Oklahomans E. Nelson Bridwell, Sterling Gates helped mold Man of Steel
“The Uncanny Adventures of Okie Cartoonists” opens at the Oklahoma History Center on Saturday and features the work of Oklahomans well-known in the comics and cartooning industries. Those featured in the exhibit are a world-class group, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing personally and professionally.
The first one of the group that I was aware of, though I never met him personally, was E. Nelson Bridwell.
This writer/editor was born in Sapulpa in 1931, and, while I wasn’t aware of his Oklahoma roots at the time, when I was growing up in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I thought Bridwell’s encyclopedic knowledge of the characters of DC Comics was like unto a superpower of its own.
Bridwell answered readers’ questions as the assistant editor to Julie Schwartz in the pages of the “Superman” titles. When I wasn’t dreaming of Superman, I was hoping for the somewhat more realistic dream of working in New York with Bridwell as he put those letters columns together and put his prodigious comic-book knowledge to use.
In the handmade comics I drew in many idling hours as a child (with incredibly creative titles like “Super Cat”), I would emulate Bridwell in the completely fictitious letters columns; answering some bit of arcane trivia that could have only been known to someone who read the last adventure I’d drawn — so likely, me or my mom — and then signing the resulting helpful answer with the initials, “E.N.B.,” just as Bridwell signed his answers in the “Superman” books. Had I known that Bridwell was from my home state, I would have been all the more fascinated. As it was, for someone who delighted in “Superman” facts and trivia, Bridwell was an early influence, sharing information and making newer readers feel a part of the growing fandom.
Bridwell is also known as a writer for MAD magazine and for creating the comic-book humor superheroes The Inferior Five. Other notable co-creations of Bridwell were Angel and the Ape and Secret Six. For a time, he wrote Batman’s newspaper strip, and he was the editor for DC’s reprint lines and anthologies. Bridwell died in 1987.
And Oklahomans aren’t only tied to the Man of Steel’s past. With writer Sterling Gates, they are also part of his present and his possible future. Gates recently co-wrote “Last Stand of New Krypton” and “War of the Supermen” with writer James Robinson. Gates, who was born in Tulsa and graduated from the University of Oklahoma, is the regular writer on DC Comics “Supergirl” feature.
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