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 John Jr Forte  (1918 - 1966)

About: John Jr Forte
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Illinois      Known for: comic strip, science fiction

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Ad Code: 4
John Jr Forte
from Auction House Records.
Once in a Blue Moon, Future Science Fiction pulp cover
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted April 2004, is from Peter Hansen, author of a book on comic artists, and from Vancouver, Canada.

JOHN R. FORTE Jr. October 6th 1918 to May 20th 1966
(Dedicated to Diane, Bob & Charles Forte)

"He always had a pencil in his hand, and we knew he would become an artist" recounts John Forte's younger brother Charlie Forte (pronounced "Fort"). Born in Rockaway, Long Island the oldest son of working class parents John Forte attended the local high school in Lawrence. Always artistic and not very athletic, he is described by friend Dave Kyle as a tall gentle man with a good sense of humor and a hearty laugh, who was reserved and not terribly outgoing. He smoked a pipe, did not drink, had a habit of wiggling his eyebrows, and was an Alex Raymond and Hal Foster fan for all of his life. Although he later married, he and Kyle would go out chasing girls together while at art school and again later on when they shared an apartment together after the war. His younger brother Charles apparently inherited all of the family athleticism according to John and that's why he ended up in art school.

On leaving Lawrence high school Forte attended the Art Career School, later called the Commercial Illustration Studio on the top floor of the famed Flatiron building in New York. The art course lasted one year, and while attending art school he lived at home with his parents. Unlike his close friend Dave Kyle, Forte was not drawn deeply into the goings on in the emerging science fiction scene, but was instead eventually attracted to the budding comic book market.

The earliest known works of Forte are his spot illustrations and covers for the sci-fi pulp magazine Future Science (August 1941) and Future Combined With Science Fiction (April & June 1942) published by Columbia Publications Inc. of Holyoke MA. His earliest known comic book work was for Timely (Marvel) comics where he drew and inked a 12 page story of The Destroyer called "The Demons Deadly Secret" in All Winners Summer edition 1942. This popular second string Timely character simultaneously appeared in All Winners #2 and Mystic Comics #6 in the fall of 1941 and it is possible that Forte penciled some of these earlier appearances. Clearly he must have earned a living in either the sci-fi or comic book market between his graduation in 1937 and his first acknowledged appearance in the marketplace in 1941. His friend Dave Kyle commented that Forte's specialty in the early days was penciling layouts and not inking, so identifying his earlier comic work may be difficult.

Like many others, after America's entry into WWII Forte joined Patton's 3rd Army as an infantryman with the 359th infantry 90th Tank Division sometime in 1943 or 1944 serving overseas until the end of the war. He took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6th 1944 and was moved from an infantryman to being an artist for his company magazine "Carry On", where he drew political cartoons, calendars, and propaganda for his unit. He frequently sent V-mail home covered with sketches from the war with very little writing in evidence. On his return to America after VE-Day in 1946 Forte began working for the Fiction House line of comics and in 1947 he moved into an apartment rented by his long time friend Dave Kyle in New York. Together they took time out that summer to go camping on Mohican Island in Lake George in upstate New York.

While working for Fiction House Forte drew such characters as Captain Fight, Glory Forbes, Hook Devlin, ZX5, and Stuart Taylor. During the time they lived together in New York, Kyle recounts an episode that took place while Forte was penciling a layout for an episode of Sheena. "I looked at John's page and Sheena's boyfriend was manacled to a bunch of slaves as I recall. He broke free when Sheena attacked his captures and cut off the hands of the slaves with a machete to free him self. I redrew a severed hand in one panel to show the severed bone and blood dripping as the hand lay on the ground. John laughed and erased it saying it would never get past his editor".

Later when he moved to upstate New York to begin publishing, Kyle would use Forte to illustrate the cover of Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Conqueror" book for his publication company Gnome Press. It was also Kyle who introduced Forte to Robert W. Lowndes, the New York Editor of Columbia Publications pulp division.

From his earliest known comic work in 1942 Forte went on to work for virtually every major comic book company in the industry producing work for ACG, Ajax, Avon, Better/Pines/Standard, Charlton, DC, Fox, Gilberton, Gleason, Fawcett, Fiction House, Marvel (& Timely), Quality, St. John, and Superior. Although never considered to be one of the very best comic book artists he managed to work for numerous publishers, displaying his versatility by producing work in several genres including western, sci-fi, humor, horror, adventure and romance. This versatility along with connections to early science fiction fandom, contacts such as Binder, Weisinger, Hamilton, and Schwartz was possibly what kept him working steadily in an industry where other better known artists struggled throughout the 1950's. In addition to these connections, he was known to be a good worker who consistently made his deadlines. This fact alone will endear you to any editor. He developed a quick efficient style well adapted to the audience at which it was aimed, and unlike other Legion artists who were known to complain about having to draw so many characters, Forte's style was well suited to this comic book making him popular with the readers.

Soon after Kyle moved upstate they lost touch, and Forte met and married Jessie Hutcheon Fraser, a former US Navy nurse in Bogata NJ on October 28th 1950. The happy couple honeymooned in Washington DC. Forte had two children, daughter Diane born in 1952, and son Robert who was born in 1954. Forte was never a studio artist, and worked freelance from his home studio that his father helped build when the couple bought their first home in Valley Stream Long Island in 1952. Twice a month he would make the trek from his home to Manhattan to deliver his completed work or attend meetings. Often he would simply mail his finished work to the comic book companies from the post office in town. On these occasions, along with his kids, he would indulge his sweet tooth stopping at the bakery for Napoleon pastries, or a bag of chocolate cakes, or sit on the front steps of the bank eating their ice cream cones.

He was very much a private man and did not associate with others in the comic book fraternity after he married, only very occasionally would he take his family to visit Mort Weisinger at his home in Great Neck NY. Without doubt his greatest pleasure was his family, and though not necessarily religious he attended the Friday night pot luck dinner at the local Methodist church with them. Entertaining the children by sketching illustrations with all the kids gathered around. On one occasion he was even co-opted into repainting the three feet high church nativity figures.

In his spare time Forte would paint for his own enjoyment, usually landscapes, still life, paintings of the kids, or paintings of clowns to decorate the walls of their rooms. Frequently the kids would hang out in Dad's studio snatching away the scripts that had arrived that day to read ahead or just watch as he transformed the script into pictures. On the nights that Jessie was doing some private nursing, Forte would gather the kids in the kitchen to cook dinner as he tried with much hilarity and antics to re-create a favorite recipes he had enjoyed as a kid.

All the while that Forte worked for the comic book and science fiction industry he toiled away on numerous commercial projects. Drawing fashion pieces for catalogs, women's clothing, hats for men, advertisements for gloves, as well as advertising pieces for Macy's, Sterns, and Norge refrigerators and others. He also drew and painted calendar pages in a Rockwell style, and sold many cartoons for humor magazines.

His first known work for DC comics was a story called "My Angry Heart" in Girls Romance #26 (Apr/May 1954). This was the beginning of a long standing relationship with DC Comics for which he worked on such staples as Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Tales of the Bizarro World, and Superman.

His ultimate achievement however was of course his artwork on the newly created Legion of Super Heroes run starting in Adventure Comics #300 September 1962 through to issue #327 from December 1964. Throughout the early sixties Forte was a constant on the Legion series, missing only from issue #313 from October 1963. Forte returned for one last run in Adventure #332 dated May 1965 which lasted until issue #339 from December 1965.

During his second run on the comic he penciled what are considered to be amongst the most memorable early Legion tales such as "The Super-Moby Dick of Space", "The Unknown Legionnaire", "Starfinger", "The Wedding That Wrecked The Legion", and "The Menace of Beast Boy", all scripted by the great Edmond Hamilton.

What was not known before now was that Forte had been fighting a losing battle with colon cancer since late 1963. He was hospitalised for surgery on at least two occasions, the first being the late summer of 1964 which would coincide with him not drawing the Legion series from issue #328 until #332. His second and final surgery came in June 1965 after which because of ill health he never drew or painted again until his untimely death in May 1966 at the age of 47.

Many years later, in tribute to John Forte modern day creators incorporated his name into ongoing Legion stories such as the Science Police Research facility on Forte Hill in Legion #1 December 2001, and The Forte District in Legionnaires #0. As a lifelong Legion fan I can think of no greater tribute to a creator than to be remembered in this way.



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