"Taps" for Robert Kanigher (1915-2002), who listed his writing influences as Dostoyevsky, Gorki, Shakespeare, Freud, Joyce, and Sophocles.

RK won a NY TIMES short story contest in his teens, began writing half-hour radio plays in the late 30s, and broke into writing for comics at Fox comics in 1940 writing "Blue Beetle", "Samson", and "The Bouncer" at the rate of 100 pages a week.

He wrote a how-to book HOW TO MAKE MONEY WRITING in 1943 which had a section on comics. RK was a talented, driven speed-demon on the typewriter keys and once, in a pinch, dictated a "Steel Sterling" tale over the telephone to favored artist peer Irv Novick, who coolly beat the deadline doom, lettering RK's dialogue straight onto his art paper, as told.
                                                                         Kanigher at Fort Dix during WWII

Kanigher performed a similar astounding delivery when he created and scripted a superhero classic, "The Metal Men" for SHOWCASE # 37 (3-4/62). RK art-directed his artists Andru and Esposito on the layout, and they heroically rendered the story, completing the book in only ten days, cover to cover.

Kanigher began his long association with DC, first as a scripter for Sheldon Mayer. He was promoted to editor the very same evening of the day that Mayer had jumped up and down in frustration on one of his"Wonder Woman" scripts.

RK scripted the Golden Age superheroic mainstays: "The Justice Society of America", "Hawkman", "Green Lantern", and was handed the demanding assignment of taking over editorship and scripting of "Wonder Woman" when creator and scripter William Moulton Marston died. Kanigher steered the direction of the character away from Marston's unique blend of bondage and matriarchal content to a more streamlined and romantic version with the aid of his artist Irwin Hasen. This caused some controvery among older fans which the feisty Kanigher enjoyed.

Kanigher's already impressive resume grew in stature when he edited and wrote the "Big 5" DC war books starting in 1952. Teaming with artist Joe Kubert, Kanigher produced the lengendary "Sgt. Rock" tale, "The Rock and the Wall" in OUR ARMY AT WAR # 83 (6/59) and the K-K (Kanigher-Kubert) team, as it was dubbed in the 1960s, produced many memorable stories and characters such as the "Viking Prince", "Enemy Ace", "Balloon Buster" and "Ragman".

An artist as well as a writer, Kanigher often laid out the cover designs for his artists, including the fandom-famous SHOWCASE # 4 (9-10/56) cover, in which he revamped the character and wrote the new tale of the Silver Age "Flash" for editor Julius Schwartz.

Unigue among the DC editors in one regard, RK preferred that an artist both pencil and ink his own artwork and he hired the top talent; Jerry Grandentti, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert, John Severin, Mort Drucker, Russ Heath, (one exception was the Andru-Esposito team) and others, from whom he demanded their best efforts. RK is one of a trio of the greatest of war comics writer-editors: Harvey Kurtzman, Robert Kanigher and Archie Goodwin.  

                      
                           Detail from cover art to COMICS JOURNAL #85

Kanigher had a way of writing about animals and anthropomorphised machines and objects that was seldom matched by other authors. He wrote and edited the successful DC romance comics on and off for years, training many of his editor successors. In 1968, after editing the first 192 issues of OUR ARMY AT WAR, Kanigher resigned from editing and Joe Kubert took over the helm on the DC war books. However, Kanigher continued scripting "Sgt. Rock" to the very end of the regular run, SGT. ROCK # 422 (6/88). For 29 years he had scripted "Sgt. Rock" without missing a deadline. Over on a companion war title, G.I. COMBAT, featuring his creation, "The Haunted Tank", RK teamed with artist Sam Glanzman to produce an astounding 134 consecutive issues, from issues # 154 (6-7/72) to # 288 (3/87).  In all, "The Haunted Tank" feature ran for 26 years!

Racking up records like this, from a generation that has produced comic book work matched by no others, Kanigher was one of the most productive comic book writers ever. According to figures researched and compiled by his biographer and friend Robin Snyder, RK is in the running for title "King of the Comic Book Writers" alongside literary workhorses Paul S. Newman (the current leader at 4016 + stories, or 36,000 pages), Joe Gill, Gaylord Dubois and a few select others. The tallying is still continuing on these men's output and no definitive winner has been absolutely declared. "Chads" are still hanging. (Ouch!). Even with all of his work, Kanigher somehow found time to pursue other passions: fencing, skiing, writing poetry and novels, traveling, and "action" painting!

 

His list of created characters for DC alone is staggering: "Black Canary", "Star Sapphire", the "Harlequin", the "Rose and the Thorn", Batman's "Poison Ivy", the Western version of "Johnny Thunder", The "Trigger Twins", the "Viking Prince", "Danger Trail's King Faraday", the "Silent Knight", "Sea Devils", "Sgt. Rock, and Easy Co.", "Capt. Storm", "Johnny Cloud", the "Haunted Tank", "Enemy Ace", "Metal Men" and so many others.



Truly, a major, irreplaceable creative force in comics has left us. We will never see his like again. RK was preceded in death by his wife Bernice and is survived by his daughter Jan, son Evan, and millions of saddened reader/fans.

For more information on Robert Kanigher, see Robin Snyder's excellent newsletter THE COMICS! (email him at RSComics@aol.com) and see also Robin's classic in-depth interview with RK"The Golden Gladiator Robert Kanigher", in THE COMICS JOURNAL # 84 and # 85 (1983).


"Before I do a script, two things must happen. I must see the characters in the darkened theater of my mind. And I must feel their emotions as if I were inside their skins. Then--I just do it."

" I give artists emotion and characterization. If they're talented they can draw what I ask."

"I don't write comics. I use the medium"

"I never missed a deadline in my life"

"I am moved, shaken, and when it is all over, I look at wonder at what is written or painted." --Robert Kanigher RIP


Don Mangus Tribute: These are some of my favorite RK stories

ALL AMERICAN MEN OF WAR # 82, (11-12/60): "The Flying Chief", Irv Novick art

ALL AMERICAN MEN OF WAR # 112, (11-12/65): "The Balloon Buster", Russ Heath art

CAPTAIN STORM # 1, (5-6/64): "Killer Hunt", Irv Novick art

G.I. COMBAT # 87, (4-5/61) :" Introducing the Haunted Tank", Russ Heath art

HOUSE OF MYSTERY # 187, (7/70): "Mask of the Red Fox", Alex Toth art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 83, (6/59): "The Rock and the Wall", Joe Kubert art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 113, (12/61): "Eyes of a Blind Gunner", Joe Kubert art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 151, (2/65): "Enemy Ace", Joe Kubert art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 160, (11/65): "What's the Color of Your Blood?", Joe Kubert art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 233, (6/71): "Head Count", Joe Kubert art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 235, (8/71): "Pressure Point", Russ Heath art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 235, (8/71): "The Glory Boys", Alex Toth art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 269, (6/74): "Horseless!", Ric Estrada art

OUR ARMY AT WAR # 272, (9/74): "A Sergeant Dies", Ric Estrada art

OUR FIGHTING FORCES # 49, (9/59): "Blind Gunner", Jerry Grandenetti art

OUR FIGHTING FORCES # 132, (7-8/71): "Pooch the Winner!", John Severin art

OUR FIGHTING FORCES # 134, (11-12 /71): "Soldiers Grave", Alex Toth art

SHOWCASE # 57, (7-8/65): "Killer of the Skies!", Joe Kubert art

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES # 87, (11/59): "T.N.T Spotlight", Mort Drucker art

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES # 116, (8-9/64): "The Suicide Squad", Andru-Esposito art

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES # 164, (8/72): "White Devil...Yellow Devil", Alex Toth art

TOMAHAWK # 138, (1-2/72): "Christmas", Frank Thorne art

 

©2002
by Don Mangus

About the author:

Don Mangus returns with this stirring tribute to the recently deceased writing legend, Robert Kanigher. Don's essay is the first installment on our Memorial Page which will chronicle the passing of comic creators and serve as a remembrance of their work.

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