Parlaying a natural talent for drawing into a national reputation, Basil Wolverton became one of the best-known men in the field of cartooning.
A resident of Vancouver for 59 years until his death in 1978, Wolverton became an overnight sensation in 1947 with his interpretation of Lena the Hyena. His conception of the toothy, wart-nosed cartoon character won a nationwide contest sponsored by Life magazine and took the country by storm.
Born July 9, 1909, in Central Point, Ore., Wolverton moved to Vancouver as a boy. After attending school here, he tried many careers before settling on cartooning. In the 1920s and ’30s, he went from vaudeville comedian to newspaper reporter, cannery worker and Hollywood artist.
In the late 1930s, when comic books became extremely popular, Wolverton earned a name for himself in that medium. His science fiction comics featured strange planets, space ships and villians.
About his work, the man who never had an art lesson said, “I realize my drawings tend to turn delicate stomachs, but I kind of consider myself one of the tops in the horror-comic field.”
In the 1950s, Wolverton turned from comics to free-lance cartooning. A number of his cartoons appeared in Life, Mad Magazine, Pageant and others.
Outside his Lena the Hyena caricature, Wolverton was perhaps most famous for Powerhouse Pepper, a little fellow with a mighty wallop, limited brain and a habit of talking in long strings of rhyme.
Wolverton was among a handful of cartoonists whose works are featured in “A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics.” Some of his surrealistic works also are being revived in contemporary comic books printed in 3-D.