Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Maid

Some have argued that Kirby couldn’t draw beautiful women, but here are two examples provided by a member of the Kirby-l Discussion forum, Pat Ford, that show Jack certainly was well aware of how to illustrate female anatomy. These are scans of the pencils from two pages of unpublished artwork originally supposed to appear in DC’s True Divorce Cases # 1 (1971). Maybe the material was a little to edgy and racy for DC and that is one of the reasons it was rejected.

It’s pretty obvious looking at this work that in the early 70s Jack was hoping to explore more contemporary, cutting-edge themes but apparently DC Editor Carmine Infantino didn’t feel the material would be successful. A shame because it would have been wonderful to see Jack drift out of the realm of fantasy and superheroes into other genres where he could tackle more stories involving regular people.

Compare and contrast this work with an example of Jack’s more conservative 1950s romance work.
Splash from “The Girl Who Tempted Me,” art by Kirby with inks by Simon. The story originally appeared in Young Romance # 17 (Jan 1950) and has been reprinted in Real Love edited by Richard Howell (1988), and The Complete Jack Kirby Volume # 5 edited by Greg Theakston (2005).

Kirby Marvelmania Art

Thanks to Jack’s grandson Jeremy Kirby for sending me a high quality scan of the Marvelmania piece we looked at recently. Let’s zoom in and take a closer look at three examples from the original artwork.

Maybe one of the last times Jack drew Iron Man. Probably the only time he inked the character. Notice Jack penciled the outline of the image, inking those main contour lines with a pen, then filled in the inside details of the image with a brush.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear John Romita drew this image of the Rhino, but it appears Jack wanted to include a variety characters, so he probably swiped this image from a Romita Spider-man issue.

It’s actually a little sloppy — the shadow under the face doesn’t have the same light source as the shadow behind the right hand. Maybe Jack’s technique would have been more effective if he had penciled out the whole image and added inks, instead of penciling just the outline then adding the details only using a brush. Plus this representation of the Rhino suggests to me Jack wasn’t at his strongest when copying the style of another artist.

Finally an image of Jack’s Dr. Doom.

Again, it appears Jack added all the interior brushwork without any pencils to guide him — a pretty common practice artists who are inking their own work use to save time.

You can see the brushwork is not nearly as dark as the pen lines and looser.

Jack probably would have been able to ink his work in half the time it would have taken another inker by filling in details like the metallic sheen of the armor freestyle, using a brush.

At the same time, these images are a little sloppy, and lack the famous thick contour lines/thin interior line style inkers like Chic Stone and Joe Sinnott made famous on Jack’s work at Marvel during the 1960s, so maybe this was a preliminary piece Jack did to get back into the groove of inking his own work. When he worked on the larger Marvelmania pin-ups he decided to use a more traditional approach — detailed pencils; thin-to-thick lines with a brush for outlines; and a pen for interior details.

Kirby Goddess Portrait

3TribesWomanA spectacular late 1960s Kirby pencil & inked watercolor of a beautiful woman wearing classic Kirby-tech headgear. A stunning piece that I’d love to see as a poster one day.

Kala: Queen of the Netherworld

There are very few stories where Don Heck inked Jack’s pencils, but here is a nice example from Tales of Suspense #43 (July 1963). Heck does solid work on the figure of Kala and the intricate details of the cityscape in the background. It always amazes me how many interesting characters Kirby worked on over the decades. Kala seems to have as much untapped potential as any of them, if Disney/Marvel ever chooses to explore the character more deeply.

Notice Jack’s original Iron Man costume is sporting the antennae on the head and the thick treads on the boots. Heck was the artist who went on to streamline the character — giving him the less bulky red and yellow costume made so famous by the recent Iron Man films. Thanks to comics writer/artist Henry Kujawa for providing the scan.

Kirby Genesis

Quite a bit of buzz surrounding the new Kirby Genesis project on the web, so I figured I’d offer a few brief comments. I don’t follow contemporary comics too closely, but if this book is well-done, packaged nicely, and affordable, I’ll definitely check it out. I’m sure it will be difficult trying to tie together 100 or so of Kirby’s creations, but it has been done before in the various DC and Marvel crossover books, so the project has potential.
This sounds like a great way for successful creators & Kirby fans like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross to produce something relevant that might be successful, as well as pay tribute to Kirby, who I take it is someone they respect. It’s nice to see some famous comics professionals tackling a project that doesn’t just explore one of Jack’s creations for Marvel or DC, instead taking on a more ambitious project featuring Jack’s lesser known creations owned by Jack’s family which won’t have nearly the large built-in audience of something like Jack’s Fantastic Four.

I would think Busiek and Ross are at the peak of their powers in the comics industry in terms of creativity and audience support, so hopefully they can bring something special and unique to the project while still figuring out a way to pay tribute to Jack. Not an easy task. Jack’s visuals are so unique and original, I’ve never seen anyone come close to duplicating his style effectively, and Alex Ross’ photorealsitic approach will certainly create challenges making the characters and dynamics truly visually “Kirby-esque.” But it all still sounds like this will be a fun book, and the endeavor seems like a nice way to honor Jack by showing all of his creations have unlimited possibilities, while at the same time hopefully giving Jack’s Estate some well-deserved recognition.

I wish Marvel would produce some projects like this honoring Jack Kirby, although ironically they actually have been promoting the Kirby Marvel Universe for over 5 decades since the majority of their publications are based on Jack’s creations with editor Stan Lee. I hope Marvel/Disney can work out a settlement with the Kirby family so the comics industry can finally embrace Jack as a whole. I’d love to see a happy ending to the Kirby story, and a generous settlement from Marvel acknowledging his contributions to the company would be the perfect move in that direction.

Hopefully projects like Kirby Genesis will continue to Keep Jack’s name in the spotlight, and a reputable news organization will pick up on the story and introduce more people to Jack’s amazing life story and body of work. So Good luck to the producers of Kirby Genesis. Hopefully it results in a great story, and who knows it could result in a future animated series or a motion picture. How great would it be to finally see Kirby’s name where it belongs, over the title of one of his popular creations.

The Comics Reporter

Thanks to Tom Spurgeon for mentioning my weblog and the Kirby Space Odyssey video over on his website Tom does a great job every day of covering the comics industry, while taking a look at the history of the comics medium. Tom co-wrote a book called Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the Comic Book with Jordan Raphael, and if you haven’t checked it out I recommend you pick up a copy — it’s one of the first books to take an objective look at Stan Lee’s propaganda. Thanks again to Tom for the mention.

Here’s a rare example where Stan Lee mentions his former co-worker Jack Kirby, from Millie the Model # 107 (March 1962). Art by Stan Goldberg.

The Stan Lee doll, with artwork inspired by Jack’s original cover to Amazing Fantasy # 15.

Colletta Comments

The Mighty Thor #152 - 01 thor152r

Here is the splash to Mighty Thor # 152 (May 1968). Below that is a xerox of the uninked pencils. As you can see, aside from some minor details in the architecture, Colletta does a nice job here of delineating Jack’s artwork accurately. I think Vince did good work on pages like this where the images were larger and he had more room to work with a brush, plus since half of the image consists of the title blurb and the publication information at the bottom, this allowed Vince a little extra time to embellish all of the details more accurately.

Over on the Jack Kirby-l discussion forum, the topic of Colletta unsurprisingly led to a fun debate. Here are a couple comments from a few members, and some of my replies. I edited personal comments out of the posts, and also added some additional comments of my own.

Dan McFan (responding to my take from “Colletta Inks Part I”): This is hardly just your take. It’s a collage of stuff we have seen and heard about a hundred times. Blogs should be innovative. Give me something fresh. Even if what you publish is nonsense (as my blog was at times) it should be, above all, different. That’s my take on your take which was already taken.

My Comment: I’m reviewing and promoting the preview of the book with that post, not presenting new information. My weblog is designed for readers who are new to the topic of Jack Kirby, so they may be seeing this for the first time. I mentioned that I thought using the B/W stat was not the best method of comparison — using the color panel presents a better comparison, and I used the medium of the color weblog to do that. I have literally a thousand examples of Colletta erasing figures and obscuring details in my files, but the goal of my kirbyweblog is not to criticize Vinnie (notice this is the first time I have done so, and I’m doing it based on a book by another writer), the goal of my weblog is to celebrate the best of Jack’s art, so chances are I will spend very, very little time pointing out Colletta erasures and omissions.

Kris Brownlow: On your blog, you wrote: “Also notice instead of drawing lines on the suit of the pedestrian on the left, Colletta made the suit all black, plus Vince simplified the brickwork behind him.” In that instance I think Colletta was correct to add the black. Spotting blacks is a tricky thing, in this case the original design by Kirby is somewhat flat around the striped jacketed man, when Colletta adds the black it makes the woman in the foreground “pop” more, giving a better illusion of depth. Less detail in the background wall also adds to the illusion of depth which may have been Colletta’s goal in altering that as well.

Greg Theakston: Have to agree. Vinnie had two ways of doing things: fast, or efficient… I don’t agree with the simplification of the buildings, but that might have been a deadline thing.

My Comment: I agree with Kris and Greg that making the pedestrian’s jacket black worked in this situation — it provides balance to the empty black area Vinnie replaced the pedestrian with. But, if Vince had inked the piece as it had been illustrated in the first place, this change would not have been necessary. The panel was originally drawn as a packed crowd scene, not Loki emerging from a dark alley. Also, color could have been used to separate the background characters from the foreground — for example, the jacket could have been colored dark blue, and the woman in front could have been given red hair to make here seem closer to the viewer.

In my opinion, if you gave this uninked pencil page to any inker in the comics industry, I don’t believe a single one of them would erase that pedestrian and replace him with blank, black space. I think Vince did this in order to save time. I understand wanting to do an 8 hour job in 6 hours — who doesn’t want to get home and spend time with family /friends — but if Colletta consciously eliminated, erased, omitted, and obscured elements of Jack’s art because Vinnie felt his personal artistic vision for Thor was superior to Jack’s (Thor should live in a modern world of bland checkerboard buildings, black skies, and streets with only a few pedestrians), then that strikes me as disrespectful to Jack’s original artwork. Whereas if Vinnie cranked out 8 hours worth of work in 6 hours so he could go home and do other things (or pick up additional work), I think we can all understand why someone would do that (although many understandably might not be a fan of the results of that method).

Mark Luebker: comics back in the mid-sixties weren’t intended as art. The whole “creative” process was more like piecework on a factory assembly line, with each contributor scrambling to “make rate.” In that environment, an inker’s primary job was to go over the penciled art with India ink and make it reproducible, and to do it against whatever deadline he was given. A professional job was one that got back to the editor on time and would show up clearly when photographed by a stat camera.While that may not have been consistent with fans’ expectations, an inker who did fast, competent work clearly was providing what employers wanted and needed. Being true to an artist’s pencils was good, since individual creators were clearly beginning to develop followings, but that wasn’t the main concern or requirement.

So to me it’s unfair to rail about a particular inker’s skill or professionalism–whether they were nine-to-fivers, incredibly fast at the expense of erasing or simplifying had an overpowering line, or whatever–as long as that inker was providing what his employer wanted. And we can determine that based on whether (and how much) employers continued to give them work. So near as I can tell, Colletta was highly valued by his employers, more so than inkers (and some pencilers) that I prefer, which means he was a success.

Glen Story: I agree with what you’re saying. Clearly Colletta was in demand, serving a valuable function for his employers, and important in terms of production. Timely production of product for kids was what it was all about. There were quality standards, but they weren’t concerned with aesthetics… getting the books out on time was paramount.

As adults, we now sometimes look at the work differently, and realize that some of it reached a higher level than was necessary to meet production standards, and we perhaps capitalize the “A” in “Art”. Is it Art with a capital A? Does it compare favorably with Vermeer and Velasquez? Does it have to, to be Art? Or is that all a little pretentious, considering that, at the end of the day, they’re still just “funny books”? I don’t know… there’s material there for endless debate. But, at any rate, we do look at it more critically, with more of a sensitivity towards aesthetics, and there’s clearly work that shines, and work that’s just functional.

I like some of Colletta’s work quite a bit. There’s other work that I really dislike. I understand that some of the
work I dislike is because he was rushed. I can even empathize with his situation: that he had to occupy that particular niche producing the volume of work at the speed he did, to make a comfortable living. It just doesn’t change how I react to a particular page.

My Comment: In many respects, I think Colletta probably has been unnecessarily vilified by comics fans for his “crimes of omission.” It does appear Vince did delineate the bulk of Jack’s original compositions, and I honestly can’t think of any examples where Vince radically altered Jack’s artwork to the point where his story wasn’t crystal clear.

I realize that at times Colletta was under crushing deadlines, he may not have been getting paid very well, and he may have genuinely felt he was improving Jack’s art, but here is my theory on Colletta’s approach towards inking. I think Vinnie had developed a “Colletta studio style.” Not saying he used assistants on Thor, just saying that I think Vince had developed a personal approach towards inking that he used on virtually all of the pages I’ve seen, regardless of his deadline pressures.

I suspect that Vince would look at a pile of, say, 3 pages of Kirby Thor artwork, and his goal was very simple: to finish that artwork as quickly as possible. I think every part of his inking process was designed for speed: he’d go in first with a pen and ink the major elements on the page. If there were extra figures in the crowds — they’re gone; if Jack has complex architecture — it’s gone, replaced with checkerboard buildings; if Jack drew complex cosmic skyscapes — Vinnie obscured much of this in black. Vinnie’s methodology was speed. After his pen-drawn inks dried, Vinnie went in with a brush and beefed up some of the contour lines, and spotted blacks. This approach gave Vinnie’s inks a consistant look whether he had a heavy workload or a light one. Whether Vinnie had to ink 3 pages in a day, or a whole book in a weekend, this style made the work distinctively “Colletta.” Lee kept giving Colletta work, Jack never complained and Thor sold, so in that sense, Colletta was successful.

But that’s just my theory based on looking at 100 or so scans of Kirby/Colletta originals years ago. In the final analysis, I have a pretty pragmatic view of Vinnie. I figure Thor is what it is, and I’m grateful for the great Kirby compositions (although, in my opinion, the only way to see that art is to buy the original publications, the reprints look awful — so much of Colletta’s linework is lost). I also think Vinnie did great work on large images like the splashes, but I suspect he cut corners on interiors to save time, and some folks aren’t fans of that artistic philosophy. Hopefully the new book will give us the facts. Thanks to everyone for the feedback and comments.

Colletta Stars Part II

Thanks to Kirby Museum director Rand Hoppe for sending me a scan of the uninked pencils from Thor # 152, pg. 8. Above is a scan of the entire page. You can see Colletta does a fairly solid job on panels 1 – 3. Aside from the changes to Thor’s face in panel 1 (which could have been based on editor Stan Lee’s direction) and the Policeman in the background which Vinnie has portrayed in silhouette — Vinnie has captured the basic compositional elements of Jack’s original pencils. Here are close-ups of panel 4.

The outer space scene is also much closer to the original pencils than I suspected it would be, but we can see that Vinnie does seem to have a tendency to eliminate white circles (which take time to ink using a circle template; then it takes more time to carefully trace around the white circles in black using a pen) and Vince did obscure a significant amount of Jack’s famous “crackle” and cosmic bursts with all black.
Also notice how perfect the contrast is in Jack’s original pencils, similar to the Chinese yin-yang symbol; while in Vinnie’s version there is a much greater preponderance of black.
Here is a side-by-side comparison.
It could be argued that Colletta felt Jack’s cosmic space scenes were too bright so he made a conscious decision to darken them, but I still suspect Vinnie’s technique of laying in black then adding fast splotches of white-out was not meant to improve Jack’s composition, but to save time.

I don’t think Colletta’s decision to simplify Jack’s image of Thor flying across the galaxy hurts the story, or radically alters the image, but as someone who likes to study Kirby artwork, all I can do is show you what I found, and as you can see, this is another example of Colletta making seemingly arbitrary changes to Jack’s original artwork.

Thanks again to Rand Hoppe for sending in this scan so we could see what Jack’s original pencils looked like. You can check out more great Kirby artwork at

Colletta Stars

Thor # 152,(1968), pg. 8 original artwork. Kirby/Colletta

I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on Colletta inks, but the new TwoMorrows book coming out soon sparked some online debate, so I’ll make a few more comments this week.

Here is a close-up of panel 4, from page 8, photographed from the original artwork to Thor # 152. This HQ image gives us a great example of a Kirby/Colletta outer space scene from the same issue as the scene presented in the new book, The Thin Black Line, so we can take a close look at the artwork and see if we can figure out what techniques Colletta is using to deliniate Jack’s pencils.

Below you can see how Vinnie approached inking an explosive cosmic Kirby outer space vista — Colletta filled in most of the image in black, then added a few sparkles using white-out. I suspect this is another time-saving technique Vince developed to speed up his inking process. Those sloppy splatters of white-out are on top of black ink, so it is unlikely they are an accurate depiction of Jack’s original pencils, which are obviously covered-up underneath.

Note here that Vince had originally inked one of the circles, but decided to cover it up in thick, opaque black ink.

It’s a little hard to see in the scan, but the blue circle shows you the obscured circle (I feel like an astronomer looking for new planets). Again, notice how Vince then uses tiny splotches of white-out hastily applied ontop of the black ink to hint at his version of the stars.

Editor and publisher of the Steamshovel Press, Kenn Thomas has pointed out that in the future, someone might want to photograph Kirby/Colletta original artwork using new digital enhancement technologies (popularized in the various CSI: Crime Scene Investigation TV shows) to see if Jack’s original graphite linework is still detectable beneath Colletta’s obfuscation. This could result in an interesting article or book where we could reconstruct Jack’s original compositions.

A Nutty Idea

Scan of a panel of original art from Jack’s unpublished Fantastic Four # 102 (1970). Great liner notes by Jack, the ever serious Mr. Fantastic says, “That was no malfunction — that was mega-power — listen Sue — I have a nutty idea.”