Curt Swan

Curt Swan is the preeminent Superman artist of the Silver and Bronze Ages. From 1948–1996, Swan penciled approximately 1,140 stories in the Superman family of titles. Curt Swan co-created popular supporting characters that include Lucy Lane, Krypto the Superdog, Faora, and Superboy-Prime. In total, Swan is credited for approximately 1,419 comic book stories and 1,027 covers. "It was never something I set out to do. It just kind of happened, the way a lot of good things do."

Curt Swan (February 17, 1920 – June 17, 1996)

Douglas Curtis Swan was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 17, 1920. Curt Swan began drawing at an early age, inspired by adventure illustrations in Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post. In the sixth grade, Swan created his first comic book for a school charity project. Modeled after the Big Little Book series, the story followed two boys that ran away from home. A fellow student purchased the book for an unknown amount. After high school, Swan freelanced as a cartoonist for various Minneapolis newspapers.

On February 10, 1941, Curt Swan enlisted in the 135th Regiment, 34th Infantry Division of the Army National Guard. Swan was shipped to Belfast, Ireland, in February 1942, two months after the United States entered World War II. While stationed in Fintona, Swan became friends with Hubert creator Dick Wingert. Wingert worked as an illustrator for the Armed Services newspaper The Stars and Stripes. That November, Swan and Wingert met first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Curt Swan, The Stars and Stripes London, January 18, 1943 Curt Swan, The Stars and Stripes London, January 28, 1943

In December 1942, Swan was assigned to The Stars and Stripes London office as a staff artist, regularly contributing Allied maps and various cartoons. In 1943, Sgt. Swan created a holiday design for a series of official V-Mail Christmas cards from Great Britain. Swan roomed with Wingert in London before being reassigned to the Paris office.

Curt Swan, Season's Greetings from Great Britain, V-Mail, 1943 Sgt. Curtis D. Swan, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), December 10, 1944, p. 8C

Curt Swan married Helene Rose Brickley in Paris in April 1944. Helene worked with the Red Cross providing support to airborne forces in Belgium and France. The two had previously met in New Jersey and later reacquainted in London. After the war, the couple settled in Rockaway Beach on Long Island.

Stars and Stripes editor Eddie "France" Herron recommended that Swan send a portfolio to Detective Comics. His first comic book assignment was to imitate Jack Kirby for the cover of Star Spangled Comics #43 (April 1945). His early covers were inked by Steve Brodie, but signed as Simon and Kirby. Swan believed that the comic book industry would not survive the decade.

Curt Swan & Steve Brodie, Star Spangled Comics 43 (April 1945)

Curt first penciled a story feature for World's Finest #21 (March 1946). The 12-page Boy Commandos story "Brooklyn and Columbus Discover America!" was written by Jack Kirby and inked by George Klein. Swan was given regular ghost work on Kirby characters for $18 per page. From 1945–1948, he penciled stories for The Newsboy Legion, Batman and Robin, Tommy Tomorrow, and Gang Busters.

Under the G.I. Bill, Swan attended night classes for illustration at the Pratt Institute. "It turned out to be just a review of everything I already knew," said Swan, and he left after a few months. Steve Brodie helped Curt develop a workflow that allowed him to pencil faster. Swan began working 14–16 hours a day, seven days a week.

Curt Swan's first Superman assignment was inked by Steve Brodie in Superman #51 (March–April 1948). "The Man Who Bossed Superman!" is signed as Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the last issue before their byline was removed. Swan later redrew the entire story for the one-shot Three-Dimension Adventures Superman (November 1953). The updated 3D artwork was inked by Stan Kaye.

Swan began penciling Superboy stories in Superboy #5 (November–December 1949). Editor Mort Weisinger would ridicule or ignore Swan's story ideas. Weisinger would often argue with Swan about adding too many facial details. Swan quit DC Comics in 1951 due to migraines and stress.

Curt and Helene Swan bought a home in Tenafly, New Jersey. After briefly working at a small advertising agency for $50 a week, Swan decided to return to comics. Swan followed advice from Wayne Boring and began fighting back against Weisinger. The migraines eventually stopped.

Curt Swan (1965)

Curt Swan began regular work on Superman at the dawn of the Silver Age. From June 18, 1956, to November 12, 1960, the Superman daily newspaper strips were penciled by Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. Swan replaced artist Win Mortimer and the early strips were still credited to Wayne Boring. Mort Weisinger asked Swan to make Superman more natural and soften the jawline that Boring had popularized.
Superman by Curt Swan
Swan said that his Superman was influenced by Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller and Rip Kirby, a private detective comic strip by Alex Raymond. In Fifty Who Made DC Great, Swan said, "I soon learned that it was better to exaggerate the human form for dramatic effect. For instance, I enlarged Superman's muscles to impossible proportions – and then he looked right." His renditions of Clark Kent contain softer, less angular features. Swan said, "I wanted him to appear more meek. Just sort of a good Joe."

Swan became the regular cover artist for Superman beginning with Action Comics #232 (September 1957) and Superman #117 (November 1957). From 1958–1961, he penciled the first 24 covers of Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane. Swan is credited for 127 of 163 covers on Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, plus 507 of the comic features.

Curt Swan & Al Plastino, Action Comics 252 (May 1959) Curt Swan & Stan Kaye, Superman Annual 1 (Summer 1960) Curt Swan, Superman Annual 7 (Summer 1963)

Krypto the Superdog was created by Swan and writer Otto Binder. Krypto first appeared with Superboy in Adventure Comics #210 (March 1955). Comet the Super-Horse was created by Jerry Siegel and Swan, first appearing in Adventure Comics #293 (October 1962). Comet and Supergirl first meet in Action Comics #293 (September 1962).

Curt Swan & George Klein, The Superman Family, Superman Annual 6 (Winter 1962–1963)

Curt Swan rarely inked his own work: "I've worked with some inkers over the years who did not delineate the figure of Superman the way I'd done it in the pencils. They would lose something in the face, the eyes; the features would be just a little off or the muscular structure. It used to get to me."

According to Al Plastino, "Anybody can ink Curt's stuff." "Everything was there – the blacks, the lines – all you hadda do was take a brush and follow his lines, put a little schmaltz on it." Much of Curt Swan's Silver Age work was finished by Stan Kaye, Ray Burnley, or George Klein. In 1986, Swan wrote that his favorite inker was Al Williamson.

Curt Swan & George Klein, Action Comics 340 (August 1966)Curt Swan & George Klein, Superman 196 (May 1967) Curt Swan & George Klein, Superman 201 (November 1967)

From 1969–1974, Swan regularly worked with Murphy Anderson, beginning with the cover of Action Comics #380 (September 1969). The duo became known as "Swanderson" by fans, and later pages are signed with the nickname. Anderson said, "I was the first, or one of the first, to call Curt 'The Norman Rockwell of the Comics.'" Swan wrote that "Murphy's inking was among the best."

Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, Superman 233 (January 1971)

The New Adventures of Superman animated series from Filmation aired on CBS from 1966–1970. For season three, The Batman/Superman Hour, the character designs were modeled after Curt Swan's artwork.

In 1968, Neal Adams became the main cover artist for DC and the Superman titles. In 1970, Mort Weisinger retired, marking the end of the Silver Age. Weisinger's longtime friend Julius Schwartz became Superman editor. Swan was now free to use expressive facial details and experiment with more dynamic layouts.

When he was not drawing Superman, Curt Swan painted scenic landscapes in Westport, Connecticut. Swan enjoyed sketching at Allen's Clam & Lobster House, formerly located on Sherwood Mill Pond. A scene from the pond appears in the logo for Westport East Real Estate, owned by his wife Helene.

Curt Swan, The Amazing World of Superman, 1973

Although Swan was not originally a science fiction fan, his favorite stories to draw were set in the Bottle City of Kandor and his favorite villain was Brainiac. In 1986, he wrote, "It was always like vacation time for me to get a script with Mxyzptlk." Swan was most proud of his work on "The Origin of Superman!" in The Amazing World of Superman (1973).

The Origin of Superman, The Amazing World of Superman (1973) Curt Swan, The Amazing World of DC Comics 7 (July-August 1975)

In 1980, Swan appeared in The Making of Superman: The Movie, a television documentary hosted by Christopher Reeve. Curt is seen sketching images of Clark Kent and Superman in the DC Comics office.

Swan penciled and inked himself for "I Flew With Superman!" in Superman Annual #9 (1983). The story was written by Cary Bates. In 1984, Curt Swan was presented with a Comic-Con International Inkpot Award.

Curt Swan, I Flew With Superman, Superman Annual 9, 1983

Released in the summer of 1986, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" was written by Alan Moore and penciled by Curt Swan. Editor Julius Schwartz had originally asked Jerry Siegel to write the script, but he was unable due to legal issues with Warner Bros. According to Schwartz, "Curt Swan was chosen to be the artist because many considered him to be the signature artist on the series for the past thirty years."

The "imaginary story" tells the final Superman tale of the Silver and Bronze Ages. The two-part arc begins in Superman #423, inked by George Pérez, and concludes in Action Comics #583, inked by Kurt Schaffenberger. Both covers were inked by Murphy Anderson.

Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, Superman 423 (September 1986) Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, Action Comics 583 (September 1986)

DC Comics hired John Byrne to revamp Superman following the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover event of 1985–1986. Curt Swan was dismissed from full-time duties at DC in 1986, but he would continue to contribute work over the next ten years.

On June 17, 1988, Curt Swan appeared on "The Morning Exchange" on WEWS-TV in Cleveland. The segment was recorded during the International Superman Exposition at the Cleveland Convention Center. Swan and Jerry Ordway were interviewed by Lee Jordan and Joel Rose. The program also featured Lois Lane actress Noel Neill and Jimmy Olsen actor Jack Larson from Adventures of Superman.

Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson illustrated the Silver Age versions of Superman and Lex Luthor for the 1991 DC Cosmic Cards series from Impel Marketing. In 1992, Swan and Anderson were featured on individual trading cards in the Famous Comic Book Creators series from Eclipse Enterprises.

1992 Impel DC Comics Cosmic #17 - Silver Age Superman [PSA 9] 1992 Eclipse Famous Comic Book Creators #31 - Curt Swan

Curt Swan openly disapproved of the 1992 "Death of Superman" storyline. In a 1993 Wizard article, Swan wrote, "For example, I think the 'death' story came out of the blue. There was no build-up, no suspense developed. Superman had no foreboding of some force out there that would conquer him. It all occurred too quickly."

In a 1993 interview for The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, Swan said, "This new concept, I don't know, I have my doubts about it. But I probably shouldn't speak my true feelings... Maybe it's a good thing and I just don't understand because I'm from a different generation."

On February 25, 1993, Swan appeared on the QVC Network during a comic book collectibles special. The show featured autographed memorabilia from the Superman creative team. The two hour program was hosted by Steve Bryant.

October 2, 1993, was proclaimed "Curt Swan Day" by the Minnesota Cartoonist League in Minneapolis. During the ceremony, historian Dave Mruz presented Swan with a Minnesota Cartoonist Award.

Swan was commissioned to provide illustrations for "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" in Penthouse Comix #5 (January–February 1995). The 1969 essay by sci-fi author Larry Niven discusses the complications of Superman trying to reproduce with a human woman. The feature contains sexually graphic images of characters that resemble Lana Lang and Lois Lane.


In 1962, pop artist Mel Ramos produced a series of oil paintings that feature Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Ramos copied the image of Superman from the cover of Superman #147 (August 1961). The cover was originally penciled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. The painting is currently on display at the de Young Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco with no credit to Swan and Kaye.

Curt Swan & Stan Kaye, Superman 147 (August 1961) Mel Ramos, Superman (1962)

In 1981, Andy Warhol produced Superman prints copied from Swan and Anderson in Action Comics #430 (December 1973). The complete Myths portfolio contains ten fictional characters from American pop culture printed with diamond dust. Superman (F. & S. II.260) is limited to 200 regular edition copies and 60 variations of proofs. In 2017, a regular edition sold at auction for $218,750. Swan and Anderson are rarely acknowledged for the work. Warhol had previously swiped Superman artwork by Kurt Schaffenberger in 1961.

Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, Action Comics 430 (December 1973) Superman, Andy Warhol, Myths (1981)

In 2015, Mel Ramos copied another image by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye. Lois Lane as "Supergirl" originally appeared on the cover of Action Comics #274 (March 1961). The telescoping Supergirl logo was created by Ira Schnapp based on a design by Joe Shuster. The oil painting is currently held by the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York City with no credit to the original artists.

Curt Swan & Stan Kaye, Action Comics #274 (March 1961) Mel Ramos, Supergirl (2015)


Curt Swan passed away on June 17, 1996, in Wilton, Connecticut, at the age of 76. A memorial honoring Swan is located along the Westport Library Riverwalk. Two Superman illustrations by Swan are kept in the Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection.

On September 18, 1996, a eulogy for Curt Swan was presented by historian and illustrator Arlen Schumer at the Connecticut Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society in Weston.

Six previously unpublished pages by Swan appear as a flashback sequence in Superman: The Wedding Album (December 1996). Pages 40–45 were inked by Jackson "Butch" Guice.

Curt Swan appears as a 1958 art teacher in "Swan's Way" in Legion of Super-Heroes #92 (May 1997). The issue is dedicated "In Memory of -- and gratitude to -- Curt Swan: Honorary Legionnaire."

In June 1997, Curt Swan was posthumously inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Hall of Fame.

Curt Swan: A Life in Comics was published in 2002 by Vanguard Productions. The 192-page illustrated biography was written by comic book historian Eddy Zeno. The book features interviews with family and industry friends, as well as previously unpublished artwork.

On July 20, 2006, the United States Postal Service issued a series of DC Comics Super Heroes postage stamps and postcards. The collection contains three images drawn by Curt Swan. The Superman stamp was penciled by Swan and inked by Sheldon Moldoff. The Silver Age Supergirl stamp was penciled by Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. The cover of Aquaman vol. 3, #5 (October 1989) was penciled by Swan and inked by Al Vey. The stamps are collected in the Smithsonian Institution National Postal Museum.

2006 USPS DC Comics Super Hero Stamps - Superman2006 USPS DC Comics Super Hero Stamps - Supergirl

In 2008, a popular internet meme emerged based on a panel by Curt Swan and George Klein in World’s Finest Comics #153 (November 1965). In an alternate timeline, Batman believes that Superboy and Superman are responsible for the death of Thomas Wayne. During a heated disagreement, Batman slaps Robin in the face.

Curt Swan & George Klein, World's Finest Comics 153 (November 1965)

Five previously unpublished pages by Curt Swan appear in Action Comics #1000 (June 2018). The original script was rewritten by Marv Wolfman. The pencils were inked by Jackson "Butch" Guice and Kurt Schaffenberger. A 1991 sketch by Swan appears on the Dynamic Forces variant limited to 4,000 copies.

Action Comics 1000, Dynamic Forces Curt Swan Sketch Cover (June 2018)


Cadigan, Glen. The Legion Companion. TwoMorrows Publishing, 2003. pp. 11–19.

"Cartoonist Likes Scenic Painting." The Bridgeport Post, 31 October 1976, p. C-1.

"Curt Swan Interview." Fandom Feature. February 1982, pp. 16–25.

"CURT SWAN-SUPERMAN '96 Eulogy by Arlen Schumer." YouTube, uploaded by Arlen Schumer, 29 August 2015.

Eury, Michael. The Krypton Companion. TwoMorrows Publishing, 2006.

Harris, Jack C. "Remembering with Curt Swan." Amazing World of DC Comics, vol. 2, no. 7, July 1975, pp. 26–28.

Jones, Dick. "Minneapolis Men Play Outstanding Part in Publication of the Stars and Stripes." Star Tribune [Minneapolis], 10 December 1944, p. 8C.

Marx, Barry, et al. "Curt Swan: The Definitive Superman Realized." Fifty Who Made DC Great. DC Comics Inc., 1985, p. 27.

Morrisey, Rich, et al. "Curt Swan: An Interview with Superman’s Main Artist." The Comics Journal, no. 73, July 1982, p. 64.

Mruz, Dave. "Curt Swan Day." The Minnesota Cartoonist, vol. 2, no. 2, November 1993, pp. 4–5.

Niven, Larry (w), Swan, Curt (i). "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex." Penthouse Comix, no. 5, January–February 1995, pp. 30–33.

"QVC is Shopping..." The Record [Hackensack], 21 February 1993, p. 243.

Schwartz, Julius. Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics. Harper Paperbacks, 2000.

"State Yanks are Visited by Mrs. F. R." The Minneapolis Star, 11 November 1942. p. 18.

Swan, Curt. "Drawing Superman." Superman at Fifty!: The Persistence of a Legend. Octavia Press, 1987, pp. 37–45. (Note: The essay is dated 1986. The referenced Smithsonian exhibit opened on June 24, 1987.)

Swan, Curt, and Patrick Daniel O'Neill. "My Life with Superman." Wizard: Superman Tribute Edition, April 1993, pp. 8–9.

The Making of Superman: The Movie. Directed by Iain Johnstone, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1980.

Varma, Kavita. "Superman's artist visits comics store." The News Journal [Wilmington], 22 April 1993, p. 6.

"V-Xmas." Newsweek, vol. 22, no. 21, 22 November 1943, p. 38.

Zeno, Eddy. Al Plastino: Last Superman Standing. TwoMorrows Publishing, 2016.

Zeno, Eddy. Curt Swan: A Life in Comics. Vanguard Productions, 2002.