On the 19th of June, Earl Norem died at the grand old age of ninety-one. Most people have never heard of him, but if you were a kid in the eighties you probably own some of his work, be it on a magazine, book or trading card.
He was an artist, and a jolly good one at that. He was what I like to call a “real” artist; one who can realistically render impossible things from the imagination with only some paper and a paintbrush. He had a very distinctive style, and a real talent for making dramatic fantasy scenes vividly come to life.
Earl started out on men’s adventure magazines in the fifites, then worked extensively for Marvel doing everything from Conan and Monsters Unleashed to Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. In between he worked for other companies painting covers and trading cards for Wizards and Warriors, The Six Million Dollar Man and Mars Attacks.
You don’t get that kind of licensed work anymore. The big companies put a stop to it in order to “protect the brand”. Nowadays we see the same three stock pictures endlessly recycled on every book, magazine or bit of licensed merchandise. There’s no art or imagination involved.
Of course, I’m most familiar with Earl Norem’s work on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers. I recently bought and reviewed The Art of He-Man, and Earl’s paintings are by far the best in the whole book and are rightfully granted whole pages unto themselves.
I only had one of Norem’s Transformers books as a kid, but it was my favourite. It was called “The story of Wheelie: the wild boy of Quintesson”. If drawn by any other artist, it would no doubt have been written off and forgotten as just another bit of 80s tat, but I’ve found that the book comes up time and time again among Transformer fans who found themselves enraptured by the artwork.
We probably won’t see the like of Earl Norem again, and that makes me a little sad. But then, I can always go through an old book and find a reason to smile…