Category Archives: Marvel Kirby

Genesis of a Cover, Captain America #105

Captain America #105
Captain America #105 (September 1968) by Jack Kirby, John Romita and Dan Adkins?

Usually I confine myself in this blog to the time of Simon and Kirby’s collaboration. Occasionally I venture outside that period, for example in a series of posts I once did on Kirby margin notes. Generally I leave the Kirby’s more recent work to the Jack Kirby Blog where Bob does such a great job with it. But I thought it might be fun to discuss the silver age cover to Captain America #105 (September 1968) and some of its influences back to the beginning of the golden age of comics.

Detective Comics #27
Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) by Bob Kane

You can really go back to the dawn of the golden age of comics and find the motif of a hero arriving via a rope. Heck that is how Batman made his first appearance on the cover for Detective Comics #27. Such use of a rope is a natural for any hero who lacks the power of flight. Of course this sort of transportation can only have a restricted use. It would really be stretching the limits of believability for a hero to travel great distances like a city version of Tarzan. Some early heroes overcome that difficulty by having a gun that could shoot out the wire to swing on. That has always seemed a rather crude technique. It was only years later that Steve Ditko would give Spiderman a more elegant solution to this problem.

Mystery Men Comics #11
Mystery Men Comics #11 (June 1940) by Joe Simon

Even looking for a more immediate influence on Jack Kirby will take us pretty much into the early part of the golden age. Joe Simon’s cover to Mystery Men #11 was done while he was editor at Fox Comics. At that same time Kirby was also there doing the Blue Beetle syndication strip. Joe’s cover has the Blue Beetle using a rope or wire for moving between buildings. Our hero has exited one building just in time to avoid an adversary. However his destination seems if anything even more perilously filled with enemies. I presume the Blue Beetle is using something like a telephone wire that connects the two buildings, that may seem more realistic then a rope that just happens to be conveniently available. Unfortunately it does make it harder to understand how the hero manages to use the wire. With one arm being used to both hold the swooning woman and fire a gun, the Blue Beetle has only one arm to move along the support. It would seem a rather daunting challenge, but then again that what heroes are for.

Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) by Jack Kirby

I presume Jack Kirby liked the idea of the hero using a rope or wire to aid transportation. But he may have been uncomfortable with Joe’s solution of a wire already attached to the source and destination. Certainly rope swinging was both faster and more dramatic then going hand over hand. I believe that the cover for Daring Mystery #6 might have been Jack’s first use of a rope swinging hero.

Captain America Comics #7
Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941) by Jack Kirby

Not that terribly long after Daring Mystery #6 Jack would return to a swinging hero with the cover of Captain America #7. But what a difference a year can make. Cap’s pose, with his arched body and legs spread wide, is a little surprising but there is no denying the rope swinging brings high drama to the cover. Since Cap is taking his sidekick along and not some “helpless female” the hero’s hands are both free to hold the rope while Bucky clings in turn to Cap. Captain America does have one problem that heroes like Batman and Marvel Boy did not share. Generally Cap makes great use of his shield for things such as protection against bullets. Here with rope swinging it just seems to get in the way.

Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) by Joe Simon and another?

I do not think that Kirby used rope swinging that often but it was one of his “tools” that he would pull out and use from time to time. It is hard to be sure about what Joe Simon may have brought to the creation of a particular Simon and Kirby piece. Did Joe provide layouts for the cover for Captain America #7? I will not suggest an answer to that question here. I will say that Joe seems very attached to Captain America’s pose for that cover. It turns up again years later in the cover for Adventures of the Fly #2. Some have attributed this cover to Jack but I am certain that the figure of the Fly was actually done by Joe.

Captain America #105
Unused pencils for Captain America #105 by Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko

I am sure that most, no make that all, of my readers know that Jack Kirby would return to drawing Captain America this time collaborating with Stan Lee. Jack would do some exciting covers for Marvel Comics. Sometimes Stan, as the editor, would request changes to a cover. Perhaps because I am such a Kirby fanboy, I generally do not understand what Stan found so objectionable. This was the fate for Kirby’s pencils for Captain America #105 cover . I will discuss what was done to the pencil version and by whom below. First let us discuss Jack’s return to the rope motif.

Captain America #105
Unused pencils for Captain America #105 Batroc and the Swordsman by Jack Kirby

Yes Jack has once again has the hero travel via a rope but it is not by means of swinging. Instead Kirby has returned to using an attached rope essentially like Joe Simon had used for Mystery Men #11 so many years previously. However Kirby overcame both the awkward questions of how to travel on such a rope and what to do with Cap’s shield. No longer is the shield an impediment but is now the means by which Cap can quickly slide along the rope! This is one of the solutions that only seems obvious once it has been done.

Captain America #105
Unused pencils for Captain America #105 The Living Laser by Jack Kirby

This was one of those cases mentioned above, where Stan had some problems with Jack’s take on the Cap #105 cover. The good news is that this led to Jack’s pencils never being inked. The bad news is the pencil version of the cover as it exists today is not all by Kirby. Basically everything other then the figure of Captain America is pure Kirby, untouched by any other hand.

Captain America #105
Unused pencils for Captain America #105 by Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko with Photoshop adjustments

Cap was modified both by penciling over what was already there, as well as erasing some of Jack’s pencils and adding new ones. Unfortunately there really is nothing that can be done to restore the pencils to the way Jack did it. Instead I have adjusted the scan using Photoshop. While this causes most of the image to deteriorate it helps brings out parts of the drawing that had been erased. Unfortunately it may still be hard to make out but it is the best that I can do. The important point is that Cap’s left leg was flexed and occupied the section that on the pencil version is now open sky.

When Stan was dissatisfied with Kirby efforts on this cover he turned to Jim Steranko to make corrections. Now I am a great admirer of Steranko. Even so I still shudder every time I think of Jim erasing Kirby’s pencils. After removing Jack’s version of Cap’s left leg Jim added his own. Presumable to make the whole figure uniform and to make some small adjustments, Steranko also penciled over the rest of the figure. Although I said the background was pure Kirby when Jim re-positioned the leg an area of the building previously covered by that leg had to be added. Jim kept to Jack’s type of architecture. The only difference that can be detected is that Jim’s pencils are slightly lighter then those by Jack. It is Steranko’s alterations to Kirby’s cover that is the state of the pencil version that exists today.

Lee still was not happy with the Kirby/Steranko version of the cover. But now things get complicated. There exists two rough sketches on tracing paper. Someone has written in blue pencil the names John Romita on one and Dan Adkins on the other. Which came first? To decide this I used Occam’s razor, “all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best one”. The paper used was chosen because it would allow desired portions to be traced. The order I provide here gives the fewest changes to each step keeping particular attention to what tracing was done. Without any claim that this is absolutely correct, I am fairly confident in the sequence I provide here.

Captain America #105
Captain America #105 rough on tracing paper by Dan Adkins?

The Adkins sketch is the most rough one. So much so that I suspect we are just going to have to take the attribution on faith alone. Adkins has redrawn Captain America, swinging his legs around so that they are away from the viewer. In doing so, Adkins has shifted the center of the image to our left. Although done very crudely, the Swordsman, the Living Laser and the building the stand on were traced as one piece. Batroc was also probably traced but so roughly that it is hard to be certain. In any case Batroc’s position was shifted up and toward our left relative to his two companions.

Captain America #105
Captain America #105 rough on tracing paper by John Romita?

Now John Romita (senior) worked on it. Romita traced in regular pencil Cap’s torso from Adkins. He followed Adkins closely for the left elbow, the left side of the left forearm, the left side of the torso, the upper right shoulder area, the belt, the shorts and the right thigh. The upper edge of the shield is pretty close to Adkins placement. Romita lowered Cap’s left leg, moved the right lower leg to the right, and moved Cap’s right forearm out a bit. As can be seen, Romita tightened up the entire figure. (Here I must confess that I have not closely studied Romita’s work so I am counting on the silver age scholars among my readers to express their opinion on whether this attribution to John Romita is accurate.) Captain America is pretty close to the published version. With Cap’s new pose, clearly something had to be done about the background. Using blue pencil Romita has traced portions of Kirby’s architecture but shifting their locations. John did redraw the tall building on the right making it more angular relative to the horizon. Cap’s foes have also been trace from Kirby’s pencils. Batroc was moved a little bit higher then even Adkin’s placement. Romita switched the relative locations of the Swordsman and the Living Laser. I suspect that was done because he felt that the Swordsman would otherwise be too crowded. Batroc and the Living Laser adhere pretty close to Kirby’s pencil. The upper half of the Swordsman was traced while the pose for the lower body was altered.

At this point work must have begun on regular Strathmore paper, I am sure they would not want to end up inking on tracing paper. But further alterations were made from Romita’s rough. As I said previously the figure of Cap on the finished cover is pretty close to Romita’s drawing. The main differences are that both lower legs were made a little longer and the forearms placed a little further out. The lower rope follows both Dan’s and John’s path closely. But the upper portion is more faithful to Dan’s, leaving at the same place on Cap’s shield but angling a little more sharply. The rest of the background was rearrange once again, using Kirby’s pencils to trace from. Batroc’s position shifted down compared to Romita’s placement and his final placement is closest to that indicated by Adkins. The Swordsman and the Living Laser switch positions once again.

In the end on the published cover the buildings details follow Kirby, Cap’s foes are close traces from Jack, Cap himself is close to Romita’s drawing, and the overall background compositions is closest (but by no means matches) Adkins’ sketch. Of course the whole idea of using the shield to slide down a rope was Kirby’s. The Jack Kirby Checklist attributes the Cap #105 cover to “Kirby/Romita/Adkins” which sounds like an accurate description to me.

Captain America #105
Sketch on back of pencils for the cover for Captain America #105 by unidentified artist

If that was not complicated enough, on the back of the Kirby/Steranko pencils is a small sketch. What part did it play in creation of the cover for Cap #105? I do not have a clue, but I will say I do not believe that this was done by Jack. I have never seen any evidence of Jack using crude sketches such as this one. Even in some work stopped at the very early stages Kirby had better placed lines and none of this pencil swirling.

Marvel Super Action #7
Marvel Super Action #7 (April 1978) by Mike Zeck

But that still is not the end of the story. Years later Mike Zeck did the cover for Marvel Super Action #7. Is it a homage to Kirby/Romita/Adkins or a swipe? You can make your own decision. What do I think? I think I have written a long enough post as it is.

One Goofy Cover

Captain America #197
Captain America #197 (May 1976) by Jack Kirby (original art)

Jack Kirby did some goofy things from time to time. I always got a chuckle out of the cover for Captain America #197. Cap faces the viewer in a hail of bullets and exclaims “I’ve found an army of underground killers! .. and I’ve got to stop them alone!”. Well of course if he is alone, who is he yelling to? This was done in 1976 and Jack was artist, writer and editor. So you would expect that this was Jack’s doing.

Recently The Jack Kirby Museum has made available to members xeroxes of the pencils for some Captain America art done by Jack. If you are not a member maybe you should consider joining. I say this not really because of the chance to see some great Kirby pencils. Nor because the Kirby Museum hosts my blog. Those are good reasons I guess but I feel you should support the museum as they are one of the few organizations out there actively promoting the study of Jack Kirby. With member support they have done great things but with continuing support I am sure that is only the beginning.

Anyway because it is a member’s only viewing I cannot link to the pencil version of Cap #197 that they have. But I hope it is alright if I were to quote what Cap says on the pencils which is “This way for action!! I’ve found an underground army of desperate killers”. Not as punchy as the final version but not at all goofy.

All the blurbs on the cover are paste ups on the original art. The pencils had been completely inked, even in places that later were covered by the blurbs. Jack’s penciled word balloon was not inked and the space it had occupied was inked with the same wreck that is found along all the edges. I guess it is possible that Jack changed his mind in the last minute about what should be in the blurbs. But I really suspect that someone at Marvel decided to make changes even though Kirby was supposed to be editor. “This way for action” was removed from Cap’s speech and placed in an arrow and Cap’s exclamation was rewritten somewhat. Just one more example of the lack of respect by some at Marvel at that time for Jack’s efforts.

Even though I now feel that Cap’s speech was not Kirby’s fault, I have to admit I like it. It is good for comic art to be goofy at times.

Kirby erasers at Marvel

I previously posted about margin notes and my use of Photoshop manipulations to reveal erased text. But these image adjustments also showed a number of erasures of penciled art. I am not talking about inked lines that did not precisely follow the pencils. That sort of thing is common in Silver Age inking. These were more serious changes to positions of feet, arms, legs or even the whole figure. It is well known that Stan would asked for changes, often by whoever was available at the office. But my impression is that these changes were done by Kirby himself. I also believe that Jack did these changes before Stan got to see the art. I say this because some of the erased pencils are errors that are so bad that I don’t believe Jack would have left them like that. This will be more obvious with the Avengers #6 page, but check the Cap in panel 5 of page 5 and panel 2 of page 21 of Strange Tales #114.

Strange Tales #114

Strange Tales #114

As I mentioned these erasures of penciled art are also present in Avengers #6 page 20. For this page I feel even more strongly that the erasures was done by Jack before the art was presented to Stan. I just can’t believe that Kirby would have let the art go with Cap’s left arm where it originally was in panel 3. It just seems too large an error.

Avengers #6

Similarly Cap’s original head in panel 6 is much too seriously wrong. These are not the sort of mistakes that you ever see Kirby make.

Avengers #6

I also subjected the art for Tales of Suspense #92 page 9 to Photoshop adjustments for high contrast. One other thing is interesting about this page and that is what is not there. What we no longer find are erasures of the corrected art. It is possible that Kirby did a better job of removing them. But I don’t think so. Why would he put the extra effort, after all he had no reason to hide it from someone someday using Photoshop on it. It is very difficult to make out the erased pencils on ST #114 and Av #6 without the aid of Photoshop.

Kirby was said to have created his composition in his head before he committed it to paper. By doing that he did not have to erase anything. Then why do we see more erasures on ST #114 and Avergers #6 then on TOS #92. Was Jack’s ability to mentally compose his page a skill he got better at over the years? I don’t think so, Kirby seem to have the same talent while working on the Simon & Kirby comics. In fact it may have been a remark by Joe that got Jack working in this manner. I’ve heard that Joe once complained about Jack erasing saying that he was erasing away money. However I have not (yet) subjected S&K art to the same Photoshop enhancement that I did with these Cap pages, so I could be wrong about not seeing erased pencils in S&K pages.

But there could be another explanation for all the corrections in ST #114 and Av #6. Perhaps these were rush jobs, either because of schedule difficulties or the amount of work Jack was doing at the time. Perhaps because he was trying to work faster, he was making more mistakes.

Tales Suspense #92, more on margin notes

I have another silver age Kirby Cap page that gives some insight into the use of margin notes. This one is page 9 from Tales of Suspense #92, cover dated August 1967. Joe Sinnott inks. Here is a scan that once again has been processed in Photoshop to increase the contrast.

Tales of Suspense #92

All margins have been trimmed for production. But in this case enough remains help identify the handwriting. Some of the margin notes to the right of panel 3 were done in blue pencil but have been scribbled over with standard pencil. But through the magic of Photoshop I provide another high contrast scan that brings out the blue.

Tales of Suspense #92

Notice that blue pencils (now erased) were used to rough out the position for the balloons. Each balloon was also numbered. Close examination of the black plate shows that there was no penciled text in the balloons. I believe that originally there were sheets made to provide the letterer with the text and it used the balloon numbers to indicate exactly what balloons the text should go.

Nick commented:

I’m sure the numbering system was Stan’s, something I’ve also seen in this period on FF, and your theory sounds correct. At this point he may have had someone typing up his notes for the letterer.

As for the previously hidden margin notes to the right of panel 3 Nick wrote:

Yes, that’s Stan’s handwriting to Sol. I think it reads: “Sol, more black in the explosion lines”

Note that Lee’s margin notes are directions for corrective actions, they no longer are roughing out script. But there are other margin notes done in standard pencil. About the notes to the left of panel 3 Nick said:

Something to the effect of “Cap takes the hardest hit yet” and those are Kirby’s margin notes.

Also about the notes below panel 4 Nick wrote:

More margin notes by Jack. I think it says “Cap has never known…” such force?

I wish the page was not trimmed so we could make out exactly what Jack comments were. But it seems that by this time we no longer had Stan using margin notes to rough out his scripts, but we now have Jack providing his own rough scripts. This page has a marvelous build up to Caps final line “Only one of us is going to walk out of here– under his own steam–“. It is Lee/Kirby at their best. But who do we blame for the finishing of Cap’s speech on the first panel of the next page as “and it won’t be me”? What a great snafu.

I have one more blog concerning these pages but that is on another subject. As for the margin notes I want to leave off with a comment that Nick Caputo left to one of these blogs.

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I believe Lee’s work method evolved with time. He stopped writing directly on the pages when he became involved in writing most of the titles and initiaiting Heck and Ayers into working from a short synopsis (either written or verbal). He then left it up to the artists to make notes in the margins to remind him of what was going on, and the artists would add other bits of business that were probably not in the synopsis. Later on, just about all the artists (Romita, Colan, Buscema, Roth, Everett) would work in this manner.

Avengers #6, less about margins

Now a short discussion about Avengers #6 page 20 with cover date July 1964 (inked by Chic Stone). Once again the image I provide has been adjusted for high contrast in Photoshop. This post will be short because unfortunately the page has been trimmed on the sides and the bottom. What little margin notes survived were covered with scribbled pencils. I don’t think it is possible to say who wrote the margins notes.

The most important thing that can be said about this page is what is not seen. There are no erased pencils of text in the balloons. So it appears that Stan Lee has abandoned that working method, perhaps because of the trouble it gave the letterer.

Avengers #6

Strange Tales indeed, margin notes

I warned you that I would be posting on subjects outside of the Simon & Kirby time period. In this post I want to discuss another great collaboration, that of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

While examining some original Kirby art from my collection, Nick Caputo once commented that some of the margin notes were not done by Jack as I had assumed. Some were in Stan Lee’s handwriting. Only after the visit did I realize that I had not taken any notes and was no longer sure exactly which margin notes Nick was referring to. By email Nick kindly agreed to examine scans to help sort it all out. He has also given me permission to quote some of his correspondence here.

When I prepared the scans I decided to make some adjustments in Photoshop to bring out the pencils. I noticed that if I adjusted the contrast really high not only did the margin notes become stronger, but I could also more easily see pencils that had been erased.

Here I will discuss pages 5 and 21 from Strange Tales #114 which had a cover date of November 1963. Inking was by Dick Ayers and what a great job he did. His brush work is powerful and confident. I don’t think there is any use of white-out to correct any of his inking. These pages are very special to me as I remember how excited I was when the comic came. I was too young to know anything about Cap’s previous appearances, but something about him made me an immediate fan. This despite the fact that in this story he turns out to actually be the Acrobat. For me this, not Avengers #4, has always been the first Silver Age appearance of Cap.

Besides the margin notes, there are erased notes inside the balloons. The balloon notes seem to match the inked version of the text. For example from page 5 panel 1:

Strange Tales #114

Nick commented to me:

A close look at the lettering tells me that its Stan’s writing in the balloons. My guess is Stan put those words in after Kirby penciled the pages but before they were inked. This may have been how Stan worked, perhaps doing away with a script and writing the copy directly on the pages for the letterer to copy…

Unfortunately most of the margin notes on the sides have been trimmed during production. But those on the bottom happily remain. Such as below panel 5 on page 21.

Strange Tales #114

Nick remarked

Yep, that’s Stan’s sloppy handwriting. I can read some of it “In an enclosed space…” changed a bit from the copy, but close enough, making me believe more and more that this was Stan’s shorthand, giving him a rough idea of what he would later dialogue in the word balloons.

In case you have trouble reading the Stan’s sloppy handwriting, I believe the margin notes reads:

In an enclosed space, flame energy must give off gas and gas, compressed in an enclosed space, must expand

Strange Tales #114

Under panel 6 (see above) on the same page is a note that reads “mild explosion”. I admit I was a bit puzzled by this note now that Nick identified it as from Lee. Why would he have to write that if Kirby had already penciled the panel? I think the answer is that if you imagine what it looked like without the balloon text and the “BAROOM” it probably was not very clear what was going on.

Strange Tales #114

On page 5 panel 4 Stan writes just below the upper balloon. Although I could make the first line of it out, the second line escaped me. But Nick suggested it reads “Have a few low int(ensity)” referring to the fireballs. Probably having written that much, Stan realized that he did not have enough room in the upper balloon. When he added the lower balloon he had already decided to change the text a bit.

I think Nick is correct that for these pages Stan used the margins to rough out his ideas and then use the balloons to write the finalized version. But if this is true, then the Marvel Method was in effect at this time. Why would Stan have to rough out his ideas if Kirby was working from a script? But although the Marvel Method was being used, Jack had not yet developed his habit of writing his own notes in the margins. I can see that the technique Lee used on these pages worked well for him. But I suspect it made life a bit more difficult for the letterer. Although Lee wrote the balloon text in a much more legible manner then the margin notes, it still was only a rough placement. Someone would either have to recopy the text, or the letterer would be faced with problem of inking over the very text he was working from.