The Fly, A Case Study of Swiping

“Swipe” is a rather unusual term which in my dictionary is defined as a slang for to steal or pilfer. It has also found use in discussions about comic books as a term for copying. Considering its original slang usage it is not surprising that the word has a very derogatory association in comics. Other art studies, including the fine arts, do not use the term. That is not to say that activities equivalent to swiping do not occur, it is that more neutral words are used to describe those activities. The word swipe is so entrenched in the discussions about comic book art that I that I continue to use it. But I do not share the disapproval that most have who use this term. Swiping was common in comic book arts, actually in all the arts. Even Jack Kirby has been shown to swipe.

The first four issues of the Adventures of the Fly provides some good examples of various types of swiping that could be done. Some call this a Simon and Kirby title, but it seems to me that Simon was really the driving force. Joe brought together artists other then Jack to work on the books. In fact Jack’s involvement was less then what some people thought because of the use of swipes.

Adventures of the Fly #1
Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) pencils by Jack Kirby (splash art in black, cover art line art in red)

The four Fly covers only provide an interesting assortment of Joe’s working method. The cover for issue #1 is not really a swipe. Included in the story art that Jack did for the Fly #1 was a double page splash. The cover is basically parts taken from the splash and rearranged somewhat to fit the narrower proportions of the cover. It is possible to overlay the line art of the Fly from the cover and the splash with good accuracy. That is not to say you get perfect alignment between the two. In the overlay image I provide above I was as careful as possible in adjusting the size and angle of the images. I was able to get good agreement between the two in the area of the Fly’s head and foot. But look closely at his right hand and you will see they deviate slightly. Actually this is to be expected considering the various equipment used. I have often overlaid original art or proofs of line art over the published cover and have never seen one that could be perfectly aligned in all parts. The alignment in this case is especially good so I have little doubt that stats taken of the splash was used to assemble the cover. Since some of the fine spotting lines are present in both the cover and the splash the stat was taken after the splash had been inked. The cover had to be prepared at about the same time as the rest of the comic, so I believe Joe had the stats made of the splash made while assembling the book. Later the printer for Archie did stats of the entire comic in preparation for publication. In this case the small difference in alignment was due to different stat cameras being used.

Adventures of the Fly #1
Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) pencils by Jack Kirby (splash art in black, cover art line art in red)

Even though some of the fine spotting aligns well, changes were made. For instance some new spotting was added in the shoulder region. Also the outlines were strengthen, often significantly, is some areas. This was not simply a retracing of the outline. By shifting the wider ink lines the form would be exaggerated in some places and subdued in others. There are two areas where the newly inked lines deviated significantly. One is the upper line for the right thigh as it approaches the knee. The cover version is more tapered while the splash has more of a bulge. The other change made was to the Fly’s goggles which were made more prominent on the cover.

I cannot prove it, but this entire process used to create the cover suggests to me that it was done by Joe Simon. When you consider how wide the splash was compared to the cover it is amazing how well the cover composition works. As for the inking alterations that is the sort of thing I have seen Joe often do today. When he wants to make a reduced copy of some art where the original is too large for his copier Joe copies it in pieces and then reassembles reduced sized parts. This often leaves lines where the parts were joined which Joe will retouch. But frequently he also proceeds to retouch the art on the copy as well. This is what I believed happened to the cover. For me most of the changes made greatly improved the art. The one exception is the tapering to the upper thigh. I feel the bulging in the splash is more appropriately as it makes it seem that the Fly is about to spring into action. If I am right that Joe re-inked the cover, then I doubt that he was the inker for the splash or the rest of the story.

Overlay of figures from Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) in red and Captain America #7 (October 1941) in black.

Many have recognized the fact that the swinging Fly on the cover of issue #2 was swiped from the cover of Captain America #7 (October 1941). When I produced the above overlay I found that a good alignment simply could not be done. So I aligned the top of the heads and an approximation of the figures left foot. This provided pretty good alignment for the torso. I will not provide a line by line description of the differences, there just are too many. Cap and the Fly figures are dissimilar both at the small and the large scales. As an example of a large scale note how the Fly’s right leg is further forward then Cap’s. For the other scale compare the figures’ right (as drawn this would also be the lower) outline to the torso. For one thing Cap had an indent to delimit the shoulder that is completely absent of the Fly. Of special interest is the figures’ left thigh. Cap’s has a distinct bulge to the upper part leading into a comparatively thinner region just above the knee. On the other hand the Fly’s thigh is more evenly tapered. This is the same sort of alteration that had been made to the cover of Adventures of the Fly #1, an indication that both may have been done by the same artist. With all the differences between the swipe and the source it is clear to me that the Fly for the cover was not done using a stat or any other mechanical copying device. However in my opinion there are way too many similarities for the Fly #2 to be based on just a remembrance of the Cap #7 cover. No the Fly figure was done by freehand copied from the Cap #7 cover. Joe has since used the pose on a number of occasions, although not as far as I know for a published comic. So once again I attribute this work for this to Joe Simon.

Adventures of the Fly #3 &  Black Hood #9
Adventures of the Fly #3 (November 1959) art by Joe Simon and Black Hood #9 (Winter 1943) [the Black Hood #9 image is from the Grand Comic Book Database (GCD)]

When I previously wrote about the cover for the Adventures of the Fly #3 Scotty Moore left a comment pointing out the similarity to the cover for Black Hood #9. Not only is the pose pretty much the same but both take an almost identical oath. It is hard to believe that the relationship between the two is just a coincidence. Particularly since Black Hood title had been published by the same company as the Fly. Although the pose and concept was swiped I would hardly call the Fly a close copy. Joe once told me he did this cover using himself in a mirror as model. This does sound right because the art does look like Joe’s work.

Figures from Adventure Comic #88 (October 1943) art by Jack Kirby and Adventures of the Fly #4 (January 1960) art by Joe Simon

This is another example where the figure of the Fly was obviously a swipe, in this case from Sandman on the cover of Adventure Comic #88. I provide a side-by-side image of the two figures because overlaying them would just be confusing. It can easily be seen that the Fly is not a close copy of the Sandman. Things like the positions of the limbs, details of the anatomy, and the size of the ear all have been changed. Clearly the Fly was freely drawn with the Sandman source used only as a casual reference. Both were originally shown peering through a window but Sandman had been shown squatting on flat ground while the Fly was on a slanted roof. The change in the nature of the foundation probably had a lot to do with some of the changes made.

Left figure from Adventures of the Fly #1, “Come Into My Parlor” page 4 panel 1 art by Jack Kirby.
Center figure from Adventures of the Fly #4, “Duped By The Dazzler” page 5 panel 4 (rotated and flipped)
The two overlaid where red is the Kirby figure.

The Fly comics swiping is not limited to the covers. The examples I have chosen from story art both show the Fly clinging to a building wall just outside of a window. However to place them in the same pose I had to rotate the one from Fly #4 and then make a mirror image (that is flipping the image so left becomes right and visa versa). I provide an overlay of the two but it is impossible to get them to properly align. The side-by-side versions give a better idea as to what the problem is. The limb and torso proportions dramatically differ between the two. Even small details such as the angle taken by the right hand fingers in relation to the legs is not the same.

There can be no doubt that the one from Fly #4 was a freehand drawing. But who actually drew the swipe? Well although the pose was swiped from Kirby, the artist articulates the muscles very differently then Kirby did. The same way of handling the figure’s form is found in all the other drawing of the Fly from the same story and these other Fly appearances do not seem to be swiped. I have little doubt that the swiper is the same as the story artist.

There are other swipes in the first four issues of the Fly as well as in the companion book The Double Life of Private Strong. Further more then one artist was used to draw these stories and all the swipes seem to be off of Jack Kirby. Kirby was greatly admired by other comic book artists so all the artists for the Fly and the Shield used Kirby as a source to swipe. Well that seems highly unlikely, there should be a more reasonable explanation. Joe Simon has said that he provided artists with layouts. Now Joe did not say what titles he did that on but his collection still includes a layout for the Fly that Carl Burgos did. I suspect that the layouts Joe provided for the artists already included the swipes. The layouts may have been as rough as the Burgos example so Joe may also have provided copies of the Kirby source for the artist to complete the swipe from.

One thought on “The Fly, A Case Study of Swiping

  1. (Mr.) Jan Stolz

    Wallace Wood was also good on re-using the same pose in different strips. One prime example is one showing the figure running in a bent-over face on position which he used in his Animan series in Witzend; Dr. Doom series for Marvel; Dynamo for Tower and several others including some early stuff for EC.
    Swiping was nothing new. Bob Kane swiped the Batman figure on the Detective #27 cover from a Flash Gordon strip by Alex Raymond.

Comments are closed.