In my last post for The Art of Romance I discussed the question of Kirby layouts. I gave some evidence to discount the use of Kirby layouts for some of the artists. However I also gave an example where I do believe Jack did provide layouts for another unidentified artist. As that serial post progresses I hope to show that while Kirby did work up layouts to be used by some of the lesser talents, it was not a practice used with most of the comic artists that worked for S&K. This is the opposite of the conclusion one would draw based on attributions given by comic art dealers. According to the dealers Kirby provided layouts for many artists working at the time. Of those artists purportedly working from Kirby designs, perhaps none is more surprising then Al Avison. I say surprising because Avison was not even working for S&K while he was doing the work for which Kirby had supposedly provided layouts. I would have thought that fact alone would have squelched any consideration of Kirby layouts but it has not.
Captain America #12 (March 1942) “Rozzo the Rebel”, art by Al Avison
Al Avison was one of the first artists that I discussed when I started this blog almost two years ago. Those posts were about the covers that Avison did for early Harvey comics (Speed #14, Speed #15, Speed #16, and Pocket #3. At the time Al was working with Simon and Kirby in the Timely bullpen. It is apparent that Kirby greatly influenced Avison yet Al’s work was still relatively crude. This changed dramatically and seemingly instantaneously when Simon and Kirby departed Timely to begin working for DC. I can only conclude that only when S&K were no longer an intimidating presence could Avison’s talent blossom forth. Avison became the chief penciller for Captain America and did some really nice stuff. Excluding Simon and Kirby, no other golden age artist did Captain America nearly as well as Avison. Unfortunately it will probably be a number of years before any of this material ever gets reprinted in Marvel Masterworks Golden Age series. However one story drawn by Avison has been reprinted in “Marvel Visionaries: Stan Lee” (“The Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge” from Captain America #16). Both Lee and Avison were on top of their form and this is the best Captain America story that I have ever read (again excluding those by Simon and Kirby). The splash to “Rozzo the Rebel” imaged above is typical of Al’s work on Cap. The nice design shows that Al learned a thing or two from Joe Simon as well. Avison emphasis for action and exaggerated perspective (particularly with Bucky) shows Jack Kirby’s influence. Still at this point in his career his assimilation of Jack’s style is not complete enough to mistakenly suggest Kirby layouts. Al’s style is a bit cartoonier then Jack’s, but I do not say that disparagingly as I am not one who believes that the more realistic comic book art is the better it is. My primary criticism of Avison’s Captain America work is that it tends to be overwrought. This is particularly true for the inking, but that was probably done by someone else, often Sid Shore.
Captain America #19 (October 1942) “On To Berlin”, pencils by Al Avison, inks by Sid Shores
One of the Simon and Kirby trademarks that was continued by Al Avison during his turn at Captain America was the double page splash. Avison may not have been in Simon and Kirby’s league, but he could still put together exciting splashes. What could be more thrilling then Captain America leading the invasion of Europe. Well perhaps having Captain America not only storming the beach but also rescuing an allied prisoner from torture as well. When this comic was created the invasion was almost as much a fantasy as Captain America himself. Not only had the American armed forces not yet really entered the European conflict, we had suffered some serious defeats in the Pacific theater. Even so “On To Berlin” certainly captured the American spirit at that time of crisis. I have not made a careful examination of these golden age comics, but it seems to me that Avison was the primary penciller for Captain America for 1942 after which he is replaced by Syd Shores. This is not supported by the GCD which shows Avison working throughout the war years. Frankly my policy concerning the GCD is trust but verify. Since I am not able to verify some of these attributions at this time, I am not inclined to trust them. Atlas Tales shows Avison last work on Cap has a cover date January 1943. In the past I have found Atlas Tales a more reliable source and in this case they seem to be in agreement with my own understanding. Avison’s disappearance from Timely can most likely be explained as his being drafted for service, the fate of many comic book artists at that time.
All-New #13 (July 1946) “Crime at Floodtime”, art by Al Avison
Atlas Tales shows Avison returning to do work for Timely after the war. But he does not resume being the principal penciller for Captain America nor does he seem to be working exclusively for them, I think he actually did more post-war work for Harvey. Unfortunately the Harvey comics are not covered by Atlas Tales and my own resources are spotty. My impression is initially Al provided work for the Green Hornet and Boy Heroes. The image of the double page splash form All-New #13 that I show above combines both, the Green Hornet story is sandwiched between some Boy Heroes panels. I am unclear what is meant by “a radio-comic feature via television” but it did provide an excuse for a little cross-over of the two features.
All-New #15 (March 1947) art by Al Avison
Harvey’s All-New title suffered from the same post-war comic glut that doomed Simon and Kirby’s Stuntman and Boy Explorers. The final issue of all three would be black and white copies reduced in both size and contents. As far as I know, All-New #15 was the only time the Boy Heroes appeared on a cover. Surprising they are not present in any of the inside stories. It is Boy Heroes work like this cover that drives the suggestion of the use of Kirby layouts. Although I disagree with the conclusion I perfectly understand what it is based on. This covers has a lot of the action and exaggerated perspective that is so typical of Jack Kirby. However Kirby layouts are not the only explanation, another is simply that Avison had studied and was influenced by Jack’s style. Although parts of this particular work look very Kirby-like in layout, as an ensemble the cover suggests the influence of Alex Schomburg as well.
It is important to realize that although All-New, Stuntman and Boy Explorers were all published by Harvey, Al Avison was not working for Simon and Kirby. All-New included Joe Palooka and Green Hornet stories as well as the Boy Heroes, features that were not produced by Simon and Kirby. Nor did Al Avison’s art appear in Stuntman and Boy Explorers that were Simon and Kirby productions. Boy Heroes was part of the kid gang genre that Jack seemed so fond of, but there can be no question of any direct involvement of Joe or Jack in the creation of the Boy Heroes as they both were in military service when the feature started.
Green Hornet #35 (September 1947) art by Al Avison
Most of the so called Kirby layouts claims are for Boy Heroes art, but Jack Kirby’s influence on Avison can also be seen in his Green Hornet work as well. The fight scene in the third panel is a great example of this. Note also the use of semicircular panels, this along with circular panels were devices that Simon and Kirby developed for Captain America but were used infrequently by S&K at the time that Avison did this art.
Unpublished Boy Heroes, by Al Avison
Frankly although I have begun to discuss the issue of Kirby layouts and will continue to do so, I do not expect mass conversions to my way of thinking. In the case of Al Avison, Joe Simon’s art collection contains what I would describe as a smoking gun that as far as I am concerned lays this issue to rest. These are two unfinished pages of story art penciled by Avison. The one I image above is unmarked but appears to be a Boy Heroes story. Note the circular panel and a figure drawn that could be mistakenly thought to be based on a Kirby layout. The rest of the page has no art, just the panels. It would seem that Al’s working method was to initially pencil out the page as three long panels. These may then be broken up into smaller panels as the work progressed. In the image above you can see that the second tier has already been marked off as two panels while the third remains undivided. What is not found anywhere on this page are layouts of any kind. There are a few pencil marks in the second panel but these would hardly be described as layouts. I am sure Avison knew what he had begun to draw but they certainly do not represent layouts done by Kirby. As meager as these few pencillings are, the rest of the panels are completely blank.
Unpublished comic art, by Al Avison
I do not know what feature the other unfinished page was meant for. I do not believe it was a Boy Heroes page since the leading characters seem to be a man (Dan), a woman (Diane) and a gorilla (Bomba). It is even a better example of Kirby-like art. Dan’s slug is the most Kirby-like I have ever seen done by an artist other then Jack himself. Also some excellently done exaggerated perspective. Note Diane’s pose as she runs into the room, practically as well executed as Kirby could have done it. But once again the lower two panel tiers are completely blank, no sign of any use of layouts.
In the past I have used Photoshop adjustments to bring out things that had been erased, but when I use that technique here on these two pages of art nothing surfaces. The only conclusion to be reached is that these pages were not done using layouts. If Avison could be so effective without Kirby’s help here, there is no reason to believe any of the other art he produced at this time required Kirby layouts either. Add to that the question of why Jack would provide designs for an artist who was not even working for him? Certainly Al’s earlier work on Captain America showed he did not need such help.
Nice work. You (I think correctly) mention that at Harvey, Avison was not a part of the S&K studio, yet Joe Simon does say that Boy Heroes was a co-creation of Kirby, Avison and Gabrielle, and part of the deal he made with Al Harvey. In the Jack Kirby Collector #7, there are 2 Boy Heroes unpublished pages reputed to be loosely penciled by Kirby, and finished by Avison. The two pages aren’t clear enough for me to call it either way, but I do see handwritten text that looks very much like Kirby’s. It’s either Kirby layouts/roughs or the best Kirby imitation I have ever seen. From the poses to the long sinewy arms, and the square fingers, whoever drew them “got” Kirby. The is also some later Avison Harvey horror work (early ’50’s) where he reverts to his early Simonesque covers.
Just to make my earlier post clearer. When Joe said that Boy Heroes was a creation of Kirby, Avison and Gabrielle, I don’t think he meant the characters, I think he was talking about the characters getting their own book. I think Boy Heroes #1 was to be produced by S&K with Al doing the bulk of the artwork, possibly with Kirby as art director or some such position. The Boy Heroes first appeared in All-New #6, and lasted until #12. They were cover featured on all of those books with the Red Blazer. The only credits I have ever seen were to Louis Cazeneuve, but I can’t verify.
The appearance of the Boy Heroes in the Green Hornet strip in #13 seems an attempt to continue the characters after the cancelation of the Red Blazer, possibly with them getting their own book.
Not to filibuster this thread, 😉 but this is one of my favorite S&K periods. I will disagree with you on one detail. You mention, and highlight the use of the circular panels seen in the Boy Heroes and Green Hornet pages, and suggest that Jack Kirby wasn’t using these during this period. Concurrent with Green Hornet #35, and Boy Heroes, Jack was pencilling Stuntman and Boy Explorers, and tons of crimes pages for Prize.these series are filled with just those circular panels, in fact, they overwhelm the pages at times. Joe Simon’s work on Duke of Broadway also features a ton of these circular panels. So the appearance of the circular panels really doesn’t point to anyone in particular.
Let’s start with Johnson and Morrow’s “The Unsung Heroes” from TJKC #7. It seems that they had already made the Kirby association for the unfinished Boy Heroes before approaching Joe Simon. One thing they assert was that unlinked pages looked like they had Kirby involvement. It is assertion of Kirby layouts for Avison like this one that I dispute and I back it up with the smoking gun of the two unfinished pages. I feel that these unfinished pages clearly show that Avison “got” Kirby. Long sinewy arms, exaggerated perspective, even the square fingers, the whole thing. This is firm evidence of Kirby-like style without use of layouts. As far as I am concerned anyone claiming Kirby layouts for Avison has got to provide something more then vague claims. Avison did not need Kirby layouts to achieve his Kirby influenced style.
Johnson and Morrow also contend, and you seem to agree, that they see Kirby handwriting in some places. Here the evidence has been obscured by the letterer but what pencils I have seen under the letter’s inked version looks like Avison handwriting to me.
Now let me turn to Joe Simon’s comments from the same TJKC #7 article. It is clear that Joe has muddled the waters. Despite Joe’s statement that the group was created by Kirby, Avison and Gabriel, Jack had nothing to do with the creation as he was in the Army at the time as I pointed out in my post. As I also pointed out Avison had already been doing some work on the Boy Heroes. There is some merit in trying to salvage Simon’s statement by saying that S&K meant to give Boy Heroes their own book. Joe’s collection contains artworked marked for Boy Heroes #1 and #2, interestingly the work was not done by Avison. Joe may have confused Avison’s real involvement with Boy Heroes with this project for a Boys Heroes title. His inclusion of Gabriel in this project may also be part of that confusion.
Now let me turn to your last comment about the issue of circular panels. You are absolutely correct that circular and semi-circular panels are abundant in Stuntman and Boy Explorers. But you are wrong when you say that this work was concurrent with Green Hornet #35. The Stuntman and Boy Explorer stories appearing in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Terry and the Pirates were left over material from the cancelled comics and was actually done in 1946, not 1947. What is important when discussing the evolution of Kirby art is the creation date, not the publication date. Generally creation and publications are in agreement, but not with this material. The S&K work that truly was concerrant with Green Hornet #35 was Boy Commandos #23, Headline #26, My Date #2, Real Clue Crimes v2 n7, and Young Romance #1. I am not suggesting “that Jack Kirby wasn’t using them during this period” but as I said in my post they were used less frequently. The decrease in use of circular and semi-circular panels between the 1946 work and that from 1947 is dramatic. But for the Green Hornet #35 story Avison used circular or semi-circular panels on every page, often more then once.
Just a few comments. Since we are all speculating, there’s no way to prove any of it.
First, you claim that those two unfinished pages are a ‘smoking gun” yet is there any evidence beyond speculation that these are by Al Avison? And any proof as to when these were done? You speculate that the first page is from Boy Heroes. Why? The boy drawn is certainly not one of the Boy Heroes, and we have no idea what the other page was for. Was there any notations mentioning Al Avison or Boy Heroes? or a date?
You seem to want to downplay Joe’s statement when it comes to S&K’s role in Boy Heroes, yet you then tell us that Joe has back-up stories meant for issues 1 and 2. To me, this is the real smoking gun that S&K were involved with packaging the proposed Boy Heroes series. Why else would Joe have the back-up stories?
Another interesting factoid. S&K had their own letterer, Howard Ferguson, who went everywhere with them. Guess who lettered that Green Hornet page from All-New #13? Howard Ferguson. Guess who lettered those unpublished pages shown in Jack Kirby Collector? Howard Ferguson.
Without concurrent issues of other Harvey comics, I don’t know if Howard was also doing other comics for Harvey outside of S&K.
Something you seem to gloss over is that Al Avison never worked on Boy Heroes before that cross-over story with the Green Hornet, so his first connection with that series came while S&K were working for Harvey, so the timeline fits with Joe’s statement. The fact is, the only published work by Al Avison on Boy Heroes is the cross-over Green Hornet story, and the one page used for the cover of A-N Comics #15. There is another back-up Boy Heroes story in Humphrey Comics #4 almost 2 years later which I haven’t seen, and I assume (with no real reason!) that it was a remaindered story by Al Avison. So Al Avison’s whole output on Boy Heroes seems to have been done during those few months while S&K was working
at Harvey. This is why if you want to compare formatting styles, such as the circular panels, then you have to look at what S&K was doing during that stretch at Harvey in 1946, which is when Avison was drawing those Boy Heroes pages, not a Green Hornet story from a year later. What I would want to see is what Al was doing just prior to his work on Boy Heroes, and whether he was using those circular panels, or did they start at the time when he, Joe and Jack started back at Harvey, which might suggest that he was taking formatting tips from S&K.
The interesting thing is that Avison, Simon and Kirby started back (post-war) at Harvey at the same time. Avison’s first Harvey work after the war was a cover on Green Hornet #30, dated May/June 1946. This matches up with the fist issues of Stuntman and Boy Explorers.
If Al Avison is suddenly adopting the S&K format, it would suggest that he was working hand in hand with Joe and Jack. That he continued using it for at least a year doesn’t help.
One other little thing that jumps out at me. That header, “At Last!! A Radio-Comic Feature! via Television!!” This has all the hallmarks of a Joe Simon header blurb, much like those seen in Stuntman, and other S&K series. Plus, it was a Howard Ferguson design that he used several times.
You question whether the “smoking gun” pages where done by Al Avison. Frankly as far as I am concerned that attribution is as good as you can get without a signature. This same problem exists with the Avison Boy Heroes pages with the supposed Kirby layouts such as from TJKC #7. They are all of the same drawing style and that style matches work that has been signed by Avison. There is nothing in the “smoking gun” pages that suggests a different artist from the TJKC #7 pages. As an example of an Avison trait, look at the third panel of the GH #35 page and how the fingers of one of the individuals extend into the gutter. Like Kirby, Avison had pretty much dropped extending a figure out of a panel. However he would occasionally extend just a small part past a panel edge, something by the way I have not seen Kirby do. Look at the unfinished Boy Heroes page and note how the boy’s thumb extends just a little bit into the gutter. Also compare the way the eyebrows are drawn in the “smoking gun” pages and GH #35 or those in TJKC #7. I could go on.
As for your question of whether the first page truly is for the Boy Heroes, I wrote that because to me the boy looks like Trig, look at the splash from All-New #13. Could I be wrong? Sure. Would that make a difference? Not at all. The importance of the “smoking gun” pages is not that they are Boy Heroes pages; one of them clearly is not. What is significant is that they are the same style as those such as from TJKC #7, show the same Kirby-like techniques, and yet are clearly not done from Kirby layouts. If Avison could do “Kirby” so well without using layouts for the “smoking gun” pages why should it be assumed that Kirby provided layouts for the other Boy Heroes pages? Where is the evidence for that? As for any dates, that would be great evidence, but none of the unpublished Avison Boy Heroes art that I have seen has a date but that did not stop anyone from drawing conclusions. Nor does it seem to stop you from claiming it was done during S&K Stuntman/Boy Explorer Harvey period.
It seems we both agree that Joe’s statement was not completely accurate, after all Jack did not create the Boy Heroes. I offered the evidence of Boys Heroes art from Joe’s collection to show that perhaps S&K were involved in a launch of a Boy Heroes title. But I find it interesting that these two completed stories for BH #1 and #2 were not done by Avison, not only is the style wrong but they are signed (or more accurately monogrammed) by another artist. Also there is nothing to suggest that these are “back-up” stories as you described them. Why are the only stories for the Boy Heroes title from Joe’s collection not done by Avison? It could just be a coincidence or it could be that Avison did not have anything to do with S&K’s attempt to create a Boy Heroes title. I am not ignoring Joe’s statement but in light of at least one inaccuracy (Jack created Boys Heroes) and one questionable part (Gabriel’s involvement) I am not ready to accept the whole statement as fact.
Your observations about Howard Ferguson lettering are very interesting. If it could be showed that he did not letter other Harvey work, then that truly would be good evidence that Avison was working for S&K at that time. But I am not ready to make that assumption, after all later S&K productions would all be lettered by Ben Oda, but he also worked for other outfits as well.
As for Avison and S&K both starting at Harvey at the same time, well that would be suggestive if it was not right after the war. Based on his disappearance from Timely, I do suspect that Avison entered the military service at about the same time as Joe and Jack. At the end of the war they all would return to civilian life at about the same time. Avison had done work for Harvey before and Joe has said that Avison and Harvey were already friends. Although I am not sure why Avison did not play a bigger part at Timely after the war, his appearance at Harvey is not at all surprising.
There is one other piece of evidence to suggest that perhaps Avison did work with S&K and once again it is from Joe’s collection. Joe has what looks like cover art of the Boy Heroes signed by Avison. The art is inked but neither the title nor any other text had been applied. What is interesting is that it seems to be a swipe from the Stuntman #2 cover; it makes me wonder whether Joe did the layouts. But it also makes me suspect that it was create sometime after Stuntman #2. In other swiping by Joe that I have seen the swipe was done based on an original piece that was published some time before, not from a time close to when the swipe would be published.
I am still not convinced that Avison actually worked for S&K. The titles his art actually appeared in (All-New and Green Hornet) do not appear to be Simon and Kirby productions and Avison did not show up in any title that does seem to come from S&K. For me the question of whether Avison worked for Simon and Kirby, while interesting, is not of paramount importance when it comes to the question of whether Kirby provided layouts for Avison. Even if he were working for S&K the “smoking gun” pages show that he did not need any help from Kirby.
I think you missed my point about circular panels. I brought it up in discussing GH #35 because it shows that Kirby was not involved in the layout of that story. Yet Avison shows some typical Kirby-like techniques in GH #35. Again if Al could “get” Kirby so well for GH #35, why should layouts have been required to explain the Boy Heroes stuff. Unfortunately the use of circular panels in Avison’s Boy Heroes is not very instructive since we do not have any firm dates when that work was done. But just because circular panels are present does not mean the layouts are by Kirby, Avison used circular panels both before (in 1942 for Captain America) and after (GH #35) the Stuntman/Boys Explorer period.
During my work on making an inventory of Joe’s collection I had a chance to look over the Boy Heroes art I mention in the comments above. It turns out I was in error when I said there was art for both issues #1 and #2, all of it was for Boy Heroes #1. Joe has the complete art for the first and last stories of the comic. This left quite a few pages for other stories but who knows what they would have been; further Boy Heroes stories (Boy Commandos model) or backup features (Stuntman and Boy Explorers model).