Author Archives: Stan Taylor

About Stan Taylor

Avid Jack Kirby fan and scholar Stan Taylor passed away in December 2014. We're honored to be able to present some of his work on the Kirby Effect.

Looking For The Awesome – 18. New Beginnings

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


As a matter of policy, Warner Brothers refused to share profits with its television personnel–including Huggins, its most gifted and indispensable producer. Huggins was directly responsible for the studio’s three most successful series, but was not even given credit for having created Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip, which studio executives dishonestly claimed had been based on properties already owned by the studio. After five years, and growing animus Huggins left Warner Brothers, in October 1960 he became the vice -president in charge of television production at 20th Century-Fox.

There were international undercurrents already at work readying to boil up and erupt. The police action in South Viet Nam was threatening to expand. The small Island of Cuba had just become a Communist satellite when Fidel Castro took over in 1959. Blacks were beginning to stage sit-ins against Southern merchants who refused to serve them. In 1960, the Govt. approved over the counter birth control pills, thus ushering in a sexual revolution. A U-2 spy plane was shot down causing the U S Gov’t. great embarrassment. In. Nov. John Kennedy became the youngest elected president.

On Dec. 5, 1960 The Beatles luck in Hamburg runs out: George Harrison is deported for being underage and working in a nightclub; McCartney & Pete Best are arrested for pinning a condom to a brick wall and then igniting it. The two are told to leave Germany. The band returns home, discouraged.

Comic books certainly needed a shot in the arm. Sales were stagnant and companies were still slowly dying—the residual from the culture wars. It’s possible that Jack Kirby didn’t even notice. Jack was delirious, in Sept, Roz delivered Lisa, the girl from left field. She wasn’t planned, but she certainly was welcome. Once again the Kirby household was filled with the laughter of a newborn. According to Roz; “he (Jack) was a very good baby sitter, because he worked at home. So I was able to get out while he took care of the kids. He had more patience than I did! Like at night, if anybody cried, he was the one who got up and walked the floor with them while I slept. He was great that way.’

JFK, and Jack Kirby were the same age, and both were WW2 veterans, both from the Northeast and both had a vision of grandeur and greatness. They both possessed a vigor and energy that brought out the best in their collaborators. And they both knew the future was in the stars.

From John Kennedy’s May 25th 1961 message to the joint Congress:

Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs

Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share…

First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space;

Now the space race and the Cold War were nothing new, in fact from the moment of Sputnik they were an integral part of the comic books. Jack’s work on Race For The Moon, and as early as mid-1958, in Challengers of the Unknown #3, Rocky (the brawny Chall) volunteers for a space flight in the hopes that it would cut years out of the space race. Rocky would undergo changes while in space and develop super-powers such as flaming on, invisibility, shooting electric bolts, and size changing. Jack’s Sky Masters strip often centered on the space race and geopolitical intrigue. But by the late 1950’s the thrill of the actual space research had lost some of its luster, and JFK saw landing a man on the moon as a rallying cry to reignite our national sense of purpose.

Jack Kirby needed no rallying call, everything he had been doing the last 4 years told him that what the public wanted was a hi-tech adventure strip exploring space and beyond in a positive and imaginative way. Martin Goodman gave him a vehicle.

In Hamburg Germany, the Beatles do their first studio recording when they serve as back-up band to British rock and roller Tony Sheridan. The two day session in June 1961, would lead to their first published recordings.

The Beatles in Germany    At the Cavern.

It’s doubtful that an artform can be considered a part of pop culture without at some time in its infancy it is discredited as being a bad influence on the children who crave it. Comics had their moment in the mid-fifties. Rock music soon followed later in the decade when images of Elvis Presley’s shaking pelvis and Chuck Berry’s leer disturbed the blue noses to apoplexy. By 1961, television had been a staple of mass entertainment for little more than a decade. Yet in that decade it had come under blistering fire for its vapid content. Much like earlier lowbrow entertainment forms like pulp magazines, movies and rock and roll, there were calls for censorship and regulation. On May, 9, 1961 the newly appointed Chairman of the FCC Newton Minow gave what is regarded as one of the most influential speeches of the century when he laid down the gauntlet.

“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endless commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending; and most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”

Roy Huggins’ time at Fox was bitterly disappointing. He managed only one new series for TV- a takeoff of the movie Bus Stop. The titular location served as the focal point for an anthology series featuring the stories of wandering, disenfranchised characters that passed through. After a particularly intense episode starring the teen idol Fabian as a mass murderer, the FCC came down hard complaining about the violence and bad influence TV was becoming for children. Fox caved in and put Huggins on a sort of suspension and cancelled Bus Stop. In a move reminiscent of Wm. Gaines testimony before the House Committee investigating comics role in juvenile delinquency, Huggins criticized Newton. In a memorable article in Television Quarterly Huggins scolded the chair of the FCC and other cultural elitists for allowing their contempt for lowbrow–“their dread of being caught in a profane mood”–to cloud their judgment. Huggins’s essay amounted to a sophisticated and subtle defense of popular culture in an era when television producers did not make artistic claims for their work. “The public arts,” he wrote, “are created for a mass audience and for a profit; that is their essential nature. But they can at times achieve truth and beauty, and given freedom they will achieve it more and more often.” Fox allowed Huggins contract to lapse.

Minow’s description of television’s vapid content could just as easily described comics at the turn of the decade. Void of imagination or artistic flair. The joy had been drained from the artform due to the Wertham witch hunt, and no one had figured how to re-energize it. Most companies were just hanging on as new readers abandoned them wholesale. Jack Kirby tackled it head-on.

Jack moonlighted in 1961 by providing some spot illustrations for the Topps baseball cards. He drew little vignettes spotlighting an interesting fact about the player shown. He shared the duties with other cartoonists such as Jack Davis. One can be sure the extra check was welcome.

In early 1961, in a fantasy story Jack drew a tale of redemption. Headlining Tales of Suspense #22, (Oct. 61) Beware of Bruttu opens the issue; signed by Kirby and Ayers, with no mention of Lee. The absence of Lee on the credits is no small matter; Stan signed his work in the other series. In one sequence his hero, a huge orange brutish monster of a man, with four fingers, and short, ripped pants reacted; unaccustomed to his heft, he smashes through an entrance. The populace panics and he is confronted by policemen who shoot at him. To escape he smashes through the street and flees into the underground mazes. When he reaches his destination he smashes back up to the surface. The hero starts out as a small, timid, milquetoast of a man. Taunted all through high school and college over his size and timidity, he becomes a scientist, taunted even more by his colleagues and his secret love. He fantasizes about becoming large and strong as a fantasy comic book hulk. During a scientific experiment, he knocks into the machine and the resultant surge of radiation transforms him into that same orange, hulking monster. Unable to communicate he flees in desperation as the military is out to kill him. As the army corners him, he realizes that his life would be meaningless if he didn’t see his lost love once again. He wanders back to his home and confronts his girl. Unable to speak, he hears her confess her love for the small scientist and blames the monster for killing him. Shamed into action, he writes a note in the dirt telling her she is safe. He lumbers back to the laboratory and turns the machine up to full. He bathes himself in the radiation dreaming of his former self, and slowly transforms back into the small nerdy scientist. He smashes the machine and explains away the monster as an invading alien. He confesses his love to the girl and they are happy as the story ends. It’s a well written, well paced, and fully charactered story, filled with self-loathing, shame, doubt and redemption. It was published a month before Fantastic Four #1

It’s long been Stan Lee’s contention that the more human, conflicted heroes burst in a blinding flash from his head and started this new trend in storytelling; the result of a suggestion from his wife. Jack always claimed that it was a natural evolution of his patterns that led to the FF. If Jack was right we ought to be able to track down those transitional stories or the missing links from Golden Age silliness to modern naturalistic drama. I think the truth could be found in those issues preceding the FF. One only needs to start at the Challengers of the Unknown and work serially through the monster books.

I mention the above story because I think it answers most of the questions and shows that history of patterns that I rely on so deeply. I think of it as a Rosetta Stone into the understanding of how the Marvel Universe arose. Kirby’s fantasy stories were unique. They were also formulaic. There was always an underlying base of common sensical reality in the human reactions and interactions. The patterns show a multiple use of the small, timid, nerdy meme we find in the super-heroes such as Spider-Man. The human transformation from radiation was the major repetitive element in the super-heroes, first in the Fantastic Four, then the Hulk and Spider-Man. We see Jack evolve from speedo type briefs for his monsters to torn short jagged pants after transformation; as found in the FF, and the Hulk. We see the huge monster unable to communicate and then becomes hunted as a threat to be so much a part of the Hulk. Unrequited love shows up in Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor and as a subplot in the FF. The idea of these humanistic touches only starting in the super-heroes is silly. They don’t begin in the Bruttu story but too many elements converge to be ignored. I find it hard to believe that the two scenes of the large orange brute breaking through the door, fighting the police, and smashing into the underground were the result of coincidence. I see it as the work of a person building on what came before. Yet so many people claim that the personality of the Hulk was so unique and evidence that Stan Lee came up with the hero. They fail to look for the precursors that preceded it; much like the claim that Spider-Man as an angst ridden teen-ager was unique to his origin. The only alternative is to deny that artists build upon their ideas.

Around the same time, Martin Goodman contacted Stan Lee and told him that he had data that told him that DC’s new super-hero team, The Justice League of America -–a group of their solo super-heroes– was selling out its runs. Goodman wanted Stan to do something similar. Stan figured, not another super-hero venture. He cancelled them twice before, but what Martin wanted, Martin got. Stan claims it was at a time of personal crisis where he was lamenting his role in the woeful status of the comic industry. He had always wanted to be a legit writer. But his position was a well-paying one. Stan contacted Jack Kirby and they brainstormed over ideas. They decided that it didn’t make sense to bring back old characters and make a team ala Justice League. Atlas’ old super characters weren’t that memorable, and the last time they were brought back was a failure. They decided to create totally new characters and have them form a team. “I came in with presentations, I’m not gonna wait around for conferences. This is what you have to do. I came in with the Fantastic Four. I didn’t fool around. I said you’ve got to do super-heroes.” Kirby recalls. “It (the FF) was a revolution in the sense that it was now–the superhero had become now…it was everything based on right now and what people saw everyday and might see five or ten years from now.”

Does anyone know if Stan ever read the Challengers of the Unknown?

Stan says his wife suggested that he give this new project his all and write the series as he would like.; a sudden surge of creativity and purpose.

The new team would consist of a brainy scientist, his best friend, a brawny air force pilot, a beautiful woman and her hot headed kid brother; the perfect Kirby team template as evolved from Challengers, to 3 Rocketeers, and Sky Masters; also very similar to Roy Huggins template from the group TV series. The gimmick for the team uniting was to steal an experimental rocket and blast-off in order to beat the Russians into space- similar to the Challenger’s story where Rocky goes into space and receives super-powers. While in space they get bombarded by Cosmic Rays and when the spaceship malfunctions they crash land back on Earth, only to be astounded that they are still alive- just like the origin of the Challengers, with a space ship subbing for a jet plane. Then one by one they notice changes, first the woman astoundingly turns invisible, then the brawny pilot becomes a rocky monstrosity-strong as an ox. Then when the rock-creature swings a tree branch at the scientist, he stretches out of the way and finds he can stretch all of his body to extremes. Finally, the young hot head burst into flames and finds he can fly. Several of these were similar to powers gained by the Challenger who went into space. The idea of cosmic rays changing people is one that Kirby used many times, as early as a Blue Bolt story in 1940. Even Sky Masters had a story arc centered on an astronaut whose personality changes whenever he encounters the Van Allen radiation belt.

Much of the technical data that NASA sent Kirby for Sky Masters dealt with the problems of space radiation. Plus, several recent movies had used radiation as a catalyst for mutations. Kirby said; “At the time, the big topic was radiation. We had recently exploded the bomb and I was looking to create supermen. In all my work, you see the times are reflected. I don’t contrive stories…and I’m not giving you fairy tales. At the time radiation was the big thing and The Fantastic Four came out of those times.” As, it should be noted did several of the Kirby monsters found in Harvey, DC, as well as the Atlas stories. Realizing that it was an act of fate, the four astronauts decide that they should band together and use their powers to help mankind- thematically very similar to the group origin and decision that formed the Challengers of the Unknown. Unlike other super heroes, they at first wore no costumes, rather they worked in jump suits, just like the Challs, and they didn’t hide their actual names behind their team names ala the Challengers. Jack says that if he had stayed at DC working on the Challengers that they would have moved in a similar vein, probably getting super-powers and becoming more cosmic in scale. As it was the Challs fought villains with super powers, and explored the cosmos, and ran into a megalomaniac monarch who wanted absolute power while based in an eastern European duchy. One noteworthy aspect of the Fantastic Four is that each issue would contain one long form story, broken into smaller chapters, instead of the 3-4 stories found in the anthology titles. This was also something Kirby experimented in with the Challengers of the Unknown. No one else was dabbling in this format. No other Atlas title featured one self-contained story per issue. Something Stan had never done before.

Stan named the new group the Fantastic Four and braved DC’s ire by adding it to the schedule without deducting another title. Martin had his team title, and Kirby had his space title. Stan had his soap opera. Fantastic Four hit the stands on Aug. 8, 1961. The issue was inked by George Klein. The author was ten years old that exact day, and bought a copy with birthday gift money. Atlas was ready to explode.

The German Polydor single, My Bonnie b/w When the Saints Go Marching In was released in August 1961 listed as TONY SHERIDAN AND THE BEAT BROTHERS ([Polydor / 24 673) which became a big top-ten hit for Sheridan in Germany. The credit to the Beat Brothers came about because the name Beatles was considered too close to the German word for penis. When released in the UK in early 1962, the credit was changed back to the Beatles. The Beatles had a record! The music world was about to be amazed!

the mod’s in Germany

Just as with the Rawhide Kid, it should be noted, the FF’s personality quirks, and love triangle, soap opera-ish continuity seem to come from Stan, and his teen romance background-again the blending of strengths making for a better whole. This also mirrors closely the relationships found in many of Roy Huggins group shows. It’s important to note that when I suggest that a particular detail emanated from one person or the other, it does not diminish either. They worked together as a team, and though one may have suggested an element, the other might well have made modifications and changes to fit the new story. It was a true collaboration, and neither dominated the other. But it is obvious that most of the concepts and themes originated from Jack Kirby, but not to the exclusion of Stan who surely supplied plot elements and concepts himself. Stan’s contributions seem to be more towards the characterization and human interaction, though Kirby’s romance experience certainly provided him with no lack of characterization skills. This focus on the family unit over plot was a hallmark of the series. Many of the early letters to the editor noted the team dynamic and the squabbling and interplay between the characters as the main attraction of the new title, as well as the monstrous hero-the Thing. Most important, after 20 years producing comics, Stan Lee had a bonafide hit—something he never had before. To Jack it was life as usual—just another hit. Ho-Hum.

This collaboration was magical, the sheer exuberance and imagination was unmatched. Flo Steinberg, Stan’s secretary tells of how when Stan and Jack got together to plot the next issues, she would have to sometimes tell them to quiet down. The boys were so raucous, with Stan leaping about the office furniture, and Jack providing sound effects while acting out proposed scenes that they were disturbing the bullpen employees. Jack never had this sort of playful partnership before. Will Eisner and Joe Simon were always businesslike and calm. But once Jack left the offices, he returned to his own little world, oblivious to what he and Stan had discussed. Stan was the editor, but Jack was the writer-despite what the credits said. “In other words, he (Stan) didn’t know what the story was about and he didn’t care because he was busy being an editor. I was glad because he was doing the same as Joe did. He left me alone,” Jack told Eisner. John Romita, a bullpen artist had a unique perspective of Stan and Jack’s working method. “Sometimes Stan would offer to drive Jack and me home and they would plot stories in the car. That was the interesting thing, I would be in the back seat of Stan’s convertible, and these two giants were up front plotting the future of the Fantastic Four and Thor. Or whatever they were working on. And I would listen- absorbing all of that stuff and getting a big kick out of how they ignored each other. Sometimes I could hear that one was talking about something completely different. It was interesting because it appeared that they would finish their conversation, each thinking that they had convinced the other, when it was obvious to anybody else that they hadn’t.”

They would throw the most outlandish plots around and sometimes talk at cross-purposes, but once Jack was home, all was forgotten and Jack would draw his own stories and when Stan saw them, he had no idea what was going on. They didn’t match up to what he and Jack had talked about. But Stan always had the last laugh, as Jack would say “Stan Lee wouldn’t let me put in the dialogue.” Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon explain in their book Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book;

“With Kirby handling the basic construction of the stories according to the collaborative method of working together, Lee had more time to focus on the dialogue. Indeed, Lee had to focus on dialogue. It was his main tool for shaping the story in the direction he wanted it to go, a way to infuse some of his own personality back into the intense artwork submitted by Kirby. Lee drew on his skill with romance and humor books to provide livelier and more fulsome dialogue than had ever been seen in a super-hero title. Lee’s dialogue indicated not just character type- good guy, mad scientist, street thug- but helped differentiate the characters among themselves in their closest groupings. At his best, Lee gave each character a verbal stamp of identification equal to the visual imprint made by the artists. Lee’s Thing seemed less educated and generally angrier than Mr. Fantastic, who came across as stuffier and more deeply arrogant than the teenaged Torch, and so on. Each major villain also received his own vocal fingerprint. A comic book reader in the early 1960’s might have argued that the elegant competence of DC’s super-hero artists was somehow preferable to Kirby’s rocket-charged virtuosity, but no one could make a compelling case for writing in broad strokes, with all of the characters sounding alike. Few comics had offered writing that could be enjoyed on its own, and none of them had been super-hero titles. Twenty years of benign neglect and creative contempt for the super-hero now worked in Kirby’s and Lee’s favor. Even the smallest changes seemed radical and daring. “

The sad truth is that for most of the history of comics, the writer and the words were the lowest rung of the creative ladder. The artist always felt they were making a creative statement, they were creating something from nothing, but the writers were a collection of has-beens and never-weres, rubber stamping their crude little lurid tales of good and evil, for pennies a page. Jack Oleck would brag about how many times a single story would be used in different books by different companies.

Kirby also did Kid Colt Outlaw

With the exception of possibly Will Eisner, no comic writer ever dreamed of literary recognition for his comic work, and this includes some very impressive writers, such as Jules Ffeifer, Mario Puzo, and Mickey Spillane, who all dabbled in comic books for a quick paycheck. It was up to Stan Lee to try to lift the literary content of the comic book to new heights; not that that would take much, just adapt long recognized fiction writing techniques of character development, and melodrama to the lowest form of storytelling.

It has also been noted, especially by comic historian Greg Theakston that the FF have an elemental subtext to them, the combination of earth, fire, wind and water. This theme had been used by Kirby before, in an issue of the Challengers, they faced a villain who possesses a mystical object that grants him the elemental powers of fire, wind, water and than the solidity and strength of a being rooted to the earth. The Thing is an interesting and unique character. A monster who looks like a mudslide with unlimited strength and a nasty temperament, though heroic at his core. Of all Kirby’s great creations, the Thing might have been his most personal. Jack has been quoted as saying, “He has my manners, he has my manner of speech, and he thinks the way I do. He’s excitable and you’ll find that he’s very, very active among people, and he can muscle his way through a crowd. I find I’m that sort of person.” The Thing was the embodiment of the old Jewish myth, the Golem. The Golem was a very popular figure in Jewish folklore and legend. The Golem is a clay formed manlike creature that is created by use of mystical powers drawing on an elemental basis that are to be found in Kabbalistic lore. He was mindless, and often uncontrollable. His mission was to protect the Jewish population from blood accusations and false threats.

Rabbi Loew of Prague, (Kirby’s ancestral roots) spoke these words after being told by God to create a Golem.

“Four elements,” he said, “are required for the creation of the golem or homunculus, namely, earth, water, fire and air.”

“I myself,” thought the holy man, “possess the power of the wind; my son-in-law embodies fire, while my favorite pupil is the symbol of water, and between the three of us we are bound to succeed in our work.” He urged on his companions the necessity of great secrecy and asked them to spend seven days in preparing for the work. Earth was the principle ingredient and it was found in a loamy riverbed.

The Golem was the source for several early science fiction movies. One earlier comic character, the Heap, a back-up strip in Hillman’s Airboy Comics fit the organic monster/hero template first seen in the Golem, though not the religious intent.

Again we get the repeated idea of elemental formulation or perhaps the original source. Surely the stories of the claylike Jewish protector were among the Old World stories that Mama Rose regaled her young son with, or perhaps passed on by the Jewish mystics who looked over the Jews of the Lower East Side; the same rabbis and Kabbalah mystics who held an exorcism over the 9 year old Jacob Kurtzberg when he was deathly ill with pneumonia. Kirby remembered; “My mother held much faith in this kind of thing. She could not give me up. She called on the rabbis and they all gathered around my bed and chanted in Hebrew: “Demon, come out of this boy,” they said, “What is your name, demon?” Jewish legend and superstition was a major part of Kirby’s upbringing.

Jack never force-fed his religious beliefs to the readers, but the observant eye can find the Jewish influences and inspirations in his work. There was a drawing of the Thing dressed in Jewish prayer garb, complete with yarmulke and shawl while holding the Talmud in a treasured location on a wall in the Kirby household. The fallen angel, the idea of a godlike mythological super-hero coming in times of need was used repeatedly by Kirby. Other allusions to Hebrew mythology would show up time and again in Kirby’s work. The legend of Samson, Atlas, and the angelic “Watchers” and the Nephilim race born of gods and monstrous races that inhabit the Earth turn up in series such as the FF, Thor and the Eternals.

There were always precedents

Per Jack’s usual methodology, just the month before he had been working on a fantasy story that evolved around a man transforming into a big orange monster due to atomic rays. His fantasy stories never went to waste. The hero was a small researcher picked on because of his size. In Jack’s stories everything changed due to radiation, I like the wide eyes and flattened noses.

It has long been a matter of contention over who created the FF; Stan or Jack.

Lee claims he did, and points to a synopsis that still exists, while Kirby claims that he presented the idea based on his Challengers concept. The synopsis can be quickly ignored. It is obviously an overview of a brainstorming session with him and Kirby. Even Stan has admitted that he and Kirby got together before the synopsis. Jack says; “It was my idea, It was my idea to do it the way it was, my ideas to develop it the way it was. I’m not saying that Stan had nothing to do with it. Of course he did. “We talked things out.” It was Stan’s routine to have his notes from these bullpen sessions typed up for later use when he dialogued the presented art. Likewise there is evidence that while they brainstormed, Stan and Jack would sometimes pace and breakdown the story directly on art pages. There are examples showing action lines and character positioning on the backs of several of the existing pages of early FF stories; nothing by way of specifics or dialogue, just a flow of continuity. These pages were taken home for Jack to refer to. The finished pages show that Kirby followed some of the breakdowns while ignoring others.

Stan also states that at this time, he had an epiphany. He was worried about job security and was thinking of quitting, when his wife suggested he do this new book but do it the way that Stan would do if he was writing for himself. To exit with a literary bang, so to speak. Unfortunately comic books are the wrong business for epiphanies. The market was small kids, and that’s who it was written for. But Stan says he brought a newer approach, a more adult, more dramatic, more literate style than he used on other books. If that is so, we should be able to recognize these new approaches.

The best way to see whose the guiding hand on FF #1 was is to look at the actual story. It is usually easy to spot if a writer is the backbone of a story, especially one purposely trying to write a more literate plot. The plot is unusually tight, cohesive and logical- because writers construct in a fairly logical process connecting each element and filling in plot holes for an easy to follow consistent storyline. The best example is Neal Gaiman’s Sandman. The plots are so thick and the stories so tight that even without seeing the script one recognizes whose brainchild this book is. When one actually sees the script it is no surprise to see the writer leading the artists step by step. Artists on the other hand see things visually- looking for a visual punch that catches the eye and moves the story along. They tend to ignore the wordy little elements that tie a story together logically and make it cohesive. Stan explained; “Jack created characters visually.” An artist’ story might look great, but often lacks the cohesive details of plotting that tie everything together. So let’s study the actual book.

Let’s start with the cover.  Stan says he is working mightily to produce a new, more adult, more hip approach to super-heroes, yet he has Kirby make the heroes secondary to the monster of the week central figure.  And no hint that this was to be a different style book, unlike the companion title Amazing Adult Fantasy where Lee makes it very clear that this book was to be a more adult oriented approach (as evidenced by both the title and the blurb). The Ditko book features several small excellent twisty stories.

Perhaps the weakest of Kirby’s covers

The cover of FF #1 is actually one of Kirby’s more mundane covers; the monster even lack’s Kirby’s usual pizazz. The cover doesn’t even present an event found in the storyline. The characters offer nothing dramatic, most are fairly stationary, with no Kirby extreme posing dynamic flair. Mr. Fantastic is shown tied up in ropes- for no apparent reason. There is no one on the cover to have tied him up, in fact, the actual villain isn’t even on the cover; a nice visual effect that has no literary connection

Let’s look at the FF #1 interior to see just what this new, more adult, and more realistic approach to comics looks like.

The story begins with a call to arms, via a flare spelling out The Fantastic Four, very visual, very dramatic, just not realistic.  There is no known flare that spells out phrases. But that’s minor, we next see a fashionably elegant looking woman visiting a friend for a social tea. She spots the flare (from inside) and without warning becomes invisible and departs leaving the “friend” aghast.  She is then “seen” shoving her way into a taxi leaving a trail of disheveled people behind. Unknown to the driver, luckily cruising around at random drives near her destination, at which point a voice tells him to stop, and an invisible hand hands him the fare, which causes the taxi driver to drive away in fear.

So logical—the writer must have been working overtime

Again, visually effective, but plot wise it makes no sense, it’s simple slapstick!  An adult would simply have excused herself from the party, and get a cab to take her to her destination, that way not alarming or hurting anyone, and not leaving the trip to her destination up to the whim of an unknowing taxi driver.  Lucky the taxi driver wasn’t going to Brooklyn! There was no logical reason for her to turn invisible at the first sight of the flare.

Next we see a large hulking figure out shopping for clothes, trying to act incognito, when he sees the flare. So what does he do? He throws aside the clothes and busts through a door, in brown underwear no less, scattering debris and scaring the innocent folk, and when told to stop by a policeman, he runs away forcing the cop to fire at him.  At this time he tears a hole in the street and jumps into the…how to say it nicely…sweet smelling, sanitary sewage system and swims to a point that he believes is near his destination and without warning breaks upward into a busy street and gets hit by an automobile. Apparently unhurt by the collision, he makes his way uptown. The street folk scatter in fear. Undaunted, he goes his merry way.   Why not simply exit the store and return the way he came and not cause a ruckus? Because that would be logical!

Very, very effective visuals, full of energy and power, but in reality, he is now a wanted felon for destruction of private and public property, indecent exposure, resisting arrest, and fleeing the scene of an accident.

Now we cut to another scene.  A typical all-American teenager working on his souped up hot rod, when a friend points out the flare in the sky, immediately the teen bursts into flame, melting his precious car, and flies off to who knows where. Amazingly, his friend say that “you’re turning into a—a—Human Torch” The very name that the lad gave himself when he received the powers; the very type of forced coincidence that a good writer would avoid. He then encounters 3 Air Force jets, armed with nuclear weapons, no less!!   He accidentally(?) melts all three jets–luckily the pilots all parachute to safety– but not before one of the jets fires off a nuclear tipped Hunter Missile (right there over Central City!!!)  Just as the flaming teenager is about to meet his doom, a pair of hands attached to unbelievably long stretched arms shoots up and catches the missile, and hurls it far from the shore where it explodes over the sea; interesting because the man with the stretching ability does not possess super strength. Now the boy has lost his flaming ability and is falling out of the sky.  Quickly the man with the stretching ability bridges several buildings and the boy grabs him and stops his downward spiral. Great action shots, but totally illogical. The section ends with the stretching man greeting the other three and casually thanking them for responding so quickly to his call.  Not one mentioning of the chaos outside the window.

Oh! They have doors!    Don’t writers know nuclear bombs don’t explode harmlessly over the sea?

So the first chapter ends with one member being hunted by the police for various serious charges against humanity, another being hunted by not only the local police, but the FBI, and the military for destruction of Gov’t property, and endangering the lives of 3 pilots, and resisting arrest. And worst of all, a nuclear warhead has just exploded off shore, and the deadly radiation cloud is spreading over the city, and what is the man’s response?  Hi guys, thanks for heeding my call!!!

Is this is the work of a writer hell bent on creating a new, more realistic, more adult, more literate style super-hero book? One where actions have repercussions and the action plays second fiddle to the human interaction? Or one where an artist wants to introduce these characters with a visual bang? Kirby states; “Super powers are a show gimmick. Why does a comedian decide to drop his pants on stage? Or why does a dancer come out and do a certain type dance? The answer is attention. You want the reader’s attention, if you can’t get it with ordinary people; you get it with extraordinary people.”

Maybe the writer is just building up the tension, maybe these run-ins with the local and federal officials will be dealt with later in the story. Guess what, it never happened! This whole chapter is never referred to again; there was no manhunt for the Thing or the Torch, no nuclear radiation to bother the civilians. It’s like it was all a dream. Bobby Ewing behind the shower curtain. Too many things left to chance to read like a well thought out sequence of events.

Maybe this writer with his back against the wall hints at how this was resolved in his synopsis? Nope, not there, in fact there is no mention of any of these happenings in his synopsis.  Where did the ideas come from? Surely this writer who created everything wrote the first 8 pages!!!   This guy with just one last chance wouldn’t leave something as important as the introductions of the main characters up to someone else!

I think why these introductions are visually dramatic, and effective, while literarily incoherent and implausible is simple, they were the creation of the artist not the writer.  A writer looking for natural, realistic, and humanistic plotting would have presented a more logical, coherent plot that lead to, and tied in with the next chapter.    The artist just wants to catch the attention of the reader; the WOW!!! factor.

The WOW!!! factor: The Beatles back-up Little Richard

The next chapter offers a flashback to the origin. Surely this will be more coherent, and internally logical in nature.

It starts out with 4 people arguing about a surreptitious space flight to the stars, a scientist, his lovely girl friend, his best friend, and the girl’s younger brother. The gruff best friend doesn’t want to go, not because it would be illegal, in fact, there’s never a mention of the legal ramifications, but because they haven’t done enough research on the effects of cosmic rays on humans. ( Kirby concern)

So how is this debate settled, not by logic, or reason, but by the woman calling the gruff man a coward, (interesting since the gruff man was a heroic military pilot) and baiting him by way of feigned patriotism into accepting. (very grown up and adult)

Next we see them speeding to the spaceport, and only now do they realize that the woman and the teenager have no training or skills needed for the space flight. This amazingly adult observation is settled by the woman saying “I’m your fiancée, where you go, I go.” And the young boy responding “And I’m tagging along with sis—so it’s settled!”   YEP!!! That always worked at my house, but the Biblical Ruth allusion is particularly nice.

The Kirby family at Neal’s Bar Mitzvah

Nonetheless, the 4 slip into the spaceship unnoticed. Amazingly this spaceship wasn’t controlled by a separate control center; this one must have had the pilot use a key and press on the accelerator, because they managed to lift off with no outside help. And wouldn’t you know it, the man seen earlier arguing about cosmic rays was right and when the cosmic rays hit the ship the pilot loses control and the disabled ship crashes back on Earth. The leader is such a dope, for an egghead. The writer was an egghead also. The problem with Cosmic Rays had been solved years before. At least 4 manned space flights occurred before the Fantastic Four. But one man was aware of the wariness of the Space Agency towards Cosmic Rays. Kirby had been receiving data on just that possibility while doing Sky Masters.

Luckily they survive the crash, but they all react strangely, they begin to bicker among themselves while the gruff pilot plays the blame game. Suddenly, the girl turns invisible, the burly man turns into a rock, the teen ager burst into flames, and the leader stretches.  Just as quickly, all hostilities between them end and they decide to band together as a group, give themselves names, and help mankind.  (very helpful, see first chapter  😉  Would a writer present them in such a jarring, disjointed way? Or, would he provide a logical and interesting flowing context to the events?

Of course there is no mention that they are now wanted for stealing a space ship and flying it with a minor on board!!! Not only are they now felons, they are also incompetent, inconsiderate, and irresponsible. If Stan wanted human frailty, he got it. Worse, there are never any consequences for their incompetence.

Is this silly, incoherent, illogical, mess of a plot the work of a professional writer inspired to do the best he can?  Someone once said something about “it’s the Challs with super powers”, I disagree, at least in the Challs the chapters flowed into each other, and what happened in the first chapter tied into the latter ones, and they acted like adults.  It’s amazing that the example most often given for showing that the FF were more adult and real as compared to the DC characters is that they bickered  like children. No, more likely this was the result of an artist trying to amaze the reader with Bam Bam Pow!! Great visuals of the spaceship, the cosmic rays, and the new found powers. Bad plot, pretty pictures.

Then we come to the final section of the story, the fight with the Mole Man.

What happened to the angst and contrariness? – Some varmits live forever

This chapter, if read separately, is at least a consistently constructed story with a beginning and end, but it still follows the formula used in countless Kirby Atlas monster stories. But when read as a continuation of the first 2 chapters, one realizes that there is no connection, nothing from the first 2 chapters plays a part in this one, except their powers. The only nod to the personality squabbles is Ben Grimm wisecracks at Reed’s expense. But there is no bickering or squabbling among the members. This whole chapter feels like it was tacked on as an afterthought.

Even this chapter has major plot holes and inconsistencies that a beginning writer would have caught, much less one driven to do his best work. Yet it does introduce a very compelling villain; the Mole Man and his underground minions. The visual is part Octavius Alexia from Sky Masters, and Batman’s Penguin, wearing 3D goggles, and swinging a staff. This story has some eerie similarities to the film Superman and the Mole Men. (1951) In both stories there are underground civilizations bent on attacking the surface. Kirby provides some great creatures from a three-headed dragon to a hoard of creepy crawlies. One interesting bit is that while trapped underground, the Mole Man has adapted to the darkness by evolving a bat-like radar sense that allows him to see in the dark-something first seen in The Shield during Kirby’s Lancelot Strong days. Strangely when cornered his cave simply destroys itself and the isolated one is even more isolated.

Mike Feldman, a wise historian has opined that the book reads like three totally separate tales spliced together, and I agree, it’s not the work of one person pouring out all his soul and skill in a last ditch effort to write something memorable. It feels like the work of a committee, with different people doing their own little parts, sometimes in harmony with the other, and sometimes at cross purposes.

One man wrote in a fit of frustration; “I’ve enjoyed many a Fantastic Four yarn in my day, but there was always something about them that never sat well with me. They become the top super heroes of the Marvel Universe, the first family of comics, famous and admired (while mutants are feared and loathed) but all they do is make a mess of NYC and cause trouble, because right here from the beginning they were a bunch of rogue squares (maybe not Johnny, he’s a dunce) that like to mess up and super scientists that take revenge against the world due to their shortcomings.”

Does any of this make sense?

What holds the whole thing together is not the plot, or the characterization, the only redeeming quality this book has going for it is the Kirby artwork, hiding the plot holes big enough for a Kirby monster to crawl thru. No one cares about the repercussions of melting three jets, and exploding a nuclear warhead over the bay when Kirby’s pictures make it look cool. It’s understandable to steal a space ship when it’s designed by Kirby.

It’s the same thing that made the Kirby monster tales so enjoyable, not the formulaic plots, whether provided by Lee, Lieber, or Kirby himself. It’s the visuals, the Kirby monsters. The Kirby excitement! There is nothing in the writing or the plotting that sets it apart from, much less above typical comic book writing.  The only addition is some juvenile behavior, and some wise cracking added by Stan Lee in the dialoguing stage.

Lifted from Challengers of the Unknown – Kirby back where he started

If one was to novelize this story as produced, it would be unreadable. Without the graphics the story falls apart. This story shows no more thought and nuance than the latest Millie the Model offering. It certainly wasn’t any better written or plotted than the Rawhide Kid stories that Stan and Kirby were doing. In fact, it was worse. The Rawhide Kid stories made sense! When showing how skilled the Kid was at shooting, the Kid didn’t shoot his own horse, unlike Johnny melting his own car, instead of opening the door and stepping out first.

Whoever had the genesis for the title is lost in time, but the result was a hit. Stan immediately started getting mail about the new book. The kids loved it. Many complimenting it for the bickering and family feel to the group. The plot holes didn’t matter a bit. This initial response ignited perhaps Stan Lee’s greatest talent, that of huckstering. By the third issue-even before all the early sales results were in, Stan had a cover blurb boldly announce that The Fantastic Four was the “Greatest comic magazine in the world” What chutzpah! Stan might have been shoveling manure, but he was correct. The improvement in each issue was astonishing; Stan’s writing got tighter, the plots more coherent and the characters more complex and inviting. Jack’s art amazed with each creation, whether it be shift shaping Skrulls, or the Miracle Man’s astounding feats of magic. Mr. Fantastic’s stretching ability evolved to an amazing degree, besides simple stretching his whole body could become pliable and form odd shapes like a tire or key. While the Torch’s flames continued to adapt and diversify in ability. The Thing got stronger and more melancholy due to his inability to become human. Even his skin evolved into a more formed exterior. Sue became more matronly and protective of her brood. And her powers expanded as she learned to control them.

The second issue features an invading alien force, The Skrulls are shape shifters. A small pre-invasion force is sent to Earth to do away with the Fantastic Four by imitating them in the act of committing crimes. Falsely accused the FF are arrested. They do escape and track down the aliens. Reversing tactics, the FF now imitate the Skrulls and convince that Invasion force that they face imminent death because Earth is protected by huge, horrible, hulking monsters. Reed shows them pictures cut from Atlas monster comics to scare them away. Jack’s old bluff gambit to scare away aliens bent on domination. Once again we see a plot with huge holes, and the Thing quick to anger and Reed sulking from self-pity for failing to protect them from the Cosmic rays. This issue also shows the Thing reverting back to his human form, and then sadly back to the Thing, a particularly poignant plot element that would be reused time and again.

No more logical than before

Issue #3 has a typical Kirby style hypnotist taking on the team. Not much of a story but the issue does show Sue designing workable costumes for a unified team look. The best thing is that Jack got Sue Storm out of her matronly dresses and into a form fitting outfit. Jack says it was in response to the reader requests. “You’ve got to think of sales, not only of good stories.” This was the issue Stan proclaimed that the FF was “The greatest comic magazine in the world” This was also the issue where Stan first presented a letter page, thus communicating directly with the new fans. Most of the letters are very positive, but Stan does throw in one negative missive from Bill Sarill. “Just finished reading Fantastic Four and must admit to being disappointed. I expect better things from the team of Lee and Kirby. Jack is capable of better art work, and the Thing ought to revert to human form at will as his teammates do. The story also suffers from “Creeping Monsterism” to paraphrase Jean Shepard that has dominated most, if not all your comics for some time.” Bill Sarill would become famous later for his techniques in restoring old pulp magazines and comics that had deteriorated over time. Others disagreed. “I think the Fantastic Four will become a great success. The Thing and Torch are very new and different. I would also like to know what the name of your artist is.” from Alan Weiss. Alan Weiss would go on to become a professional comic artist and work for Marvel. What is important is that Stan proudly listed Jack Kirby’s name on the splash page of every issue, along with his own name of course. Listing credit wasn’t new, but it had gone out of fashion during the 50’s. It was with this issue that Marvel began the new .12 cent price point.

My favorite scene, Mr. Fantastic super-hero hit with a brick

If the Human Torch was a reboot of an earlier Timely character than issue #4 would go one better, and reintroduce an actual Golden Age Timely character. The return of the Submariner in issue #4 connected the new characters with everything that had gone on before the FF came to be. The Submariner was an amnesiac living in a flop house in the Bowery, a low life section of New York (yes Central City had morphed into New York) and soon to be the temporary residence of the Torch after he had quit the team in disgust at the end of issue #3. When Johnny uncovers the bums’ real identity he shocks the Submariner back to reality by throwing him into the ocean. One might question why the Submariner’s memory hadn’t returned while taking a bath or shower or a nice swim in a pool, but such were the plot holes in early FF’s. Unfortunately the Submariner is no nicer than he was in the war years when he and the original Torch would battle endlessly. When the Submariner sees the destruction that mankind has done to the oceans and his lost people he vows renewed vengeance and once again attacks the surface people. The Torch is forced to rejoin with the group in order to fight the threat, and the Thing saves the day when he destroys a giant monster called up from the depths by Subby. He provides a particularly nice scene with the Thing carrying a nuclear bomb on his back. Another interesting subplot is that the Submariner falls for Sue in a big way. This underlying love triangle would last for many issues.

Looky at what I caught

In issue #5, Jack introduced a villain who would become an archvillain for all time, right up there with the Red Skull. Dr. Doom was a twisted genius whom had attended college with Reed Richards. But his talent was warped with a base fascination in the occult, and the nether world. One day while doing an experiment, something goes wrong and an explosion occurs. While he lives, Dr. Doom is disfigured, and worse expelled from school. He then heads off to Tibet to seek more forbidden secrets. Dr. Doom has now returned, cloaked in medieval garb and an iron mask hiding his ravaged face. He kidnaps Sue Storm in order to force the FF to help him retrieve an artifact lost in time. Doom wants Blackbeard the Pirates’ treasure and he has invented a time machine to send the FF back in time to get it. While back in time the FF don less conspicuous clothing and are shanghaied and taken to a ship. There they easily overtake the crew and set out to find Blackbeard’s ship. Once they find it they quickly defeat the pirate crew and take it over. There they find the treasure. After a brief fling where Ben forgets himself, they are returned to modern day and confront Dr. Doom. It turns out that the treasure contains some jewels that belonged to Merlin the magician and contain mystic powers to make the owner invincible. Very similar to the Challenger’s first adventure where they are hired to unravel a puzzling box that the Sorcerer Morelian knows hides a mystic stone that promises immortality. Thanks to Sue’s quick thinking the FF defeat Dr. Doom, but he does escape by the use of a hidden rocket harness.

Sue saves the day

Issue #9 would see the return of one of Jack’s more popular themes, the movie production where the heroes are meant to die, only this time the villainous producer is the Submariner. There is also a sub plot about the FF being broke and needing money and turning to Hollywood to make a quick buck. #10 would feature another old S&K bit when Jack and Stan become part of the storyline. The inking which had been uneven really steadied when Dick Ayers took it over in issue #6.

In issue #13, John Kennedy’s dream is finally achieved and long before the end of the 60’s. The FF go to the moon, battle with Commies and super apes, and find a quietly powerful being living there. The Watcher is Kirby’s first and best example of a Kirby icon, the passionless observer, (similar in nature to the Jewish Watchers- angels tasked to watch over humanity) whose job is to observe and record, but not to interfere. The Watcher becomes a very important part of the FF’s extended family.

These continuing plot elements and connected issues, and full issue storylines were a big draw to those kids used to 3 stand alone stories from the competitors–which Stan good naturedly called Brand Ecch!!! The plot holes continued, and no error, such as the Torch having two left hands on a cover went unnoticed, but instead of worrying, Stan made them into a rally card when he began offering “No-prizes” for the best explanation for those muffs. After FF#1 was issued Roy Thomas, an editor of a fanzine named Alter Ego reviewed the mag. He was not overwhelmed; he thought Lee and Kirby could do better. But by issue #5 Roy writes a letter to the editor. “FF#3 was excellent! The feud angle made it all the better though, particularly the ending. The continuity in FF is all that could be asked. I’ve just subscribed to FF for two years—I hope it runs much longer than that.” Each month more and more converts were buying the book. It was a smash, Kirby had worked his magic once again, and this time with a new partner.

The audience of comic readers had changed by the early 60’s, perhaps due to the Wertham crisis. It had become an older, more mature audience, after losing a few years recruits during the cultural debates. It was also a smaller audience. Even long time staples like Superman and Donald Duck were losing readers. The smaller audience had developed a clannish feel. EC comics had fed into that fannish base when they formed a club and started direct communications with the fans. It had died down with the demise of EC, but small little groups continued and some even formed clubs and began printing booklets talking about their obsessions. The first may have been Dick Lupoff’s Xero #1 in September 1960. This was more sci-fi based but did feature articles on Golden Age comics. In March 1961, Roy Thomas and Jerry Bails started Alter Ego.

Alter Ego #1 Roy Thomas’ unique pencils – Xero #9 led to All in Color for a Dime

This was much more focused on comic books. It was in this pamphlet that Roy Thomas printed his lukewarm review of Fantastic Four #1. Soon after, Don and Maggie Thompson started Comic Art. While just a small portion of the comic buying audience, they continually communicated with the editors, they had a sway over the editors much larger than imagined. Stan Lee was well aware of them and played up to them. In the first letters page, he notes. “We’ve just noticed something…unlike many other collections of letters in different mags, our fans all seem to write well, and intelligently. We assume this denotes that our readers are a cut above average, and that’s the way we like ‘em.” The letters columns are full of letters from early fanzine members. The aforementioned Roy Thomas, Bill Sarill, Ron Foss, G.B.Love, Paul Gambancini and many others communicated constantly with Stan Lee. Future pros like Dave Cockrum, Alan Weiss, Steve Gerber, and again Roy Thomas were early fans inspired by Stan’s snake oil salesmanship. The fanzines had started an awards program named the Alley Awards, after the early comic strip, Alley Oop. The first few years’ winners were all DC stalwarts, and very super-hero centric, to the point of ignoring all other genres. In 1961 for example, the winner for best book was Justice League of America, and best artist was Carmine Infantino. What wasn’t mentioned was that the results were based on fewer than 200 ballots. By 1963, Marvel had completely turned the balloting on its head. Best comic award went to Spider-Man, top group went to the FF, best editor and writer was Stan Lee, but Carmine Infantino still maintained his death grip on top artist. Whenever Marvel won an award, Stan was quick to publicize it.

To further play to this captive audience, Stan started an in-house club called the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Stan became the ultimate carnival barker. Stan’s letter columns and editorial box was a major part of connecting directly with the reader and making him or her feel like a close family. Stan described the editor and artists as a small tight knit group of happy guys living the Marvel life. The bullpen, as Stan referred to them was led by Uncle Stan, and the artists all had funny monikers like Darlin’ Dick, and King Kirby; they even produced a record that went out to club members where the artists (except for the reclusive Ditko) talked to the listener and joked about Stan. The reality was somewhat different. Kirby recalls the early years at Atlas as a time of desperation; “No, there wasn’t a sense of excitement. It was a horrible, morbid atmosphere. If you can find excitement in that kind of atmosphere—the excitement of fear. The excitement of ”What to do next?” ….It was desperation, but it was a creative desperation because that’s when a man really begins to think hard.”

The whole point was to make Marvel feel like an exclusive, but small, privileged and desirable country club. Nothing appeals to youngsters like being part of an in-club, and nothing was more “in” than Make Mine Marvel!!! Stan was sophisticated and cuddly at the same time. Stan even used the exclamation “Excelsior” from the beat humorist Jean Shepeard as his sign-off. Stan became an irresistible force, and the readers his obedient followers. Unfortunately his bombast which started as we, we, we, soon seemed to become I,I,I. as Stan’s soapboxes morphed into little advertisements for the greatness and majesty of one Stan Lee. Stan Lee went from cheerleader to public face and focal point of all that was good about Marvel.

Success breeds success, and if a comic company has a hit, than they will spawn more of the same. So it has always been. Martin Goodman was happy with the sales figures of the FF and asked for another title. And just as before Stan called in Kirby and they brainstormed. The character getting the most response was the gruesome Thing, so they figured another monster might work. Just a month earlier Kirby had done a Dr. Jekyll -Mister Hyde take off for one of the fantasy titles. “The Midnight Monster” appeared in all his transformative horror in Journey Into Mystery #79. This character drank a serum and transformed from a mild mannered chap into a raging monster. The transformation changed him from a normal looking man into a Frankensteinish monster. Kirby had also used this visual on an earlier Black Magic cover. “I did a story… a small feature, and it was quite different from the Hulk we know. But I felt that the Hulk had possibilities, and I took this little character from the small feature and I transformed it into the Hulk that we know today.” “Of course I was experimenting with it, I thought the Hulk might be a good-looking Frankenstein. This idea seemed to click and with further evolution the result was the Hulk–a name that Stan Lee had used repeatedly on the monster characters. Once again radiation would be the trigger for the transformation. The hero was Dr. Bruce Banner, a scientist overseeing a Gamma Ray experiment for the government. Just before the blast, Dr. Banner sees a teenager driving around the blast zone. He rushes out and throws the lad into a trench just as the blast goes off. Dr. Banner is struck full force by the blast, but survives. This bit with the boy in a blast zone was actually borrowed from a Sky Masters episode where young Danny Martin wanders into the blast area of a missile test. Sky Masters sees him and rushes out and rescues him by throwing him into a ditch.

No wonder the first Hulk is gray – again with the fingers 3 or 4

Later at night, Dr Banner goes through a horrible transformation as he becomes a huge mindless beast and goes on a rampage. The only person who can calm him down is the young lad he saved-Rick Jones. He looks like a slightly handsomized version of the Frankenstein Monster, only gray (soon to be green in the next issue) and bulky. The Hulk becomes a hunted beast but he has a habit of destroying bad guys and Commie villains by accident. Another borrowed gimmick is when the Hulk is wounded by gunfire, and when he transforms back into Dr. Banner he is still wounded. This was taken from a story in The Adventures of the Fly #1 from a few years earlier. The Hulk would be a troubled series early on as the creators could never get a handle on the character. Should he be smart or mindless? Transform at night or when angry? Be a force for good or evil?

Neal lived for these special days watching his dad pull his tricks out of his bag. Neal loved sci-fi too, and shared jacks books ideas. “Our time together was full of moments like this. The early 1960s was the era of atomic monsters and bomb fear, so along comes the Hulk. To Dad, the science of the man-monster was in the realm of “maybe.” Could a Jekyll-and-Hyde monster be created genetically? Jack Kirby thought so. Remember, the structure of DNA had been discovered only five years earlier, and the workings were still a mystery.

The cover inker is a mystery; most credit Paul Reinman, some say George Roussos, but Nick Caputo, who I consider in the cream of Kirby researchers has a different, but knowledgeable idea. “…the sparse quality, including the way clothing is inked on Dr. Banner, the lack of detail on the Hulk’s feet and the singular way the face is inked point to Kirby. There is none of the heavy brushwork of Roussos, or the finer line of Paul Reinman. Ayers also would have had thicker brushwork, so I submit this important cover to be inkd by none other than Jack Kirby.” Nick does not come to this conclusion easily. He has been busy comparing inking styles for many years and has published a much longer list of possible Kirby self-inked Marvel covers @

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought the Incredible Hulk to life in the early 60’s, their vision for this character was that of a muscle-bound giant with deathly grey skin.

As the comics came off the press however, it soon became apparent that getting just the right shade of grey was difficult. Sometimes the Hulk came out looking pale and dull, like dishwater, at other times he was almost black. With the 2nd issue, it was decided that the Hulk would become an easy to reproduce shade of green.

Third times a charm – count the Hulk’s fingers and toes

One thing that never changed is that he was hunted by the government, in the form of General Thunderbolt Ross–a hard as nails military type and father to Betty Ross, the love interest of Dr. Banner. This was a love triangle doomed to failure. The Hulk’s antagonists were typical Kirby villains. Aliens bent on domination, Commie warlords, and rulers of underworld civilizations. They even formed a kid gang to help out the Hulk. But nothing could really help the Hulk, after 6 issues he was cancelled. But the Hulk didn’t simply disappear, he was next seen in Fantastic Four #12 in what was the first crossover in the now Marvel Universe. Two heroes from different books interacting wasn’t new, but Marvel hadn’t done it before and now made it part of the continuity of both characters, and a basic trait of the new books. The same month had the Fantastic Four visited by Spider-Man. The Hulk was a founding member of the Avengers, yet he is gone by issue #3. After that, the Hulk would take residence in Tales to Astonish and share it with Gi(ant)-Man. The Hulk also was centrally figured in the first issues of The Avengers as an unstable force that eventually had to be ousted. His place in the Marvel pantheon, and his legendary brutish strength, were secured in memorable mano-a-mano slap downs with the Thing in FF #25 (Apr. 1964) and with the Mighty Thor in Journey Into Mystery #112, (Jan. 1965)

Two heroes are better than one –  in yo’ face highpockets

The Roy Huggins influence was both in the tenor and structure of the stories, and also in the physical depictions of the new characters. Johnny Storm seemed to be modeled after Troy Donahue, the teen idol first seen in Surfside 6 and later in Hawaiian Eye. His sister Sue “Invisible Girl” Storm was the spitting image of the perky bubble headed Connie Stevens, Cricket Blake from Hawaiian Eye. Though Jack said that he modeled Reed Richards after Michael Rennie (of Day The Earth Stood Still fame) he actually looked more like Jack Kelly of Maverick. In the Hulk, the hip, jive talking, hot rodder Rick Jones is an obvious homage to Edd “Kookie” Burns, the ginchiest valet ever to work the Sunset Strip. The borrowed elements such as the family type group, the bickering, the shared universe and the soap opera style continuity that the new comic fans rallied to in the Fantastic Four were the exact aspects that made the Warner Bros shows so popular. Just as Orr and Huggins energized and revolutionized the 50’s television genre, Lee and Kirby re-energised and revolutionized the 60’s comic book universe.

Late ’62 found the Beatles at a critical point. Their local fame was growing, but their new manager, Brian Epstein had bigger plans. The first step was to replace Pete Best as drummer. The new member was Ringo Starr, a local itinerant drummer fresh from another band. The group was now set but at a small price. Pete Best was a very popular member and had many personal fans. The outcry was immediate and alarming. More important, Epstein had leased time at Abbey Road Studios and the boy set about recording their own music in earnest. On October 5, Love Me Do is released and on Oct 16, they made their first TV appearance on a small local teen show People and Places. Pre-filmed in the Cavern on August 22, the show’s producer, Johnny Hamp had this to say: “I first saw the Beatles in a club in Hamburg. They were very scruffy characters – but they had a beat in their music which I liked…I got into a lot of trouble over it. Everyone said they were too rough, too untidy. But I liked them. I put them on again and again.”

In with the new out with the old

On Feb. 4, 1963 Love Me Do is released in Canada, the first official Beatles release in North America. Paul White, then Capitol Canada record executive, explained why he decided to release the Beatles first single: “I used to listen to about fifty new records a week. Then one day I put on “Love Me Do” by a group called the Beatles. I immediately sat up and took notice. The sound was so different, so completely fresh. “I’m certainly not going to claim that I could read the future and already knew how big the Beatles were going to be, but I did like them a lot and wanted Capitol of Canada to get in on the ground floor. I decided to release Beatles’ records in Canada”. The Beatles were about to revolutionize rock and roll.

Stan Lee appears on NY Radio to talk about his new creations. He is praised for adding a freshness and energy back to the comic genre. Stan becomes the go to guy.

Even before any numbers came in from The Hulk, Stan Lee asked Jack if he had any more characters that they could use. And in quick order, Kirby supplied three new ideas. The first was Thor, a remake of a mythological character that Kirby used in a DC fantasy book, and a theme Kirby reused ever since 1940. Thor was the mythical God of thunder who had lost his hammer, a mystical hammer that transformed the finder into the God of Thunder. Donald Blake is a lame American doctor on vacation in the Norway. He accidentally stumbles upon an invasion by rock men from Saturn bent on domination. While fleeing them he hides in a cave and stumbles across an old cane. When he takes the cane and taps in on a rock he is magically transformed into the all-powerful God of Thunder. With his new hammer and great strength, he confronts the Saturn people and defeats them in battle. Worried about being found, Thor stamps the hammer on the ground and once more becomes the lame doctor. Typical Kirby hero and typical Kirby monsters and plot, but the art was amazing. No one could do mythic like Kirby. His costume for Thor is possibly the best he ever did. And the whirling hammer provided more action and drama per page than ever before. Thor started out fairly generic story wise but quickly changed when the stories began adding other mythical characters like Odin, Loki (the arch villain) Balder and Heimdal. His son gives eyewitness testimony; “In the spring of 1962, for instance, I remember standing over the drawing board as Dad created a truly cosmic hero — it was a brand new character but I was confused when I heard his name. Thor? The story was “The Stone Men from Saturn.” My first reaction, before opening my mouth, was “Why the hell is a Norse god fighting rock-pile aliens?” Dad explained the whole origin story to me and how he would work in the entire pantheon of Norse deities in the future.” This mix of modern day and ancient mythology was intoxicating. Thor first appeared in issue #83 of the fantasy anthology book Journey into Mystery.

Jack loved the Thor covers – Chic Stone inks a pin-up

The next character was an update of a story from one of the fantasy titles; much like the Hulk, the scientist and concept starts out in a fantasy book. A scientist named Henry Pym discovers a serum that shrinks him down to the size of an ant. Similar to the movie The Shrinking Man, the scientist encounters great hazards from normal items. Other insects hassle him until he befriends one lone ant. While running from maddened ants, the scientist, with the aid of the friendly ant reach his lab and an enlarging serum that returns him to normal height. For the super-hero update Henry Pym dons a costume complete with a cybernetic helmet that allowed him to communicate with insects, and uses the shrinking serum and his new army of insects to fight crime. The first case is against a typical Commie spy trying to steal secrets from a gov’t project that Henry Pym is working on. The Ant Man’s powers are limited and his foes tended towards spies and petty crooks, and the occasional crazed insect. The series and character never made a big splash, but his strip lasted for quite a while as an ongoing tale in the anthology series Tales to Astonish. The premise did allow Kirby to draw some amazing extreme perspective angles that highlighted the size differentials. In time they modified the serum to allow Henry (Hank) to enlarge as well as shrink and at that time he became known as Giant Man. He took on a female partner called the Wasp, and joined the Avengers.

Pre-super hero not so brave – weak villains but a neat cannon – great extreme perspectives

The next book has a unique history: one that will be dealt with in another chapter. Suffice it to say that when Kirby didn’t have the time, Spider-Man, based on the old S&K premise was turned over to the proposed inker Steve Ditko to flesh out. He appeared in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy, the title that evolved from Amazing Adventures, and immediately disappeared. Jack provided the cover. Another character, Iron Man was shelved for a while. Thor, Ant-Man and Spider-man all appeared the same month.

Ant-Man gets a suit – Ant-Man gets a partner the Wasp

Kirby covers – It was a very good month

A few months later, the Human Torch was given his own series in the fantasy title Strange Tales. Often guest starring the other FF members, this series is remembered most fondly for introducing a string of forgettably inept villains, like Paste Pot Pete, Plantman, Asbestos Man, and Living Bomb. Most of the writing was by Larry Lieber and Robert Bernstein. It showed. Strange paradoxes, such as the Human Torch, long known as Johnny Storm takes on a secret identity. This is never explained and ended just as quickly.

Some good covers but lousy villains

Both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were stretched to the limit. Neither could do all the work on the new titles. Steve Ditko did the artwork on the last issue of the Hulk. Stan turned the writing on Thor, Human Torch and Ant Man over to his brother Larry Lieber, and Robert Bernstein. Robert Bernstein was a long time comic writer, mostly at DC, he was a neighbor of Kirby’s. Bernstein said that he would often time his trips into the city to match up with Jack’s. He would sit next to Jack and pump him for characters and plot lines that he could use for his stories. After a few introductory issues, the art on Thor was given to artists like Al Hartley and Joe Sinnott. Ant Man was given to Don Heck. But it seems that whenever a new important character was introduced, Jack was brought back to pencil. Jack returns to Ant Man to introduce the Wasp, and the first appearance of Giant-Man. On Thor, Jack returned for the introduction of the Radioactive Man. Many of the plots, even when Jack didn’t draw them were by Kirby. They reprise stories from his DC fantasy days.

In late 1962, Lee and Kirby rebooted another old Atlas western hero. The Two-Gun Kid returned in issue #60 totally updated by Kirby with a new alter ego, Matt Hawk. The premise seems to have been borrowed from the popular film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This series played more like a super-hero title than a straight western saga. Jack stayed with this character for 3 issues and then turned it over to Dick Ayers.

Also in late 1962 Iron Man was taken off the shelf. No one knows why it had been shelved but the concept was turned over to Don Heck to pencil. Iron Man was basically a huge metallic shell with a man inside working the controls. It should be noted that in one of the final Challengers issues, Prof Haley incapacitates a sentient robot and climbs in and takes over control of the metallic shell. He is jokingly called “tin man” by the others.

Don Heck was chosen to draw Iron Man. This was also at the time that Jack was incapable of drawing more characters. Don recalls with horror being told he was to do Iron Man, until he was told that Jack Kirby had already plotted the story and laid out the cover. Don was ecstatic, he recalls that “the main reason the super-heroes existed was because of Jack Kirby.”

To continue Stan’s heroes with problems schtick, the man inside the machine, Tony Stark, was forced to wear it or die from shrapnel too near his heart. He was a prisoner of his suit. The basic plot is taken from a Green Arrow story that Jack worked on about an American weapons expert captured by a Southeast Communist army and forced to manufacture a weapon to defeat the American naval presence off the coast. The American agrees to help but secretly creates a weapon he can turn on the enemy; in Iron Man’s case an armored suit with high tech weapons and an invulnerable skin, worn by the injured armorer, trapped behind the lines in Viet Nam. Stan Lee constantly claimed that Iron Man’s power came from miniaturize transistors, never understanding that transistors are not a power source, but the kids didn’t care, it was a neat catch phrase.

It should be mentioned that Iron Man was a good reflection of what was happening with technology in the real world. The transistor was invented in the post-war 40’s by Bell Labs. But it wasn’t until 1958 that inventor Jack Kilby came up with the “integrated circuit” that the computer age became personal. It took till 1959 for Texas Instruments to make it usable. With the new integrated circuit, computers and electrics could be made small enough for the individual to use. The next major leap occurred when Texas Instruments perfected the silicone wafer that was easier to produce, and a wider range of uses. Military transistor use in such items as walkie talkies began in the late ‘50’s. In the early 1960s the first electronic integrated circuits were developed and manufactured in the U.S.A. Although initially incorporating just a few transistors and other components, due to the reduction in the size of the circuit boards required they immediately saw use in hardware for the military and the “space race” with the U.S.S.R. Chips were also developed for use in the mainframe computers of the time where they gave increased functionality. For the public these first showed up in small transistor radios, and personal calculators. In 1962 American manufacturers dropped prices of the new transistor radios to as low as $15. The science magazines promised a future full of small personal gadgets for personal use.

Don Heck used the Kirby proposal together with the reduced size and cost. As for the cover; Don Heck tried to explain some of the confusion;

“I did the first Iron Man story. They have it listed that Jack Kirby did the breakdowns, but that’s not true. I did it all. They just didn’t bother to call me up and find out when they wrote up the credits. It doesn’t really matter. Jack Kirby created the costume, and he did the cover for the issue.”

The use of Communist aggressors was prescient. While this story is being produced, the most urgent crisis of modern time was occurring between the U.S., Soviet Union and Cuba. In October 1962, in retaliation to the U.S. missiles in East Europe, the Soviet Union began sending missiles to Cuba. The U.S. threatens to invade Cuba and destroy the missiles. The U.S. and the Soviets went eyeball to eyeball for three days until the Soviets blinked and a negotiated settlement was worked out. The crisis would be the low point of the cold war with the closest the two powers would come to direct conflict. The perceived win sealed JFK’s legacy. Marvel would use the Commies as enemies in all their new series. Stan Lee says he based the personality of Tony Stark on the wealthy industrialist Howard Hughes. The story appeared in the March issue of Tales of Suspense #39.

Jungle crude – sleeked up in the home front

Kirby drew some stories and almost all the covers. Curiously, Don Heck says that on Iron Man the covers were drawn first and Kirby designed the costumes for most of the villains. No other Marvel artist has ever said the covers were done first. The original iron suit was a clunky plain mono-colored suit reminiscent of deep water diving gear, but consistent with what a creator might make with the limited access to hi-tech machinery in a forced labor camp. After a dozen or so issues, Steve Ditko redesigned the suit into a modern sleek colorful suit that looked great. Shell head, as he was commonly called, was a long running member in the fantasy title Tales of Suspense, plus The Avengers.

By early 1963, the Viet Nam War was heating up and probably in response to DC’s Sgt Rock series, Martin Goodman asked for a new war comic. Stan, feeling his oats says that his new formula would work on any genre and contacted Jack Kirby. A few years earlier during the monster days Jack Kirby had run into John Severin, his old friend from the Prize years.

Jack was still pushing ideas for newspaper strips and he asked John if he wanted to collaborate on a war based newspaper strip. Severin explained; “The story would be set in Europe during World War 2; the hero would be a tough, cigar smoking Sergeant with a squad of oddball G.I.s-sort of an adult Boy Commandos.” Now Jack, never one to forget a project told Stan about the premise, and sure enough Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos became the new series. The formula continued; Kirby supplied the premise, and Lee added in characterization. Sgt. Fury expanded upon Jack’s group template, yes it had the stoic hero, the brawny Irish second in command, a hot head, and a Jewish mechanical wizard, but it also had a black bugle player, an Italian lothario, a Southern good ole boy, and a stiff upper lipped officious Brit. Black characters were so rare that the colorist mis-understood on the first issue and made Gabe Jones pink! Perhaps he knew there were no integrated units in WW2. Though their tales were as outlandish as the Boy Commandos, they also had a serious side where reality could intrude by way of occasional death in the field of battle. Kirby’s battle scenes were as electric as the ones he drew for Foxhole. The stories had a breadth not seen in the other Marvel series. They dealt with serious topics like racism, and cowardice, and camaraderie in the face of death. The Nazis were as mean in Sgt. Fury as they had been in the wartime books, and took their job seriously. These were no buffoon Nazis-no Colonel Klink and Sgt Schultz, these were the real deal. The predicaments that the Commandos found themselves might be humorous, but never the enemy. When relating war stories Jack was quick to tell everyone that the Nazis, especially the SS, were professional in every way, they were not to be toyed with. Kirby says that several tales and elements were loosely based on his experiences in Europe, perhaps none more than the depiction of war torn Britain.

For his part, Stan had enlisted in WW2, but he never saw combat as he was stateside writing training films. Stan’s dialogue on Sgt. Fury may have been his most evocative and sympathetic. Stripped of the bluster needed on super-heroes, Stan captured the tone and frailty of real humans. The forced humor in the heat of battle, the braggadocio needed to hide the fear of death, and the true patriotic fervor found among the vets were all dealt with by Stan in a manner opposite the heavy-handedness of the hero titles. The emotions were real, and the feelings were well captioned. The Howlers were fully developed individuals.

Kirby always found ways to get them on the same page.

Fury’s love affair with the veddy British Pamela Hawley was particularly well done, never forced or unduly melodramatic, even when she loses a family member. This series was also a hit, lasting many years. Dick Ayers took over fairly quickly.

People died, and life went on.

Flo Steinberg tells of a chilling coincidence between Kirby’s Captain America experiences during WW2 and Sgt. Fury. It seems that not everyone was thrilled with the jingoistic anti-Nazi nature of Sgt. Fury, and one person sent a letter to the bullpen threatening to kill them. It turned out to be nothing, but the FBI was called in. Shades of Simon and Kirby!

After a short hiatus, Spider-man returned in his own title. Kirby did the cover for that also. It seems that Ditko was another artist who flourished with the freedom to plot and pace his own stories. He took to the Marvel Method with ease. Steve Ditko was doing wonders with Spidey. The first issue was boosted by guest stars the Fantastic Four. Stan was having a blast intermingling the new characters and storylines. But Ditko was also creating another character. Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme was everything Dr. Droom wasn’t. Though sharing a common origin gimmick, (dying Tibetan mystic passing on his secrets to an American doctor to continue the fight against evil mystics) the new Dr. actually fought beings of the occult and figments of the human psyche. His battles took him to unknown dimensions, and into battle with Nightmare, and other psychic entities. Ditko’s talent for rendering strange dimensions and unreal vistas bordered on the surreal. They had never been so extraordinarily rendered before, or since. Many readers mistook him for one of the new breed of artist using mind expanding drugs for inspiration. Nothing could be further than the truth. Steve was as grounded in reality as the next person, maybe more. Drugs were anathema to him. Sales were never great on this feature.

If it wasn’t drugs, you explain these scenes

Jack would also co-create 2 more series in 1963. The first was what Martin Goodman had asked for back in 1961; a collection of recognizable heroes thrown together as a group. All of Jack’s solo heroes, Thor, Hulk, Giant Man, Wasp, and Iron Man banded together to form the Avengers. Their villains were the worst and most powerful, and required the combined might of the assemblage. The Hulk was problematic as he was uncontrollable. He was in one of his paranoid rage periods and by issue #2 stormed out when he felt slighted by the other members. While searching for the Hulk, the Avengers ran into and up against the Fantastic Four. In issue #25 and 26 of the Fantastic Four, The Thing was engaged in a mano-a- mano battle against the rampaging green behemoth. In what might be the greatest battle issues ever drawn, Kirby pitted his two monstrosities against each other in a no holds barred match for the ages. (Years later those issues were voted the greatest battle issues ever created) It was the Hulk’s pure might against the pride, the grit and determination of the Thing. In this case pure might won as no matter how valiant, and intelligent the Thing fought, the Hulk just got stronger and meaner. In the end the combined might of the two groups chased off the Hulk, but the Thing was beaten, and broken; a chilling tale of courage, the brittleness of pride, and the resiliency of man. While still hunting down the Hulk, the Avengers run into the Submariner, and battle him to a draw. The crossovers were omnipresent.

Not always on the same page

The Avengers – The great two

On the books issued with a cover date of May, 1963, the little company without a true name found one. From then on every cover proudly carried the MARVEL name and logo. The Marvel universe was now official. In Strange Tales #115 Nov 1963, Marvel test marketed a new hero. The Human Torch faced a villain dressed up as the Golden Age Captain America. The story ended asking the readers to let the editors know what they thought about Captain America. This might have been Marvels first attempt at polling the readers.

Even heroes and villains crossed over note corner images – Forced crossover 

In 1962 Roy Huggins launched one of his most successful creations. The Virginian was another western this time modeled after his group template seen in his detective shows. Comprised of a group of brave cowboys led by an elderly mentor, and a stoic boss, a feisty brawling sidekick and a young hot headed female for eye candy, this show would run for nine years. Lee J. Cobb was tabbed as the elderly mentor; he was another Lower East Side resident who fought his way out. An early member of New York’s Group Theater founded by great director and admitted Communist Elia Kazan. He dabbled in the burgeoning Communist party and had his fights with HUAC. He was called to testify before HUAC but refused to do so for two years until, with his career threatened by the blacklist, he relented in 1953 and gave testimony in which he named 20 people as former members of the Communist Party USA. Later, Cobb explained why he “named names” saying:

“When the facilities of the government of the United States are drawn on an individual it can be terrifying. The blacklist is just the opening gambit—being deprived of work. Your passport is confiscated. That’s minor. But not being able to move without being tailed is something else. After a certain point it grows to implied as well as articulated threats, and people succumb. My wife did, and she was institutionalized. The HUAC did a deal with me. I was pretty much worn down. I had no money. I couldn’t borrow. I had the expenses of taking care of the children. Why am I subjecting my loved ones to this? If it’s worth dying for, and I am just as idealistic as the next fellow. But I decided it wasn’t worth dying for, and if this gesture was the way of getting out of the penitentiary I’d do it. I had to be employable again.” He had seen some friends die due to the harassment. John Garfield, a colleague and friend at The Group with Cobb died a year earlier.

The perfect Kirby template: the stoic leader, the garrulous hot head, the elder mentor

After the horror at Fox, Roy Huggins went back to school to get his PH.D. To pay for this he decided to sell an idea to an independent producer and sit back and collect residuals. The idea became The Fugitive, and the producer was Quinn Martin who bought the rights after ABC turned it down. The premise deals with Dr. Richard Kimble, falsely accused of murdering his wife; given a reprieve when a train transporting him crashes and sets him free from his jailer. Dr. Kimble must constantly move and share adventures with people caught up in interesting moments of crisis, all while being tracked by a relentless pursuer. This Les Miserables-like template would become iconic and copied by writers of TV series and comic stories alike. Huggins has said what he was trying to do was update the iconic western heroes by placing him in a modern milieu. Dr Kimble’s constant tension between pursuit and capture was unique to TV and the reaction was immediate as The Fugitive became a smash. The show aired in the fall of 1963. What set the Fugitive apart from other Huggins series was a distinct lack of humor. The series was relentless in its seriousness, and somber tone. As bad as Dr. Kimble’s situation was, the lives of the people he interacted with were just as sad. Huggins claimed this was a response to what he called “America’s cult of optimism. Some have speculated that it was in response to the assassination of President Kennedy and the cultural upheaval starting in the early 60’s. So great was the mystery that the final episode uniting the two was the most watched show in TV history. Spider-Man with his constant harasser J Jonah borrowed its tone from this show. A one-armed villain played a big part in Deadman- a new series from DC.

The hunter and the hunted – a nation gripped looking for the one-armed man

In Sept. ‘63, George Harrison visited his sister Louise in Benton, Illinois in the USA. While there he would buy a guitar and also sat in at a few clubs performing with a local band called The Four Vests. George also went camping with the family and took in some points of scenic interest in Southern Illinois. Anxious to get the Beatles known in America, George and his sister visit a local Benton radio station one Saturday and met up with a very young DJ named Marsha Schaffer who hosted a 1-hour rock and roll program. There they persuaded the DJ to play “Please Please Me” along with another Beatle single. Marking the first time a Beatle song was played in the U.S.

On Jack’s birthday in 1963, the family got Jack a new color TV. Jack gave Neal his old 10” B&W to cannibalize. “My father couldn’t stop laughing. There was a lot of superhero history flying across his drawing board around that time — remember, September 1963 was the date on the first issue of “The Avengers” and “The X-Men” — but it all took a backseat that day to the mysterious return of Caesar Augustus. Dad had no idea how that coin got inside the television but he did know how it first reached America.

Beatles in 1963

While plotting Avengers #4, the world changed. On Nov. 22, 1963 the world wept for a young lost leader. America lost its innocence that day, Jack and Roz sat glued to the new color TV set like all Americans, sobbing for the end to Camelot. It has been said that Jack Kennedy’s murder robbed us of our innocence. Comic books seemed to become a little harder in the immediate future. Flo Steinberg—the Marvel gal Friday remembers. “It was the first time I ever saw everyone at the whole company listening to the radio. It was a very sad time. Things changed.” America needed a diversion.

On Dec. 10, 1963, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite aired a segment about the Beatles phenomenon in England that was filed by their U.K. correspondent, Alexander Kendrick. This was the first official commentary on the group in the U.S. The story contained a clip of the band performing “She Loves You” along with some interviews.

Sadness and loss

This clip created a strong and favorable impression on Marsha Albert, a 15-year-old girl from Silver Spring, Maryland. She would later be acknowledged by the Washington Post as the Beatle fan that kick started the whole “Beatlemania” craze on USA radio.

However, Walter Cronkite recalled it differently: “In the wake of the [John F. Kennedy] assassination story, nothing else was happening in the world, at least in the United States — stuff that was important, that is. So we actually had an opportunity to use it. “I was not entirely thrilled with it myself, to tell you the truth. It was not a musical phenomenon to me. The phenomenon was a social one, of these rather tawdry-looking guys; we thought at the time, with their long hair and this crazy singing of theirs, this meaningless ‘wah-wah-wah, wee-wee-wee’ stuff they were doing.”

On Feb. 7th the Beatles land at Kennedy Airport in the USA. The young Liverpuddlians are greeted by 3,000 screaming fans. A reporter for the Saturday Evening Post noted: “Anyone listening to a pop radio station in New York would hear a Beatle record every four minutes and anyone listening to a juke box might hear one right after the other.” Beatlemania had arrived!!

If Uncle Walter said it, that’s the way it was – They didn’t listen The Ed Sullivan Show

Feb. 9, 1963, the Beatles debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York; 50,000 fans apply for 728 available seats. An estimated 73 million viewers watch that night. America’s mourning period has officially ended. The collective mindset has been diverted. The country was caught up in a new craze. Camelot gave way to Liverpool. Paul recalled the feeling the band felt while taping. “FEAR, FEAR, FEAR! ‘Cause you know, if somebody made the mistake of saying, ‘Oh, you know how many people are watching this?’ If someone had mentioned 73 million – Ohhhhhhh! So it was very very nerve racking. But you know, by then we had so much practice, that the nerves didn’t show. I can see them when I watch it. I can remember it.”

Avengers #4 hit the stands in Feb. 1964. It opens with Submariner in a rage, he throws a huge block of ice bearing the body of a man into the sea-simply because some Eskimos were worshipping the figure in the iceblock. Caught in the ocean currents, the huge iceblock began to melt and when the Avengers cruised nearby they saw a figure floating in the ocean. When they rescued the figure they recognized the costume the figure was wearing. It was the long lost costume of WW2’s greatest hero, Captain America. But Cap wasn’t dead, just frozen in a state of suspended animation and the

Hes baaaack

thawing revived him. This was the real Cap, not a pretend villain. Cap awoke in a fright, reliving the last few seconds when his partner Bucky had died when a plane exploded. The connection between the Golden Age Timely, and the new Marvel universe was now complete; Cap, Torch and Submariner had all returned, and this time for more than 3-4 issues.

Hero on the rocks  – not real: test market strategy – follow him anywhere

As the Avengers explained to Cap what had happened in the last 18 years, he regained his full strength and fighting form. The Avengers asked him to join, thus Simon and Kirby’s iconic hero was once again brought back, this time to be drawn by the only hand to ever do him justice- Jack Kirby. One leader lost, and one reborn, once again Captain America coming to America’s rescue in our darkest hour.

Interestingly, this issue might have been the first straw on the camel’s back. On the splash was a blurb introducing the reappearance of Cap to the public. In typical Stan bluster he announces; “The Mighty Marvel Comics Group is proud to announce that Jack Kirby drew the original Captain America during the Golden Age of comics…and now he draws it again! Also Stan Lee’s first script during those fabled days was Captain America— And now he authors it again! Thus the chronicle of comicdom turns full circle, reaching a new pinnacle of greatness.”

Stan Lee was a huckster, but this blurb seems to claim that Stan Lee was a scripter of Cap’s tales and he was returning to this job. Yet Stan never scripted a Cap story, that was Joe Simon, Stan simply wrote a separate two page text piece (probably plotted by Joe) thrown in for issue #3 and of no interest to anyone. I have asked others who said that Marvel didn’t want to praise Joe Simon because he was trying to get the copyright back. This is absurd since there was a 3 year gap between this reboot, and Joe suing for the copyright. This happened again a short time later when Cap got his own series and when they retold the origin, (with no change from the 1940 series) again there was no mention of Joe Simon as Stan again seemed to be credited with the tale. Similarly there was no mention of Bill Everett when Submariner returned or Carl Burgos for the Human Torch. It seemed that early on that no credit was too absurd for Stan to take or Marvel to hide. And one wonders how Jack Kirby felt.

After a run of 19 straight victories, on February 25th 1964 Cassius Clay is offered a shot at the championship. Though a large underdog, Cassius used his great speed and pinpoint jab to defeat Sonny Liston, a large lumbering giant of a man. Though he had joined the Nation of Islam, he was loath to make it a public affair. Yet within a week, standing next to Malcolm X the new champion announced that he was throwing off his slave name and taking a Muslim name—given to him personally by Elijah Mohammad. Cassius Marcelus Clay was to be known now and forever as Muhammad Ali. The heavyweight champion of the world was now a lightning rod for all the social ills the U.S. was living through. He used his membership of the Muslim religion as an excuse to refuse induction into the military. He was the most recognized draft dodger in the world. In words never to be forgotten, Ali explained his refusal to join the service. “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” he says to reporters who called him at home in Miami. He later explains … “no Vietcong ever called me nigger”; the perfect joining of two distinct social causes; civil rights, and anti-war revolutionaries. Soon Martin Luther King Jr. who was loath to bring in foreign affairs to his civil rights campaign is forced to merge these different causes into one larger movement. For this, Ali would lose his license to fight. He would have his time in the wilderness. With his new national stage Ali attracted all the leaders of the cause; Malcome X, even Martin Luther King Jr. would come together with the champ. Emmett Till’s legacy was now complete.

The Viet Nam War had been a large part of the early stories at Marvel, but at this time they changed alignment, and with Stan’s liberal sense and pop culture tastes of Jack Kirby Marvel was soon adopted by the counter culture. They managed to ignore the starkest divisions and vile specifics while embracing the rainbow finery of the new generation. Stories of Gabe Jones overcoming bigotry, Black Widow fighting slum lords and the Silver Surfer finding peace, love and understanding led many to think of Marvel as radical and left leaning. Yet this was not unanimous. Stan Lee would face a tug of war in the bullpen. He says he was too liberal for Steve Ditko, but too conservative for the left leaning Jack Kirby.

Within a few months, Cap got his own series, sharing Tales of Suspense with Iron Man. Kirby’s splash pages for Captain America could serve as posters for the personification of bravery and leadership. Jack always saved his best cover poses for Cap. (see Avengers #4, Sgt. Fury #13, and Captain America #100) Neal witnessed it all; “Sgt. Fury was Dad, big cigar and big action, the only difference being about 9 inches in height and 50 pounds of muscle. These days there’s a view that a liberal Democrat can’t be fiercely patriotic but my father was exactly that. Captain America, Sgt. Fury, the Boy Commandos, Fighting American and “Foxhole” were all born of that powerful love of country.”

The other title is sort of an enigma. The X-Men are a group of teen aged mutants-born with an evolved gene- and being trained by a mysterious mentor to fight against evil mutants. Their mutations have given them each special powers. The kid gang genre suggests Jack Kirby, and the template sort of fits; the quiet leader type in Cyclops, the brawny sidekick in Beast. The hot headed Iceman, and the rich snobbish Angel mixed in with a young girl of indeterminate mental power, led by an older mentor/guardian, also with great mental powers. But the stories and ambiance aren’t typical Kirby. There is no obvious recent earlier template as in the other characters. This may have been a Stan Lee created group. Both men had done stories about groups of mutants, but the silly sci-fi of Kirby isn’t nearly in evidence. The relationship between Prof. X and Magneto the leader of the evil mutants doesn’t feel like a Kirby relationship. Parts of it, like the training room, and Cerebro seem all-Kirby, but not the overall feel. The stories never captured the Kirby flair, the villains, except for Magneto were second rate, perhaps Kirby was just burning out, or Stan was feeling his oats, but this one seems more guided by Stan’s fascination with relationships and dialogue; the group talked …a lot! The tales seem more plot heavy and full of narratives and exposition as might be expected from a writer’s book. Though there is one gimmick that Jack had used before. There is a scene where Magneto has unleashed some Hunter missiles on the X-Men. One is homing in on the Angel, (the flying member) when the Beast miraculously catches it, and Marvel Girl telekinetically tosses it into the sea. Very similar to the sequence where Reed Richards saves the Torch from a Hunter missile in FF#1.

And the girl does what? – Together again – Thor by himself

The month after X-Men and Avengers debuted, another magical wrinkle appeared when Journey into Mystery, which had still been serving fantasy tales as back-up strips to Thor began a new strip. Tales of Asgard featured stories of Thor’s childhood and his secret life in Asgard, the home of the Norse Gods. This delved into the mythological base of Thor and separated the two sides of the character. Son Neal says that this was a idea Jack had from the beginning. With this strip, Jack Kirby would finally release his inner Hal Foster, and dazzle with his sense of wonder wrapped in Viking garb and Old World sensibilities. Coupled with Stan’s quasi-Elizabethan dialogue this strip quickly became superior to the main Thor story dealing with typical mobsters, mad scientists, and Loki’s mechanizations. In a rare off-hand moment, Stan told an interviewer that Asgard was 90% Kirby ; he knew all that Norse religious stuff much better than I ever did.

Jack worked in solitude at his house; his trips to the Marvel offices became fewer. But they were not without excitement. Once a month, Jack would pull Neal out of school and take him into the city with him. Neal would usually sit in an anteroom while Jack collaborated with Stan. Fabulous Flo would offer young Neal a soda, and after the brief meeting, Jack and Neal would head over to Central Park or to a museum for the afternoon. Mostly historical type museums filled with ancient historical artifacts, Egyptian mummies, suits of armor, things like that, which both Neal and Jack loved. Rarely to a modern art museum; “I don’t have any recollection of him being interested in Modern Art whatsoever. He never made the suggestion to go to the Guggenheim Museum, or anything like that.” Neal recalled.

You can’t touch this – EPIC – Foster on steroids

Yet Jack was always trying to find unique techniques to help tell his stories, from double page splashes, to the confessional splashpages, and in late 1963 he began adding collages into his panels. The first one appeared in Fantastic Four #24 March, 1964. Little dioramas made from cut and pasted magazine photos and newspaper advertisements. The layered and complex surreal vistas were perfect for showcasing Kirby’s new dimensions and outer space perspectives. Kirby’s use of collages was not an example of art used to reflect reality, but as an escape mechanism to the unreal. “Collages were another way of finding new avenues of entertainment. I felt that magazine reproduction could handle the change. It added an extra-dimension to comics. I wanted to see if it could materialize and it did. I loved doing collages. I made a lot of good ones.” Jack told an interviewer. Collages had become part of pop art in the ‘50s, by artists as diverse as George Grosz and Robert Motherwell. In 1961 the Museum of Modern Art had presented a show called Art of Assemblage with over 250 samples of collages. The show was very well received. In 1963-1964, Romare Beardon, the prolific artist spawned from the Harlem Renaissance also had a well received show of collages called Projections. Perhaps one of these shows sparked Jack’s interest in the technique. Jack’s collages would show up in comics for many years. Jack would also produce large collages for his own amusement. Following art styles wasn’t anything new to Jack. He had used abstraction, cubist and Dadaistic techniques before to present other world dimensions. Jack even swiped techniques such as melting landscapes and curvaceous vistas from Salvadore Dali to represent the Fourth Dimension in a Harvey fantasy story. Jack kept up with modern art techniques. He was not a hermit living in a secluded cave. He just never let them overwhelm his own art.

Collage by Bearden

Perhaps the best of Jack’s collages

The final core super-hero character of the Marvel Age was Daredevil. Though it doesn’t appear that Jack provided much input into the genesis of the character, artist Bill Everett says that he did ask Jack for some plotting and design assistance, and the cover is taken from a Kirby presentation page. After a couple issues of revolving artists, Wallace Wood came on board and brought his considerable gifts to the character. Wallace Wood, a second-generation comic artist from Minnesota, had gained great renown for his time as an EC artist, mostly on the science fiction stories. He was also the original inker on Kirby’s Sky Masters newspaper strip. His art was very detailed and dramatic. Unfortunately the early 1960’s had not been kind to Wallace. He had struggled and took on comic work as part of the low paying Vince Colletta’s studio working for Charlton. Stan Lee introduced Wallace on the cover of Daredevil #5 thusly. “Under the brilliant artistic craftsmanship of famous illustrator Wally Wood, Daredevil reaches new heights of glory” For once, Stan was actually correct in his huckstering. In issue #7, Woody totally reworked the two-toned costumed into a solid red, with deep black shadows and more pronounced horns making the character appear devilish. The fight with Submariner is a high point of Daredevil’s mythos. Wallace Wood would last but a few issues more than leave in a huff—a result of his stubbornness and inability to compromise.

Daredevil comes into his own

Mark Evanier provided an anecdote which shows the exact nature of Kirby’s relationship with the other artists and his willingness to share concepts. “Jack designed new characters for a number of books where he did not work directly on the interiors. Sometimes, he did this by designing a new villain (or someone) on a cover and then Don Heck (or whoever) would use that cover as a model for drawing the interior. Jack also sometimes whipped out a sketch for a character. Wally Wood told me that one day, he and Stan were trying to figure out what could happen in the next issue of Daredevil they were going to do. Jack happened to walk into the office and he was dragged into the meeting, whereupon he suggested Stiltman and did a little sketch…and then Wood expanded on that sketch. We don’t know (and will probably never know) how often this happened and which characters had uncredited Kirby input.”

Kirby helps Woody repays favor

Stan Goldberg, the Marvel colorist tells of a story that shows Kirby’s import to the company. “Occasionally, we (the freelancers) would come in after delivering our stuff at noon or so. At that time, a lot of the artists were coming in and out, walking with Stan–it wasn’t just the two of us–Jack would be there, maybe Frank Giacoia would come by. And maybe one would say to the other “if you’re in no rush to get home, let’s have lunch” The office was on Madison Avenue and walking with Frank and Jack, we had to cross the streets, and Jack had been doing all that great stuff. So we devised a little thing where we’d cross the streets. Frank would stand on one side of Jack, and I would stand on the other side, protecting him from the traffic. As we said, if we lose him, we’re all out of work!”

Kirby does Ditko.  yeah yeah yeah – The Howlers meet James Bond

On Aug.7,1964 after new President Johnson had informed Congress and the country of a supposed attack on U.S. ships by North Viet Nam naval units, the Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted President Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be jeopardized by “communist aggression”. The resolution served as Johnson’s legal justification for escalating American involvement in the Vietnam War. Many consider this as well as the Kennedy assassination as the impetus for the anti-war movement and the hippie revolution. Stan and Jack, always the monitors of pop culture noted the rise of the Beatles when the Human Torch and the Thing meet the Beatles in a Strange Tales story. Beatle wigs soar in popularity.

The rise of the Beatles was unprecedented, toy companies swarmed to take advantage. Revell was a small time model manufacturer started in the late ‘40’s. By the sixties, they switched from wood to plastic. Most of their inventory was airplanes, and cars. By 1964, they took a chance by venturing into pop culture. They got the license to make replicas of the hottest act in the entertainment. Soon they ventured into cartoons, and toys. Rock and roll branched out; the Beatles soon sold games, books, magazines and toys. They may have been the first action figures. They even sold records.

Enter the merchandising era

4” Remco dolls (1964)

Pop culture had its first phenomena. Merchandisers soon branched into other genres. Soon, TV, radio, movies, and comics would find life and money outside their boundaries.

Comic books survived by following trends, and no trend was more obvious in the early ‘60’s than Cold War spies. James Bond had spawned the greatest movie series ever. And in 1965, Moonraker was in the top ten as well as more realistic spy flicks like The Ipcress File, and Spy Who Came In From The Cold. On the small screen, I Spy, Man From Uncle, and Get Smart represented the genre well. Comics couldn’t sit back and let this slide by. Marvel jumped into the genre when they updated their WW2 hero and made him the head of a modern super hi-tech spy agency. Kirby explained: “Now when I did SHIELD, I had to go five to ten years beyond James Bond. I couldn’t accept Bond, but he was the big rage….that was my job. I had to experiment with things, I had to take one leap beyond James Bond. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. took over The Human Torch’s slot in Strange Tales. Jack Kirby’s virtuoso machines and gadgets dominated this fast paced strip. From an impressive floating headquarters in the sky to souped up cars and mechanical duplicates, Kirby’s imagination never waned. The villains were a network of evil crime syndicates that gave Stan plenty of room to bring in the other heroes to help out. The series was custom made for cross-overs.

Love those rear firing missiles

Neal was a high-school student and he remembers that “Dad needed a James Bond-type car and came to me (At that point in my life I was more interested in cars than girls). With just a little bit of research into my stack of Road and Track magazines, I found the perfect car, a Porsche 904D racer.”

“We knew we needed to go a step beyond machine guns hidden in headlights so we stuck some missiles in the fender wells and, of course, wheels that flip and whisk the car through the air.” Neal always loved cars and planes and filled his room with models. Jim Simon told me that though they weren’t close, he loved to visit with Neal just to see and play with his models.

Jack was doing more pages than ever before; he was juggling 5-6 strips plus all the covers and various layouts and plotting elements. His time was stretched and his visits to the office became rarer; his meetings with Stan fewer. “Well, I didn’t exactly work with Stan Lee. I worked at home and I wasn’t at the office much. I’d come in maybe once or twice a month to deliver my drawings. Stan Lee would usually be pretty busy, being the editor there, and I’d deliver my stuff and that would be all there was to it. I’d tell Stan Lee what the next story was going to be and I’d go home and do it.”

In the early 1960’s, a theory evolved wherein a film’s director, if the movie was personal enough should be considered the movie’s author. This concept, “Auteur Theory” named by critic Andrew Sarris started in the late 1950’s by the French New Wave school of filmaking that saw film as a means of personal expression. For this group, the film’s director controlled every aspect so that the final vision was seen as a singular viewpoint. They often considered Welles’ Citizen Kane as the first such movie, but perfected by Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, and Jean Renoir, and in America, by Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and up through Spielberg and Lucas. Others, like critic Pauline Kael thought this theory as too dictatorial, and ignorant of the true collaborative nature of film making, where the screeenwriters, cinematographer, and studio heads added in their two cents worth. Kael noted how Sven Nykvist was equally as important to Bergman’s film as the director at portraying the milieu. Notwithstanding who was right or wrong, we did see films entering a much more personal style as the directors took control of most facets of the films they made. Often the director’s name was as important as any cast member in selling the movie to both the studio and the public. Stanley Kubrick’s name was much more important than the actor’s seen in 2001, A Space Odyssey. Fans started following the artists rather than the characters and comic artists started demanding recognition.

In pop music, acts like the Beatles, Dylan and Beach Boys took over complete control of the production of their records, producing some of the most personal works of musical art ever. Rock music was entering the Auteur stage as songs became personal statements.

It was only a period of time to where comics were suddenly seen as personal productions rather than corporate mish mash. Perhaps it was Stan Lee’s thrusting of the creators to the fore that suddenly made them so important. Either way, suddenly a book with “by” Jack Kirby, or a Steve Ditko held its own cache, rather than the book’s characters or company name.

My own theory is that there is room for many theories and milieus. Just like novels, films, songs and comics, these media serve many different purposes. They can be pure entertainment, or deep philosophical treatises. I see no reason to try to pigeon hole the whole medium into one narrow theory. There’s room enough for a Teen Titans thrill ride, and a Steve Ditko political diatribe; a Kirby epic or a Jack Chick tract. I think proportionality plays a part as the roles seem to have changed over the years. Also there is an egg vs. chicken role as one must look as to where the original thought comes from. It seems that shortly after the series started, we see Jack take over the role of originator of the new stories and Lee simply added in dialogue blurbs after Jack had told the story. Does one consider the man who wrote up the dialogue blurbs in the silent films as the author, or the genius comedian who conceived and acted out the role? Personally a shared credit is fine to me.

A true rarity turned up when historian Nick Caputo questioned Stan Goldberg-a teen humor artist – about a questionable piece of art. Nick showed Stan the cover to Modeling With Millie # 45 Feb 1966. This featured a smiling facial shot of Millie that Nick had problems believing Stan had drawn. Stan’s eye lit up. Nick asked Stan if the face was drawn by someone else. With a twinkle in his eyes he say “Jack Kirby drew that face” This fortified Nick’s faith in his work as he had told others that he thought Jack Kirby had drawn this face. Stan told him that Stan Lee wasn’t happy with the original face and asked Jack to make a quick correction- something Stan says was not unusual. He said Jack even inked some work for a small book Stan Lee published on golf.

When Jack began drawing the Fantastic Four, his figural work was still in the naturalistic phase as seen in his westerns and romance stories. The people were realistic in proportion and his heroes tended towards scrawniness. Mr. Fantastic was downright skinny, but this sort of fit in with his stretching power. The Torch was a scrawny teenager, and The Invisible Girl was a slender model type, dressing in Jackie Kennedy clothes. Even Thor was more lithe than muscular. Only the monstrous characters, such as The Thing and the Hulk were huge and bulky. Within a year, Jack’s natural instincts and more personal style towards superheroes took over and they all started to bulk and buff up and become imposing as compared to regular humans. Sue, became more fit and curvaceous, but never zaftig, more Raquel Welsh than Jayne Mansfield. Jack regained his touch for extreme posing and foreshortening. Biceps became semi-circles rather than long arcs, and forearms looked more like Popeye with each new issue. Neal Adams would talk in awed terms of Kirby’s style of sinew as hard slashes and bold lines. He says “I couldn’t do that”. The difference between issue #1 and #10 of the FF is about thirty pounds of muscle per person. The Thing became bulkier and more defined, almost ripped as his hide became rocky and cracked.

Skinny heroes to super buff

Despite this added bulk, the characters were never stiff. They still had Kirby’s patented looseness, and fluidity. As the writing became sharper, so did Kirby’s details. The machinery and the backgrounds filled in with remarkable detail. The vistas became epic in scope. On the FF, Marvel’s flagship series, Dick Ayers maintained a natural, organic line over Kirby, never prettifying it or over embellishing, until #21 when George Roussos took over in a scratchier, over-wrought Golden Age style that made the work look dirty. Roussos could never come up with an acceptable Thing. It didn’t matter; nothing could hurt Kirby’s pencils. They were that strong and inspiring. Kirby had reached a point where his art was bulletproof. And more to the point, Marvel had reached a point where it became bulletproof. Chic Stone soon became the regular Kirby inker. He remembers how it began. “Just before 1964 I was pounding the pavement, going from one publisher to another, picking up jobs at random. At the time I was penciling Batman, and inking Superman covers for [editor] Mort Weisinger at DC. I happened to walk into the Marvel offices at the time [editor-in-chief] Stan Lee was editing a Kirby pencil job. Looking over his shoulder I was totally awestruck by the magnificent penciling. Stan looked at me and asked, ‘Chic, would you like to ink this?’ My knees turned to Jell-o; all I could murmur was, ‘You’re kidding?’ [After I turned in the assignment,] Stan was exceedingly pleased with my rendition of Jack’s work, and from that time on I would finish one job to have another waiting. There were times I’d be working on three stories at once; working 12 to 16 hours a day was not unusual. The page rate for inking was not that great, but being able to work on Jack’s pencils was a substantial bonus.”

Stone’s first work over Kirby

In FF #28 (July, 1964) for the first time Stan Lee titled Jack Kirby as “the king” in the credit box. A title he would wear proudly, yet humbly the rest of his life. After a so-so start, Lee and Kirby had so enthused the readership to where anything they threw out was immediately accepted. The rise of Marvel had become irreversible. The media began to take notice of Marvel. The Village Voice ran an article in 1965. The “Super-Anti Hero in Forest Hills” spotlighted Spider-Man as an example of how the Marvel characters were the first super-heroes to evoke the “Real” world. Esquire magazine cover featured the Marvel line and listed the Hulk as one of 28 “people who count” on college campuses. The Wall Street Journal ran an article talking about how the new books had rejuvenated Goodman’s company.

Early in the super-heroes, Jack added a storytelling technique to the Marvel stories that was very effective. He would end his stories with a series of three small panels that wrapped up the emotional core and used the dramatics of changing perspectives that focused the readers on the emotional details. Colin Smith, in his blog called this epilogue Jack Kirby’s closing triptych. The main action has stopped, and the participants add their parting thoughts to the story. Note the close up progression that adds tension and focus and leads into the next story. These final 3 panels would often be the lead in to the next story. It actually replaced Stan’s preview blurbs. This concept started just as Jack started doing stories with serial continuation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack added this in response to Stan’s text pattern.

Leave ‘em wanting more

Marvel was an unstoppable tsunami overwhelming the competition. They had captured the minds of a new generation of reader, while holding on to the older, fannish base.

In early 1965, black firebrand Malcolm X had been exiled by Islam head Elija Muhammad. Originally a shining beacon, he was now called a traitor and during a speech he was cut down in a hail of bullets by his own people. In a bit of equipoise, Jack drew a story for Fantastic Four #37 where the duplicitous Skrull villain, an accepted national hero, is suddenly called a turncoat and killed by his own people. We know it is prescient or coincidental because Jack would have had to have drawn these months before the actual event. Sadly, for Malcolm X had recently undergone a transformation from bigoted, angry revolutionary to preaching a new peaceful and optimistic resolution of our race problem.  Following a transformative visit to Mecca, Malcolm X stated; “The true brotherhood I had seen had influenced me to recognize that anger can blind human vision,” he said. “America is the first country… that can actually have a bloodless revolution.” In the FF story, Reed noted as the enemies reach a new cohabitation. “Perhaps we’re not really so different from other…either on Earth…or in the endless void of space! And the days all of mankind realizes that lesson–we shall come a step closer to brotherhood– and Universal peace!” Malcolm X’s spoke of his own act of prophesy just 2 days before his death. “It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country.”

To the comic buyer, there was Marvel and then everyone else. Kirby had a new secure home, and he built it himself from the ground up. The paint job and the drapes were Stan Lee, but the foundation was pure Kirby. Unfortunately, the salesperson was also Stan Lee, and therein laid the first cracks in the foundation.

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Looking For The Awesome – 17. The House That Jack Built

Previous – 16. Kirby’s Kosmic Mystery | Contents | Next – 18. New Beginnings

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


The young black man from Louisville had become a man. As a teenager he had thrown his life and talent towards boxing. He rose through the ranks of amateur boxing to reach the heights. In late 1960 he defeated a Polish fighter to win the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. Flush with success, he became a professional and rose undefeated towards national acclaim. Yet his heart was still dark. He returned a conquering hero to the deep South only to find that he was unwelcome to sleep in white’s only hotels, and to face white street gangs. In disgust, Cassius Clay threw his gold medal into the Ohio River. He sought out inner peace and understanding by attending religious speeches by the emerging Nation of Islam. He met that young firebrand named Malcolm X. and was soon taking lessons in the Islam religion. He found peace and a purpose in his new religion.

After the horror of his time at DC, Jack sought peace and a new resolve at Atlas, he found his purpose at Atlas. After a couple months doing space opera, he embraced the new style post-atomic BEM story. The Atlas monsters were powerful, and plentiful. Once Jack settled into the Atlas fantasy books, the monsters were endless; 3 or 4 a month, for a couple years with odd names like Googam, Monstro, and Grottu, or simpler like Sandman, Colossus, or Hulk; many names that would be reused at a later date. The six fantasy titles soon were reduced to four totally interchangeable titles. Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense all opened with Kirby monsters tales, and Kirby covers. They were loud, colorful and eye-catching. Every issue’s cover was a beautiful monster poster reaching out from the newsstands grabbing those dimes from the grubby little fingers of kids returning empty bottles for 2 cents deposit.

The formula was easy; big monster in the center surrounded by humans scurrying away in fear. Kirby remembered: “The monster books gave me the opportunity to draw things out of the ordinary. Monster books were a challenge–what kind of monster would fascinate people? I couldn’t draw anything that was too outlandish or too terrible. I never did that. What I did draw was something intriguing. There was something about this monster that you could live with. If you saw him, you wouldn’t faint dead away. There was nothing disgusting in his demeanor. There was nothing about him that repelled you. My monsters were lovable monsters. I gave them names and some were good. They made sales, and that’s always been my prime object in comics. I had to make sales in order to keep myself working. And so I put all the ingredients in that would pull in sales. It’s always been that way.”

Formulaic but fearsome

Atlas as a company was still reeling from the forced downsizing, with only 8 titles a month there was no way to get traction. Goodman wanted comics done on the cheap, and that’s what he got. They continued to cut page rates until many artists would no longer work for them. But by 1960, they seemed to right the ship, or at least find a balance. The work force had been cut to the bone, but the core of pros left was very flexible and could fill many roles. So they each got an acceptable amount of work. But they were not equals, people like Don Heck, and Dick Ayers and even Steve Ditko filled in their penciling work by inking, while Jack Kirby‘s role as lead penciler kept expanding. The 7-8 page opening story grew to 12-13 pages, plus Kirby was given romance, and back-up western, and war stories.

Atlas must have been happy; Kirby’s storytelling was always PG. His horrors weren’t horrible. His monsters were gruesome without being gory, his heroes never had erections at the wrong time (or the right time) and his heroines, no matter how busty never had costume malfunctions. It seems the Comics Code had no effect on Jack Kirby. Kirby wanted to entertain, not shock.

Stan Lee was working with a smaller crew, paying less for work, and he was still despondent. It seems that without fail every month or so, Martin Goodman is threatening to close down the comic division. Stan’s office is now a small cubbyhole at the end of a long corridor, as far from Martin Goodman as possible. Jack Kirby didn’t become the dominant force because Stan suddenly realized his genius; Jack became dominant because he offered Stan what Stan needed most—time and product, plus his comics sold better than the others.

Dick Ayers says that during one of the down times, Stan Lee called him into the office and told him that the industry was all but finished, and that they needed to jump the sinking ship. Dick says he took Stan at his word and quit. He found a new job with the Post Office. Once again Stan let many of his people go like Al Williamson, Jack Davis, John Forte, and Joe Sinnott. Long time inker Chris Rule was let go. Downgraded were pencillers like Vince Colletta to an inker along with people like Steve Ditko, and Don Heck who took on inking jobs to fill it their income. Soon, Stan called Dick and asked him if he would help out by inking some of Kirby’s stories, that plus occasional filler stories brought back Dick to the fold; another legend born of need.

During this Atlas’ mini-implosion, production man Sol Brodsky was let go. He wound up as founding editor for a new humor magazine Cracked. Cracked was another in a long line of Mad Magazine clones, this time published by slick magazine publisher Robert Sproul’s Major Publishing. Sol hired many of the Atlas cast-offs, such as Al Williamson, Bill Everett, Syd Shores, and Al Jaffee. Sol managed to get Jack Kirby to provide one story. It appeared in the 14th issue dated June 1960. It was a 5-page spoof of the then popular TV panel shows such as “What’s My Line” Jack’s caricatures are spot-on, and he was again doing Hollywood Kirby style. Jack used duo shade paper for added shading tones, giving a more commercial art effect to the drawings. It’s unknown why Kirby only produced the one story—perhaps Stan Lee wasn’t happy with the moonlighting for Sol.

Is this Kirby?????

Though Stan had fewer titles to produce, he also had almost no support people, plus he was no longer buying scripts from outside sources, so Stan was forced to write much more than he was used to. While Stan focused on the teen humor titles and a few creepy fantasy stories for Steve Ditko, for the adventure titles, he turned most of the fantasy writing over to his brother, Larry Lieber. This only worked because Jack Kirby was able to plot most of his own stories, and it showed. Jack’s tales had a formula and feel all their own. The themes, and plot elements were often borrowed from fantasy themes and concepts he had done at DC or Harvey—sentient robots, mythological beings like the Roc, or Rock Men from Easter Island, childlike aliens, all made new appearances at Atlas; radio astronomers and personality changes taken from Sky Masters; and mutants, sorcerers, and inter-dimensional travel galore reoccurred frequently, and of course, recent movies. Jack recalls; “Monster and superstition stories were a necessary thing. Comic historian Nick Caputo has studied them. “The Yellow Claw stories have stylistic traits that point to Kirby as writer. Each story opens with a prologue, something Kirby used in later stories he wrote himself in the 1970s. There are other traits as well, but I’m fairly certain that Kirby initially wrote his own stories at Atlas, and many early ones when he returned in 1959”. Sometime later he began working over Leiber scripts, although how much he may have changed in the pencil stage is undetermined.” Many of the monster stories share the same confessional nature as his romance stories. Titles like “I Created Mechano” and “I Was a Decoy for Pildor,” personalized and humanized the stories. Jack says: “I enjoyed producing them. The work was fun and I could come up with new ones very quickly. They were easy to do and the fan mail was very good. Although they weren’t as challenging as the other stories I had done, they gave me a chance to work out a few ideas.” The filler stories penned by Lieber and drawn by Heck or Reinman were more in the space opera mode reminiscent of pre-Atomic sci-fi. And the Lee/Ditko closing story had a creepier, more ironic style similar to the TV show Twilight Zone that was taking the watchers by storm. Another factor that made Kirby so valuable was that Kirby’s pencils, even when stretched to the limit, were still tight enough for these artists/inkers to finish easily. The pencils were tight enough to follow but not so tight that the inkers couldn’t add in and embellish with their own techniques. Dick Ayers explained that when he once simply traced a Kirby western that Stan called him in and made it plain that he wanted the inkers to add in their personalities. “Do with Kirby’s westerns what you do with the monster stories! If I wanted someone to trace Kirby’s penciling I’d hire anyone off the street! More important, Kirby’s stories were just so much better. The action was unparalleled, and the covers unrivaled. The loss of Joe Maneely must have been a huge personal blow to Stan, but as luck would have it, Kirby’s personal problems at DC landed an even more productive creator into Stan’s lap. Stan had a stallion and this horse wanted to run. After the DC debacle, Kirby had every reason to want to shine for Atlas.

Silly yes, but they sold

On the adventure strips, Stan had left Kirby alone or partnered with his brother Larry Lieber, but the romance titles were Stan’s bailiwick, and when Stan assigned Kirby to the romance books they were suddenly partnered. It is there that Stan and Jack began to work out a method to maximize both talents. It was common at S&K’s studio for the writers and artists to have story conferences where they all traded forth ideas and stories. It became unnecessary for a writer to supply a complete script since the artists already knew the plotline. The pacing of the story was also left up to the artist rather than the writer to work the story into the page count needed for the comic. This was followed by adding in dialogue. This was how Kirby produced thousands of stories back in the days of the S&K studios. Very quickly Stan’s and Jack’s work practice became the Simon and Kirby model. This allowed Stan to write and edit more books due to not having to pace out all the stories for the artists. After they discussed the stories, Jack would draw them and Stan would then dialogue them according to Kirby’s panel structures, and the bare plot. The Marvel Method, as it became known as, was simply the Simon and Kirby method, placing a large amount of responsibility on the artist to tell the story within the editor’s parameters. As Walter Geier had described it at Mainline; ‘They were Jack’s plots. I just supplied the dialogue”. It also freed up Stan for more stories.

In a moment of clarity Stan Lee admitted; “Mine was the task of originating the basic concept, and then writing the dialogue…However, I’ve long been privileged to collaborate with some of the most talented artists of all, artists who would take my rough-hewn plots and refine them into the illustrated stories…Heading the list of such artists…is Jack Kirby.

Don Heck had returned to Marvel at the same time as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. He recalled one difference; “I’d been so used to working from scripts, but when I returned to Marvel Stan said, “I’m going to give you a synopsis.”  Jack Kirby was used to something like that because he was also a writer.  Some people might not have liked the stuff he did later, but he did some terrific stuff with all of his different characters, like back when he was doing Fighting American and all the rest of his early stuff so it was easy for him.”  …”After a while Stan Lee used to give you the first three pages, tell you who the character was fighting, and give you the last couple of pages so you’d know how it ended. And in between you’d put about fifteen page of stuff.  And at the time, I thought, “Oh, my God! This’ll never work!” ….. “It’s a freer way of working.”

It was during this monster phase that an unusual thing happened. Sales began to rise, and management took notice. The most amazing was that it wasn’t happening at DC, Dell, or the other companies. The idea of expansion became possible.

Borrowing from Prize       Credits appear a new team

It’s not surprising that several romance stories at Atlas were knock-offs of Kirby romance stories from Prize.

In early 1960, Martin Goodman cancelled a long running western title and asked for a new one. Wyatt Earp had run for 29 issues starting in 1955, based on the real life lawman made popular due to movies and a TV show starring the dashing Hugh O’Brian. The early issues were drawn by an assortment of Atlas regulars, Joe Maneely, John Severin, and Norman Maurer, but by issue ten Dick Ayers came along and made it his own. It was one of the few titles that survived the implosion unscathed. While other titles relied on inventoried stories, Dick Ayers continued creating new stories for Wyatt Earp. Jack Kirby started providing covers with issue #22. Issue #25’s cover featured the first collaboration of Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers on the inks. Issue #29, dated June 1960 was its last. Though the TV show would last thru 1961, the comic title had run its course, perhaps due to an over abundance of Earp titles from other companies. Dick Ayers, who had been on this strip longest, lamented as to how he was being paid less in 1959 as it ended then he was in ‘56, when he started.

The new title was to be The Rawhide Kid. This was an update of an earlier Atlas cowboy title, which was caught in the implosion crunch. The Kid was one of dozens of generic cowboy heroes that Atlas published in the 50’s. All of them seemed to be a “kid” of some sort. Dick Ayers was told by Stan Lee that he would be the artist on the new series. Dick was thrilled to be given a new book so soon after the last one was cancelled. Things had been tight for the Ayers family with Dick struggling with filler strips and the low paying inking jobs over Kirby. He says that one day he ran into Jack Kirby while delivering some Sky Masters pages and told Kirby how excited he was about getting the Kid gig. Kirby paid him for the SM pages, congratulated him on the Kid and made his leave. What happened next is pure conjecture. In his bio, Dick Ayers says that later he gets a call from Stan Lee. “Dick? Stan here, I have to tell you…I’m having Kirby pencil the Rawhide Kid and you do the inking. You’ll make Jack’s western look real good!”

The Rawhide Kid by Jack and Dick     Cobra looking for Thor?

If true, one certainly can’t blame Dick for feeling that way, but the reality is that only Stan Lee could make that call. Kirby had no sway over Stan to get assignments. He was a freelancer just like Ayers and the others. But is it possible that armed with the knowledge of a new title, that Kirby went into Stan’s office and made a winning pitch for a different type of western, one more to Kirby’s style; a more entertaining approach; perhaps a tossed bone to stop Kirby from working for Sol over at Cracked Magazine. Stan was certainly happy with Kirby’s results. It’s very possible, and if true, it shows another facet to Kirby’s Atlas tenure. Jack’s new ability to pitch ideas to Stan and Stan’s willingness to follow Kirby’s lead would become important. But this shouldn’t shock anyone; Jack says that he had been pitching ideas to Stan from the very beginning; a return for super-heroes as an example. “I felt I had to regenerate things. I began to build a new line of super-heroes…I was at the stage now where I had to fight for those things and I did. I had to regenerate the entire line. “I felt that there was nobody there that was qualified to do it” Jack told Will Eisner in an interview.

Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Rafael in their book Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book talks about the genesis of Lee/Kirby partnership.

“By audaciously combining genres and ignoring the limitations that had settled in on the super-hero, Lee and Kirby were free to foist on their readership a fantasy setting better realized than anything that had come before in the American comic book. Lee and Kirby were presiding over the kind of world-building that would become commonplace in movies and television.”

Stan and Jack never really pointed out the specific influences that went into creating this new universe, It’s hard to even know if they had a big picture, or if it grew organically as they went along, but I suspect they did not go into it without some blueprint and yes it was a world-building template taken from TV. In the late 1950’s television was dominated by a series of shows unlike any produced before. They shared a studio, they shared a producer, they shared a writer and they shared a personal vision. These were the shows produced by Warner Bros. Television Division and watched over by William T. Orr, and Roy Huggins. They came in two distinct genres. The western genre was covered by Cheyenne, Maverick, Lawman, Sugarfoot, Colt 45, and the Alaskans. And then there were the modern day detective/adventure stories as found in 77 Sunset Strip, Bourbon Street Beat, Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye. What was unique was the irreverent tone, the personal bickering, romance, the self-deprecating humor, and the odd little insertions of pop culture. They also shared a self-contained universe where they would cross-over into each other’s shows.

Roy Huggins explains how he built up Cheyenne by recycling scripts from Warner Brothers movies such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), often simply inserting the character of Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) into familiar stories from the studio vaults. These elements brought the series a sense of gravitas and a measure of respect as an “adult” western, as opposed to the typical sing-a-song, shoot-em-up, and kiss the horse goodnight, and made it the studio’s first full-fledged hit. Similarly Stan and Jack energized Rawhide Kid by recycling old S&K western stories and old Atlas western stories plus added in a more modern sense of character and morality.

As with all success, the mimics are sure to follow. Huggin’s westerns were so successful that soon every studio was pumping out copies. The most successful was probably The Rebel, starring Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma, a troubled, brooding ex-Confederate soldier trying to find peace in a fractured post war country.

Nick Adams was short in stature, and insecure in his image, a factor that he felt kept him from superstardom. As Johnny Yuma, he was a fast to anger avenger, bent on seeing justice is done for the oppressed. The tales are as gritty as would be found on TV.

It is with The Rawhide Kid that for the first time we get to see the evolving Lee/Kirby symbiosis in action. In a pattern that would play out repeatedly over the next few years we see the two talents blending in a specific template. Kirby supplying much of the plotting, in fact, the origin gimmick is a direct retelling of the origin of Bullseye, the Simon/Kirby western scout of a couple years earlier. The series also borrowed heavily from the Rebel TV series. A young orphan named Johnny Bart is taken in by an older relative who teaches him to become the best shot in the west. When the relative is murdered in a cowardly fashion, the young man goes after the villains and avenges the murder. Later, both Bullseye and the Rawhide Kid are mistakenly branded as outlaws, so they must travel a lonely road, avoiding the law and evildoers as well. The Kid’s short stature, and shorter fuse, is also used to good effect and his image never matches the reality; an aspect used effectively on The Rebel.

What is also apparent is that the Rawhide Kid has more personality than Bullseye. Like Johnny Yuma his back story has more drama, and more pathos than found in earlier Simon/Kirby characters. He shows regret, and longing, and my god does he talk to himself. This is not a stoic Kirby hero, this is a brooding emotional volcano. The dialogue is snappier, the back story more developed, and the pacing a bit slower and more dramatic. The stories are more complex and dramatic. We see a true blending of talents, one making up for the weakness of the other. Stan was never really good with big picture concepts, while Kirby, in his adventure tales was never strong in the small, personality traits, and human interactions that make for a more fulfilling story. Much like the best blending of lyricist and tunesmiths, the sum was stronger than the individual parts.

Likewise early on John Lennon and Paul McCartney began collaborating on writing songs. They would cut school and head over to Paul’s house where they would exchange lyrics and work out basic tunes on the piano. Many of the songs they wrote between this time and when Beatlemania began to take off in 1963, were co-written equally; as Paul said, ‘eyeball to eyeball’. Compositions from this period include ‘She loves You’, ‘There’s A Place’, ‘From Me To You’, ‘Thank You Girl’, ‘I’ll Get You’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, ‘Little Child’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. John explained “All the better songs that we have written – the ones that anybody wants to hear – those were co-written. Sometimes half the words are written by me and he’ll finish them off. We go along a word each, practically.” Individual qualities become obvious; McCartney’s easy going harmonies, and John’s cutting iconoclastic personality, but the finished product has its own flavor and feeling blending both influences seamlessly creating its own oeuvre.

Rawhide Kid #17 had a cover date of Aug. 1960. Kirby would provide 3 stories and 18 pages for this new title. This was Kirby’s first cover to cover comic at Atlas, since the pre-implosion days. This time the series would continue for 19 years. Kirby would slip in sci-fi bits, and pseudo-super-heroics in the series, just as he did in Bullseye. Later adventures would also swipe from other Kirby plots, but often they would steal plots directly from the Rebel TV series. Stan assigned Dick Ayers to maintain a oughhewn look to the inking. The team was set. Jack needed some more work.

First issue #17 I’m confused              Rawhide Kid origin looks mighty familiar

One of the few comic companies not bothered by the 50’s Wertham witch hunt was Gilberton Publishing. They had been publishing Classics Illustrated since 1941 and never a discouraging word was heard. They were a class act putting out clean literate comic book adaptations of classic literature, a young man’s best friend when in need of a quick book report. But they were also somewhat stodgy and hard to deal with due to their desire for historical accuracy and obeisance to the source material. Kirby started working there in late 1960 doing a long 45 pg. adaptation of The Last Days of Pompeii. He followed this with 25 or so pages on the Civil War for a Classics illustrated Special. It’s easy to see Kirby’s natural inclinations being muzzled by the strict grid layout and need for accurate details like clothing and architecture. The artwork lacks any sizzle, and even the inking by Dick Ayers is muted and dull. The presentation more resembled a text book than a comic. Gilberton was not a good match for Jack, whose strength was in improvisation and spontaneity, but it filled in a couple hundred pages of Jack’s time. Kirby also supplied some filler material for several issues of Classics factual series World Around Us. The best work he did for Gilberton was some spot illustrations for a Guy de Maupassant short story, The Duel. This appeared in issue #30 of World Around Us titled Undersea Adventures. Strangely, the story has nothing to do with any undersea adventure. It is about boastfulness, cowardice, lost honor and a subsequent suicide, a very depressing and dark story for a Gilberton comic. Kirby used a very heavy, almost woodcut style, that added to the weighty subject. A discouraged Jack left Gilberton very quickly.

Imagine the editorial interference needed to demand the changes on this panel! The Kirby original is amazing

Jack broke out the heavy pencil     typical Classic’s panel

Besides the monster tales in 4 books, Jack now had a couple romance titles, a complete western title (18+ pages) plus the odd back-up western story, another nice rebound from a down period. Stan Lee had been true to his word and given Kirby all the work he could, and in return, Atlas was getting a personality facelift. And that facelift was thanks to Jack Kirby. Atlas books had taken on a rugged, powerful and easily recognizable product look, and sales were slowly growing. Atlas had become a recognizable brand. The next attempt at something new was different. Looking back, it could be called a failure, but it was the first faltering step leading to what would become an onslaught.

In late 1960, the eyes of the industry were turned inward. The .10 cent retail price of a comic had held steady for 30 years. Yet the price of raw materials, labor and shipping had gone up. Dell Comics, whose kid centric books made them an industry leader decided to make a change. They decided to raise the cover price to .15 cents an issue. This fifty percent increase shocked the industry; many saw only bad things following. The owners of Dell sent a letter to retailers and selected magazines to help the public to understand.

Executive Vice President, Dell Publishing Co., Inc.

“Dell To Back The New 15 (cent) Comic Price With The Biggest Nationwide Consumer TV And Radio Advertising And Promotion Campaign In History!” In 1929, when Dell Publishing first introduced the four color comic – at 10 cents – candy bars, cokes and ice cream cones were 5 cents. Hamburgers and yoyos were 10 cents and cigerettes and movies were 15 cents. Today every one of these items has at least doubled or tripled in price.” EVERYTHING’S UP BUT COMICS!

“Yet the comic alone of all these popular items has remained at a dime. This despite the fact that kids’ allowances have increased to keep pace with higher prices. The average weekly allowance in 1939 a week – and nowadays the going rate for doing odd jobs and babysitting is at least 25 cents an hour. Meanwhile paper and printing costs have gone up…you are paying much higher salaries and overhead – in other words, the time has come, indeed it is long overdue, for the comics to be put on a more profitable basis. We feel that Dell, as the leader in the comics field, should take the first step. Since 1929, Dell Comics have published well over 5 billion copies. WALT DISNEY COMICS alone passed the one billion mark last year! In sales dollars and cents comics are a $5,000,000 a year business – a big money industry. Yet the publisher, the distributor and the newsdealer are no longer reaping commensurate profits. Therefore, Dell, the leader of the comics field, is taking the initiative to improve your profit picture and to put new life in comic sales. Effective December 15 (1960), all new Dell comics will be raised to 15 cents. In a few months all Dell Comics will be selling at the more profitable price. This means 1 1/2 cents more for you on every Dell comic sold -a whopping 60 percent increase in profits! Better yet – this new 15 cent price will give you a 26.6 percent margin of profit – a greater profit than you now make not only on 10 cent comics, but on any periodical you sell! We are convinced that customers will continue to buy our comics at 15 cents. Dell’s world-famous “character” comics have been the backbone of the comic industry since comics began – the famous Walt Disney family, the Warner Bros family, Little Lulu, Tarzan – and the more recent TV sensations, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear. These and many more television and movie comics are the PRE-SOLD favorites which have become household words to both parents and children, appearing exclusively in Dell Comics. They are certainly powerful enough to command the increase in price!”

”We are confident that this new profit picture for publisher, distributor and dealer will help stimulate a whole new attitude toward the handling of comics. It was only ten years ago that paperbacks were all 25 cents and lumped together indiscriminately. Today best-selling paperback titles are handled as individual items of merchandise, priced two or three times higher, and paperback profits are soaring accordingly. The same revolution is now due for comics. They too are “books” and should get the individual treatment they deserve. Dell Comics tested the 15 cent cover price on the West Coast last year. In some areas sales increased…in others there was a decrease. We learned from this test that a major promotion campaign would assure its complete success. Therefore, Dell Comics has prepared a mammoth comics advertising-promotion campaign, the like of which has never been seen in this industry. Detailed plans will be announced shortly. The period of price change is the time of challenge – the time to get to work for greater profits! Give your 15 cent comics prime space… set up better-than-ever comic displays… promote the pre-sold characters to the kids, and the high-quality of the Dell Comics to the parents… play up the TV tie-in titles and movie hits… reorder the best sellers… show off Dell comics for what they are… there’s no better buy for 15 cents in your store today!”

William Callahan was an optimist! And he was wrong.

That’s about as good a face one might make for a 50% increase. It has been speculated that the Dell price increase was a major failure; one from which they would not recover. Dell had been the dominant company, yet when the price increased, sales fell horribly. Some consider this one reason for Marvels rise as buyers were actively looking elsewhere to spend their dimes. DC and Marvel split the difference and raised their prices to .12 by late 1961. Dell continued the .15 price for a year, and then dropped it to .12 when the other companies raised theirs. This led to interfamily problems between Dell and partner Gold Key that drove them to separate, thus increasing the decline of Dell and the Gold Key comic lines. They also failed to notice the genre changes happening in 1961. They were no longer major players by the mid-sixties. It has been said that the sales of the .15 centers was so bad that their scarcity puts them into a whole different ballpark for collectors.

In late 1960, the United States elected the youngest President in history. This would end a long 8 year stretch of psychic stagnation and re-energize the country.

A bad beginning     Beatles take Germany

The end of 1960, maybe as late as Jan. 1961, Stan ordered up a new title. Amazing Adventures was by all appearances, another generic Atlas monster title. It would feature the ubiquitous Kirby monster on the cover, and a Kirby lead story, a 13 pager with monsters like, Torr, Manoo, Robot X, and Monsteroso. But tucked away in the back pages, a new recurring character appeared. Doctor Droom was the new ongoing heroic character. He was a master of the occult and mysticism. Like any number of earlier characters he received his powers as a bequeathment from an old lama, slowly dying in his monastery in the Himalayas. This take off of the novel/movie Lost Horizon is not particularly original; Kirby had used a Shangri-la type locale in stories of every genre along the way. The hero, Anthony Droom is an American doctor who is compelled to treat a dying Tibetan lama. But first he must pass some rigorous and frightful tests. Once he passes the tests, he meets the lama, who explains that he was brought here to take up the mantle of protector against the evil forces of the occult. The first story, the origin issue is ok, especially thanks to some interesting effects by inker Steve Ditko. At the end Dr. Droom is transformed from a normal white American to a bald Asian with heavy eyeliner. With each new issue, the stories floundered and failed. The biggest problem is that this battler of the occult never meets any occult villains. The villains of his tales are an underground alien civilization, an alien hidden among men trying to gain political power, and another alien visitor who is defeated by a demolition ball. Dr. Droom’s only obvious power is that of hypnotism, as that is how he conquers the bad guys. This failure of imagination and promise is unlike anything seen from Kirby. And it appears that Kirby is solely to blame here. There is no evidence in the plotting or dialogue of any Stan Lee influence. This seems to have been a solo Kirby project, with perhaps some assistance from Larry Lieber. The premise is interesting enough, and Kirby could do occult and mysticism, but he was caught up in his Atlas alien monster sci-fi mode and couldn’t break free. This can also be seen in some other tales dealing with sorcerers, like in the first Challengers story where though the villain is a sorcerer, the actual tale is straight sci-fi. But a series built on the premise of magic and evil darkness can’t survive without actual magic. But once again we see evidence that Stan Lee allowed Jack Kirby the freedom to try new concepts on his own. Dr. Droom is considered by most historians as the first Marvel super-hero, though others disagree since he showed no real powers other than hypnotism.

On Feb. 25, 1961, the last daily of Sky Masters was published. Jack’s newspaper strip career ended. Jack cobbles a story from pre-existing art and the strip limps home.

Jack was again producing at breakneck speed. The monsters continued; even diapered ones. Roz would tell of Jack’s routine of starting around noon and working almost non-stop til 4-5 in the morning, with the occasional all-nighter where she would awaken at 7:30 and find the other side of the bed vacant. She would physically go to Kirby and force him to go to bed, yet after just a few hours of sleep; Jack was back up and at the board. Jack was busy, but never too busy to ignore family. Weekends would find them at the beach or Coney Island. Every year they would take a couple weeks vacation to Aunt Anita’s in Liberty, New York. On odd weekends, family members would visit their home in Long Island to get out of the city. Uncle Dave was like a second father to the kids; visiting almost every weekend, taking Neal fishing, or Susan to the zoo. It was a close family. Kirby never missed a family affair, whether it be a kids birthday or a school project that required parental assistance. Kirby used to wow the elementary kids by drawing caricatures and funny pictures for them. The one great advantage of working at home.

Why does a dragon wear a diaper? Does anyone complain if he shits on the yard?

Life on the road for a band was tough, the hours were killers. Paul remembers his time in Germany when the English kids were set free from their grey boring British middle class upbringing. “Most important was sex…was one of the first things ’cause we were kids just let off the leash, you know. And then there was like, the amount of music we played — we played — the sheer amount of music. Some evenings I think we probably…we played eight hour periods ’cause you’d come on and another band would take an hour and you’d take an hour, so we probably played four hours but we had to stretch it over an eight hour period. And that’s an awful long time, man, to play.”

Despite the learning experience the hoped for breaks didn’t come. They returned to England and returned as just another house band.

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Looking For The Awesome – 16. Kirby’s Kosmic Mystery

Previous – 15. On His Own Again | Contents | Next – 17. The House That Jack Built

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


“A year before Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth, and nine years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, astronomer FRANK DRAKE launched one of the most intriguing space explorations of the millennium. On April 8, 1960, in a windswept valley near Green Bank West Virginia, Drake flipped switches, twisted knobs, and then pointed an 85-foot radio telescope at two nearby stars- Epsilon Eridani, and Tau Ceti. His aim: to listen for signs of communication technology emanating from a civilization beyond Earth.”

So begins the web page introduction of SETI-The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence began that cold and lonely day back in 1960. Dr. Drake’s research and life long dream became a part of the pop culture in 1985, thanks to Dr. Carl Sagan’s fictional book CONTACT, and the subsequent 1997 movie, starring Jodie Foster.

In the story, Sagan tells of an eccentric, combative scientist, endlessly searching the skies for some sign of extra-terrestrial intelligence. When apparent contact is made, the scientist must convince a doubting scientific and military community. Finally convincing the authorities that an alien intelligence has initiated contact, the go ahead is given for an attempt at a rendezvous. The scientist is launched and apparently makes contact with an alien life force, but upon returning to Earth, must face a disbelieving, and skeptical world.

So what does Jack Kirby have to do with this, and why any great mystery? In what might be the strangest case of Kirby’s prognostication wizardry, he beat Dr. Drake to the punch in starting SETI, and he wrote Dr. Sagan’s story 25 years earlier.

Jack Kirby and the master Wallace Wood

The mystery begins in late 1958, Jack Kirby is hired to draw the syndicated strip SKY MASTERS of the SPACE FORCE. The strip, to be written by brothers, Dick and Dave Wood, penciled by Kirby and inked by the master, Wally Wood. The strip was noteworthy primarily for the authenticity and technical assistance provided by NASA. As time went on, the Wood Bros. had less and less to do with the scripting, until the storytelling became completely Kirby’s.

First in 1937 who knew?

On March 18th, 1960, towards the end of the run, a storyline began that would run thru July 6, 1960. This storyline entitled “Message From Space” begins with Sky Masters being introduced to Dr. Martin Strickland, an eccentric loner scientist who has gone off to a remote part of the country to conduct his own research. The research involves using a radio telescope to listen to cosmic garble for signs of intelligent life from outer space. As Dr. Strickland tells Sky “I’ve discovered a definite pattern— a repetition of sounds—“Sky responds hesitantly “You mean…you’ve received signals by radio telescope from outer space?” To which the Dr. answers “More than that Sky! If I’m right, thinking creatures have sent us a message from out there!”

The message that the Dr. has received comes from the star Tau Ceti, and the message contains the location for “rendezvous”. Sky asks Marty why he has kept this message a secret. Marty replies;” Sky….what does history tell us happens to humans when one strange culture comes in contact with another? …They battle each other, Sky! Do we dare rendezvous with an unknown culture without knowing positively they are not hostile?” If I had one reason strong enough to warrant risking contact with a possible hostile culture, Sky.” To which Sky replies; I have one…If we don’t accept the challenge, Marty, we’ll be like wild animals forever listening in a space jungle afraid of ever replying to each other.” “Of course! Let’s head for the Cape.” Strickland answers.

Basics of a radio telescope

After a contentious and at times, quite philosophical debate, among and between the scientific and military communities, it is decided that Dr. Strickland will attempt contact, on a ship piloted by Sky Masters. Once in orbit, they begin receiving more signals from space, then a new blip appears on their radar, a space craft hovering a million miles away. Again Strickland’s wariness intrudes and Sky comes up with an idea to bluff the aliens into thinking we are more advanced than we are. They will bounce a signal off the moon to give the impression that we are colonizers. After receiving the bounced message, the aliens release an atomic bomb that explodes harmlessly in space. After debating the nature of the explosion, Sky surmises that it was a thermonuclear handshake across space, and they rig their own nuclear blast in response. After the return blast, the alien ship moves away, and Sky pilots his ship home. When they make their report about the alien encounter, they are met with skepticism and doubt over what they observed, one scientist responds “The country’s full of irresponsible eccentrics who would squander a king’s ransom searching for space people…” “You have no actual proof of another intelligent life in space.” And the story ends with Dr Strickland, in a huff, taking his charts and graphs and retiring to his island to find a way to decode the blips and to send intelligent messages back to Tau Ceti.

This is some of the most ambitious storytelling Kirby had ever done, full of plot twists, personality conflicts, and deeper philosophical contemplations than ever seen in his comic book work. The detail and technical aspects are amazing.

After reading the story, I was of course struck by the many similarities with the Sagan book. The details surrounding Dr. Strickland’s research, and the actual SETI program was too coincidental, and I first assumed that SETI research must have been well known at the time that Kirby wrote the story. But, being the stickler for facts that I am, I decided to verify, and this is where it got weird!!!!

From the web site mentioned above, I found out that the first SETI project, Project Ozma, did not begin until April of 1960, more than 2 months after Jack Kirby began drawing the story – as verified by then inker Dick Ayers, whose records indicate that he began inking the first days strip at the beginning of Feb. 1960. This first project, run by an eccentric loner, Dr. Drake, in an isolated corner of this country, involved using a radio telescope, targeted on the star Tau Ceti !!!!

Science or God

The more I read about the SETI program, the more coincidences I found, so my assumption was that somehow, either through the project’s public relations, or possibly Kirby’s NASA contacts, Jack had gotten wind about the project and quickly came up with the storyline, in an attempt at making Sky Masters as topical as possible. Yet something didn’t fit, even if Kirby did have knowledge of Project Ozma, this doesn’t explain just how similar Kirby’s storyline was to Sagan’s. So I took a chance and contacted Dr. Drake. Surfing through SETI’s maze of e-mails, I finally tracked down Dr. Drake. I wrote and explained my findings, hoping that he could explain how Jack Kirby could have known about these items prior to the actual experiment. In a series of exchanges, (excerpted here) he answered some of my questions, and frankly, left me with even more.

Dr. Drake









I wrote:

Dear Dr. Drake,

I have gotten your name via the SETI Inst. Home page, I apologize for any inconvenience, but I have come across a mystery involving your initial research, and am hoping you could provide some answers.

In the months directly preceding your Project Ozma, a nationally syndicated newspaper strip called SKY MASTERS OF THE SPACE FORCE, was running a story about an eccentric astronomer who had been doing SETI style research, and had made contact with an unknown intelligence source. The many coincidences between the strip, and your work is astounding: Using a radio telescope to listen to background space garble, pinpointing Tau Ceti as the source, even the central figure, Dr. Martin Strickland bears a physical resemblance to you. Your formula quantifying extraterrestrial possibility is referred to in a passing manner. This raises some questions I hope you can shed some light on.

Dr. Drake responded;

Dear Mr. Taylor,

Thanks for your interesting message. I have no recollection whatsoever of the “Sky Masters” strip or any comic connection to Project Ozma. Perhaps it was because I was then living in West Virginia and the only newspaper available had almost no comics in it.

Question: Was your research project widely known so that a comic strip writer would have this type of specific knowledge prior to the April 8th 1960 date?

Answer: No. There was little public mention of the project in late 1959. I am surprised that anyone was writing about radio contact with ET’s at that time. It certainly was not an idea that popped up anywhere in the media of the time.

Question: Did you release any public statements announcing your research?

Answer: No, none, we kept a very low profile.

Question: Was NASA involved with your research, I ask this because the artist/writer, Jack Kirby did get technical assistance from NASA for his strip?

Answer: No, there was no NASA involvement at all in Project Ozma, or in any SETI work for many years thereafter. The NRAO, (National Radio Astronomy Observatory) was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, but no one from there was involved either.

Question: Did you know Jack Kirby?

Answer: No, this is a new name to me.

Question: Or Dave Wood?

Answer: The name Dave Wood means nothing to me.

Question: Has this strip (Sky Masters) ever been talked about? In the SETI newsletter, or any writings by yourself or others?

Answer: No, none of us has ever been aware of it

Question: The story in the strip takes the research to a similar conclusion that Dr. Sagan did in “Contact”, even going so far as having the unknown source supply a rendezvous point, and initiating contact, and an equivocating ending with no verifiable contact between the two cultures. Do you know if Dr. Sagan ever referred to this comic strip in passing?

Answer: I am pretty sure that Dr. Sagan knew nothing of this strip. He never mentioned it to me, and he probably would have had he known about it.

Greg Theakston’s graphic collection

That pretty much was the extent of our communications, I thanked him for his patience and assistance, and I promised that I would get him a copy of Greg Theakston’s Sky Masters book. (My thanks to the people at Pure Imaginations, especially Richard Bensam for supplying a copy at no cost)

I did manage to find a small article in Time Magazine from late Nov. 1959 that mentions Dr. Drake and his soon to be attempted experiment, but this article lacked the details and similarities between Kirby’s story and Sagan’s. Unfortunately, both men are gone, and can shed no light on the subject. Perhaps it is simply a case of cosmic equipoise, or the subliminal residue from Sagan reading Jack’s strip 25 years earlier. For myself, I choose to consider it a case of great minds thinking alike.

Kirby knew science, and science fiction. He voraciously read novels and sci-fi pulps, and was kept up to date by his friends at NASA; Neal explains;

“Dad was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club,(started in 1953) so robots and aliens and tales of the future abounded. How did he actually have time to read? I have no idea, but the Dungeon collection was no ornamental library; he had read every book and probably more than twice.

Sagan’s book postulates one of the great unanswered realities; Answering a question from the child version of the main character, her father says; “The universe is a pretty big place.  It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before.  So if it’s just us…seems like an awful waste of space.” I think Jack Kirby understood and accepted this concept, and soon populated his world with Krees, Skrulls, Insecticons, Galactus’ and dozens of other alien forms from outside the galaxy; both good and bad. This concept became perhaps the single most quest of Kirby’s fictional life. Jack Kirby saw both the traders, and the tigers.

Soon after the Sky Masters tale, Kirby drew a monster story for Atlas named Sserpo-the Creature that Crushed the World. The story revolved around another scientist doing SETI style research and uses his radio telescope to contact an alien society for help. This story appeared in Amazing Adventures #6 (Nov. 1961)

Kirby reusing the radio telescope bit with the same philosophical fear.

Another connection would occur many years later when Jack Kirby was asked by a magazine for his ideas for the Jupiter Plaque. This was a plaque devised by Carl Sagan to be sent into space to introduce humanity to any alien civilization that might one day come across it. Ever the philosopher, Jack explained that he was wary about sending an invite to aliens, because we don’t know who would answer, “the trader or the tiger”. So Jack’s response was a picture of man as happy superheroes, friendly, but able to protect themselves against invaders, still bluffing our way into space. Jack used this bluff many times in his Atlas monster tales, and in Fantastic Four #2 when he sent clippings of Atlas monsters to scare the Skrull Empire into believing Earth inhabitants were too powerful.

more sentient robot stories

Kirby’s time with Sky Masters wasn’t solitary. He spent a lot of time preparing other strips to sell to the syndicates. None seem to have caught on despite the help of the cream of the comic inkers. Chip Hardy was especially interesting as Kirby added in many sci-fi elements. Some that would be used again later.

Many titles and many presentations, the inkers were a mix of giants; Wood, Giella, Giacoia, Elder.

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Looking For The Awesome – 15. On His Own Again

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


While scrambling at Charlton, Joe remained in contact with his buddies at Harvey. Al noticed that Dell was doing well with TV tie-ins. One of the most popular TV shows was Disney’s Davy Crockett which debuted in 1954. Now Davy Crockett was a historical figure so Disney could not copyright the character. Joe was hired to edit some of Harvey’s titles. As part of their Western Tales series Joe hired Jack to draw a Davy Crockett series. After two issues, Davy Crockett was summarily dropped and Jim Bowie was given the lead for the final issue; seemingly based on the movie “The Iron Mistress”. Boy’s Ranch tales were reprinted as back-up stories. Jack would also draw over two dozen covers for Harvey’s romance and war books the next year.

More importantly, now that S&K were no longer producing their own romance books, Prize turned their romance titles back over to Joe and Jack. Immediately they were back drawing an average of 23 pages of romance stories for three bi-monthly titles. But this was different, they were no longer 50/50 part owners, Jack was now freelancing– working for page rates. These 20+ pages a month had to carry Jack for the next year.

On Dec. 1, 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat. She was arrested. Now Rosa wasn’t naïve, she was also the secretary for the local branch of the NAACP. She knew from past experience what her actions would detail. But she was tired after a days work and had had enough. Just a few months earlier she had attended a function where the young Dr. Martin Luther King had called for more response in reaction to Emmitt Till’s death. This singular act coming so soon after the Emmett Till murder, gave rise to what was called the civil rights movement when that young minister from Atlanta, Georgia named Martin Luther King Jr. called for a citywide boycott. There were accusations that this was a planned event to showcase the plight of the blacks. The resulting boycott and lawsuit led to a Federal Court declaring that Alabama’s segregation laws were unconstitutional, and they were disbanded. The resultant violence and outrage would last for decades as blacks in other areas began demanding their dignity and civil rights.

Rosa with Dr. King –  Frank Giacoia

Mama Rose had not taken Ben’s death well. Her own health began to falter and the Kirby boys decided to put her in an assisted living home. In 1956 she quietly passed. It was the worst of times for Jack. His business in shambles, his partnership broken, and now the loss of his mother–the anchor for all that made Jack a quality person. Scenes at the Kirby casa must have been intense.

Times were tight, this down period was lasting a little too long for comfort. Jack looked at other companies with no luck. After fifteen years partnered with Joe Simon, Jack had lost the skill of selling himself. Then a friend, artist Frank Giacoia told him that Atlas always needed artists. Jack explained how he had left Timely/Atlas in a less than positive situation in 1941. Frank said that he would intervene in Jack’s behalf.

Atlas was the latest accepted name for Martin Goodman’s publishing empire. The name derived from the Atlas logo printed on the covers of the comics. After Simon and Kirby left Timely, the editorial reins were handed over to Stan Lee, the young gofer turned text story writer and relative to the owner. Under Stan’s guidance, Atlas had grown to be the most prolific comic company around. What it lacked in an identifying personality, or literary quality, it made up in sheer numbers.

Goodman’s m.o. was to follow trends and blanket the market, smothering the competition. Bill Gaines once said that given a fair chance, his individual books outsold everyone else’s, but what he couldn’t overcome was Atlas’ ability to flood out his books at the retailers. There were months where Atlas published over 50 titles. Stan’s job was not to develop characters and innovate; it was to keep the trains running on time, a facilitator of product dispersement. Perhaps the best proof of Stan’s lack of seriousness was that Gene Colan tells of when he approached Timely for work, he found Stan in his office wearing a beanie with a propeller on top, laughing merrily. But Stan was not without talents, Stan Lee had proven himself very adept at writing peppy teen humor strips. Millie the Model was the closest Atlas had to an iconic title. Millie and her friends Patsy, Hedy, and Sherry frequented almost a dozen titles. Atlas published almost 20 individual war tiles, and more than a dozen interchangeable western, horror and romance titles. Later they had looked to TV as the new source for ideas. More than anything, Stan needed competent artists to crank out all the reams of paper Atlas printed each month.

If there was any negative blowback for Kirby’s earlier exit it didn’t come from Stan Lee. Stan was excited to have Kirby back. Stan had only fond memories of Jack from 1941. It’s doubtful that Martin Goodman even knew Jack was back. Jack was a freelancer, working at home. Martin Goodman might not have been the most honest individual, but he has neither record of being personally spiteful, nor any record of him micromanaging the comic division.

If there was a good side of the breakup, it was that once again Jack was working at home. His little dungeon became his castle. It would be his little spot of the world for next dozen or so years. Neal remembers that little room.

“The door to Dad’s studio was usually closed. That wasn’t to keep noise out, it was to keep all the smoke in. My father’s cigar smoking was legendary and when you opened the door to the Dungeon you were met with a great billowing cloud. It wasn’t so bad if he was smoking something good, like a Garcia Vega, and the smell would be almost tolerable. Unfortunately, that only happened around his birthday or Father’s Day, when boxes of decent cigars came with a bow on top. When Dad was buying he didn’t bother with fancy brands. It didn’t matter if it was rolled-up skunk cabbage, to him a stogie was a stogie.”

The first job Kirby got at Atlas was a war story for Battleground #14 (Nov. 1956) quickly followed by a fantasy story for Astonishing #56 (Dec. 1956) Stan’s favorite artist at the time was Joe Maneely, perhaps the fastest, most facile, and dependable artist of his time, if not, he was second only to Jack Kirby. Joe was fast but somewhat predictable and plain. He was good, but lacked the dynamism and energy of a Kirby. Interestingly, Jack was immediately given control of a new series, Yellow Claw. The first issue was drawn by Joe Maneely. Joe’s version was a straight forward Cold War spy thriller centered on an Asian villain; a weak tea version of 007. Jack’s was different.

Mythological crazies and mutants

When Kirby took over, the whole timber of the series abruptly changed into a hi-tech sci-fi thrill-a-rama. The Yellow Claw became a maniacal arch villain bent on world domination. Kirby brought in mutants, aliens, mythological monsters, and any other weird characters that a clever story could be built around. There had never been a series like it. It was wild and crazy and over the top. While there were no credits listed, Kirby’s hand is all over these changes,in the formatting, in the writing style, and in the thematic changes. Unfortunately the series only lasted for three additional issues.

Hypnotists and Kirby aliens

Unknown to Jack, the world was once again entering a period of unparalleled creative energy. The planets were aligning, and storms were brewing and waves were building that would wash away the stagnant detritus of the 1950’s. Political, artistic, cultural, societal, and philosophical conflicts would converge and erupt and tear the very fabric of society. Families would be torn asunder as the children understood that the times they were a ’changin’. Just as radio had ushered in jazz, now TV showed us an imperfect world beyond our small little neighborhoods. New idols were needed to take over from Roy, Gene, Hopalong and John Wayne. A TV producer and writer would team-up and provide a new template for the American hero, stoic, humorous, sarcastic, with a heart of gold and…feet of clay. At Warner Bros. Wm. T. Orr hired Roy Huggins to create a new western hero. Huggins, a novelist known best for hard boiled pulp fiction, and condemnation from the HUAC Committee due to his Communist Party flirtation in the 1930’s came up with Cheyenne. Cheyenne Bodie was a loner traveling the trails of the old west searching for adventure. His parents were killed during an Indian raid, and the child was raised as a Cheyenne-thus his name. Cheyenne served variously as a scout, Indian fighter, lawman, trail boss, and bounty hunter. (very similar to S&K’s Bullseye.) Roy Huggins explains how he created Cheyenne by recycling scripts from Warner Brothers movies such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), often simply inserting the character of Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) into familiar stories from the studio vaults. These changes brought the series a sense of gravitas and a measure of respect as an “adult” western and made it the studio’s first full-fledged hit. Cheyenne was closer to a Gary Cooper stoicism, but Huggins would stretch his template with his next creation.

Building on this success, Roy and Orr followed this up with what has been called the first TV anti-hero when they introduced Maverick. With Maverick, Huggins turned the western genre on its head, adding self mockery and parody to the stolid genre. The Maverick boys were as brave and honorable as Cheyenne, but their first responsibility was always themselves, and they had to be prodded to put their safety on the line. The heroics were almost accidental by nature. Huggins made the Maverick Bros, reluctant heroes, with distinct feet of clay. Their good humor was as much a weapon as their guns. Huggins would also throw in pop culture references to spice up the stories. Huggins followed this up with Sugarfoot, a pacifistic wannabe lawyer trying to bring law and justice to the west. His aw-shucks easy going manner stood in dark contrast to the hulking brooding Cheyenne; once again a hero with personal limitations. The touch of irony that Huggins brought to the western genre in Maverick and Sugarfoot with their irreverent blend of drama and comedy–has become one of the defining characteristics of dramatic series in the subsequent years, not just for TV but the movies, art, and graphic storytelling as well. If there is any great theme to be found in the culture of the 1960’s it would be self- deprecation and parody. Woody Allen and Stan Kubrick solidified this genre.

Lookin’ out for number one

The three series were huge successes and Huggins would follow these up with even more series. In 1958 he would update his milieu to modern day adventure and detective series. With 77 Sunset Strip, Huggins designed a template for TV group concepts. In series like Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye, and Surfside 6, the team usually consisted of two old friends, one perhaps slightly older, more cerebral, and the other brawnier, earthier, quicker to anger and more apt to think with his fists. Add to that a hot chic to stir up the pot, and a young hot head always getting into trouble. The friends would bicker and fight over methods, girls, and money. The series would become intertwined as the stars would often cross-over and appear in the others show. One facet was an almost cavalier attitude towards authority as the heroes were often called to go around the law to find justice. The subject matter of these shows was often mirrored in the problems of the day, drugs, racial prejudice, class warfare, and greedy businessmen trampling on the small man.

Pop culture would lead the charge as race music- as black rhythm and blues was called- challenged the old guard for the ears, heart and money of their children. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and others begat Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Pat Boone, who begat a wave of imitators from abroad, the result was rock and roll. Perhaps the most important tidal wave of all since it would shape all other trends and fashions for the next decade. R&R was the magnet pulling all the disparate elements together. It’s astounding that an artform born and reared in the US would find its most fervent voices in a small dirty port city in Great Britain.

Just as William Orr and Roy Huggins were beginning a collaboration that would dominate TV and Jack Kirby was beginning a collaborative pairing with Stan Lee that would shake the world of comics, in a small church in England a pair of teenagers were meeting whose partnership would transform not just music, but culture itself. A Liverpool England lad, John Lennon had formed a small skiffle band called the Quarrymen in 1956. While performing at St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool, John Lennon and Paul McCartney met and the pair found out that they have similar pop idol interests: “Paul, what kind of music do you like?” asked John. “Well I used to like Lonnie Donnegan but now that skiffle is fading out I love the music of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent, Little Richard…”

Hey! John interrupted, “they’re all the people I’m into.”

Joe Simon was still restless, editing at Harvey and Prize was not the same as creating and selling new concepts. He and Jack had been working on a new idea while still at Mainline. The concept was an updated kid gang book, where the kids were now adults. A group of four specialists who sought danger and thrills no one else would face. Jack and Joe put together a presentation for Challengers of the Unknown and probably reluctantly due to their break-up with DC just after the war, took it to National Publications. In July 1956, they made the presentation to Editor Jack Schiff, a familiar face from their earlier time at DC. Jack Schiff liked the presentation, but things had changed at DC. They were no longer allowing outside studios to supply work; all books were tightly controlled by its editors. So Joe Simon would not be allowed to control their new title. With no other duties except perhaps as inker, Joe decided to pass on the project. Jack was perfectly happy to pencil the book for page rate since DC paid the highest rates in the industry. Joe went back to work at Harvey. His attempt at restarting Simon and Kirby failed. Jack Schiff partnered Kirby with writer Dave Wood.

The fearless Foursome

The Challengers was unique, most groups were formed by force fitting existing heroes into a working unit to take on a powerful enemy, a la Justice Society of America, but the Challs were neither drafted, nor brought together to save the world. The Challs became a group as an act of fate, a singular moment in time, a shared unexpected happening that changed their lives and forged a unit. While flying to a radio interview, the four adventurers are blown off course by a fierce storm. Ace Morgan was a test pilot, Red Ryan a circus daredevil, Prof. Haley an Undersea Explorer, and Rocky Davis was an Olympic wrestler. Unable to control the plane, pilot Ace Morgan crash lands the plane in a dark forest. One by one from the wreckage the four men emerge, unscathed. Red says, “We should be dead–but we’re not! My watch should be smashed. yet it’s unharmed-keeping time” Ace replies; “Borrowed time, Red, we’re living on borrowed time.” Realizing that they have faced down death itself, the men decide to band together and take up any challenge that is too scary for normal people. Taking jobs for men who “fear neither devil, nor death”

The new book was scheduled to appear in a tryout series named Showcase. Showcase was started as a way to introduce new concepts and see what the audience response would be. If warranted, the title would receive its own series. The public little noted the first 3 issues, but for issue #4, National decided to reboot a long dormant super hero. The new Flash was the first of a flood of new and rebooted super-heroes. DC had reignited the super-hero craze.

Enter the fifth Challenger

Challenger’s appeared in issue #6, and again in #7, a sure sign that Schiff was excited with the series, ordering a second issue before the first even hit the stand.

The adventures thrown at the Challs rivaled any ever seen in comics. They faced every scary nightmare from the occult to futuristic technology. Sorcerers, aliens, sentient robots, ex-Nazis, even giant rocky mythological warriors, and the League of Death Cheaters never flinched in their duties. There were times when they separated and worked independently and then there were times when the worked together as a tight knit unit. In the second issue they even had outside help as a beautiful computer expert joined the group. June Robbins would become the unofficial fifth Challenger when she was recruited to help defeat Ultivac, a sentient robot created when “the use of radioactive materials in building this machine has somehow developed in its braincase …a thinking process on a par with humans!” One of the unique factors in Challs was that along with the futuristic elements, actual recent scientific developments were included. When Rocky is accidentally shot it is left to the doctors to perform a new process of open heart massage to revive him. The robot seeking sentience and acceptance was a concept Jack would revisit numerous times.

Go into space, crash land, get power to flame on – Romance comes full circle

The art is primo Kirby, powerful, detailed and imaginative. The strange part is the formatting. Harking back to the early 1940’s, the pages are full of the large circular panels and zigzag borders. This was also seen in some of the concurrent Yellow Claw stories and a few DC fantasy tales. The inking in the Challs books was very clean, most likely due to the inking being done by DC stalwarts like Marvin Stein, George Klein and Bruno Premiani. It’s hard to know what editorial demands led to this cleaner, white bread inking. What is missing is the circular shadows, and halos and claustrophobic geometrics. There are a few in the first issue, but none later. This may have been more a Joe Simon technique. The inking on the Yellow Claw stories is dense, full of heavy cross-hatching and the heavy shading of the Simon and Kirby studios-minus the circular shadows and arches. The Yellow Claw pages were probably inked by Kirby himself. Schiff’s instincts were good; the response was positive. He assigned Kirby to do 2 more issues for Showcase # 11 &12.

We will see stone heads and Rocs again

Schiff also assigned Kirby assorted back up stories for National’s fantasy titles. These were similar in theme to the sci-fi fantasy tales that Jack was doing at Atlas for Yellow Claw, concepts like thought control, size shifting, alien visitations, and interdimensional travel, Kirby finally found the genre he was born for.

OK not every monster was a hit – Krackel, krackel, krackel

Jack had rebounded once again, he was back doing steady work for three companies, yet the industry was still in turmoil. Martin Goodman, a seasoned businessman was about to make a big mistake-one that would almost cost him his comic business. In a move with strong similarities to what happened to Mainline, Goodman developed distributor problems.

At the beginning of the decade, several events occurred at Atlas that would have long term results. Perhaps most important was that Goodman summarily fired his large bullpen of artists; instead they would now be considered “freelancers’ who were considered independent contractors responsible for their own taxes, own materials, own vacations, yet have no attachment to their work as the company claimed all rights to their creations. Despite this separation between them and the editor, Stan would keep up the fallacy of a close knit group of friends. Second, Martin Goodman had secured his news stand position by becoming his own distributor. He called it Atlas News Company and made his 50-80 comics a month the core of the company as well as his paperback and magazine divisions. The Atlas insignia became the one uniting feature of the company.

In 1956, in a questionable decision he suddenly and inexplicably dropped Atlas News and joined the largest national distributor American News. American had become prominent because of its 3 tier set-up. The main distribution, a series of sub-distributors covering the country, and a web of retail stores that sold to the public. But all the distributors were suffering from the effects of the Kefauver hearings. Publishers, retailers and readers had been falling by the wayside for the last couple years leaving the national distributors in a tenuous position. Horror struck when in early 1957, American was hit by both the government and customers and was forced to close shop. Dell, its largest client canceled its service and followed with an anti-trust suit over the monopolistic nature of the company, which it says failed to maximize Dell’s place in the market.

Goodman was suddenly left without a distributor and in what has been called “the 1957 Implosion” he closed down the shop and stopped buying new product. Stan Lee had the sad job of telling his friends that there was no more work. John Romita was asked to bring in his unfinished story sans pay, and was told he was laid off by a secretary because Stan was too embarrassed to face him directly.

Goodman quickly scrambled and worked out an agreement with Independent, the distributing arm of National Publications. Goodman sadly accepted the new conditions that forced the closure of the paperback division, and limited his comic output to 8 titles monthly. For the short term, Stan would take the back inventory from upwards of 80 titles and force them into 16 bland bi-monthly books.

Goodman’s empire overnight became one of the smallest comic publishers.
For all the sordid details, try to pick up a copy of Tales of the Atlas Implosion, self-published by Dr. Tom Lammers.

Classy John Severin cover – cute little fishies

Jack had just finished the first issue of a new series for Stan Lee, The Black Rider Rides Again and started on the second issue when word came down that work was halted. Atlas was shut down. Once again outside pressures set Kirby back. The industry was taking a battering, and the artists were the casualties.

Things looked up somewhat when Frank Giacoia asked Jack to ghost his newspaper strip Johnny Reb and Billy Yank. For the next seven months –from July 1957 to Feb. 1958–Jack did the Sunday strip. Kirby also collaborated on several proposed newspaper strips with Frank Giacoia, Marvin Stein, and Will Elder. Rumor has it that Giacoia offered Kirby the work due to the falling out at Atlas. It looked like Kirby may have colored some of them. Over at DC, Jack Schiff increased the page count on his mystery books and offered Jack the Green Arrow strip when George Papp left.

Kirby aping Giacoia

Some more good news came when Joe Simon contacted Jack about some new work for Harvey. Harvey must have noticed the good response that DC was having with their Post-Atomic fantasy books, and decided to update one of his horror titles.

Kirby’s time at Prize in the late 50’s is challenging. Most of the work seems to be Kirby simply providing pencils for Simon edited projects. Yet there are books which claim that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were both editors, and oddly enough, show very little Kirby work. One such is All For Love, a romance book totally separate from Young Romance or the others. In fact, the only issue featuring Kirby work was (Vol. 3#2 Aug. 1959); very late in Jack’s Prize tenure. Yet the other artists seem to have been culled from the Simon/Kirby studio of a year earlier. It’s hard to know just how accurate these credits are, but the ownership blurbs were supposedly notarized and verifiable.

Funny that Young Romance and Young Love no longer had Kirby as editor. Joe Simon would always move in and out of Prize’s editorial chain, even up to the 1960’s, but the credit of Jack Kirby was rarely listed. S&K expert Harry Mendryk speculates that the listing of Kirby as editor on a couple series was a mistake. He points to what he thinks are corrective statements just a few months later, rather than waiting till the next year as was the usual method. He believes Kirby was just a freelance contributor by that time. But I still wonder. Why would Prize mistakenly credit Kirby on a long running series. The listing of Simon and Kirby was not an oversight, since neither was involved in the creation, but rather a specific choice by someone.
What is obvious is that Kirby’s Prize stories were no longer inked by Joe or another S&K studio inker. These stories are rather austere and lacking of crossshatching and the arches, and halos most common during the S&K years. It has been suggested that Jack inked many of these himself; though I still see a couple different inkers at work.

Inking is more planar and sloppy, lacking in depth and texture faces
more formulaic no snaky shadows, or arches

Back at Harvey, Black Cat had started life as Black Cat Comics – a vehicle for their popular female costumed heroine. When super heroes started to fade, the genre changed, first to a western title and then to a horror/suspense title. With issue #58 (Apr. 56) it entered the modern age with four stories by Kirby, all post-atomic sci-fi themed with the usual collection of aliens, mutates, and mad scientists and a new title, Black Cat Mystery.

A new companion book soon joined. Alarming Tales #1, cover dated Sept. 1957 featured five Kirby stories with themes and plot elements that would reecho throughout the remainder of Jack’s work. The first four issues of this series represent perhaps the most seminal period of Kirby’s later career. Plus for perhaps the first time, Kirby’s work received an illustrative finish to his pencils when Al Willianson brought his Raymondesque sensitivity to the inking. Williamson had a softer more textured line than any inker over Kirby before, and the result over Kirby’s powerful pencils was astonishingly beautiful; a veneer of subtlety and natural lighting with an organic decorative sheen. Reminiscent of Hal Foster’s naturalness and texture, with Alex Raymond’s precision and grace. Al Williamson remembers; “I remember going up to Harvey and getting work there. They said” We haven’t got any work for you, but we have some stories here that Jack penciled. Do you want to ink them? I’d never really inked anybody else before, but I said, “Sure, because I looked at the stuff and thought, “I can follow this. It’s all there.” I inked it. They liked it, and gave me three or four stories to do.”

Joe edits seminal Kirby

Al Williamson inks

On Oct. 4 1957 sci-fi, technology, and Cold War socio-politics collided when the USSR launched Sputnik All eyes were now focused clearly at the skies, and a National purpose was ignited. Joe Simon or Al Harvey realized the importance and immediately assembled a new title. Race for the Moon #1 was rushed out in only 2 months. The Kirby cover was a lie, inside contained reprints of space themed stories culled from Harvey’s archives, mostly by Bob Powell. More interestingly is that the Kirby cover was blurbed in just about every Harvey book, yet the actual cover was changed from the blurb sample. The background world covered 2/3rds of the background on the cover blurbs, but the actual cover shows that the editor, possibly Joe Simon shrunk the background world to a small corner of the cover—perhaps to make the figures stand out stronger. This actually happened regularly as editors continued to make changes up to the last moment. Issues #2-3 contained all new stories by Kirby, centered on space exploration, national paranoia, and alien contact. Simon and Kirby also introduced a new team.

What Sputnik wrought

Following the template seen in Challengers of the Unknown, The Three Rocketeers featured Figures Faraday, an older scientist, Kip McCoy, a fearless pilot leader, and Beefy Brown, a brawny earthy engineer. All that was missing was a young hothead. Jack also mindful of the impact of Sputnik, had recruited Dave Wood, the writer from DC to work up a space based strip for newspaper syndication. The result was called Space Busters, inked by Marvin Stein. There was another unused strip called Surf Hunter with an incredible combination of Jack Kirby and Wally Wood.

Another Kirby group template

Kirby surrealistics – not of this world

Proposed Kirby strip w/Wood

While this was going on, word came down that Challengers of the Unknown was such a success that it was being given its own title. This was the first of the original Showcase features to get the gold ring, even before the resurgent super-heroes. The other editors were working overtime to come up with their own fearless adventure team. The Suicide Squad, Rip Hunter, Sea Devils, all followed the template forged by the Challs. DC had a new hit, and a new genre and Kirby gave it to them.

Joe was not the only one taking notice of the space race. In Jan. 1958, Harry Elmlark walked into the offices of National Periodicals. Harry Elmlark was a sales representative for George Matthew Adams Service, a syndicate house. He was looking for a space based strip that he could sell to the newspapers. He met with Jack Schiff, who showed him several concepts, but Elmlark wasn’t thrilled. Schiff suggested that he might be able to come up with something, and asked Elmlark for a couple days. Schiff went to Jack Liebowitz, General Manager of DC and told him about Elmlark’s request. Liebowitz explained that he had no interest in DC getting involved, but if Schiff wanted to pursue it on his own, he was welcome to try.

Jack Schiff then approached writer Dave Wood, Schiff had remembered that Dave had told him that he and Jack Kirby were working on a space strip concept. After being told of Elmlark’s request, Dave said that he would retrieve the samples and meet up with Schiff the next day.

Dave brought the samples to a Kirby strip entitled Space Busters, while not sure if Elmlark would be happy with the strip, Schiff discussed some story ideas and told Wood that he would show the samples to Elmlark. Later that day, Elmlark met up with Jack Schiff, and presented the samples. He liked the art, but wanted a stronger storyline. He said he was in a hurry as there was another artist’s work in the running.

Schiff met up with Wood and Kirby and they all agreed to take a crack at the strip, with Schiff supervising the script with Wood with Kirby drawing it. Dave Wood went home and along with his brother Dick, worked on an outline and brought it back to Jack Schiff. But Schiff was tied up with other business, he contacted Elmlark and explained that he wasn’t going to be able to do the feature, but would send Wood and Kirby to work directly with him.

Kirby and Wood met up with Elmlark, shared the sample strips, and listened to his ideas. The meeting went well. Wood would finish a script based on their shared ideas and Kirby would prepare new art immediately. Elmlark was heading out of town soon. The samples were soon done; Schiff liked what he saw and turned them over to Elmlark. Elmlark accepted the samples and took them on the road to sell the concept.

The Wood Brothers and Kirby started discussing a proposed contract, and part of the agreement was a 5% finder’s fee for Jack Schiff for his part of the deal. Word came back from Elmlark that he thought he had the concept sold. Negotiations and a binder agreement with the syndicate were drawn up on Feb. 10th, with no mention of Jack Schiff. The negotiations with the syndicate did not quite go to Jack Kirby’s satisfaction. It seemed that too much of the actual production cost of the strip was being placed on Kirby’s end, so the Woods and Kirby renegotiated their contract. Their talks broke down when they couldn’t work out an equitable percentage. Kirby decided to walk.

Later that day Kirby met with Schiff and they discussed Kirby’s reluctance. Schiff tried to reassure Kirby that it was silly to walk away now after his hard work. The next day, Kirby and the Woods met again and ironed out a new contract, this time with a higher split for Kirby, who had to pay for an inker, and letterer, plus supplies. They explained to Schiff that Kirby suggested lowering Schiff’s percentage to 3%, and they cut the difference and decided it would be 4%. Schiff agreed and said let there be no more disputes. They met up later and Schiff suggested they memorialize the agreement. Dave Wood and Kirby signed a letter of intent agreeing that Schiff would be paid 4% for his role.

That’s Jack Schiff’s story. For Kirby’s part he differs in some areas. Kirby was excited about getting a newspaper strip; it was every comic artists dream. But from the very first negotiations, Jack was upset. It seemed everyone wanted a piece of the action. Elmlark was getting it from the top, Wood and Kirby would split the remainder, with most of the expenses coming from Jack’s share. Then Jack Schiff chimed in, he wanted a cut also. Jack didn’t believe that he deserved a share, certainly not an ongoing percentage-possibly a one-time finder’s fee- but nothing more. To Kirby’s way of thinking, Schiff had dropped out of the deal when he turned the negotiations over to the Woods and Kirby, plus it was a Kirby drawn sample, done prior to Elmlark and Schiff, that they had used as a pitching point. It was Dave Wood and Kirby who closed the deal. Schiff was not involved with negotiations on a contract with the syndicate. None of the expected jobs of an agent were done by Schiff. Nothing of the deal was due to Schiff, except for passing along a phone number. Memories of Reese Rosenfield probably clouded Jack’s judgment.

Wally Wood loved drawing the ladies – Kirby’s best femme fatale

Kirby and the Wood Bros. worked on a contract and Dave suggested a gratuity for Jack Schiff. When Schiff heard, he refused a one time offer and demanded a percentage. When told of this, Kirby balked at giving Schiff a cut. Dave Wood said “If we don’t give him a percentage, he’ll be furious with you and maybe with me.” Kirby understood a shakedown when he heard it. His Lower East Side hackles rose up. The idea being that Schiff controlled the assignments for DC, and might cut them back. Jack understood the situation and relented. On April 15th, Kirby and Dave Wood met with Schiff and according to Kirby, Schiff made it obvious that there would be repercussions if Kirby didn’t agree. Schiff typed up a letter of intent and Dave Wood and Jack Kirby signed — Kirby reluctantly. Interestingly, Jack Schiff never signed-anything!

For most of the summer, things were going well. Production on the new strip Sky Masters was proceeding well. Unbelievably, Kirby was able to hire Wallace Wood to ink the strip. Wally Wood was a breath of fresh air that wafted in from the American Mid-West, cocky, restless, and talented. His work was imbued with all the right inspirations; he loved the cartoonists like Hal Foster, Roy Crane. Alex Raymond, and Milton Caniff, but also studied the new masters, like the elegant Lou Fine, and the energetic and dynamic Jack Kirby. He started in the early 1950’s, mostly with the small netherlands of American publishers like Fox, and Avon. He quickly graduated up to EC Comics, where Bill Gaines set him to work on his newly fashioned comics line. Wally produced work for almost all of Gaines titles; the romance, the war and mostly the sci-fi strips. Wally was so adept that he also worked on Mad Magazine doing parodies and caricature. When Gaines closed down the comics in 1956, Wally became one of the major artists on Mad Magazine. He also picked up some work providing covers for sci-fi mags like If, and Galaxy. Wally; both solely and partnered with Joe Orlando had created a body of work unequaled in the 1950’s. Wally was considered a penciler supreme.

He had come along and spearheaded the next great grouping of comic artists, Along with Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, and Al Williamson, et al. he ushered in the second wave of creative talent to the comic world. It was this supreme group that would partner with Jack Kirby to supply the Silver Age of Comics. It’s unknown just how Wally became available, and why Kirby would ever even consider him. It had been a long time since Wally inked other’s work. But it was a match made in comic heaven. Just as Al Williamson had brought an extra dimension with his soft textured inking, Wally Wood brought a talent for sharp as a knife, hi contrast, hyper dramatic inks. It was hard as diamonds, and gave the strip the depth and feeling of isolation and hi-contrast needed for a space based strip. All the surfaces became shiny and reflective with a feeling of artificial light throwing hard and sharp shadows, the perfect ambiance for the hi-tech claustrophobic life in deep space. As to how– the only reference was from Tatjana Wood who recalls Jack Kirby coming to the house and asking Wally to assist him. Why Kirby assumed a penciler of Wally’s talents would agree to ink a strip also remains a mystery. It may have been as simple as economics. The late 50’s were a horrible time for comic artists. With little work they searched other avenues. After producing 4 covers on a book series, Wally lamented “It’s not comic books, but it pays the bills.

Sky Master’s was different; it wasn’t an Alex Raymond space opera. The focus wasn’t on some futuristic world of alien societies or ray gun toting space western. It was set in the near future, with the modern technology of the nascent space race. It starts with man’s first attempt at space flight. The main draw was the attention to detail and the accuracy of NASA’s technology. These were real rockets, and existing space capsules, not the space darts of Buck Rogers, or Flash Gordon. It was immediate; the stories were taken from the daily headlines. The sub-orbital flights of Shepard and Grissom–the use of animals rather than humans, and fear of cosmic rays. The cast of characters fit the Kirby pattern. The brave laconic pilot hero,(Sky Masters) the science mentor, (Dr. Royer) and (Will Riot) the beefy Earthy mechanic sidekick, and friend from the Korean War and the quiet girl friend (Holly Martin) daughter of a senior pilot that Sky rescued, and her hot headed younger brother Danny. This strange mix of sci-fi and sci-fact was magical, Kirby bridging the ground and the stars, Wood supplying the texture and. ambience.

Kirby quickly brought in an active female presence in Challengers with June, a computer wizard who assisted the boys in Showcase #7. In Sky Masters, Kirby introduced perhaps his most sexual, animalistic, and driven female protagonist when he introduced Mayday Shannon- an ex-girlfriend of Sky’s and renewed rival for Sky’s affection.

Another radiation affected machine

This relationship was right out of a Simon and Kirby romance story. Mayday is Sky’s equal in every way and the perfect foil for his stodgy, straight assed, uptight military bearing, and no one inked more beautiful woman than Wally Wood. The training scenes are so realistic, due to the fact that Kirby was getting data and photos directly from NASA. Kirby said that NASA even invited him down to Cape Canaveral to experience the actual training program, and to witness flights. Neal Kirby, who loved airplanes and flying as much as his dad, used to look forward with great anticipation the manila folders sent to Jack by NASA.

Jack quickly added June Robbins. Wally Wood made her blond and gorgeous

Work at DC continued unabated. Challs got better and better. A back-up strip, Green Arrow became available when the penciler, George Papp was moved to a different book. Jack Kirby took over the strip in both Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics. Like most of the other DC super-heroes, Green Arrow was being updated, and Kirby supplied the updated origin story. And like every other Kirby title, it became a showcase for every wild sci-fi concept he could think of; alien Green Arrows transporting to Earth, time travel, hypnosis and gadget arrows a-plenty. But there was some blowback from other DC editors who thought the changes on Green Arrow were hurting the book. They went to Schiff and had him make Kirby revert back to the earlier simpler tales.

Thor’s hammer escapes from Journey Into Mystery – Green Arrow meets Kirby wrong one talking

Shortly, Wally Wood also became the inker for Challengers as of issue #4 and the book never looked so well. This accounted for Wally reaching a pinnacle. It was always a goal of comic book artists to get a gig at DC. They paid the highest, they sold the best and working there carried a cache of success in the business. Wally’s work for DC would be hit and miss, but this job was a good start. It also introduced Wally Wood—the inker extraordinaire –to the business, a job that Wally would do for the rest of his life. Interestingly, Jack inked many of the fantasy stories and Green Arrows himself. Roz would help out outlining the pencils in ink, and filling in the black areas. The extra money for inking was nice.

Green Arrow meets Kirby sci-fi

Jack was so into the project that once he met up with Wally at his house and saw Al Williamson—the soft illustrative inker from before at Harvey– working in the studio, and Jack recoiled in horror. Al recalled; “Wally told me later. He’s worried that you might be inking his stuff. I told him, “Don’t worry, he’s a good artist, but he’s not gonna touch this. Wally was a good guy, but Jack was a little concerned: What’s this guy doing here?” And he scared me. You don’t wanna mess with Jack!”

Eat your heart out Vince Colletta—Wally Wood

In June, 1958, Jack Kirby got a call from Stan Lee. The inventoried art that they had been printing during the Atlas implosion was running out. Martin Goodman gave him the green light to buy new art. The reduced output had been a mixture of romance, war, teen humor and old fashioned gothic horror. Incredibly, Stan’s favorite collaborator, Joe Maneely had died just a week before when he fell between train cars on the way home. With the new work, there is a sudden shift to the Post-Atomic sci-fi genre Kirby had been doing for the past year. Within one cycle a full 6 titles had been transformed into the new genre. Jack quickly became the #1 artist and the cover artist for Stan’s adventure books. Stan promised Kirby as many pages as he could provide. Steve Ditko became the de-facto #2. Wally Wood evened helped out inking a job- or maybe it was left over inventory from DC. Strangely, it fell to inker George Roussos to see the books and tell Jack and Stan that they had hit on something good. Stan muttered, “I’ll believe you when I see the sales figures.” The sales on the fantasy books leapt to the top of Atlas’ charts, they led the teen and romance books by 20%

At the same time, the two Liverpool moptops paid a local recorder to make a vanity pressing of the Quarrymen. Given to close friends, only a couple copies of this pressing remain. It contains the first recorded song by Paul McCartney and George Harrison on the back.

The earliest known recording of the Quarrymen on a vanity label doing Buddy Holly (1958)

The genius of Joe Maneely passed too soon – George “Inky” Roussos

In August, Sky Masters was just about to go to press. The strip looked great and all the work Kirby put into it showed on the strip. There had been some rumblings from Jack Schiff. Schiff approached Kirby and talked about renegotiating their verbal agreement for 4%. (The letter of intent was not a contract) According to Kirby, Schiff wanted a bigger piece, perhaps as much as a 10% sliding fee. Kirby was furious, he balked at original 4% because he didn’t believe that Schiff had done anything other than bring DC Elmlark and Wood/Kirby together. It wasn’t a Schiff sample that sold the strip. Schiff didn’t assist on the writing or art chores. Kirby said that Schiff made reference to his work at DC and how it might disappear if he didn’t cooperate. Kirby says it wasn’t done verbally, but with a wink and a nudge, as most strong arming is done. Kirby stood his ground, and in fact implied he might not even pay the 4%. The meeting ended with both sides upset, and still no signed agreement.

In late August tragedy struck. Dick and Dave Wood had a third brother, Bob Wood, a well respected artist who worked for years on Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay. Gleason’s comic company was another casualty of the Comic Code Authority and Wood found work harder and harder to find. Bob Wood took to drinking and occasional work for sleazy magazines doing porno. On Aug 27th Bob was arrested for the grisly murder of his girlfriend. In a drunken rage, Wood battered the woman with an electric iron when she began pressuring him about marriage. Bob Wood would plead guilty to manslaughter and was sent to prison for several years. During this period the Wood Bros. became more and more distant. Constant attempts by Kirby to contact them were rebuked or channeled through the mother. Soon, all communications ended and Kirby took on the role of writer as well. Sky Masters finally saw print on Sept. 8, 1958 to great reviews. When sent their first checks, Dave and Dick Wood sent Jack Schiff the promised 4%. Kirby, true to his word, withheld payment. Now it was Schiff who was furious, and true to his implication, Jack was taken off the Green Arrow strip, and the fill-in fantasy tales. This left Kirby with only Challengers of the Unknown

Kirby’s breakthrough classics DC take on post-war fantasy

During this period negotiations continued. At one meeting Kirby agreed to pay Schiff a one time $500 payment for setting up the original meeting. But Schiff would have none of that; he wanted a continuing source of income.

Still later, Schiff had a dinner meeting with Jack Kirby to try to end this stalemate. Kirby held to his position when Schiff changed the subject to Challengers. He claimed that Kirby had stolen some ideas from a Challengers story conference between Schiff and Wood and Kirby, and used it for Sky Masters and that he thought that Jack owed Schiff for the ideas. Schiff went so far as to draw up a contract on a napkin stating Kirby would pay Schiff for the ideas. Jack exploded! First Jack claims they never had any story conferences with Schiff on the Challengers, and even if they had, the dispute would be between Schiff and the writers, not Kirby, the artist.

Masked villains, transistors, inter-dimensional travel and a kidnapped woman. Where’s the FF?
(this was still early in the process before the Woods began disappearing) Second, there is no evidence of shared work in the early Sky Masters and any Challengers story. This was a classic strongarm tactic. But Jack understood what Schiff was doing; he was laying the seeds for pulling Kirby off Challengers. If Kirby complained to Jack Liebowitz about losing the strip, Schiff had a cover my ass story. Shortly thereafter, Jack did lose the Challengers assignment. There was no repairing the riff. In Dec. 1958, Jack Schiff sued Jack Kirby for monies owed.

Kirby on top again

Looking back on his time on Challengers, Jack considers them a malleable venture, unfinished and evolving. “The issues I did were still formative and I can’t answer for what DC did with them. But they were heading for the super-hero image when I left. In many ways, they were the predecessors of the Fantastic Four.”

One interesting bit is that in Challs issue #9 the header reads “The Plot to Destroy Earth” with art by Bob Brown. In Jack’s files were unused pages to a Challs story called The Plot to Destroy Earth showing Kirby had started that issue when summarily told to stop. It’s obvious the breach wasn’t planned by Jack.

Jack was still doing Young Romance for Prize, and as agreed to by Stan Lee, his page count at Atlas continued to grow as he lost pages at DC. Jack was contributing stories to six fantasy titles, a couple westerns and now a war comic entitled Battle. The page rates were 2/3 of what DC paid, and going lower but the extra pages made up some of the difference. The fantasy books had fallen into a pattern. Gone were the gothic horror fantasies, replaced by Post nuclear BEMs. Jack Kirby would do the cover and the lead story, usually a 6-8 page monster story featuring a huge bug eyed alien or mutate trying to take over the world. This was followed by some more stories drawn by stalwarts like Don Heck, Paul Reinman, maybe Jack Davis or Joe Sinnott, and ended with a creepy Steve Ditko thriller. Steve Ditko was called back the same time as Jack and created a bookend duo for all times. As much work as Stan Lee could give him, Jack still had time to spare. Luckily sales had risen a few percent and Martin seemed happy.

Small titles added up

A little reality among the Atlas fantasy

In early 1959, Joe Simon got a call from John Goldwater, the head of Archie Comics. Goldwater had noticed the resurgence of superheroes over at DC, and asked Joe if he could package a couple new books for Archie. Archie had had some success at superheroes back in the forties with titles like the Shield, Hangman, and the Web, but had gotten out as the war ended. Joe told Goldwater that he would work on some ideas.

One of Joe’s first thoughts was of the shelved Silver Spider concept he had pitched Harvey in 1953. Another was an updated version of an old Golden Age character. This made sense since they were both reboots of previous Archie characters—the Web and the Shield.
The next day, Joe made a verbal pitch to Goldwater “A superhero who climbs straight up and down a building using a fine thread that he holsters in his costume like a fishing tackle.” Sounds like Night Fighter or the earlier Spiderman or the Web. The second book involved “an army private who did superhero chores in his spare time in a colorful red, white, and blue costume….Private Strong was….sort of like Captain America.” Goldwater liked both ideas and gave the go ahead for the two books on a regular schedule.

Jack and Joe together again

That night Joe called Jack Kirby. “Jack, I’m tired of the advertising game. We’re back in the superhero business.” Jack replied; “I thought superheroes were dead”’ “Not dead, just sleeping. We’re working on a new one. Come on over, let’s talk. It’ll be like Captain America again.” Joe answered. “A new superhero! Wow! What do you call him? Jack asked. “Spiderman.” Joe said.

It’s not sure if Kirby understood what Spiderman was, there’s some evidence that as early as the Mainline days that Joe had pulled out the old Silver Spider project and had reworked it into a character called Spiderman and even possibly evolving into the proposed Night Fighter; or if the idea of updating the Silver Spider was entirely new and Joe explained the idea of rebooting the old character. However it happened, Jack drew a new character- one with an origin gimmick copied from the Silver Spider- a young orphan finding a mystical ring and after rubbing it transforms into an adult superhero. The superhero aspect was all new, he now had spider like powers such as wall crawling, super-agility, super strength, uncanny extra senses that protected him from unseen dangers and gave him a vague awareness of trouble, plus a web shooter. These new powers were not found in the Silver Spider concept but several may have been borrowed from the Sid Jacobson memos. Jack drew up a couple stories.

Double splashes again

C C Beck’s first try

Somewhere along the line, John Goldwater made a decision to change the character from a spider to a fly. Spiderman was to become the Fly. Speculation is that this was in response to the popularity of the movie The Fly, starring Vincent Price, though it should be noted that in no sense of the word was the movie Fly considered as anything but a monstrous creature. Retconning that concept into a super-hero seems farfetched. Kirby’s first thought upon learning of the change was “A spiderman that walks straight up and down a building” If he’s a fly, why doesn’t he fly? Joe came up with a simple solution “So we’ll give him wings, small wings.” “Attached to his costume….the collar of his costume can be shaped like wings.” Joe told Kirby to “take it home and pencil it over in your immortal style.’ It should be noted that there was several different versions of the wings before it settled into an accepted style.

Jack reworked the idea into a fly, but it appears that Joe wasn’t totally satisfied. After getting the pages back, Joe swiped some Kirby poses from Stuntman and Fighting American and redid some panels. It is not known what the swiped panels covered up-perhaps some specific change in the costume not noticed by Kirby, but what is obvious is that nowhere does the Fly ever fly! Joe states; “except for a few minor details, like why would a fly fall from great heights because he was unbalanced by a bright light? And why does he climb up and down buildings when he should be flying like an honest fly? Neither of us bothered to change those silly problems. Who would notice them anyway?” In his bio, Joe points out a panel of the Fly falling and asks “Why doesn’t the Fly, fly? and answers; “Because he’s a spider.” Jack drew up a couple stories. Joe further explained to Will Murray; “Well, if you examine it carefully you’ll see that it was really the spider instead of the Fly. The Fly was originally the Silver Spider then it was taken to Marvel after we changed the name and became Spider-Man. One interesting quote from Joe highlights the transition. “Out went the web-pistol, The Fly now carried a buzz gun.” The problem with this is that the Silver Spider never had a web-pistol, so the only place a web-pistol could have appeared is from an intermediate character that had spider-like aspects.

Inventory pages finally used In Mainline ad: note blurb under Night Fighter title – where’s Foxhole?

Some of this scenario disagrees with Joe’s recorded version, but I believe this is more accurate than Joe’s often faulty reminiscences. J. David Spurlock, a respected historian agrees with my interpretation, he writes; ‘indicate (as my conversations with Jack did) that Jack updated the Silver Spider to Spiderman prior to switching him to the Fly.” Spurlock suggests that Jack was not brought into the process until it was being changed into the Fly-suggesting that Jack’s Spiderman was done at an earlier period, which might explain some of Joe’s confusion about just how and if Night Fighter fit into the overall picture.

Three inventoried Black Rider stories surfaced as filler stories in the Atlas western books, using up the material meant for Return of the Black Rider #2 pulled during the implosion. Found money.

The Double Life of Private Strong was unique. First the title referred to the hero’s alter ego, not his superhero moniker. The hero was called the Shield. The hero got his powers as a result of genetic engineering by his scientist father. When the father is being chased by Commie spies he flees and has a car accident. The child is thrown clear and found by a mid-western family and raised as their own. Now named Lancelot Strong, when he reaches his teen years the child finds the car remains and a costume. When Lancelot Strong donned the costume, it activated his super powers. He was invulnerable, could fly and had a radar sense that allowed him to see in the dark. When a typical Kirby Alien monster invades earth, the Shield jumps into action, during the fight Lances’ best friend is killed. Lance blames himself and his exuberance; he promises that he will be more responsible so that it would never happen again. A rather unique twist ending I have never seen before, but we would see again.

It’s hard to know just what inspires kids to get into comic art. In England at this time a youngster picked up a copy of this little remembered series, and the spark was lit. “The Double Life of Private Strong, which, incidentally, I had mis-remembered as The Private Life of Double Strong. Although some other hand was evident on the cover’s main figure, it was the background figures, and more-so, the vignette film-strip-like drawings by Kirby that framed the cover that caught my eye: I’d never seen figure drawing like that before, dynamic, fluid, highly romanticized. Kirby stunned me with that first issues interior work.” Barry Smith would draw on that Kirby inspiration years later.

Movie strip madness

Jack stayed on the two series for two issues. Private Strong was canceled after the second issue when DC complained that the hero was too close in several details to Superman. Joe would stay thru 4 issues of the Fly, when Goldwater decided he wanted to go in a different art direction. The strip continued for a few years. This was the last collaboration between Joe and Jack for approx. 15 years. It ended the greatest partnership in comic history.

Lancelot Strong – John Goldwater

Things seemed to be going well for Kirby at Atlas. Stan was giving him all the work he could. But behind the scenes, Martin Goodman was not happy. This wasn’t rare, according to Stan Lee, Goodman threatened to close down the comics division every other month. Sales were flat. In late 1959, while visiting Stan Lee at his office, Dick Ayers was told. “Dick, the sales of comic books are so bad—so bad that Martin Goodman, who is like an uncle to me, and is the publisher, doesn’t even say hello to me when he passes my office in the morning!” It’s like we’re on a ship that’s sinking.” “And like all the rats on the sinking ship—we have to leave.” We have to leave this business—quit drawing stories for comic books, Dick! Do something else!”

It should be noted that Dick Ayers was no fly-by-night artist, even during the implosion, Stan Lee had kept Dick Ayers working regularly on an ongoing strip. Something that artists like Joe Maneely, and Jack Kirby didn’t do. Dick took Stan at his word and got a job for the post office. Other artists, like Jack Davis, Al Williamson got no more assignments or refused the lower rates being offered, and inkers like Chris Rule were let go. Pencilers like Joe Sinnott, and Vince Colletta were downgraded to inkers. Atlas was experiencing another implosion. Kirby seemed not to be affected, the only difference was in the inking assignments, with Chris Rule gone pencilers like Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and Steve Ditko began inking over Kirby. Times were very tough. Though I doubt Steve Ditko was happy, it was always Stan Lee’s opinion that Steve Ditko turned out to be Kirby’s best inker. I find the results mixed, sometimes too heavy and sometimes just right.

Jack said that it was so bad that he went into Stan’s office and they were carting out furniture. Stan was distraught and told Kirby that Goodman was closing down the division. Kirby threw himself on Stan’s desk and wouldn’t let them take it. Kirby told Stan that he would go talk to Goodman and tell him that he personally guaranteed he would come up with new winners.

Most people assume that it’s one of Kirby’s embellished tales, but Atlas historian Jim Vadeboncour disagrees.

“I believe Kirby. Lee, who is still alive, is notorious for genial self-aggrandizing and Kirby’s story puts him in a bad light, just as it emphasizes Kirby’s creative role in the success that Marvel Comics was to realize. I take nothing away from Lee. His contributions channeled Jack’s energies as they’d never been before and magic happened. But, historically, left to his own devices, Lee has failed to create many lasting characters in his 20 years in the biz. Jack never seemed to run out of them”.

Kirby/Ayers the start of a long relationship

After a short hiatus, Stan contacted Dick Ayers to ask him if he would be willing to ink over Kirby’s monster stories. Dick agreed, but it seemed with every issue, the page rate decreased. Kirby liked Ayers inks. So did the readers who finally saw Kirby inked by a sympathetic hand. Chris Rule was the previous inker at Atlas, and his approach was way too timid for Kirby’s art. When Wally Wood left Sky Masters after a few months, Jack asked Dick Ayers to take over the job. While never matching Wood’s distinctive razor sharp sheen, Dick did an admirable job. He always suspected Jack and Stan Lee collaborated when it came to his payment for Sky Masters.

Kirby’s page count at Atlas continued to increase; he was now doing romance stories, war and back-up western tales other artists had been doing. Stan was mining Kirby for everything he could. Once Kirby started doing romance titles for Atlas, Prize Comics dropped him from Young Romance. With Young Romance #103, (Dec. 1959) his 13 year connection with Crestwood came to an end.

Jack’s last work for Prize

On October 16, 1959, the lawsuit with Jack Schiff came to trial. By all accounts, Kirby was a bad witness, stammering and stuttering incoherently in a combative manner. On December 3, 1959 the judge passed judgment. The judge had only two things to consider. Was there a legal contract, and was there any legal reason to void the contract. The first question was answered when the judge allowed the “letter of intent’ signed by Kirby and Dave Wood to stand as a legal agreement. As to the second question, the judge made clear that Kirby did not offer any tangible evidence of Schiff doing anything to void the contract. Though noting that the deal might have been an onerous one for Kirby, the judge had to rule in Schiff’s favor.

There is no evidence that Jack Schiff was anything but an honorable man, in fact there are several accounts of him being one of the more admirable people at DC. And Jack Kirby was also an honorable man, a man to whom constant work was a high priority. One must ask just what it would it take for Jack Kirby to voluntarily throw away the largest and most prestigious portion of his income- and the only logical conclusion is some principle that he couldn’t bypass. It’s possible that this dispute was based on both men misunderstanding signs given from the other and then pride setting in and concretizing their positions until the only way left was the judicial system. But that’s what the courts are for, and unfortunately for Kirby and his family’s finances, he lost. There is no shame to be apportioned, just lessons to be learned and bad feelings to be overcome. It seems that Kirby paid his judgment and continued on the Sky Masters strip for another 14 months until it was cancelled.

Ingenious vertical strip showing cabin depths – collected strips

For his part, according to Carmine Infantino, “Schiff basically had Jack Kirby blacklisted at DC”. Editor George Kashdan recounts it a little harsher, in an interview with Jim Amash.

JA: I’ve heard Jack Schiff said, “As long as I work here Jack Kirby will not work here.”

KASHDAN: He may have. I could believe it. Schiff was mad at Kirby over Sky Masters, and Schiff was temperamental. One day Kirby asked Schiff for assignments, and Schiff virtually kicked him out. and shouted at him, “What the hell do you want here with me?”
Kirby said, “I’m just trying to make a living Jack.”
Schiff said, “Well go make a living somewhere else.”

JA: Marvel was paying about one half of what DC was paying, but Kirby couldn’t get work from any DC editor. Do you think Schiff had something to do with that?

KASHDAN: The other editors joined ranks at the request of Schiff.

JA: Would Schiff have been mad if you hired Kirby?

KASHDAN: I couldn’t have done it with Schiff around.

JA: So was Kirby blackballed?

KASHDAN: Yes, virtually he was.

Kirby wouldn’t work at DC again until after Schiff retired. Joe Simon says that he ran into Kirby at some point after the trial with Kirby nattily dressed in a derby. Joe asked Jack about the strip. Jack replied: “I’ll never do another newspaper strip again!” “What do you think of the derby?” Joe wryly remarked “Watch out for the pigeons.”

But working on Sky Masters wasn’t all negative. Neal Kirby remembers his dad working on Sky. “I honestly think he enjoyed that more than the comic books. I know he loved doing Sky Masters. Neal loved it too; he loved the manilla envelopes that arrived with all the NASA technical data. “Sky was so far ahead of its time, it’s incredible. If you look at some of the things he designed: I remember one thing where he’s got Sky Masters floating outside the spaceship, he’s holding this wand which would shoot out little jets of air, and that’s how he moved around the spaceship. That’s exactly what the first astronauts used outside the early ships. NASA wasn’t in existence at the time,(ed. note NASA started July 1958) but there was this center where they were training jet pilots for early space flight. I guess they picked up on the comic strip, and they started sending him all this classified information. I remember him getting this lithograph in 1957 and it showed the entire rocket boosters built to date, and all the one’s planned out into the future, right up through Mercury, Atlas, the Saturn V, which launched the moon ships. There was one planned after the Saturn V called the Nova, which was even bigger, but was eventually scrapped in favor of the Space Shuttle.” “A lot he did without that material, It took a while for the strip to grab hold, before this little fan club, so to speak, within that early space community started sending him stuff.”

Joe Simon had bounced around between Harvey, Prize and advertising assignments, but in late 1959, Teddy Blier at Crestwood (Prize) proposed that Joe and Crestwood go into partnership on a Mad Magazine knock-off called Sick Magazine.(Aug. 1960) For the next several years this would be Joe’s main concern.

The Quarrymen settled in at a new club called the Casbah, formed when Pete Best’ mother opened up her basement. Sharing the bill with a group called the Blackjacks, John renamed the band Johnny and the Moondogs.

The Quarrymen soon to be Moondoggies

The industry as a whole was in a funk, sales had risen slowly following the Wertham debacle. Many retailers were stilled scared to stock any comics, let alone increase what little they had. Subscription service helped some fans get around weak distribution. DC had been seeing some growth due to the return of the Flash and success of Challengers of the Unknown. In a 1959 article, ABC the auditing bureau for comics sent out a missive in their monthly mailer, trying to spur growth. No mention of Atlas or other companies despite slow increases, which wasn’t unusual for the ABC. DC was still the largest and most respected of the publishers. They do note changes in the reading and entertainment habits of the children as well as adults with the growth of TV and paperbacks.


“During the past decade, retailers of periodicals have been living through tremendous years of decision. The last five years alone have seen several million-dollar developments for dealers, distributors and publishers. Some were gains… others were losses. The spectacular rise of paperback sales, for example, which now tops $12,000 per month. TV GUIDE, the little 15 cent weekly,is now earning around $1,200,000 in dealer profits every month! On the other hand, the Crowell-Collier magazines are no longer with us. The American News Company has folded. Millions of copies of many prominent titles formerly sold on the newsstands now reach their readers (buyers) via subscriptions! Comics dropped some 20,000,000 sales per month but are now creeping upwards again. Retailers do not always have an opportunity to participate in these momentous developments, all of which directly affect their profits. Right now, however, there is a great opportunity, a challenge really, to do something decisive about comics. During the past decade, comics hit the peaks… and the depths. Sales plunged from an estimated 60 million copies per month in 1952 to a low of approximately 30 million during the first few months of 1958. Today, sales are on their way up again, about 20 per cent better than last year! Behind this extreme variation in comics sales, is the dramatic life and death struggle of the most popular publication medium ever devised. Comics were soaring in the early fifties. In December, 1950, 303 new issues were released. This figure jumped to 434 in 1951 and 471 in 1952! These were the days of tremendous oversupply and great public agitation over sexy, gory and crime comics. That was the beginning of the decline. The numbers of issues per month slipped thereafter to 409, 321, 296… and sales proportionately! In the fall of 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America established the Comics Code Authority to establish publishing standards and regulate contents accordingly. This industry organization was spectacularly successful! The minority of “nasty” comics were eliminated. The majority of acceptable titles became even more interesting and appealing. Public opinion wavered, then emphatically endorsed the comic as a healthy, wholesome medium of entertainment. The comic was saved! Normally, sales would have boomed a year or two after the Code Authority went to work, but another problem developed – television. It is no secret that today’s crop of potential young comics fans are plopped into their Baby Tendas and placed in front of the TV screen almost as soon as they are able to sit! They never get to acquire the comics habit as we used to know it. As a result, comics sales are somewhat improved, but they could and should be lots better!”

The decade was coming to an end. Never were Dickens’s words more prophetic. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Kirby was reduced to one comic account, but that one was giving him all he could handle. The decade held Jack’s most successful period. Yet the last couple years were as hard and painful as any he had ever had. His own company tanked, his parents had died, his partnership with his big brother ended, and he had been sued and humiliated by an editor. If there was to be a rebound, Kirby would have to do it by himself.

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Looking For The Awesome – 14. The Art Of The Swipe

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


Jack Kirby was depressed, a mood not usually seen in this overly optimistic person. The cyclical nature of his industry had taken its toll. Jack was no longer young and dumb—immune to the tribulations of an industry so controlled by outside pressures and sudden changes in popularity. Jack had always been adaptable and resilient, but he now had three children and a wife that depended on him. And as he said many times, “a man what don’t do right by his family is no man”

Jack hated these periods of retrenchment; starting out fresh at a new company, with no chits, no position of strength, no ability to force your vision to the forefront. The companies were preset in their ways and visions. They had their own ideas of what a good comic book was. At DC, they had a vision of clean static drawings telling little tales provided by their in-house writers, like John Broome, or Gardner Fox as interpreted by Dan Barry, or Gil Kane. At Atlas, their ideal was a Bill Everett or Joe Maneely with their overwrought scratchy inking telling Stan Lee’s ironic tales. The new guy had to fit in and copy the house styles and fit into the accepted modes. Jack always had trouble fitting into other’s styles. Jack was a leader, not a follower; he hated having to copy another style. He hated having to prove himself one more time. He didn’t need to ape anyone else, let them ape him. But Jack needed to take care of his family, and his personal visions could take a back seat for a while. He would climb the mountain again—or build a new one.

Artist Wally Wood once said “Never draw what you can copy. Never copy what you can trace. And never trace what you can cut out and paste down.

Jack Kirby once said “I loved Alex Raymond, I swiped him unmercifully”

Joe Simon says “hell yes, we all swiped.”

Swiping gets a bad rap. It’s how we learn. What’s the first thing a teacher did? She went to a chalkboard and drew the letter A and told you to copy it. And you did! Why? Because she knew what she was doing. Many of these early comic artists were untrained, so they learned by copying what successful artists were doing. In many instances they were specifically told to copy other artists. Sometimes the swipes are direct, sometimes compositional and sometimes nothing more than thematic, but it’s still the passing on of knowledge.

From Careers in Cartooning, by Lawrence Lariar, 1949;

“The business of learning to cartoon should begin with an imitation of the working habits of the professional. But most important of all for the amateur is the collection and filing of an adequate morgue. This is the term used in all forms of commercial art to describe the check file of reference material from which the artist can get authentic research on detail whenever he needs it. Many amateurs think that a collection of this type isn’t ethical or honest. This is not true at all. It is impossible for any creative artist to have experience with all subjects likely to be demanded of him in his day-to-day drawing assignments. Nobody expects a cartoonist to be able to draw everything and anything with perfect accuracy…..

The building of a morgue has other advantages, too. In the daily clipping and filing of research, the spark of interest in your craft will be kept alive. Some professional artists have morgues worth thousands of dollars, started when they were only students and steadily built into a masterful library of research. A cartoonist too must have research data at his finger tips. You’ll find that a variety of clippings of contemporary comics will be a great help to you. Using the work of the leaders in the field does not mean copying it line for line. But you’ll find endless inspiration in using professional work as a guide when you’re faced with a difficult pose your character must assume to put over a gag. Studying the essential construction of a professional’s cartoon can be mighty helpful and most hardy veterans in the trade use their file throughout a lifetime of cartooning because they know that the process of learning from others can never stop for a real artist. The use of a morgue is considered important in all types of art, including adventure comic strips, commercial art, illustration, lettering and fashion drawing.”

Jack’s early work was full of swipes. He swiped Segar in Socko the Seadog, Alex Raymond in several early stories and of course Hal Foster for the cover of Red Raven. Jack even swiped from a minor league artist at Fox Publications named Pierce Rice for his initial godlike poses for Mercury and Hercules.

Joe’s early works were nothing but swipes. He wasn’t trained in the art of sequential storytelling like Kirby. His background was in composing and producing advertising copy for newspapers and magazines; jobs where swiping was expected. Stories like The Fiery Mask in Daring Comics #6 are nothing but Raymond swipes; even the smallest non-essential panels were swipes.

As they quickly grew and became more confident, Simon and Kirby established their own style and as the Bible might say, it was good; so good that suddenly artist were swiping from them. Gil Kane once said,” I had a job with Mac Raboy drawing Captain Marvel Jr., and I brought in samples made up equally of Jack Kirby and Reed Crandall. He said, “Forget the Reed Crandall. Just stick with Jack.”

One of the earliest and best swipe of a Kirby character was the cover of Blue Beetle #26, Oct 1943, Holyoke) This was swiped from the splashpage of the Manhunter story in Adventure Comics #73, April 1942.

One of the more interesting swipes of Jack Kirby wasn’t even in a comic book. In 1950, a new sci-fi TV series was introduced. Tom Corbett-Space Cadet was written by Joseph Greene, based on the Robert Heinlein novel, Space Cadet. It became very popular, and soon other mediums picked it up. There was a radio program, a newspaper strip, and of course comic books–originally by Dell, but later by Prize Comics. There was also a series of juvenile hardbacks published by Grosset and Dunlap. The first title Stand by for Mars was published in 1952, written by Carey Rockwell and spot illustrated by Louis Glanzman, and had the great Willy Ley as technical advisor.

Louis S. Glanzman was born in Virginia in 1922, and is one of the great illustrators of the last fifty years. He was self-taught, and began his career by illustrating comic books when he was sixteen, alongside his brother Sam. They made the rounds of the comic publishers in the early forties. Their art was simplistic and generic, but they found constant work for companies like Centaur and Harvey. He proceeded to work on the Air Force magazine in the 1940s, and illustrated many children’s books in the 1950s, including the Pippi Longstocking series and Tom Corbett series.

Louis provided about a dozen spot illustrations per issue, and for the first three issues, at least half of them are direct swipes from Kirby sci-fi strips. What makes this interesting is not that he was swiping Kirby, but the variety of source material. He swiped from Cosmic Carson, Blue Bolt, Comet Pierce, Captain Daring, and Solar Legion. That’s at least five strips from five different companies and most unsigned and uncredited. He swiped machinery, weapons, vehicles, and a surrealistic Kirby alien vista; he even swiped costumes and female hairstyles. What an amazing coincidence that as part of his morgue was a collection of early Kirby sci-fi from small print companies, and short run series from a short period of Kirby’s career. It seems the artists of the period recognized Kirby’s work no matter where it appeared. When asked about these coincidences. Glanzman said he couldn’t remember the details, but “everyone swiped back then” “I may not have even known they were by Kirby”

In 1945 a one-shot titled K O Komics featured a reworked Guardian sketch on the cover. Though clearly produced during the war and signed JCA (Jason Comic Art-a small independent studio) the cover has been mistakenly credited to Jack Kirby.

Jack Kirby would dip into his reference morgue every so often. Jack’s gorgeous cover to Foxhole #1 was copied from a war reporter’s painting. A wonderful Boy’s Ranch vista was swiped from a painting. A Police Trap splash was taken from an old photograph.

Joe Simon elevated swiping to an artform. Whenever he felt the need to punch up a cover or panel, he would insert a swipe of a Jack Kirby figure. It made no difference if the styles were similar, or not. Many covers credited to Kirby are actually Simon constructs with Kirby swipes added in, especially on Harvey titles.

Joe reversed and swiped

Joe heavily swiped Fighting American

Joe borrows from Stuntman to show Fly’s sixth sense

The Fly and Double Life of Private Strong titles are uniquely assembled by overwhelming swiping. For the origin, Joe Simon claims that Jack took the script home and returned a few days later with beautiful pages “In my opinion, the best ever” This may have been so, but this didn’t stop Joe from redoing many panels of the Fly using Kirby swipes from Stuntman, and Fighting American. The reasons why are discussed in the chapter dealing with the Fly. In the stories not drawn by Kirby, there are these odd insertions of Kirby swipes, usually when the hero is in action. Certain poses are reused in both series. It’s almost like Joe Simon gave the artists copies of Fighting American and told them to randomly pick out Kirby poses and throw them in. Some are mechanically precise, while some appear penciled freehand.

Joe erased Bucky and rotated slightly bottom of Fly’s torso

The reworked stories in Fighting American are more problematic. Obviously reworking a previous Simon and Kirby Manhunter story is well within their rights, but taking a Jack Burnley, Starman story and reworking it into a FA story may cross the line. One or two panels maybe, but not the whole story and a dozen or more panels. That borders on outright plagiarism. It was cheesy and immoral. But when hurting for money, an artist must do what he must do.

Great cover but background swiped from Kirby war story

Even Joe’s biography cover is replete with Kirby swipes reworked.

There is another aspect of swiping, though swiping isn’t the correct word. It is the constant revisiting of concepts’ elements, visuals whatever idea has lodged in their brain and catches their fancy. It is the nature of all artists to rework and evolve their ideas. Kirby was a persistent dabbler in that he constantly would revisit a concept, or an element, maybe just an image that intrigued him. It may be something as simple as an alien baby running amok that the heroes must tame. A favorite was the villainous painter seen in early Cap, Boy Commandos, The Fly and Marvel. The dangerous movie lot got a lot of visits-at all companies.

Atlas – Harvey – DC – Marvel


Or Rock men-usually from Easter Island

Atlas – DC – Atlas

Marvel – DC

Or sentient machines threatening man

Harvey – Atlas – Atlas

Atlas – Atlas – Marvel

Kirby’s epic thinking machine Marvel

Or Aliens disguised as Earthlings

Atlas – Atlas – Atlas

Atlas – Atlas

My favorite—The Promethean Pose

Harvey – Marvel – DC

In a later chapter I will talk about some other Kirby repeat patterns such as Hollywood movies and such. I literally could have chosen over a dozen examples of Jack reusing ideas, premises and elements. It is something he did his whole career. I use this a lot in tracking down whether an idea stemmed from Jack, Stan or Larry etc. The trail of Spider-Man shows that Jack reused ideas from his old partner as well. Fair enough—Joe certainly borrowed enough from Jack over the years.

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


After the war ended, the world once again descended into two great spheres; East vs. West, democracy vs. Communism, us vs. them! With the fall of Hitler, the Communists became the great Bogeyman. In a speech in 1947 the “good Jew” Bernard Baruch described the global situation as a “Cold War” spinning out of control. The Korean conflict and the Reds getting the bomb in 1949 due to Julius Rosenberg’s treachery, dominated the headlines. Movies such as The Red Menace and I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. focused much attention on the country’s paranoia. Sen. Joe McCarthy started a famous campaign to uncover Commies working undercover in the Govt. Could comics be far behind?

On June 19th 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were put to death by way of electrocution; thus ended one of the worst episodes of Jewish shame in U.S history.

Alas, there was no Harry Slonaker for Ethel and Julius. Their method of escape was joining up at Communist Youth clubs, where they rallied with labor unions for the betterment of the workers. The Communist youth groups were popular among the poor. They both graduated into the official Communist Party. When the fighting had ended, suddenly it was Communist Russia—earlier an ally, now seen as our biggest threat. After the war they joined a network of similarly minded people and began slipping American nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Julius and other mostly Jewish accomplices were arrested for spying in 1950. When Julius wouldn’t finger anyone else, J. Edgar Hoover ordered his wife arrested–suspecting it would force him to confess and name names. Julius refused; they were tried and sentenced to death. The only members of the group so sentenced due to their unwavering claims of innocence and unwillingness to finger others. The stain of their treachery attached itself to all labor groups, and other Jewish intelligentsia who had dabbled with Communism in their youth.

Love kept them together-till the bitter end

The Jewish community was torn between the love of country and their fear of retaliation from the anti-Semitic populace- always eager to blame all Jews for the crimes of one. The inequality of the sentences for the Rosenbergs, as compared to their fellow conspirators riled many. Peoples as disparate as the Pope, Albert Einstein, Picasso, and John-Paul Sartre lobbied President Eisenhower for leniency. Sartre would describe the trial as “a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation. By killing the Rosenbergs, you have quite simply tried to halt the progress of science by human sacrifice. Magic, witch-hunts, autos-da-fé, sacrifices — we are here getting to the point: your country is sick with fear… you are afraid of the shadow of your own bomb.” On early Friday evening of June 19th they were executed- the only American civilians ever executed for espionage. Though their guilt is not debatable, the depth of culpability is still debated. Boris V. Brokhovich, the engineer who later became director of Chelyabinsk-40, the plutonium production reactor and extraction facility which the Soviet Union used to create its first bomb material, denied any involvement by the Rosenbergs. In 1989, Boris V. Brokhovich told The New York Times in an interview that development of the bomb had been a matter of trial and error. “You sat the Rosenbergs in the electric chair for nothing”, he said. “We got nothing from the Rosenbergs.”

S&K had an electric chair too

Perhaps in response to the anti-Jewish backlash, or a feeling of shared Jewish guilt, some of the comic owners went out of their way to show their all-American feelings. Reams of spy comics were produced. The Catholic Church began a series of strongly anti-communistic screeds and eventually the super-hero genre. Captain America, the great S&K political hero of World War 2 had been cancelled after the war due to lack of interest, but with the rise of the anti-Commie fervor, Atlas brought back the red, white and blue hero in late 1953 in Young Men Comics #24,  coincidentally timed to the Rosenberg execution. Relabeled as Captain America-Commie Fighter, the character regained his own series in early 1954. Taking on Commie spies and saboteurs, Cap and Bucky acted like they had never left. Submariner and Human Torch soon followed. The new series disappeared after only 3 or so issues, except for Submariner which lasted few months longer in hopes of a TV series.

It wasn’t only the comics that noticed a market for Cold War intrigue. In 1953 a long-time British Intelligence officer named Ian Fleming ignited a whole new genre when he released Casino Royale featuring super-spy James Bond-007.

Joe Simon had noticed the return of their iconic patriotic hero. Not to be outdone, he and Jack decided to get back into superheroes with their own Commie basher. Fighting American debuted with its own series published by Prize, cover dated April/May 1954. FA had a very interesting origin gimmick. Johnny Flagg was a radio commentator who specialized in anti-Communist propaganda. A war hero, left lame from a battle wound, he tirelessly fought to keep America safe. Johnny’s brother, Nelson was a weak milquetoast who loved his brother and country. During a series of broadcasts spotlighting a Commie scam to raise money to finance sabotage Johnny is nabbed and beaten to death. Swearing revenge, Nelson is asked by the Government to help out in a scientific experiment. The government had learned how to revitalize a lifeless body and improve it to almost superhuman limits. What the Gov’t needed was a life force to re-animate the new body. It fell to Nelson to willingly give his life to bring back his brother. After some preparatory procedures Nelson is strapped to a transfer chair where his life force is drawn from him and given to his dead brother. What emerges is the first original Cold Warrior, a hero created and dedicated to bring about the end of the Evil Empire.

All commies had bad teeth

From there, Fighting American would pick up a kid sidekick titled Speedboy when he is caught changing into his costume by a page boy at the radio station. This updated Captain America and Bucky began a spectacular legacy of bashing colorful Commie sympathizers.

It all became a big joke

Around this time, Sen. McCarthy’s popularity nosed dived when the respected journalist Edward R. Murrow took him on in a televised segment and exposed him as a hypocritical bully and blowhard. With the Senator reduced to a joke, Joe quickly changed directions for FA, changing the series from a serious adventure strip into the first satirical super-hero. From deadly saboteurs, the villains suddenly became colorful clowns and buffoons such as Rhode Island Red, Hotsky Trotsky, and Rimsky & Korsakoff. The action changed from seriously deadly to slapstick comedy. Joe commented: “Jack and I quickly became uncomfortable with Fighting American’s cold war. Instead we relaxed and had fun with the characters. As one critic wrote, “The fun ran rampant, Flying fists, facetious frolics and names from The American Dictionary of Silly Surnames set the mood for a series of epic stories of intrigue and idiocy.” Jack recalled in an introduction to a reprint collection. “The magazine had not only “punch and power” but still another flag to wave–satire–ingratiating and wonderful satire!…..To put it bluntly, the formula for the magazine called Fighting American was “laugh a minute in a roller coaster on its way down to the center of a meat grinder.”

Jack’s return to drawing super-heroes was flawless. His power and grace combined with a naturalness drawn from his romance strips gave his art a more illustrative dimension. His extreme stock poses and layouts on FA became the template and guidelines that controlled all his future superhero work. The first appearance of a future Kirby icon showed up in issue #3 when Kirby unveiled a single page 9 panel fight ballet. Another Kirby staple continued when Fighting American went undercover and joined a movie production staged by villains.

The comic industry had rebounded from the immediate post war slump, but by 1954, sales were again plummeting. The combination of the new technology of TV, plus the growing ill repute being heaped upon the industry took its toll. There were municipal hearings to ban comics. Some staes banned the books. There were numerous articles in newspapers and magazines excoriating comics and a supposed connection to juvenile delinquency. Religious and social leaders bonded together to organize book burnings and boycotts. Dell Publishing became the new comic publishing powerhouse due to its squeaky clean child safe Disney and TV and movie take-offs. No barber shop would ever be without them.
From a high of 609 separate titles in 1953, the industry plummeted to little more than 400 by 1955. Though sales and publishers were falling to the wayside, Simon and Kirby maintained their position with 4 solidly selling titles. But Jack and Joe were scrambling, comics were hurting so maybe they should try other venues. Joe Simon had a story he had been working on for a while about a struggling rag industry businessman at the end of his rope; and a savior—a messiah– in the guise of his brother David. The story didn’t lend itself to a comic book treatment, so Joe gave Jack the outline and Jack worked it up into a proposed TV script called The Messiah.

It is a gentle tale of a man given a second chance via his faith and the love of a good woman. The dialogue is gentle, and poignant, and humorous in a Jewish borscht belt vein. In the midst of his despair, the man confronts God and challenges him, his wife chastises him. “Don’t be so smart about the Messiah. He can come tomorrow. He can come now, this minute. He can come through that door over there and He’ll say Milton Farber, you’re as big as any man. You should be ashamed of losing your spirit” It’s not a stretch to imagine that Roz had often confronted Jack with similar encouragement during his dark periods. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the story takes place in a garment district textile factory, and the man is a clothing manufacturer, replete with union concerns and behind the scenes deals. It’s not known if they shopped this script to any producers, but it certainly deserves to be seen on a stage, maybe even a musical to rival Fiddler on the Roof.

Printing presses were looking for clients to fill their lost quota of product. While still maintaining their contractual output for Crestwood just in case they belly-flopped, S&K took every royalty penny they had built up since the end of World War Two, along with the distribution clout of paper and printing broker George Dougherty, Jr. (a long-time paper broker for the lumber industry whose father had been one of the printers at Eastern Color on Funnies On Parade back in 1933) who was fronting the paper. A commonplace 25% deposit was advanced by Leader News to World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois against projected sales to cover the printing and engraving costs. Joe and Jack felt they were making all the right moves utilizing the expertise of Nevin Fidler, who also owned a small piece of the action. Nevin Fidler was a friend who had been an office director at Crestwood, and was familiar with all the production people. Joe had dreamed of this freedom for a long time, at least as far back as when they sold Crestwood on romance comics. So he leapt at the chance. The distributor chosen was Leader News, an independent whose largest client was EC Comics.

Leader came into being when Mike Estrow broke up his pulp Trojan distributor with the new comic distributor to be Leader News. Leader News’ independence meant that the smaller publishers would flock to them as their commission was lower and shipping standards weren’t too high to demand stellar service. Most of Leaders’ clients were the hit and miss small print variety. It’s been said that DC’s Jack Leibowitz was a silent partner. And that he would point small companies to Leader when they were too small to use DC’s distribution firm. Being without the bigger selling books, Leader News had no clout and was always one step from the creditors. William Gaines recalls in an interview for the Comics Journal.

“No, no, we were putting out what we thought was selling. We were like the smallest, crummiest outfit in the field at that point with definitely the worst distributor, Leader News.  When he (Max Gaines) went back in business, he was without contracts, he didn’t have his characters any more, he didn’t even have Shelly Mayer, because Shelly Mayer was up at DC, and this was the best distributor he could get. And when he got killed, Leader News became my distributor.”

Two page spreads back in action

Joe and Jack went all in and immediately produced four new titles, each covering a specific genre. Bullseye was a western with a masked vigilante slant. In Love was a romance book, Police Trap was a crime comic with a pro-police POV, and Foxhole was S&K’s first venture into the growing war comic genre. War comics had increased in popularity since the US involvement in the Korean War.

While the content of the Mainline books were nothing revolutionary, several aspects of the titles deserve mentioning. Foxhole –billed as war stories as seen by the guys in the foxhole– featured tales written by actual vets; Pvt. Jack Kirby among them. Several stories featured Kirby’s byline as writer. Kirby also produced a series of covers for Foxhole as good as any title ever had. Bullseye continued Kirby’s preoccupation with the western orphaned child raised by an older mentor and trained as a sure shot. When the mentor is killed by a villain, the young teen avenges the murder by killing the villain. This time they added the concept where, after mistakenly charged with a crime, the young lad dons a mask and uses his skills as a masked vigilante, and scout. The character had a great visual focus when the child is branded with a bullseye on his chest.

In Love was packaged as a complete novelette in every issue. The story for issue #1 was an incredible 20 pages long. The second issue would feature the rejected strip Inky reformatted into a comic book story. And Police Trap was written from the perspective of the policeman rather than the mobsters—perhaps an homage to the radio and TV series Dragnet.

A new page to tie Inky together for the comic

Joe and Jack never stopped conceptualizing, while working on the four ongoing titles; they still worked on other ideas. They considered bringing back super-heroes. They worked up artwork for at least three new characters, Night Fighter, Sunfire and Sky Giant. Of most interest is Night Fighter.

The two presentation pieces seem to show a goggle eyed hero who could walk up walls, and sported some sort of gun. These specific aspects would be revisited in a couple years for a more important project. It’s not sure if they were connected. One dummy cover shows a split book featuring two super heroes very similar to the format that Marvel would use later, even down to the small graphic in the upper left hand corner.

Times were getting tough for small undercapitalized ventures. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito’s company folded. Jack’s young protégé Martin Rosenthall had joined Mikeross as a partner. When they failed, Rosenthall contacted Jack and sold some of the company’s assets to Mainline. Several completed stories found homes in S&K publications.

Not bad for a swipe     Hold that hill-Wertham and Kefauver charging hard

The next problem was to be more worrisome. The undercurrent of social protest against comic books reached the surface. The pressure had been building since comics first began. There had been slight eruptions over the years, but in April 1954 the top blew off during a series of Congressional hearings.

2-page classic

As with all low brow entertainment, there had been a segment of the population that had always condemned comics as a hazard to young sensibilities. The raucus, racy, and reckless nature of some publishers had created a climate of disdain and anger from citizens groups, religious leaders, and well known medical people. Organized book burnings were sprouting up. In several well publicized articles a well known psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham had made the dangers of comic books a personal crusade. In April 1954, he published a well received treatise entitled Seduction of the Innocent, which spotlighted the questionable connection between comics and juvenile delinquency. In a format similar to Anthony Comstock’s earlier screed Traps For The Young, that excoriated the juvenile series books, it laid a large segment of juvenile delinquency squarely at the feet of the crime, horror, and romance comics, singling out EC’s horror titles as the worst offender.

The biggest threat was that Dr. Wertham was no glory seeking hack, or political poseur. Wertham was a well respected Dr. who could articulate and verify all his claims-at least to the general public. Born in Germany, in 1895 to Jewish parents he went into psychiatry after communicating directly with Sigmund Freud. He came to the US in 1922 after some religious backlash. He landed at prestigious Johns Hopkins University and joined the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. In 1932 he moved to New York to head up the Courts Psychiatric Evaluation Unit and gave testimony on the various felons and convicts on their behavior and ability to stand trial.

He took up the cause of stopping comics, as well as TV, mass media, and other forms of communication after heading up a juvenile psychiatric ward at Belleveu. He wrote articles, gave talks, and held debates to back up his theories. He published his book Seduction of the Innocent —which led to hearings in front of the US Senate.

A few days later, a Senate Subcommittee held hearings on juvenile delinquency. Chaired by Sen. Estes Kefauver the committee heard from many sociologists, medical specialists, (including Wertham) crime fighters, and religious leaders telling of the connection between comics and j.d. Then they turned to comic professionals to get their take. Things were actually going well until EC’s Bill Gaines took the stands, Gaines arrogantly unapologetic testimony seemed to solidify all the prurient uncaring notions thrown at the industry. Charges of prurient females with large protruding breasts, and comic overkill hurt the image. Perhaps the worse testimonies was by Dr. Wertham, who claimed that many stores were reluctant to sell the offending books, but were forced to by the magazine distributors who refused them other magazines if they didn’t take the comics as well.

From Dr. Wertham’s testimony;

Dr. WERTHAM. This tremendous power is exercised by this group which consists of three parts, the comic book publishers, the printers, and last and not least, the big distributors who force these little vendors to sell these comic books. They force them because if they don’t do that they don’t get the other things.

Mr. HANNOCH. How do you know that?

Dr. WERTHAM. I know that from many sources. You see, I read comic books and I buy them and I go to candy stores.

They said, “You read so many comic books.” I talk to them and ask them who buys them. I say to a man, “Why do you sell this kind of stuff?”

He says, “What do you expect me to do? Not sell it?”

He says, “I will tell you something. I tried that one time.”

The man says, “Look, I did that once. The newsdealer, whoever it is, says, ‘You have to do it’.”
“I said, ‘I don’t want to’.”

“‘Well’, he says, ‘you can’t have the other magazines’.”

So the man said, “Well, all right, we will let it go.”

So when the next week came, all the other magazines were late. You see, he didn’t give them the magazines. So his was later than all his competitors, he had to take comic books back.

I also know it another way. There are some people who think I have some influence in this matter. I have very little. Comic books are much worse now than when I started. I have a petition from newsdealers that appealed to me to help them so they don’t have to sell these comic books.

S&K fully involved

One of the stranger aspects dealt with Wertham painting organized opposition to his theories as Communist conspiracies promoted by the comic companies. (perhaps a swipe at Lev Gleason)

Curiously, one Senator tried to get the doctor to condemn the writers and artists who made these horror stories but Dr. Wertham would have none of that.

Senator HENNINGS. Doctor, I think from what you have said so far terms of the value and effectiveness of the artists who portray these things, that it might be suggested implicitly that anybody who can draw that sort of thing would have to have some very singular or peculiar abnormality or twist in his mind, or am I wrong in that?

Dr. WERTHAM. Senator, if I may go ahead in my statement, I would like to tell you that this assumption is one that we had made in the beginning and we have found it to be wrong. We have found that this enormous industry with its enormous profits has a lot of people to whom it pays money and these people have to make these drawings or else, just like the crime comic book writers have to write the stories they write, or else. There are many decent people among them.

Let me tell you among the writers and among the cartoonists ─ they don’t love me, but I know that many of them are decent people and they would much rather do something else than do what they are doing.

Dr. Wertham reads some trash – Sen. Estes Kefauver – Bill Gaines

The owners of squeaky clean Dell Comics tried to add in facts and a subtle dig at the Doc.


Mrs. MEYER. Mrs. Helen Meyer, 231 Montrose Avenue, South Orange, N. J. I am vice president of the Dell Publishing Co.

Mr. MURPHY. My name is Matthew Murphy, of 294 Bronxville Road, Bronxville, N.Y. I am employed by Western Printing & Lithographic Co., as Dell comics editor.

The CHAIRMAN. You may proceed.

Mrs. MEYER. Although we are not here to defend crime and horror comics, the picture is not as black as Dr. Wertham painted it. We must give our American children proper credit for their good taste in their support of good comics. What better evidence can we give than facts and figures. Here they are:

Dell’s average comic sale is 800,000 copies per issue. Most crime and horror comic sales are under 250,000 copies.

Of the first 25 largest selling magazines on newsstands – this includes Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life, and so forth ─ 11 titles are Dell comics, with Walt Disney’s Donald Duck the leading newsstand seller. Some of these titles are: “Walt Disney’s Comics”; “Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny”; “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse”; “Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Porky Pigs”; “Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker”; “Margie’s Little Lulu”; “Mom’s Tom and Jerry.”

The newsstand sales range from 950,000 to 1,996,570 on each of the above mentioned titles. I mean newsstands only and I am not including any subscriptions, and we have hundreds of thousands of subscriptions.

With the least amount of titles, or 15 percent of all titles published by the entire industry; Dell can account for a sale of approximately 32 percent, and we don’t publish a crime or horror comic.

Dr. Wertham, for some strange reason, is intent on condemning the entire industry. He refuses to acknowledge that other types of comics are not only published, but are better supported by children than crime and horror comics. I hope that his motivation is not a selfish one in his crusade against comics. Yet, in the extensive research he tells us he has made on comics, why does he ignore the good comics? Dell isn’t alone in publishing good comics. There are numerous outstanding titles published by other publishers, such as Blondie, Archie, Dennis the Menace, and so forth. Why does he feel that he must condemn the entire industry? Could it be that he feels he has a better case against comics by recognizing the bad and ignoring the good?

Lev Gleason, head of Gleason Publishing and a staunch first amendment defender, volunteered to face down the committee and try to smooth out the ripples from Gaines testimony. Though the committee never acknowledged a concrete link between comics and juvenile delinquency, the damage was done.

This period of history is complicated. I am of at least two different viewpoints. I think the government and legislative overkill is wrong, totally Un-American. The same as the HUAC hearings. The results are always a lessening of American values. But as an adult viewer, I must admit that some publishers crossed a line. Left unstopped, they would have gotten worse. There was no outside brake that controlled the output of these companies. The only control was left to the publishers whose only concern was the bottom line. Self-censurship was really the only way to go. Like the Hays Committee, TV, and other pop culture clashes, these cures had to come from the industry itself, or face the possibility of Government oversight. The details could possibly be argued, but not the intentions. Something had to be done to stop the outrage. This outrage came from the only party that counted, the consumers. Wertham was wrong, but his crusade was right. The comics had overstepped the bounds of decency. And it was left to the comic pros to make it right. One analogy might be found in the later Anti-war movement. Many might agree on the principle, but they were lost when the movement overstepped and blew up College buildings and killed people. Overstepping invites Govt. intrusion, which leads to Govt. overkill. Better to separate from the bomb throwers willingly.

An actual voice of reason Lev Gleason – Dick Ayers troubled

Joe says the din over comics never affected them much, they were sure that their books were wholesome. Imagine their chagrin and consternation when one of the first objectionable comics offered into evidence was a copy of Black Magic. Joe recalls; “Watching this on TV I cringed- like I was suddenly thrown into a steaming vat in a horror comic.” Jack hoped the storm would pass over—but he knew the image of a comic reader was strictly lowbrow. “If you bought a comic book the reaction was there goes a guy who shoots pool—another lowly pastime. But some comic artists were very affected. Dick Ayers, in his biography talks about the horror of reading Parents Magazine and finding that several of his books were listed as objectionable, and being called a pornographer by a guest at a cocktail party and almost coming to blows. Dick became so distraught that he actually held a book burning of his books in his fireplace. Jack was more stoic; “I was only hoping that it would come out well enough to continue comics, that it wouldn’t damage comics in any way, so I could continue working. I was a young man. I was still growing out of the East Side.” Other artists were in a whirl. Jack Cole, creator of the family friendly Plastic Man fled the industry. Doing racy gags, and Playboy cartoons, much like Bob Wood, didn’t help. His personal life took a downturn and one day he drove to a shop, bought a rifle, drove to a secluded area and blew his brains out. Many turned to the advertising field, and some to fine art work. Some adventure artists took lower paying and lower presence work in DC’s romance division. Stan Lee’s Atlas Company tried to absorb many of the EC artists to supply filler stories for the many faceless titles.

In order to avoid legislative censure, the comic industry agreed to once again self-censure the books. An earlier manifestation had petered out with time. With the creation of the Comics Code Authority, the major companies united to self-regulate. They agreed to limit or end all types of violence, horror, and risqué matter. In what is often called the EC section the code states.

burning up a college education

No comic magazine shall use the word “horror” or “terror” in its title.

All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.

All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.

Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.

Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.

Bill Gaines railed against this section, noting that the words “horror” and “terror” were parts of two of his best sellers. Gaines was sure that this section was set up purposely to put him out of business. It seemed to work as sales of EC books dwindled to insignificance.

It was suggested that the word “crime” should also be banned from a comic book title, but Lev Gleason, the publisher of Crime Does Not Pay fought tooth and nail to get that restriction stopped. It didn’t matter, with-in a year Gleason closed up shop for good. Gleason was more respected among his peers and had been fighting the backlash for years—even debating Dr. Wertham on radio and TV. Gaines was seen as more of a Johnny- come-lately and a bomb-thrower among his peers. Ironically, Gaines would get the last laugh. After the code appeared, Mad Magazine became so large of a success that DC bought out Gaines and added it to their portfolio.

Very quickly problems crept up. Their ruse to hide the new company from Prize didn’t last long. Prize’s reaction was that when S&K started their own company Prize cut back their assignments on the romance and crime titles. All that remained was Fighting American and Black Magic. It appears that Prize wouldn’t let them compete head to head on genres, so when S&K did their own romance book, then Prize took them off Young Romance and Young Love. A self published crime book and no more work on Justice Traps the Guilty. The 67 issue run on Young Romance was the longest uninterrupted stint that Jack had produced in his career to that point.

Times were horrible, pressure from outside, pressure from within. Prize kept threatening, Leader News went bonkers, artists kept demanding. Sales on the new titles were lackluster, and very soon money became tight. In an effort to cut back on expenses, Joe reused some artwork and reworked it into new stories, mostly for the Prize titles. Joe swiped a Manhunter story from 1943 for a Fighting American story, plus a Jack Burnley Starman story from 1942 for another Fighting American story. He even cobbled together an old comic strip proposal titled Starman Zero and made a Fighting American story. Nothing went to waste. When the owners of Crestwood caught Joe reusing a previous story and reworded it into a new story they responded angrily by withholding payment, further tightening up the cash flow. Now Jack and Joe’s contract with Crestwood never said anything about reusing existing art, but still Crestwood continued to hold back payment. In Nov. 1954, Joe contacted his accountant Bernard Gwirtzman who demanded a financial audit of all monies to be paid to S&K, as called for in their Young Romance contract. Crestwood was confident that their books were clean but when the auditors were finished, they presented Crestwood with a bill for 130 thousand dollars. The astonished owners threatened to close down the shop rather than pay the money. After some negotiations, they settled on a lump sum of 10 thousand dollars. The money helped stem the immediate cash outlay. The victory was nice, but the long term result was that the boys would get no new work from Prize for the next year, time that saw S&K reeling from the onslaught. An interesting aside, Joe says that the editor Reese Rosenfield was getting five percent of S&K’s royalty shares, for bringing them together. But after the attorneys finished their audit, they told Joe that Reese wasn’t protecting their shares, as he should have done as their agent. He suggested cutting Reese out of the money that Prize paid, which they did. It’s easy to figure this soured Kirby towards editors who demand a payback of the artist’s salary, but don’t follow through on their end.

Some retailers took it out on Leader News, and refused to carry any product from them–this included the Mainline books. Pretty soon, the advances from Leader News stopped and Mainline could no longer continue. Stories of artists not getting paid made the rounds. George Roussos remembered; “When some difficulties arose, a few artists weren’t paid. This caused a lot of resentment towards Joe and Jack, and they avoided them. I met Jack later at an art store at Grand Central Station. He was happy to see me, and I sensed he wanted to talk…. We covered every subject, only he did all the talking. I guess it was pent-up energy and he was rather hurt that people took out their anger on him-unnecessarily he felt.” Mainline left Leader News.

Stamped out

For perhaps the only time, Jack and Joe were on the outs. Roussos recalls; “I don’t know the extent of what really took place, but there was a point when they split up when we were working at Crestwood’ Joe took the business end of it and Jack would do the artwork. That didn’t work out very well, because when you split up two people in the same room…… I never dwelled into the business end; I just knew the superficial end. I knew the results of what happened, but I didn’t know what brought it about. I knew that they split up while in the same room because I was there. There were differences but I was never around when they had any particular argument.”

Soon, Leader News claimed bankruptcy and went completely out of business when EC Comics closed up the comic book division, leaving them with only Mad Magazine–which was not covered by the Comics Code Authority. The first Comics Code stamped book for Mainline were books cover dated Feb. 1955. They were the last published with the Mainline logo and Leader News blurb.

It’s hard to be exact about just how much the code affected the editorial content of the books. There are many silly examples of nitpicking and squeamishness of particular visuals-such as hands without weapons, reaction to unshown threats, and blacked out details. But I can recall only one rather sad and silly argument over content of a story. Despite the romance books delving into societal problems, there were two they would never touch; racial integration and gay lifestyles. S&K never ventured close to either. Interracial relationships or even positive slants on black life were understood to be forbidden. Bill Gaines of EC, shortly after the code was installed offered up a filler story for Incredible Science Fiction. The story, titled Judgment Day was drawn by veteran Joe Orlando, it dealt with a lone Earth astronaut judging whether a young world was ready to be admitted to the greater galaxy of worlds. The astronaut judged them ineligible because their society had been broken up by races with one race considered a lesser entity and treated as such. The irony was that when the astronaut returned to his ship, he took off his helmet revealing himself to be black. A rather positive story in that it showed man had overcome its darkest stain. Judge Murphy, the head of the comics code refused to allow it to be printed, despite the fact that the comics code never addressed racial interests. The story broke none of the listed no-nos of the code. The real insanity of the whole issue was this same story had originally been run three years earlier-pre-code- in the title Weird Fantasy to absolutely no blow back or even negative press from the Southern retailers.

Historian Digby Diehls notes in his article Tales From the Crypt, the Official Archives:

“This really made ’em go bananas in the Code czar’s office. ‘Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us’, recalls [EC editor] Feldstein. ‘I went in there with this story and Murphy says, “It can’t be a Black man”. But … but that’s the whole point of the story!’ Feldstein sputtered. When Murphy continued to insist that the Black man had to go, Feldstein put it on the line. ‘Listen’, he told Murphy, ‘you’ve been riding us and making it impossible to put out anything at all because you guys just want us out of business’. [Feldstein] reported the results of his audience with the czar to Gaines, who was furious [and] immediately picked up the phone and called Murphy. ‘This is ridiculous!’ he bellowed. ‘I’m going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis, to do this. I’ll sue you’. Murphy made what he surely thought was a gracious concession. ‘All right. Just take off the beads of sweat’. At that, Gaines and Feldstein both went ballistic. ‘Fuck you!’ they shouted into the telephone in unison. Murphy hung up on them, but the story ran in its original form.”

Bill Gaines finally gave in and closed down the comic division, but would get the last laugh as the reconstituted Mad Magazine (code free) became one of the great publishing successes of the Twentieth Century.

To make matters worse, at the same time that Mainline folded, S&K were engaged in the legal mess with Prize Comics and work at Prize ended. Fighting American was cancelled after issue #7 and Black Magic after 33 issues. Black Magic’s end should not be dismissed so easily. It was in Black Magic that Jack first worked in a new genre that would play a huge role in his immediate future. It was also the launching point for new artists, like Steve Ditko.

The Fifties would see the rise of new style sci-fi films. With a background of a world divided by an Iron Curtain, man had created a force so strong that it dominated the world’s psyche. The anxieties as seen in the rise of Sen. Joe McCarthy, the fanned Cold War paranoia, the UFO phenomenon, and uncontrollable science found a new source of projection; the introduction of Post Atomic Science Fiction movies.

From The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction;

“It was films in this mould (Them, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) rather then the landmark Destination Moon (1950) and its sober celebration of man’s imminent conquest of space, that dominated the decade. Monsters from without and within–Hollywood and comics were investigated by the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities– threatened America, as often as not created or awakened by the bomb (as in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, 1953) Nature rebelled and a variety of aliens, many of whom, like The Man From Planet X(1951) had peaceful intentions were received with hostility. A few films, like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and The 27th Day (1957) addressed themselves directly to the political implications of such anxieties, while others, notably War of the Worlds (1953) and When Worlds Collide (1951) had a religious dimension that saw it as a punishment for the catastrophes that befell man.”

TV leads the way

This same style science fiction mode was seen on TV with the new series Science Fiction Theater, produced by Ivan Tors. This was the first anthology devoted to the futuristic world of post-war fears. The series speculated on such things as visitors from other planets, UFO incidents, space fight, espionage… More technology, and miracle drugs that could cure all ills. It contained stories of crackpots; who turn out to be visionaries, and eyewitnesses to the fantastic, fighting to be believed; psychic phenomena straight out of a Reichian nightmare. The show also utilized experts as consultants to help keep the show within the known realm of the scientific possibilities speculated at the time. The show did not last long, but it did lead to even better followers like Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits.

Instead of the old Gothic horrors of Dracula, and the Werewolf, the new films centered on run amok science creating mutates, and allegorical visitation of alien species. Things that didn’t seem so farfetched when viewed thru a current prism. The Thing, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Them, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers were big hits. And comics always followed the big hits. “The monster phenomenon got started primarily just because people were concerned about science,” Kirby recalled. “People were concerned about radiation and what would happen to animals and people who were exposed to that kind of thing.” Their fears had been awakened at Roswell.

The movie that launched a 1000 comics

Though the sci-fi movies were definitely an inspiration, the author feels the genre change can be traced back to the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, in 1939 by Orson Wells and the paranoid reaction to a sci-fi subject as well as the sci-real atomic bomb.

Jack and Joe always loved sci-fi and the sci-fi movies, and incorporated themes into their stories. The newly formed CCA also prohibited much of the Gothic horror traditions. The next to last S&K Black Magic issue cover featured a strange monster very similar to the fantastic “intellectual carrot” of The Thing, as portrayed by James Arness. The last S&K story in Black Magic centered on, and was narrated by a shark mutated by atomic radiation to the point of sentience. The story Lone Shark was a chilling tale of run amok science and the unforeseen consequences of atomic energy plants and the dumping of atomic waste. There is also an unpublished Black Magic cover featuring a burnt out wasteland with alien scientists in hazmat gear and Geiger Counters checking out the charred remains while a huge mutated creature hovers in the background. In Win-A-Prize #1(Feb. 1955) published by Charlton, Jack drew a wonderful allegorical tale of the first visitation from space and the inherent fear and paranoia in the human reaction. This genre so resonated with Jack, it was said that Jack hoarded reams of science fiction magazines and pamphlets, and when he died, the garage was full of them. Jack was always at his best when his stories had a sci-fi basis. Joe would recall that Jack was “the pulp man-he used to read all of them, especially the sci-fi ones.” Jack would even insert sci-fi scenarios into other genres like western stories, such as a Bullseye story set in a lost prehistoric wasteland populated with pterodactyls, or a land based Fighting American trapped in a deep space dream.

Joe, reeling from the failure of Mainline, still had faith in the books, and took them over to Charlton Comics, an independent company that distributed their own product.  Charlton was started by two ex-convicts named John Santangelo and Edward Levy. Santangelo was an Italian immigrant who worked as a brick layer and masonry contractor. He first began publishing unauthorized lyrics to famous songs (for his soon to be wife) and made enough to quit his job. He would discover the hard way that America had copyright laws and would end up in the slammer. While there he met Edward Levy who was a disbarred attorney who was involved in a billing scandal. The two became friends, got out of prison at roughly the same time and made a handshake deal to go into legit publishing together.

The original logo – an early Charlton attempt at an educational book

Edward was able to get the rights to publish lyrics legally and John would hire people and handle the publishing aspect. The company would buy an old printing press that was typically used to print cereal boxes and would also set up their own distribution network. This made Charlton Comics quite unique as they were very much a “done in one” publisher. They did everything from buying the paper to print on, hiring the people to create the magazines, to delivering the magazines to the newsstands. But like any printing presses, it cost a lot of money to not have the presses rolling. It’s very likely that they got into comic books as a way to print something in between their magazine runs. No doubt they probably also recognized the popularity of comic books and were hoping to cash in. Based in Derby, Connecticut, Charlton was known as a low rent business that paid the lowest page rates, and whose quality control was the worst in the business. It was also known for having a very loose editorial policy that left the artists alone.

Comic by Edward Levy, the indicia soon read Charlton – New S&K at Carlton

Joe recalls, “Charlton was the last port of call for a publishing enterprise on the verge of going under. Santangelo and company were usually willing to continue publication of failing magazines or comic books, taking over the printing, engraving, and distribution at their own plant….and eventually taking over, period.

“When Leader News, our Mainline Publications distributor had failed, Jack Kirby and I turned to Charlton as a last opportunity to continue publishing our line of comic books. We made frequent trips to their plant in Connecticut where the highlight of the day was a tasty Italian lunch at the executive table of the employee’s spacious cafeteria. When the noon whistle blew, the printing crew, mostly Italian immigrants who spoke little or no English, gulped down a hasty sandwich and then retired to an adjacent construction site where they picked up their masonry tools and continued putting up new buildings, a project that seemed endless. After the lunch hour, the men returned to the printing shop to resume their regular work. Kirby and I made a small living at Charlton for a couple years and then went the way of other patrons. Out.

Joe’s memory is somewhat faulty; S&K Charlton work only lasted less than one year. What was never explained was why Joe didn’t take the Mainline titles to Crestwood, or Harvey. Joe decided to chuck the brushes and head to advertising.

The problems of Leader News and some other small distributors left a gaping hole, which Charlton was glad to fill. In 1954, Charlton went shopping, picking up the low hanging fruit. Besides Mainline, they also picked up titles from Superior, St. John, and Fawcett Publications. Besides the four Mainline titles, S&K also produced a new title called Win-A-Prize. This odd anthology title was an amalgam comic book and prize catalog with prizes awarded for all types of contests and reader contributions mixed in with some surprisingly good comic tales. Only two issues were published. They also produced one issue of From Here To Insanity, a humor title in the Mad Magazine vein.

Back to humor and parody

Joe and Jack produced two final issues of each of the four Mainline titles for Charlton before closing down the studio for good. It was a sad ending to the greatest team of comic creators ever seen. Fifteen years of unparalleled innovation and entertainment ending as collateral damage of the social wars fighting for the souls of our youth. Jack recalls those years fondly “It was a wonderful time to work in the field-if you neglect the financial problems. I wouldn’t class the fifties as the greatest period in comics–it was, to be frank, a really ugly period. Ugly clothes, cars, people. But it was a time when the most productive people in comics were still in the field. Marvin Stein was with us-he was a first rate man and one of the best artists we had. Mort Meskin was at his height. Steve Ditko was blossoming out and doing fine work. There were still writers and artists around….Good ones. It was certainly akin to working a Renaissance period.

The age of post-atomic comics had begun.

The cause of freedom does not run smooth, often it feels like a one step forward, two steps back proposition. But occasionally a big step happens that can never be walked back. On May 14, 1954, in a historic decision, the Supreme Court in one fell swoop ended the decades long tyranny of the Jim Crow laws. Plessy v Ferguson was no more. Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore lawyer convinced the high court that separate could never be equal, and all people were in society together. Clashes became more frequent as State governments attempted to stop black students from public education, and forced the Federal branch to enforced the new equal education standards. Suddenly public faces like Orval Faubus, Bull Mongomery, and George Wallace showed the world what had once been the dark secret of Southern life. But the dark underbelly remained.

September of ’55 found the country’s attention riveted to the small backwater town of Money, Mississippi. A body had been fished out of the brackish Tallahatchie River. A black body beaten and decomposed so badly that identification was made by way of an initial ring on one of his fingers. The body was identified as that of Emmett Till, a 14 year-old black Chicago boy who was visiting relatives in Mississippi for the summer. The last thing his mother told him before putting him on the bus was that in the South black people had to act different to the white folks and if they tell him to bow and scrape, then he better bow and scrape and look happy doing it.

with his mom in happier days

One day Emmett was playing with his friends and was bragging about how in Chicago he played with white kids, and in fact, he had a white girl friend. His friends oohed and ahhed, and challenged him to go inside and speak up the young white girl behind the counter. Emmett was up to any challenge and went inside, bought a piece of candy and as he left he flirted with the girl. The friends were agog, but there was no immediate response. No one thought anything about it until three nights later Roy Bryant, the owner of the store, and J.W. Milam, his brother-in-law, broke into Emmett’s Uncle’s house and drove off with Emmett. The young girl was Roy Bryant’s new wife, and in Mississippi, no black boy could talk fresh to a young white girl without punishment.

They drove Emmett out to the riverside and brutally beat him, crushing in his head and gouging one eye completely out. After one last act of defiance—or stupidity—Roy Bryant shot young Emmett in the head. They bound his body in barbed wire, weighted him down with a gin mill fan and dumped him in the river.

The body was fished out three days later, and subsequently identified as that of Emmett Till, who had been reported abducted three days earlier by his Uncle. Bryant and Milam were quickly arrested for murder and the stunned nation was in an uproar. The young boy was quickly made into a martyr for the Civil Rights movement and the Northern press berated the South and its Jim Crow ways unmercifully. At first even the local townsfolk were aghast at the crime and neither Bryant nor Milam could get legal representation, but as the press storm continued, the Mississippians began fighting back. Suddenly the defendants had lawyers fighting to represent them.

The defense’s case was based on the problems with identifying the body, that no one could be sure if the body was that of Emmett Till—despite the initialed ring on his hand. But the defense theory was really a ruse. They knew that the all-white jurors wanted to free the two men, but they needed something—anything to which they could hang their case. Defense attorney John C. Whitten told the jurors in his closing statement, “Your fathers will turn over in their graves if [Milam and Bryant are found guilty] and I’m sure that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men in the face of that [outside] pressure.” The poor condition of the the body was enough of a straw to grasp and after just an hours deliberation, they found the men innocent.

His mother moaned; “Have you ever sent a loved son on vacation and had him returned to you in a pine box, so horribly battered and water-logged that someone needs to tell you this sickening sight is your son“

The Northern press and black leaders were aghast at the decision and quickly mobilized protests, and civil rights volunteers quickly spread around the area trying to calm the black workers of the area. They knew one thing, and that is that one incident like this was bad, but worse, it emboldened other white racists to imitate their actions knowing that they were immune to prosecution. Nothing scared the black populace more than the idea of copycat murders. One lynching usually led to three, four, or more similar occurrences. It was like a bad weed, pull one, and a dozen more sprout up. Every redneck with a grudge now had an avenue to vent his frustrations and bile.

It had been a while since the Civil Rights movement had such a noteworthy face to put on prejudice and injustice. Emmett’s age and Chicago roots were just the ingredient needed to rile up the millions of blacks who had fled the South and remind them that Southern blacks were their brothers. For the first time, northern blacks saw that violence against blacks in the South could affect them in the North. In Mamie Bradley’s words, “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong. I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.” Blacks, in the North as well as in the South, would not easily forget the murder of Emmett Till.

Just as Leo Frank’s murder had united Jews against bigotry and prejudice, Emmett Till became the brutalized face of the Black movement demanding their rights. 1955 would be just the first of many a long hot summer in the U.S.

Far too often these singular acts of evil soon fade and blow away, overshadowed by new problems and events but Emmett’s blood seeped into the soil and gave root to a whole spectrum of new offshoots. In Montgomery Alabama, the new Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became galvanized to avenge this slaughter and change this country. He started to talk out and preach a whole new strategy of love and non-violence aimed at changing the tone of the country. A young black woman on her way home from work refused to give up her seat on the bus and was summarily arrested for civil disobedience. Rosa Parks was outraged by young Emmett’s death and had joined the local Montgomery NAACP; she had attended talks given by this new young Pastor and had decided enough was enough. Following her arrest, a new policy of striking back took place when Dr. King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The strike went nationwide and suddenly the black populace had a voice. The eyes of the nation focused on this problem and the violence and led the Court to overturn Alabama’s cruel Jim Crow laws.

A young black man, newly recruited to the Black Muslim crusade, was transformed by Emmett’s death. In prison for rape, the Oakland Ca. native fed his reactionary furor. Two days after discovering the tragedy of young Emmett Till, Eldridge Cleaver had a “nervous breakdown” and “began to look at America through new eyes.” Always entranced by white women, his attitude toward white women changed radically, he suggested. “Somehow I arrived at the conclusion, that as a matter of principle, it was of paramount importance for me to have an antagonistic, ruthless attitude toward white women.”

Using this outrage as a recruiting tool, the Nation of Islam grew from 15 temples in 1955, to over 40 in 1960. The small radical violent offshoot of the Islam religion soon became a large militant alternative for blacks who had grown tired of never fighting back.

Another young revolutionary used Emmett Till’s death as a launching pin to unite the black populace in the cause of Islam. Malcolm X would become perhaps the most feared and famous black leader of the late 50’s and early 60’s; only Martin Luther King came close.

In Louisville, Kentucky a young 15 year old boy playing with some friends saw a newspaper with the story of Emmett Till’s death; complete with the horrid picture of the mutilated body in the open coffin. The young black boy was not a novice to Southern reality, but this new abomination steeled a new radicalism and resolve into his hardening heart.

“Emmett Till and I were about the same age. A week after he was murdered… I stood on the corner with a gang of boys, looking at pictures of him in the black newspapers and magazines. In one, he was laughing and happy. In the other, his head was swollen and bashed in, his eyes bulging out of their sockets and his mouth twisted and broken. His mother had done a bold thing. She refused to let him be buried until hundreds of thousands marched past his open casket in Chicago and looked down at his mutilated body. [I] felt a deep kinship to him when I learned he was born the same year and day I was. My father talked about it at night and dramatized the crime. I couldn’t get Emmett out of my mind…” – Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)

A somewhat younger southern boy responded differently, seeing this as a learning experience and life warning.

“It was Monday morning when my family got the word about the death of Emmett Till. I was barely two years younger than he and in the South for one of the first times that I was old enough to remember. My mother was particularly disturbed by the incident and spent most of the morning counseling me on “being careful,” a non-specific term which at the time I took to mean watching out for traffic on unfamiliar country roads….

On subsequent trips to the region I was “more careful.” I was also more apprehensive about being there. I was never sure what to do when in contact with Southern whites, and therefore I tried as much as possible never to make such contacts. My personal experience and the story of Emmett Till, which I read in great and gory detail upon my return North, served to confirm my notion that the South and its white people were different and dangerous…. I wondered if I would ever understand these people and their society. The need to understand encouraged my graduate study of Southern history…” – James Horton (historian)

Despite warnings from friends that talking out could hurt his career and legacy, Superstar Jackie Robinson replied; “If I had to choose tomorrow between the Baseball Hall of Fame and full citizenship for my people I would choose full citizenship time and again.” Jackie would begin circling the South giving speeches and voicing his concerns. His popularity was such that he even outsold Dr. King as civil rights speaker.

Perhaps cynically, some have suggested that this event was perfect for the new medium of TV. For the first time, nationwide news stations sent mobile teams to cover a local story. The name Emmett Till became known from New England to California’s sunny shore.

The Civil Rights movement finally had a moment that transformed the whole black population, and with it, the nation.

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Looking For The Awesome – 12. Ghosts In The Attic

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


His studio went from the spacious attic in Mineola, to a small cramped basement at the new house. Neal remembered; “The basement room was tiny (just 10 feet across) and the walls that separated it from the rest of the cellar were covered in stained, tongue-and-groove knotty pine with a glossy varnish. Dad’s drawing table faced a beautiful cherry wood cabinet that housed a 10? black-and-white television. To the left of the cabinet was a beat-up, four-drawer file cabinet that was stuffed with Dad’s vast archive of picture references to, well, everything. I could sit for hours and just mull through musty old folders with bayonets, battleships, medieval armor, cowboy hats, skyscrapers, satellites — countless files on countless subjects. And — much out of character for my father — that metal cabinet sat beneath a stuffed and mounted deer’s head. I can’t remember where he said he got that damned thing, but it was always there. The things you remember…” This brings a smile to the author who stares up at a wooly stuffed Buffalo head his wife unexplainably bought.

Sadly one of the core members of the studio passed when letterer supreme Howard Ferguson died in late 1950. Gone, sadly were those great multi-font splash page blurbs that opened every S&K tale. He was replaced by an almost equally nimble letterer in Ben Oda. Oda was a brave young paratrooper during the war that had come to Simon and Kirby by way of Eisner/Iger. The Japanese/America vet would letter many syndicated news-strip and become a mainstay with Simon and Kirby.

The grumblings about comics content was escalating as local groups began pushing legislators to censure comics. The editors of Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay took a proactive stance. The numbers are wonky, and the following issues showed no difference whatsoever. Worse days were just around the corner.

Dell Comics had reached the pinnacle. Its mix of licensed products and flooding the market moved it to the top of the chain. In an attempt to reach the public, it instituted a new club. In 1950 Dell Publishing Company introduced their Dell Comics Club as a means of attracting new and continuing subscribers to their series of comic books. To become a member of the club, all you had to do was buy a one-year subscription to any of their comic book titles. Then in addition to the comic books, you receive an official membership certificate in the Dell Comics Club along with a group portrait of the principle Dell Comic characters-minus Disney characters. The club lasted a couple years.

Interesting that Dell’s merchandise never featured any Disney characters-their biggest seller

The Fifties started horribly as the long years at a sewing bench caught up to Ben Kurtzberg. His death was a terrible blow to Jack. Jack’s feelings for his dad were conflicted. He knew his father loved him. But Jack found it hard to forgive the poverty and defeat he felt his father bore. The doting father who would carry his son around on his shoulders had too soon become the quiet, passive downtrodden man who struggled to care for his kids. Jack hated the poverty and the shame. He would never let his wife and children down as had his father. Mama Rose did not take the loss easily; she became more withdrawn and reflective. Even the grandkids failed to brighten her spirits. Brother Dave was doing fine with a floor refinishing company, and frequent visitor to the Kirby home; he became the defacto baby sitter when Jack and Roz wanted to hit the town. The kids loved him; he was like a second father.

The entertainment tastes of kids are fickle. What is popular one day is trash can filler the next. So it was incumbent on Joe to keep an eye on trends and for S&K to jump on board when needed. It was impossible to always be the spear head of new trends; some times you must be the caboose, following behind the engine.

After the war, all eyes turned towards a new medium. TV had entered the lexicon and with it a new source of cheap entertainment. By 1949, over 75% of the states had commercially licensed stations. The most popular programming were the hundreds of western movies made in the 1920’s and 30’s. In 1949, two of the most popular movie characters got their own all new TV shows. Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger became the country’s most popular stars and the idols of kids everywhere, and the comic industry had a new source for inspiration. They were soon followed by Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Davy Crockett and dozens of others. It would become TV’s first big fad. There had been western comics since the very beginning; Joe Simon’s first story was a 6 page western for some long forgotten title. Jack had Lone Rider. But starting in 1948, mirroring the growth on TV, sales of western comics jumped dramatically and by 1950, they had expanded to almost 20% of the market. All the publishers were jumping on this horse. It was too big a segment for Joe to let slide.

Ernst Gerber theorizes;

“The war ended, super heroes faded away and it was time for more likely heroes…. Ask yourself what were the most often viewed movies of the early 50’s. Times up. Westerns, westerns, westerns. What you become fond of on television you want in comic books. TV became the medium which helped western type comic books to immense popularity.

The Kid Cowboys of Boys’ Ranch, or simply Boys’ Ranch premiered with an Oct 1950 cover date. Once again Jack and Joe were working with Al Harvey and Harvey Publications. Joe always seemed to do his best for Al Harvey, and Boys’ Ranch just might be the crowning jewel. Some historians rate the series as the best work ever done by S&K, and possibly the best ever done for comics. Jim Simon, Joe’s son states that “Jack and Joe believed that their kid cowboy comic book was an artistic masterpiece that transcended the comic books of the time.”

Kirby notes in a forward to the Boy’s Ranch reprint; “In view of the meaningful psychological content woven into its total cloth, Boys’ Ranch stands high above the so-called “products of its type,” and attracts the reader with the sheer wholesomeness of its approach. Yes, the timeless struggle between good and evil continues unabated, as it must, in normal human existence. In the world of storytelling, it is severely heightened and probed in order to achieve the level of drama sorely needed when the point must be made. Boys’ Ranch never flinches from this purpose! Boys’ Ranch makes its point!”

The concept was classic S&K; a group of young orphans whose adventures lead them to a small Wild West town, where they band together to help a boy hating rancher caught in an Indian uprising. In the middle comes a typically S&K style stoic ex-scout of heroic proportions to join them. During the battle, the rancher is killed, but not before bequeathing his ranch to the young kids. It was decided that the scout would become the foreman of the ranch, whose job it would be to watch over and teach the young boys.

The young boys followed the usual template for S&K kid groups. Kirby said; “Each of our characters was a part of that formula, and reflected his reactions to it with a sincerity shaped by his individual background.” The handsome all-American boy was Dandy, an ex-Union soldier restlessly traversing the West looking for adventure and romance. The goofy one was Wabash, a Southern hillbilly drifting aimlessly from his home in the Ozarks. In perhaps homage to his hillbilly army buddy, mountain folk would turn up quite often in S&K stories during this time. The young scrapper was Angel, the most neurotic and feared gun in the west, and controlling those guns was the hottest headed little firebrand ever created. The angelic face framed by flowing blond locks masked a fearless cold hearted loner. The heroic guardian had quite a portfolio. Clay Duncan was orphaned as a child, his parents killed by white outlaws. Raised by an Indian chief and half-brother to Geronimo himself. Learned in the ways of the Indians, he is turned over to a white scout to be the voice of peace between the two peoples. He became a scout for the US Army and a legendary Indian fighter. The white scout is killed by a renegade, and it is to avenge his friend that the legend of Clay Duncan begins when he has a gun duel with the killer. This template would be used again and again whenever Kirby created a cowboy hero. Clay Duncan was a man of few words, with great courage and skill. The cast was filled out with Wee Willy Weehawkin the ranch’s grizzled cook. Palomino Sue was a female addition, orphaned when Indians killed her wagon master father, this wild beauty soon developed a crush on Clay Duncan. For Clay’s part, Palomino Sue was just another distracting child who constantly ignored his orders. The last regular was an Indian cub named Happy Boy-ever smiling and silent as a totem, he became the ranch mascot.

The art was glorious, never more lush and natural. The landscapes were breathtaking. Joe says that the boys really researched this strip like no other. The grandeur of the West may have provided Jack with his greatest inspiration. The double spreads that anchored every issue were eye popping tableaus of mythological stature–The equal of Remington and Charles Russell. The inking was heavy, solid, and naturally textured. It was as rugged as the crags and cliffs of the West.

The geometric shadows used so heavily in the modern day hard and angular architecture disappeared in the naturalistic westerns, no shadow snakes, and no arcs or halos over the heads.

As good as the art was, and it was Kirby’s best, what separated Boys’ Ranch from other western comics was the stories. They were tight, spare little morality plays. They were simple when needed, but complex when called for also. The stories were direct, with little padding. Famed western writer Louis L’amour had some advice for writers that seemed to have been borrowed from S&K’s approach. “A novel’s action should start on page one, line one. Too many writers talk about what they’re going to do before they say it. There are lots of other things competing for people’s entertainment time –they don’t have to read my books. You’ve got to start with something happening.”

These were the most literate scripts ever provided by S&K, and the action began on page one, in fact, the action started on the covers and never subsided. The plots were action filled, and tense. The characters were well developed and concise in their roles. Romance was sprinkled in and the melodrama moved the action. When critics and historian rate various S&K stories, one invariably tops the list–Mother Delilah from BR #3. A story of Biblical allusion, and Shakespearean poignancy, the poetic narrative tells a tale of jealousy, deceit and finally redemption. The titular character is the fiercely proud owner of the local bar. When her romantic feelings for Clay Duncan are rejected, she picks one of the children to get back at him. She chooses Angel, and slowly wins his trust and love. She then betrays the young boy and destroys his confidence and newly learned trust in others. It is Clay’s job to help Angel regain his sense of purpose and in doing so a tragic gunfight occurs. Mother Delilah makes the ultimate choice and sacrifices herself to protect Angel.

Richard Howell describes it thusly;

“The story ends tragically, but with Virgil’s (the town poet) narration underscoring the hope of redemption in masterly effective poetic prose-complemented perfectly by the restrained drama of the visuals. Throughout the story, the conflicting desires of the principals are clearly depicted with an assurance and intensity that transcends craft and moves into art. Boys’ Ranch #3 is moving, involving, touching, exciting and – ultimately- a fitting tribute to the creative vision behind it. Jack Kirby comics–or comics- have rarely, if ever been better.”

Mort Meskin would take on an increasingly important role as the series went on.

Tragically, the series fell victim to poor sales, and Harvey cancelled it after six glorious issues. Once again S&K couldn’t give their friend Al Harvey a hit. The same can’t be said about another new series that S&K introduced the same month.

Horror comics had always been around- usually as a sub-genre of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. When Max Gaines died in 1947, his son Bill took over the small EC label of comics. In 1950, EC was getting by with six titles, none selling particularly well. Gaines and his editor Al Feldstein decided to make a change. The new comics, or “New Trend” as they were to be called included Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, and Crypt of Terror. These three titles would usher in a new genre that sparked the next wave of hot titles. EC’s graphic horror titles were the first and best of over a hundred titles devoted solely to the depraved, lurid depiction of violence, gore, and gruesome horror. This was the first genre devoted squarely to man’s inhumanity and its worst instincts, not its best. But boy were they fun! The horror genre encompassed the occult, sci-fi, monsters, crime and any other subject that could scare the bejesus out of a kid–from ghosts and zombies, to madmen with axes.

Headlights and horror – nice mix

Black Magic came about because we saw a trend emerging in comics back in the Fifties; something begun by others but which we had to pick up on if we didn’t want to get left behind. It wasn’t a new idea to use all those ghosts and spooks, but it was a salable idea at the time and we were fortunate to get involved in it early. We had to compete with E.C. so it was tough.” Joe recalled.

S&K and Prize didn’t ignore the trend. Their response was “Black Magic”, with issue #1 bearing a cover date of Oct. 1950, just 5 months after Vault of Horror. The focus was more on the occult than on the blood and guts sociopathic monsters of EC.

Jack explained: “I didn’t have an affinity for horror. But I knew that commercially, it was viable. That’s why we both finally did it.”… We didn’t do horror in the sense of haunted houses or people with masks the way you might see today; something lurking in an anteroom. Our stories were more like peasants sitting around a campfire. Ours didn’t run to bloody horror. Ours ran to weirdness. Joe and I were wholesome characters. We weren’t guys that were bent up on the weird and the bizarre. We were the kind of guys who wouldn’t offend their mother, who wouldn’t offend anyone in your family, and certainly not the reader.”

Stay out of the attic

Joe concurred;

Black Magic was an excellent comic book with art and stories about the supernatural that were pure as Ivory Snow compared to EC Comics and the rest of the horror field.”

Kirby, Simon, Draut, Stein and Oda (seated)

The coloring was the best

Ivory Snow? Maybe not, they had werewolves, and violence, just not the lurid bloody depictions of some companies.

Non-gory maybe but they were scary

Jack might not have had an affinity for horror, but he drew the first 33 covers for the series, and they were beauts! They were scary, atmospheric, horrific but not clinical in their depiction of gruesome. The stories were interesting and suspenseful, thematically connected by Old World mythology, and psychological torment. The series was a hit and would continue, with a short hiatus for 11 years.

Jack notes; “E.C. was very basic in their approach to horror. By that I mean, they left nothing to the imagination; same with most of the other horror producers. That may have been part of their downfall. You can only throw that kind of thing at the public so long before they develop immunity to it. I think we were a little more restrained with our stories, but that may be because we were putting out a lot of romance comics and it mellowed us somewhat.”

You knew Kirby would pull the painter gambit

More than anything, the horror genre would awake the sleeping beast of societal backlash against the industry. So gruesome was the depiction of horror and brutality that mothers, and church groups, and parental groups reacted with calls for boycotts, and book burnings. When in 1954, a prominent psychologist Frederick Wertham published a damning screed on the dangers of youths reading comics, the Government got involved and held hearings concerning the connection between comics, and juvenile delinquency. But that’s a tale for a later chapter.

On June 17, 1950, reality became the horror. Julius Rosenberg, the young Jewish anarchist from Jack’s Lower East Side neighborhood was arrested for espionage—selling atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Shortly after, his wife Ethel was arrested as an accomplice. Both were children of Jewish immigrant families living on New York’s poor Lower East Side. Their young histories are remarkably similar to Jack Kirby’s in many ways; the Rosenberg’s were very ordinary people. Like many people who came of age during the grinding poverty of the Great Depression, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were radicalized and joined the social struggles of the time. Julius’s mother and father, both Russian immigrants, worked in garment sweatshops in New York City. “We were so poor,” one of Julius’s sisters recalls, “my mother would hard boil an egg so that she could divide it among us.” Julius’s father was a shop chairman and an active trade unionist. For this, he was blacklisted. Julius was also radicalized by political causes of the time. Ethel came from a similar background. Her father, a Russian immigrant, made a meager living operating a sewing machine repair shop. At the age of 19, Ethel was fired from her job as a clerk at a shipping company after leading 150 women workers in a walkout in 1935. Like Kirby, they were looking to escape. Unlike Kirby, there was no Harry Slonaker to direct their anger and restlessness towards a more promising goal.

Firebombers delight – Coincidental S&K cover

The Jewish community was in chaos; torn between its desire to protect its own vs. their true patriotic fervor. But there was a major problem that the organized Jewish community was forced to confront—a problem stemming from the long involvement of the mainstream Jewish community in communism and the far left, at least until the end of World War II, and among a substantial number of Jews even after this period. They had bonded with the new Communist government after it overthrew the Czar. The Czar was their natural enemy, and as always, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. In Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy, Aviva Weingarten points to a “hard core of Jews” who continued to support the Communist Party into the 1950s and continued to have a “decisive role” in shaping the policies of the American Communist Party. (CPUSA) Andhil Fineberg of the American Jewish Committee wrote about devising Jewish defensive strategies over the repercussions of the fact that the great majority of communist spies were Jews. Fineberg suggested that the best way to combat this threat to Jews was to de-emphasize Jewish group identity of ‘good Jews’ like Bernard Baruch as well as ‘bad Jews’ like the communist spies. Identifying people like Bernard Baruch as Jews ‘reinforces the  concept of group responsibility’ and ‘the residue in the mind of the  average American person whom the editorial is intended to influence,  is likely to be, ‘But why is it all those atomic spies are all Jews?’ Fineberg argued that an attempt by Communist Party members to portray their persecution as anti-Semitism would be ‘devastating’ to Jews generally and recommended that the AJCommitttee reply to charges linking Jews and communism to the effect that criminals operate as individuals, not as members of religious or racial groups.'” After a short trial, the Rosenberg’s were sentenced to death.

Senator Joseph McCarthy was just beginning his crusade against Communists in the government when the Rosenberg’s were arrested. Their case became great fodder for all of McCarthy’s histrionics and fear mongering. But even McCarthy was wary of outright opposition from Jewish voters and was very careful in separating anti-Communism from anti-semitism. McCarthy surrounded himself with Jews and let Jews like Roy Cohn and David Schine do all the heavy lifting in going after the many Jews deeply imbedded in pro-Soviet activities.

Serious Sen. Joe McCarthy – the not so serious Jack and Joe

Black Magic issue #22 (Mar. 1953) was especially chilling. The lead story bore one of Jack Kirby’s more inspired splashpages. The center figure showed a man staring out into a small secluded lake looking at a glowing disk. Surrounding this figure was a collage of newspaper stories about UFO’s and unexplained flying disks. The story tells of a brave man who finds and explores a crippled flying disk. It seems a neighbor had already found and claimed the disk for himself. When other neighbors find the disk, the claimant sets to fighting them to enforce his find. A war for control erupts. A small unearthly figure comes out of the shadows and witnessing the brutality pushes a button in order to stop the fighting., The lone brave man sees the figure push the button and decides to run for his life. He escapes just as the disk self-destructs in a soundless explosion. He wakes up in a hospital and tries to tell the doctors of his find. They laugh and pass off his ramblings as that of a madman. Yet forever more the brave man would bear the scars of the cosmic ray burns on his face; warning us that there are monsters–they are the earthlings next door, not the man from space.

Who’s the real monster? – Sometime the “bugs” were bad

Besides being a wonderful S&K morality play this tale really stands out. I think it is an important step in Kirby’s growth. This may be the first use of collage in a Kirby page. Jack specifically cut and pasted newspaper accounts and worked them around a hand drawn scene to create a combined work of art. Some note a difference since using newspaper newsclips is using the material for what it is, the text is the message. . While Jack’s later use uses newspaper and magazine art in a more fantastical nature in order to create a different message and context to the art. He changed the meaning of the chosen art. I understand, but this seems technical and tacky to me. There is no contextual difference in collage– A collage may include newspaper clippings, ribbons, bits of colored or hand-made papers, portions of other artwork, photographs and other found objects, glued to a piece of paper or canvas. The origins of collage can be traced back hundreds of years, but this technique made a dramatic reappearance in the early 20th century as an art form of novelty—No where is the contextual message mentioned. No mention of fantastical or otherworldly is needed for a collage—it is the added bits taken from a pre-existing work—that make it collage.

The next remarkable aspect is just such a contextual idea. This is the, or one of the earliest use of post-war atomic pop culture by Jack. The use of newspaper clippings spotlighting the cultural rise of UFO appearances, and such conspiracy growth after the war makes the Kirby story just that much more topical. Kirby went out of his way to give an added strength and relevance to his story by showing current fascination, yet avoided the debate and disdain often thrown to the conspirators. Was Kirby’s imagination set off by this cosmic debate?

1952 would see the team expand again as they added in Strange World of Your Dreams as a companion piece to Black Magic. This was based on a Mort Meskin idea and was credited to Mort as editor-though several Black Magic stories had used the same “dream” template. Word is the idea came from Mort’s own reliance of psychotherapy. The title’s host, Dr. Richard Temple was a very busy guy; always had Jack Kirby’s pipe handy. Neal says that at the holidays, Jack was always easy to buy for; A new pipe or a box of cigars. He once had a fixation on corn cob pipes. They also added in Young Brides to help out the romance books.

The horror genre was never as important as many would assume. It had a sociological import, and impact way beyond the actual sales figures. EC was never a top tier publisher. Its lasting impact would come later with satire and MAD Magazine. Even in the mid-50’s, the percentage of horror titles never exceeded 16 percent of the market, and that for only a short period

The early 1950’s were the best of all times for Simon and Kirby. They were working on as many as 5 titles at a time. The studio was a well polished machine with a small core group of top rated artists, and a select group of back-up artists orbiting the main body doing top notch work. More importantly their families continued to grow with the births of Jim Simon, and Barbara Kirby in 1952. Though it was a small tight group, occasionally a new face would show up and shake up the team. Jack said “We did our best to give everybody a chance for a job, but I would be embarrassed to tell you who I turned down and even more embarrassed to tell you who we let go. Jerry Robinson, the great Batman artist, and partner with Mort Meskin, had taken a teaching job at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. Among his students, one stood head and shoulders above the rest. A shy erudite young man from Youngstown PA named Steve Ditko.

Genial Jerry Robinson – Merry Mort Meskin

Reclusive Steve Ditko

Jerry remembers; “When I’m asked about students I of course always mention him. “Steve was quiet and retiring, a very hard worker who really focused on his drawing.” “He was very bright.  I knew it right away. In fact, if I recall correctly, I got him a scholarship for the second year, so he was in my class for two years. When I would see students of Steve’s ability I would recommend them to a publisher.” For Steve Ditko, the respect is mirrored right back to Robinson. “Jerry Robinson was a great teacher for teaching fundamentals in how to tell/show comic book story/art. What one learns, knows from seeing, studying other’s artwork is mostly visual. But what one learns from a teacher like Jerry is how to use one’s mind with solid comic book panel/sequence principles. It is that basic understanding that makes a comic book panel effective, dramatic, [and] visually work for a story/picture integration and continuity creating a whole unique reading/seeing experience.” Ditko’s style was perfect for fantasy genre work. It was heavy in atmosphere and texture. His inking was dark, shadowy, and liquid, oozing with suspense. His characters were uniquely creepy and singular. His compositions were suspenseful and dramatic. Yet Steve recalls his early years, and the lost effort of an amateur. “I was self-taught, and you’d be amazed at the hours, months, and years spent practicing bad drawing habits.” Steve’s recollection mirrors Kirby’s years at a hit and miss beginner.

When brought to the S&K studio, Steve was given a script for a Black Magic story. “A Hole In His Head” appeared in BM #27 (Nov. 1953). This was the second published work in what would become a legendary career. He also contributed stories in BM #28 & 29. Steve’s time at S&K must have been magical; he met and worked in tandem with one of his artistic heroes–Mort Meskin. The reticent Ditko recalls; “Meskin was fabulous. I couldn’t believe the ease with which he drew… I loved his stuff.” “No one who reads a Meskin drawn story is ever in a fog as to what is happening. Not only does Meskin tell a story extremely well, but he does it in the most difficult way.” A testament to Mort Meskin’s talent and gift for avoiding the super-ficial and gimmickry as opposed to concise pacing and clarity of image. After finding a new home at Chartlton, Ditko’s early career was cut short in early 1954 when he returned to Pennsylvania suffering from Tuberculosis. Steve would return in 1955 and his and Jack Kirby’s paths would forever be intertwined. Steve was a fine fit for Charlton; their loose editorial policy was the perfect fit for someone so stringent in his philosophy. Unfortunately whenever Steve came forth with a personal project, even the company least worried about sales was still forced to cancel it quickly.

Classic Ditko isolated questioning subject – The girls weren’t pretty but he told a story

Another itinerant artist, Jack Katz talks about his short time at S&K.

“Jack would work at his own desk there and Joe would come in during the morning and subtly stare at us. Jack would go for lunch, and when he came back Joe would leave for the day.
You know how I learned to ink? Jack sat me down one day, He said, “This is what you do.” He took one of my drawings, and he inked it with a brush. I’d never seen inking that good in my life. I said, “Jack if you could ink so good, why do you let—?” He said, “I don’t have the time.”

He said, “This is what I want you to do. You apply the blacks like this. This is what you do with your camera angle to make the background stand out. Jack would fill in all kinds of black areas in the background. As an inker, I don’t think there could have been anybody better if he had done his own stuff himself.”

“One of the things they had in the office was the Sunday Hal Foster Tarzan strips, almost from its inception…everyone in the office was using them for swipes. Kirby never used swipes. I’m being very straight about that. If he did it was for reference, I never saw him erase anything either.

Just breathtaking stuff. Hal Foster Tarzan

Jack would get in early, he was always there before I came in. He left late. Jack wrote as he drew, he also worked from scripts, but he would use them as a template.”

Katz says the studio was a serious place, but Mort Meskin specialized in getting Kirby’s goat.

Jack would be lost in thought on his pages and Meskin, he says; “Get up!, Get up!” and a girl would be walking around in a bathing suit. And Jack would say, “Would you sit the f**k down. ”This happened almost every day. One day Mort brought in some pornographic toys, Queen-sized fake breasts. He shows them to Kirby. Jack says, “What are you doing?” Mort puts the breasts on the floor and starts jumping up and down on them. Jack told him to stop, and get back to work. Mort said, “I can’t because I had a date with a disgusting pig, and I’m taking out revenge. Mort would also slip nudie pictures silently into the romance artwork just to hear Joe Simon erupt.

Another comic professional also credits Jack Kirby for starting up his career, but in a totally different way. From an interview with Daniel Best, Vic Carabotta says;

“I made some samples up and we canvassed New York City and went to every publishing house you could think of. One of them, of course, was Timely Comics which ended up being Marvel later on, but nothing really happened and I couldn’t get in to see anyone like Stan Lee. Finally my wife and I ended up with a cup of coffee walking the streets of New York and I got to see Jack Kirby. He’s really the one who got me started. My wife and I went over together to Jack Kirby’s office, which was then called Simon and Kirby, and Jack took me into his office and looked at my stuff. My wife sat in the lobby and by this time she was about eight and half months pregnant. So I went into Jack’s office and he looked at my stuff and said, “Well this is nice.”

Jack Katz – and Vic Carrabotta

Because I was an amateur and I don’t think I was very good at the time. [laughter] So he walks out into the lobby and while he’s telling me, “You know Vic, your work is nice, but don’t call me, I’ll call you.” It was the old story, the brush off, and as he walked out my wife stood up and I said, “Jack, this is my wife Connie.” He looked her up and down and he did a double take and saw that she was pregnant and what ran across his mind was, “This poor guy, he needs work,” and he said, “How are you?” and introduced himself to my wife and said, “By the way, have you seen Stan Lee at Timely Comics?” I said, “Yes Jack, I went there but I couldn’t get to see Stan.” I was walking around with a pack full of amateurish work; I couldn’t even afford a proper portfolio. He said, “Well, wait a minute,” and he went back into his cubby hole and he writes a letter and sealed it and said, “Take this back to Stan now.” So I took it back to Stan and got past the secretary and I was sitting across the desk from Stan Lee. Stan was a very casual guy and had his feet up on the desk and he said, “Oh, Jack says you can draw this and that,” and I said, “Yes Stan, would you like to see my work?” and he said, “No, that’s ok. Here,” and he threw a script across the desk and said, “I want this back in a week.” And that was the beginning of my comic book career. I never knew what was in the letter; obviously it was Jack telling Stan to help this poor guy. And that’s how I got started in comics. Had it not been for Jack Kirby I’d probably be laying bricks with my cousin or something. [laughter]

DB: What were Stan and Jack like back in the mid ‘50s?

VC: “Jack Kirby was a heck of a nice guy. He was always a model guy and I felt sorry when he died. A very, very nice man.”

1953 would find the studio with another challenge. A couple months earlier, St John Publishing had produced the first 3D comic. Archer St. John had come from Chicago. His earliest claim to fame is being shot at and beaten by Al Capone when his brother and he printed some scathing exposes on Capone’s attempt at rigging a local election. Archer came east and published some hobby magazines that evolved into comics when he began filling the hobby magazines with comic strips. By some means, he hooked up with the Chesler Studios and began publishing odd comics with their product and artists. His most lucrative work was when he obtained the rights to Mighty Mouse, and when artist Norman Maurer obtained the rights to produce Three Stooges Comics. Norman had married one of the Stooges daughters and controlled several aspects of their finances. It was Leonard Maurer who perfected the 3D process and arranged with Archer to publish all of his comics in the 3D process.

Leon recalled:

We then took the pages and the concept to Archer St. John. Initially skeptical, St John was shocked when he put on the makeshift glasses and viewed the artwork. He bought the concept on the spot and for it received a 25% stake in a partnership with the Maurer’s and Kubert in the American Stereographic Corporation, the company formed to license the new 3-D Illustereo process. For his financial input, St. John also received a six month head start before the process would be offered to other comic book publishers. Archer insisted that they start with his bestselling book, Mighty Mouse. Mighty Mouse 3D (Sept 1953) was a huge success. The 3D artists/creator Joe Kubert claims that it sold over a million copies @ .25 each. In fact, it was initially released on July 3, 1953, and eventually saw the full printing reach 1,200,00 copies.The profits paid for Joe’s first house.

Leonard Maurer, tells all in an interview.

“Even though it was Joe’s remark, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be great if we could make a 3-D comic book?’ (When he, Norm and I were driving past the marquee of the Paramount Theater where Bwana Devil 3D was playing) that got me thinking about 3-D comics. Later, while driving home to Queens over the Midtown Bridge, the whole process [of] depth shifts suddenly popped into my head. “In one long night, I drew the first 3-D comic page entitled “The Three Stooges in the Third Dimension” Early the next day, we waited for the midtown Manhattan’s Woolworth to open in order to purchase lollipops. “We figured we could get red and green cellophane from lollipop wrappers.” Norman recalled; we bought two packages and made a funny pair of glasses which, believe it or not, worked perfectly.”

“We gave St. John a 25 percent partnership in our licensing company, along with a 6 month’s head start for his publishing company in exchange for financial guarantees for Norman and Joe as Editors, and myself, as supervising producer — with a secret studio to be set up for production of the Mighty Mouse book”.

“I didn’t realize that the 6 month’s exclusive was what triggered Sol Harrison,(DC) Stan Lee(Atlas) and all the others to knock us off as quickly as they could, since my hands were tied in offering everyone a license. I could understand them doing this, however, since the success of Mighty Mouse, with its precision offset printing, along with my carefully designed and engineered die cut glasses insert, and selling for a quarter with the same number of pages as a dime book, was big, big news. And there were equally big financial stakes involved… especially, since it had an unheard of 100 percent sellout of its initial 1,000,000 print order. We even had to reprint an additional million. That was some leap. Considering that the normal print order at the time was under 300 thousand. All of this was based on our combined advice and suggestions to St. John. I also warned him not to go too far overboard with the next books, since I didn’t think the fad would last more than two seasons. I recognized the danger of off register [printing] too, especially in the ‘y’ axis, and knew that as soon as they tried to do it on the standard comic book web letterpresses, with their notoriously poor registration, the resultant headaches would bust the whole market apart.”

“Suffice it to say, by the tenth or eleventh 3-D book, said Joe, sales were down to about 19% sell thru, so we had to stop publication of 3-D’s. Leon always said that the attention span was limited and the fad was waning. What really hurt was the hoped for 6-months head start ended up being non-existent. Just one month after St. John’s Mighty Mouse started the fad, Dell Publication put out 3-D-ell Rootie Kazootie. Since the books took up to 5 months to produce, it remains a strange coincidence, or an unsolved mystery as to how Dell came up with a 3-D magazine so quickly. Before long other companies like Harvey and DC got into the business and really watered down St. John’s creation.

“What eventually bankrupted St. John was his attempt to block all the other publishers by buying up, in carload quantities, all the factory output for over 6 months of dyed acetate (made to my specifications, and produced by Celanese Corp.) He also bought up carload quantities of comic book newsprint paper. He didn’t succeed in blocking everybody, since there were other major acetate and paper manufacturers, but he did hold up a few, and for a while, his books were of the best quality and led the market.”

When DC, and Dell, as well as EC jumped on the fad, Harvey took notice. After a couple of funny animal cartoon books, Al Harvey thought a super hero character was a great way to show off the new process and contacted the premier super hero team to draw it. In August 1953 Al Harvey contacted Joe Simon and asked for the boys to put together a 3D comic.

Though Joe was not impressed with the idea, he could never refuse Al Harvey, especially when promised 2X their usual rate, so Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin and Steve Ditko moved into a vacant studio at the Harvey offices and learned the tedious overlay process for achieving the 3D effect. Due to the tediousness, Archer was paying his artists 2X normal rate. Joe recalls in frustration.

“Drawings were done on hole punched plastic acetates set into pegs on the drawing boards, There were two to four dimensional planes, each a separate acetate requiring individual drawing, all part of the main drawing. It was extremely tedious work, rendering on the slippery, unfamiliar plastic, and matching the registration from overlay to overlay” “We worked on the project a couple of weeks and finally packed up, exhausted, glad to be back to our regular tasks, when we tabulated our time, it proved to be a financial loss to us.”

The result was Captain 3D, a superior effort 3D or not. Rumor says that the title was too late into the fad, and sales died and left Harvey in the lurch.