Even early in his career, when Wood drafted simple space-pulp like this story, the young artist (who would have been around 24 years old at the time) sweated to make it sing, with dynamic compositions, dramatic lighting, and striking characters.
Wood’s talent was on par with other great artists of his generation, the Kirbys and Eisners we still celebrate today. He was one of the people who helped invent modern comic art style during the Golden Age, and he survived long enough to find himself almost utterly forgotten late in his life. Wood worked for most of the major comic publishers of the 1950s and 1960s, and labored alongside — or collaborated with — comic creators like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Harvey Kurtzman, Jim Shooter, and Jules Feiffer. Wood even took over the newspaper run of Will Eisner’s Spirit, to continue the hero’s adventures in space. It was natural that he ended up at EC’s fledgling MAD Magazine, where, working for publisher William Gaines and editor Harvey Kurtzman, he drew popular comic book parodies, some of which poked fun at titles he’d worked on for other publishers. In the 1960s, he was one of the regular artists who worked on the original run of Marvel’s Daredevil series.
Over the years, he picked up dozens of unusual gigs, including book and magazine illustration, product packaging, albums, and trading cards, including Topps’ legendary Mars Attacks series. From the late 50s to the late 60s, he created cover art and illustrations for over 60 issues of the influential Galaxy Science Fiction digest, and his images appeared alongside prose from a generation of noted science-fiction authors, including Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, and Jack Vance. Wood was a noted workaholic, and his art was everywhere.
By the 1970s, Wood was drawing Sally Forth, a sexy adult adventure story that continues to be reprinted. Yet within a few years, although he continued to push personal projects, he was no longer able to find steady employment. The comic industry had changed, and so had art styles. Despite Wood’s versatility and obsessive work ethic, he was underemployed; years of toil had gotten him nothing. His health was also in steep decline; for decades he’d endured chronic headaches, and heavy drinking led eventually to kidney failure. In 1978 he had a stroke that left him half-blind in one eye. It was all too much. In 1981, inside his low-rent Los Angeles apartment, Wood shot himself in the head.
On his disappointing career struggles, Wood once reportedly said, “If I had it all to do over again, I’d cut off my hands.” And who could blame him?
Read the original comic, Space Detective, in Space Detective #1