Allen Bellman, RIP

By | Tuesday, March 10, 2020 Leave a Comment
Golden Age comic artist Allen Bellman passed away yesterday after a short time in hospice. Michael Uslan posted a very touching tribute that I wanted to share outside Facebook...

Joe Simon and Allen Bellman
My father, Joe Uslan, was the kind of dad every comic book fan and collector hoped for. When we moved into our new house this summer after I completed fifth grade, he never once put the family car into the garage. Instead, he built me floor to ceiling shelves around it’s three walls in order to house my fast-growing comic book collection. He drove me to far away drugstores and candy stores when I desperately was searching for some elusive Charlton comic book that always seemed to elude the stands carrying DC‘s and Marvels. He drove me to the homes of any comic book pro I could track down in our home state of New Jersey… Whether they be creator, writer, editor, or artist. He and my mom took me to New York so I could attend the first comic book conventions in the 1960s. So it was only natural he’d share my excitement the night he came home from his Lions Club meeting in 1966. Dad was the president of the Ocean Township chapter of this wonderful pro-social service organization whose super good deeds included collecting eyeglasses to be re-distributed to those unable to afford them. Every member of that Lions Club was a civic leader, a philanthropist, and a real life superhero. This particular meeting, dad had a chance to talk at length with recent new member, Allen Bellman.

“Michael,“ dad exclaimed, “did you ever hear of Al Bellman?“

I didn’t.

“He told me he used to draw comic books!“ Dad proclaimed. My curiosity was piqued but dad was perplexed that I wasn’t excited.

“I never heard of him, Pop, and I think I know the names of every artist whoever worked in comic books,” I said as cocky as a 15-year-old who was sure he knew everything about everything (despite my dad’s continual lectures that the older you get, the more you realize the less you know). I figured if this man had really been a comic book artist, he probably just drew something like “True Comics” or “My Little Margie” or “Heart Throbs” or one of those obscure Charltons like “Fightin’ Army,” “Fightin’ Navy,” or “Fightin Etc.”

But no… Dad replied he worked for a man named Stan Lee and wondered if I knew that name. My jaw dropped. There’s a man in Ocean Township who drew comic books for Stan Lee?!? Oh my God! (Back then, we had to write that out fully. Initials alone did not suffice!) Who could he be? What did he draw for Marvel?

“Pop… Are you sure his name is Al Bellman and not George Bell? George Bell is an inker at Marvel,” I said before I knew George Bell did not exist but rather was a “pen name” for early Batman ghost artist George Roussous, who did not want DC Comics to know he was moonlighting at Marvel to supplement his income.

I was stumped. In those pre-Internet days when the total number of books about comic books published since 1938 totaled about four, I combed every page in search of Allen Bellman. Nothing. I pulled out all my fanzines in my collection: Alter Ego; The Rockets Blast Comicollector; the RBCC Specials; On the Drawing Board; The Comic Reader; Batmania; Flame On; Aurora; Ymir; True Fan Adventure Theater; and every piece of paper I ever received from the experts on comics— Dr. Jerry Bails, Otto Binder, CC Beck, Julius Schwartz, Et Al. Nothing about an Allen Bellman. And so I begged my dad to take me to a Lions Club meeting so I could meet this quixotic figure in person. There was either a family night or father/son night upcoming and that would be my chance.

- [ ] The night came and I met Mr. Bellman and had a brand new hero in my life. He regaled me with tales of being hired as a kid at Timely Comics in the 1940s. I heard personal anecdotes about Stan Lee and Martin Goodman, the Timely/Marvel publisher. Allen brought to life for me the Golden Age Marvel bullpen up in the Empire State Building… The way they turned out the work… The hijinks and pranks… The personality conflicts. I soon felt like I personally knew Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Syd Shores, Al AvIson, Bill Everett, Carl Burgos, Matt Fox, Robbie Solomon, Mike Sekowsky, and Don Rico. Too soon, the Timely bullpen would become the Atlas bullpen as Goodman changed company names and its accent from super heroes to horror, science-fiction, war, crime, western, detective, humor, and jungle comics. Allen Bellman successfully made that precarious transition, but it was his superhero work which positively enthralled the fanboy in me! He drew Captain America in the Golden Age of Comics! He drew the Original Human Torch! He drew the Sub-Mariner during World War II! And one of his personal favorites was the Patriot, a character I already knew well from having amassed a sizable collection of old comic books like Marvel Mystery Comics, All-Winners, Young Allies, All-Select Comics, and USA Comics! Allen’s stories of the “good old days“ became a great first-hand source regarding the history of comics. They became my very own “Library at Alexandria!” Allen told me of the coming of the Darkness, when Dr. Frederick Wertham and his book, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, almost single-handedly brought the end of all comic books upon us, and how, coupled with the Atlas/Marvel distribution implosion, drove him from his comic book artist career to help secure employment in the advertising business in New York City.

- [ ] My favorite moment in Allen’s company was when he gave me a drawing he drew and colored himself. It was the Patriot. It was the first time I actually saw Allen’s artwork and was happily stunned at how much it looks like the work of Simon and Kirby… Or at least Simon. It’s a piece I still have framed in glass on my office wall amid my original art from Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, and Don Heck.

- [ ] In most articles about legendary artists of the Golden Age and the Silver Age, we fanboys get great insights into the history and the way it was. Few focus on the person, rather than the artist. But writing about Allen Bellman the artist without writing about Allen Bellman the person would sadly paint an incomplete picture. For 95 years, Allen has remained a man full of life, energy, humor, and the spirit of a boy… still excited every time he meets a fan, is handed the next accolade or award at seemingly every comic book convention, or picks up a pencil to draw. He is one of the chosen few on earth to take his passion in life and turn it into his life‘s work. His enthusiasm and passion are matched with his lovely wife, Roz, around whom he acted like a lovesick school boy on his first date with the girl of his dreams. After more than 50 years of marriage, Roz remained his anchor and number one fan, accompanying him on every personal appearance from coast to coast or country to country, all the while keeping track of his growing list of commissions for fans looking to add original artwork to their collections by the last surviving Golden Age artist of Captain America and the Human Torch. As a well-versed man once said long ago, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

- [ ] Allen was also the great family man and that’s always where his first priority was set, be it with children, in-laws, grandchildren, or great grandchildren. Two of Allen’s granddaughters, whom I call “the Wonder Twins,” have become famous artists in their own right, carrying on the family tradition… Jeaneen Barnhart and Doreen Dehart.

- [ ] Allen’s dry, witty sense of humor never stopped. Coupled with his unrelenting travels to interface with his fans, he alone destroyed the stereotype of a comic book artist as a veritable hermit of limited social skills chained to his drawing table day and night. Allen Bellman and his indomitable spirit helped make comic books the fun and artistic achievement they were and still are. He was the last living legend connecting us to the earliest golden days of what would become the entertainment juggernaut known as Marvel. He was, therefore, one of comicbookdom’s true national treasures… a treasure I was proud to call my friend for 53 years.

- [ ] In my very last conversation with Allen, after he sang to me the opening chorus of “My Way,” he made one request of me. “Michael... Don’t let them forget me,” he said. And so, starting with this eulogy of my friend and mentor, as his mission ends, mine has begun.
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