Joseph Patrick Doolin was born March 22, 1896 in Pontiac, Illinois. His father James Doolin, was born 1849 in Ohio to Irish immigrant parents. His mother Mary Anna Doolin, was born 1860 in Illinois to parents of German ancestry. His parents married in 1888. They gave birth to a total of six children, but only two survived infancy. His younger sister Helen Mary Doolin was born October 1899. They lived in a rented home at 793 Hazel Street in Pontiac. The town is about one hundred miles southwest from Chicago.
His father was a day laborer in a tile factory. By 1910 the family had moved to 908 East Livingston Street in Pontiac.
In 1914 at the age of eighteen he joined the U. S. Army Infantry, where he received basic training and served as a private for a short time until he became ill. He received a Disability Discharge and later fully recovered.
In 1916 he enrolled in a drawing course as an art student at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts at 81 East Monroe Street, to which he commuted from home by train. The school was founded by the artist Carl Werntz. Another talented young art student taking drawing classes at the school at that time was Walt Disney.
On June 5, 1917 at the age of twenty-one he reported for draft registration in the Great War. He was recorded to be medium tall, stoutly built, with gray eyes and dark brown hair. He listed his previous military service and receipt of a "disability discharge," but he did not specify any permanent physical defects. He was not selected for military service.
On November 16, 1918 his mother died at the age of fifty-eight.
In 1920 he still lived at home with his sister and their elderly widowed father, who was seventy-one, unemployed, and dependent on his two children for support. Joe Doolin found work as a cartoonist at a local newspaper, while his sister worked as a stenographer at the telephone company.
On January 7, 1923 his father died in the Cook County Hospital at the age of seventy-four.
In 1925 Joseph Doolin began to sell freelance illustrations to a Chicago-based publisher J. C. Henneberger, who produced the macabre pulp magazine Weird Tales, Doolin painted two covers for the magazine and drew dozens of pen and ink interior story illustrations.
Although Weird Tales was produced by Rural Publications in Chicago, the magazine was distributed nationwide. This fact encouraged Doolin to look for work from other pulp magazine publishers in New York City.
In 1927 he and his sister moved to New York City to seek their fortunes. They lived in a tenement apartment building at 323 East Houston Street on the Lower East Side. Their monthly rent was $18.
He soon found a wealth of employment opportunities drawing interior story illustrations for many pulp magazines. His work appeared in Clues, Danger Trail, Underworld Detective, Rapid-Fire Detective, Under Fire Magazine, Black Book Detective, Detective Novels, G-Men Detective, Exciting Detective, Phantom Detective, Popular Detective, Thrilling Detective, Ten Detective Aces, Thrilling Mysteries, Thrilling Western, Strange Stories, Love Romances, Oriental Stories, Magic Carpet, Jungle Stories, Texas Rangers, Thrilling Adventures, Air Adventures, Air War, and Planet Stories.
On July 11, 1931 he took a trip to the U.K. to visit relatives in Ireland. He sailed on the S.S. Leviathan and returned to NYC on August 17, 1931.
On June 23, 1935 his sister married Howard Greene. The married couple moved to small two-story brick home at 5009 Sixty-first Street in Woodside, Queens, NY.
Three years later in 1938 he moved into the vacant first floor apartment in his sister's home in Woodside, Queens. He lived there for the rest of his life. He never married.
By 1940 the New York publishing industry was rocked by the explosive growth of the comic book market. During this period of phenomenal expansion many of the talented pen and ink line artists that had worked for pulp magazines were suddenly in demand to as comic book artists. Joe Doolin created many covers and drew many pages of comic art that was published by Fiction House. Some of the comic titles he worked on were Crash Parker, Auro, Captain Terry Thunder, Mysta of the Moon, Rangers of Freedom, Suicide Smith, and Simba.
On April 26, 1942 he reported for draft registration during WWII. At the age of forty-six he was not selected for military service. He was recorded to be five-six, 180 pounds, with gray eyes, brown hair and a light complexion. He listed his employer as Fiction House, Inc., 461 Eighth Avenue, NYC. The fact that a freelance artist would list Fiction House as his "employer" indicates a significant business relationship with that publisher. Joe Doolin became a top cover artist at Fiction House comics throughout the remainder of that decade. His work appeared in Planet Comics, Jungle Comics, Fight Comics, Rangers Comics, Jungle King Kaanga, Jumbo Comics, Wings Comics, and Sheena Queen of the Jungle.
The publisher of Fiction House, Thurman T. Scott, was notorious among pulp artists for repeatedly demanding additional revisions before granting final approval of his cover art. Most pulp publishers understood that good covers resulted in good sales, but Thurman T. Scott was obsessed with perfecting an unbeatable formula for maximum sales. The most obvious element of his formula was a big sexy pin-up. This same mania is reflected in the bizarre reappearance of Fiction House pulp covers on Fiction House comics. [Check out this example]
According to an interview by comic book historian Hames Ware with the artist Rafael Astarita, "Joe Doolin was always nicely dressed. He wasn't tall. He may have been five-foot-eight. He was a weight-lifter and was extremely strong. I had been lifting weights too, but I was no match for Joe Doolin. He had a bull neck and the sort of shoulders that wrestlers have. He was extremely developed. Even when he wore a jacket, when he bent his arms to make the strokes on the cover, I could see his biceps swell, even inside the coat."
During the 1950s the comic book industry was devastated by the self-imposed censorship of the Code of Decency, which resulted from a scandalous 1953 Senate investigation of the connection between juvenile delinquency and comic books.
At the height of their skills, hundreds of unemployed artists like Joe Doolin were suddenly reduced to low-paid work in art agencies, doing anonymous lettering, layout and paste-up jobs.
In 1961 at the age of sixty-five Joe Doolin retired from his long and impressive career as a commercial artist.
Joseph Patrick Doolin died in Flushing, Queens, NY, at the age of seventy-one in August 1967.
© David Saunders 2009