Another Brief Pause and a Joe Simon Interview

Normally I provide at least one post every week. This is often difficult because I have a full time day time and in my “spare time” I am actively working on restorations for Titan’s Simon and Kirby library. The only way I can succeed in keeping my blog going is plan my post ahead of time and write it during my lunch hour. Unfortunately this week when I came to do the actually writing I realized that my planned subject (an opinion piece) really did not warrant posting. But with my tight schedule I was unable to switch to another topic. So this will be one of those rare weeks when I will have to take a brief pause. I should return to my normal blogging next week.

“Wilton of the West”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

However, I do not want to leave my readers without something to look at so I will follow the example of an earlier pause (A Brief Pause) and provide an image from Jack Kirby’s early work for the Eisner and Iger studio. This particular strip appeared in Jumbo Comics #3 (November 1938) but my image is from a scan of what was either a proof or presentation piece. Presentation pieces were made to be provide potential clients with examples of a proposed syndication strip. The nice thing about proofs like this one is that the paper was of a much higher quality and so provides a superior copy.

“Wilton of the West” panel 1, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The work that Kirby did for Eisner is interesting because you can see him learning his trade. Jack was already better than many of the contemporary comic book artists but that is not saying much because there were a lot of really poor comic book artists at that time. However Kirby was not yet as talented as the artist then working on published syndication strips. On this particular “Wilton of the West” you can see Jack not completely successful experimenting on his inking. Kirby has put a lot of effort into the brush work, particularly on the splash like panel I show above, but it is not very effective. I believe much of the problem is that all parts of the panel seem to get the same amount treatment. The final result seems cluttered and unfocused. Kirby quickly learned from his mistakes and had already improved in a Dr. Hayward strip done a short time later (shown in the same A Brief Pause post that I linked to before).

On a different subject, the reader might be interested in a recent interview that Joe Simon gave Big Shiny Robot.

9 thoughts on “Another Brief Pause and a Joe Simon Interview

  1. John S.

    To tell you the truth, Harry, I think that Wilton page actually looks pretty good. Jack’s brushwork is already quite accomplished, even at this early stage, with fairly effective black-spotting throughout. I’m not sure if he wrote it (he probably did), but the word-flow is smooth and the balloon placements are all as they should be (unusual for many Golden Age comics). Jack’s lettering was always quite good and the art itself shows lots of strong detail work. But the best thing about it is the masterfully smooth, effective visual storytelling, which was already abundantly evident in his early work. The boy had talent, no doubt about it!

  2. Harry Post author

    Perhaps it is a matter of taste, but I find Kirby’s inking on this peace way below what he became capable in just a relatively short time later. I have to say I am quite surprised that you discribed Jack’s lettering as “always quite good”. Frankly I find Jack’s letter amateurish (as was Joe Simon’s). I suspect both Simon and Kirby felt the same way as they both stopped lettering once they became successful enough to pass on the respondsibiltiy to more capable hands.

  3. John S.

    Huh. I guess it is a matter of taste. I admit Kirby’s lettering wasn’t as good as Howard Ferguson’s–but whose was? I do feel that Jack did some pretty impressive title lettering early in his career, though. Check out his work on “Comet Pierce”, “Mercury”, and particularly “Wing Turner”. Those are quite well done. And I honestly think even his body-copy lettering (captions and balloons) looks fairly good by early Golden Age standards.

    Compositionally, the only real problem I can see with the page above is with the placement of the caption in the large introductory panel. It should have gone in the upper left of the panel, where there’s a big “hole” in the art, instead of in the lower left, where it’s obscuring important pictorial elements. You’re right though, it is interesting to see how different people can view things differently; as you pointed out that you felt the panel was cluttered and unfocused, while my take on it is that it’s supposed to look that way, since it’s depicting what Kirby describes in the caption as “a maelstrom of feverish activity, noise and much excitement….” So if he had moved that caption up out of the way, I think it would have worked.

  4. Harry Post author

    Since all the titles you mentioned were done with Joe Simon as the editor, it is not at all clear that they should be credited to Kirby. And comparing Jack’s “body-copy lettering” (the primary work of any letterer) with those of other early Golden Age is faint praise indeed. Because many (most?) early Golden Age works were lettered by the same artist who penciled and inked, it often was very poor.

    I have no big problems with the composition, but like I said the inking was not that great. And excusing the inking on the splash-like panel as due to Kirby’s purposely dipicting ia “feverish activity” overlooks that the same poor inking appears throughout the page where such an excuse does not apply.

  5. Rob D

    I have to agree with Harry regarding the inks on this strip. They lack a clear focus. Even if you forgive the first panel as intentionally cluttered, panel 5 and 8 are telling, in that the foreground, middleground, and background are all handled with equal attention to detail, and line weight. Everyone learns their craft one step at a time, and future masters are no different.

  6. John S.


    Judas. I now have to disagree with both of you. Even if the line weights in panels five and eight are relatively uniform, both those panels are still quite clear. So they both fulfill their purpose of serving the story — as do the other panels on this page.

  7. Harry Post author

    Fullfilling “their purpose of serving the story” is not the same thing as good inking. Jack’s inking would improve in just a short time as shown in the earlier post that I linked to. Further Kirby would in time become a great inker. Are you claiming that the inking on this Wilton West piece is anywhere near as good as Kirby’s later inking?

  8. John S.

    >sigh< You mean that DR. HAYWARD page? Yes, I do think the inking on this page is better than the inking on that page. It's bolder, more textured and more interesting. I guess we're just not going to agree on this, Harry. I feel that the number one purpose of the art in a comic IS to serve the story. After all, the play's the thing. If the play ISN'T the thing, then why are you doing it in the first place? And if you can add some nice surface effects on top of that, all the better–as long as they don't distract the reader from the story by drawing attention to themselves. In other words, they should enhance the storytelling experience, not compete with it. I think that's what Jack's inking has done here. I'm not saying it's GREAT, and of course I'd agree with you that he became a much better inker later on. All I'm saying is that I think this page is actually fairly good by the standards of 1938. And that may be saying a little more than you think it is, considering that Kirby's work of the time compares quite favorably with the contemporaneous work of other comics greats like Will Eisner, Bill Everett, etc.

  9. Harry Post author

    You are right, we are not going to agree on this. I mentioned in my post Kirby was better than most contemporary comic book artists. Not surprisingly, since he had been working at it longer, Will Eisner was certainly more advanced than Jack. But had Kirby left the business after working for Eisner I have not the slightest doubt that he would have been completely forgotten from the history of comics. While showing promise, his art was no where near the level it would obtain in a few short years.

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