Alternate Takes, The Thirteenth Floor

Black Magic #11
Black Magic #11 (April 1952) by Jack Kirby

For this cover Jack Kirby provides an interesting combination, an elevator made out as a funeral parlor. The operator is even stranger with a white complexion, an eye patch and (despite the gloves he is wearing) skeletal hands. The man is taken aback by it all, but it the woman who is most surprised and seems to be drawing back. The old fashion floor indicator shows them on the third, but the operator invites them to a ride to the thirteenth floor. Do you really think the couple will take him up on it? Although imaginative this is not one of Kirby’s better efforts. The elevator operator is meant to be spooky, but he comes off more like one of those friendly old men you would sometimes meet years ago when many elevators did not run automatically.

Black Magic #11
Black Magic #11 (April 1952) “The Thirteenth Floor” by John Prentice

John Prentice did so much romance work for the S&K studio that it is easy to mistakenly believe his talents were limited to that genre. John also had done some fine work for Black Magic (he would further go on to a very successful run of the syndication detective strip Rip Carter). A story like “The Thirteenth Floor” actually would suit his talents more then Kirby’s. In this story we are not presented with any unnatural demons. The devils can only be distinguished by their red complexion and angular eyebrows. This “humanization” of the characters is a necessary part of the story. Nor is there much in the way of action. This is much more of a talking heads kind of story about a man planning suicide who takes the stairs to the thirteenth floor but finds himself in an eerie waiting room. The “people” running the operation do not know what to do with him since he is not in their records. Eventually the man convinces them to let him return back and they direct him to an exit door. But when the man uses the door he wakes up in an elevator and his former life.

Black Magic #11
Black Magic #11 (April 1952) “The Thirteenth Floor” by John Prentice

The splash panel that John provides is little more then a double panel. Prentice provides a scene from the waiting room. The splash illustrates one of the few action events from the story, when the devils escort away a very reluctant individual. It is hard to image a splash more unlike the cover that Kirby provided for the same story. John did some great splashes, but this is not one of them. On the second page John provides a story panel much larger then the splash. The large story panel is even more unlike what one would expect had Jack done the story. The scene is very mundane with just a group of shadowing figures standing around and a director at his desk in the background. Although seemingly mundane, John’s careful use of shadows and a few wispy lines make the whole panel rather unnatural. This pivotal panel sets up the mode from which the rest of the story develops. John was much more effective with this large story panel then he was with the splash.

It seems odd that the cover emphasizes the use of an elevator to go to the thirteenth floor but in the story the man walks up a staircase to reach it. From this it might be implied that Kirby had no idea what the story was really about. But the text in the title of the story also refers to the elevator. This makes it seem more likely that S&K was well aware of the story. But the story did not seem to have anything in it that suited Jack’s strengths. Therefore this became one of the minority of covers where Jack just made something up. Because the story is so far removed from Kirby’s vision it is hard to believe Jack had much to do with it. This work seems to contradict the claim made by some that Jack Kirby did the layouts for the stories done by artists working for the S&K studio. It is rare to see Kirby do such a small splash panel. But I have never seen Jack do anything like the large panel on the second page. Like Bill Draut and Mort Meskin, John Prentice was much too talented a comic book artist to require layouts by Jack. Further Joe and Jack were much to savvy business wise to spend time doing work that was not needed by the artist they would have draw the story.

Black Magic #6 (DC)
Black Magic #6 DC (November 1974) by unidentified artist

DC ran a series of Black Magic reprint comics produced with the help of Joe Simon. The covers for these reprints were generally new interpretations of original Kirby covers. I do not know who this particular artist was but it is hard to believe that anyone thought that this was an improvement. I would say that this cover is more goofy then scary. There are covers that I call goofy as a complement, but this is not one of them. Even though Kirby’s BM #11 is not a favorite of mine it is so much better then this one that I will forego any comparison. I am also a critic of the art in these DC Black Magic reprints. Generally I find the reprints look like wood cuts, loosing much of the effects of splendid inking of the originals. However the job done on the reprinting of “The Thirteenth Floor” actually came out rather well.

3 thoughts on “Alternate Takes, The Thirteenth Floor

  1. Harry Post author

    You could be right I know he worked for Joe Simon at that time. Unfortunately the only signed work by Jerry that I have seen was for Sick and similar magazines. Not the sort of thing that helps identifying comic covers like this.

  2. nick caputo

    Taking a quick look at the GCD refreshed my memory that Grandenetti drew the Green Team for Simon/DC around the same time period as the Black Magic cover. Here is the cover from one issue:

    Judging from this and the many covers I’ve seen (and interior signed work) I’m pretty confident this is the work of Grandenetti.

    Nick Caputo

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