As artist/inker on the mid-1980's series, 'Saga of the Swamp Thing', John Totleben combined the elegant line of such illustrators as Franklin Booth and Virgil Finlay with his uniquely contoured, painterly sensibility. John graduated in 1976 from Technical Memorial High, a unique vocational school where he received three years of intensive art instruction. In 1977, John entered the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Arts in New Jersey, established the previous year. After one year at the Kubert School, he began a three-year stint illustrating 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam' for Golden Age legend Harry "A" Chesler. Chesler died one year after the project was completed, and the whereabouts of the art remains unknown.
In 1983, Kubert School classmate Steve Bissette paired up with John as penciller/inker team for DC's then-faltering 'Saga of the Swamp Thing'. The addition of writer Alan Moore forged an artistic assault squad in large measure responsible for the rebirth of American comics as an art form. The industry acknowledged the significance of the Moore/Bissette/Totleben 'Swamp Thing' with the Kirby Award for Best Continuing Series for three consecutive years, while in 1985 Bissette & Totleben received the Kirby Award for Best Art Team. The series introduced the character John Constantine ('Hellblazer') and provided an aesthetic template for DC's VERTIGO imprint.