Monthly Archives: June 2010

Witch Queen of Sumeria

Rarely seen Kirby page from DC Comics’ Weird Mystery Tales # 1 (1972), “Witch Queen of Sumeria,” page 8. The artwork was recycled from Jack’s planned Spirit World # 2. I zoomed into some close-ups of the images below.

I wish Jack had been able to work on more of these types of stories — I enjoy books where he follows the same creations for many years, but it’s always fun to see him come up with completely new characters like these from scratch.

I’ve Got to Stop Them Alone

A scan of the original artwork to Captain America # 197 (May 1976). You can see the glue from the pasted-on logo really beginning to bleed through. Classic comic book cover dialogue: Captain America has his hand raised to his face to magnify his voice and he’s screaming “I’ve found an army of underground killers — and I’ve got to stop them alone!” I guess since Cap is alone, he’s thinking out loud.
I think this has been pointed out before, probably in one of John Morrow’s Jack Kirby Collector magazines or somewhere else online, but check out where all those bullets are flying. Ouch!

Looking at that .25 ¢ price tag in the top left-hand corner brings back a lot of memories. I started buying comics at the local 7-11 right before they raised the price to .30 ¢ and remember fondly the few times I was able to buy 4 comics for a buck off the spinner rack. I see a typical comic book now is about $ 3.99, so if I wanted to buy 4 comics it would set me back $16.00.

The Image Duplicator

Page 15 of Jack’s Uncanny X-Men #1 (Sep 1963), inks by Paul Reinman.In panel 6 you can see where Kirby influenced Roy Lichtenstein’s famous piece of comic/pop art, ironically titled “Image Duplicator” (1963).

Hot Box & The Fly

On June 8, 2010, I posted some comments by Steve Ditko where he discussed the similarities between the Simon/Kirby Fly (1959) and Jack’s original design for the Marvel Spider-man costume (1962). I’ll reprint an excerpt from Ditko’s essay here because I want to make a few remarks about it.

Steve Ditko: “Who came up with the specific name, Spider-man, is for Stan and Jack to resolve. Stan said Spider-man would be a teenager with a magic ring that could transform him into an adult hero — Spider-man. I said it sounded like the Fly, which Joe Simon had done for Archie publications. I didn’t believe Jack was involved in that feature because the issues I had seen lacked the usual Kirby flair.

I accepted Ditko’s observation that Jack wasn’t involved in the creation of the Fly as fact because I suspect Steve is a very knowledgeable expert on comics, but I recently had a chance to look at the first 4 issues of the Fly for the first time, and I think Ditko was mistaken in this case. I think Jack was involved in the production of The Adventures of the Fly # 1, 2. Here are the stories/art I think Jack worked on:

From Aug 1959:
Adventures of the Fly # 1 : Cover
Adventures of the Fly # 1 : “Strange New World of the Fly” (6 pages)
Adventures of the Fly # 1 : “The Fly Strikes” (2 pages)
Adventures of the Fly # 1 : “The Fly Discovers His Buzz Gun” (5 pages)
Adventures of the Fly # 1 : “Come Into My Parlor” (7 pages)

From Sep 1959:
Adventures of the Fly # 2 : “Marco’s Eyes” (8 pages )
Adventures of the Fly # 2 : “Master of Junk-Ri-La” (6 pages)

Looking at the artwork in these books, it looks like Kirby was phasing out of his working relationship with Joe Simon. Adventures of the Fly # 1 features four stories and a cover by Jack, then Adventures of the Fly # 2 has two stories by Jack. Other than that, the rest of the artwork in the first four issues appears to be by other artists, much of which could be described as Kirby “homage,” or Kirby-influenced.

I think Steve Ditko’s comment that Jack “wasn’t involved” with the Fly might be based on several factors. First of all, it appears there are several examples in Adventures of the Fly 1 – 4 where Jack did not supply any of the original artwork. The most famous example is the cover of Adventures of the Fly # 2 (Sep 1959) where the image of the Fly is swiped from the cover of Captain America Comics # 7 (Oct 1941).

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This cover has been frequently attributed to Kirby, and I’m far from an expert on Simon/Kirby, but my guess is that Jack probably didn’t draw the cover for Adventures of the Fly # 2. I suspect whoever was the artist for this cover swiped the composition from Captain America Comics # 7 in order to mimic the Simon/Kirby “house style” — which was Jack’s visual storytelling style since Jack did the layouts and pencils. My guess is that Ditko knew enough about Jack’s art and approach to artwork to suspect this piece was not by Kirby, so Steve assumed Jack wasn’t working on the character — other artists were swiping from Kirby art to try and copy his dynamics. Here are two more examples of very obvious Kirby swipes in Adventures of the Fly # 2 (compared to the original publication in Foxhole # 2:
“Hot Box,” Pg. 2, panel 1 (Foxhole # 2, Dec 1954)

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“Sneak Attack,” pg. 1, panel 5 (Adventures of the Fly, # 2, Sep 1959).

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“Hot Box,” pg. 2, panel 2 (Foxhole # 2, Dec 1954)

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“Sneak Attack,” pg. 1, panel 3 (Adventures of the Fly, # 2, Sep 1959).

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I’m not sure who the artist is for the “Sneak Attack” story but it clearly is not Kirby, and appears to be filler to pad out the rest of the issue. In my opinion, this is a fairly poor imitation of Jack. All of the elements that made these panels dynamic in the Foxhole publication are gone — they are merely tracings to fill space. Jack certainly had no need to trace himself in this fashion.

Adventures of the Fly #3 features no original Kirby artwork at all, so if Ditko had picked that book up off the stands he would have rightly assumed Jack was not working on that title at all. Adventures of the Fly # 4 has a few panels that look like they may be part of an unfinished Kirby story, but they also may be examples where other artists were tracing old Kirby drawing trying to copy his style, or attempting to use Kirby dynamics.

Aside from the stories filled with Kirby swipes, it appears that without question Jack did work on several entire stories that bare his unique stylistic imprint. From Adventures of the Fly # 1, here are three examples of pages by Kirby.

Adventures of the Fly # 1 (pgs. 1, 9, and 10).

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Adventures of the Fly # 2. Here are 3 examples of pages where the story and artwork is clearly by Jack Kirby. Adventures of the Fly # 2 (pgs. 21, 28, and 34).

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To me, those pages were obviously penciled by Jack, and there are several other examples like the “wide angle scream” double-splash pages that are nothing short of extraordinary.

I want to make it clear, I’m not accusing Ditko of lying or exaggerating to strengthen his argument concerning the creation of Spider-man — to me, there is no doubt Ditko deserves the title given to him by Stan Lee as “co-creator” for the Marvel Spider-man: his design of the Spider-man costume resonates with millions of people worldwide and his contributions to the first several years of stories were very important — I’m just pointing out that if you take a closer look at the history, you find at times individuals who were there may make mistakes or get information wrong.

In this case, despite some examples of other artists swiping his style, in my opinion, it’s obvious to me that Jack Kirby was involved in the first 2 issues of the Fly. Jack drew entire stories himself, and it is very possible Jack may have contributed significant story elements to those tales, so I doubt it would shock most comics experts to learn that Jack used elements of his original 1959 Fly for the first design and origin of the Marvel Comics Spider-man in 1962.

Foxhole # 1 Cover

Jack’s cover to Foxhole # 1, October 1954.
A black and white scan of the image, and below that you can see Jack swiped the main character from a painting called “High Visibility Wrap” by Joesph Hirsch.

Hot Box

On June 14, I posted an early example of Kirby’s work from the 1930s. Here is Jack tackling another aerial battle twenty years later in Foxhole # 2 (Dec 1954). Many Kirby experts believe Kirby wrote this story and also added the inks. It’s a two-pager. Spectacular dramatic image of the masked pilot firing off rounds of machine gun fire. In this image, the flying bullets give you the feeling of zero gravity.

By now, Jack has definitely mastered perspective. I suppose he might have had some photo reference for this panel pulled from a magazine, but either way he does a great job of capturing the reality of an aerial dogfight with a few well-placed pen strokes. Jack uses simple contrast between thin lines for the background and thicker lines in the foreground to illustrate exploding bursts of flak floating past the airplane. Jack no longer uses any of the cross-hatching we saw on the comic strip from the 1930s. Fairly crisp parallel lines represent background elements, and more varied lines are used to represent the texture of the uniforms.

Terrific use of dark black curves to represent the flaming smoke of the spiraling airplane, and you can see the four airmen parachuting to safety off to the bottom left.
Not a complex or deep story, but for a two-pager, Jack turns in very solid work. If it took Kirby about 3 hours to illustrate a page, you would think this piece may have taken him an entire day (6 hours for pencils, maybe 3 for adding inks) — pretty impressive when you consider it takes many contemporary comics artists working from a full script an entire day to pencil a single page.

This piece serves as a stark contrast to the somewhat innocent comic strip from the 1930s. By 1954 Jack was at a point in his career where he’d mastered the tools of his trade, and he could crank out a story on virtually any subject; plus his WW II experiences had given him first-hand experience of the horrors of combat and the workmanlike heroism of American soldiers, so “Hot Box” is a perfect example of Kirby cranking out a two-page potboiler that is executed to perfection, and powerful in it’s simplicity.

Al Williamson (1931-2010)

The Watcher. Pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Al Williamson
(The Jack Kirby Collector # 15, April 1997, back cover)
Sad news that Al Williamson has passed away at the age of 79. His most famous work was his beautiful science-fiction art for EC Comics in the 1950s, on titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy. In the 1960s, Williamson carried on Alex Raymond’s tradition on the Flash Gordon comic book. Williamson also produced memorable B/W work for Warren Publishing’s horror magazines like Creepy and Eerie.

In the 1970s Al worked on another Raymond creation, the Secret Agent X-9 comic strip. In the 1980s he produced brilliant work for the popular Star Wars comic books and newspaper strips. From the mid-1980s to 2003, he worked mainly as an inker on Marvel Comics superhero books like Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Spider-Girl.

Al Williamson was the recipient of two Eisners for Best Inker in 1996 and 1997, as well as an inductee into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 2000.

Here is a photograph of Jack and Al together talking shop (Jack Kirby Collector # 15, April 1997, pg. 15).

Embarking in Their Strange Airship

An early comic strip by Jack using the pseudonym Jack Curtiss. No date on this, looks like it’s from the 1930s.

Airship1

Like almost every aspiring comics artist in the 1930s, Alex Raymond’s beautiful photorealistic work on Flash Gordon in the Sunday papers must have been a huge influence on Jack, who I suspect was dreaming of getting a great syndication deal as he wrote, illustrated, and inked this piece.
Close-up of panel 1. Jack doesn’t seem to be a sure-handed inker yet, so there is a lot of white-out in this panel, but that’s probably also an example of Jack experimenting with the effects he can create on a page mixing ink and correction fluid.

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Notice Jack using the brush to quickly fill in the silhouette of some trees, a common technique perfected by ancient Japanese and Chinese masters of pen and ink, and probably a style Jack learned from looking at other brilliant comic strips, like Milton Caniff’s famous Terry and the Pirates.

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Panel 2. A synthesis of a lot of styles on the main character. A medieval metallic war helmet, what almost looks like a parachute pack on the back of the vest, and a kneepad. I’d hate to hit rough skies wearing that sword.

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Notice Jack is using different textures to give the image variety: thin pen lines for the clouds, cross-hatching on the wall and on the seat, then dark brush-strokes to fill in the blacks. Also a lot of blue-line penciling on the whole piece, maybe Jack trying to add a little 3-dimensionality to the original artwork, although it wouldn’t have shown up in reproduction.

Also notice the diamond checkerboard design on the bottom of the square piece of machinery on the dashboard. Jack doesn’t seem to have mastered perspective yet, but this is a great example of early creative Kirby tech. Note the stylus writing out a graph-line on the square grid: possibly an altimeter. The circle under that resembles a bell, maybe for some kind of phone communication. I usually drive the same way, holding onto the bottom of the steering wheel.

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Panel 3. Jack needs to work on his lettering. He runs out of room for text at the bottom of the first caption and has to squeeze in the letters so that the whole thing fits.

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Kirby would go on to become famous for portraying dramatic bursts of energy, and here are some early examples, this particular style probably swiped from popular science fiction comics, or sci-fi pulp covers of the day.

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Nicely delineated airplane. Jack uses a single up-and-down line to hint at the spinning propeller; the plane is fairly realistic, right down to the tiny detail of the pilot’s goggles. Again, notice Jack using different textures to hint at the sky with thin parallel lines, then cross-hatching to fill in the mountains below and some of the shadows on the airplane.
On it’s own, this might be considered a fairly average or even below-average piece of comics art, but at the same time, it’s a fairly polished piece for the 1930s, and an amazing glimpse into Jack’s evolution as an artist and storyteller.

Airship8

Thanks to Stan Taylor for answering my question: What year did Jack draw this comic strip? Stan writes: “I’ll take a guess and say late 1937. Jack Curtiss was a non de plume used first by Kirby at Lincoln Publishing. So that narrows it down to 1936- 1939. But Jack’s lettering early on was abysmal, the best example would be the Romance of Money pamphlet where the lettering is all over the place. By 1937, the strips begin to feature a more mature, concise and controlled lettering. Always natural, but more precise, as seen in the strips such as Socko the Seadog and Black Buccaneer. But on these strips from early 1937 Jack’s narrative prose is usually enclosed in a box while in the sample you provide the text just floats in space- a pattern I see in later Socko strips. I think it’s possible that this was a sample strip that Jack did hoping to sell to Lincoln after the Black Buccaneer and Cyclone Burke were cancelled. But I’m just guessing.”

Jim Bowie & Davy Crockett

A great example of Kirby and Joe Simon giving their take on an American western legend.

This advertisement appeared in Western Tales # 32 (March 1956), and as far as I’m aware, the next issue, Western Tales # 33 (July 1956), was the only appearance of the Simon/Kirby Jim Bowie character.
The covers featuring Simon/Kirby’s Davy Crockett. Western Tales # 31 (1956).
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Western Tales # 32 (1956).
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Unpublished Silver Surfer Part II

I wanted to make a few quick observations about the scan of the unpublished page from the Silver Surfer graphic novel (1978) I posted yesterday.

Obviously, any sort of analysis of a piece of artwork is incredibly subjective, and you will see a wide variety of differing opinions on any individual piece, but here are a couple things I think I see at work here. First of all, it looks like Jack is leading the eye from the top of the page down to the main characters using the flashing planets that are eclipsing a supernova at the top of the page. The red line below not only shows how a reader might look at this page for the first time, but it also shows the Surfer & Ardina’s path to freedom.

These two circles at the center-top of the image (surrounded by more circular bursts around them) are in the far background. Looking at the whole page from top to bottom, the eye naturally pulls back from background to foreground, over Galactus‘ shoulders to the Surfer and Ardina behind him in the near foreground.

Notice that the large planet (smaller orange circle) is obscured by a piece of Kirby machinery, and Ardina (larger orange circle) is also blocked by Galactus‘ right leg. The smaller planet (smaller blue circle) is at the center of the image without any obstruction, similar to the Surfer (in the larger blue circle) below.

The eye is led from the cosmic spectacle taking place billions of miles in the background, to the drama taking directly place behind Galactus. Also notice how Galactus‘ stance symbolizes stability and serves as a contrast to the flowing action around him. Galactus is also an obstacle between the Surfer/Ardina and freedom outside of the space craft.

Another interesting aspect of this page (whether it was meant as an interior splash or possibly an advertisement or back cover) is the fact that Jack had to leave room for Stan Lee to add captions and text to his artwork.

With black circles, I marked off three probable locations for either a caption or a word balloon. It’s interesting to see that Jack still filled in the entire page with detailed artwork because he had no idea where Lee would add text, and Jack wanted to make sure the image is complete and easy to ink. Also, look how well-balanced the image is with the addition of the balloons, showing that Jack constructed this image to be dramatic and dynamic, regardless of how much text Lee decided to include.