KO #1 (October 1945)
I previously expressed my belief that despite what the Kirby Checklist says the KO #1 cover was not done by Jack. Well Tom Morehouse added a comment to that post giving an opposing view. Tom is a fine Kirby scholar and made some interesting observations.
I have to strongly disagree with you on this one. If you remove the lower legs (knees down) the punch trail, helmet wings and cape what you have is a Kirby rendition of the Guardian from Star Spangled which has been altered in the inking process by a less than adept artist. What this, in all likelihood was originally, is an incomplete cover or model sheet sketch left behind when S & K went to serve in the military. The exact same illo of the Guardian figure, drawn by another artist, can be found in Star Spangled #50 published at around the same time (with a correct punch trail coming from over the shoulder and down as opposed to across). K.O. #1 was produced by Jason Comic Art (JCA), the same shop which would later produce the JC Penney giveaway 48 Famous Americans. It is a stand alone cover as there is no such character in the interior stories In addition to what’s been added, a close examination of the figure’s left hand shows erasure (of the Guardian’s shield). Both Jim Vadaboncouer and I have noted this and although the evidence is circumstantial I think dismissing this as not by Kirby is incorrect although who the other artist is will remain a mystery. It might have been someone working at DC who, knowing S & K were returning soon, took it, “finished” it and sold it to JCA but the original figure was drawn by Jack just never finished. Another example of an unfinished Kirby cover left behind and completed by another is Adventure Comics #98. There Kirby drew the “caveman” (who looks a lot like Brooklyn of the BC) and large animal heads but the rest of the cover was done by another (Gil Kane perhaps?).
Star Spangled #50 (November 1945) panel from page 11 by unidentified artist
Above I provide an image of the panel Tom referred to. There can be no doubt that there is some kind of history connecting these two works. It cannot be a simple swiping one from the other because both comics were published within a month of one another. Yes there is something funny about the hero’s left hand, although I am not so sure that the erasing of the shield would explain it. In fact the KO #1 artist draws the left arm so close to the leg that it is hard to believe that there was room for a shield. That alone makes KO #1 look more like a swipe then an original drawing done by Jack. However the Guardian wore a peculiar helmet and one depicted in KO #1 is a good match once you take away the wings. I have no doubt that Tom is right that KO #1 is based on a drawing of the Guardian. That being the case the connection between SS #50 and KO #1 must be in DC. There are possibilities other then a model sheet that might explain the relationship between these two images. However even if the model sheet theory is accepted that by no means proves Kirby’s involvement. By this time Jack had been in the military for about 2 years and other artists had been involved in working on the Newsboy Legion. A model sheet or cover proposal could easily have been made by an artist other then Jack.
Tom believes that the original model sheet was not completed below the knees. That would explain away my original statement that the legs were clearly not done by Jack. But it would not explain the problems with the upper part of the figure. As I said in my original post, this sort of straight arm swing looks wrong for Kirby. Jack excelled at representation of a slugging hero and used it often, but I can think of no Kirby example like that of KO #1. There are problems with the drawing for the upper part of the figure as well, although they are not as severe as the legs. The hero on KO #1 was given a hunchback. The upper arm is unnaturally short and the lower edge cuts in as it approaches the elbow in a way that breaks the form. The lower arm is excessively long and appears to have a extra joint. Perhaps this is just the artist attempt at doing the gloves but it just looks unnatural. Jack’s anatomy was not accurate and his proportions were often off but he would never make these mistakes in the form. Also examine the fingers on the figures right fist. There is a dramatic decrease in size along the row as the artist attempts, but fails, to depict a natural hand. A famous Kirby mannerism is to draw square fists so he would not have done such a relatively small pinkie. The artist for the SS #50 story is not anywhere near as good as Kirby but even he avoids these errors. These are not just inking errors but display the same lack of understanding that the artist showed on the legs. I am sure the entire figure was drawn by the same artist and that artist was not Jack Kirby. The KO #1 artist swiped from some source that ultimately came from DC, but the straight arm swing convinces me that even the source of the swipe was not Jack.
Providing a connection of KO #1 to the Guardian from the Newsboy Legion does not automatically give a connection to Kirby. The attribution must still rest on the KO #1 art itself. I find that evidence more than sufficient to state that it was not done by Jack Kirby.
In his comment Tom’s also mentions the cover to Adventure #98. I had planned to eventually post on that cover, but this gives me a reason to do it sooner rather then later. So stay tuned!