An Interview With Irwin Hasen - Golden Age Creator of The Wildcat and "Dondi"

Written by Bryan Stroud

Irwin Hasen (seated at his drawing table) and Gus Edson (standing) discuss Dondi.

Irwin Hasen (seated at his drawing table) and Gus Edson (standing) discuss Dondi.

Irwin Hasen (born on July 8, 1918) was an American cartoonist, best known for his work at DC Comics and as the creator of the Dondi comic strip. He began his comics carrer in 1940 contributing to The Green Hornet, The Fox, Secret Agent Z-2, Bob Preston, Explorer, Cat-Man and The Flash. Irwin worked for DC off-and-on through the '40s - creating the character Wildcat for the company. In 1954 Hasen (along with Gus Edson) created the newspaper comic strip Dondi.

After devoting 32 years to Dondi, Hasen went on to join the faculty of the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning where he taught until 2007.

In 2009 Irwin released his autobiography, Lover Boy, chronicling his life as a cartoonist and a lover of women. A dedicated ladies’ man throughout his life, Hasen decorated the walls of his bachelor apartment with drawings of past girlfriends. In a 2011 NYT profile he was quoted as saying, “I didn’t want much. I just wanted to be loved by everyone.” We like to think that it was a goal he easily achieved. Irwin Hasen passed away on March 13, 2015.

I'm not sure when I thought I'd try to land a Golden-Ager, but I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with Irwin Hasen - who did a lot of Golden Age work for DC, but of course ultimately achieved what most cartoonists would consider the brass ring by landing the Dondi newspaper syndicated strip.  He worked on that strip for many years with great success and he couldn't have been a sweeter guy to chat with. 

This interview originally took place over the phone on August 23, 2007.

Wildcat, Created by Irwin Hasen & Bill Finger.

 Bryan Stroud:  Which characters did you create over the years?

Irwin Hasen:  The Wildcat and also a comic strip called Dondi

Stroud:  You and Bill Finger did that one didn’t you?

Hasen:  That’s right. 

Stroud:  How did you come up with that one?

Hasen:  I was in the fight business.  I used to be a cartoonist for the fight business, which you wouldn’t know since you were a child.

Stroud:  (Laughter.)  Yes, sir.

Hasen:  This was in the early 40’s, late 30’s and I was a cartoonist, a freelance cartoonist for a magazine in the fight business; a trade paper and I illustrated the drawings.

Stroud:  So it was just a natural thing to do a boxer.

Hasen:  That’s right.  That’s how they decided to put me on Wildcat that I created with Bill Finger

Stroud:  When a writer and artist create a character like that how much collaboration is there?

A Dondi sketch done by Irwin Hasen in 2007.

Hasen:  Not too much.  They’d just send me the scripts. 

Stroud:  So you did the design and took it from there.

Hasen:  Yeah.

Stroud:  What was Bill like to work with?

Hasen:  A great guy.  Very, very ill-fated man, personally.  Ill-fated.

Stroud:  Oh, yeah, every story I’ve heard just breaks your heart. 

Hasen:  He was a loser, yep.  And when I use the word ‘loser,’ I do it affectionately.

Stroud:  Yes, as in someone who was just on the wrong end of things.

Hasen:  That’s right.  Always late with his work.  Never had money. 

Stroud:  I’ve heard before he was always tardy with scripts.  What’s your take as far as why he was usually late?

Hasen:  It was something that some people have, and he was ill-fated, right from the beginning of his career.  And that’s the sad thing because he was so talented.  He created Batman.  He wrote Batman, rather. 

Stroud:  Yes, and Green Lantern.

Hasen:  Yeah, he wrote all those wonderful comic books.

Stroud:  And continued to right up to the end as I understand it.

Hasen:  That’s right.  It’s a very sad story, but let’s not dwell about sad things.

All-American Comics (1939) #35, cover by Irwin Hasen.

All-Star Comics (1940) #33, cover by Irwin Hasen.

All-Star Comics (1940) #33, cover by Irwin Hasen.

Stroud:  Tell me a little bit about when you started at All American, please.

Hasen:  Well, I started by just showing samples to the editors and they liked my work and I got to do work for them and when I was in the Army in 1942, I used to come in on the weekends and sit in my uniform at the offices and I would do the covers for Green Lantern, The Flash.  Most of the work I did was covers.

Stroud:  Did you like that?

Hasen:  Yeah.  I couldn’t compete with my fellow cartoonists.  Brilliant cartoonists.  Joe Kubert and a few others, but I could do a cover and I gave great covers.

Stroud:  Do you know how many you did?

Hasen:  About 150.  80 Wonder Woman covers.  I would say 100 covers.  I do recreations of all those covers I did for clients. 

Stroud:  I bet there’s quite a demand for that.

Hasen:  Yes.  They call or they write to me and they know exactly which cover they want and I let them know what I’m going to charge them, etc., etc.

Wonder Woman (1942) #50, cover by Irwin Hasen.

Stroud:  It’s nice that you’re getting that kind of recognition.

Hasen:  Thank you.

Stroud:  When you received an assignment, what were the deadlines like?

Hasen:  I never had problems.  I had a week to 10 days to complete an assignment. 

Stroud:  Were you doing strictly pencils?

Hasen:  I did the whole thing.

Stroud:  The lettering, too?

Hasen:  No.  Somebody else did that.

Stroud:  Okay, I never was quite sure when lettering became a specialty.

Hasen:  It was always a specialty.

Stroud:  Comic strips back in the day seemed to carry more legitimacy than comic books.  Why do you think that was?

Hasen:  Comic strips?  There was magnificence about them.  They were something that was so completely apart from the comic books.  The comic books were kind of looked down on, but yet they were some of the greatest art work, by great artists who worked in comic books.  Comic strips were sort of the elegant part of our business.

Stroud:  I understand you worked with some of the greats back then, can you tell me a little about a few people?  How about Irv Novick?

Hasen:  He was a close friend.  We worked together and we socialized.  Alex Toth was my best friend.  I met him when he was sixteen and I was twenty-four or twenty-five.  He liked my work and I could never understand why.  I really mean it, I’m not being modest.  But for some reason or another he was attracted to my work.  He had a sad ending.

Stroud:  Really?

Hasen:  He had a sad life.  He had personal problems with his wives and also he got heavy.  He put on a lot of weight and he smoked like a chimney.  Unfortunately in the later part of his life his personality changed and soured.  It soured on the world, which is not too difficult to do in these days.  He had a sad ending of his life.

Irwin Hasen shows Daily News cartoonists how he did what he did. From the left: Irwin Hasen, Alfred Andriola; Bill Holman, and Don Figlozzi and (rear) Leonard Starr.

Stroud:  That’s a shame.  Especially after the great body of work he left behind.

Hasen:  He was the master.  Roy Crane and Alex Toth were my heroes.

Stroud:  Everyone I’ve spoken to, whether it was Gaspar Saladino or…

Hasen:  Oh, Gaspar?  You spoke to him?

Stroud:  Yeah and what a wonderful guy.

Hasen:  He was my letterer on Dondi.

Stroud:  Oh, I didn’t realize that.

Hasen:  First one.  He and I were very, very close.

Stroud:  How about Julie Schwartz, did you work with him much?

Hasen:  Yeah, he was my editor.  He was a grand old guy.  A pain in the ass.  He was a very strange guy.  He was involved with himself so much.  But he was a damn good editor. 

Stroud:  That’s what I hear.  He was one of the best.

Hasen:  Yeah.  I didn’t mean to get personal about him.  He and I were close in a strange way.  We had a love…there was never hate.  We just had a strange relationship. 

Stroud:  I hear he was kind of demanding.

Hasen:  Demanding is the word.  But on his own terms.

Stroud:  Carmine was telling me the only person he didn’t edit extensively was John Broome.

Irwin Hasen in 2011.

Irwin Hasen in 2011.

Hasen:  Yeah, he was a great guy.  There was a difference between he and Julie and they were very close.  Very close.  He was a gentle, 6 foot 4 guy.

Stroud:  Did you know Shelly Moldoff very well?

Hasen:  Very much.  I saw him last year.  He’s a low key guy.  Did a lot of good work.  All these guys were from the old days.  Sheldon Moldoff.  They were all part of the stable. 

Stroud:  Did you guys work there in the bullpen or did you work at home?

Hasen:  No, we worked at home.

Stroud:  I know you’ve done some teaching at Joe Kubert’s art school.

Hasen:  I just retired this year.  Thirty-one years.

Stroud:  Wow.  Was that an enjoyable task?

Hasen:  Yeah.  I needed it at the time.  It was fine.  I enjoyed it.  This year I just decided that’s it.  I even retired before I got ill. 

Green Lantern (1941) #10, cover by Irwin Hasen.

Sensation Comics (1942) #96, cover by Irwin Hasen.

Green Lantern (1941) #26, cover by Irwin Hasen.


Bryan Stroud

Bryan Stroud is a longtime fan of DC Comics, particularly the Silver and Bronze Ages, and has been published in a number of places over the last decade plus, to include the magazines Comic Book Creator andLurid Little Nightmare Makers and websites like The Silver Lantern and Comics Bulletin.  Bryan wrote the afterword to “Think Pink,” is a frequent contributor to BACK ISSUE magazine, Ditkomania and co-authored Nick Cardy:  Wit-LashHe and his indulgent wife have dined with Joe and Hilarie Staton and Jim Shooter.  He owns a comic book spinner rack that reminds him of his boyhood.