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A Failure To Communicate – Part Five

Thanks to Mike Gartland and John Morrow, The Kirby Effect is offering Mike’s “A Failure To Communicate” series from The Jack Kirby Collector. Captions on the illustrations are written by John Morrow. – Rand

Part Five was first published in TwoMorrows’ November 1999 Jack Kirby Collector 26.

There’s been some response during the course of my writing the “Failure to Communicate” articles that I was being unfair to Stan Lee. Several people have written to TJKC expressing their disappointment in our trying to take credit away from Stan, reminding us of Lee’s contributions, his superior writing skills (comparing it with Jack’s solo work yet again) etc., and citing that, just because Jack left a few border notes, it doesn’t necessarily mean he had anything to do with writing the stories—he was in on the plotting, but Lee was the writer. And of course there’s the old favorite critique of every research writer: “You don’t know because you weren’t there.” (By the way, there was a much larger percentage of letters approving of the articles, for which we say “thanks.”)

Splash page from Journey Into Mystery #111 (Dec. 1964):
Cobra’s lower arm was erased and re-positioned.

Rather than going into a lengthy explanation concerning my opinions of the Kirby/Lee creative process, I thought it would be far more enlightening and entertaining to let the stories try and speak for themselves; thereby giving the reader an example of how a typical Kirby/Lee plot was finalized before printing. In the next few articles I will be showcasing Kirby/Lee stories from various books that they have worked on, the stories to be determined by what original complete stories I can find; I will document whatever is on the original art and print it verbatim for the reader to see. It should not only give us a glimpse into the creative process of a Marvel comic, but reveal the seldom-seen editorial changes made by Stan (and of course, whatever notes Jack left for assist).

Page four, panel two: One of many panels that were used in the limited animation Gantray-Lawrence Marvel cartoons of the 1960s.

In keeping with the theme of this issue, I decided to start with a Thor story from 1964. Whereas some will attest that the Thor stories from 1966-on were pretty much Kirby directing the storylines, this story comes from a time when many believe that Jack and Stan were plotting together, or Stan was creating the plots solo. The story is from Journey into Mystery #111, the second half of a two-parter. The synopsis is: In the previous issue, Loki had increased the power of two of Thor’s arch-enemies, The Cobra and Mr. Hyde. Loki also reveals to them that, in abducting the nurse Jane Foster, they will gain the advantage over Thor. They kidnap her and take her to a specially-prepared house of traps; when Thor arrives and begins battling, Jane becomes mortally wounded. Thor suspends time around the house in order to keep her from dying; with her safe for the time being, he turns to confront his adversaries….

Below are the border notes left by Jack, broken down panel-by-panel; some have been cropped off by the printer, some have been rubbed off from handling. Also, any changes made by Stan will be revealed. Notes followed by a “X” mean that the rest was cut off or not legible. Where no panels are mentioned, no notes exist or were legible. Grab your copy of JIM #111 and enjoy!

(NOTE: This story was approved by the Comics Code Authority on 7/13/64, which puts Jack drawing it in June 1964. Throughout the book, Chic Stone’s bold thick ink brush lines are actually greyish on the originals; the faces stand out as denser black because they were apparently inked separately with a pen.)


Splash: Thor battling Cobra and Hyde X (Note: Cobra’s right arm was erased and re-positioned.)

Page two, panel one; notice how Thor has two right hands!


Panel 1: Cobra and Hyde twice as powerful as they used to be (My note: Thor has two right hands)

Panel 3: With these tactics Thor X

Panel 4: Thor causes wind to blow X (Note: In word balloon, the phrase “—lash out with savage fury” was originally different; only the word “villain” can be made out beneath)


Panel 1: Thor grabs girl and bolts down corridor.

Panel 2: Traps spring up everywhere.

Panel 5: Hammer strikes invisible beam X

Panel 6: Heavy concrete block comes X


Panel 1: Room has been cleared of danger–Thor makes girl comfortable

Panel 2: Thinks situation over

Panel 4: X caution X

Panel 5: Rock tossed in remains X

Panel 6: Odin watches X

Page five, panel three; Kirby intended this to be Thor’s mother, but Lee ignored his intent.


Panel 1: Notices how hard Thor battles for girl’s life—Balder offering to soothe Odin with song

Panel 3: X thinks back X

Panel 4: Thinks of gorgeous goddess–Thor’s mother

Panel 5: Loki breaks in X


Panel 1: Meanwhile Thor comes out to mop up villains

Panel 2: Cobra is too fast–Hyde is closing in

Panel 4: Thor wants to take on the better one first

Panel 5: Both think they are more X

Panel 6: Hyde grabs cobra–ME X


Panel 1: Cobra doesn’t like his attitude

Panel 2: Hurls Hyde

Panel 3: Thor X him back

Panel 4: Cobra hurls X

Panel 5: Thor’s hammer X


Panel 1: Cobra leaps like crazy but missiles catch up with him

Panel 2: He leaps up vent as missiles blow into gas

Panel 3: Meanwhile Hyde attacks Thor

Panel 4: Gas reaches Hyde X

Panel 5: Hyde smashes thru corridor X

Panel 6: Thor throws hammer X


Panel 1: Meanwhile Odin decides to help girl

Panel 2: Gives message to Loki to deliver to healer who lives beyond badlands

Panel 4: Don’t trust X you rat X I’ll take message

Panel 5: Balder rides off across badlands

Panel 6: He’ll never make it–Thor’s girl will die

PAGE 10:

Panel 1: Badlands get rough–One slip and into flaming lake (Note: the word balloon in this panel was originally the word balloon in the next panel, but Stan moved it over)

Panel 2: More danger–Balder sees something that makes him draw sword

Panel 3: Thor pursues Hyde X

Panel 4: Hyde turns on Thor

Panel 5: Meanwhile pushes X

Page eleven, panel six; It was Jack’s idea to mention the Iron Man tie-in here.

PAGE 11:

Panel 1: Thor flips Hyde into ray (Note: Stan’s original caption for this panel read: “Meanwhile back on Earth, Thor’s own battle continues without let-up”)

Panel 2: Hyde stiff as a board (Note: in upper corner is notation “Chic Stone—ST-3-1899”)

Panel 3: Thor props him up X now just X

Panel 4: Slams wall to expose X

Panel 5: Association with Iron Man X

Panel 6: Rewires circuits to X

PAGE 12:

Panel 1: Restores wiring

Panel 2: High tingly effect courses thru circuits of entire house

Panel 3: Cobra, still slithering thru interior is reached byjazzed up effect

Panel 4: Cobra X duress X stop

Panel 5: Comes out X (Note: Stan changes the word “help” in balloon to “Hyde”)

Panel 6: Too weak to escape X

Panel 7: Cobra and Hyde ready for X (Note: the name Hyde in word balloon was originally something else, but cannot be made out)

Page thirteen, panel two; as proof of Thor’s love for her, Jack would’ve had him stay with Jane in the time warp for all eternity rather than have her die.

PAGE 13:

Panel 1: She’s still in bad shape, but house is in time warp so she’s still alive

Panel 2: If Thor lifts time warp she will die–They may have to stay together in time warp for all eternity together

Panel 3: X his touch is death X

Panel 4: Phantom is creature of a X

Panel 5: So Balder makes his sword X

Page fourteen, panel two; note the similarity of Jack’s note to Stan’s dialogue.

PAGE 14:

Panel 1: Comes to forest of sleep–plants give off gas

Panel 2: Covers horse’s head with cape and with superb stamina Balder just about staggers thru

Panel 3: X of swords X

Panel 4: X cape X flat rocks X hooves X

Panel 5: Reaches moving mountains X

Panel 6: Makes it to healer X

PAGE 15:

Panel 1: Thor must lift time warp–it’s a helluva way for the girl X

Panel 2: It’s better that she take the risk of dying–He can become Blake and try to save her

Panel 4: Hammer breaks warp X

Panel 5: No sooner does warp X

Panel 6: Medicine vial X

Panel 7: Medicine is X

PAGE 16:

Panel 1: Warp is lifted–only seconds to save girl

Panel 2: Take this, kid

Panel 3: X sword X

Panel 5: X balder X

Panel 6: Girl opens eyes X

Panel 7: Thanks X

Panel 8: Thor and gal walk X

What conclusions can one draw from this? Obviously something was in the process of changing, since only months before on other originals there are no Kirby notes at all. In the photocopies of Jack’s pencils from JIM #101 (previously seen in TJKC #14 and #18), no notes are visible; and since these are photocopies of pencil art, one would assume that if pencil notes were there, then they’d be viewable. Also, on other pages of original art from pre-1964, no notes are found (other than editorial notes left by Stan). So sometime during 1964 Jack begins the process of leaving notes in the borders of the artwork. Why? Were these to help remind Lee of a story they plotted weeks previously, or guide him through a story he had little input on?

In other books not drawn by Jack, where he is credited as “layout” artist, also from this time (64-65), he leaves even more detailed border notes. Why? Is he laying out art, plot, story, or what; and for whom— the artist or the writer or both? Some speculate that Jack may have just left border notes on the books he drew, having gotten into the habit after leaving notes on his “layout” books; but this JIM #111 story predates his layout books. It’s also well documented that, as time went on, on future stories Jack’s notes become even lengthier, describing characters and events in much more detail.

In future issues we’ll see other examples—judge for yourself what or who’s unfair (and to whom)!

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