Wallace "Wally" Allan Wood was born June 17, 1927 in Menahga, Minnesota. His father, Max Glenn Wood, was born 1901 in Minnesota. His mother, Alma Lalli, was born 1895 in Minnesota of Finnish ancestry. They married in 1924. They had two children. His older brother Glenn was born in 1925. They lived on a farm in Becker, Minnesota.
In 1933 at the age of six he had a dream about finding a magic pencil that could draw anything.
His father was a farmer, as was his father before him. When the Great Depression brought hard times, many farmers looked for work as migrant laborers. Max Glenn Wood became a logger and traveled to where ever they were hiring. He eventually became a gang foreman. His family followed and relocated to towns across Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, but His father often worked at remote logging camps for a month at a time. During these absences his mother was head of the family. Such long absences strained their marriage.
By 1943 his older brother was studying engineering in an Oregon college, while he and his mother had moved to Minneapolis. In June of 1944 he graduated Minneapolis West High School. Afterwards his parents formally agreed to lead separate lives.
That fall he joined the Merchant Marines. His training was in New York City's Sheepshead Bay. He sailed around the world during wartime on a fuel tanker. Mercifully, the ship was never attacked.
In the fall of 1945 after WWII had ended he returned to Minneapolis, where he worked at a funeral home as an embalmer undertaker.
On February 11, 1946 he enlisted and served in the Army Airborne 11th Paratroopers. His basic training was at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was stationed at an airbase in occupied Japan.
In 1947 after honorable discharge he returned home and enrolled in the Minneapolis School of Art on the G.I. Bill.
In August of 1948 he moved to New York City and lived on West 97th Street. To make ends meet he worked as a bus boy in a restaurant. In his spare time he looked for work as a pen and ink artist in the New York publishing industry. He also took classes in lettering, drawing and anatomy three nights a week at the Hogarth School of Art, which was founded one year earlier by Burne Hogarth, who drew the newspaper comic strip Tarzan. The school was on East 23th Street near 2nd Avenue. It was a trade school, originally called the Cartoonists and Illustrators School.
He gradually found a wide range of low-paying entry level jobs in New York City's busy comic book industry. That fertile community soon brought him contact with many inspired artists, such as Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, and Will Eisner.
He rented a studio on 64th Street and Columbus Avenue. According to Jules Fiefer, "It was in a very slummy Upper West Side. It was an artist's and writer's ghetto. Just a huge room where the walls were knocked down, dark, smelly, roach-infested, and all these cartoonists and writers bent over their tables." Among his neighborhood acquaintances were Ken Battefield, Allen Anderson, and Norman Saunders.
By 1950 he began to draw comic pages for pulp magazines, such as Six-Gun Western, Fighting Western, and Leading Western, all of which were produced by Trojan Publishing Co. under the art direction of Adolphe Barreaux, an historic figure in early American comic books. He went on to draw interior pen and ink story illustrations for pulp magazines Planet Stories, Avon Fantasy Reader, Science-Fiction Stories, as well as an important series of work for the digest-sized pulp magazine Galaxy Science Fiction.
On August 28, 1950 he married Tatjana Weintraub, who was born 1928 in Germany. They moved to Rego Park, Queens, NY.
In 1952 he was a founding artist of Mad Magazine along with Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder.
In May of 1953 he and his wife moved back to Manhattan to live on West 74th Street near Columbus Avenue.
In 1962 he was hired for a freelance job to illustrate an inspired story by Woody Gelman at Topps Bubble Gum to create the preliminary designs for the landmark set of trading cards, Mars Attacks. The approved drawing were refined by Bob Powell and painted by Maurice Blumenfeld and Norman Saunders.
Throughout the 1960s Topps continued to routinely hire Wally Wood to contribute to many subsequent projects, such as Comic Book Foldees (1964) Ugly Stickers (1965), Wanted Posters (1966), Crazy Little Comics (1967), and Nasty Notes (1968).
During the 1960s he also drew freelance illustrations for men's magazines, such as Fury, Dude, Gent, Nugget, and Playboy.
His legendary career is wide ranging, prolific, and mind-boggling. His inspired work for comic books have earned him many honors and tributes, but according to the artist, "I don't worry about words, like whether I'm an illustrator or cartoonist or whatever. I'm an artist. I do it for a living. I don't make any great distinctions between fine art and commercial art either. After all, they sell those fine art paintings."
On March 30, 1963 his father died in Minnesota at the age of sixty-two.
In 1966 he and Tatjana divorced. His second marriage to Marilyn Silver also ended in divorce. His third marriage to Muriel Van Sweringen ended in separation.
Although he had two step-children in his second marriage, and three step-children in his third marriage, Wally Wood had no biological children of his own.
In the late 1960s he created Sally Forth, a comic strip for the Vietnam era servicemen's periodicals Military News and Oversees Weekly.
On November 7, at the age of 1972 his mother died in Minnesota at the age of seventy-seven.
He suffered from depression, chronic headaches, alcoholism, and kidney failure. In 1978 he had a stroke and loss the vision in his left eye.
According to Harvey Kurtzman, "Wally had a tension in him, an intensity that he locked away in an internal steam boiler. I thick it ate away his insides, and the work really used him up. I think he did some of the finest work that was ever drawn, and I think it's to his credit that he put so much intensity into his work at great personal sacrifice."
According to Will Elder, "There was a quiet warmth about Wally that I liked. He was very unpretentious. He actually projected himself through his work. I felt that he could only exemplify himself through his art. There was a need of showing his sensitivity through his work, since I don't think Wally had the personality to show it any other way."
Wally Wood died from a self-inflicted gun shot in Los Angeles, CA, at the age of fifty-five on November 3, 1981.
© David Saunders 2012