C. C. Beck, the comic book artist who created Captain Marvel--a rival of Superman for the hero worship of American children in the 1940s, has died after a long illness. He was 79.
Beck died Wednesday at Shands Hospital in Gainesville. He first drew Captain Marvel, “the world’s mightiest mortal,” almost 50 years ago.
Born and raised in the small town of Zumbrota, Minn., Beck was encouraged to draw from an early age by his parents--a Lutheran minister and a schoolteacher.
“All kids draw,” he said in a 1986 news story. “The grown-up artist just sticks with it.”
Beck started his career as an artist in Chicago, where he drew cartoon characters on lamp shades. Then he moved to Minneapolis, where he illustrated humor magazines. He wound up in New York when his publisher, Fawcett, moved there from the Midwest in 1939, right around the beginning of America’s first comic book boom.
Captain Marvel, the muscular super-hero in red tights who was once tickled into helplessness by the fiendish Mr. Mind, was Beck’s answer to Superman, who had just arrived at the newsstands.
The strip was a tongue-in-cheek serial about Billy Batson, a 15-year-old newsboy who transformed himself into Captain Marvel when he spoke the magic word “Shazam.” Captain Marvel would usually save the day by applying child-like solutions to world-threatening problems.
Captain Marvel quickly became Superman’s rival for the affections of thousands of America’s children. In the 1940s, Captain Marvel sold more than 1 million copies a month, the most successful comic book in history.
Beck moved to the Miami area in the early 1940s and stopped drawing Captain Marvel in the 1950s when Fawcett closed its comics division.
Beck continued drawing and decorating awnings and storefronts. He moved to Lake Wales, Fla., in 1976, and then to Gainesville in 1983. He made a brief comeback to comic illustration in the 1970s when DC Comics, the publisher of Superman, acquired the copyright to the Captain Marvel character and began republication.
Beck was also an avid dollhouse builder and collector of antique guns.
Beck is survived by a daughter, Gladys McGuire of Gainesville; a son, Charles W. Beck of Bartow, Fla.; a brother, Willis Beck of Minneapolis; eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.