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K-State Today

April 28, 2023

Charney presents paper on former K-State art professor at popular culture conference

Submitted by Thom Jackson

Mick Charney

Mick Charney, associate professor emeritus of architectural history and university distinguished teaching scholar, presented the paper "The Multiversatility of the Supertalented Elmer Tomasch and the Lost Origins of His Marvelous Artistic Powers" at the national conference of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, April 5-8, in San Antonio, Texas.

Charney's paper detailed the life and career of Elmer John Tomasch, architecture and art professor, who taught at K-State from 1947 to 1977.

Tomasch taught art studio courses, primarily figural drawing classes, for 30 years, yet few people today are familiar with his artwork or his contributions to the university and the city of Manhattan. Even fewer individuals are aware of his earlier, foundation-building career as a caricaturist at the 1939 New York World's Fair and then as an artist at a pulp publishing company in the Big Apple. That company, Goodman Publications, ultimately gave rise to what we today know as Marvel Comics. Working for what was first called Timely Comics, "Tom" — as he was nicknamed by colleagues including Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Syd Shores, Vince Fago, and Allen Bellman — was much praised for his strong artistic skills, his expert knowledge of the human anatomy and his good-natured willingness to help other comic book artists refine their penciling and inking techniques. Tomasch worked at Timely from 1941 to 1947, that exact period of time when the Captain America and Human Torch characters were evolving into the iconic superheroes we know today.

Tomasch lived in two notably different worlds — the world of a nascent comic book pop culture and the world of serious academic instruction and inquiry. He published a number of manuals on drawing while he also maintained a private practice that produced paintings of a more highly refined artistic nature. Nevertheless, Tomasch's multiple artistic talents found reverberations of one another in a wide variety of endeavors throughout his entire professional life. For instance, while at K-State, he continued to draw caricatures, proposed a new Willie the Wildcat logo, embellished various university publications with illustrations, designed the official seal for Manhattan's centennial celebration in 1955, and drew sketches that would become the basis for the Johnny Kaw statue in City Park.

Charney's paper put the two phases of Tomasch's professional life together by spotlighting the lifelong accomplishments of this one singularly talented individual whose renown has largely gone unnoticed, as with so many others in his chosen careers, due to a certain anonymity that is naturally fostered by crowded, complex and collaborative enterprises such as the comic book industry and the academy.

It should be noted that Tomasch's contributions to the community have been memorialized in the form of a round, stained glass window that sits at the top of the Gothic pointed arch window in the southwest stairwell of Hale Library.