Today, Hollywood serves up its latest big budget confection, Avengers: Age of Ultron. The latest Marvel comic to blow up the big screen is expected to rake in billions. But before you shell out your lunch money on a ticket, take a moment to consider that Captain America — the USA-lovin' Avenger portrayed by Chris Evans — has South Florida roots, kind of. Tamarac's Allen Bellman was an illustrator at the beginning.
Now 90, Bellman is one of the comic book industry's OGs; he worked on the classic Marvel titles beginning in the 1940s when he was just 18. Churning out classic work hand-in-hand with Marvel head Stan Lee, Bellman was instrumental in the genre's golden years. "I did whatever Stan Lee threw at me. We did war stories, crimes stories, cowboy stories, porn stories — no, just kidding," the wry Bellman said one recent morning in his study.
"He was green, I was green. You fake it till you make it," he explains. " But he made Marvel comics; you have to give him credit. He had showmanship."
Bellman doesn't hide his history. Captain America's shield flashes from a ring on his finger and from his watch. In public, he's dapper, usually wearing Captain America's bright red and blue colors. The wallet he pulls out of his pocket features the superhero. He's even had his wife's manicurist paint the shield onto his fingernails and has a Captain America shield earring coming.
"Captain America is the most important and popular of the superheroes," he says today proudly.
Bellman was born and raised in New York City. His father owned a bakery store, but the younger Bellman always had the urge to draw. "I always had a pencil in my hand, and anything white, I'd draw on. Even the inside of a hard cover book." Comic books hooked the city kid from an early age. The moment Bellman spotted the first Superman comic, he was in love.
"I went to the junior high School in Williamsburg. I was going home for lunch. I had a thin dime in my pocket. I went into Cheap Sam's Candy store — I remember the name — and there was a comic book, Action Comics, and a guy in blue underwear picking up a car. Now, originally, I was going to buy two candy bars. They were a nickel apiece. Instead, I bought that first issue of Superman."
On Columbus Day, 1942, Bellman spotted an ad in the New York Times that would mark his own entrance into the comic game. The main artist behind Captain America needed someone to work on the background. After showing up to the office, Bellman was hired ten minutes later.
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"Stan Lee was not even there yet; he was in the Army," Bellman says. "In a short time they were giving me my own scripts which I was penciling and inking. The first one I did was called "The Patriot." He died as soon as the war ended. I guess they didn't need him anymore."
Bellman worked on a series of classic era comics — The Destroyer, The Human Torch, Jap Buster Johnson, and Jet Dixon of the Space Squadron. He also created his own feature called Let's Play Detective. But today, it's his Captain America work that he reps with particular pride.
Bellman today makes the rounds at comic conventions, hitting up between 12 to 15 events across the country each year. He signs comics and chats with fans. He's also been called in for movie launches as the Marvel universe has hit the big screen.
"I live and breathe Marvel," he says "It's my life."