He’s drawn some of America’s most iconic superheroes. But Bob Hall isn’t resting on becoming ‘nostalgia.’

When Bob Hall left his home in Lincoln for the bright lights of Manhattan in 1972, he had visions of becoming a Broadway director, not a member of the Mighty Marvel Bullpen. 

But like many who arrive in the Big Apple hoping to make their mark in the theater, Hall had to first figure out a way to make rent. Instead of waiting tables or settling for some other typical temp job, he chose to draw and tell stories about American icons like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Captain America and The Avengers. And that temp job became a career. 

His decades as an artist traced the trajectory of the comic book industry, from its glory days in the ’70s to its near death in the early 2000s to the present day comic-con phenomenon. 

At 79, Hall is still drawing capes, but he’s added painting to his artistic palette. 

His complete spectrum of talent will be on display Friday when his one-man art show opens at Ming Toy Gallery in Omaha. (Disclosure: My wife, Teresa Gleason, operates Ming Toy. We co-own it.)

And on Saturday, which happens to be Free Comic Book Day, Legend Comics and Coffee in Omaha will host a signing with Hall.

From measles to Marvel

Hall’s love of comics began with a health scare before he could read. 

The 4-year-old woke up vomiting blood. His parents, superintendents of a Lincoln apartment building, rushed him to the hospital.

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As doctors tried to figure out what was wrong, the Halls brought their son a pile of comic books to pass the time.

“I couldn’t read them,” Hall said, “but I was fascinated that you could glean a whole story from the pictures if it was done well.”

Doctors eventually diagnosed Hall with intestinal measles. Because the malady was so contagious, they immediately sent him home with the enormous pile of contaminated comic books. 

“That was my first comic book collection, and I was very intent on learning how to read them,” Hall said.

Comic book artist Bob Hall grew up in Lincoln and moved to New York City in 1972 with dreams of becoming a Broadway director. He ended up having a distinguished career as a comic book artist, drawing some of Marvel’s most cherished superheroes. Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz for the Flatwater Free Press

His parents nurtured his newfound love by parking their son in front of the comics rack while they grocery shopped, letting him take home a couple afterward.

“I mainly bought Disney comics,” Hall said. “The guy who did Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge was a genius named Carl Barks. But I also loved Batman, Superman, Tarzan and anything else I could get my hands on.”

An only child with few neighborhood friends, Hall passed the time learning to draw. 

“That can be helpful if you’re going to become a comic book artist,” he said, “because you end up spending a lot of time sitting alone in a room, drawing.”

By the time he was a teenager, Hall found a new love: theater. After taking roles in plays during his senior year at Lincoln High School, he gravitated toward directing. 

He earned a degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in theater in 1970 and spent two years running an early version of Omaha’s Children’s Theater before heading to New York City with directorial dreams.

“I quickly realized from friends who had been living there that the trap was having to find some kind of day job to make ends meet,” Hall said. “Those temp jobs had a way of replacing the dream that brought you to the city in the first place.” 

Hall thought drawing comic books could be his day job to supplement his $50-a-week salary as an associate director at New York’s Classic Stage Company off-Broadway repertory. 

When he landed an initial gig drawing horror comics for $15 a page, Hall realized he would have to improve his skills to compete with veteran artists at the heart of the medium’s renaissance. 

Ming Toy Gallery owner Teresa Gleason arranges groupings of pieces by comic book artist Bob Hall while preparing for his show at the Omaha gallery on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. The show opens with a reception on Friday, May 3. Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz for the Flatwater Free Press

He was accepted into a drawing class taught by legendary comic artist John Buscema, known for his work on Marvel staples like The Avengers and Silver Surfer. 

“I was scared s***less to show him my work,” Hall said, “but John turned out to be a gruff pussycat. I took classes from John for the next nine months and, at the end, he got me a job at Marvel.”

Making it in the ‘Marvel Bullpen’

It was 1975 and Hall, then 31, was joining Marvel during a time many consider to be the publisher’s heyday. 

Marvel icon Stan Lee had created a mystique about the “Mighty Marvel Bullpen,” a Manhattan office where artists and writers worked side-by-side. 

Through his monthly column, “Stan Lee’s Soapbox,” Lee introduced readers to the creators and described a scene where on any given day you could find superstar artists like Buscema or Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four) gossiping with writers like Chris Claremont (X-Men). 

“Stan created this myth that we all went to work in the same Marvel office and knew each other,” Hall said. “And, of course, that was totally untrue. We were working out of our apartments.”

Hall’s first Marvel assignment was drawing a new comic called The Champions – a hodgepodge superhero team consisting of The Angel, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Hercules and Iceman, who “united to battle for the common man … because the world still needs heroes!” 

“It was a disaster,” Hall said. “I think they gave me a group book because I had been trained by John Buscema, who was the ace for doing group books. He could somehow sort out all of those different characters running around.”

After four issues of Champions, Marvel moved Hall to Super Villain Team-Up, a series that made the villains the main characters. 

“I thought it was a much better fit,” Hall said. “I figured they haven’t fired me yet, I know I’ll do better on this one. It’ll be OK.”

Artist Bob Hall became fascinated with comic books when he was hospitalized at 4 years old. Hall, who lives in his hometown of Lincoln, drew some of the most iconic American superheroes during more than a decade with Marvel. Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz for the Flatwater Free Press

Hall never lost sight of his theater dreams, co-writing a successful off-Broadway stage play, “The Passion of Dracula,” that premiered in 1977 and ran for two years in New York City and London. 

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter saw the New York production and asked Hall to become a Marvel editor, responsible for story development, continuity and work-flow. 

“For the first time I felt like a real part of the Marvel Bullpen,” Hall said.

Over the course of 15 years, Hall would work on more than two dozen different Marvel comics titles, including Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, Defenders, Power Man and Iron Fist and The Avengers.

David DeMarco, who co-owns Legend Comics and Coffee, said Hall was one of the first artists who “really stuck with him” when he began reading comics as a youth. 

“Bob Hall co-created West Coast Avengers, which remains my favorite iteration of the team,” DeMarco said. “He also had a great run with The Avengers in the early ‘80s, including drawing the iconic ‘Court martial of Yellowjacket’ cover (Avengers No. 213). He was someone who could show up on any book, like a journeyman artist, and do a great job.”

Artist Bob Hall drew some of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes during his career. Like many comic book artists, he also freelanced. Hall picked up work at DC Comics and eventually worked on another iconic comic book hero: Batman. Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz for the Flatwater Free Press

Most comic book artists and writers are freelancers who don’t work exclusively for one publisher. Hall picked up work at DC Comics, working on horror titles House of Mystery and Weird War Tales, and years later, on Batman.

He also never lost touch with Lincoln. In the 1980s, Hall was invited to be the artistic director of UNL’s Nebraska Repertory Theatre for six summer seasons. 

After Marvel and a return to Lincoln

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the comic book industry began a slow, steady decline after catering to a collectors’ market. 

Comics, once sold in drug stores and on newsstands, were now sold almost exclusively in comic book shops to older readers. When that market fizzled, publishers quickly discovered the youth market it had been built upon had vanished.

Hall went to work at Valiant Comics, a new publisher started by Shooter, the former Marvel editor. He would go on to write and draw a non-superhero comic called Armed and Dangerous – a noir-style black-and-white comic about the Irish Mafia on New York’s Upper West Side. It gained a cult following. 

By the mid-’90s, Hall said he began to make “real money” from comics thanks to royalties and increased rates. He moved to England and Ireland for three years, but when Valiant Comics’ business declined, so did the work. 

Hall moved back to Lincoln in 2001 to become the artistic director for the nonprofit Flatwater Shakespeare Company, a position he held for 15 years. Shortly after the move, he met his second wife, Paula. And he placed a new focus on his art, earning a master’s degree in painting from UNL.

Bob Hall drawing at his home in Lincoln. The journeyman comic book artist has drawn some of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes. At 79, he is keeping busy, traveling to comic cons and working. He is in the process of writing a new play and has some ideas for producing a graphic novel. Photo by Tim McMahan for the Flatwater Free Press

Today, Hall said he makes his living taking part in the growing phenomenon of comic book conventions. “I have become nostalgia,” he said. 

The events offer chances for fans to meet their favorite artists, hear them speak on panels, maybe purchase one of their original drawings. 

Hall travels to comic cons in his tiny Honda Fit crammed full with original art, signed prints and posters for sale. He was in Minot, North Dakota, for a con in late April. The weekend before that, Kalamazoo, Michigan. This summer he’ll go to Florida and, of course, the New York Comic Con, which he takes part in every year.

While the cons can be lucrative, Hall said the real rush comes from meeting admirers of his art.

“It’s a thrill to discover you have fans who are aware of what you did,” Hall said, “and even more exciting is meeting younger people who like my work.” 

But Hall has more than comic cons in his future. He is writing a new play. He also has some ideas for a new graphic novel. 

“That’s the part of the craft I miss most,” he said, “the storytelling.”

By Tim McMahan

A freelance writer and author, Tim McMahan was a senior editorial contributor and columnist at The Reader for 25 years. His blog, Lazy-i.com, has documented Omaha’s nationally recognized indie music scene since 1998. McMahan also is a retired senior director and executive speech writer at Union Pacific.

1 Comment

I really enjoyed this! I used to read the comics while my mom shopped too. I’ll be sure to stop by the gallery to see his exhibit. Nice job!



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