Kirby Monster Inkers, Cowboys and Aliens

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Steve Ditko was one of the first Comic Book artists that caught my attention. I first noticed him in a Charlton comics’  adaptation of the 1961 film Gorgo, which I had enjoyed immeasurably as a nine-year old viewer. My first reaction to Ditko’s work was that it was odd and quirky, but powerful and compelling. Best of all, he got the creature right. A lot of otherwise competent artists have serious problems drawing believable dinosaurs. Ditko however, deftly handled one of the most powerful scenes in the film, as Gorgo first appears on the shores of a small Irish fishing village.

In panel two, Ditko uses hand gestures toward the dominant third panel, where Gorgo is seen as a full frontal figure surrounded by his human attackers. Panel four is particularly effective as we see in it the creature’s profile, as he rears back to avoid the flung torches.

The world at that moment had a fixation with such creatures, both in films and comic books. The company then known as Atlas Comics was making the lion’s share of their sales from monster and supernatural stories, and Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby were both working with Stan Lee to produce them. This would change in the late summer of 1961, with the introduction of The Fantastic Four. Although the magazine focused on a team of superheroes, its origin, rooted in a zeitgeist of monsters cast a long shadow over the book’s progress for many months.

Issue #13 began to take on a more cosmic cast with the introduction of the enigmatic Watcher, a story inked by the aforementioned Steve Ditko. We may notice in the page above, an inking style well suited to the eerie landscapes of Kirby’s intergalactic panoply. Given that, Ditko seems to be having trouble with the Thing’s skin texture throughout the story as seen in fifth panel.

About two years earlier, monsters so pervaded Atlas’ titles, that the editors even inserted them into their fairly successful western titles. Here below is a page from one of my favorite western stories, Kirby and Lee’s Two Gun Kid #58, cover dated February 1961.

In this tall tale, the Kid encounters a huge saurian creature, seemingly out of time. Disappointingly, the beast turns out to be a costumed bison, but the final panel of this page displays a wonderful angle of the faux-reptile. Ably inked by Dick Ayers, Kirby sets up the tableau masterfully, as he shows us the Kid in the preceding panel emerging from a rent in the wood, his body positioned just over the tail of the creature below. The gunfighter’s gesture and pose powerfully accentuate the torque of the monster in the lower panel as it faces the Kid with gaping jaws.

In Rawhide Kid#22, cover dated June 1961, we finally get the real deal, an actual monster in a western setting. While as usual on the run from the law, the Kid takes a dangerous job in Silver mine and is menaced by an underground creature, the Living Totem.

Given the monster’s huge head, Kirby has quite a few opportunities to show the Totem looming, as it does in the first and third panel of page nine. The story is a bit of a rush job, but it does feature some nice scale shots of the creature in comparison to the puny humans that it menaces, as shown below in the splash page of chapter four. Kirby proves that he master of the spatial plane with his contrapuntal arrangement of running figures in relation to the primary focus of the Totem holding the wagon aloft. Pretty cool composition for a publication pretty low on the artistic totem pole.

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