A comic book artist gets help from some real-life heroes

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BRATTLEBORO -- If you grew up reading and collecting comic books in the 1970s and 1980s, chances are you saw the artwork of Ed Hannigan.

Hannigan was one of the artists that was behind the cover art on many of Marvel Comics' and DC Comics' most famous lines. He was responsible for many of the preliminary sketches and covers for the "Spectacular Spider-Man," "Superman," "Batman," "Hulk," "Daredevil," "Defenders," "Flash," "Avengers," "Green Arrow" and "Thor."

He also drew the cover of the "Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe," which was later released as a wall poster, and the graphic novel "Skull and Bones."

For 20 years, Hannigan did many of the cover sketches for DC and Marvel "for pretty much the entire line," said Jim McLauchlin, president of the Hero Initiative, which is producing "Ed Hannigan: Covered."

"It was Ed Hannigan who was determining the look and feel and the entire artistic direction for the companies," said McLauchlin.

The Hero Initiative is a charity that raises money for "oldtimers" of the comic book industry and those in need of health care, many of whom only received a paycheck and never received royalties for characters they created or drew.

Hannigan, who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, will receive all the profits from "Ed Hannigan: Covered," to help pay for his medical needs. The collection of Hannigan's sketches and cover art will be released on Jan. 13.

"It's slowly getting worse," said Hannigan, about his disease. "What used to take me one day to draw, now takes me a couple of weeks to do. In the last couple of months, I decided it was time to hang it up. My hands aren't steady and I am having trouble holding the pencils."

Hannigan admitted it's frustrating to no longer be able to draw. But, he said, he was able to realize his childhood dream.

"I wanted to become a comic book artist and I did that," said Hannigan. "I worked in comics for more than 20 years."

Hannigan, 58, fell in love with comic books when he received an issue of "World's Finest," which featured Batman and Superman teaming up to battle super criminals.

"I got the idea that maybe someday I could be the guy drawing the pictures," said Hannigan.

In the 1960s, his father, who worked for an oil company, was transferred from Ashland, Mass., to Glen Ridge, N.J., which was right across the Hudson River from New York City.

Hannigan, who had no formal art training, showed up one day at the offices of Marvel with samples in hand.

"They were crap," he said. "But I never left. I refused to leave."

His persistence got him his first job in comics, as a lettering corrector for reprints that were being released in England "on the cheap."

"I was really terrible at it," said Hannigan. "I was fired after a couple of weeks."

But that same day, he was hired to apply Zip-A-Tone, an adhesive film printed with dots or lines, to add shading to black-and-white comics.

All the while he was doing odd jobs at Marvel, he looked over the shoulders of the artists drawing covers and interior panels, gradually perfecting his own artwork.

He eventually started doing sketches for some of Marvel's less popular titles such as its monster and horror comics. His first cover was for "Planet of the Apes: Evolution's Nightmare," for which he also penciled the interior panels.

He then worked with Marvel's art director John Romita, who was then in responsible for the covers for 80 titles.

"I did cover sketches for him to lighten his load," said Hannigan, who then assigned the actual drawing of the cover to an artist. "I made a niche for myself in doing cover sketches and designing covers."

Hannigan worked for Marvel in the 1970s and DC in the 1980s.

At DC, he was the cover editor for every one of their titles.

"It was a major stressful job," said Hannigan.

He also worked with the merchandising and licensing departments for both Marvel and DC, designing Spider-Man and Hulk lunch boxes and the box for a Batman game.

In 1988, he and his wife moved to Chesterfield, N.H., with their new-born daughter. While looking for a home in Chesterfield, he lived on Elliot Street in Brattleboro for a short while.

At the time, he was drawing covers for "Batman: Legends of the Dark Night."

"It did very well," said Hannigan. "It paid for our furniture and oil heat."

But then there was "a big meltdown in comics," said Hannigan. The industry was issuing too many collectibles and had created a "comic book bubble" which eventually collapsed, devastating the industry.

"I had a contract with DC, but as soon as it was up, they wouldn't answer the phone anymore," he said. "I couldn't get any work."

He took a job with Channing Bete in Deerfield, Mass., which produces publications for schools and universities, health services, the military, community safety and prevention programs.

While working at Channing Bete, Hannigan began to experience some troubling medical problems, which included problems with his vision and numbness in his extremities.

He was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 12 years ago and was eventually released from his job at Channing Bete during layoffs.

Recently, Hannigan drew art for the "Ultimate Hulk 100 Project," a collection of Hulk covers that benefited the Hero Initiative.

That's when Hannigan's plight came to the attention of McLauchlin, who said Hannigan was one of the men who laid the foundation for the comic book industry.

"These are the bricklayers who built up this incredibly rich field," he said, who was particularly impressed by Hannigan.

"Ed was an amazingly hard worker," he said. "He was a sponge who absorbed everything. He improved so rapidly in a short time and became a premiere artist."

Hannigan said the conditions of his disease will progressively get worse, but he could live for another 10 to 20 years.

"In a lot of ways, I'm very lucky," said Hannigan. "Some who have MS have a lot of pain. I have very little. Mostly numbness."

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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