Wildey's success with Jonny Quest created a demand for his talents within the animation industry on a number of projects. Several of these projects brought him back to his comic roots. He hired on as an art director for Gantray-Lawrence in 1966 to oversee the animation on the Sub-Mariner and Iron Man segments of the Marvel Superheros series. While back at Hanna-Barbera, he was assigned to the Fantastic Four show in 1967. Ironically, Wildey had left Atlas Comics in 1960, just prior to their name change to Marvel and had never worked on any of these characters. In fact, he never drew a super hero while illustrating comic books. He also spent some time at Filmation doing character designs and model sheets for the Batman-Superman Hour in 1968.
During this period, Wildey gradually began doing some comic book work again. His ability to portray actual people allowed him to handle the art chores on Gomer Pyle* for Gold Key. But his most significant work for them was on their Tarzan comic. Wildey faced the unenviable task of following Russ Manning on the series.
Manning was a master illustrator in the Alex Raymond mold and just the latest in a line of great artists on the character going back to Hal Foster. To follow such esteemed company was an honor for Wildey and he was up to the challenge.
As can be seen in this page of original art from Tarzan #162 (December,1966), his style had changed somewhat in his years away from comics. At times, his line was simpler and his characters a bit more "cartoon-ish." His years as an animator had obviously had an affect on Wildey's artwork. What is interesting, is that he did not abandon his illustrative style, but seemed to adopt this second style that he used depending upon the assignment.
The success Wildey was enjoying as an animator and as a storyboard artist, allowed him the freedom to pick and choose his comic work as he pleased. "He pretty much drew what he wanted as he wanted, " Mark Evanier wrote me recently. It is to Wildey's great credit in that his skill as an artist continued to grow as he aged as opposed to so many others who plateau and eventually decline. He never seemed to stop trying different techniques or expanding into other areas of artistic expression.
Publication of the portfolio, "The Movie Cowboy" in 1971 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., presented Wildey's incredible talent as an illustrator to fans who had only known him previously from comics and cartoons.
"Here's the story on " The Movie Cowboy," Vadeboncoeur began in a recent email, "back in 1971, I was lucky enough to visit Doug at his home. Vince Davis took me over there and introduced me. We sat around in his studio talking about comics and cartoonists and all the while I'm distracted by the dozens of beautiful pen, brush and ink drawings that are hanging on the studio walls. Many feature famous Hollywood actors and all of them are Western scenes. During a break in the conversation, I said to Doug, "You know, you should really publish those. I'm sure they would sell very well!" "Yeah," Doug replied, "everybody always says that, but nobody does anything about it." So I said I would do it! And I walked out of his house with about two dozen Wildey originals under my arm and proceeded to publish what I ended up calling "The Movie Cowboy" a few months later."
The 26 illustrations in the portfolio are reproduced in a 12" x 18" format and are breathtaking in their execution. Wildey shifted seamlessly between pen and brush, from the finest pen strokes imaginable, to the soft nuances of wash, from the monumental close-up of a grizzled Martin Landau, to the sunny sweetness of two women waiting for a stagecoach. Here was an artist who had mastered his craft and was in love with his subject.
Wildey, however, had not abandoned comics, and in 1972 he created the strip "Ambler" for the Chicago Tribune-N.Y. News Syndicate. A contemporary strip, "Ambler" followed the adventures of an itinerant folk musician and was, of course, brilliantly illustrated. The two examples shown, of a Sunday strip and the rare original art of a daily, show the range of Wildey's techniques. By this time, Wildey was liberally applying zip-a-tone to his work that added another dimension of depth and shadow within the small confines of a strip. His "spotting" of solid blacks throughout made his art stand out on the page and echoed the work of Caniff. A particular favorite project of his, the vast majority of original "Ambler" art remains in his family's possession with the hopes that it will someday be collected into a graphic novel form.
Although "Ambler" was demanding much of his attention at the time, Wildey did find time to work on one particularly interesting comic book project. In 1972, DC published a book-length story in Sinister House of Secret Love #3 (February-March, 1972) entitled, "Bride of the Falcon." This Gothic-mystery- love story was the work of writer Frank Robbins (of Johnny Hazard fame) and penciled by Alex Toth. For one of the only times, and quite possibly the only time, Doug Wildey had agreed to be the inker. Wildey's previous mentioned preference to be the sole artist of a work begs the question as to why he chose this role. In any case, Wildey's contribution to the story only lasts eleven pages, at which time the inking chores are taken over by the very capable Frank Giacoia, who finishes the book. Wildey's more illustrative approach adds a realistic touch to Toth's pencils that differs from the thicker line employed by Giacoia and usually found over Toth. Although the constrasting styles blend well and their collaborative effort seems to succeed, it may not have been what the principals involved desired. It would be only speculation to guess at why Wildey left this story prematurely, but what he completed is a tantalizing hint at what may have been.
Another fascinating detour in Wildey's career occurred around this time and again was the result of an epic collaboration. West Magazine, the weekly supplement to the Los Angeles Times, announced in the editorial notes at the beginning of its March 12, 1972, issue, "In 1950, (Ray) Bradbury published what is still his most famous book-The Martian Chronicles. Since he had long been a fan and collector of comic books ("I have 35 years of Prince Valiant"), the possibility of turning that episodic book into a comic strip occurred to him immediately…it wasn't for 22 years that the project was finally completed, thanks to a special commission from (here we blush modestly) West. The strip…was also worked on by Doug Wildey, John Cassone and our own art assistant, Ed Carbajal."8 This rarely seen, three-page strip is presented in a series of realistic illustrations that seem almost to be scenes for a movie. Given Wildey's storyboard experience, it is not unexpected.
* At least one biographical source published in Wildey's lifetime cites the Gomer Pyle comic as his work. But writer Mark Evanier disputes this claim and given his knowledge of Wildey's career, I have no reason to doubt him.