Richard W. “Dick” Sprang was born July 28, 1915 in Fremont, Ohio.
Dick began painting signs and handbills for local advertisers at an early age. Then, while still in high school, Dick became a professional advertising illustrator for Standard Magazines, Columbia Publications and Street and Smith.
After graduating in 1934, Dick joined the staff of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain in Toledo, Ohio as an illustrator.
Later, Dick described his early career this way:
“I was in the art department, where we had to meet five deadlines a day. We had five editions on the street that, in part, carried different advertisements for jewelry stores, furniture stores, and so on. We had to draw the items they sold, plus editorial cartoons, and editorial illustrations. I had to work with engravers, and I mastered the technology of printing. I learned the value of meeting a deadline.”
Dick followed his dream in 1936, leaving Toledo for New York City where he began “illustrating for the pulp magazines — the Western, detective, and adventure magazines in the era of the late 1930s”.
Late in the decade, with the pulp magazines in decline, Dick began to gravitate toward comic-book illustrations.
Along with Norman Fallon and Ed Kressey, Dick Sprang co-founded the Fallon-Sprang studio at “a little studio loft on 42nd Street between Fifth Avenue and Grand Central.” A promotional flier advertised their studio as comics packagers for “supermen.”
DC Comics and Batman
Continuing to seek comic-book work, Dick submitted art samples to DC Comics editor Whitney Ellsworth, who assigned him a Batman story in 1941. Anticipating that Batman creator Bob Kane would be drafted to serve in World War II, DC Comics began to inventory Dick Sprang’s work to safeguard against delays.
Dick’s first published Batman work was the Batman and Robin figures on the cover of Batman #18 (Aug.-Sept. 1943), reproduced from the art for page 13 of the later-published Detective Comics #84 (Feb. 1944).
Dick’s first original published Batman work, and first interior-story work, appeared in Batman #19 (Oct.-Nov. 1943), for which he penciled and inked the cover and the first three Batman stories, and penciled the fourth Batman story, inked by Norm Fallon. Like all Batman artists of the time, Dick went unaccredited as a ghost artist for Kane.
Dick began to work almost entirely on Batman comics and covers and on the Batman newspaper strip, becoming one of the primary Batman artists over the character’s first 20 years.
In 1955, Dick got the chance to draw Superman, when he replaced Curt Swan as the primary artist for the Superman/Batman team-up stories in World’s Finest Comics, on which he worked until his retirement in 1963.
Dick also worked on a couple of stories for the main Superman comic, “including the tale that introduced the first, prototype Supergirl”.
Dick’s work was first reprinted in 1961, and “nearly all subsequent Batman collections have contained at least one of his efforts.” However, his name never appeared on his Batman work during his career, due to stipulations in Bob Kane’s contract. These stated that Kane’s name would remain on the strip, regardless of whether he drew any particular story, and this restriction remained in place until the mid-1960s. It was subsequently revealed, however, that Dick Sprang was Kane’s favorite “ghost”.
Comics historian Les Daniels wrote that Dick’s “clean line and bold sense of design” set him apart as “the supreme stylist” of the early Batman artists. Dick used to study the way children read comics in order to experiment with page layouts and panel to panel transitions, hoping to create “the most suspense and the most fluidity to keep the pages turning”.
Dick Sprang moved to Sedona, Arizona in 1946, where he became interested in western pioneer trails. He spent much of his spare time between 1946 and 1956 surveying the northern Arizona and southern Utah area, especially Glen Canyon.
Then, Les Daniels singled out Dick Sprang’s work on the 1948 debut of his original design for the Riddler as “a superb example of story breakdown and page design”.
In Batman #34, “Sprang drew Batman and Robin capering across….Mount Rushmore”, over a decade before Alfred Hitchcock filmed a similar scene in North by Northwest. One story drawn by Dick Sprang, “Joker’s Millions”, was later adapted into an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
Dick Sprang was also responsible for the 1950 redesign of the Batmobile.
In 1952, along with Harry Aleson and wife Dudy Thomas, Dick discovered the “Defiance House,” an Anasazi ruin believed to have been previously unseen by non-natives.
In 1956, Dick moved to Wayne County, Utah, where he ran cattle on a 150-acre ranch.
In 1963, Dick Sprang retired from full-time comics illustrating. He then relocated again from Utah to Prescott, Arizona in 1972, where he remained until his death.
Mostly unknown to comics readers during his career – Dick Sprang began to receive notice from comics fandom in the 1970’s when he became a regular attendee at comic conventions and later began drawing and selling reproductions of his Golden Age comics covers.
During the 1980’s, Dick devoted some of his time to recreating comic-book material for the burgeoning collector’s market, before returning to comics in 1987 for “occasional assignments”.
Dick Sprang died May 10, 2000 at the age of 85.
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