Creator Profile: Jerry Ordway by Jerry Whitworth
Truly a modern day master in the field of comic book art, Jerry Ordway has applied his craft for over three decades in the field while working on some of the most groundbreaking stories in comic book history, arguably most known for inking George Pérez’ art in Crisis on Infinite Earths and for his reinvention of Captain Marvel following Zero Hour: Crisis in Time.
Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Ordway was a fan of Marvel Comics including Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man, and the Avengers (having been exposed to many of them through the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon), leading to his decision to pursue a career in the industry. While attending Milwaukee Tech High School, Ordway took three years of commercial art courses before a semester at Milwaukee Area Technical College which led to work as a typographer at Altenhoffen Typographers. In 1977, Ordway took a trip with some fellow artists to New York to try and show his art to Marvel Comics (meeting with Jim Shooter) and DC Comics (with Vince Colletta) but struck out, deciding to abandon his dream of working in comics. Ordway joined a commercial art studio in downtown Milwaukee to work as an assistant to the photostat department worker who suffered a stroke some months prior and Ordway apprenticed therein working his way up through the business.
The young artist would get to demonstrate his creative line art at the studio when he produced work for coloring books for Western Publishing (Golden Books) in Racine, Wisconsin which included licensed comic book characters from Marvel and DC. When Ordway heard DC Comics would be having a talent search at the 1980 Chicago Comicon, he used samples from these pages to demonstrate his abilities to Joe Orlando in order to hire him. In fact, as DC had to approve the art used for the coloring books from Western, the company was trying to get a hold of Ordway for a job offer and Orlando’s assistant Paul Levitz recognized his work immediately. Beginning with Mystery in Space #117 in 1981 with Carmine Infantino’s “The Lazarus Fire,” Ordway would start inking for DC. Some time prior to coming to DC in the mid-1970s, Ordway saw his original story “The Messenger” published in fanzine Tim Corrigan’s Superhero Comics #4 (1975) and locally self-published two issues of his original fanzine Okay Comix, featuring his creation Proton, which included fellow local artist Mike Machlan to ink one of the stories in the second issue (Ordway having studied comic art with Joe Kubert’s “How I Draw Tarzan” feature in a DC Treasury Edition and a booklet sold by Charlton Comics that taught basics).
Jerry Ordway worked for the commercial art studio and DC Comics for six months before accepting an offer from the latter as a full time freelance artist in February 1981 (Ordway was originally offered the opportunity to ink Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’ New Teen Titans but turned the job down before finally taking the plunge later). Ordway would begin inking his first regular gig on the monthly title All-Star Squadron featuring essentially all of DC’s Golden Age heroes (even inventing new ones), eventually becoming the book’s ongoing artist and worked with its scribe Roy Thomas (one of Ordway’s idols for his work on the Avengers) and Mike Machlan to co-create the spin-off Infinity, Inc. which featured an offshoot of the Justice Society of America’s proteges and children (similarly to the Super Squad). In 1984, Ordway helped found Milwaukee-based Jumpstart Studios alongside Machlan, Al Vey, and Pat Broderick and would later add John Statema, Mark G. Heike, and Bill Jaaska. The following year, Ordway had left DC to follow John Byrne to work at Marvel Comics. Originally, this was to ink Byrne’s art on Squadron Supreme but that would instead change to the monthly Fantastic Four title. DC Comics had wanted to bring Ordway back into the fold and when Dick Giordano was too busy to ink the historic Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series featuring the work of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, it was offered to Ordway to bring him back. Following Crisis, Superman would be reinvented for a new generation from the vision of Marv Wolfman and John Byrne. Ordway would come on as artist for the Adventures of Superman under Wolfman eventually taking over the book as writer and artist working on the title in some capacity or another for over two years. Two years later, Ordway would return to scribe the title for another two years including its historic five hundredth issue. When Ordway left Adventures the first time, it was to take over writing duties for the Superman title itself after the departure of John Byrne for the two year break in between. Ordway would return to Adventures in 1998 where he co-wrote the book with Karl Kesel. Ordway would contribute to such advents of the Superman mythos as Clark Kent’s post-Crisis proposal to Lois Lane (coming up with the idea initially himself) and the “death” and return of Superman. During this six year stint with Superman, Ordway would provide the art for the comic book adaptation of the 1989 Batman film and collaborate on the one-shot adaptation of Lois & Clark, The New Adventures of Superman.
Following his extensive time with Superman, Jerry Ordway inked the spiritual sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths in Dan Jurgens’ Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. Ordway’s next project maybe what the creator will forever be best known for since. During the Golden Age, Fawcett Comics created a character named Captain Marvel who in time rose to be the top seller in the industry. However, due to his similarities to Superman, National took Fawcett to court to eliminate its competition. After a lengthy battle, it was agreed Fawcett would pay a fee to National and couldn’t publish Marvel without their permission (essentially killing the character). However, in the early 1970s, DC Comics decided to resurrect Marvel by licensing the property but the return was largely brief (though, the character would pop up on occasion in the years that followed, such as in All-Star Squadron, and would often be found battling Superman in different books for some reason or another). Following Crisis on Infinite Earths, Marvel was given another push but again was squashed. In 1991, DC would purchase the rights to Marvel and the character would finally get his chance under the pen of Jerry Ordway following Zero Hour (though, work on the book began several years before the event was planned and Ordway’s graphic novel arrived months before the event’s publication). In 1994, DC would publish an original graphic novel written, drawn, and painted by Jerry Ordway called Power of Shazam! (Marvel Comics having copyrighted the Captain Marvel name while the character was out of print and DC couldn’t use it on promotions including book covers) which reinvented the character yet again. Captain Marvel was the favorite character of Ron Killian of the Turning Page comic book store where Ordway would hang out in Milwaukee. It was through Killian that Ordway was introduced to Golden Age comics and where he became a big fan of C.C. Beck (who co-created Marvel). While Ordway added a modern sensibility to Marvel (admitting to borrowing elements from the Spider-Man tales of his youth), he also rooted the character deeply in various aspects of its mythos from its life as a Fawcett creation to what creators added afterward. Perhaps most sensational was the beautiful art of the piece, essentially a sequential painting that would’ve been a great piece of comic book literature even if it had no words.
This revised edition of Captain Marvel proved to be a success with reprints of the book selling well for many years (only recently finally going out of print) and the work winning Comics Buyer’s Guide Fan Award for Favorite Original Graphic Album of 1994. This success would mean Jerry Ordway was given the opportunity to turn Power of Shazam! into an ongoing series. The creator would continue the trend started in the original piece by seeing Marvel and his alter ego Billy Batson struggle with his daily life while crossing swords with many of his Golden Age foes updated for the present (even bringing many other Fawcett superheroes along the way). Of course, Ordway would pen the inevitable showdown between Captain Marvel and Superman, taking advantage of Silver Age villain Lord Satanis who, following Crisis, was re-imagined as Lord Satanus where, with his sister Blaze, was the half-demon spawn of the wizard Shazam. Ordway scribed the title for its entire run of some four years. Characters of Ordway’s run would later find renewed fame under the pen of Geoff Johns of the hit series JSA, featuring Black Adam as a reformed anti-hero in a modern version of the Justice Society of America. In between his work on Superman and Captain Marvel, Ordway collaborated with Al Gordon on an original, creator-owned project in WildStar: Sky Zero at Image Comics. In the years that followed Shazam!, Ordway would work as writer, inker, and/or artist on various projects including the Avengers, Hulk, USAgent, Azrael: Agent of the Bat, Walt Simonson’s Wonder Woman, Alan Moore’s Tom Strong, Top 10, Warren Ellis’ Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta, Just Imagine Stan Lee with Jerry Ordway Creating JLA, and his creator-owned graphic novel The Messenger.
When it was decided to provide an official sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths in Infinite Crisis, Jerry Ordway was put on tap to provide inks for the limited series as well as some interior art. In this sequence, Ordway was a thread that inked the three major crises that shaped DC Comics. Following this new Crisis, Ordway was again provided the opportunity to work on both the Marvel Family and Earth-Two. Following the events of Infinite Crisis, a limited version of DC Comics’ multiverse was reintroduced including Earth-Two (home to the Justice Society of America, All-Star Squadron, and Infinity, Inc.). The event would also reveal that Power Girl was in fact the same Power Girl that resided on Earth-Two having been one of the few survivors of the Crisis on Infinite Earths that was not retroactively altered. In the pages of Justice Society of America, Ordway would draw the return of Power Girl to Earth-Two and its Justice Society Infinity (merging the old and new groups into a single entity). Shortly thereafter in that same title, Ordway would also draw the post-Infinite Crisis version of the Marvel Families in wake of its upheaval in the pages of 52, the Trials of Shazam!, Black Adam: The Dark Age, and so on. Jerry Ordway would later be featured in an issue of Modern Masters by TwoMorrows Publishing and would work on the title Red Menace as well as become a cover artist for various DC Comics titles. When the Warner Archive Collection released the live action Shazam! television series on DVD, a variant edition was produced featuring a cover by Ordway. Presently, Jerry Ordway is providing art for the mini-series Human Bomb.
For the latest on Jerry Ordway, read his blog, follow him on Twitter and check him out on Facebook.