Last October, a month before his death at age 91, comic book artist Al Plastino of Shirley was upset to learn that drawings he thought had long been at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library were instead in private hands and up for auction.
Now, the illustrations he drew for the DC Comics story "Superman's Mission for President Kennedy," and which he was fighting to reclaim at the time of his death, are finally where they were intended to be all along.
Once legal paperwork is complete, the library in Boston will officially own the original artwork. DC Entertainment, which publishes DC Comics as part of Warner Bros. Entertainment, stepped in to buy the black-and-white drawings from the private owner and donated them to the library in December.
The story had been in the works when Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, and was published in July 1964 as a tribute to Kennedy, at the urging of the White House, with a note on its final page stating it would be donated to the Kennedy Library. There is no record that it ever was sent there then, or clear evidence of how it left DC Comics to disappear into the private market.
"We're satisfied that it ended up at the library where it was intended," said Plastino's son Fred, 54, who has homes in New York City and Manorville and is a project manager for a Manhattan real estate firm. "The most difficult part for us was that Dad died in the middle of it and didn't get to see it."
The library's director, Tom Putnam, issued a statement saying, "We are thrilled to receive this historic artwork and look forward to sharing it with the public when the legal transfer is completed."
Library curator Stacey Bredhoff said that while the collection contains other items that reflect the popular culture of the time, the donation of comic art of the era was unique.
When DC Entertainment acquired the artwork, it issued a statement noting that Plastino "was one of the most influential and prolific Superman artists of the 1950s and 1960s," and that acquiring the art "as a tribute to honor him and preserve his artistic legacy" would fulfill "Plastino's longtime hope for the story, which he often pointed to as one of his most important artistic contributions."
In an interview before his death, Plastino said that he was shocked to learn from an auction house representative that his work was up for sale last fall.
"I said, 'Where . . . did you get this work; it was supposed to be at the Kennedy Library' " he recounted. The artist, who also helped create the Supergirl character and drew for the Batman and Legion of Super-Heroes comics in addition to Superman, said that, "I cried, I actually cried," when he reflected on the actual fate of the work of which he was most proud.
His family said they would probably never know for certain how the drawings left the possession of DC Comics and ended up in private hands (at one point it was in the collection of rock star Graham Nash). But original art was treated with less respect in earlier decades of the comic book industry than it is now, say those familiar with the industry.
Paul Levitz, former DC Comics president, said in November that "it would be a happy ending if [Plastino's] artwork ended up in the museum library because it's an appropriate piece to be there."
Plastino's family, wife Annmarie, son, Fred, and daughters Janice Iapaolo, Arlene Podlesny and MaryAnn Plastino-Charles, said they were relieved at the results.
"I know what my father wanted and how upset he was at what happened, but I'm grateful to DC for doing what they did and I'm feeling at peace with the way things are turning out," said his daughter MaryAnn. "It's a piece of history, but it's also a part of my father. It was something he created and I want to make sure it never disappears again. I'm glad other people will have a chance to see it. If he were alive, he would be honored."