Fighting Yank #29 (August 1949) “Fireworks on the Fourth”, pencils and inks by Mort Meskin
Mort Meskin was the most important artist in the Simon and Kirby studio, second only to Jack. But he did important comic book art before and after his stay in Joe and Jack’s studio. Mort often inked his own work and he was a talented inker. Inking of Meskin’s pencils are generally fairly light. That is overall there are significantly more white or colored areas in a panel as compared to black ones. Now there are exceptions such as panels displaying night scenes. But look at the splash for “Fireworks on the Fourth”. Lots of black and since the actions occurs indoors there is no reason that so much blacks had to be used. To my eyes, the inking in “Fireworks on the Fourth” seems to flatten the image. This may not have been an accidental effect as Meskin’s comic book art often exhibited a narrow depth of field.
But let me digress. During the war years there was a flood of patriotic superheroes published in comic books. Of course all superheroes in American comics would be expected to be patriotic. By patriotic superheroes I am referring to those with a costume or a name that distinct patriotic overtones. With so many patriotic superheroes it must have been difficult to come up with an costume that was appropriate and original. Most had a costume based on the American flag with the most famous examples being MJL’s Shield as well as Simon and Kirby’s Captain America. But that was not the direction taken by Standards for their Fighting Yank. This hero had a costume based on the type of clothing used during the Revolutionary War. Not that the flag was neglected; it appeared on the Fighting Yank’s chest. I am not sure if the Fighting Yank was the first to use the Revolutionary War theme but in any case there were others as well. Since it really was not that spectacular of a costume one might think the Fighting Yank would have been one of the less successful patriotic heroes. But actually he did quite well lasting from November 1941 (Startling Comics #10) to August 1949. It really was a long run since most superheroes, patriotic or otherwise, did not last nearly as long. The last issue of Fighting Yank was #29, the very one with Meskin’s interesting inking.
The inking has a greater emphasis on black than normally used by Meskin I still feel that he did the inking. While cloth folds are blocky they still exhibit the long sweeping curves that Mort preferred. When inking such folds Meskin typically used multiple brush strokes which he sometimes overlapped. This inking technique is often revealed by looking at the ends of the cloth folds were sometimes the separate ends of the individual strokes are reveals. This can be seen here are for example inking of the man in the blue suit on the left side of the splash. In Steven Brower’s recent book on Mort Meskin (“From Shadow to Light”) Jerry Robinson remarked that to keep things interesting he and Mort would often varied how they created the art. I think that this inking technique is an example such a practice.
Meskin put this new inking style to good use. In the panel shown above he uses a low light source to provide dramatic lighting. This is something he rarely did when he later worked for Simon and Kirby. While Mort’s inking is the basis for the image’s drama, the colorists use of a light violet shadow greatly enhances the effect. The use of two color tones on the face is uncommon in golden age comics. It is pretty rare, but not unknown, in Simon and Kirby interior art where generally colored areas are separated by the line art or isolated in white areas.
The colorist did not limit his use of multi-tone coloring to simple shadows but he also often put them to dramatic effect for scenes meant to have low light levels. Certainly the most spectacular of these multi-tone panels is the one from page 3 that is shown above. The combination of an orange background and the yellow to green toned figures is just stunning. The combinations of Meskin’s great pencils and his unusual inking along with the colorist efforts combine to make this an unforgettable piece of comic book art. One might be tempted to credit such exceptional coloring to Meskin himself however other Standards comics should be checked for multi-tone coloring before such a conclusion is reached. Coloring of golden age comics was generally handled by the publisher and not the artist who did the original line art. Standard Comics may have had to fortune of using one of the more talented colorists in the business.