Masters of Comic Book Art: Pino Dell’Orco

downthetubes contributor Colin Noble has a remarkable collection of Picture Library comics and we’ve featured his researches into just how often some classic tales – and covers have been re-used down the years. Here’s another gem, but this one by the brilliant Italian artist Pino Dell’Orco, also has some grounding in historical fact.

Air Ace Picture Library Issue 49Published back in 1961, Air Ace Picture Library features a terrific cover by Italian artist Pino Dell’orco.  As Colin notes over on his NothingButAFan site, it was re-published in 1971, as War Picture Library Issue 678, and in 1982, in both the UK and South Africa (and, possibly, elsewhere) as War Picture Library Issue 1940.

Dell’Orco, who died in January 2013, was a life-long aviation fan, who, as noted over on the Lever Gallery web site, relished a commission from Fleetway Publications via the Bryan Colmer agency, to paint comic covers for his favoured subject matter – war – painting around 300 covers throughout the 1960s.

David Roach documented much of his incredible work in his excellent reference works, Aarrgghh! It’s War and The Art of War.

(He was also a renowned book cover artist, as noted here on The Barley Brief).

Air Ace Picture Library cover #52 'Ghost Plane' (Original) by Pino Dell'Orco
Air Ace Picture Library cover #52 ‘Ghost Plane’ by Pino Dell’Orco. Via Book Palace
Pino Dell'Orco's cover to Air Ace 235, later re-used as the cover to the '78 Air Ace Holiday Special. Via David Roach
Pino Dell’Orco’s cover to Air Ace 235, later re-used as the cover to the ’78 Air Ace Holiday Special. Via David Roach

“Dell’Orco’s hallmark minimalism often focuses on a single action or object,” the Lever Gallery notes in its short biography of the artist, “a plane soaring through the sky or a lone figure walking out from the depths of a jungle with one vivid background colour, so the action appears to explode off the page.”

He was also, it appears, earnest in his use of reference, unless, as with some of DC Thomson’s Commando editors, he was supplied with photographic resources by the publisher. The USAAF B-17 featured on the cover is not a fictional tribute to the Dale Hawkins 1958 rock ‘n’ roll hit: it actually did exist. Indeed, during World War Two she had a serious reputation as her crew accounted for 26 Japanese aircraft during her tenure in the Pacific theatre.

“Sergeant Allan Thompson, who was detached the 19th Bombing Group, tells of his memories of her in his two part article over on Australian Flying back in 2011,” Colin notes. “She was so famous, Boeing used her in an advertising campaign during the war.”

The Pacific Wrecks website notes the bomber, built in 1942, was assigned to the 5th Air Force, 19th Bombardment Group, 93rd Bombardment Squadron in Java and nicknamed “Suzy Q”. After the Java campaign, it was flown to Australia and based at Mareeba Airfield, flying combat missions over New Guinea until late in 1942.

Flown back across the Pacific, during November 1942 it participated in a war bonds tour in the United States and remained in the country and on the the USAAF inventory until July 1946.

Although the site notes the bomber’s ultimate fate is “unknown, likely scrapped or otherwise disappeared”, it is actually now held by a private collector, massively restored, at Fantasy of Flight, as part of the Kermit Weeks Collection, in Polk City, Florida.

After the war, Suzy Q was employed during four atomic bomb tests during the 1950s to collect test samples, and was then bought and sold down the years, parts e featured in the film 12 O’Clock High, before almost being destroyed in a hurricane in 1992. (The aircraft’s post war history almost makes for as entertaining reading as its wartime missions!)

While comic fans who grew up in the 1970s might like to have thought their edition of War Picture Library 678 was a nod to the growing popularity of rock musician Suzi Quatro, the reality and history of the featured bomber is a little more involved – and another indication, as if any were needed, of how hard some artists worked to ensure their war comics work would survive the critical eye of many readers well versed in the real history and equipment of the titles they buy!

• Colin’s original feature on “Suzi Q” are here and here on NothingButAFan

The London-base Lever Gallery has art by Pino Dell’orco for sale here

• There are personal accounts here of the Suzy Q missions on Legends in Their Own Time, first published in Skyways magazine during World War Two (PDF here, featuring art by Earle B. Winslow)

• There are photographs of Suzy Q during World War Two here on OzAtWar and how it looked, possibly in 1943, turrets removed, here

• A discussion thread on the 12 O’Clock High forum about the plane reveals there’s a book about the plane, The Suzy-Q, by Priscilla Hardison, wife of the wartime pilot, published in 1943

• There is an account of Suzy Q’s post War History here (archive link), including film use and ownership

• Fantasy of Flight, Kermit Weeks Collection, 1400 Broadway Boulevard, S.E. Polk City, FL, 33868 | Web: www.fantasyofflight.com/collection

Air Ace Picture Library and War Picture Library copyright Rebellion Publishing Ltd

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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