Category Archives: Kirby Inkers

Kirby Inkers, Al Williamson

I have previously posted on some of the artists that have inked Jack Kirby’s pencils (Mort Meskin, Marvin Stein and Captain 3D). Unfortunately my restoration work for Titan’s Simon and Kirby Library takes up so much of my time that I have been unable to pursue this topic further. However my work for the upcoming Science Fiction volume has allowed me to examine in detail the inking used for Race for the Moon and Blast-Off. It was particularly fortunate that I had available either the original art or flats (production proofs of the line art) of pretty much all the interior art for these two titles*.

Before discussing the evidence from the art, it would be best to start with a presentation of some of what has been said by others. In his book, Joe Simon, My Life in Comics Joe writes about Race For The Moon:

When I proposed the title, Jack welcomed the work. I wrote most of the stories, although Dick Wood, Dave Wood and Eddie Herron contributed some scripts. Because Kirby was penciling some of them, I was able to sign up three of the best inkers in the business. Reed Crandall, Angelo Torres, and Al Williamson, each of them a brilliant artist in his own right, all wanted to work with Jack. In addition to inking Jack’s pencils, they got to illustrate some stories on their own.

In an interview with Al Williamson from the Jack Kirby Collector #15:

TJKC: Did you and Wally ever discuss how to approach inking Kirby?

AL: No, it was a job. I remember going up to Harvey and getting work there. They said, “We haven’t got any work for you, but we have some stories here that Jack penciled. Do you want to ink them?” I’d never really inked anybody else before, but I said, “Sure,” because I looked at the stuff, and thought, “I can follow this.” It’s all there. I inked it, and they liked it, and they gave me three or four stories to do.

TJKC: I was just reading some of those Race For The Moons. There’s some beautiful stuff there.

AL: Well, he did a beautiful job. Some of it was redrawn by somebody there, I guess because it didn’t pass the Comics Code or something. There’s parts that I didn’t ink, because it’s not my drawing or Jack’s drawing. Somebody went over it and changed some things, like a monster or something to make it more pleasing to the eye, which bothered the hell outta me. I never really thought I did him justice, though. The drawing is there, because it’s Jack Kirby’s drawing, but I just traced what he penciled.

TJKC: Did you feel intimidated to add too much of yourself to it?

AL: I don’t do that. If the job is penciled, I would ink it the way the guy penciled it, because it’s his pencils. If I think it needs something, I’ll call the artist up and say, “Listen, I kinda would like to add a black here. Is this all right with you?” And as a rule, they say, “Sure. No problem.” But I don’t do any redrawing on anybody’s work unless I talk to the artist-and I very seldom have to do that.

Also in the interview, Williamson remarked that he did not ink any covers. So we have Simon crediting the inking to three different artists (Crandall, Torres and Williamson) and Williamson saying he inked somewhere between three and five Kirby stories. It is important to remember that such testimonials is evidence but not the proof that all too many comic book historians take it for. I am continually surprised that so many take evidence based on memory as fact. I would have thought that from what has been learned from legal cases over the years would discredited over reliance on memory. People’s memories are not created like a video recorder saving all that a person sees and hears. Rather memories are more like stories that people create and retell over and over. Such stories are biased and often are like a morality tale that tell more about the person telling them than what actually occurred. As years pass, the memories are effectively retold and change even further. Inaccuracies are expected and not a sign that the person is lying, that is trying to deceive. So I prefer to treat such interviews as evidence but I also turn to the work itself to find further evidence to support or refute what has been said.

Alarming Tales #6 (November 1958) “King of the Ants” page 2, pencils and inks by Al Williamson (from bleached page)

Artists have their own inking techniques that they use over and over. One place to start would be to examine how an artist inks his own work. Fortunately Williamson created a story, “King of the Ants”, for Alarming Tales #6 at the same times that Race for the Moon #3 came out. Regrettably Harvey’s had very poor printing so I use a bleached page to use as an example. Page 2 illustrates a number of techniques that Williamson was fond of. One was the use of multiple very broad brush strokes that are somewhat irregular and placed side by side. Examples can be seen in the lower right corners to panels 2 and 4 in both cases right above the figure’s shoulder. As far as I can tell, these irregular inking patches are not meant to depict any realistic feature but rather serve as an abstract pattern. I do not have a good name for another technique but I sometimes describe it as mottled crosshatching. This can be found in the right side of panel 4 just above the other inking technique described above. Sometimes Williamson uses a looping ink line to describe foliage such as found in bottom center of panel 1 right in front of the fallen tree trunk. Another technique is more of an anti-inking process where Williamson removes a panel’s border such as in panel 6. I have not seen the original art for “King of the Ants” but on original art that I have seen Williamson has cut page with a razor and peeled off the panel border. Of course anyone could have done it but such borderless panels are commonly found in work that Williamson inked but not other stories done for Harvey so I attribute the action to him.

Blast-Off #1 (October 1965) “Space Court” page 5, pencils and inks by Al Williamson

It might seem odd to use work published in 1965 to illustrate Williamson’s inking techniques from 1958 but in fact the Comic Code Authority stamp on the original art was dated March 6, 1958. This date was a few weeks earlier that the approval date for the art for Race for the Moon #3 (cover dated November 1958 but Comic Code approval date of March 28, 1958). It may be a minor mystery about what title this story was originally intended or why it was not published until years later, but it is a perfect match for this discussion about inking techniques.

Some of the previously discussed techniques can be found in the “Space Court” story as well. For instance the removal of panel borders, in whole or in part. Also note the background inking for panel 5 appears to be an expansion of the technique described above. What this page shows is another technique that is not technically inking, that is the use of Ben-Day dots. These are found in panels 3 and 4 giving both a grey background. The Ben-Day patterns were applied as transparent overlay sheets that were carefully cut with a razor to cover the desired areas. Williamson used Ben-Day dots with the standard dot patters arrange in the angles used for printing but also irregular dots (mezzotint patterns) and hexagonal arrangements.

Race for the Moon #2 (September 1958) “Lunar Trap” page 2, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Al Williamson

The inking of the Kirby pencils for Race for the Moon and Blast-Off can be placed in three groups that show related features. The first group consists of “The Thing on Sputnik 4” and “Lunar Trap” both from RFTM #2. These works were inked using both pen and brush. They differ from the next group is the general lack of some of the techniques that I have describe Williamson as using. None of the panel borders have been removed in these two stories and there is no use of Ben-Day dots. There is only one example of the looping ink line but this is not too surprising since Williamson often used this technique in rendering foliage and there are no plants on the moon. Two other Williamson inking techniques only appear in one panel; panel 2 from page 2 of “Lunar Trap” shown above. There we find the mottled crosshatching and that irregular broad brush strokes. Despite the infrequence or absence of some of Williamson’s inking techniques I still credit the inking to Al. As far as I can see only one hand was involved in the inking of these two stories and the pen and brush work looks very much like that found in stories I am convinced were inked by Al Williamson. I suspect these two stories were the first ones by Kirby that Williamson inked and he was just getting comfortable with working on Jack’s pencils.

Race for the Moon #2 (September 1958) “The Face on Mars” panel 2 page 2 and panel 5 page 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Al Williamson

The next group of five Kirby stories are the ones that I am pretty confident in crediting the inking to Al Williamsons. These are “Island in the Sky” and “The Face on Mars” from RFTM #2, and “The Long, Long Years”, “Saucer Man”, “Space Garbage”, and “The Garden of Eden” from RFTM #3. These contain all the techniques that I describe above based on Williamson’s inking of his own pencils. I do not want to leave the impression that these techniques are abundantly found in Williamson’s inking but rather the usually can be found when enough pages are examined. I provide scans of panels from two different panels above to show some of the Williamson techniques found in these stories.

Blast-Off #1 (October 1965) “The Great Moon Mystery”, pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Al Williamson

The third group consists of the Kirby penciled stories that appeared in “Blast-Off #1 (October 1965) which are “Lunar Goliaths” and “The Great Moon Mystery” Although I have examined the original art for these works they still are another of those minor mysteries. Neither story has Comic Code approval stamps. Further neither story has any indication of a previously intended title. Typically the original art would have on the top left just above the art the comic book title and page number it was intended for. Even when the title changed white out would typically be used to remove the outdated information so the new title and page could be added. No white out was used so the Blast-Off #1 information placed on the original art was the first applied. But both stories are Three Rocketeer stories and that feature first appeared in RFTM #3 so these two stories were likely intended for the unpublished RFTM #4. Certainly Kirby’s pencils are in the same style used for the 1958 RFTM and not at all a match for what he was doing in 1965 for Marvel Comics.

The inking of the two Blast-Off Kirby stories is more like the first, presumably earlier, group. Absent are any sign of most of the techniques I have described from Williamson’s inking of his own pencils. The only exception is the relatively frequent use of Ben-Day dots in “The Great Moon Mystery”, but they are not found at all in “Lunar Goliaths”. You can see the Ben-Day dots in the moon-scape background for the splash panel shown above. Although the comic book shows no sign of Ben-Day in the second (left) panel the original art shows that they were there. However Williamson used such a fine dot pattern that they complete got lost in Harvey’s rather crude production. Despite the fact that some of Williamson’s inking techniques, I still feel that the inking is very much the same as Williamson’s other work, just not as much embellished. I admit that this group and the first one require further study of the techniques used to either confirm or refute my attributions but for now I credit all the inking of Kirby’s pencils for RFTM or Blast-Off to Al Williamson.

In the interview Williamson says that he closely followed Jack’s pencils, as he described it “it’s all there”. My studies seem to support that. Unlike some of Kirby’s inkers, Al does not overwhelm Jack’s pencils, there is never any question that whose penciled it. Most of the effects of Williamson’s inking come from the spotting. It would appear that for RFTM Kirby provided tight line art but left the spotting to the inker. That was the typical technique Kirby used during the Simon and Kirby collaboration. Williamson was a talented artist with great control of his pen and brush work. In my opinion the inking Williamson did was some of the finest ever done on Kirby pencils. Unfortunately the printing used for Harvey Comics in the late 50’s was incredibly poor and some of Williamson’s efforts were lost.

Williamson also claims that someone reworked sections of the stories. “There’s parts that I didn’t ink, because it’s not my drawing or Jack’s drawing”. This clearly indicates that the rework would have happened after Williamson did the inking. However Joe Simon’s collection includes all the original art for the Kirby except for “The Long, Long Years” and I studied them all. Any changes that was done after the initial inking would have to have used white-out or other techniques to remove the original art for replacement with newer work. None of the original art shows any sign that this was done. The only use of white-out or paste-ups was on the lettering. I am sure Williamson believed what he recalled for the interview but it is just another example of the failings of evidence based on memory.

* 40 pages of original art and 11 pages of flats leaving only a single introduction page based only on the printed comics.

Kirby Museum Post Original Art from Captain 3-D

Rand Hoppe has posted seven images of page 10 from “The Man from the World of D” story in the Jack Kirby Museum. This page inked by Mort Meskin includes the large panel that I feel is the masterpiece of the book. It is really great to see how the images were distributed over the different acetate layers. It is definately worth of visit to the Jack Kirby Museum, then again the Museum is always worth a visit!

PS. I had a little trouble going from page to page using the “next” link but found that if I first choose the “full size” link first before using the “next” it worked.

Captain 3D

I have decided to examine Simon and Kirby’s most neglected superhero, Captain 3D. So set your computer to 3D viewing. What your computer does not have the 3D view feature? Oh well, I can see most of you have not upgraded to the latest Pear computer. In that case through the magic of Photoshop I will convert scans of the Captain 3D #1 comic to restore the line art. Seriously I have never been a fan of 3D comics feeling that it is largely a gimmick where too much is lost (color) with too little gained. Besides I find it an annoyance to have to wear special glasses just to read a comic.

By their very nature, superheroes require a suspension of critical judgment in order to be enjoyed. I think the barrier is even higher in the case of Captain 3D due to link between the comic’s 3D gimmick and the hero’s jumping out of a book when viewed with special glasses. Along with the ability to come out of the book when needed, Captain 3D has a power pack that allows him to fly. Otherwise Cap, and he is referred to by that nickname, does not seem to have any special powers or strengths. Captain 3D’s main adversaries are the cat people. The cat people had in the past killed the rest of Cap’s people and now want to enslave mankind as well. Normally Cat people look no different from the rest of the population but when viewed with the same 3D glasses that release Captain 3D from the book, the cat people show their feline features. However Cap also fights more everyday criminals as well. Like many superhero comics of that time, Captain 3D has a young sidekick named Danny, the guardian of the book of D.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D” page 11 panel 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

There is little doubt that Jack Kirby penciled all of Captain 3D #1. Perhaps more then any other comic book artist, Kirby has worked on supplying the extra dimension to comic’s flat plane. He has done so starting perhaps from his days at Timely until the very end of his career. I am not sure how he felt about 3D comics but he came to them already knowing how the images should be composed. Joe Simon’s comments about this can be found in his book “The Comic Book Makers”. There Joe’s basic premise is that the images should project out of the comic, not into. The actual art found in Captain 3D confirms Joe’s observation; there are only a few panels that project into the page. One of them is very effective despite breaking this rule; it is a composition that would be repeated years later in the comic book Battle. Late in life Jack would adopt a style where perspective would be exaggerated to such an extent as to appear unnatural. This style is exemplified by a pose the Kirby would use often where the hero jumps toward the user with one arm held straight and fist closed. Captain 3D has the earliest example of the pose that I am aware off, although without the extraordinary exaggerated perspective. After Captain 3D the pose would not be repeated for many years, but obviously it was not forgotten.

In his book Joe Simon describes Al Harvey requesting Simon and Kirby to produce a 3D book. Neither Joe, Jack nor any of the artists working for them had any experience with making such a comic before. An outside artist had come to Harvey saying he figured how to make 3D comics himself and offered to show Harvey’s people how. Harvey wanted the comic done quickly in order to cash in to what looked like a lucrative craze. As an incentive Harvey offered special rates but I sometimes wonder if Simon and Kirby had every turned down a job because they were too busy.

Joe says the Captain 3D book was created by him, Jack, Mort Meskin, Steve Ditko and “other key artists” working for the S&K studio. As I said above Jack Kirby was responsible for all the pencils. The inking is another question. Frequently the inking has been attributed to Steve Ditko by comic art dealers. Not long ago I saw one offering a page from Captain 3D as created by Steve Ditko, never even mentioning Jack Kirby’s involvement! Determining inking attributions for the Simon and Kirby studio is fraught with difficulties as inking credits were never provided. So comparison of inking methods with that used by different artists on their own work is the only technique that can provide help. There is the added difficulty in a case like Captain 3D when a number of different artists were involved on the same project. If that was not enough, the acetate used to create the 3D effect was a very unforgiving and unfamiliar material for the artists to ink on. Brush control that the artists normally exhibited cannot be expected to show up in the Captain 3D inking. Therefore it would be the risky, to say the least, to try to sort it all out. So naturally I cannot resist.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

The inker easiest to spot is Mort Meskin. I have previously discussed Mort’s inking techniques. Despite the problems acetate presented many of those techniques can be found in Captain 3D. Here the inking technique that seems to stand out the most is Meskin’s manner of doing picket fence brushwork (for explanations of some of my terms please see the Inking Glossary). Although picket fence crosshatching was part of the S&K Studio style, Mort’s can usually be distinguished by “rails” that are lines of strong but even strength, almost like wires laid down on the page. Even the “pickets” tend to be more mechanical then those by S&K. I have found picket fence brushwork in 13 pages all but 2 of which look like Meskin’s work. Mort also had a way of depicting clothing folds with multiple long parallel, sometimes overlapping, brush strokes. Perhaps because of the difficulties acetate presented, I have found this Meskin brushwork only on 4 pages. Meskin had a special way of drawing and inking eyes and eyebrows. He modified it when inking Kirby’s pencils but it sometimes still retains enough of his personal touch so that it can be recognized. In Captain 3D I found 9 pages with Meskin’s eyes. Mort occasionally would place on one side of a form a wider then normal line that also served as a sort of shadow. There is one page that has this Meskin technique. I came to notice that Meskin sometimes gave a sinuous shadow to Cap’s helmet; this can be found in 6 pages. All together I attribute 11 out of 32 pages to Mort Meskin. For those interested these are “The Man from the World of D” pages 5 and 8 to 11; “The Living Dolls” pages 2, 3 and 10; “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang” pages 1 and 9; a figure of Captain 3D in an advertisement at the end of the book.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D” page 10 panel 2, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

Mort Meskin did an outstanding job on the splash page for “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang”. However for me the tour de force of the entire book is page 10 of the “The Man from the World of D”. You can tell Mort was struggling with the acetate surface but he still managed to create a masterpiece in the bottom, almost splash-like panel. I believe there is a reason Mort put so much effort here, this is probably the most powerful image that Simon and Kirby had every produced. I am not referring here to the graphic qualities of the image but to its subject matter. Simon and Kirby never went the extremes such as could be found in EC comics. That is not to say they avoided violence; guns, knives, whips and other weapons can be found but S&K usually refrained from making the use of these devices so obvious. The only exception to this seems to be found earlier in the Captain America art where one time they even went so far as to depict the hanging of a fake Captain America and Bucky. Even then we only see a back view of their dead bodies.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Living Dolls” page 7, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The next most easy to spot inker in Captain 3D is Jack Kirby himself. Jack’s involvement to the inking should not be too much of a surprise. After all it was a rush job and Jack would finish pencils before all the inking had been completed and so would be expected to join in. What is surprising is the inking technique he adopts for Captain 3D. Kirby does not use the Studio inking brushwork that was ubiquitous of his inking at that time. Instead Jack works in a style remarkably like the Severe style that would not appear in his inking for several years hence. I think Kirby used this style because it allowed him to work more quickly and it overcame some of the difficult problems presented by inking on acetate. Missing from the Kirby inked pages are techniques like picket fence crosshatching or drop strings. Part of the Severe style is a technique of inking a clothing fold with simple elongated ovals or tapers sometimes attached to a thin line giving it the appearance of a narrow stem ending in a long leaf. This brushwork is found on two pages I attribute to Jack but only in a single panel of one of them suggesting that there Kirby was retouching another inker’s page. Kirby was an excellent inker which gave him an advantage in interpreting some of the nuances of his own pencils. The acetate undoubtedly made it difficult for Jack to achieve such subtleties. Nonetheless I feel I have detected nuances in the treatment of eyes and eyebrows that look like Kirby’s hand. Although Kirby’s brush can be confidently detected Jack did not ink much of Captain 3D. There is not much to go on but the two small heads found in the introduction look like Kirby to me. More certainly Kirby’s inking are panel 1 of page 7 of “The Man from the World of D”, page 7 of “The Living Dolls”, and page 5 of “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang”. There are some other possible candidates that I will discuss below.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D” page 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

I have not yet presented to my readers a thorough examination of the inking techniques used by Joe Simon. Joe presents a particular problem in determining inking attributions. My normal methodology is to examine the inking of art penciled by the artist to find clues on how that artist might in turn ink Kirby’s pencils. Unfortunately Simon did not pencil much art during his collaboration with Kirby. Further Joe has shown himself in the past as adept at mimicking other artists’ styles. While at Fox Joe did such a great job that even experts have missed his signature on some of the covers and attributed the art to Lou Fine. Joe has also mimicked Kirby’s pencils and there is no reason to believe he would not also try to do so with Jack’s inks. Therefore what I present below should only be viewed as a preliminary assessment. Joe Simon’s brushwork was coarser then Kirby’s and in particular his clothing folds did not have the same almost puddled appearance as those Jack used in this comic. In Captain 3D 6 of the pages have a coarser brushwork that looks like Simon’s to me. Like Meskin, Simon has a way of doing eyes that can sometimes show through when inking Kirby’s pencils; 3 pages look like they have Simon’s eyes. I previously mentioned that in Captain 3D picket fence crosshatching was used by Meskin but not by Kirby. There are 2 pages that have picket fence brushwork that do not appear to be Mort’s. I feel that they were done by Simon, but it is possible that this could be misleading due to the difficulty of inking on acetate. Both Simon and Kirby used shoulder blots and these can be found among the pages I attribute to Simon. Shoulder blots do not appear on any of the pages I have credited to Meskin but they do on one that assigned to another artist to be discussed below. All total I credit Joe Simon with inking 8 pages of Captain 3D. For those interested these pages are “The Man from the World of D” pages 3 and 4; “The Living Dolls” page 2; “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang” pages 2 to 4, 6 and 8. Keeping in mind the problems about distinguishing Simon from Kirby and the difficulties presented by working on acetate it is quite possible that some of the pages I have attributed to Simon might actually been done by Kirby. Particularly suspicious are the number of Simon pages found in the last story. Assuming that was the last story actually penciled it is just where we might expect the greatest inking contribution by Kirby.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D” page 2, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Steve Ditko

Those keeping tally would realize that there are still a number of pages in Captain 3D that were not done by Meskin, Kirby or Simon. I believe most of them were done by the same artist. I credit them to Steve Ditko but frankly this also is very provisional. Since I have not done a careful review of Steve Ditko’s earliest efforts I really do not have a lot of inking traits to rely on. The most distinguishing feature of his inking, at least compared to Simon and Kirby studio artists, is his reliance on a pen for most of his spotting. Some fine pen work does show up in Captain 3D. However there are often brush spotting on the same pages sometimes covering over some of the pen lines. Some of this may be Ditko’s own efforts but some of it looks like Joe Simon going over and strengthening Steve’s work. The presence of a shoulder blot on one of these pages supports that suggestion. The lower part of the man’s jacket in the last panel of the page 2 of “The Man from the World of D” shows a type of feathering that I have never seen before in work produced by Simon and Kirby or artists that worked for them. Ditko also seems to have his unique touch in his way of doing eyes that shows up in Kirby’s pencils. I notice that Ditko had his own way of inking Captain 3D’s helmet. Ditko would create two simple bands or when the top band was near the peak it would be formed into a small semicircular field. All in all I assign 8 pages to Ditko; “The Man from the World of D” pages 2, 6 and 7; “The Living Dolls” pages 5, 6, 8 and 9; “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang” page 7.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Living Dolls” page 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by unidentified artist

I am concerned that since I do not yet have a good handle on Ditko’s inking style, especially on acetate, that perhaps some of the pages assigned to him may actually been done by some other artist. There is one page (page 4 of “The Living Dolls”) that I simple am not comfortable to assigning to any of the artists that I have discussed so far. I feel this indicates there was at least one other artist inking Captain 3D but I have no idea who he was.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

I have saved for last a short discussion about the cover. The art for the cover was also used as the splash page for “The Man from the World of D”. Therefore it would have been done on acetate in order to achieve the 3D effect. It must have been a difficult task to ink on acetate carefully enough so that it could also be used for the cover. Perhaps because of that spotting is very minimal. It appears to have been done with either a pen or a fine brush. This might suggest Ditko inking but I feel it was actually done by Meskin. Meskin did not do much fine inking in the other interior art but some does show up particularly on splash pages where greater effort was made as for example the first page of “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang”. The method used to spot the muscular forms on the cover does appear similar that used in the splash. Captain 3D on the cover also has eyes that suggest Meskin’s personal style. There are not much clothing folds but some on the upper torso are made using close parallel lines like those Meskin prefers. Finally Captain 3D’s helmet has a sinuous curve to the shadow; a device similar to what Mort used in the interior art.

The final breakdown is 12 pages inked by Meskin, 8 pages by Simon, 7 2/3 pages by Ditko, 3 1/3 pages by Kirby, and 1 by an unidentified inker. This is a little misleading because one of the pages attributed to Kirby consists only of two small heads and one of the pages credited to Meskin is an advertisement with only a single figure of Captain 3D.

In my next post I hope to discuss Captain 3D #2.

Kirby Inkers, Mort Meskin

Jack Kirby had a lot of different inkers throughout his long and productive career. During the time of Jack’s collaboration with Joe Simon, most of his inkers were also artists that worked for the S&K studio. Mort Meskin, for one, had a extended and fruitful association with Simon and Kirby. The earliest S&K production that included a Meskin signature was “The Inferior Male” from Young Romance #6 (July 1948) (see previous posts here and here). That particular piece was also signed by Jerry Robinson, the usual assumption is that the first signature (in this case Robinson) was the penciler and the second (Meskin) was the inker. Here support is found in that at least some of the pencils do not appear to by Mort, while the inking is typical of his work that follows. The first work to be signed by Meskin alone came over a year later with “His Engagement Ring” (Young Romance #16, December 1949). There is an even earlier work then both of these that Meskin at least participated in (“Love Or A Career” in Young Romance #3 January 1948). To be honest I am holding back some information that I want to be the subject of my next week’s post. Although Mort’s earlier work for Simon and Kirby was sporadic, from 1950 on he became the most prolific of the studio artists. During this time Meskin’s output may have even exceeded Jack Kirby’s.

Young Romance #18
Young Romance #18 (February 1950) “I Own This Man”, pencils and inks by Mort Meskin

I provide above a splash by Meskin from early in his association with Simon and Kirby. It gives examples of a number of Mort’s spotting techniques. Mort’s most common brush method, actually used much more frequently than apparent in this splash, is to describe clothing folds by using two or more narrow brush lines in close or overlapping paths. These can be found in the pressman’s blue jacket. Note how what the original individual brush strokes are sometimes revealed at the ends of the folds. Another Mort inking style was to often distinctly outline shadows. Once again this splash does not provide the best examples but two of them are present one near the center of the wrestling mat while the other is near Mort’s signature. The wrestlers give Meskin the opportunity to do some real nice simple hatching. The lines vary from thin to quite bold. Often one and occasionally two lines are used to delimit a hatching area. This type of brushing technique is very reminiscent of the S&K Studio style picket fence work. (See the inking glossary for an explanation of my inking terms such as simple hatching and picket fence). I do not know enough about Meskin’s prior inking to say whether this is typical of his work at the time or if this shows he was influenced by the Studio style. The dark spot on the reporter’s right shoulder are suggestive of the Studio style’s shoulder blot. That is misleading as Mort always seems to use these in a way to suggest realistic shadows while in the Studio style they generally appear on both shoulders without any natural explanation.

Young Romance #37
Young Romance #37 (September 1951) “Just to be Near Him” page 2 panel 1, pencils and inks by Mort Meskin

Although it maybe debatable whether my first image represents true Studio style brushwork, later work can certainly be called that. In the above image the pickets of the picket fence inking have become bold and the rails more consistently applied. Mort would sometimes also use standard crosshatching, as seen on our far left and on the lower part of the woman’s dress. When doing so, he would frequently place the crossing lines at an acute angle so that the white spaces are elongated.

Young Romance #29
Young Romance #29 (January 1951) “Diagnosis: Love” page 5 panel 3, pencils and inks by Mort Meskin

The above panel provides a better example of Meskin’s penchant for outlining shadows. That the boldly brushed dark spot on the center man’s jacket is a shadow can be seen by the presence of the profile of a nose. Mort would occasionally have a dark shadow trace a path down one side of a figure, such as the man on our left.

Justice Traps the Guilty #56
Justice Traps the Guilty #56 (November 1953) “G-Man Payoff” page 5 panel 6, pencils and inks by Mort Meskin

When artists both draw and ink their own work the two art stages will sometimes reinforce one another. That is what I believe happened with the eyebrows that Mort gave his men. These eyebrows are inked with a method similar to how Meskin handled clothing folds, two or three narrow overlapping brush strokes would trace the path of the eyebrow. This resulted in eyebrows that were wide, simple and made somewhat angular turns. As we will see below, Mort became so entrenched in inking eyebrows this way that it could affected how he inked Kirby’s pencils.

The above panel also shows how Meskin would sometimes fill in part of a blank background with crosshatching. As is generally the case, here his lines meet at an acute angle, not at right angles some other inkers prefer.

Young Romance #30
Young Romance #30 (February 1951) “My Lord and Master” page 3 panel 1, pencils and inks by Mort Meskin

Sometimes Mort will use his brushwork to create a side of a figure that is both a narrow shadow and a wide outline. This does not show up often, but is very distinctive when it does. I am sure further study of Meskin’s abundant output will show other inking techniques that while not common can be useful in determining attributions.

Young Love #68
Young Love #68 (December 1955), pencils and inks by Mort Meskin

Covers are important for the sale of a comic and the higher quality paper allows a superior printing. Therefore artists take more care in the creating artwork for covers. However the S&K studio artists usually did not get a chance to provide cover art, Jack Kirby would do all cover art when a photograph was not used. But when Simon and Kirby launched their own publication company, Mainline, Jack was so busy that for a year the covers for the Prize romance titles would be done by other artists, including Mort Meskin. On none of his romance covers would Mort use picket fence patterns or any of the other traits of S&K Studio style inking. For the spotting on Young Love #68 Mort relied mostly on his use of narrow brush strokes. Note how on YL #68 the back of the man’s jacket and pants has that narrow shadow or wide outline that we saw before.

Mort Meskin was such a prolific artist that the possibility of the use of assistants has to be considered. In preparation for writing this post I reviewed a lot of Mort’s work from 1950 to 1956, there is so much work that I did not have the time to review it all. This review confirmed my previous conviction, Mort had little if any assistance in inking his art. Almost all the spotting looked like it was done by the same hand.

Some of Meskin’s inking techniques are not limited to him alone. The use of narrow, often overlapping brush strokes can also be found in stories by George Roussos as well. This is not too surprising since Mort and George worked together in the late 40’s. The narrow brush strokes were not the only think George picked up from Mort, a lot of his penciling was clearly influenced by Meskin as well. Nonetheless Roussos did not adopt all Mort’s inking techniques so the two can be distinguished. However a discussion about Roussos will have to await another post. I will say that I have yet to find an example of Roussos inking Kirby (that is until the Silver Age).

BoysÂ’ Ranch #4
Boys’ Ranch #4 (April 1951) “The Bugle Blows at Bloody Knife” page 8, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

The Jack Kirby Checklist attributes most of the inking in the classic Boys’ Ranch to Joe Simon. Actually it is not hard to recognize Mort Meskin’s inking in much, if not most, of it, particularly after the first couple of issues. The biggest difficulty I faced with choosing an example of Mort inking Kirby from Boys’ Ranch was that I believe Mort was the penciler for at least some of the work in that title that has generally been credited to Jack. But the drawing in “The Bugle Blows at Bloody Knife” looks so much like Kirby’s that I am confident that he was the penciler. I am equally as confident that Meskin did the inking. Note the narrow clothing folds in panels 3, 4, 5 and 6. See how the shadows have a strong outline, most obvious in panel 4, but can even be found on the officer’s forehead in panel 1. The back of the soldier in panel 3 could be described as either a narrow shadow or wide outline. The eyebrows in panel 1 and 6 are simple with angular turns. All of these are typical Meskin traits.

Police Trap #6
Police Trap #6 (September 1955) “Only the Guilty Run”, page 1, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

The two gun carrying detectives in the background are so typical of Jack Kirby that he must have been the penciler. At a glance the inking appears typical S&K Studio style. But note how the clothing folds are long and narrow. The final giveaway is the thief’s eyebrows are simple with angular turns. There is little doubt that this is another example of Meskin inking Kirby.

Western Tales #32
Western Tales #32 (March 1956), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

My final image is the cover of Western Tales #32. This work was not included in the Jack Kirby Checklist. The last time I posted on it I attributed both the pencils and inks to Joe Simon. The fact that it was not Kirby’s inking and the stiffness of the Indians (especially the one in the right foreground) suggested to me that Joe might be responsible. After all Simon has shown himself to be excellent at mimicking Kirby. However Crockett’s pose seems more dynamic then what Joe has ever done without using swipes, and it was just the sort of thing that Jack was so good at. Perhaps the awkward pose of the Indian on the right was due to the limited area left over from Davy’s figure. As for the inking it simply is not Kirby’s work. Note the long and narrow clothing folds, Davy’s angular eyebrows, and the way his back is outlined by a narrow shadow. None of these are Kirby traits but all are characteristic of Mort Meskin’s inking. This magnificently inked cover shows that Mort had complete mastery of the S&K Studio style. Mort’s brushwork has the same sort of bold confidence that Jack and Joe also possessed. Although it may not be a reliable enough trait to rely on in determining attributions, Meskin’s brush does seem a little more mechanical then either Simon’s or Kirby’s.

A few months after Western Tales #32 Meskin would stop providing work to Simon and Kirby. If the GCD is correct, Mort had actually returned to working for DC a couple of years earlier. Now having left S&K, DC would become Mort’s main source of income until he abandoned the comic book industry. Meskin’s final DC period overlaps Jack Kirby’s time there, however none of Kirby’s DC work that I have seen was inked by Mort.

I have not made a thorough examination of Jack Kirby’s work for the purpose of determining what ones were inked by Mort Meskin. I want to hold off on that effort until I review some more S&K artist/inkers. So far the only other one I have posted on was Marvin Stein.

Kirby Inkers, Marvin Stein

I have written about Kirby inking Kirby, but what about Jack’s other inkers? Scholars of the Silver Age have it comparatively easy, many of Jack’s inkers are actually given credit. This provides a head start even in those cases where no inking credits are given. But in the Simon and Kirby years no inking credits were ever provided. Fortunately most S&K studio artists inked their own work. Therefore examining the work by the studio artists can give insight into what to look for in order to determine if they also were Kirby’s inkers.

I am going to start with Marvin Stein. What I am going to say about Marvin is pretty preliminary. I really have not studied Stein as an artist as much as I have other who had worked for Simon and Kirby. This is probably because I have mixed feelings about Marvin’s art. On the positive side Stein was often good at depicting action. However some of his drawing seems a bit crude.

Marvin Stein starts showing up in Simon and Kirby productions in 1951. Not long after his appearance there seems to have been a change in the production of Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty, two crime titles that S&K had created. Well actually Headline had existed before S&K but was not a more general anthology, it was S&K who converted the title to crime. The postal statement for Headline #46 (March 1951) lists Nevin Fiddler as the editor. About that time the artists for both crime titles changed and Jack Kirby work would no longer appear. Marvin Stein would become a prominent part in the new Prize crime issues. Stein did almost all the covers and usually the first story. It was not that unusual for Stein to provide a second story as well.

Headline #51 (Jan 1952) art by Marvin Stein

There is a photograph that indicates that Marvin worked at the Simon and Kirby studio at one time. Certainly he was greatly influenced by Jack Kirby, particularly in the portrayal of action. But Stein did not pick up any of the typical S&K studio inking. Missing from Marvin’s own work are things like picket fence brush work, abstract arch shadows or shoulder blots (see the inking glossary). Stein did occasionally use something like drop strings.

Justice Traps the Guilty #88
Justice Traps The Guilty #88 (August 1957) “The Spoilers” page 7, art by Marvin Stein

The above image is a typical page of Stein pencils and inking. Marvin’s brushwork tended to be rather blunt. This can be very apparent when the faces are of a smaller size, as for instance in panels 1, 2 and 4. A blunt brush work can even be seen in closer faces as in the criminal in panel 4. Stein often would use very broad cloth folds that seem slightly bent at about the middle of their length as seen on the man in the foreground in the first panel. Cloth folds often have ends that stop abruptly at a right angle (as in the first panel) or a slight angle (there are a couple examples on the man in the second panel). Form and shingle lines are often quite robust. Although not apparent in the image above, Marvin would sometimes make long and simple eyebrows. These eyebrows can resemble those by Bill Draut.

Justice Traps the Guilty #91
Justice Traps the Guilty #91 (February 1958) “Power Failure” page 4 panel 5, art by Marvin Stein

Occasionally Marvin would like to depict faces with a sort of negative highlight, as in the image above. This is done with diagonal brush work and like so much of Stein’s inking in a rather crude manner.

Young Romance #93
Young Romance #93 (April 1958) “Jealousy”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Marvin Stein

Among Jack Kirby’s late Prize romance art is one story, “Jealousy”, where the spotting for the facial features is rather blunt. The facial inking looks so much like Marvin Stein’s that I am certain he was Jack’s inker. Note the final panel where the man’s right eyebrow is extended into a crease above the nose. This is a characteristic often seen in Stein’s own art, for instance panel 3 from the Justice Traps the Guilty #88 page I showed earlier. Surprisingly the spotting other then for the faces in this story seems more carefully done then is typical for Stein.

This blunt treatment of facial features does not seem to occur in inking for any other of Kirby’s work for Prize. But otherwise similar spotting can be found in the inking of a number of Kirby stories. Could it be that Marvin Stein used greater care when inking for Kirby then he did on his own work? Depending on the answer to that question, Stein could have been a frequent inker of Kirby or a rare one.

Showcase #6
Showcase #6 (February 1957) “The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box”, page 6, panel 3, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Marvin Stein (from DC Archive edition)

When I wrote the DC chapter to “Jack Kirby Austere Inking” I was hampered by my limited access to the work. I am still not ready for a more thorough evaluation of Jack’s DC period but I have gone back over it with Marvin Stein fresh in my mind. Previous I attributed the inking to the initial Challengers of the Unknown stories to Jack. With my latest review I find a number of examples of inking that look like Stein’s work. Take a look at the face in the panel image I provide above, it has Stein’s blunt brushwork style. Also note that a couple of the cloth folds have the slightly off right angle ends that Stein prefers. There is still inking in the first two Showcase issues that look like Kirby’s brush. The red giant in “Dragon Seed” from Showcase #6 seem much better done then I have every seen Stein do. Also the second page from Showcase #7 with its scenes of the Challenger members doing various daring deeds. The problem is that Stein’s blunt brushwork is rather similar to Jack’s Austere style. I now suspect that most of the inking for Showcase #6 and 7 was actually done by Stein with Kirby doing the more difficult parts and perhaps touching up Marvin’s work as well.

Challengers of the Unknown #3
Challengers of the Unknown #3 (August 1958) “The Menace of the Invincible Challenger”, page 10, panel 2, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Marvin Stein (from DC Archive edition)

Marvin Stein did some of the inking for later Challenger stories also. The image above from COTU #3 has the same shadow highlights we saw before from Stein’s crime work. But these later inking differ from Showcase #6 and #7 in that Jack Kirby does not seem to have taken a hand in any of the spotting.

I have added a checklist for Marvin Stein, which like all my checklists are works in progress. However a checklist of Stein’s inking Kirby will have to wait, at least until I have reviewed some of the other Kirby inkers.