Friday, March 23, 2018

RIP Don J. Arneson

News From Me
By Mark Evanier
March 21, 2018

We're just now hearing that comic book writer-editor Don J. Arneson passed last February 1 at the age of 82. Don was born in Montevideo, Minnesota on August 15, 1935. His family later relocated to Boulder, Colorado where he attended the University of Colorado before enlisting in the U.S. Army. After his discharge, he lived in Mexico before relocating to New York City to try and break into the world of publishing. In 1958 he married Beatrice Franchina, a fellow Mexico City College student. After graduation they returned to the United States living and working in New York City prior to settling in Connecticut.

Around 1962, he answered a newspaper ad for an editorial assistant for Dell Publishing and wound up working on their comic book line. Dell had recently severed a long relationship with Western Printing and Lithography, which has printed their comics and also handled all the editorial work. (A more detailed explanation can be found here.) Dell was now producing the contents of their books in-house and Arneson began working with their editor, L.B. Cole. After a month or so, Cole was let go and Arneson found himself as editor-in-chief.

He originally intended to do little or no writing himself but when scripts needed serious revision, there was no money in Dell's budget to pay anyone else to do it. Arneson found himself rewriting whole issues and eventually just began writing many of the Dell titles himself from scratch. Among the comics he wrote were Flying Saucers, The Beverly Hillbillies, F Troop, The Monkees and the superhero versions of Frankenstein, Dracula and Werewolf.

His most famous Dell effort was Lobo, a comic about a gunslinger in the Old West. The comic, created by Arneson with artist Tony Tallarico, lasted only two issues but is now cited as the first American comic book to star a black protagonist. Arneson, who was always politically active, was very proud of that, though at a loss to explain its swift termination.

Arneson was also the editor-writer of a series of comics with a political bent which he did, usually with Tallarico, for other publishers targeting an older audience. The two best-sellers were The Great Society Comic Book, which turned Lyndon Johnson into a super-hero, and Bobman and Teddy, which turned Robert and Ted Kennedy into Batman and Robin.

While working as the editor at Dell, Arneson also began moonlighting for other companies, writing scripts for Charlton (sometimes under the name, Norm DiPluhm), Tower (on Undersea Agent) and Western Publishing, for which he was the main writer for quite some time on their Dark Shadows comic book. He left Dell around 1969 and expanded his freelancing efforts, writing occasionally for DC's ghost comics and romance titles.

I knew Don only on the phone. We chatted occasionally the last few years and I was hoping, as he was, that various illnesses would abate and he could make the journey to San Diego for Comic-Con International. I'm sorry that didn't happen as he was a bright, engaging fellow who was very proud of his work…and probably writing something right up until he left us.

ARNESON, Don J. (Don Jon Arneson)
Born: 8/21/1935, Montevideo, Minnesota, U.S.A.
Died: 2/1/2018, Woodbury, Connecticut, U.S.A.

Don J. Arneson’s westerns – script, comic book writer:
F Troop – 1965 [script writer]
Lobo - 1965

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