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Tim Sale, comic book artist who reimagined Batman, dies at 66

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Mr Tim Sale’s death was caused by kidney failure.

PHOTO: NYTIMES

SEATTLE (NYTIMES) – Mr Tim Sale, an award-winning comic book artist best known for his work on the DC Comics characters Batman and Superman and for influencing depictions of the Caped Crusader in numerous films, died on Thursday (June 16) in Seattle. He was 66.

His death, in a hospital, was caused by kidney failure, said Mr Richard Starkings, a friend and colleague.

Many of Mr Sale’s most notable series were collaborations with writer Jeph Loeb, a partnership that began in 1991. Together, they told the story of Batman in The Long Halloween, a murder mystery set during the hero’s early days, as Gotham City was overrun with mobsters and supervillainy.

The team also explored Clark Kent and his evolution from farm boy to superhero in Superman For All Seasons.

Those two stories alone showed Mr Sale’s visual range. The Batman adventure was moody, filled with eerie, stark shadows that heightened the creepiness of villains like Calendar Man, Joker and Scarecrow.

The Superman tale evoked Norman Rockwell paintings of idyllic times, with the title character enjoying tranquil moments with a childhood sweetheart, his dog and his adoptive parents.

“Tim Sale was an amazing artist, draftsman and storyteller,” Mr Jim Lee, the chief creative officer and publisher of DC Comics, wrote in an Instagram post.

“Beyond the taut chiaroscuro style which became his trademark. Tim clearly put a premium on storytelling, clarity and pacing – cherishing emotion above all. His stories were beautifully visceral, nuanced and evinced deep humanity. Tim simply had no use for surface banality.”

Filmmakers Christopher Nolan and Matt Reeves, both of whom directed Batman films, have cited The Long Halloween as an inspiration.

In an interview with the website World of Batman, Christian Bale, who played the character, discussed the influence of The Long Halloween and a sequel, Dark Victory.

They had “some really fantastic imagery”, he said, “and I would kind of imitate those positions.”

In a phone interview, Mr Loeb said: “Tim was much more interested in capturing the small moments. When people traditionally think about comics, it is the biff-bam-boom. He could draw the biff-bam-boom, but it was the quiet moments that made it extraordinary.”

Mr Timothy Roger Sale was born in Ithaca, New York, on May 1, 1956, and grew up in Seattle. His father, Mr Roger Sale, was a literary critic. His mother, Mrs Dorothy (Young) Sale, was a feminist political activist.

He is survived by his mother; his sister, Ms Maggie Sale; and his partner, Ms Susan Bailey.

Mr Sale studied at the University of Washington and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, but did not graduate from either.

“He really wasn’t built for that,” said Maggie, his sister.

But he did complete the John Buscema Art School, which was advertised in the pages of Marvel Comics and held in a New York City hotel for a short time in the 1970s.

“It paved the way for him to work as a comic book artist,” said Mr Starkings, who wrote and curated the images for “Tim Sale: Black & White”, a retrospective of the artist’s work published in 2004.

“Tim always said he liked working with the icons,” Mr Starkings said, and he was able to draw many of them.

For Marvel, the Loeb-Sale team produced comics that focused on early or pivotal years in the lives of Captain America, Daredevil, the Hulk and Spider-Man.

“I would say what connects all of his work is that it’s timeless,” Mr Starkings said.

In Daredevil: Yellow, for instance, the hero’s love interest resembles Grace Kelly.

“Is it the ’50s? Is it the ’60s? Is it the ’70s?,” said Mr Starkings. “You’re not quite sure, because he doesn’t put in things that date it.”

Though the two men are best known for their work on Batman, Mr Loeb said a scene drawn by Sale for Superman For All Seasons was a favourite.

“There’s a moment when Clark is leaving for Metropolis, and he goes out to see Pa Kent in the field” gazing at the sunlit sky, Mr Loeb recalled.

“He says to Pa, ‘Do you ever get tired of looking at that?’ Pa says: ‘No. Never have. Guess I never will.’ And that’s sort of how I feel about his artwork.”

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