Legendary artist remembers Kennedy

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, November 22nd, 2019

Image result for Al Plastino Kennedy

TOM WARD                                                                                                                                                      TOMPWARD@SBCGLOBAL.NET

     If you were alive 56 years ago you’ll remember exactly where you were the moment the news reports came out that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. 

    November 22, 1963 was one of those seminal moments in history when the world collectively gasped and stood still in shock and disbelief. One of those people was a good friend of mine named Al Plastino and his story is an interesting one that would ultimately have a historic significant tie-in with the late President of the United States. 

    Back in 1963, Plastino was one of the top comic book artists in the industry and at that time was best known for drawing the Man of Steel “Superman” for DC Comics. Prior to Kennedy’s untimely death Al had been working on a special Superman story involving the President.    

    Sadly,  Al passed away in December of 2013, but before his death we talked about what he remembered on that terrible day and where he was when he heard the news.     

     Plastino recalled, “I was living in Jersey and my kids were little and I was sitting down taking a break from drawing and watching TV when the news bulletin came over that Kennedy had been killed in Dallas. I was mesmerized and horrified at the same time as I continued to watch the telecasts and they showed as much as they could at the time and I just couldn’t believe it was happening as it didn’t seem real.   Then all this information started coming out about how Oswald shot the police officer before he was captured. A few days later we were watching when we saw on live TV as this guy in a hat (Jack Ruby) shot Oswald walking to the car with a police escort in the basement. It was incredible and scary at the same time.”

     I remember asking Al how much progress he had made on the Kennedy /Superman comic book when the assignation happened.  Al replied,

     “I was pretty well into the story of Superman helping President Kennedy with his new physical fitness program geared towards the youngsters when I heard the news. I stopped drawing after I saw what happened down in Texas. The new President Lyndon B. Johnson not too long after he was sworn in as President had his office contact DC comics and told them to continue finishing the story to honor his late predecessor. I don’t think it was more than a few days later when the editor at DC called and asked me to make a new splash page. They sent me some new text that was to be included on that page and I went ahead and drew the one that is now identified with that comic book which is Superman issue # 170.” 

     Al told me he came up with the idea of Superman flying over the capitol saluting an image of the late President on his own.”  He added,  “I thought what the hell am I going to do here? I didn’t want to have Superman standing over the grave of Kennedy which I thought was too morbid and sad. Originally that issue of the Superman book that President Kennedy was suppose to appear in was issue # 168, but they pushed it back and it finally came out in July of 1964.” 

     That particular Superman issue is now fast becoming a highly prized collectable in the comic book industry.

     Before Al’s passing he uncovered a copy of the original first splash page, not the iconic one with Superman saluting an image of President Kennedy. Plastino 

stated,

      It was drawn in pencil and it’s just Kennedy and Superman in the oval office with Superman saying to the President, I understand you wanted to see me? Kennedy replies,” Well, we need you to help the kids train for a new physical fitness we have.” 

     “When the assassination happened I knew I had to make a new opening splash page.  Everything I did back then was a job and I enjoyed drawing for a living. For that particular story I did a lot of research on all the different types of exercises. I believe I even had one of my cousins laying down on the floor doing pushups so I could draw him and make sketches to make it look real. I really worked hard on because I was interested in it. Listen, I’m Italian and I’m an emotional guy so it was sad finishing the artwork for the Superman book knowing the horrific tragedy that befell Kennedy. You can’t help not feeling remorseful and I was careful to do a good job honoring him. That was a long time ago and I was upset that the man was shot.”

    Six years ago I learned that Al Plastino’s Superman splash page and comic book would be on display here in Dallas. Back then Stephen Fagin, who’s the Associate Curator of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, told me they planned to have a new exhibit panel called, The Kennedy Culture. He said,

     “It will explore President Kennedy’s legacy and the legacy of the assassination. It also briefly looks at how the assassination has influenced film, art, music, and other forms of personal expression, including the work of Andy Warhol, Oliver Stone, and others. The artifact case will include three artifacts that speak to the legacy of the assassination in popular culture. One of those artifacts will be the Superman comic book (drawn by Al Plastino) which will be open to the splash page to showcase the image of Superman flying over the Capitol with the image of President Kennedy looking on.” 

     Finally,  on March 20th, 2014  Al Plastino’s original 10 pages of Superman /Kennedy artwork found it’s intended home in Boston at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. All four of Plastino’s children were in attendance, along with the late artist’s wife Mary Ann. The curator of the JFK Museum Stacey Bredhoff wrote,

     “We feel fortunate and grateful that the drawings survived, and they stand as a tribute to a program that was very important to President Kennedy. We are only sorry that Mr. Plastino did not live to see them come to the place they were always meant to be.”

Tom Ward can be contacted at www.teetimewithtom.com

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