I first became aware of Earl Norem’s magnificent artwork in 1994 when we used a beautiful piece of artwork he had produced for Topps on the cover of Non-Sport Update Vol 5, No. 4 (July-August 1994). This has always been one of my favorite NSU covers. The reason for using the artwork was the fact Topps was producing a reprint set of the original Mars Attacks set produced in 1962. They were also doing a series of comic books and Earl was involved with these projects.
It is sad to report Earl passed away at the age of 92 on July 19. He was currently working on a card for the 2015 Mars Attacks Occupation set from Topps. How sad to think this will be the last non-sport card artwork we will ever seen from him and I have learned he was only able to do a sketch and not the finished artwork. Earl’s magnificent work (both new and pick-up art) was used in many card series including several Conan series and an array of Topps products such as Star Wars Galaxy, Lord of the Rings Masterpieces, Vampirella Gallery, and Indiana Jones Masterpieces. Norem also completed a handful of paintings in the 1988 Dinosaurs Attack! card series and worked on the graphic novel as well.
We asked Topps’ Vice-President Ira Friedman for a few words on Norem and he sent the following (which will likely be seen on the Mars Attacks Facebook page as well).
Earl Norem: He Spoke Softly But Carried a Big Brush
by Ira Friedman
While legendary artist/painter Earl Norem has passed, the amazing body of work he created will resonate with fans of pulp and fantasy art for generations to come.
Among his many cover paintings for book, magazine and comic publishers, Earl also provided many memorable trading-card creations for us at Topps. Most notably, his powerful images for our Mars Attacks and Dinosaurs Attack! properties (among other licensed ones) placed him in rarified air around the Topps offices and throughout the world of comic art fandom.
I had the privilege of working closely with Earl during the last two years of his life and while his artistic contributions to Topps were immeasurable, it was Earl, the person, who left an indelible impression on me.
Here was a man who, into his 90’s, was just happy to paint. He was incredibly modest about his talent and, only in his later years while attending a handful of conventions, did he truly understand that there were legions of fanboys out there who could not get enough of his work. He took on his assignments with great care and discipline, and put hours of research and rough sketching behind every finished masterpiece.
Mars Attacks: Invasion art by Earl Norem
When it came to deadlines, Earl was strictly ‘old school.’ He took tremendous pride in meeting his schedules and would do everything within his power to satisfy his clients within the time frame promised. Perhaps it was his distinguished service in the military – as a proud member of the prestigious 10th Mountain Division (check it out online) – where Earl learned the importance of accomplishing his tasks in a responsible, precise and timely manner. I really can’t say where his extraordinary work ethic came from, but I know with certainty that Earl took his deadlines very seriously.
Sometime ago, we began formulating plans to create a new series of Mars Attacks cards—Mars Attacks: Occupation. I phoned Earl to see if he would be up to contributing a painting. I knew his health was a challenge, but he was optimistic about his prognosis and keen to get back to his drawing table. Over the months that passed, as I followed his travails from home to the hospital to extended rehab and serious surgery, Earl kept apologizing about not being able to focus on his assignment. I assured him that he needn’t be concerned about this; that the first priority was his health and getting better. I told him on numerous occasions that the painting would wait as long as necessary.
When I received the call from Earl’s grandson, Michael, maybe I should not have been too surprised; but I was. At the age of 91, Earl’s time had come. He fought bravely until the very end and in the arms and presence of his extended family, who he cherished more than anything, Earl passed peacefully and comfortably.
Grandson Michael told me that, as the end was drawing nearer, his “Pop” Earl had told him that he had prepared a sketch for the Mars Attacks painting that he regrettably would not be able to finish. Earl wanted to us to have it as a token of his appreciation of the relationship we enjoyed together.
The world will never know a man with more grace, class and kindness. He’ll always be a soft-spoken friend and hero to me, his other fans at Topps and admirers throughout the community. Thankfully, Earl has left behind a remarkable body of art that will stir the souls and spark the imagination of many, while providing us all with an everlasting memorial of a life well lived.
The Topps Company
Final note: The Mars Attacks: Occupation card set, scheduled for publication before the end of this year, will be dedicated to the memory of Earl Norem. It is the company’s plan to have his final sketch appear on a card within the series, alongside a finished painting based on Earl’s sketch, rendered by a to-be-determined artist.