If you haven’t heard, Earl Norem passed away on June 19th at the age of 91. I’ve talked about Norem often, as he is one of the greatest and most influential commercial illustrators of the late 20th century, and a definer of many of the franchises that are now geek canon. Before he started working in comics and related media, however, he had a long and very successful career painting heroes who were only slightly less superhuman. Since his men’s pulp phase is most likely to be ignored—either because it’s distinctly (and necessarily) politically incorrect, or because it doesn’t feature He-Man—I wanted to post a very small sample of his elite output for the genre.
Norem, who served in the distinguished 10th Mountain Division in World War II and was wounded when the Allies advanced into the Po Valley, was perfectly aware of the absurdity of mounting a .30 Caliber Machine Gun on a surfboard, but his job was to sell magazines, and that’s exactly what he did. Professional illustration was a hard, competitive business, and there was no room for sentimentality or grandstanding. Norem took the confines of the particular layout he had to work with and made us look, long and wide-eyed, whether it was a zombie exploding out of a grave or a circus bear smacking around Nazis.
Norem’s range was incredible, and his success and longevity within so many different markets—from Reader’s Digest and Field and Stream to Great Illustrated Classics to The Six Million Dollar Man and Dungeons & Dragons—is a testament to his superior talent. He left behind an enormous body of work that, I hope, will one day get the serious recognition it deserves.