A lesser known sidetrack to Kirby’s career is the short period that he did work for Gilberton, publishers of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED and WORLD AROUND US, in the early 1960s, just before the Marvel super-heroes took off. One of the major books he did there was a new edition of CI #35, a 45 page adaptation of “Last Days of Pompeii” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, replacing the previous edition. Inked by Dick Ayers, who was also doing some fine inking on much of Kirby’s work at Marvel, as well as having inked the Sky Masters comic strip.
The story is, I’m assuming, pretty faithful to the novel. Lots of intrigue, back-stabbing and romance among the residents of the doomed city, with the noble Athenian Glacius as the hero and evil Egyptian Arbaces as the villain (and a great looking Kirby villain he is, with a long face, a longer goatee and a snake-headband, I could see him fitting in as a minion of Darkseid).
While far from Kirby’s best, the art in here does look very good most of the time, when the Kirby elements are allowed to shine through. You can see a lot of that in the faces of some of the characters, the great clothing designs and some of the backgrounds, and when he got to cut loose with an action sequence, like the fleeing from the volcano at the end, it really shines.
Kirby’s said one of the reasons he didn’t like working at Gilberton was their insistence that certain details be what they considered accurate, and requiring a lot of editorial control and re-drawing. Some of the original art that’s surfaced for the book shows some major changes done in paste-ups which have fallen off.
Despite all that, it’s a book well worth picking up, and usually available fairly inexpensively given that it’s a 45 page Kirby story from 1961 that’s unlikely to ever see a decent reprinting (I believe that the current rights holders of the CI books are doing extensively re-drawn reprints, and concentrating on the CI JUNIOR and religious line).