Daniel S. DeCarlo was an illustrator and comics artist best know for his work with Archie Comics. DeCarlo grew up in a poor neighbourhood of New Rochelle, New York but dreamed of becoming an illustrator like his hero, Norman Rockwell. Young DeCarlo attended the New Rochelle High School and upon graduating, he actually phoned Rockwell to discuss his university options. Inevitably, DeCarlo enrolled in the same university that Rockwell’s once attended, the Manhattan’s Art Students League.
After three years at art school, in 1941 DeCarlo was drafted for World War II. Stationed in Great Britain, he originally served in the 8th Air Force worked. However, once his artistic skills were quickly noticed and he was assigned to the drafting department. There he designed posters and advertisements, as well as drawing the weekly military comic strip. DeCarlo also painted cartoon mascots on the nosecones of fighter planes. Whilst overseas he went on a blind date with a Belgium girl called Josette Dumont. She would later become his wife and a source of inspiration.
After the war, the couple returned to New York. Timely Comics had advertised a call for artist. Responding to the advertisement, DeCarlo was invited to meet Timely’s editor-in-chief, Stan Lee. Lee hired DeCarlo and assigned him to the teen-humour series Jeanie. Common for the time, DeCarlo’s work on Jeanie was uncredited. Under the employment of Timely he got his big break when he was reassigned to Millie the Model. Starting in 1949, DeCarlo wrote and drew the romantic (mis)adventures of Millie Collins for a whole decade. Transforming a poorly performing title into a huge success.
During the comic industry’s falter mid-1950’s, DeCarlo was forced to give up his full-time position at Timely and become freelance. This did, however, present some good opportunities. He drew for magazines The Saturday Evening Post and Argosy. He continued working for Timely on a freelance basis and in 1960 partnered with Stan Lee again to create a newspaper comic strip, “Willie Lumpkin the Mailman”. Interesting side note, Willie Lumpkin actually had a cameo in the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, played by none other than, Stan Lee.
During this time DeCarlo came up with a character, Josie, of Josie and the Pussycats fame. He was inspired by his wife’s cat costume for a fancy dress party, and subsequently naming the character after her. However, after approaching and being rejected by a couple of publishers he decided to shelve the idea.
In 1951 DeCarlo starting freelancing for the company for which his name would become synonymous with, Archie Comics. His first published work was issue 4 of Betty and Veronica. He made a conscious effort to keep the characters up to date with fashions, he added the ponytail on Betty and was the artist who gave the Archie girls their simple but distinctive lip line. By the mid-1960s DeCarlo was drawing the covers of all Archie titles, his work became the Archie house style. In 1969 Betty and Veronica had become Archie’s best-selling title. DeCarlo introduced many new characters to the Archie universe. Cheryl Blossom was first featured in Betty and Veronica #320. He also created Sabrina the Teenage Witch along with writer George Gladir.
You remember that idea he shelved? Well, when Archie Comics heard about it, they loved it. In December 1, 1962 Josie was introduced inside the pages of Archie’s Pals ‘n’ Gals #23. Quickly publishing her own title, She’s Josie, in February 1, 1963. The comic went through a few names changes until finally in December 1969 arriving at the one we are all most familiar with, Josie and the Pussycats. The original trio actually consisted of Josie, Melody and Pepper. Valerie Brown was only introduced at the same time as the name change, replacing Pepper. The name change also saw Josie’s boyfriend, Albert, replaced with dreamy Alan M.
Even with all of the success and joy that Josie gave to DeCarlo, it is sad to know that it was also the catalyst to him leaving Archie Comics. In 2001 at the announcement of the Josie and the Pussycats film, DeCarlo took Archie Comics to court for greater credit and compensation of his creations. There was a lot of back and forth, with Archie Comics claiming they had in fact commissioned DeCarlo to create Josie, making her “work for hire”. Which, if true, would strip DeCarlo of any creator rights to her under copyright law. The Judge ruled in favour of Archie Comics saying DeCarlo had waited too long to assert any rights to Josie, but also dismissed Archie’s counterclaims. So after 43 years, Dan DeCarlo and Archie Comics parted ways.
It should come as no surprise that DeCarlo was still in high demand. He continued working for publishers including DC on a Harley Quinn title and Bongo Comics for The Simpson’s comic. Just a year before the court case, DeCarlo won the National Cartoonists Society Award for Best Comic Book for Betty & Veronica. That award along with a Shazam Award nomination stand as recognition to his outstanding contribution to the comic industry and highlights the tireless work he put into it.
You can find Dan DeCarlo’s work across the web, a good source is Comic Art Fan, but I strongly recommend picking up one of his pin-up books Innocence & Seduction Art of Dan DeCarlo and Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo.
As a little bonus treat for you all, check out artist Rich Koslowski inking Dan DeCarlo pencils.