Tiger 21

Joe Simon’s personal collection includes two large illustration boards of an unfinished syndication proposal, Tiger 21. The art on each board is composed of a long title section (empty on one of them) and three rows of panels each row nominally with four panels. They therefore were intended for use in the Sunday comics section. The work was never completed; the outlines for the panels, captions and word balloons were all inked and the lettering finished however all the pencils remain uninked. In the upper left corner of each board, outside of the actually art area, are the numbers 1 and 4 which represent the individual page numbers.

This posting is by no means the first report of Simon and Kirby’s Tiger 21. John Morrow wrote an article about them in The Jack Kirby Collector #15 (April 1997). Morrow discussed six pages but the illustrations he provides indicate that he worked with copies, probably stats, of the original art. However the copies were made the process had difficulty in reproducing the pencils. John provides an outline of the story which I will not repeat here. If interested you read it in Google Books. Basically Tiger 21 is science fiction about adventures in space. There was also a concept presentation piece for Tiger 21 that was included in Kirby Unleashed and Volume 2 of the Jack Kirby Treasury has a full page reproduction (page 5), again apparently from a second generation copy, of the original art.

Simon and Kirby were apt to recycle syndication proposals into comic books. I previously discussed the work they did in turning the strip “Inky” into “Artist Loves Model” published in In Love #3 (December 1954). Joe and Jack also transformed a Tiger 21 story (not one of those reported in TJKC #15) into “Homecoming: Year 3000” for Fighting American #4 (October 1954). The Fighting American only appears at the start and the end while the rest of the story is given over to Tiger 21’s Starman Zero.

Tiger 21, page 1, panel 11, art by Jack Kirby

Starman’s appearance in Fighting American was somewhat apt as the two shared a similar origin. Both involved the use of a machine to transfer the mind from one body to another. In Fighting American it was the mind from a frail body into that of his recently deceased brother. For Starman Zero it was into a synthetic body much more durable then that of a human.

Tiger 21, page 4, panel 3, art by Jack Kirby

The artwork is quite well done in tight pencils which can be very light in certain areas. As was his practice during this period, Jack provided only lines with nothing to indicate how the spotting should be done. Cloth folds were indicated by simple lines and it was up to the inker on how to interpret them. Shadows and inking techniques were all left to the inker as well.

Tiger 21, page 4, panel 9, art by Jack Kirby

The pencils are very bold with lots of effective use of exaggerated perspectives. The best comparison that can be made is art that Kirby did toward the end of the Simon and Kirby studio for titles like Foxhole. This would suggest a dating to the mid ’50s. This is at odds with John Morrow’s article which assigned Tiger 21 to the late ’40s. The best way to resolve this issue would be the lettering. Howard Ferguson was Simon and Kirby’s first letterer while later this job was done by Ben Oda. I must admit I have not done a careful study of the lettering but that for Tiger 21 seems to match that used for Stuntman and Boy Explorers which were presumably done by Ferguson. Based just on a casual examination and therefore quite possibly in error, it seems to me that the switch of Ferguson lettering to that by Oda seemed to occur in early 1950. Therefore, admittedly with much uncertainty, a late 40’s date seems the most likely.

Although in his article John Morrow wrote that the title of the newspaper strip was Starman Zero, the first art page clearly shows it was actually Tiger 21. The oddly named title refers to a distant star that, in the strip, is reachable via something called the time jump. Tiger 21 was also the name of a television science fiction show that Kirby proposed to NBC in the early ’50s. For the television version, Tiger 21 was the name of the hero’s space ship. NBC eventually picked up another show instead called “Man In Space” that starred William Landigan.

One thought on “Tiger 21

  1. Steve Sherman

    I remember Jack talking about “Tiger 21”. He really thought at the time that it had a good shot at becoming a tv show. He said that they were almost assured it was a go, but then NBC went with “Man in Space”. By the way, it’s William Lundigan. I remember the show. It was very dull.

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