Jack Kirby, Fanboy

Red Raven (August 1940), art by Jack Kirby

Somewhere around February 1940 (calendar dates) Joe Simon left his position as editor for Fox Comics and became Timely’s first comic book editor. It would seem that the first thing Joe did on arriving at Timely was to produce a new title, Red Raven Comics (August 1940, cover date). My understanding is that until a salaried position was arranged for Jack Kirby, he stayed at Fox. Perhaps that is why the title feature of Red Raven was done by another artist, but Jack would do the cover and some backup features (Early Jack Kirby, Chapter 5, Timely and the Red Raven). It was a very imaginative cover showing the Red Raven rescuing a damsel in distress. It looks like a scene from some medieval castle and for good reasons.

Prince Valiant (January 15, 1938)
Prince Valiant (January 15, 1938), art by Hal Foster

Kirby’s cover was clearly swiped from the popular Prince Valiant syndication strip. This is not new information that I am presenting here as my understanding is that the swipe was reported a number of years ago in Robin Snyder’s newsletter. I have not seen this particular newsletter but Joe Simon discussed it with Carmine Infantino and me around 2000 or 2001 so it should have been prior to that. Joe remarked that originally the Red Raven cover was attributed to Kirby but when it was found to be swiped from Hal Foster some now said it was by Simon. Joe was complaining about the attitude, pretty common at the time, that Jack would never swipe but Joe always did. Hopefully that false concept has been put to rest by the discovery of a number of swipes that Kirby did from various sources, many of them discovered by the diligent efforts of Kirby scholar Tom Morehouse. In the case of the Red Raven cover the drawing style leaves no doubt that Jack was the penciller. By the way when Joe made the remark about the newsletter Carmine asked “But Joe did you swipe”? Joe answered, “Sure, back then everybody did”.

It is interesting that Jack used a newspaper comic from about 2 years prior as material to base the Red Raven cover. Although Prince Valiant was very popular, I do not think it had yet been reprinting as a book. That meant that Kirby had kept at least this particular strip for some time. One normally does not think of Jack Kirby as a fanboy but it appears he was, at least for Hal Foster.

The Demon #1
The Demon #1 (September 1972), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mike Royer

Of course that was all when Jack was very young; surely he wouldn’t do something like later in his career. Would he? Mark Evanier wrote a foreword to DC’s reprint “Jack Kirby’s The Demon”. Mark is such a marvelous writer and Kirby scholar that all of his introductions are great, but this one is particularly special. In it describes Jack creating and outlining the first issue of the title, The Demon, over the course of a family outing to a restaurant. On his return Jack would pull out a reprint volume and declare he would use it to model the new character as a sort of inside joke. You guessed it; it was a reprint of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant. Over twenty years later and Jack still was a fanboy!

Prince Valiant (December 25, 1937)
Prince Valiant (December 25, 1937), art by Hal Foster

Both Prince Valiant images that I used above come from a new reprint volume by Fantagraphics (Prince Valiant, Vol. 1: 1937-1938). This is a gorgeous volume with coloring that is absolutely breath taking. I highly recommend it.

13 thoughts on “Jack Kirby, Fanboy

  1. pat ford

    Harry, I’ve always been confused by Kirby being credited on the Red Raven cover. If it is by Kirby it’s one of the worst looking things he ever did.
    I’m of the mind it’s a patchwork job representing several different hands.
    My guess is Kirby quickly added the Red Raven figure which is awkwardly squeezed into the top of the composition, and reflects the kind of energetic but rushed drawing he was producing under the weight of the heavy workload he’d taken on.

    I don’t think the Foster swipe is by Kirby mainly because of how closely it matches the Foster drawing in details like the spread of the fingers. For Kirby to find a reference and then closely copy a fairly straightforward drawing would have taken more time out of his work day than just drawing the figure on his own.
    You are correct that just about all comic book artists used swipes, and especially from Foster and Raymond. Kirby did this many times in his early days I’m sure. If you look at the early work of Frank Frazetta on Thunda it’s amazing to find almost ever panel is swiped from Foster’s Tarzan or Prince Valiant. Most of Kirby’s later swipes look like they started off by way of Kirby needing a reference, and ending up adapting the image (say the interior of a Police station) he found.

  2. Harry Post author


    I can find little in the Red Raven cover that differs from his other early covers. As for saying that Kirby could have not done the swipe because how closely it follows the original just does not fly. Kirby did not do a close or mechanical copy so his stylistic traits still come through in the figure cutting the rope. Further he did similar swiping before, including the police station swiping you mentioned and the famous Foxhole #1 cover (Day at the Beach). I know a lot of Kirby fans want to hold on to the image of a Jack Kirby who did not swipe, but it has been disproven too often.

  3. Mark Evanier

    Jack did occasionally swipe…no question. But I’m not as sure as Harry that the RED RAVEN cover isn’t partially by another penciller.

  4. pat ford

    Harry, To me the figure holding the sword looks like a line for line copy not a typical Kirby swipe. It’s hard for me to believe who ever inked the figure didn’t pencil it as well, to much of the detail in the linework is almost identical to the Foster original.
    Areas I notice:
    The smile lines next to the mouth.
    The cast shadow on the right forearm.
    The slavish duplication of the left hand.
    The highlighting of the hair.
    The hilt and blade of the sword.
    About the only difference I notice is the rope in the RR cover is being cut further from the hilt, and the whole composition has been tilted forward, although the angle of the blade is still in the same relationship to the edge of the battlement.
    Basically I think this is a very poor composition compared to any of the Captain America covers.
    No one can try to argue Kirby didn’t swipe. It’s not a matter of opinion. Kirby did swipe it’s just a fact.

    Incidently the Birthday covers you posted: Are they from scans or the older restoration method you previously used? Either way they look great, but I don’t notice any Ben-Day dots on the the one interior page “The Girl Who Tempted Me.”

  5. Stan Taylor

    Hi Harry,

    Nice find with the Foster source. The earliest outright swipe I have found by Kirby was in a 1937 Socko the Seadog where he swipes from a Popeye strip from 1934. I first read about the Foster swipe from an early Greg Theakston book or article from the early 90’s I would guess. I wonder if Kirby kept an ongoing reference file? I will say that the hand on the rope cutter and the hairy arm don’t appear Kirbyish to me but not enough to suggest another person assisting on the cover.

  6. Harry Post author

    I’m with Joe, it is funny nobody had a problem with attributing the Red Raven cover to Kirby until the question of swipes came out. But despite the figure being swiped from Foster, the face still looks to me to be clearly drawn by Kirby. I will say that I do not think it was inked by Jack.

    And Pat, don’t compare this cover with Captain America, where Kirby finally got his stuff together in a big way, but with other early covers like Champion #9 and #10.

    Gee, I wonder what people are going to say when I do my next chapter of “The Little Shop of Horrors” and show that a later story that everyone credits to Kirby was completely swiped from a Bill Draut story from Black Magic?

    As for the Ben-Day dots, they often disappear with the low resolution images that are required for use on the Internet. Pat, I think you have somehow gotten a mistaken idea. I have only used one restoration method for color comics. I had previous used a technique to “digitally bleach” a comic but the end result was line art only, no color.

  7. pat ford

    Harry, At the risk of seeming a pain in the butt…take a look at the exposed ear on the figure swiped from Foster. The visible left ear is the only substantial change to Foster’s drawing. Can you really see Kirby placing an ear where that ear is placed? It’s totally wrong, far to high, and far forward. Is it possible that Kirby didn’t know an ear is attached to a head behind the jaw line? I still think the composition looks constructed from disparate parts, much like the awkward looking Young Allies #1. Champion #9 is well composed in my opinion, USA #1 is another bad looking cover. For me the swipe is irrelevant, everyone swiped. It’s the poor composition that doesn’t look like something either Jack or Joe would do, but rather something that was assembled from parts in great haste.
    Beautiful scans, and thanks for the explanation.

  8. Harry Post author


    Have no fear about being a pain, disagreements are natural in such subjects. But I still do not agree with your approach. It seems based on finding elements that look wrong and then saying Kirby would not do that. Using that approach will result in rejecting much of the early work as being done by Kirby. Jack had a particular problem with ears; making them too large or placing them too far forward. I feel that it, and your objection to how close the swipe is, are circular reasoning. A similar reasoning was once used to discount examples of Kirby swipes entirely attributing them to Simon but in the end that failed when it was shown that Jack swiped during the Marvel years.

    I do not question Red Raven being rushed, but I do not think that means Kirby did not do it. I find his touch in every figure of the cover, even in the face of the man swiped from Foster. Every artist can have his bad day so just because something was not well done does not mean the artist did not do it.

    I find it surprising that you say Red Raven was a bad composition, Champion #9 a good one, and U.S.A. #1 a bad one. The figure of the Red Raven maybe awkwardly twisted to fit but otherwise, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the composition of this cover. On the other hand Champion #9 is just a composition mess, it tries hard but just fails. As for U.S.A. #1, it is one of the worse Simon and Kirby covers but not because of the composition, which makes complete sense, but because of the poor quality of the drawing, perhaps because of the inker.

  9. pat ford

    Thanks for the understanding Harry, and as long as you don’t mind.
    First off, the idea that Kirby didn’t use swipes is absurd, anyone who tries to claim the contrary has no credibility.
    I think the ear problem on the Foster swipe supports Kirby not being the artist. The figure is a close copy, the only variation is the ear, so the only place where the artist makes a substantial change results in a error I’ve never seen Kirby make. It’s such a glaring error it’s hard to imagine Joe Simon making it either. It isn’t that the ear is to big or poorly drawn. The ear is in front of the jaw line. Take a look at the Champion cover, the ear is attached just behind the jaw line, The same with all the figures on the Captain America covers, The Red Raven figure on the cover in question, I just can’t see Kirby making this kind of basic anatomy error. The jaw line on the swiped figure is completely behind the ear, and it’s not a random wrinkle on the neck, the jaw line come all the way up behind the ear.
    I agree I’m using circular reasoning,but I think the circle supports my reasoning.
    Kirby used swipes, but didn’t slavishly copy minor details like the exact spread of the fingers on the left hand.
    In the one substantially altered part of the figure the artist makes a beginners type error.
    Here’s why the Champion cover is well composed in my opinion.
    The hero is leading the eye off the page stage left. This would be a serious flaw, but Kirby in typical masterful fashion balances this, leading the eye back towards the right. The gun butt of the Oriental on the right hand edge, and the metal bulk ward on the lower right combine to create a very strong directional arrow. The circular arch, lower left, is also balanced by the raised scimitar of the Oriental on the lower left. That direction is continued on up the left leg of the hero, and then down the extent of the right leg until it meets another directional arrow, created by the legs of the villain in the grasp of the hero. This leads the eye back towards the center again. Far from being a mess this is exactly what an artist strives for in a composition. The eye is lead through the elements of the composition in a circle.

  10. Harry Post author

    No, I still do not mind, but I still think you are making the same circular argument. And the trouble with circular arguments is that they always work but they do not convince. John Doe never makes errors when drawing anatomy, therefore any drawing that has an anatomy error is not by John Doe. Kirby made all kinds of basic anatomy error, in fact his anatomy was rather poor. Ears placement was a problem with him, especially during these early years. And your claim that Kirby does not copy minor details when swiping does not stand up with the Foxhole #1 and Police Trap cover swipes.

    If composition was only about moving the eye around then Champion #9 would be moderately successful cover and Red Raven with its circular eye movement a very successful one. But composition is also about balance and the relative importance of the parts. The Champion #9 cover is a mess, with the most important part of the image off to the viewer’s left running out of the picture and the rest a jumble of conflicting parts. As far as I can recall, these were mistakes that Simon and Kirby would not repeat.

  11. pat ford

    Harry, I’m not trying to convince you, just offering my observations. We’ll just have to forget trying to convince one another and admit we disagree, but like to talk about comics art.
    I’ll let it stand as is after these last comments on the Red Raven cover.

    I see it as a poor composition because every element of it is tilted towards the left and not one part of it brings the eye back towards the center.
    You could literally draw a triangle with strong diagonals from the right hand top and bottom edge meeting in the center of the left hand edge. There is nothing to balance this. Even the tip of the rope cutting sword although pointed back towards the right is part of a much larger diagonal thrust to the left reinforced by the mortar lines of the stone blocks, the angle of the turret, and the right arm of the Red Raven.
    At the top of the picture is another strong unbalanced diagonal comprised of a raised sword blade, the top far edge of the battlement, the angled shoulders of the armored figure, and the left leg, arm, and wing of the Red Raven.
    I see the Champion cover as a beautiful composition with the kind of complexity seen in the Captain America #7

    What is your feeling on the cover of Champion #8? Despite the ubiquitous raygun first seen in Cosmic Carson, It doesn’t look like Kirby to me, but #9 and #10 do.

    As to the ear. I’ve looked through everything I have at hand, and can’t find a single example of Kirby having the jawbone joining the cranium behind the ear even going back to his earliest drawings
    OK, I’ll shut up on this now, I promise.

  12. Harry Post author

    Patrick, you don’t have to shut up, I really have no problem with your comments. First let me remark on the ear. You are obviously looking for a particular error because Jack often put his ear in the wrong spot. Personally I do not use errors to discount some attribution, although I will frequently use them to as confirmation. As far as I am concern any artist, even Jack Kirby, can make an error. No artist is perfect and they all are human and human make errors. And with comic book art you can’t even be sure an error was from the penciller, it could have been the inker and I am pretty sure Jack was not the inker on this cover.

    While I do not consider Red Raven the best compostion, I am still surprised on your praise for Champion #9. I will not repeat my last comment, but as far as I am concern it is one of Simon and Kirby’s worse compositions. At this moment I cannot thick of a worse one.

    Champion #8 was pencilled by Joe Simon.

  13. Brian Kane

    Hi Guys,

    You have to remember that when Prince Valiant premiered, Jack was only nineteen, and he was just fourteen (!) when Foster’s color Tarzan run began. To a teenager, Foster and Raymond were gods. What artistic teenager doesn’t cut out and saved their favorite strips (I’ve seen Al Williamson’s Prince Valiant strip collection)? Swipes were a way of meeting the deadline, and it was a common practice at the time. It is no different than a student painter copying the masters in order to learn from them.

    All best wishes,

    Brian M. Kane

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