, Sutton created the Caniff-style adventure strip F.E.A.F Dragon for a base publication. Sutton's first professional comics work, it led to a long-hoped-for placement on the military's Stars and Stripes newspaper.
At its Tokyo office of Stars and Stripes, he drew the comic strip Johnny Craig, a character name inspired by the EC artist Johnny Craig. Sutton recalled that he worked on this strip "for two years and some odd months. I did it seven days a week, I think. It was all stupid. It was a kind of cheap version of [Frank Robbins'] Johnny Hazard, I think it was".
On his return to civilian life in 1959, Sutton lived and worked in San Francisco, where, he said, "There were some publications ... that I sold or gave artwork to." After six months he moved to Jacksonville, Vermont, where his parents were at the time. In about 1960 he began attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on either a scholarship or the G.I. Bill — Sutton was unclear on this in a 2001 interview — and studied there for two-and-a-half years while freelancing in commercial art for the likes of small ad agencies. Sutton became an art director at a company called AVP, and was the animation director for Transradio Productions, among many other jobs that included graphics work on a Radio Shack catalog.
He married his first wife, Beverly, in the early 1960s and his two sons were born soon thereafter; the marriage last approximately five years. After the divorce his wife remarried and Sutton lost contact with his sons; he later reconnected with one of them, Todd. During the late 1960s, Sutton was living in Boston's North End. He married second wife Donna and in 1970 they moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts. Later Sutton lived in Newburyport with his third wife, Charlotte, who ran a Montessori school for little people in the first floor of their Victorian house. In the 1990s, he moved to Amesbury, Massachusetts.
Warren and Marvel
Sutton's first two comic-book stories appeared the same month. His first sale, "The Monster from One Billion B.C.", was published in Warren Publishing's black-and-white horror-comics magazine Eerie #11 (Sept. 1967), though it was originally commissioned for Famous Monsters of Filmland (where it was reprinted four months later). He also illustrated the five-page anthological Western story "The Wild Ones", written by Sol Brodsky, in Marvel's Kid Colt, Outlaw #137 (Sept. 1967). It was one of many Westerns he drew for the company, including the introduction of the short-lived feature "Renegades"—The Fugitive times four, in the Old West—in Western Gunfighters #1 (Aug. 1970).
As Sutton recalled his breaking into Marvel, editor-in-chief Stan Lee
...looked at the stuff that I had brought in, [which was] stuff that I had done in the service for Stars and Stripes in Tokyo. I think he was rather impressed by the fact that I had actually done a daily comic strip for two years. He didn’t get many people who had done that. ... He just reached over and he pulled off this huge pile of blank paper. And he said, 'OK, do me a couple of Westerns and I'll see you next week. Have fun.' I remember that very well. 'Have fun.'
Sutton soon developed a trademark frantic, cartoony style that, when juxtaposed on dramatic narratives, gave his work a vibrant, quirky dynamism. That distinctive style helped establish the popular supernatural character Vampirella from her first story, "Vampirella of Draculona", written by Forrest J. Ackerman, with costume design by artist Trina Robbins, in Vampirella #1 (Sept. 1969). Later, with writer Archie Goodwin, Sutton helped transition Vampi from cheeky horror hostess to serious dramatic character in the 21-page story "Who Serves the Cause of Chaos?" in issue #8 (Nov. 1970, reprinted in color in Harris Comics' 1995 Vampirella Classics series).
Though well-suited to horror stories, Sutton was also admired for his work on such science fiction series as Marvel's Planet of the Apes magazine and First Comics' GrimJack and Squalor, and for the humor title Not Brand Ecch, on which he appeared in nearly every issue with parodies of Marvel's own characters. He was not especially equipped to do superheroes, either by art style or temperament, once calling them "fascist". While he lent a hand very occasionally, Sutton stayed mostly on Marvel's supernatural heroes: Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange (in the 1970s series, plus Baron Mordo backup stories in the 1980s Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme). With writer Steve Englehart, penciler Sutton introduced the new furrily transformed X-Men character the Beast, who starred in a superhero/horror feature in Amazing Adventures #11-15 (March-Sept. 1972).
A series in the 1970s black-and-white comics magazine Planet of the Apes, a licensed spin-off of the movie series, done with writer Doug Moench, was "recognized by many as Sutton's best", said comics historian and columnist Tom Spurgeon:
Together, they created the 'Future Chronicles' stories for Marvel's Planet of the Apes magazine. [For this] enormously elaborate and cleverly designed fantasy saga set on the world featured in the movies, Sutton worked with oversized originals to better show off his mixed-media work and allow for meticulous detail. The result was a lush, moody, and striking fantasy story to stand with any in mainstream comics history. ' He really made the work a joy, and pure fun,' Moench told [The Comics] Journal. ' This guy was so into the "Future Chronicles", he wanted to put so much detail into it, he worked on these gigantic boards. It was [a] black-and-white [magazine], so it was already bigger than regular comics pages. Then he did that series twice up, these enormous things that would cover my desk. Right there it made it something special, the sheer physical size of it. The enthusiasm you could see in every brushstroke just made it so exciting'.
For the horror-oriented Warren, Sutton drew dozens of stories early in his career. He moonlighted for Warren competitor Skywald Publications, drawing the Frankenstein-novel sequel "Frankenstein, Book II" (serialized in Psycho magazine #3-6, May, 1971 - May, 1972)—using the pseudonym "Sean Todd" (writer-penciler Sutton and inkers Dan Adkins, Jack Abel and Sutton himself), to avoid the wrath of publisher James Warren. A separate story in Psycho #4, written by Sutton and drawn by him and Syd Shores, was credited as "Larry Todd" (writer) and "David Cook" (art). This was the result of someone having inadvertently inserted the name of real-life writer Larry Todd rather than usual pseudonym Sean Todd.
For Skywald's short-lived line of color comics, Sutton wrote and drew stories for the Western title Butch Cassidy and the horror title The Heap (no relation to the 1940s-50s Hillman Periodicals character later revived by Eclipse Comics). He drew Marvel's similar muck-monster Man-Thing as eight-page installments in the omnibus series Marvel Comics Presents during the late 1980s.
Later life and career
Living in Mystic, Connecticut, at some point, Sutton in the mid-1970s to early 1980s wrote and drew horror stories for the Derby, Connecticut-based Charlton Comics, including for such titles as Ghost Manor, Midnight Tales, Monster Hunters and The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves, also painting covers for some of these titles. In the mid-1980s, Sutton drew suspense stories for DC Comics' House of Secrets and House of Mystery which included the "I…Vampire" feature with writer J. M. DeMatteis. He penciled virtually all 56 issues of DC's licensed series Star Trek (1984-1988), a period in which, he said, "I know I was becoming an alcoholic." The desire to continue drawing, he said, overcame the urge to drink:
[Y]ou can be drunk as a fucking skunk and there’s a little voice that goes off in your head that says, “Would you like to draw pictures, or would you like to be drunk face down in the gutter? Choose one.” Those are the only two chances you’ve got. I had my own little miracle. I thank God for it to this day. I’m not making a big thing out of it. The only reason I even talk about it is the fact that I think there are other people out there who need to know this. That you can save yourself. You go to AA, and eh. I couldn’t stick with AA. Other people, that’s a great place for them. ... I ran out of bars. One by one, and there must have been a dozen in Newberryport, I was a persona non grata at ever single one of them [and] ... I would never sit home and drink. I had to have an audience.
Late in life, Sutton did commercial art for New England ad agencies, and under his "Dementia" pseudonym, which he adopted in 1994, he drew for Fantagraphics' Eros Comix line of adult comics. He was also a painter who had gallery showings of his bar-scene canvases. A limited-edition portfolio of six H.P. Lovecraft-inspired fantasy prints, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, was produced in 1978 and reprinted in the 2002 book Graphic Classics: H. P. Lovecraft.
Police found Sutton dead of an apparent heart attack in his Amesbury apartment on May 3, 2002; it is unclear whether a medical examiner's determination of time or date of death was reported; the Social Security Death Index confirms his death as May 1, 2002. Eros' Dementia's Dirty Girls #1 (May 2002) included a tribute by Bill Pearson.
- Thomas F. Sutton at the Social Security Death Index. Retrieved on September 20, 2012.
- Spurgeon, Tom (June 30, 2002). "Obituary: Tom Sutton 1937-2002". ComicsReporter.com. Archived from the original on May 13, 2011. Additional WebCitation archive, February 7, 2011.
- Tom Sutton interview (February 2001). "An Odd Man Out: Tom Sutton". The Comics Journal (230). Archived from the original on December 3, 2012.
- Tom Sutton at the Lambiek Comiclopedia
- "Trimmings: Tom Sutton". Online additions to interview published in The Comics Journal #230, above. Archived from the original on April 29, 2008.
- Sutton interview, The Comics Journal, p. 3 of online version.
- Sutton interview, The Comics Journal, p. 4 of online version.
- Sutton interview, The Comics Journal, p. 8 of online version.
- Arndt, Richard J. (September 22, 2008). "The Warren Magazines". EnjolrasWorld.com. Archived from the original on July 10, 2011.
- Tom Sutton at the Grand Comics Database
- Sutton interview, The Comics Journal, p. 7 of online version.
- Arndt, Richard J. The Complete Skywald Checklist (2007). WebCitation archive
- "Connecticut Talent". Connecticut Historical Society. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007.
- Manning, Matthew K.; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1980s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. "Writer J. M. DeMatteis unveiled vampire/vampire hunter Andrew Bennett with the help of artist Tom Sutton in The House of Mystery #290."
- Sutton interview, The Comics Journal, p. 9 of online version.
- Sutton interview, The Comics Journal, p. 10 of online version.
- Gage, Chris (2002, n.d.). "Graphic Classics: H. P. Lovecraft". (review) FeoAmante.com. Archived from the original on December 10, 2002. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
- Comic Book Artist #12 (March 2001): Tom Sutton interview, pp. 62–69
- The Unofficial Handbook of Marvel Comics Creators
- Tom Sutton at the Comic Book DB
- Amash, Jim. "Tom Sutton Tribute", Charlton Spotlight #3
- "Tom Sutton (1937-2002)" at the Wayback Machine (archived September 30, 2007), "SF/F & Publishing News", Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, n.d. Original page.
- "Tom Sutton (1937-2002)", Alter Ego vol. 3, #16, July 2002
- Schenk, Ramon, ed. Charlton Comics checklist: Tom Sutton WebCitation archive
- "Tom Sutton (1937-2002), Wacky Packages Artist", Lost Wackys at the Wayback Machine (archived September 3, 2006)