Superman Artist Spotlight: Tim Sale

I first met Tim Sale at Emerald City Comic Con in 2010. He was wearing a Seattle Mariners cap and jersey, and in between signing books and speaking with fans, after hearing someone mention his favorite baseball team, he looked up from his table and asked, “Did we win today?”

Sale, like me, grew up in Seattle and attended the University of Washington. He clearly was influenced by Silver and Bronze Age comics, film noir, and many other art styles, but quickly developed his own, unique look to every book he worked on. One never has to look for a signature or cover credits, you just know by looking when something is “Art by Tim Sale.” His work with Jeph Loeb for both the Big 2 has now become evergreen and can be seen in comic stores and anywhere books are sold at large, as the pair clearly developed an almost telepathic blend of story and art. His Batman work, particularly “The Long Halloween,” is probably what he will be most remembered for, but there is a wide breadth of books he has worked on that will be remembered fondly.

Upon hearing of Sale’s passing, I went to my collection and dug up my copy of “Superman For All Seasons,” the newest deluxe hardcover edition which contains all his Superman work with Jeph Loeb. I always enjoyed the story, but never really latched onto it the way that other fans had, mainly because of his drawing of the Man of Steel as something akin to the Goodyear blimp. However, as time has gone on, I have enjoyed reading For All Seasons more and more every time I’ve revisited it. Maybe I was just feeling misty eyed or a little nostalgic, but this latest read through was the most fun with the book I’ve ever had.

The story is clearly, bar none, a brilliantly told coming of age tale set against the backdrop of nature’s beauty in a Rockwellian rendition of Middle America. Loeb, more often than not an expert at finding and writing to his artist’s strengths, gives a great script with some wonderfully timed lines (even one that Superman and Lois homaged last season), and I would be remiss if I did not bring up the brilliant coloring of Bjarne Hansen, which enhances the art in a way which perfectly fits the story. It works on every level- action, character moments, as an origin story, heroes and villains, plot, script… I could go on. It’s also a nice introduction to the character that can be given to anyone, and probably the best Clark Kent story ever told. It often appears on Superman top ten lists and recommended reading, and rightfully so, and probably has reached mine by now as it has withstood the test of time.

My earlier hangups with Sale’s art on Superman himself is waning a bit, probably because there’s something to be said about an artist developing his own, signature style, something that’s not easy to do. Besides, what his Superman lacks in believability is more than made up for by his Clark Kent’s relatability. Clearly, this artist knew his stuff while drawing Superman, and did so in such a way to assert his individuality while keeping the character recognizable. While I wasn’t a fan of his “Kryptonite” story with Darwyn Cooke, it wasn’t enough to keep him from being one of the greatest Superman artists of all time, for me. I don’t think there has ever been an artist who has captured the spirit of the time and place that birthed Superman, the American/Earthman/small town country guy, like Sale did, which alone gets him on the list.

Sale’s passing at age 66 was something that shook the industry far and wide, knowing that it was much too young to go. Even so, artists are often survived by the beautiful work they produce, and we as Superman fans have plenty to enjoy from Tim Sale.

RIP.

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