Battleground, Jack Kirby’s Return to Atlas

Battleground #14
Battleground #14 (November, 1956) “Mine Field” page 2 pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby turned to freelancing when the Simon and Kirby studio failed. Battleground #14 (November 1956) was the first of his freelance jobs to be published. It also marked Kirby’s return to a company that he left almost 15 years before. Jack probably still remembered Goodman’s unfulfilled promise of royalties for Captain America, but Kirby had a family to support and so had to swallow his pride. His reentry job was a short five page war story called “Mine Field”. The job should have been easy for Jack, only a couple of years before Kirby drew, wrote and edited for Foxhole, a war comic for Simon and Kirby’s own publishing company called Mainline. One story for that title, “Hot Box”, was only two pages long and Jack still managed to make it a masterpiece.

“Mine Field” is a simple tale. A somewhat bumbler of a soldier gets separated from his outfit during a night patrol. He becomes lost in the dark and by daybreak finds himself close to the enemy’s position. From his observations he realizes the Germans plans to lure the Americans into a mine field. Upon dark the soldier rearranges the German marker and finds the way back with the outfit. The table has turned and the enemy falls into their own trap. It is a good story, just not one that plays on what would normally be considered Kirby’s strengths. Jack likes his war action up close and personal and that is not what this story is about, although Jack does manage to sneak in some typical Kirby action in the last panel. But it is because the story does not have a lot of action that it provides a showcase for how good an artist Kirby was. I provide an example page above. Note that there really is not a lot happening on this page. We find the hapless soldier fall into a shell hole and his unsuccessful attempt to find his comrades. Yet by altering the view point and careful use of the landscape Jack manages to make it all interesting. Kirby is able to do this throughout the story. This sort of low action story may not have been the best vehicle for Jack, but he still managed to make it look easy.

Jack’s pencils are always at their best when inked by his greatest inker, Kirby himself. For this story Jack’s inked in a manner which I referred to as the S&K Studio style. That style is categorized by bold brushwork and some unusual techniques. In the image I provide above, note the use of the picket fence pattern (see inking glossary) in the second and fifth panels. By itself there is nothing unusual about Jack’s inking in the Studio style, he had often used it in the past. What is surprising is that this style appeared in a work at this late date. At this time Jack had adopted a similar style but with a finer brush for Prize romance covers or a simpler style without techniques like the picket fence brushing for romance story art. However the inking in “Mine Field” does show one important trait agreeing with both the Fine Studio and Austere styles. Spotting has been downplayed giving the entire art a lighter look. Black areas tend to be limited coverage but when used are done by filling the area with ink. The inking for this story was not as masterful as Jack would shortly do for Atlas in Yellow Claw #2 and #3. However in its own understated way it is a beautiful job without any signs of rushing and loss of control found in “Afraid To Dream” that Kirby also did in the next month.

I have already remarked above how the plot for “Mine Field” was not typical for Kirby. I also find that the actual text writing does not have Kirby’s “voice”. Jack’s writing usually includes exclamations that are a little over the top. I find none of that quality in the script for “Mine Field”. Therefore I do not believe that Jack had much to do with the writing for this story and that he was working from a script supplied by Atlas. This sets this story apart from most pre-Implosion Atlas work which either Kirby seemed to have a lot of control over the writing (Yellow Claw, “Afraid to Dream”, “No Man Can Outdraw Him” and “Pokerface”) or at least some input to the plot (Black Rider Rides Again).

Battleground #14
Battleground #14 (November, 1956) “Beyond the Call of Duty” art by Joe Maneely

In my posts for this blog I generally avoid comparing other artists to Jack Kirby. It really is not fair and can result in overlooking the special talents these comic book artists possessed. Effectively Atlas made just such a comparison between Jack Kirby and Joe Maneely and judged Maneely as the better artist. Presumably this judgment was made by Stan Lee and it continued as long as Joe Maneely was alive. It was Joe that was the most frequent Atlas cover artist while Jack did not even get to do the covers for comic books titles where he did all the interior story art. In Battleground #14 Joe got the most important first story while Jack’s contribution was delegated towards the back. But this does not seem to reflect the actual merits of the two stories. Maneely is working from a script with much more action then what Kirby had. For a war title this should almost insure a more interesting story, yet Kirby’s piece is a much better read. Maneely just does not seem to know how to make the action exciting. Under Joe’s hands all of the artwork seems dry and unmoving. Even today there are those who say Joe Maneely was a great artist. I just do not understand exactly what they feel Maneely did so well.

8 thoughts on “Battleground, Jack Kirby’s Return to Atlas

  1. Ger Apeldoorn

    Don’t you dare badmouth Joe Maneely, you filistine!

    I can’t compare the whole story, since I haven’t got this book. But on the whole, the judgement could be made that Jack Kirby was a better story-teller than Joe Maneely. But what you can’t deny (or at least what everyone who likes Maneely’s work agrees about) is the pure attractiveness of his drawings. His style is more lush than that of Jack Kirby and almost all of his panels are a joy to look at. In a bad story, you even have trouble to look away from the splash panel, so beautiful is it. And his work is made for good coloring. Almost all Joe Maneely’s work is colored very brightly or at least with a lot of contrast. Much of Jack Kirby’s work is colored drably. Even when he colors himself (Greg Theakston is a big fan of this) it’s a bit better, but sometimes you lose focus with all the oranges and the other secondary colors. Joe Maneely’s work is appealing in the same way Arthur Adam’s work is appealing to some. Not surprisingly, he gets a lot of cover assignments as well.

    A couole of years ago I wrote an article for The Jack Kirby Collector called When Stanley Met Jack about their different meetings through the years. Alas it was never published, although John Morrow never told me he didn’t like it. He just sort of forgot about it, I guess. Anyway, as part of that article, I covered a lot of this period and as I have mentioned here before, I came to the conclusion that the two horror stories that were published after this war story, were old material Jack had brought from his Harvey inventory, when Harvey decided to go on a one year hiatus. The way the job numbers work, those two stories would have been given a job number there and then. After that Jack was given a new script to be illustrated, which I think was this war story. But since the job numbers are given to a story at the moment the script is turned in, the job number on this story is actually lower than the ones on the two stories he came in with. All speculation on my part, but it fits the available facts.

  2. Harry Post author

    But I have denied, and continue to deny, that Maneely’s work can be described as “attractive”. And I find it hard to understand what is meant by Joe’s style as “lush”. For me that term brings up images of abundant but varied forms which seems the antipathy of Maneely’s over done and dry drawings. I love Arthur Adam’s work and am quite surprised that anyone would compare him to Joe Maneely.

    The contribution of the colorist seems besides the point since neither Maneely nor Kirby was responsible for the coloring. (I do not accept Theakston’s myth of Kirby Kolors)

  3. Ger Apeldoorn

    Hey, it’s your blog…

    I actually thought my other points were more important.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. nick caputo

    I agree with you that this story likely does not have input by Kirby in the writing. It’s likely that Stan handed Jack a script to illustrate.

    In regards to Maneely, I’m in Ger’s camp as one of those who love his work. I’ve bought many Atlas comics just for the covers he drew. His design work was impeccable and his characters have personality. Although he could work in any genre, he was particularly good at western settings. I don’t see his work as being stiff and dry at all, those terms I would apply to an artist like Jack Keller.

    Nick Caputo

  5. Harry Post author


    I did not remark about your comment about When Stanley Met Jack because I already had previously when you commented about it concerning, if I remember correctly, “Afraid To Dream”. As you said it is speculation that fits the available facts. I can add nothing that will either support or detract from that. It is an interesting idea though.

  6. Harry Post author


    I always knew that there were people who like Maneely, they just do not seem to good at explaining what they like so much. Design is an interesting explanation. But I can think of a lot of artists who do better designs, including Joe Simon. I have seen some covers that Maneely did that had good designs, it is just that he was not a talented enough draughsman to pull it off.

  7. Stan Taylor

    Hi Harry,

    Sorry for being so quiet lately, I have changed server due to some major comp problems. Thanks for the recent posts, they have all been great.
    I tend to side with Nick regarding Maneely, I love his work, but I do understand your reservations. His work definitely lacks Kirby’s dynamics. If Kirby drew the first panel on the page you provided, the Korean being smacked, would be sent flailing out of the panel. The soldier doing the hitting would have his legs more splayed, and the sweep of the fist would have been greatly exagerated. Kirby had a knack for the extreme figure work, stopping just at the edge of suspension of disbelief. If he went any further he would have ventured into “bigfoot” stylings.
    But Maneely’s more realistic action is still well done. His inking took me a while to get used to, just as did S&K’s. I think his western work was his best. He had a good eye for detail, and staging. I do think he tends to overdo facial shading, at times everyone looks like they are leering. Kirby, in his later stages also had this problem, with his kewpy doll cheeks.
    Maneely would have been a good fit at S&K.


  8. Harry Post author

    Stan, Nick and Ger,

    Thanks for your comments about Maneely. Obviously I don’t “get it”. I’ll keep your comments in mind so who knows maybe someday I will.

    Stan, my original reaction to “Maneely would have been a good fit for S&K” was huh? Then I remembered another artist I usually described as dry, John Severin. Yet he did a really nice cover for Alarming Tales and some beautiful romance stories. So who knows, perhaps S&K could have had a good influence on someone even more dry, Joe Maneely.

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