Did you ever have a comic book artist whose work it took you a while to get into? George Tuska is that guy for me. I've probably seen hundreds of comics with his artwork in them, but never really put much thought into them. For me, George Tuska was the guy who did that Marvel Planet of the Apes adaptation where Taylor looks more like Steve Reeves, the actor from those Italian Hercules movies, than Charlton Heston. And the apes look as though they leaped out of a humor mag. I don't think he was the ideal choice for the material. The typical, dynamic Marvel approach, which Tuska excelled at, is more appropriate to broadly-acted superheroics than rather downbeat sci-fi adventure flicks.
Of course, now I understand Marvel couldn't get the likeness rights to use Heston. Licensing was different back then. Nowadays you see Luke Skywalker, and he's drawn to look exactly like Mark Hamill. Back then, the best artists were allowed to do was to give the characters similar hair color. And sometimes, as with the Apes comic, not even that much. I've also come to love those funny Tuska ape faces. As advanced for their time as they were, the make-up appliances in the movie have a certain rigidity. Actors like Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter learned to twitch and contort their faces underneath to keep the make-up in some kind of motion and prevent the characters' faces from freezing into masks, but there's no disguising the simple up-and-down movement of the mouths and lack of lip animation. Tuska was able to take some artistic license with them and give the apes all kinds of gaping expressions. None of it is particularly subtle, but it doesn't really have to be. Alfredo Alcala will always be my Planet of the Apes artist of choice, because his ornate work fits the material and matches its melancholy mood. Mike Ploog and Tom Sutton battle it out for second place, but I appreciate Tuska's powerful figure work and over-the-top facial acting.
This morning I read an online exchange between a pro-Tuska writer and a strongly anti-Tuska fan on why Tuska is underappreciated. I've seen more and more of this kind of stuff lately, and the more I'm exposed to Tuska and his work, the more it appeals to me. It's not so much the opinions of others that sway me. It's looking at pages and not being able to deny Tuska produced solid work. It may not be as spectacular as this artist or another-- name any of the greats-- but it's more than just serviceable. And when teamed with a sympathetic inker, Tuska could really shine. The underpinnings are there-- the exaggerated, heroic anatomy, the dynamic poses, the clear and easy-to-read storytelling. A few loose pages I've seen with his pencils and decent ink jobs really look fun and lively.
I've only scratched the surface of George Tuska, but exposure has convinced me to invest some time in Tuska appreciation. Now I just need to read more stories with his art!