Monthly Archives: November 2012

Classic Kirby/Sinnott Artwork – FF # 88

Here in America we have a phrase called “jump the shark” when we talk about TV shows that have reached their peak in terms of quality and relevance, and then they start to decline. The phrase was inspired by an episode of  Happy Days where Fonzie apparently jumps over a shark or something like that.

A lot of pundits who blab about TV shows point out that a lot of television series “jump the shark” when one of the main characters gets pregnant and has a baby, then the producers of the show have to scramble around and hide evidence of the actress’ pregnancy during shooting, then figure out a way to include the baby in the future storyline without impacting the original vision for the show.

Alias is a good example of a show like that. Once Jennifer Garner got pregnant, you could tell the producers had a hard time maintaining the momentum of that program. The story slammed into a wall. Now, don’t accuse me of being sexist, I think it’s great when actresses are able to have children and continue their careers, it’s just that many believe when a main actress in a TV series has a child, there’s no question it radically alters the story arc. And quite frankly, the story often becomes absurd. How can you realistically be a globe-trotting, kung fu, secret-identity crime fighter when you just gave birth, and realistically have to take care of a newborn? Not saying it’s not possible, and that is certainly a great symbol of ultra-feminism, I’m just saying in the real world, it would be pretty hard to breast feed your baby while dodging bullets from terrorists. It’s just hard to make the baby fit into the story when clearly a child was not part of the master plan.

I think the same thing that happened to a show like Alias happens to FF after Sue has her baby. You can tell Jack isn’t sure exactly how to handle having the baby fit into the story without turning FF into something different — basically your typical husband and wife raising a kid, while also fighting crime. Combine that with the fact that Jack isn’t giving Lee any new characters, and the 9-year FF story seems to hit a wall with this book. In FF # 88,   literally the characters just sort of stand around and look at the walls, shoegazing.

Some comics experts have argued these late FF books are not as good as the first 9 years. And in some ways it’s hard to disagree — starting with this book, I don’t really see much of a progression taking place; the characters just seem to be going through the motions. That being said, I do think this was a conscious decision on Jack’s part, to basically put the car in neutral for awhile until Lee/Goodman gave him a better deal, and I personally love the art in these books despite the lack of new characters and consistent explosive action… but that’s due in large part to nostalgia. This is probably the first Kirby/Sinnott book I ever bought off the newsstand, unless one of my friends bought it and I traded for it; when I was about 10-years-old the first Kirby book I ever read was “A House There Was” in Marvel’s Greatest Comics # 70 (May 1977).

I remember that splash vividly. How funny is it that Reed’s right hand is backwards. This being one of my first comic books that I studied as a 10-year-old, no wonder my perspective is so awful.

There’s almost no action in this book, but the artwork itself was so beautiful, as a kid, being exposed to Kirby/Sinnott for the first time, I still fell in love with their style. I have very fond memories of this run because I was able to find all of the following Marvel’s Greatest Comics books at the local 7-11. Marvel Kirby reprints in the late 1970s (including reprints of Jack’s Captain America stories) were one of the only comics series I was able to find on a regular basis at the 7-11, which may mean Kirby reprints were bestsellers and that’s why Marvel or 7-11 or the local distributor made sure to have plenty of them on the spinner racks each month.

Since these scans are poor,  here are 5 more pages below. Back around 2002 or so I had a chance to buy the original art to page 14 on eBay. I almost bid on it, but it was selling for about $1000 and I didn’t want to make that kind of an investment on one page. I think it ended up selling for about $1,100 or $1,200. Now I’m kicking myself for not buying it. That was probably the best chance I’ll ever get to buy a Kirby/Sinnott FF page for that low of a price. But if you’ve bid on eBay before you know how that works, if I had gotten into a bidding war with somebody, the price could have gone up hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Classic Kirby/Sinnott Artwork – FF Annual # 6

Fantastic Four Annual # 6 (Nov 1968). This is probably my favorite comic book of all time. You have the ultimate story here. 3 heroes: a husband, his best friend, and his wife’s brother,  journeying into a dangerous, unknown realm to bring back a magic cosmic elixir that will save the life of the couple’s unborn child. No, they are not saving the world here, but on a human level the stakes here are huge. This is a great story about family, friendship, and sacrifice. And once again Jack knocks the ball out of the ballpark. How Kirby was able to crank out a 48-page epic like this in addition to all of his other monthly comics work is amazing. And Joe’s inks are top-notch. Every page is executed to perfection. Can you believe this thing was only a quarter?

And it must have been worth it. This wasn’t your typical Marvel Annual filled with reprints, this is conceivably the most pivotal story in the entire Fantastic Four story arc. If you were a fan of Kirby’s FF in the 1960s, and were able to find this issue on the spinner rack at your local store back in 1969, it must have been like finding a little treasure. In some ways this book represents the conclusion of Jack’s 10-year Fantastic Four epic. There’s still plenty of great stories and art to come before Jack leaves for DC in 1970, but if you’re charting the progress of the overall FF family storyline itself, this book has to mark the peak of the curve. And you gotta love a happy ending — 3 panels from page 47.

If you’d been following this story for 9 years, and had any kind of emotional investment in these characters, I’d think some readers may have had a little tear in their eye after turning that page.

Flipping through this book for the first time in years makes me realize how stupid Martin Goodman and Stan Lee were to let Jack go. You think Marvel is valuable now? If Goodman and Lee had just made a tiny effort to work with Jack and give him a fair deal then really let him unleash his imagination, Jack might have given them another 20 years worth of new characters Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm could be exploiting today.

FF Annual # 6 is jam-packed with action, terrific splashes, great cosmic vistas — it’s a masterpiece if you ask me. 48 pages really gives Jack plenty of room to work with. I encourage you all to go on eBay and buy this thing if you’ve never seen the published book. I guarantee everyone here will have a different opinion, but if someone asked me to hand them one book that I thought really captured the power, potential, and even the magic of the old newsprint comics, I’d hand them a nice copy of Fantastic Four Annual # 6 from 1968.

Since it’s 48 pages and almost impossible to pick only 4 pages, I’m gonna post 8 below. Also here’s the image on the front inside cover, I don’t know if that’s been reprinted extensively.

Classic Kirby/Sinnott Artwork – FF # 86

Thanks to several readers who let me know I made a mistake in yesterday’s post: this Dr. Doom storyline was a 4-part story, not 3 parts. I went ahead and corrected that.

I know in some ways I’m doing a disservice to the Kirby/Sinnott artwork because many of the scans I’ve been posting are not very good — they don’t come close to capturing how beautiful the published artwork is — but I can only use what I have in my files, so my hope is that I’m at the least giving you a taste of the Kirby/Sinnott FF run.

Obviously, ideally, at some point the Kirby Museum will be able to create an archive with ALL of Jack’s art scanned from the original publications at a very high level of quality. In the meantime, like many of us simply experimenting with online communication, all I can do is scratch the surface here at Kirby Dynamics and give you a kind of ghetto Kirby/Sinnott FF retrospective. They deserve better, but I hope this is simply one step in the process where comics professionals, the comics industry, and comics historians recognize the importance of the Kirby/Sinnott collaboration. And I assume many of you own the original books, or have the reprints you can reference, or are part of various file-sharing networks so you can download HD copies of the material.

Since the scans are not that great, I’m going to post 6 pages from this book. It’s a classic Kirby/Sinnott masterpiece packed with action. Again, the only thing that really differentiates this material from the previous FF books is the fact that Jack is not introducing new characters. Many comics experts suspect the reason for this is that Jack was in some ways “on strike” — he was not going to give Lee/Goodman new creations until he started to receive a well-deserved writer credit for his stories, in addition to promised royalties for future sales based on his creations. And as we’ve seen, not only did Jack never get that writer credit on FF, not only did Jack never get a penny in royalties on all the characters he created in FF, but to add insult to injury Stan Lee went on to take 100% solo-creator credit for every single character Jack introduced in FF (except Silver Surfer). So when you think about it, Jack did a pretty damn good job on these books despite the fact that the stress and frustration he must have been feeling at that time had to have been hard to deal with, not to mention the pressure he was under to write and illustrate upwards of 3, 20-page stories a month, something I doubt anyone on the planet would be able to pull off today while maintaining the high level of quality Jack excelled at.

Here’s a good article that discusses how the Prisoner TV show probably influenced this storyline: Jack Kirby’s The Prisoner. Here are two great excerpts from this article written by Ryan Brlecic:

Kirby’s fascination with The Prisoner in fact dates back at least as far as Fantastic Four #84-87, which would have been produced in 1968, the very year The Prisoner was first broadcast in the US. That story focuses on a Latverian village constructed by Dr. Doom to entrap the Fantastic Four, a village in which the falsely-smiling peasants seem just as cowed and evasive as the inhabitants of McGoohan’s village. Stan Lee later (October ’69) acknowledged this story as an homage to/parody of The Prisoner – clearly, the concept lodged itself in Kirby’s brain soon after, or even during, the TV show’s original run.

You can read into Jack Kirby’s Prisoner as an allegory for his own professional status in the mid-’70s. It is a story about a man who resigns his position “on matter of principle,” only to find that he is once again is in the grip of an indecent power. He left Marvel, then felt frustrated with his ambitions at DC, and then his ultimate return to Marvel which saw him no better. Jack Kirby has been nicknamed “The King”, but I believe secretly he was “The Prisoner”.

I’ve suggested in the past that in addition to being influenced by something like the Prisoner TV show, Jack also may have been sending Stan Lee a message: if Lee didn’t credit Jack for his stories and pressure Martin Goodman to give him the royalties he was promised, Jack was not giving Lee/Goodman new characters or specifically… new stories. So, for example, for this 4 month Dr. Doom storyline Jack just did a riff on the Prisoner TV show. This was a message to Lee: credit me and reward me or I’ll just use whatever TV show is on as my plot.

But that’s just speculation — of course Jack’s critics have claimed Kirby was lazy and un-creative so that’s why he did this Prisoner-esque storyline, or Jack had simply run out of ideas so he had to swipe ideas from a TV show, or maybe he did just love the show and this 4-part story is homage… but I think clearly history has shown that was not the case. This was a phase. These last issues of FF are a window into Jack and Lee engaging in a chess match — a tug of war. Jack is putting a lid on that volcano of creativity he was so famous for hoping Lee might appreciate the value of his imagination and give him a fair deal.

No, we don’t get an atomic explosion of ideas in these late FF books as we will see in Kirby’s 4W, but I contend these are still classics of comic book art. Particularly, that first panel on page 9 of the Thing smashing that robot is (in my opinion) a classic. I don’t think to this day I’ve ever seen an artist or a filmmaker capture that kind of an impact — when Jack’s characters punched somebody, the results were seismic.

Classic Kirby/Sinnott Artwork – FF # 85

Here’s the cover from the MGC reprint (Nov 1976). This came out around the time I first started reading and buying comics.

Very little action in this story. Almost like a TV show where most of the content consists of talking heads — the characters interacting. Not necessarily sure why Jack chose that approach on this 4-part story (this issue is part 2/4) — but the action really picks up in the next book, FF # 86, so maybe this sequence is Jack giving you a “calm before the storm” moment in the plotline where he’s letting the reader catch a breath and take a break from all the fist-fighting. The focus here is on the character of Dr. Doom which is an interesting departure — the FF are really just supporting characters in this story.

Some have argued maybe Jack’s heart wasn’t in the FF series any longer at this point because he was having problems with Stan Lee (as you know, Lee refused to acknowledge Jack’s storytelling contributions financially or in the credits, and Jack was beginning to realize Martin Goodman was never going to give him promised royalties on his creations), so some have suggested maybe Jack didn’t put 100% into this tale. But the execution of these books to me is impeccable, I see zero loss of quality (just a lack of new characters Lee can claim he created alone) so since I think the consensus amongst most comics historians is that Jack always put 100% into his work, maybe this book is a reflection of both factors: Jack was becoming increasingly disillusioned with his job cranking out new characters for Lee/Goodman so he just drags out the Dr. Doom story, plus Jack was transitioning into a more traditional storytelling approach where he could examine characterization in more detail in between action sequences — specifically he could make the villains more 3-dimensional, which is an approach you will see much more of with his 4W Darseid character.

Here are 4 pages from Fantastic Four # 85 (Apr 1969). I chose page 12 because it captures the lack of action in the story and shows you how beautifully Kirby/Sinnott could illustrate something as pedestrian as pedestrians walking through an old-fashioned town — tremendous wealth of detail in that image.

Some have suggested that page 5 splash of Dr. Doom sitting in his circular control room may have influenced a similar sequence of Darth Vader in one of the Star Wars films (if anyone has a still or screen cap of that image, please send it in). Again, notice how carefully Sinnott delineates every detail of Jack’s technology. In the hands of another inker that image might lack visual power, but because of the technical precision of Joe’s inks, the machinery isn’t mere background, the machines look technically sound… real. A wonderful example of Kirby/Sinnott giving you the classic science fiction motif of man and machine merging.

Darth Vader and Dr. Doom, brothers from the same mother?

Election 2012

I’m sure all of you in the US have either voted or plan to vote today. I don’t usually discuss politics here because the subject is so divisive, but I think the 2012 election is important; the subject of this daily weblog, Jack Kirby, seemed to care a lot about history, current events, and politics; and this blog is about comics (and Jack’s life and work inspired me to start doing my own comics in 2011), so I figured I’d post a few of the politically-related comics I published this week. And for the record, the opinions expressed in these comics are not necessarily a reflection of my own — they are the opinions of the cartoon characters. 🙂

 

aaasss

 

 

 

Classic Kirby/Sinnott Artwork – FF # 84

Looks like whoever made the scans below got them from one of those paperback reprint books Marvel cranked out during the 1970s that were all so chock-full of Jack’s work, but featured Stan Lee’s name on the cover as the singular “author.” I remember reading this series as a kid in one of those reprint packages and thinking, “That Stan Lee is a brilliant writer. It’s amazing how he comes up with all these great comics stories all by himself.” I never paid attention to the captions, I found them immediately forgettable, but the story itself   — the action that took place in each panel, the visual roller coaster — was what I was blown away by. Now it’s safe to say that it’s been pretty firmly established in stone that Jack Kirby was the one responsible for all of those elements I enjoyed so much.

This Dr. Doom series isn’t even really that spectacular in terms of it’s plot, but the way Jack and Joe illustrate the action and reveal the character relationships visually makes this another classic Kirby/Sinnott series. Story-wise it’s a little anti-climactic considering the imaginative masterpieces that came before it, but around this time I think Jack was phasing out of his routine where he would give Lee hundreds of new characters a year that Lee could take 100% creator-credit for, so although I do think the Kirby FF series as a whole starts to lose a little momentum at this point, I personally think all of the Kirby/Sinnott FF art represents a high point in the history of comics illustration and visual storytelling — as a kid reading this stuff in the late 1970s, I just adored the imagery in these late Kirby/Sinnott FF books. Here are 4 pages from FF # 84.

Classic Kirby/Sinnott Artwork – FF # 83

I have nice quality scans for this book, so these images give you a good indication of how the artwork looked in a published book from this period. To me, these pages look superior to any of the reprints Marvel has put out. If I bought collections of old comics in a book format, I’d prefer to have photographs of pages like these instead of the re-colored and doctored stats Marvel uses. We really are witnessing the end of an era — who knows if there will ever be relevant comics published on newsprint again. I included the letters column for this issue as well.