Artist Michael Zulli Known for Sandman and The Puma Blues Dies at 71

Artist Michael Zulli Known for Sandman and The Puma Blues Dies at 71

Michael Zulli, a revered artist celebrated for his contributions to iconic titles such as “The Sandman,” “The Puma Blues,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” has passed away at the age of 71. Born on December 20, 1952, Zulli’s career spanned several decades, leaving an indelible mark on both mainstream and cult-favorite comics.

Zulli’s journey in the comic world began with his collaboration with Dave Sim on “The Puma Blues,” a series that ran from 1986 to 1989. This environmental activist comic, known for its vivid depictions of nature and wildlife, was initially self-published through Aardvark One International before being picked up by Mirage Studios. The series was recently collected by Dover Press, ensuring its legacy endures.

In 1988, Zulli ventured into the world of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” where he wrote and illustrated the “Soul’s Trilogy” arc. This storyline was notable for its realistic portrayal of the beloved characters, a departure from their traditional cartoonish style. Despite the controversy it stirred, Zulli’s work on the series remains a significant part of the Turtles’ history.

Zulli’s talent and unique style caught the attention of Neil Gaiman, leading to a fruitful collaboration on “The Sandman.” Zulli first joined the series with issue #13, introducing the character Hob Gadling. Over the years, he illustrated seven issues, including the series’ original finale, “The Wake.” His work on “The Wake” earned three Eisner nominations in 1996, solidifying his reputation as a masterful artist. Zulli and Gaiman also worked together on the 1994 adaptation of Alice Cooper’s album “The Last Temptation” and an unfinished “Sweeney Todd” story for the anthology “Taboo.”

Zulli’s career was not without its share of unpublished works. One of the most notable was an issue of “Swamp Thing,” written by Rick Veitch, which would have seen the character encounter Jesus Christ. This controversial storyline never saw the light of day, but it remains a fascinating “what if” in comic book history.

Throughout his career, Zulli continued to contribute to various titles, including “The Sandman Presents: Love Street,” “Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man,” and “Star Wars Tales.” His work extended to other Vertigo titles such as “Winter’s Edge,” “Witchcraft: La Terreur,” and the “Shade” series, which spun off from “Starman.” Zulli’s versatility and distinctive style made him a sought-after artist for publishers like Marvel, Dark Horse, DC, and Image Comics.

The news of Zulli’s passing has elicited heartfelt tributes from those who knew and worked with him. Writer J.M. DeMatteis, who collaborated with Zulli on several projects, described him as “a brilliant artist” and “a brilliant man: deep, passionate, philosophical.” Steve Bissette, who worked with Zulli on the “Sweeney Todd” series, referred to him as a “beautiful, wonderful, true artwork of a human.”

Colleen Doran, another collaborator, expressed her deep respect and love for Zulli, highlighting the profound impact he had on those around him. Iain Sinclair, who worked with Zulli on the design of promotional materials for “Sweeney Todd,” praised his groundbreaking work on “The Puma Blues” and his collaborations with Gaiman.

Paul Levitz, a former executive at DC Comics, acknowledged Zulli’s unique stylistic voice and his significant contributions to Vertigo and “The Sandman.” Mark Bode, a friend and fellow artist, shared his personal connection with Zulli, recalling the honor of tattooing him and trading artwork.

Zulli’s influence extended beyond his published works. His approach to art and storytelling inspired many in the comic book community. Despite his aversion to traditional comic book training methods, Zulli’s dedication to his craft and his willingness to experiment with different styles set him apart as a true innovator.

As the comic book world mourns the loss of Michael Zulli, his legacy lives on through the stories he brought to life and the impact he had on his peers and fans. His work on “The Sandman,” “The Puma Blues,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” will continue to be celebrated for years to come, a testament to his extraordinary talent and vision.

Our thoughts are with Zulli’s family, friends, and fans during this difficult time. His contributions to the world of comics will not be forgotten, and his artistic legacy will continue to inspire future generations of creators.

Source: Bleeding Cool, The Comics Journal

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