He's been described as independent, outspoken, irascible and sometimes "blunt to the point of rudeness," so it should come as no surprise that Doug Wildey also took great pride in the fact that he was a self-taught artist. The Yonkers, New York native learned his art as many did, by studying the masters of the adventure comic strips form: Foster, Caniff, Raymond and Sickles.
Like most able-bodied young American men of his generation, Wildey served in the military during World War II. It was while he was stationed at Barber's Point Naval Air in Hawaii that Wildey began his art career with his brief service as the cartoonist on the base paper. Wildey became a professional with the work he did for Street and Smith publications. In his official, hand-written bio, which he prepared for the 1965 National Cartoonist Society Album, Wildey states that he started with Street and Smith in 19471. That date may have been an error on his part, since his earliest substantiated work was 1949. Various sources name Buffalo Bill Picture Stories #1 (June-July, 1949) as his first work. However, further research has located an earlier comic, Top Secret #9 (May-June, 1949), with Wildey art. This comic carries a house ad for the upcoming Buffalo Bill comic on its inside front cover, lending credence to its earlier appearance.
Wildey's work on this first story,"Queen in Jeopardy", was nondescript and bears the crudeness typical of a young artist. The queen of the title bears a passing resemblance to Caniff's Dragon Lady, while the tilted angle of the splash may be a nod in Eisner's direction.
However, Wildey seems more at ease drawing Westerns in the Buffalo Bill comic. For the first time, he gets to illustrate a genre that he would return to throughout his career. Wildey's amateurish artwork in the two stories he illustrates in this comic benefits greatly from the enthusiastic pacing of the action taking place in the panels. And whatever his human anatomy lacked, his representation of horses was solid and assured.
Perhaps since he was already in his late-20's when he began drawing professionally, Wildey's art improved quickly. By 1953, when he drew this story in Daring Love #17 (April, 1953), Wildey had refined his human characterizations dramatically, to the point that he was illustrating stories based on actual persons. Ralph Flanagan, a real-life bandleader of the time, was the hero of the story. Wildey draws a credible likeness of Flanagan, based upon the photo displayed on the comic's cover. Wildey was known for his huge "morgue" file of photo references. He became so adept at depicting actual people, that it becomes an ancillary enjoyment trying to identify the celebrities cameo appearances in his artwork.
One bit of information about this story in Daring Love #17 that makes it unique, is that Wildey apparently did not ink it. It is somewhat amazing, but with few exceptions, Wildey inked virtually every page that he penciled. There is one notable exception to this that will be discussed later on, but it is a telling commentary on his commitment to his art that he generally crafted the entire work.
Wildey made the rounds of the 1950's comic publishers: Fawcett, Cross, Master, St. John, Youthful, etc. Indeed, he once recollected that he worked for every publisher except E.C., "the good one." 2
The bulk of Wildey's early artwork, prior to 1960, was for Atlas, the predecessor to Marvel Comics. He began work there in 1954 and illustrated virtually every genre they then published: fantasy, horror, crime, romance, and especially, Westerns. Most noteworthy of his work in this genre was his take on the classic Western anti-hero, The Outlaw Kid. In concept, it was typical of all the Stan Lee-created Kids (Colt, Rawhide, Two-Gun, Ringo, etc.). What set it apart was Wildey's art. Remembering it later, with tongue-in-cheek, Wildey stated, "…all I did was take every cornball singing cowboy movie that I'd ever seen and take one piece of equipment off each of these cowboys and put them on the guy."3 Whatever the inspiration, The Outlaw Kid was a monthly opportunity for Wildey to hone and develop his burgeoning art skills.
Using Outlaw Kid #11 (May, 1956) as an example of his work well into the series, the influence of cinema on his work is evident. Though he may have had this influence all along, now it is readily apparent, with panels staged like film scenes. The characters have a realistic, illustrative look to them, and the celebrity cameos begin to appear. Most significantly, his artwork finally had the consistent luster of professionalism. Wildey varied his inking from the fine stroke of an etching, to the bold use of solid blacks to attain dramatic chiaroscuro effects.
Unfortunately, the muddy printing process used in these comics obscures the beauty of the original art. A representative page of original art, from Wyatt Earp #28 (April, 1960), contains a virtual primer of early Wildey artwork. A Gary Cooper look-alike dominates the top left panel, the striking blacks of the night scenes, the almost-delicate pen strokes and brushwork. And, of course, could he ever draw horses.
In 1952, Wildey moved his family (wife Ellen and daughters Debbie and Lee) west to Tucson, Arizona. Apparently, this move had some effect upon his artwork. In a recent email to me, artist Dick Ayers noted that Wildey's Western backgrounds were generally of the American Southwest. Further, Ayers revealed the previously mentioned exception to Wildey's go-it-alone approach to art.
The New York Herald Tribune Syndicate offered Wildey the opportunity, in 1959, to take over "The Saint" comic strip drawing duties from Bob Lubbers. Apparently, the speed required of producing both a daily and Sunday strip, as well as some comic book work, proved to be too much for Wildey. As Ayers wrote," Doug had me ink some of his "The Saint" daily strips back in "58 or "59. We'd meet in a local parking lot to trade penciled strips and inked strips."