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Navy Action #1-11 (Aug. 1954 – April 1956), Sailor Sweeney #12-14 (June 1956 – Nov. 1956), Navy Action #15-18 (Jan. 1957 – Aug. 1957).

Navy Action #10

Cartoonist and sculptor Mac L. Pakula worked for Atlas/Marvel Comics in the 1950s during the Golden Age, which was the time when Superman reigned supreme. Pakula, who studied cartooning at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (in New York), created art for the company’s war, spy, horror and Western titles. Pakula says he was interested in cartooning since he was a child, and it sometimes got him in trouble. “When I was a little kid,” remembers Pakula, “my mom was called to school because instead of learning my ABCs, I was always drawing. The teacher told my mother not to be too upset, as I showed signs of being a good artist.”

Years later, while attending the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, Pakula had the opportunity to study with renowned artists Tom Gill, who drew The Lone Ranger comic for more than 20 years, and John Hogarth, best known for his depictions of Tarzan. “I also studied with painter Norman Rockwell, who gave me a lot of good advice,” says Pakula. “He used to come [to the school] from his New England home every few months and bring in his paintings and explain how he worked.”

Eventually, Pakula was offered work with Gill, and for many months, he worked on his projects. Gill encouraged him to enter an art contest, and Stan Lee (co-creater of classic comic-book characters Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and the Hulk, to name several), who was one of the judges, took a shine to Pakula’s work. “There were many entries,” says Pakula, “and I won first prize. I got a certificate of award and many nice gifts, including an oil paint set and a scholarship.

“The best part was Stan Lee offered me a job. From that day on, I was working on comic books. I lost count of how many I did for the company — it had to be in the very high hundreds,” says Pakula, who worked with Marvel for six to seven years. “I loved creating the comics, and through the years I accumulated almost 400 comics of mine and fellow cartoonists, which eventually became very valuable.”

Like many industries, the comicbook industry had its ups and downs, and when it looked as if the bottom was going to fall out, Pakula moved on. He became a technical and commercial artist and supervisor for Collins Radio Company, which provided aviation and information-technology systems and services to government agencies and aircraft manufacturers. “I came in as a trainee and learned pretty fast, and within three years I became supervisor of the art department,” Pakula recalls. “We had a lot of government work, and we were really busy. I also worked on the aerospace programs of McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, NASA (Apollo projects) and other companies throughout the years.” In fact, Pakula created the original paintings of the retrieval of three Apollo astronauts after their aircraft returned to Earth; he also created art for the B-2 Stealth Bombers.

“It was during this time I met a sculptor from Israel. He was a really good craftsman and I liked his style,” continues Pakula, who also worked with clay when he was young. He studied with the sculptor for about six months and then developed his own style. “To date I have about 70 pieces. I do a lot of wildlife; I’m real strong on conservation. Often, when I get a lump of clay, the piece seems to create itself more or less. There were times I’d get up in my sleep. Some idea would come to mind and I’d jump out of bed and get to work. When I’m working, I’m oblivious to everything else around me. People ask me where I get all my ideas from — I collect books and do a lot of reading on wildlife, cowboys and mountain men. I like to keep that history alive.” Navy Action #11

To create his bronze sculptures, Pakula first builds an armature with wire then begins adding clay to form a figure. After the clay has been modeled, it’s ready to be bronzed, which is a long, tedious process (lost wax method) that has been used hundreds of years. The entire process in the foundry takes from six to eight weeks to produce a single bronze.

Simply explained, first a silicone mold is made of the work, then, from the mold, an exact copy is made in wax and is then cut into sections. Each sculpture cast in an edition requires a separate wax replica. If the edition is 15, then 15 wax replicas will be made from the same mold.

The pieces are then assembled and “chased” — all the seams, air bubbles and other imperfections are removed. Flues and sprues are added to the assembled wax, which allows air and gas to escape as the molten metal is poured into the mold. A ceramic mold is then encased in the wax copy in stages and usually takes seven days to complete. Molten bronze is then poured into the encasement, replacing the wax (which is why it’s called the lost wax method). The bronze is then sandblasted and a patina is chosen. Throughout the process, Pakula makes regular visits to the foundry to ensure the work is being done to his specifications.

“I’m continually trying to improve and find new methods of creating my sculptures,” concludes Pakula. “I love that people appreciate my work. I don’t really care whether they buy it or not. If I know they like my work, that satisfies me enough.”

By Lorraine A. DarConte

Sailor Sweeney #12