Jack Kirby’s First Flight

Mystery Men #10
Mystery Men #10 (May 1940) Wing Turner, art by Jack Kirby

I recently posted on a couple of stories Simon and Kirby did for Prize Comics early in their collaboration (Ted O’Neil). Flying stories were not a big part of Simon and Kirby repertoire (but see The Milton Caniff Connection) and so I thought I would write about an earlier pilot story, Wing Turner from Mystery Men #10 (May 1940). I had previously written about this story (Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 2, Working for Fox) but my emphasis was on Kirby characterization and not on the flying. This Wing Turner story and another feature for Science Comics #4 were done at about the same time that Jack first met Joe Simon. Joe had just joined Fox as their first editor. Previously Fox Comics used Eisner and Iger to produce their comic books but that outfit was dropped and Simon was hired to set up a bullpen. It was a difficult task and one technique used was to advertise for Iger and Eisner artists that had previously worked on the comics (most signatures in the comics were aliases).

As I said, these two features from May were the only work the Jack did for Fox comic books. Kirby’s primary job at Fox was the Blue Beetle syndication strips the earliest of which was dated January 8. This may seem to greatly predate the two Fox comic book features but that is misleading because of the way the two publication forms released. Uncolored syndication strips were typically created about 4 to 6 weeks before publication but comic books were cover dated about two months later then their actually release date. Further for comic books it typically took a month or more to create the art, a month for the printer and a month for the distribution. This meant that the work on a comic book started 5 or 6 months before the cover date. Do the math and you will find that the Blue Beetle syndication strip was done about a month before the 2 comic book features. However there is a caveat to this calculation; the initial work for a previously unpublished syndication strip is often done even further weeks in advance to give it time to be marketed to different newspaper publishers. So Jack was already working at Fox when Joe arrived, if only for at least month or so.

Frankly most of the Fox artists, or at least the ones who provided work after Fox stopped using Eisner and Iger’s studio, are rather uninspiring. Even though Kirby had not yet reached his full potential, he still seemed a much better artist then anybody else that appeared in the Fox comics. Why only two features and why only when Joe Simon just started? Didn’t Joe not like Jack’s work? Well we can confidently say that Joe admired Jack’s art right from the start since he would very shortly have Kirby helping with Blue Bolt, a feature for another comic book publisher. Probably the problem was the Blue Beetle syndication strip that Kirby was working on. Victor Fox had managed to get the Blue Beetle on the radio and probably had high hopes to succeed with it as a syndication strip as well. At the time syndications trips were big money, assuming the strip was picked up by enough newspapers. So Victor Fox would likely have wanted Kirby to devote his time to the Blue Beetle strip. However Fox probably relented to Kirby doing comics as well for the May issues because it simply was not possible for Simon to find artists quick enough. Once the bullpen was set up it was back to Blue Beetle strip for Jack, or at least as far as Victor Fox was concerned. Kirby did not let that stop him because he had already started moonlighting for another comic book publisher.

The Simon and Kirby collaboration had not yet formed so Wing Turner was strictly a Jack Kirby piece. Even more so because Jack not only penciled it but also did the script, lettering and inking. Of course even at this point Jack was doing top rate art. Still the Wing Turner work is just not nearly as exciting as the Ted O’Neil stories done just 7 months later. Partly this was due to the different plots and the very short length of the Wing Turner story (3 pages), but part was that Jack’s just got better even in such a short period of time. Note the use of both close and more distant views. However, while we can see the pilot in the last panel we cannot see his face. This may have been more realistic, but the use of expressions in Ted O’Neil was one of the devices by which Kirby was able to add excitement to the aerial scenes.

4 thoughts on “Jack Kirby’s First Flight

  1. Stan Taylor

    Hi Harry,

    The two strips that Jack filled inon were those drawn by George Tuska. George left the E&I studios in a huff leaving the strips with no artist. Why it was decided to be done in-house rather than by another E&I artist is unknown, but this might have been Joe’s first step in asserting Fox’s control over content. I think the reason that these were the only comic work by Jack for Fox was that Joe soon realized that he could make more money using Jack on his freelance work. Jack had the Blue Beetle strip taken from him very quickly. Jack was involved with Victor’s attempt at a newspaper insert magazine (similar to the Spirit) that featured cut and reformatted Fox comic characters.


  2. Harry Post author


    I am confused about your take on these events. Tuska may have left the Eisner & Iger studio in a huff but as I said in my post E&I were no longer producing material for Fox Comics when Joe Simon arrived. The decision to use Jack for the two comic features would therefore have nothing to do with E&I and was made by either Joe or Victor Fox.

    As for the Blue Beetle being taken from Jack very quickly, well Jack did three months worth of Blue Beetle (dated 1/8 to 3/9). As for making more money elsewhere, well that was true but only does not explain what he did while working for Fox. Again that would have been decided by Victor or Joe. If Jack went from Blue Beetle to another of Victor’s syndication attempts it still was likely that Fox would put greater emphasis on syndication over comic book work considered the possible payback if a strip did well.

  3. Stan Taylor

    Hi Harry,

    The problem with your theory is that you are wrong about E&I. Yes, Will Eisner stopped working for Fox, but members of the E&I studio continued supplying work for a long time after. Lou Fine and Bob Powell and Chuck Mazougian continued their strips at Fox but they never were a part of Fox’s in-house talent. They stayed with Will Eisner-even when he split with Iger. Others such as Charles Wotkowski, and the Cazenueve bros. did leave and work directly for Fox. The 2 strips that Kirby did could have been turned over to other E&I artists. Jack did very little obvious work for Fox, the BB strip, and the 2 back-up stories, ad blurbs, and the reformatting for the newspaper inserts. That’s all I can find.


  4. Harry Post author


    Frankly nothing in your new statement seems to conflict with my original post. Fox severs with E&I and advertise for E&I artists and hires Joe. So how exactly am I wrong about E&I? Did someone other then Victor Fox or Joe Simon choose Kirby to do those two stories? Are you saying that Joe was wrong in describing taking over as Fox editor as “an impossible job”, that he had no problems getting the artists fast enough so that Fox comics were released on schedule?

    Of course the two comic book features that Kirby did were turned to over to other artists, that is the fact but the question is why? I do not believe that was Joe’s decision since he clearly recognized Jack’s talent. It makes no sense to say Jack would get more money moonlighting, because whether he continued on those two comic features or not Kirby would have been able to moonlight. So the logical explanation is that it was Victor Fox who decided and the explanation for that decision is that he felt that the syndication work was more important then the comic book work. Just like I said in my post.

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