Al Hartley was one of America's pioneering Christian comics artists. His faith was of big influence in his many works for Archie Comics of the 1970s, but he already had a large comics output before his conversion. Already cartooning at a young age, Hartley studied at the Art Students League of New York. He was a bomber pilot in Europe during World War II, before he began a professional career as a commercial artist in New York City.
Dotty #35, June 1948
He had his first publications directly after the War, when he started freelancing for Stan Lee at Atlas/Timely Comics. He worked for this company throughout the second half of the 1940s, the 1950s and most of the 1960s. His best known work from this era is the 'Patsy Walker' feature, which premiered in Miss America Magazine, but soon got several of its own titles, such as A Date with Patsy, Miss America, Girls' Life, Patsy and Hedy, Patsy and Her Pals, Patsy Walker's Fashion Parade and Patsy Walker.
Pickles - Judging the Slick Chicks (Cookie #8, 1947)
Hartley also contributed to other romance titles, as well as war, jungle and horror titles. Among his many credits are Venus, Suspense, Man Comics, Amazing Detective Cases, Men's Adventures, the 'Black Rider' feature in Wild Western, 'Lorna the Jungle Girl', 'Leopard Girl' in Jungle Action, 'Cliff Mason, White Hunter' in Jungle Tales, Mystic, Spellbound, Strange Tales, Adventures Into Terror, and Mystery Tales. He briefly drew for the daily press, with such features as 'Suburbia' and 'Mrs. Lyon's Cubs'. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hartley began drawing for western titles like Kid Colt Outlaw, Two-Gun Kid, Gunsmoke Western and Rawhide Kid. He has briefly done superheroes, drawing 'The Mighty Thor' as well as some scriptwriting.
In addition to his work for Atlas/Timely, he drew for Better Publications, contributing to America's Best Comics, Startling Comics and Wonder Comics. Hartley's work also appeared in Nedor's The Fighting Yank ('Zippie'), Michel Publications' Cookie, The Funniest Kid in Town ('Debbie', 'Teen Tales') and ACG's The Kilroys ('Peg'). For Ace Comics, he contributed to All Romances, Dotty and Dotty and her Boyfriends. Hartley's work is easy to track because he was one of the few artists that was allowed to sign his work.
The year 1967 was a big turning point in Hartley's life, both professional and personal. The last remaining Patsy title ceased publication and his marriage was in trouble. Hartley found answers to his problems in his newly found faith in God. Completely out of work, Hartley found employment by Archie Comics, which he himself thought of as "God's work". He injected a lot of his Christian faith into his early Archie work and was eventually told he had to cut back. He began a collaboration with the publisher Fleming H. Revel, who assigned him to do comics adaptations of religious stories like 'The Cross and the Switchblade', 'God's Smuggler' and 'The Hiding Place'. His religious output for Archie also increased with the launch of the Spire Christian Comics series. He co-created new titles as Archie's One Way and Archie's Love Scene. In all, he did somewhere around 60 Christian comics, including at least 19 Archie titles, 6 Bible story adaptations, 12 biographical adaptations, 4 other book or movie Adaptations, and 9 children's Christian comics. Al Hartley was awarded the Inkpot Award at the San Diego Comic Con for his entire oeuvre in 1980. During the 1980s, he wrote and illustrated Christian children's books and he continued to work for Archie until the mid-1990s.