As discussed in my last post, an artist approached Al Harvey saying that he had figured out a way to make 3-D comics. With this process Harvey comics would produce 3-D Dolly, Funny 3-D, Adventures in 3-D and True 3D and Captain 3-D. The first two belonged to the funny animal genre intended for a very young audience while the next two were non-superhero adventure comics. Unfortunately for Harvey it turned out that the artist had not figured out the 3D process himself as he claimed but instead picked it up while he had worked for St. John Publications. I am not at all sure whether St. John had sufficient reason to legally complain but complain he did. The process St. John used was originally developed by Joe Kurbert, Norman Maurer and Lenny Maurer (the last two are brothers) having previously seen some European magazines with 3-D photos. However when they sought a patent they found that someone else had previously applied for one. Without a patent I just do not believe that they had any legal recourse against Harvey. To complicate things further, the original patent became involved in a court case between Bill Gaines (EC) and St. John. Probably none of the legal questions mattered much to Al Harvey because it turned out that 3D comics were not so much a craze as a fad. The very first 3-D comics were big sellers but sales dramatically dropped after the initial issues. Faced with disappointing sales and the legal questions, Al Harvey discontinued publishing further 3D comics.
The cancellation of 3D comic titles was sudden but work had already begun on Captain 3-D #2. We know Jack Kirby had completed a cover because it shows up in an advertisement in Adventures in 3-D. The cover was based on a nine paged story that had been drawn by Mort Meskin but remained uninked. I believe the story was already penciled when Jack did the cover because the cover is derived from a panel on the last page. Unfortunately the title for the story was not provided on the surviving pages of art. The inking would have been done on several layers of acetate. The splash panel of the first page already had pencil markings indicating how parts of the image were to be distributed on the different acetate layers. The markings are numerical from 1 (deepest) to 4 (closest) and the letter ‘B’. The ‘B’ layer was where the panel borders would be placed. For some reason there are no marking for layer 3, perhaps it would be the same layer as ‘B’. The layer markings are only found in the splash panel and not on the two story panels from the same page or from any of the other pages in the story. Presumably that was as far the process had gotten when the cancellation was announced.
Perhaps a short discussion about a few of the technical aspects of 3D comics would be in order here. The 3-D glasses have a different color filter over each eye and the comics are printed in two different colors. The result is that each eye only sees the art printed in one of the two colors. As mentioned previously the original art is inked on acetate. These layers are shifted sideways in relationship to each other when preparing the different color printing plates. The layer of acetate representing the closest plane would be shifted the most while more distant layers would be shifted less. The result is that the art printed by the two colors is not identical and when viewed through the 3-D glasses provide the sensation of depth. To prevent the shifting planes of one panel from interfering with another, a wider then normal gutter is provided between panels. To account for the sideways shifting of the acetate every panel that Meskin drew in this story has an image then extents outside the panel on the left. That was an artifact of the process and would not be seen in the final printed comic. Because the process involves shifting the acetate layers only sideways most art in Meskin’s story do not extend beyond the top or bottom margins of the panels. There are many panels however where some of the art does go beyond the lower panel edge. This is not an artifact as it was meant to be seen in the printed comic providing an even greater sense of depth. Surprising this technique was not used in Captain 3-D #1 despite the fact that Jack Kirby had used it in regular comics such as Captain America.
Mort Meskin’s talent has largely been ignored in recent years. In 2006 Meskin was nominated for Eisner Hall of Fame but failed to be voted in. While some fans still appreciate the comics he did during the war most dismiss the work that Mort did for Simon and Kirby and afterwards. However it was not Meskin’s talent that changed but rather the type of stories that he worked on. The crime, romance and horror genre that dominated Mort’s later years just did not call for the same story depictions that his earlier superhero provided. This Captain 3-D story by Meskin shows that not only could he still do superheroes, he was probably better at it then he had ever been before. Mort’s handling of action is just superb as is his control of perspective which is very important for a 3-D comic. It is very informative to compare Mort’s perspective with that used by Jack. Kirby is a master at perspective but a comparison with Meskin’s work highlights just how artificial Jack’s was. This is not a criticism of Kirby, far from it. Jack’s distortions of perspective gave his art an impact that I have never seen with any other comic book artist. While not possessing Jack’s exaggerated perspective, Meskin’s more natural approach is still more exciting then any other artist I can think of. It is a pity that issue #2 was never published. Who knows perhaps Meskin’s later career may have been different. In Golden-Age Men of Mystery #15 Bill Black quotes Greg Theakston’s tale of showing copies of Meskin’s Captain 3-D story to Steve Ditko. Ditko’s reaction leaves little doubt as to how highly Meskin was in Steve’s esteem. I am not surprised because I have always felt that Mort Meskin had a large influence on Ditko’s art.
Most of the art for Meskin story can be found in Golden-Age Men of Mystery #15 (only the first page is missing). I will provide a synopsis of the story in the comments section of this post so as not to spoil it for anyone who wants to check it out for themselves. The surprising thing about the story is how much it differs from those in Captain 3-D #1 or any other Simon and Kirby production. Nowhere in the story do we find the Book of D that Cap was supposed to spend his time when not fighting crime or the cat people. The story opens up with Captain 3-D and Denny in a cab! Cap enters a boat race to give someone a lesson; his conflict with criminals was an unexpected consequence. A new use of Captain 3-D’s power pack is revealed. The story ends with a type of humor not normally found in S&K productions. All of this convinces me that if Meskin did not write the script himself, he modified it substantially. I have long considered that Kirby did this all the time, the romance stories Jack drew are very different then other artists in the same titles. However up to now I have never thought of Meskin doing this as well. Something I will keep in mind as I continue with my “Art of Romance” serial post.