Early in his career Jack Kirby was employed by Lincoln News. There Jack worked on a number of strips for syndication but he also did the art for a give-away to be used by banks, “The Romance of Money”. Since this publication has a 1937 copyright date, some have designated it as Kirby’s first comic book work. Well I guess it all depends what the reader’s definition of a comic book is. “The Romance of Money” is a small book (5 by 6.5 inches) that is just a little larger then half the size of a normal comic book. It is only 24 pages long including the covers. The cover and all interior pages are printed on the same type of paper. The paper is not newsprint, has a nice white color and is a heavier stock then what is found in a typical comic book. The interior of the book is printed in black and white while the front and back covers also include a single color, cyan.
The subject of this book is, not surprisingly, money. The approach taken is very similar to the old Ripley’s Believe it or Not comic strips. Except for the covers, each page presents a number of related subjects. Despite the presence of a H. T. Elmo signature, Jack Kirby did all the artwork. Horace T. Elmo was not an alias of Jack’s but rather the owner of Lincoln News. Art with his signature appears in both pocket books and comics up to at least 1957. Most of what I have seen are gag cartoons. However considering how Elmo signed work actually done by Kirby, I would be cautious about attributing to him any of the art with his signature.
The inking in ROM is incredibly detailed, particularly considering the small size of the publication. The Elmo signature is so small that I suspect that originally a larger sized book was planned. I have never seen a comic book printed with such fine lines although I have seen numerous cases where even less detailed work failed to print properly. Either a letter press was not used or the printer was particularly skilled. The higher quality of the paper compared to that normally used in comics may have helped as well. Frankly the fine pen work is uncharacteristic of Kirby and raises the question as to whether Jack did the inking. At this point in his career it is hard to believe that Kirby would have been given the luxury of only providing the pencils. On the other hand the inking is rather poor in some places (for instance the portrait of Charles Dickens on page 19). My belief is that this is in fact Jack’s inking but he was inexperienced with the fine pen work that he was attempting (perhaps at the direction of H. T. Elmo).
Most of the work Jack did for Lincoln News had cartoon-like imagery which can sometimes be hard to relate to his later comic book work. The more realistic style used in “The Romance of Money” makes for easier comparisons with the work from much of Jack’s career then the rest of what Jack did for Lincoln News. While Kirby had a long way to go some of his stylistic traits can already be detected. Note for example the wide strides of the running couple in the bottom scene of page 6.
“The Romance of Money” was republished in 1942 using the same artwork. I understand that the older and later versions can be distinguished by the cover but I have heard two reports of how this can be done. One is that 1942 version used red ink for the color instead of cyan. The other explanation is that the 1942 issue uses colored paper for the cover. Unfortunately I am unable to say which explanation, if any, is the correct one.