Monthly Archives: October 2010

Kamandi of the Caves

Thanks to John S. for his comments on the Statue of Liberty & Kamandi post.

Hi Rob,
Just read your new Kamandi posting.  Very insightful!  I’d never seen that Schomburg FANTASTIC UNIVERSE cover before.  Quite a revelation!  The only other thing I can add to what you’ve written is that I believe DC and Marvel both bid for the rights to do a comic-book version of APES, but Marvel got the rights to it because they put in a higher bid than DC.  Having lost the bidding war, Infantino asked Kirby to come up with something similar, so Jack took his old, unused KAMANDI OF THE CAVES newspaper strip proposal and transformed it into the KAMANDI comic book we all know and love–a comic which, by the way, went on to become the best-selling title he produced for DC in the seventies and which almost certainly outsold Marvel’s feeble black-and-white APES magazines!  So really, DC ended up winning after all…which was no surprise, since they had The King on their side!
Best regards,

Here are some examples of unfinished 1950s Kamandi of the Caves comic strips Jack worked on. The strip on the bottom is signed by Jack and dated 1958.

Composition – Eternals # 8 Artwork Part III

In the artwork for Eternals # 8 page 5 Jack gives you a full page close-up of a new character: “The Reject,” a Deviant with a human face. I wonder if Jack had big plans for this character and this was his way of emphasizing that. In the background Jack uses a technique where he has a cast of characters all commenting, coincidentally all of them speaking in turn from left-to-right. In a film, the director/writer could have the characters speaking in a different order, but a comics artist/writer is limited by the constraints of the page so the left-to-right word balloon presentation is really the only one that works, and Jack always pulls it off seamlessly.

Another interesting thing to note is that when you read a comic you tend to make a mental cut when you go from frame to frame. Unless two (or more) panels are almost identical, you don’t see the narrative as a flowing narrative like a film where camera movement leads you in and out of an image, but more as a series of cuts where the comics artist is directing your eye to specific frames or moments in the story. For example, looking at Page 6, panel 1: Jack starts off with a medium-long-shot featuring Kro and Thena standing on a balcony. Visually, Jack establishes they are in the city by showing you the buildings on the left.

I adjusted the contrast and size of the original scanned-image so we can take a closer look.

I particularly like the way Jack illustrated that shadow on the wall in the bottom right-hand corner.

Mark Evanier has mentioned in the past that he recalls in the 1970s Kirby illustrating the whole story first, then adding text after he had finished that process, but looking at some of this artwork, I find myself wondering if at this point, maybe Jack was adding text first, then doing the illustrations. Then again, looking especially at Kro’s text, it looks a little packed in there, as if Jack ran out of room, so maybe Jack did draw the basic composition ot the two characters, the cityscape and building; then Jack went back later, added the text, and that is when he also added the background details surrounding the text. It’s interesting to note that although legible, Jack’s text was a little sloppy — certainly not suitable for publishing, so again, I think it’s revealing to take a close look at how Royer turned Jack’s sketchy text into professional-looking comics lettering.

Panel 2: Jack moves in for a close-up. If you make an effort you can see panel 1 and panel 2 as two frames in a sequence where the frame is a camera floating into the close-up, but I think the images are varied enough that to the casual reader it looks more like a cinematic cut. Of course, this sort of thing is something the reader is not aware of, and Jack as storyteller may have made decisions like this unconsciously.

Visually, these type of sequences do have meaning. As the reader we can see these characters are close, but there is tension. Kro has an ominous look and is lower in the composition. Thena is closer to the reader, higher in the image, and clearly having doubts.

In panel 3: Kro now fills up most of he frame, he blocks Thena from the reader, and also seems to grab her fairly hard. This is an example of a panel that would probably not work if you were filming the sequence in one continuous shot. Physically moving your camera from a close-up to a medium shot would be a little jarring, so a filmmaker would probably use a cut here, and that is also the effect you get in a typical comic book when transitioning between frames.

Panel 4. Again, Jack zooms in for a close-up. Now Kro is higher in the frame, dominating the image.

Panel 5. Then Jack cuts to the image of Kro holding Thena’s hand — or more specifically, grabbing her by the wrist. An interesting choice of image: the fact that Kro almost seems to be pulling her hand towards him, and Thena seems apprehensive visually shows the reader there is obvious tension between these two. Again, you probably wouldn’t see a filmmaker use an image like this — unless it was a cheesy romance film — it just probably wouldn’t work, but in a comic book sequence it’s pretty effective, especially because out of the corner of your eye you can still see the entire page — you have 4 panels of Kro and Thena already, so making this final move to the close-up of the hands in the final panel is a solid way to use the comic page as a way to explore a scene by zooming in and out of the main composition, highlighting the most pertinent and dramatic details.

Text !!! Eternals # 8 Artwork Part II

Yesterday I showed you some of the interior pages from  Eternals # 8 (Feb 1977) Story/art by Jack Kirby, inks by Mike Royer. I wanted to make a few quick observations about that artwork. First of all, notice that Jack is very meticulous in terms of giving Mike Royer very clear directions in the penciled pages. But, Jack doesn’t put the “Stan Lee Presents” logo in the blurb at the top of the pencilled page. One has to wonder how Kirby felt about Stan still having his name plastered at the top of page one on every one of Jack’s 70s Marvel stories, although Lee had nothing to do with the content of the  books.

It’s a little hard to see the text in the original scan so I adjusted the constrast.

You can see in the image below, Jack left out no detail: he even tells Mike Royer to “Leave Open” the space to the left and right of the credits. 

I hate to criticize Jack’s text, but in my opinion, Kirby tended to use way too many exclamation points. Granted, I always cringe when I see 70s Kirby originals that are marked up in blue-lines & smothered in white-out because an editor in NYC wanted someone to delete all of Jack’s exclamation points, but as you can see here — Jack did include a lot of them. I think there are several reasons for this: mainly it’s a fairly common comic book convention and exclamation points make the artwork look visually dramatic, exciting, and important, but I agree with Royer’s decision here as the letterer to eliminate most of them in the actual lettering phase.


Mike’s lettering is something he rarely gets credit for, but it’s obvious to me he took great pride in that aspect of his job, and I really like all of his decisions on the work above. You can see, Jack didn’t spend really any time at all worrying or thinking about how the lettering would look. Strange considering how he micromanaged the rest of the page, so one has to assume he simply felt that part of the job was better left in the hands of the letterer.

As a kid in the 70s I wasn’t a fan of the weird lettering of the titles in the Kirby/Royer books, but as the years have passed, I find I’ve grown to love the slightly bizarre style Mike Royer used on these blurbs– they seem incredibly effective to me as opposed to some of the more slick and conservative styles you see in most of the other 70s Marvel books.

Out of 17 exclamation points in the two scans above above, Mike Royer got rid of 12 of them — leaving only 5 and Mike replaced the (…) after the “Eternals” caption with an (!). Granted, maybe the exorbitant exclamation points were simply Jack’s shorthand way of telling Mike to add emphasis to the titles, but either way, you can see here that Royer was doing some very basic editing, and I think getting rid of several exclamation points on this page makes the text flow better in terms of readability and I think it works better visually.

Eternals # 8 Artwork

Here are some of the interior pages from Eternals# 8 (Feb 1977) Story/art by Jack Kirby, inks by Mike Royer. Pencil photocopies and the published artwork to pages 1, 5, and 6 from the book. You can see the incredible job Mike Royer did adding the letters to the story and then he remained remarkably faithful to Jack’s pencils while still giving the linework a beautiful, vivid flowing quality.

Black Panther #3 page 15

Original artwork and the published image of page 7 from Black Panther #3 (May 1977). Kirby/Royer.

This image looks like it was influenced by ancient samauri gear.

I had the original art scan of the page for years but had never seen the published version until now. I love the colors on the published piece. Great example of an image where really any color scheme would probably work. If any of you out there who like to add colors to images want to try your hand at coloring the black-and-white Kirby illustration above, please send in your work and I’ll post the results here.

The Art of the Steal

Great documentary film on Showtime this month: The Art of the Steal (2009) explores the efforts to break Albert C. Barnes’s will and relocate the famous “Barnes Art Collection” from its home in the Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania to downtown Philadelphia. The collection of late 19th & early 20th-century masterpieces includes 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 60 Matisses, and 44 Picassos. The 9,000 piece collection is valued at over $25 billion. Some experts have estimated the paintings could sell at auction for upwards up $50 billion. That’s Billion with a “b.”

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “It is perfectly clear exactly what Barnes specified in his will. It was drawn up by the best legal minds. It is clear that what happened to his collection was against his wishes. It is clear that the city fathers acted in obviation of those wishes, and were upheld in a court of appeals. What is finally clear: It doesn’t matter a damn what your will says if you have $25 billion, and politicians and the establishment want it.”

The film is a good example of how people in power can literally steal tens-of-billions of dollars worth of artwork, and in many cases the public could care less, as long as they can have easier access to the art. It reminds me of the reaction from many comic book fans’ to the Kirby vs Disney-Marvel lawsuit who fiercely resented the Kirby Estate challenging Marvel’s copyrights because these fans were far more concerned with making sure they were going to continue to get a steady supply of new Iron Man movies.

Granted, after watching the Art of the Steal film, the argument presented is completely one-sided, and I can totally understand Philadelphians wanting to move all of the Barnes artwork to a fancy new Museum where they can access it easily, use it to promote Philadephia, and profit off of it — but there is no denying that move went completely against the wishes of the original owner of the artwork, and I think there is a lesson to be learned here about greed and the insignificance of the individual when huge dollar figures come into play.

I post this here because I think a similar thing happened to Jack Kirby when approximately 8000/10,000 of his 1960s Marvel originals were stolen from the Marvel Warehouse in the 1970s – 1980s. Many comic book art collectors use the term “liberated” to describe the act — very similar to the so-called philanthropic agendas portrayed by the power players who spearheaded the push to take the Barnes Collection away from its home. Incredibly ironic — if Kirby art one day is worth billions of dollars (much of that art stolen), and the powers-that-be decide it should all be moved to a snazzy new museum, it may well be stolen again — the decendants of the current Kirby comic book art collectors with massive Kirby collections locked away might find that Kirby artwork taken from them for the “public good.”

The Art of the Steal/Jack Kirby analogy also applies to the  extraordinary value of Jack’s 1960s creations — Jack may well be the creator (and co-creator with Stan Lee) of the most valuable intellectual properties of all time, but as far as I know the Jack Kirby Estate still does not receive even one penny on 60s Marvel reprints, royalties, and merchandising of those 60’s Kirby-created intellectual properties.

Yes, both topics are complex, but it is amazing to me that in terms of Jack Kirby — as long as fans keep getting a steady dose of their favorite Marvel comics, movies, toys, and video games, the vast majority of them don’t seem to care that the creator of those characters has been swept aside, very similarly to how Albert C. Barnes’ wishes were trampled by politicians and the establishment.

Albert C. Barnes

Dick Ayers Email

Art from Rawhide Kid #21 (Dec 1960), page 19. Terrific inks by Dick Ayers. One of the earlier examples where you see the “by Stan Lee” credit along with the name of the artist and inker.

I emailed legendary comics artist and inker Dick Ayers and asked him about the Kirby/Ayers signature that appears on many pieces of late 50s, early 1960s Kirby/Ayers artwork. I wondered if Stan Lee told Dick to sign the art, or if that was something Dick decided to do.

Here is the reply from Dick Ayers:

“Rob, I always signed the work I did for Marvel and with the penciller’s name even in the ’58’s when I started inking Kirby’s pencils for Stan (Wyatt Earp and then the monster stories). Before Stan had me ink a Kirby pencilled Wyatt Earp cover I always pencilled, inked and lettered my art — and signed it.  Stan began putting the credits in a panel box on the first page so I didn’t sign the work I did.  That began with Fantastic Four #6.  Thanks for asking!  …..Dick”

Message in a Bottle

“I see no wisdom in the eagerness to be found and approached by any intelligence with the ability to accomplish it from any sector of space. In the meetings between ‘discoverers’ and ‘discoverees,’ history has always given the advantage to the finders.”

— Jack Kirby (1972)

Kirby was discussing the Jupiter Plaque, the 1970s project to design an image to be carried on the spacecrafts Pioneers 10 and 11. Both spacecrafts carried small metal plaques identifying their age and place of origin for the benefit of any spacefarers that might find come upon them in the distant future.

I think this must have been Jack’s first design, and concievably it was decided to change the color scheme — resulting in the image I showed you yesterday. Here is the image NASA ended up using.

I suppose some people were upset by the image of the nude male, so NASA placed a more ambitious message aboard Voyager 1 and 2 — a time capsule, intended to communicate a story about our world to any extraterrestrials who may find it. The Voyager message is on a phonograph record — a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on the Earth.

The contents of the record include a variety of natural sounds — the ocean, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals; in addition to musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings in 55 languages. Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket that also contains a cartridge and a needle and instructions for playing the disc. There are also 115 images encoded in analog form.

It will be 40,000 years before these spacecraft make a close approach to any other planetary system. In the distant future, I wonder how much something like these ancient earth spacecrafts will be worth on an extraterrestrial version of eBay?

Eternals #2, 1976 (pages 3 – 4).

Jupiter Plaque

Jack’s artwork for the Jupiter Plaque which was used for the cover of Ronin Ro’s book Tales To Astonish (2008).
I thought Ronin Ro did a great job of putting together a concise, accessible book about Kirby’s life. I do think the book would have been stronger with some illustrations, but I guess the decision not to include artwork was probably the publisher’s choice.

2001 # 4 Cover

Original artwork and the published image of the cover for 2001: A Space Odyssey# 4 (Mar 1977). Kirby/Giacoia.

Notice in the published cover a lot of the details in the flaming asteroid (that you can see on the original) have been colored black. Maybe they are buried under that dark purple color.

This image reminds me of the famous scene in the first Indiana Jones film where Harrison Ford is running away from the giant boulder.