Jack Kamen (1920-2008)

EC Comics artist Jack Kamen — best known for his horror stories featuring saucy, plotting women and wide-eyed “widdle kids” — died this week of cancer. He was 88 years old.

Like all EC artists, Kamen’s style was one-of-a-kind. But where artists like Jack Davis or Graham Ingels made everything look heavy and inky and creepy, Kamen — due to his pre-EC background in romance comics — had a pin-up style that gave everything an air of veracity that made it seem just realistic enough — provided, of course, that you lived in a world where everyone was handsome, beautiful, and smoked cigarettes with a cool charm. No one could make wives casually planning their husbands’ gruesome deaths look so beautiful (see above), or make nebbishes plotting revenge quite so nerdily angry. As EC editor Al Feldstein once put it, “We gave Kamen those stories where the All-American girl and guy are married, and then chop each other to pieces.”

Due to his non-shocking style, EC readers usually ranked his stories near the bottom of each issue (he was regularly shoved aside in favor of the more graphically gory Ingels story, or Davis’ comic relief), but no one could ever argue that his work wasn’t first rate. And after EC, Kamen had a long career in commercial art.

What you may not know about Kamen, however, is that his legacy extends beyond the comics page. His son, Dean, is the entrepreneur and inventor who brought us the Segway and iBot mobility system. I had the pleasure of meeting Dean about ten years ago at the FIRST robotics competition down at EPCOT*, and after I congratulated him on the iBot (which he had only recently unveiled), I mentioned to him that I was a fan of his father’s work. There was a slight flicker of delighted surprise, then he smiled, shook my hand warmly, and told me how proud he was to have Jack as his dad.

Condolences to Jack Kamen’s family and friends. We’ll miss him too, folks.

* No, I didn’t have a robot in the competition — I was there as a representative of the Arizona State Department of Education to root on four crafty teams from Arizona high schools.

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