Category Archives: Harvey

Kirby Krackle

Fantastic Four #57
Fantastic Four #57 (December 1966) “Enter, Dr. Doom” page 5 panel 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Sinnott (from the Marvel Omnibus)

There is a virtual cottage industry around identifying some aspect of Jack Kirby’s artistry and naming it with a word starting with the letter ‘K’ (better yet if the chosen word actually starts with a ‘C’). I find such terms annoyingly cute and even worse some have rather vacuous foundations (see Kirby Kolor, A Kirby Myth and Kirby Kolors, Revisited). There is one such term, Kirby Krackle, which is so entrenched in comic literature that I feel that it must be accepted. No matter how grating the name, Kirby Krackle really does describe an important aspect found in much of Jack’s later work.

Kirby’s art for Marvel Comics in the 60’s began to show clusters of round dots depicting enormous but not necessarily directed energy, often of a cosmic nature. Shane Foley wrote an excellent article on Kirby Krackle (Kracklin’ Kirby, Jack Kirby Collector #33) were he traces the appearance of this device. Because of the manner that the work was created, many experts have claimed that Kirby’s inker Joe Sinnott actually came up with the device and Kirby liked what he saw and adopted it.

Of course there are Kirby fans that were unwilling to accept any of Jack’s techniques as originating anywhere other than from the King himself. And so the race was on to find Kirby Krackle precursors in earlier work by Jack to prove that the idea came from him and not Sinnott. Frankly I find the the examples I have seen of the supposed Kirby Krackle prototypes to be less then convincing. Most are inking techniques that were used to depict smoke. These prototypes have four strikes against them. They do not take the shape of round dots, they do not form clusters, they are not used to depict high energy, and there are no intermediate examples that show they evolved into true Kirby Krackle. With so many points against them these so called prototypes can be discarded from serious consideration.

Captain 3-D #1
Captain 3-D #1 (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D”, page 3 panel 6, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

I would like to suggest yet another Kirby Krackle prototype. One found in the work that Kirby drew for Captain 3-D (December 1953). Besides the panel shown above, another example can be found from page 2 of the same story used in an earlier post (Captain 3D). Now I am not claiming these are true Kirby Krackle. Here dashes rather then dots are used and the dashes do not quite cluster as closely as in true Kirby Krackle, but it would not take much to make the change from the prototype to the real thing. Further the prototype is used to depict true energy; in fact there is a cosmic connection in that the weapon is called a gamma ray gun.

Unfortunately there is a problem for those Kirby fans who would like to use Captain 3-D Kirby Krackle prototype as proof that the idea came from Jack himself. These pages were not inked by Kirby. Worse yet, during the Simon and Kirby collaboration Jack did not indicate spotting in his pencils. Kirby drawings were line drawings only and it was up to the inker to determine the spotting. Joe Simon was the inker for page 3. Page 2 was inked by Steve Ditko but with touch-ups by Simon. I really cannot say for certain who inked the Kirby Krackle prototype on page 2 but since it is done in the same manner as page 3 I credit it to Joe as well. But somehow I do not think comic fans are going to begin calling this technique Simon Snackle.

Cover for Alarming Tales #2, My Third Attribution Attempt

Alarming Tales #2
Alarming Tales #2 (November 1957)

Trying to provide the proper credit for comic book art is always filled with uncertainties in certain cases. All one can do is use what evidence is available and make the best judgment possible. The willingness to try must be joined with acceptance of the errors that will sometimes be made. Case in point, the cover for Alarming Tales #2.

Alarming Tales #4
Alarming Tales #4 (March 1958), art by Joe Simon

My original take on the cover for AT #2 was that Joe Simon was the artist. Joe can be a difficult artist to identify. While he signed much of his work at the start of his career a lot of his later work lacks a signature. An even greater difficulty lies in Joe’s skill in adopting different styles. Experts have attributed some Fox covers to Lou Fine having overlooked Joe’s small signature. Joe did so good a job at mimicking Jack Kirby that much of the admittedly limited amount of work Simon did while collaborating with Kirby continues to be attributed to Jack. I do not claim to be able to identify all Joe Simon’s work; there is some late romance cover work that I do not a good understanding of and I sometimes doubt that it will ever be possible to confidently determine which Dick Tracy covers Simon ghosted. The Art of Joe Simon provides an overview of Joe’s career although I have changed my opinion about a few of the attributions in that serial post*. Among the styles Joe used was one more personal in that it does not seem to be an attempt at mimicking another artist. One of the best examples of this style can be found on the cover for Alarming Tales #4. The man in the cover for Alarming Tales #2 shares that style and for that reason I first assigned AT #2 to Joe Simon.

Alarming Tales #2
Alarming Tales #2, original art from the collection of Paul Handler

But there were problems with my original attribution of this cover to Joe Simon, the most important of which was that the spaceman look like he was done by Mort Meskin. Mort Meskin had not worked for Joe Simon since the breakup of the Simon and Kirby studio and there are no examples of Mort’s work in any Joe’s productions after that time. However when the original art for the cover surfaced I reevaluated my position. The original art clearly shows that the cover was made by joining two separate pieces of art. I therefore concluded that Joe had used an old piece of art by Mort Meskin combined with new art by his own hand. But a Simon and Meskin joint attributions was not completely satisfactory. What was the original source for the Meskin art? It was too large to be story art. The only comic that the art might have been meant for was Black Magic. Jack Kirby did all the covers for the first run of Black Magic so this left the possibility that the spaceman was originally for a splash page of a story meant for Black Magic left over from the sudden cancellation of that title.

Black Magic #5 (June 1951) “Sleep, Perchance to Die” page 3 panel 4, art by Mort Meskin

That is how my opinion stood for almost two years. Recently, however, I was reviewing some Black Magic comics when I noticed a page from Mort Meskin’s “Sleep, Perchance to Die”. The story concerns a rivalry so intense that it carried over into prophetic dreams. The protagonist was a bookish student and one of his dream involved being chases by an overgrown version of his athletic rival (but no bites from a radioactive spider). There can be no doubt that the oversized and somewhat monstrous figure was the bases for the spaceman of the Alarming Tales #2 cover. The final, and almost certainly the correct, conclusion was that Joe Simon drew the entire AT #2 cover using the panel from Meskin’s Black Magic story from 1951 as source material. While the AT #2 figure retains enough of the original that Meskin’s touch can still be recognized, a comparison between the two shows how much Simon has transformed it. This is the first case of Simon swiping from Meskin that I have seen but I am sure there are other examples yet to be found. Joe still has great admiration for Mort Meskin’s talent. The Joe Simon collection includes a group of proofs of various Meskin splash pages. No other artist received a similar treatment, not even Jack Kirby.


* I no longer believe Joe Simon penciled “The Woman Who Discovered America 67 Years Before Columbus” (Black Cat Mystic #60, November 1957) or the cover for The Spirit #12 (Super Comics, 1963).

Bill Draut’s Demon

After Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had fulfilled their military service they could easily resumed working primarily for DC. Instead a deal was made with Harvey to produce some new titles, Stuntman and Boy Explorers. Ignoring very short features these comics included:

Stuntman #1 (April 1946)
 3 Stuntman (Kirby)
 1 Furnished Room (Draut)
Boy Explorers #1 (May 1946)
 1 Boys Explorer (Kirby)
 1 Duke of Broadway (Simon)
 1 Danny Dixon Cadet (Riley)
 1 Calamity Jane (Draut)
Stuntman #2 (June 1946)
 2 Stuntman (Kirby)
 1 Duke of Broadway (Simon)
 1 Furnished Room (Draut)

At this point both titles were cancelled, victims of the glut of new comic book titles that appeared now that wartime paper restrictions were lifted. However Harvey sent to subscribers small issues of Stuntman and Boy Explorers. These were small not only in size but also in content (only two stories) and without color printing.

Stuntman #3
 1 Stuntman (Kirby)
 1 Kid Adonis (Simon)

Boy Explorers #2
 1 Boy Explorer (Kirby)
 1 Danny Dixon Cadet (Riley)

However original art in Joe Simon’s collection indicates that a Vagabond Prince story (“Trapped in Wax”, Simon) was also originally meant to be included in Boy Explorers #2. This origin story would never be published.

Comic book art is created well before it appeared on the newsstand, so when the two titles were suddenly cancelled it would be expected that some of the art would already be completed for the unpublished issues. This would not go to waste as Harvey would include them in some of their other titles in the following year (as well as reprinting most of those from Stuntman #3 and Boy Explorers #2). These previously unpublished inventory stories included:

1 Stuntman (Kirby)
2 Duke of Broadway (Simon)
1 Vagabond Prince (Simon)
2 Kid Adonis (Simon)
1 Furnished Room (Draut)
4 The Demon (Draut)
7 Danny Dixon Cadet

The more observant reader may have noticed two anomalies in the list of inventoried stories published elsewhere by Harvey. While most features had only one or two stories there were 4 for the Demon and 7 for Danny Dixon Cadet (the subject of a future post). The Demon was also unusual in that it had never previously appeared in either Stuntman or Boy Explorers. My original reaction when I was reviewing this was that perhaps The Demon really was not a Simon and Kirby production but something that Bill Draut pitched to Harvey after the two titles were cancelled. However on further thought I considered this unlikely because the origin story was the third Demon story that Harvey published. This sort of error would have been unlikely to happen if The Demon was new feature but just the sort of thing to be expected if the Demon was just inventoried material.

I think a better explanation for the Demon anomaly would be that a third title was originally proposed. Work may have already progressed when Harvey decided to test the waters with just two titles. If there was to be a third comic book it was most likely that the Duke of Broadway would have been the title feature. The Duke’s appearance in the other two titles would have been a means of generating interest. Bill Draut’s Demon would have been a backup feature.

Black Cat #6 (July 1947) “The Midnight Killer”, art by Bill Draut

Simon met Bill Draut through a mutual friend while Joe was stationed in Washington during the war. Bill was in the marines working as a combat artist. I used to believe that Bill did not have any previous comic art experience but in fact in 1945 and 1946 he worked on the syndication strip Stony Craig. Joakim Gunnarsson has written a nice post about this with some examples (Coming Soon and Stony Craig by Bill Draut). This work would have been done while Bill was still in the marines. After fulfilling his military service, Bill accepted Joe’s invitation to join him in New York and try his hand at comic books. The work Draut provided for Stuntman and Boy Explorers was his first published comic book art

Draut’s art for the Demon, the Furnished Room and Calamity Jane along with Stony Craig was already very distinctive. Not that all the characteristics of his later work for Simon and Kirby were present but there is enough that it is easy to recognize his hand. I had previously considered Jack Kirby a big influence on Bill but the Stony Craig art clearly shows that is not strictly true. Many of the similarities between Draut and Kirby are the due to their common interest in Milton Caniff’s art.

Black Cat #6 (July 1947) “The Midnight Killer” page 7, art by Bill Draut

As I mentioned above, the origin story for the Demon was not the first one printed. This can be clearly seen from page 7 of “The Midnight Killer”. Here the judge posing as a bank thief on the run finds the costume worn at a party by the murdered victim. This device would make no sense unless it was the origin story.

Black Cat #4
Black Cat #4 (February 1947) “Double Trouble”, art by Bill Draut

Because so much of the work Bill Draut produced for Simon and Kirby would be for romance titles there is not much depiction of action in most of his art. However action plays an important part of the early work by Draut particularly in the Demon. Frankly in some cases Bill is not very effective in drawing fight scenes. In the splash for “Double Trouble” it is clear that the woman has thrown the man into the Demon. But how did she accomplish this feat, was is some sort of Judo trick or was she stronger then she looks? How was the man standing before the throw that could explain his final position? Draut’s splash is just not very convincing.

Black Cat #7 (September 1947) “Too Cold for Crime” page 4, art by Bill Draut

But it would be a mistake to conclude that Draut simply could not handle action scenes. The page shown above from “Too Cold for Crime” is a great example. While the layout is not done the way Jack Kirby would have handled it, it still is very dynamic page. The high angled view used in the first panel along with having the fight occur during a snow storm both are very graphically interesting. Unfortunately the page is marred somewhat by the colorist use of blue for both figures in the first and third panels.

Black Cat #4 (February 1947) “Double Trouble” page 8, art by Bill Draut

Although I now credit Milton Caniff with jointly influencing Bill Draut and Jack Kirby (among many other comic book artists) there are still aspects of Bill’s art in the Demon that suggests that he had lately studied Kirby’s art. The use of exaggerated perspective when depicting a fist fight is not something associated with Caniff, but it is a classic technique for Kirby. While I do not think Jack would have made the slugger in panel 4 so relatively small, the perspective of the sluggee does remind one of Kirby’s art.

Black Cat #5 (April 1947) “The Man Who Didn’t Know His Own Strength” page 9, art by Bill Draut

I will close with another action sequences. This page opens with the Demon battling his opponent only to end with the hero turning to the villain for help. Of course an unknown writer should likely be credited for this plot but Draut does a great job of graphically presenting the story. I love the way the smoke is introduced in one corner of the first panel and how the fire progressively takes over more and more of the panel until the fourth one where the Demon carrying his defeated foe is almost lost in all the smoke and flames.

The Most Poorly Reworked Story in the History of Comics

Harvey comics had a long history of reprinting stories. According to Joe Simon, any comic that included previously published material was supposed to be labeled as such but that Harvey generally ignored that restriction. At the time comic book readers typically lasted on a few years before giving up comics. Use older material and it was unlikely that many would notice. However when the Comic Code arrived, Harvey Comics had a problem. There was nothing in the code against reprints, but the Code was stringent enough that older stories were unlikely to pass unless edited. I have previously provided an example of such editing (Rewrite!) although at the time I did not fully understand why it was done. I have not found a copy of it yet, I am sure the story that I had posted about, Gangster’s Girl, was originally published before the Comic Code.

The editing used to produce “Remember, I’m Your Girl” from “Gangster’s Girl” was relatively seamless. Despite the extensive editing involved, nothing obvious in the final story betrayed its reworked status. The handwriting was found on the margins of the original art looks like Joe Simon’s and so it likely Joe retrofitted “Remember, I’m Your Girl” for post-Comic Code publication. I have recently come across another example of editing done to reprint an older story for Comic Code approval. But in this case the final result was anything but seamless.

“I Went Too Far” from Hi-School Romance #19 (February 1953) was not that unusual for Harvey Comics. Harvey romances at that time were a little bit more risque then those produced Simon and Kirby for Prize Comics. By today’s standards they were still pretty tame stuff. Even then a youngster could see similar “adult” themes in the movies. When the Comic Code was introduced (the stamp started to appear on comics with cover dates about February 1955) what was suitable for a comic book reader underwent severe limitations. So when Harvey decided to reprint “I Went Too Far” changes had to be made. That changes had to be made is not at all surprising, but how they were made certainly was. The final results must have been the most poorly reworked story in the history of comics. If not I shudder to think what the worst one looked like.

Hi-School Romance #19 (February 1953) splash

Hi-School Romance #43 (September 1955) splash

The problem faced by “I Went Too Far” under the Comic Code started with its title and theme. The whole suggestion underlying going too far was strictly taboo. Not that “I Went Too Far” truly went too far. There was nothing truly explicit presented but the protagonist Jennie was involved with men whose ulterior motives clearly extended beyond just aiding her career. Removing traces of the theme throughout the story would require significant editing, but the changing of “Gangster’s Girl” into “Remember, I’m Your Girl” showed it could be done. To start with a new title had to be used and “Broadway Lights” was a good beginning. However the caption that accompanied the title and the script in the speech balloons of the splash would never get Comic Code approval. Right away it can be seen why “Broadway Lights” would be such a disaster. Rather then come up with some new, more innocuous text, the editor simply discarded all the offending writings. That was bad enough but when combined a decision to keep the original color plates it would only highlight that something had been done. Areas could be removed from the color plates, but colors could not added. So the top of the splash page became emptied of all color.

Hi-School Romance #19 (February 1953) page 4, panels 4 and 5

Hi-School Romance #43 (September 1955) page 4, panels 4 and 5

Just about any pre-Code romance story had art that needed to be changed in order to get approval. For instance any prominent display of the female figure, even when clothed, had to be adjusted. Normally this was done by judicious application of ink to shadow the offending art. This was also done in “Broadway Lights” and was the most successful of the editing changes done on that story. The Comic Code would never approve of Jennie showing her leg during an audition in “I Went Too Far”, so the leg was just shadowed in panel 4 above. Yes it left her in an inexplicable pose, but only the more observant reader would have noticed. Similar, relatively minor, additions of ink can be found throughout “Broadway Lights”.

But changes to the art were not all that needed to be done in panel 4 as the manager request for Jennie to show he leg had to be removed. Also the description of Mr. Tindal’s importance in panel 5 was obviously considered too explicit. These panels highlight another shortcoming of the editing done. It was bad enough that a shorter text was to be substituted for the manager’s speech in panel 4; no effort was made to center it in the balloon. The editing to the speech balloon in panel 5 required just the removal of previous text, but since no attempt was made to center the remaining speech the balloon looks ridiculously spacious.

Hi-School Romance #19 (February 1953) page 3, panels 1 and 2

Hi-School Romance #43 (September 1955) page 3, panels 1 and 2

As bad as the examples were of poorly edited speech balloons that I provided above, take a gander at panel 2 from page 3. Could the editor have made it any clearer to the original readers that they were getting damaged goods? In panel one Jennie’s remark was completely eliminated but the color plates left behind a trace of the original balloon like some sort of ghost. The primary reason of all this editing was the need to remove any reference to the agent offering Jennie a check for a train ticket! The editor felt that it would be okay under the Comic Code to offer a business card but not any money! Unfortunately in all likelihood the editor was probably right. Note also the editor felt that agent’s running his fingers through Jennie’s hair was also objectionable and so his fingers get the shadow inking treatment.

Hi-School Romance #19 (February 1953) page 6, panels 1 and 2

Hi-School Romance #43 (September 1955) page 6, panels 1 and 2

Most of the art changes made were done with covering over areas with black. One exception was the first panel of the last page. The original version showed Jennie’s man, Roy Tindal, packing a suitcase. This was probably the most explicit indication of the extent of the relationship between Jennnie and Roy. It was probably too subtle for most of the story’s readers to understand, but not subtle enough for the Comic Code. The suitcase was redrawn as a set of drawers or a filing cabinet. It is hard to be sure which, but that was enough. Since the color plates were not altered, this art modification left an inexplicable red patch on the side of the bureau.

Hi-School Romance #19 (February 1953) page 4, panels 1 to 3

Hi-School Romance #43 (September 1955) page 4, panels 1 to 3

In order to remove the “went too far” theme anything remotely suggesting the trading of sexual favors by Jennie in order to advance her career had to be eliminated. Actually there was little to suggest that in the original “I Went Too Far” but there were two stolen kisses. Jennie’s reaction to the first showed it clearly was unwelcome but that did not matter it still had to go. A little shadow to a kiss scene would not hide the kiss, so more drastic measures had to be done. The logical approach would have been to have some artist provide a new panel, but obviously little in the way of artist’s fees were going to be added to the costs of updating “Broadway Lights” to the Comic Code. Instead the editor toke a copy of the line art from panel 2 enlarged it slightly and used it to replace the kiss in the first panel. Naturally the color for panel 1 was no longer appropriate so all color was removed. The results are glaringly unnatural.

Hi-School Romance #19 (February 1953) page 5, panels 3 to 5

Hi-School Romance #43 (September 1955) page 5, panel 3 to 4

While inking in a little shadow would not hide a kiss, inking in a lot would. Completely filling in the panel was the editor’s solution for the other stolen kiss. This drastic solution for modifying art was used in another panel as well. I do not know what I find most egregious; duplicating art or completely removing it.

I have by no means pointed out all the changes made to this story in order to get it approved by the Comic Code Authority. Every single page had multiple examples of glaring obvious changes of very heavy handed editing. I am sure even the most unsophisticated original comic book owner must have known that they were reading reworked material. That reader must have been confused by the ending because while Jennie’s former small town boyfriend comes to the rescue, the scenes where he punches out Roy Tindle and the one where the cops lead Tindle away have been inked out. While in the original ending Jennie’s attempt to renew her relationship with her rescuer fails as he reveals he is to be married the next day, for the rework version the relationship is repaired. Frankly the “I Went Too Far” version really did not go too far. Nothing was explicit or beyond what might been seen in the movies of that day. None of Jennie’s actions were at all glamorized. The story was a true morality tale with Jennie’s ill made choices resulting in her loosing everything she previously had while gaining her preciously little. The Comic Code “Broadway Lights” version completely looses the moral message because despite some of her errors Jennie looses nothing of significance.

Ironically the Simon & Kirby studio regular, Bill Draut, was the artist for both the more kindly editing of “Gangster’s Girl” to “Remember, I’m Your Girl” and well as the horrendous job of transforming “I Went Too Far” into “Broadway Lights”. In neither case would the reprinting of the stories have been of any concern of Draut as he almost certainly did not get any reprint fees. Joe Simon once remarked to me that Harvey had used the left over material from Stuntman and Boy Explorers without any permission from Simon and Kirby. As Joe put it, in the comic book business even a friend would take advantage you.

The Boys’ Ranch Landscape Swipe

Boys' Ranch #2
Boys’ Ranch #2 (December 1950) “Lead Will Fly At Sunset”, art by Jack Kirby

In a recent post about Boys’ Ranch I wrote about what is probably the most unusual splash the Jack Kirby ever drew. The reader need not go back to my original post because I include an image of the splash above and here is what I wrote:

Not only did Boys’ Ranch include exceptional pinups, the splash pages are among the best that Jack Kirby did and that is saying a lot. Most of them are full page splashes filled with excitement. However the most unusual splash that Kirby did, not just for Boys’ Ranch but for any Simon and Kirby production, was certainly the one for “Lead Will Fly at Sunset.” Not only does it have no action, it does not even have any characters at all. That is Boys’ Ranch we see below from a distance but there is only the caption to confirm that. What we are provided with is nothing more then a landscape. Well that is a little misleading as this was drawn by Jack Kirby who shows here that he can embody a landscape with interest as well. Partly this is due to the unusual perspective Jack has depicted. In the foreground a steep trail descends to a panoramic vista. The nearby terrain is so rugged that only a few twisted trees have managed to cling to the rocks. With the extensive view it is easy to overlook the most significant inhabitant, a coyote on our left descending via the trail.

But if a reader still wants to go back to my original post here is a link.

Book of Cowboys
Illustration from “The Book of Cowboys” by Holling C. Holling

Kirby scholar and sleuth Tom Morehouse added a comment to my post:

Part of the reason this may stand out is that Jack swiped this particular landscape from The Book of Cowboys by Holling C. Holling (published in 1936).

and he kindly sent a scan of the landscape in question.

Frankly I am not at all surprised that the splash was based on a swipe as it was so unusual. Further that fact that Kirby sometimes used swipes is now too well documented (mostly by Tom) to provide any shock. The equivalent of swiping is a fundamental process in art but only comic art fans use such a derogatory term (swipe is slang for steal). I hasten to add that I believe Tom uses the term for the same reason that I do; the word is so entrenched with comic book fans and requires no explanation. Personally I find cases such as this not a source of embarrassment or condemnation, but as valuable windows into the mind of the creator. Despite my having referred to it as a swipe the splash is truly a Kirby creation and not a mere copy. Compare any detail and it will be seen that Kirby has not followed Holling’s closely. For instance Kirby has only kept one of the distant mountains and even that has been rendered in a manner suggesting that it may be a cloud. This has the effect of making the closer bluffs more dramatic then in Holling’s illustration. Also Kirby has added clumps of trees in the background in places that Holling had left rather featureless.

Although I was not surprised that Kirby swiped this splash I would never have guessed the most important change that Jack made. The most unusual aspect of the comic splash, particularly for an artist like Kirby, was the complete absence of people. It would never have occurred to me that this would not also be found in the original source of the swipe. Yet Holling has foreground figures descending the trail. The most natural expectation would have been that Jack would replace Holling’s figures with Boys’ Ranch members. Unexpectedly Kirby removed Holling’s figures entirely and introduced the lone coyote in their place. It is one of those creative leaps of a great artist that provide awe but can never be truly understood. It seems counter-intuitive, but the removal of all people has made the splash more dramatic.

That the Boys’ Ranch splash was now been shown by Tom Morehouse to be based on a swipe does not diminish it in my eyes. Quite the contrary, seeing how Kirby has used Holling’s book illustration has increased my appreciation for the splash. I may use the term swipe but in reality Jack has not stolen anything.

Boys’ Ranch, Simon and Kirby’s Most Successful Failure, Part 2

Boys’ Ranch can conveniently be separated into two groups. The first three issues featured work by Kirby (with one exception), had three stories per issue, and the stories were longer. For the final issues there is much less use of Kirby, only two stories per issue, and shorter stories. Actually each final issue had a single story, but broken into two chapters. It was part of the Simon and Kirby modus operandi to make heavy use of Kirby’s talents in the early issues of a new title and afterwards make more frequent use of other artists. For Boys’ Ranch the change seems much more dramatic then in other titles. The last three issues are good, but they are not the masterpieces that the earlier issues were.

Boys’ Ranch #4 (April 1951) “The Bugle Blows At Bloody Knife”, pencils by Jack Kirby inks by Mort Meskin

In the last three issues of Boys’ Ranch there is only one story completely penciled by Kirby, “The Bugle Blows at Bloody Knife”. However Mort Meskin does all the inking for this story other then the splash page (which looks like Kirby’s inking to me). Both “The Bugle Blows at Bloody Knife” and “I’ll Fight You for Lucy” are good references for Mort Meskins’s use of the Studio style of inking. For his own work Mort generally did not so fully use the Studio inking style and so his thorough adoption of it in Boys’ Ranch provided a more uniform appearance throughout the title. Mort’s inking is very distinctive and he was careful not to overwhelm Kirby’s pencils. Kirby characteristics such as his eyebrows are generally maintained. The two stories also provide good examples of the differences between Kirby’s way of graphically telling a story and that used by Meskin.

Boys’ Ranch #4 (April 1951) “Fight To the Finish”, art by Jack Kirby

Although Jack contributed less work for the title, care was taken for putting his efforts where they would be of the most use. One way this was done was having Jack pencil the splash page even for stories illustrated by others. With the exception of “I’ll Fight You for Lucy”, every splash in the Boys’ Ranch comics was drawn by Kirby and they are all full page splashes. What splash pages these are. “Fight to the Finish” is certainly among the best. It is a pure Kirby battle, up close and personal. To thrust the viewer into the action, Kirby creates a foreground showing only parts of some fighters. This is the same technique Jack used with a horse as seen in last weeks post and the Bullseye #7 double page splash. Here Kirby presents contrasting arms and heads. The antagonists are clearly identified by the officer sword versus tomahawk above, and below the soldier sporting a Calvary hat confronting an Indian warrior with suitable head apparel. The colorist wisely blocked the foreground elements in the same purple color. The background provides an only slightly better view of other contestants. Among some soldiers, we find Clay, Dandy and Wabash. Perhaps Angel had to be left out because even the truncated cast limited the number of Indians that could be included.

Boys’ Ranch #4 (April 1951) “How Cowboys Say It”, art by Marvin Stein

If Jack Kirby was used less in the final Boys’ Ranch issues the natural question then becomes who did the art? The Jack Kirby Checklist lists these stories as having a “Mort Meskin assist”. Well as we have seen Mort Meskin was involved with Boys’ Ranch so he certainly is a candidate to consider. The Marvel reprint volume lists the books creators as Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Mort Meskin and Marvin Stein. So should we add Marvin Stein as a possible contributor? The earliest date that my database has for Stein is for Headline #40 (March 1950, “The Case Of Joe Andrews”). But I am not very confident of that attribution as it is unsigned and has only a passing resemblance to work by Marvin. The earliest dates for work more securely attributed to Stein would be the cover for Justice Traps the Guilty #20 (November 1950, unsigned) and “Brute Force” from JTTG #22 (January 1951, signed). These dates indicate that Marvin Stein was certainly available for work on the last issues of Boys’ Ranch. “How Cowboys Say It” was one of those single page contributions to the Boys’ Ranch title. In the panel for “Quirly” we find a cowboy viewed from above and to the side. This view along with the distinctive manner of handling the eyes and eyebrows indicates to me that this certainly was done by Marvin Stein. The inking was done in a manner typical of Stein’s work. Note the rather blunt brushwork and its often scribbly nature. Marvin did not adopt many features of the Studio style when inking his own pencils and this page from Boys’ Ranch #4 is no exception.

Boys’ Ranch #4 (April 1951) “Fight To the Finish” page 3, art by Mort Meskin? and unidentified artist

In my opinion, the story art for “Fight to the Finish” has only a passing resemblance to work by Jack Kirby. Take a look at panel 4 from page 3 (shown above). The horse’s front is angled in an opposite direction to its rider and posterior. I do not recall Kirby ever having drawn such an odd arrangement. In the first panel Dandy and Angel look much shorter as compared to Clay Duncan then either Jack Kirby or Mort Meskin drew them (although Wabash seems about right). The eyebrows, particularly in the second and third panels, have some of the angular nature typical for Mort Meskin. There are some aspects of the Studio style however the inking as a whole looks much too sloppy for Meskin.

Boys’ Ranch #5 (June 1951) “Bandits, Bullets and Wild Wild Women” page 4, art by Mort Meskin? and unidentified artist

A similar situation is found in “Bandits, Bullets and Wild Wild Women” from Boys’ Ranch #5. Once again some of the eyebrows resemble Meskin’s mannerism. There are more techniques typical of the Studio style but it is still a rather sloppy performance not at all typical for Meskin. However I have seen Marvin Stein use the same coarse picket fence as evident on the back of Wee Willie Wheehawken. Most of the drawing is rather crude but look at Willie in the fourth panel. Willie is really nicely penciled and even the inking is not badly handled. The comparison of Willie’s portrait with how crudely the rest of the page was done suggests that there may be more then one hand working on this story.

Boys’ Ranch #5 (June 1951) “Last Mail to Red Fork” page 4, art by Mort Meskin? and unidentified artist

Much of what was said previously can be applied to “Last Mail to Red Fork” as well. There is one spotting techniques that shows up more on this page then previous examples. Many of the cloth folds are constructed by multiple overlapping brushstrokes creating long narrow folds. This is a typical Meskin inking technique but its actual use here seems too poorly handled for Mort. Of particular interest is the punch thrown by Clay in the fourth panel. This is not at all the way Kirby would have done it so again I do not believe Jack even supplied the layouts. With Kirby the whole body responds when being hit with a fist, not just the head and arms as in this panel. Clay’s swing and Drapo’s response does look like Meskin’s style to me (see the page from Black Terror #23 from my last weeks post).

Boys’ Ranch #5 (June 1951) “Last Mail to Red Fork” page 6, art by Mort Meskin? and unidentified artist

One final example is from “Last Mail to Red Fork”. Here Mr. Larson from panel 4 distinctly looks like Meskin’s work and is much more carefully inked then most of the story.

So let me summarize my findings for “Fight To the Finish” (BR #4), “Last Mail To Red Fork” (BR #5), and “Bandits, Bullets and Wild Wild Women” (BR #5). In all cases the splash pages were by Jack Kirby, but he otherwise did not have any significant contributions to the art, not even providing layouts. Some of the fight scenes are done in a distinct manner that looks like the work of Mort Meskin. Mort’s touch is also apparent in some of the eyebrows. So I would say the pencils were done by Mort Meskin. Although some of the inking is done in a manner similar to Meskin’s technique on a whole it just seems too sloppy to have been Mort’s. However the inker does seem to have been following the Meskin’s directions. Could these stories have been inked by Marvin Stein? I really cannot say because Stein did not seem to use the Studio style for his own work and so I have little to compare these Boys’ Ranch inking with. So for the moment I am going to leave the question of inking attributions unresolved. But was the second artist just an inker or did he make a contribution to the drawing as well? My current inclination is to provide joint credits.

Boys’ Ranch #6 (August 1951) “Teeth for The Iron Horse” page 3, art by Jack Kirby and unidentified artist

The stories from Boys’ Ranch #6 have a much more Kirby feel to the layouts. In the page from “Teeth for the Iron Horse” shown above the discussion between Clay and Palomino in the first two panels is done in a manner that is very typical for Kirby. There seems to be a progression of art that looks the most like Kirby’s at the beginning of the story grading into work less typical for Jack. I usual take this as a sign that an artist was doing “in between” work. That is Kirby would supply a layout that would be tighter in the beginning and then getting rougher. In cases such as this I give joint credits. The inking, while still somewhat clumsy, is handled better then that found in “Fight To The Finish” (BR #4), “Last Mail To Red Fork” (BR #5), or “Bandits, Bullets And Wild Wild Women” (BR #5). The eyebrows still have the distinct Meskin angularity to them.

Boys’ Ranch #6 (August 1951) “Happy Boy Carries the Ball” page 2, art by Jack Kirby and unidentified artist

The page above from “Happy Boy Carries the Ball” has in my opinion a much more Kirby feel to it. This is particularly noticeable in gentleman in panel 5. The layout of the entire page is much more like Kirby’s then the other stories reviewed earlier. I suspect that as in “Teeth for the Iron Horse”, Kirby may have been supplying layouts that were tighter in some places then in others. I do have some reservations. The ending page of the story is really not done were well; it is not always clear what is happening. This would be very unusual for Jack as he was above all else an excellent graphic story teller. So either this work was edited with some panels removed, or the ending was not based on Kirby layouts. The original art for this story is still in Joe Simon’s collection. That is all but the last page and so cannot resolve this question. All and all, I think that joint credits should be used here as well even if I cannot say for certain who the second artist was.

Boys’ Ranch #2 (December 1950) illustration from “Jack McGregor’s Bluff”,
Boys’ Ranch #4 (April 1951) illustration from “Killer Stallion”, art for both by Jack Kirby (these illustrations were not included in Marvel’s reprint volume)

Even with the decline in the last three issues, Boys’ Ranch certainly was one of Simon and Kirby’s greatest creations. Stories were given enough length to fully develop. Some stories had themes that normally never showed up in comics. Pinups were used to an extent that would never be repeated by Simon and Kirby. With such great pinups, splashes and stories you can tell Joe and Jack gave Boys’ Ranch their all. It failed. There is no getting around it. No paper glut or a failing distributor can be used to explain it away. No matter how highly esteemed Boys’ Ranch may be today, it only lasted six issues. Having been given a year to catch on, apparently sales were too low to warrant its continuation. It was Simon and Kirby’s greatest failure.

Boys’ Ranch, Simon and Kirby’s Most Successful Failure, Part 1

I have long held off discussing Boys’ Ranch since with so much written about that title I feared I would have little new to add. Today Boys’ Ranch is probably one of the most popular Simon and Kirby post-war creations. There is good reason for this modern esteem as the title has much to commend it; action, humor and lots of Kirby. Nothing has done more to keep the Simon and Kirby brand name alive as Marvel’s Boys’ Ranch and Fighting American reprint volumes. Although published in 1992 these volumes are still readily available in the resale market at reasonable prices. Of the two, the Boys’ Ranch volume most accurately reflects the original published comic books. Harvey’s reprinting of Boys’ Ranch stories occurred prior to the establishment of the Comic Code and so the art and stories did not suffer from censorial abuse. I have examined the comics and the Marvel reprint side by side and so far the only changes I have detected were a very few coloring alterations. Unfortunately Harvey reprinted Fighting American during the Comic Code’s reign and the Marvel volume makes use of Harvey’s reprinted version. Mark Evanier’s “Jack Kirby, King of Comics” provides an example from the Fighting American of the removal of an ice pick from one panel leaving an attack without a weapon. All is not completely well for the Marvel reprint volume as a few pages of general interest fillers have been dropped. These single page graphic articles were not drawn by Kirby so many readers will not have lost much. The more hardcore Kirby fans will regret the absence of the text stories some of which had included illustrations by Jack.

Boys’ Ranch #2 (December 1950) pinup, art by Jack Kirby

I have not completely ignored Boys’ Ranch in the Simon and Kirby Blog. Recently I have included the double page pinups from this title in a couple of chapters of my serial post “The Wide Angle Scream” (here and here). The use of pinups, both single and double page, was something new for Simon and Kirby. Each issue of Boys’ Ranch would have a single page pinup at the beginning of the book along with the centerfold pinup. Such extensive use of pinups would not be repeated in any other Simon and Kirby production. The pinups are not only numerous, they are also consistently of high quality. I would be hard pressed to pick the best one. I do want to provide an example and so choose one that provides the best portrait of the main cast of characters. Boys’ Ranch is not just a western, it is also belongs to the boy gang genre so favored by Simon and Kirby. There are significant parallels between the Boys’ Ranch gang and say the Newsboy Legion. Most S&K gangs have one adult member to act as a type of guardian. Clay Duncan does that part and although he lacks a secret identity he does have his own unique origin. One constant in S&K boy gangs is a handsome character that the readers can relate to; in Boys’ Ranch this is Dandy. There is always a gang member to take on the humorous aspects. Often this individual has some regional identification. This role is taken by Wabash who plays a southern hillbilly. The other two main characters are unusual members of this particular gang. Wee Willie Weehawken (I guess New Jersey seemed to be out west to New Yorkers Joe and Jack) was different in being a second humorous member and in being an adult although otherwise treated as another gang member. The most unique member of them all was Angel. Most Simon and Kirby kid gangs included one intellectual but I guess Simon and Kirby felt that such a character would be out of place out west. Instead Angle is sharp shooter with a bit of a temper. The 50s were a time with great emphasis on conformity and Angel’s long hair was definitely a distinction. Not included in the splash was another cast character, Palomino. Her place at Boys’ Ranch was often obscured but she would play important rolls. One was to help shape Clay’s image. Her obvious love for Clay was used to promote him as a hero figure. This also allowed Clay to be disinclined to actively return her affections thereby showing to his young readership that he as a real man’s man (at least by the criteria of youthful readers at that time). When Clay and the boys would go off to some adventure Clay would pointed tell Palomino that she could not come as it was too dangerous for girls. She would reluctantly agree only to following them anyway and save the day at some critical point. Action heroines were not unheard of but generally not used by Simon and Kirby whose women normally play the roll of victims. Palomino is a refreshing exception. Another minor player in Boys’ Ranch is the diminutive and silent Indian, Happy Boy.

Boys’ Ranch #2 (December 1950) “Lead Will Fly At Sunset”, art by Jack Kirby

Not only did Boys’ Ranch include exceptional pinups, the splash pages are among the best that Jack Kirby did and that is saying a lot. Most of them are full page splashes filled with excitement. However the most unusual splash that Kirby did, not just for Boys’ Ranch but for any Simon and Kirby production, was certainly the one for “Lead Will Fly at Sunset”. Not only does it have no action, it does not even have any characters at all. That is Boys’ Ranch we see below from a distance but there is only the caption to confirm that. What we are provided with is nothing more then a landscape. Well that is a little misleading as this was drawn by Jack Kirby who shows here that he can embody a landscape with interest as well. Partly this is due to the unusual perspective Jack has depicted. In the foreground a steep trail descends to a panoramic vista. The nearby terrain is so rugged that only a few twisted trees have managed to cling to the rocks. With the extensive view it is easy to overlook the most significant inhabitant, a coyote on our left descending via the trail.

Boys’ Ranch #1 (October 1950) “The Man Who Hated Boys” page 14, art by Jack Kirby

When Simon and Kirby created Captain America their origin story was only 8 pages long. Only one other Captain America story from the first issue was shorter while the rest were substantially longer. The Red Skull story had twice as many pages as the origin story. The origin was clearly something to get over with as quickly as possible so as to get into the adventures. With the work that Simon and Kirby did for DC and Harvey (Stuntman and Boy Explorers) the origin story was a much more successful story by itself. None of the other Joe and Jack’s origin stories compares with what they did for Boys’ Ranch. It is not just that “The Man Who Hated Boys” is 17 pages long, it is also how S&K weaved the story. Unlike the first Newsboy Legion story, the members of the boy gang are not introduced as a unit. The reader is first shown Dandy and Wabash meeting while Clay Duncan and Angel make their appearances later. All the character introductions are all mixed in with typical Simon and Kirby action. As for example page 14 shown above. Previously Clay, Dandy and Wabash had been pinned down by Indians. At the start of this page we find Angle arriving on horse back with some other reinforcements. Other creators might be satisfied with having the arriving party drive off the Indians, but not Simon and Kirby. We find in the last panel the fight has become the way Kirby preferred, up close and personal. Let me digress for a moment to point out how in the first panel only the mouth and knee of the closest horse is depicted. Kirby would use the same device years later in Bullseye #7 (August 1955). “The Man Who Hated Boys” was a justifiably lengthy introduction but even it does not present all the cast of characters. “Meet Wee Willie Weehawken” would introduce that character and other stories would bring in Palomino and Happy Boy. There would also be a separate origin story for Clay Duncan. Never before had Simon and Kirby invested so much in the backgrounds for the characters of a feature. I am sure this is one of the characteristics that make Boys’ Ranch so appealing for today’s reader.

Boys’ Ranch #3 (February 1951) “Mother Delilah”, art by Jack Kirby

If a poll was conducted on what was the best Simon and Kirby story ever, I have little doubt that “Mother Delilah” would be chosen by a wide margin. It certainly deserves such a distinction. Jack Kirby’s pencils are superb and the inking is consistently both sensitive and powerful. The writing is just exceptional and was given plenty of space to fully accomplish its plot and theme (at 20 pages it is the longest Boys’ Ranch story). The theme, well it is literally biblical in nature. The characters and their motivations have a complexity that is rarely seen in comic books even today.

Boys’ Ranch #3 (February 1951) “Mother Delilah” page 7, art by Jack Kirby

Clay’s rejection of the advances of the saloon girl Delilah leads her to a vow of vengeance. It is through Angel that Delilah seeks to get her revenge. Angel, the story’s main protagonist, is shown to be more then a sharp-shooter with a temper. His bravado is depicted as hiding a longing for a family he has long lost. Even at this level “Mother Delilah” offers more then most comic book stories. However the story goes on to show Delilah as torn between here need to strike back at Clay Duncan and her horror at what this was leading her to do to Angel.

Boys’ Ranch #3 (February 1951) “Mother Delilah” page 2, art by Jack Kirby

Angel and Delilah could have been enough for the story, but the writer choose to include some other cast members as well. There is one, Curley Yager, whose own villainy acts as a foil to that shown by Delilah. Who is the most evil? Curley who, without any thought, treats anyone weaker then himself as a target for his assaults? Or Delilah who realizes the evil she will inflict on Angel but proceeds anyway? Delilah’s self-sacrifice at the story’s end provides the answer as she receives a redemption that Curley could never achieve.

My favorite character plays a minor part in the plot but is of great importance to the story nonetheless; it is Virgil Underwood. His name suggests the classics of Imperial Rome but the part he plays is that of the chorus from Greek tragedy. He is always there to reflect on the action of others.

Boys’ Ranch #3 (February 1951) “Mother Delilah” page 15, art by Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby always thought of himself as primarily a story teller. For many fans his greatest works were the many brawls that he staged. It is true that Kirby was the master of the action sequence. However what amazes me time and time again is how Kirby could handle other types of story lines. Angel, shorn of both hair and pistols, encounters a crowd previously fearful of his sharp-shooter talents. The treatment he receives initially is meant more to humiliate him then to cause bodily harm. Yet before the harassment of Angel goes even further it is suddenly terminated. At first all that is seen are firing guns but that panel is followed by one showing the quick departure of the mob and the arrival of Wabash, Dandy and Clay. The page ends with Dandy and Wabash in the foreground with their backs to the shattered Angel and the comforting Clay. Dandy and Wabash mean to avoid Angel loosing more face then he all ready has, while sheltering him from the views of others, including the readers. It is a very poignant end to the sequence. Who, other then Jack Kirby, ever presented pages like this one?

Boys’ Ranch #3 (February 1951) “I’ll Fight You for Lucy”, art by Mort Meskin

For some few exceptions, the first three issues of Boys’ Ranch is all Kirby art. One departure is the single pages about western subjects. These are pages such as how to make moccasins, how to spin a rope or how to ride a horse. Some art dealers claim these were done by Mort Meskin using Kirby layouts. I agree that Meskin did many of them but I doubt very much Jack had anything to do with it. The art for all of them is rather stiff and I suspect are based on some photographs or illustrations. There is also a short section in Boys’ Ranch #1, “Introducing the Kid Cowboys”, that was clearly drawn and inked by Mort Meskin. The most important exception to the all Kirby nature of issues 1 to 3 is “I’ll Fight You for Lucy”. This story is usually credited as Kirby pencils and Meskin inks. There is no question that Meskin did the inking, but I find the layouts and pencils all look like Mort’s work. It is interesting that this is the only Boys’ Ranch story that does not begin with a full page splash. The splash panel is also unusual in how the characters are all placed together in a compact group on the left side. This would have been an unusually arrangement for Kirby who usually composed his figures to spread out and occupy all available space.

Boys’ Ranch #3 (February 1951) “I’ll Fight You for Lucy” page 5, art by Mort Meskin

Perhaps the most convincing evidence that this story was not drawn or even laid out by Jack Kirby is the fight scenes. Kirby was justly famous for his slug-fests but the fight from “I’ll Fight You for Lucy” (see above) does not show Jack’s characteristic style. For the later part of his career Mort Meskin did not draw much hero genre comics and so did not do many fight scenes. There are some brawls in the unpublished Captain 3-D #2 story but unfortunately the one image I used in my post about that story is not the best match for the fight from “I’ll Fight You for Lucy”. Better comparisons can be found by turning to work that Mort did earlier. Compare the Boys’ Ranch page with a page from Black Terror #23 (see below) by the team of Jerry Robinson and Mort Meskin. Usually when comic art has two signatures the first often indicates the penciler and the last the inker. The division of labor used by Robinson and Meskin seems to have been more complicated. (As, of course, it was for Simon and Kirby)

Black Terror #23 (June 1948) “Danger In The Air” page 3, art by Jerry Robinson and Mort Meskin

The modus operandi for Simon and Kirby seems to have been to heavily use Kirby in the initial issues for a title and afterwards have other artists do more of the work. This was the case for Boys’ Ranch where the final three issues use Kirby in some interesting variations. That will be the subject of next weeks post.

Captain 3-D #2

As discussed in my last post, an artist approached Al Harvey saying that he had figured out a way to make 3-D comics. With this process Harvey comics would produce 3-D Dolly, Funny 3-D, Adventures in 3-D and True 3D and Captain 3-D. The first two belonged to the funny animal genre intended for a very young audience while the next two were non-superhero adventure comics. Unfortunately for Harvey it turned out that the artist had not figured out the 3D process himself as he claimed but instead picked it up while he had worked for St. John Publications. I am not at all sure whether St. John had sufficient reason to legally complain but complain he did. The process St. John used was originally developed by Joe Kurbert, Norman Maurer and Lenny Maurer (the last two are brothers) having previously seen some European magazines with 3-D photos. However when they sought a patent they found that someone else had previously applied for one. Without a patent I just do not believe that they had any legal recourse against Harvey. To complicate things further, the original patent became involved in a court case between Bill Gaines (EC) and St. John. Probably none of the legal questions mattered much to Al Harvey because it turned out that 3D comics were not so much a craze as a fad. The very first 3-D comics were big sellers but sales dramatically dropped after the initial issues. Faced with disappointing sales and the legal questions, Al Harvey discontinued publishing further 3D comics.

The cancellation of 3D comic titles was sudden but work had already begun on Captain 3-D #2. We know Jack Kirby had completed a cover because it shows up in an advertisement in Adventures in 3-D. The cover was based on a nine paged story that had been drawn by Mort Meskin but remained uninked. I believe the story was already penciled when Jack did the cover because the cover is derived from a panel on the last page. Unfortunately the title for the story was not provided on the surviving pages of art. The inking would have been done on several layers of acetate. The splash panel of the first page already had pencil markings indicating how parts of the image were to be distributed on the different acetate layers. The markings are numerical from 1 (deepest) to 4 (closest) and the letter ‘B’. The ‘B’ layer was where the panel borders would be placed. For some reason there are no marking for layer 3, perhaps it would be the same layer as ‘B’. The layer markings are only found in the splash panel and not on the two story panels from the same page or from any of the other pages in the story. Presumably that was as far the process had gotten when the cancellation was announced.

Perhaps a short discussion about a few of the technical aspects of 3D comics would be in order here. The 3-D glasses have a different color filter over each eye and the comics are printed in two different colors. The result is that each eye only sees the art printed in one of the two colors. As mentioned previously the original art is inked on acetate. These layers are shifted sideways in relationship to each other when preparing the different color printing plates. The layer of acetate representing the closest plane would be shifted the most while more distant layers would be shifted less. The result is that the art printed by the two colors is not identical and when viewed through the 3-D glasses provide the sensation of depth. To prevent the shifting planes of one panel from interfering with another, a wider then normal gutter is provided between panels. To account for the sideways shifting of the acetate every panel that Meskin drew in this story has an image then extents outside the panel on the left. That was an artifact of the process and would not be seen in the final printed comic. Because the process involves shifting the acetate layers only sideways most art in Meskin’s story do not extend beyond the top or bottom margins of the panels. There are many panels however where some of the art does go beyond the lower panel edge. This is not an artifact as it was meant to be seen in the printed comic providing an even greater sense of depth. Surprising this technique was not used in Captain 3-D #1 despite the fact that Jack Kirby had used it in regular comics such as Captain America.

Captain 3-D #2
Captain 3-D #2 (unpublished) page 6, art by Mort Meskin

Mort Meskin’s talent has largely been ignored in recent years. In 2006 Meskin was nominated for Eisner Hall of Fame but failed to be voted in. While some fans still appreciate the comics he did during the war most dismiss the work that Mort did for Simon and Kirby and afterwards. However it was not Meskin’s talent that changed but rather the type of stories that he worked on. The crime, romance and horror genre that dominated Mort’s later years just did not call for the same story depictions that his earlier superhero provided. This Captain 3-D story by Meskin shows that not only could he still do superheroes, he was probably better at it then he had ever been before. Mort’s handling of action is just superb as is his control of perspective which is very important for a 3-D comic. It is very informative to compare Mort’s perspective with that used by Jack. Kirby is a master at perspective but a comparison with Meskin’s work highlights just how artificial Jack’s was. This is not a criticism of Kirby, far from it. Jack’s distortions of perspective gave his art an impact that I have never seen with any other comic book artist. While not possessing Jack’s exaggerated perspective, Meskin’s more natural approach is still more exciting then any other artist I can think of. It is a pity that issue #2 was never published. Who knows perhaps Meskin’s later career may have been different. In Golden-Age Men of Mystery #15 Bill Black quotes Greg Theakston’s tale of showing copies of Meskin’s Captain 3-D story to Steve Ditko. Ditko’s reaction leaves little doubt as to how highly Meskin was in Steve’s esteem. I am not surprised because I have always felt that Mort Meskin had a large influence on Ditko’s art.

Most of the art for Meskin story can be found in Golden-Age Men of Mystery #15 (only the first page is missing). I will provide a synopsis of the story in the comments section of this post so as not to spoil it for anyone who wants to check it out for themselves. The surprising thing about the story is how much it differs from those in Captain 3-D #1 or any other Simon and Kirby production. Nowhere in the story do we find the Book of D that Cap was supposed to spend his time when not fighting crime or the cat people. The story opens up with Captain 3-D and Denny in a cab! Cap enters a boat race to give someone a lesson; his conflict with criminals was an unexpected consequence. A new use of Captain 3-D’s power pack is revealed. The story ends with a type of humor not normally found in S&K productions. All of this convinces me that if Meskin did not write the script himself, he modified it substantially. I have long considered that Kirby did this all the time, the romance stories Jack drew are very different then other artists in the same titles. However up to now I have never thought of Meskin doing this as well. Something I will keep in mind as I continue with my “Art of Romance” serial post.

Kirby Museum Post Original Art from Captain 3-D

Rand Hoppe has posted seven images of page 10 from “The Man from the World of D” story in the Jack Kirby Museum. This page inked by Mort Meskin includes the large panel that I feel is the masterpiece of the book. It is really great to see how the images were distributed over the different acetate layers. It is definately worth of visit to the Jack Kirby Museum, then again the Museum is always worth a visit!

PS. I had a little trouble going from page to page using the “next” link but found that if I first choose the “full size” link first before using the “next” it worked.

Captain 3D

I have decided to examine Simon and Kirby’s most neglected superhero, Captain 3D. So set your computer to 3D viewing. What your computer does not have the 3D view feature? Oh well, I can see most of you have not upgraded to the latest Pear computer. In that case through the magic of Photoshop I will convert scans of the Captain 3D #1 comic to restore the line art. Seriously I have never been a fan of 3D comics feeling that it is largely a gimmick where too much is lost (color) with too little gained. Besides I find it an annoyance to have to wear special glasses just to read a comic.

By their very nature, superheroes require a suspension of critical judgment in order to be enjoyed. I think the barrier is even higher in the case of Captain 3D due to link between the comic’s 3D gimmick and the hero’s jumping out of a book when viewed with special glasses. Along with the ability to come out of the book when needed, Captain 3D has a power pack that allows him to fly. Otherwise Cap, and he is referred to by that nickname, does not seem to have any special powers or strengths. Captain 3D’s main adversaries are the cat people. The cat people had in the past killed the rest of Cap’s people and now want to enslave mankind as well. Normally Cat people look no different from the rest of the population but when viewed with the same 3D glasses that release Captain 3D from the book, the cat people show their feline features. However Cap also fights more everyday criminals as well. Like many superhero comics of that time, Captain 3D has a young sidekick named Danny, the guardian of the book of D.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D” page 11 panel 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

There is little doubt that Jack Kirby penciled all of Captain 3D #1. Perhaps more then any other comic book artist, Kirby has worked on supplying the extra dimension to comic’s flat plane. He has done so starting perhaps from his days at Timely until the very end of his career. I am not sure how he felt about 3D comics but he came to them already knowing how the images should be composed. Joe Simon’s comments about this can be found in his book “The Comic Book Makers”. There Joe’s basic premise is that the images should project out of the comic, not into. The actual art found in Captain 3D confirms Joe’s observation; there are only a few panels that project into the page. One of them is very effective despite breaking this rule; it is a composition that would be repeated years later in the comic book Battle. Late in life Jack would adopt a style where perspective would be exaggerated to such an extent as to appear unnatural. This style is exemplified by a pose the Kirby would use often where the hero jumps toward the user with one arm held straight and fist closed. Captain 3D has the earliest example of the pose that I am aware off, although without the extraordinary exaggerated perspective. After Captain 3D the pose would not be repeated for many years, but obviously it was not forgotten.

In his book Joe Simon describes Al Harvey requesting Simon and Kirby to produce a 3D book. Neither Joe, Jack nor any of the artists working for them had any experience with making such a comic before. An outside artist had come to Harvey saying he figured how to make 3D comics himself and offered to show Harvey’s people how. Harvey wanted the comic done quickly in order to cash in to what looked like a lucrative craze. As an incentive Harvey offered special rates but I sometimes wonder if Simon and Kirby had every turned down a job because they were too busy.

Joe says the Captain 3D book was created by him, Jack, Mort Meskin, Steve Ditko and “other key artists” working for the S&K studio. As I said above Jack Kirby was responsible for all the pencils. The inking is another question. Frequently the inking has been attributed to Steve Ditko by comic art dealers. Not long ago I saw one offering a page from Captain 3D as created by Steve Ditko, never even mentioning Jack Kirby’s involvement! Determining inking attributions for the Simon and Kirby studio is fraught with difficulties as inking credits were never provided. So comparison of inking methods with that used by different artists on their own work is the only technique that can provide help. There is the added difficulty in a case like Captain 3D when a number of different artists were involved on the same project. If that was not enough, the acetate used to create the 3D effect was a very unforgiving and unfamiliar material for the artists to ink on. Brush control that the artists normally exhibited cannot be expected to show up in the Captain 3D inking. Therefore it would be the risky, to say the least, to try to sort it all out. So naturally I cannot resist.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

The inker easiest to spot is Mort Meskin. I have previously discussed Mort’s inking techniques. Despite the problems acetate presented many of those techniques can be found in Captain 3D. Here the inking technique that seems to stand out the most is Meskin’s manner of doing picket fence brushwork (for explanations of some of my terms please see the Inking Glossary). Although picket fence crosshatching was part of the S&K Studio style, Mort’s can usually be distinguished by “rails” that are lines of strong but even strength, almost like wires laid down on the page. Even the “pickets” tend to be more mechanical then those by S&K. I have found picket fence brushwork in 13 pages all but 2 of which look like Meskin’s work. Mort also had a way of depicting clothing folds with multiple long parallel, sometimes overlapping, brush strokes. Perhaps because of the difficulties acetate presented, I have found this Meskin brushwork only on 4 pages. Meskin had a special way of drawing and inking eyes and eyebrows. He modified it when inking Kirby’s pencils but it sometimes still retains enough of his personal touch so that it can be recognized. In Captain 3D I found 9 pages with Meskin’s eyes. Mort occasionally would place on one side of a form a wider then normal line that also served as a sort of shadow. There is one page that has this Meskin technique. I came to notice that Meskin sometimes gave a sinuous shadow to Cap’s helmet; this can be found in 6 pages. All together I attribute 11 out of 32 pages to Mort Meskin. For those interested these are “The Man from the World of D” pages 5 and 8 to 11; “The Living Dolls” pages 2, 3 and 10; “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang” pages 1 and 9; a figure of Captain 3D in an advertisement at the end of the book.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D” page 10 panel 2, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

Mort Meskin did an outstanding job on the splash page for “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang”. However for me the tour de force of the entire book is page 10 of the “The Man from the World of D”. You can tell Mort was struggling with the acetate surface but he still managed to create a masterpiece in the bottom, almost splash-like panel. I believe there is a reason Mort put so much effort here, this is probably the most powerful image that Simon and Kirby had every produced. I am not referring here to the graphic qualities of the image but to its subject matter. Simon and Kirby never went the extremes such as could be found in EC comics. That is not to say they avoided violence; guns, knives, whips and other weapons can be found but S&K usually refrained from making the use of these devices so obvious. The only exception to this seems to be found earlier in the Captain America art where one time they even went so far as to depict the hanging of a fake Captain America and Bucky. Even then we only see a back view of their dead bodies.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Living Dolls” page 7, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The next most easy to spot inker in Captain 3D is Jack Kirby himself. Jack’s involvement to the inking should not be too much of a surprise. After all it was a rush job and Jack would finish pencils before all the inking had been completed and so would be expected to join in. What is surprising is the inking technique he adopts for Captain 3D. Kirby does not use the Studio inking brushwork that was ubiquitous of his inking at that time. Instead Jack works in a style remarkably like the Severe style that would not appear in his inking for several years hence. I think Kirby used this style because it allowed him to work more quickly and it overcame some of the difficult problems presented by inking on acetate. Missing from the Kirby inked pages are techniques like picket fence crosshatching or drop strings. Part of the Severe style is a technique of inking a clothing fold with simple elongated ovals or tapers sometimes attached to a thin line giving it the appearance of a narrow stem ending in a long leaf. This brushwork is found on two pages I attribute to Jack but only in a single panel of one of them suggesting that there Kirby was retouching another inker’s page. Kirby was an excellent inker which gave him an advantage in interpreting some of the nuances of his own pencils. The acetate undoubtedly made it difficult for Jack to achieve such subtleties. Nonetheless I feel I have detected nuances in the treatment of eyes and eyebrows that look like Kirby’s hand. Although Kirby’s brush can be confidently detected Jack did not ink much of Captain 3D. There is not much to go on but the two small heads found in the introduction look like Kirby to me. More certainly Kirby’s inking are panel 1 of page 7 of “The Man from the World of D”, page 7 of “The Living Dolls”, and page 5 of “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang”. There are some other possible candidates that I will discuss below.

Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D” page 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

I have not yet presented to my readers a thorough examination of the inking techniques used by Joe Simon. Joe presents a particular problem in determining inking attributions. My normal methodology is to examine the inking of art penciled by the artist to find clues on how that artist might in turn ink Kirby’s pencils. Unfortunately Simon did not pencil much art during his collaboration with Kirby. Further Joe has shown himself in the past as adept at mimicking other artists’ styles. While at Fox Joe did such a great job that even experts have missed his signature on some of the covers and attributed the art to Lou Fine. Joe has also mimicked Kirby’s pencils and there is no reason to believe he would not also try to do so with Jack’s inks. Therefore what I present below should only be viewed as a preliminary assessment. Joe Simon’s brushwork was coarser then Kirby’s and in particular his clothing folds did not have the same almost puddled appearance as those Jack used in this comic. In Captain 3D 6 of the pages have a coarser brushwork that looks like Simon’s to me. Like Meskin, Simon has a way of doing eyes that can sometimes show through when inking Kirby’s pencils; 3 pages look like they have Simon’s eyes. I previously mentioned that in Captain 3D picket fence crosshatching was used by Meskin but not by Kirby. There are 2 pages that have picket fence brushwork that do not appear to be Mort’s. I feel that they were done by Simon, but it is possible that this could be misleading due to the difficulty of inking on acetate. Both Simon and Kirby used shoulder blots and these can be found among the pages I attribute to Simon. Shoulder blots do not appear on any of the pages I have credited to Meskin but they do on one that assigned to another artist to be discussed below. All total I credit Joe Simon with inking 8 pages of Captain 3D. For those interested these pages are “The Man from the World of D” pages 3 and 4; “The Living Dolls” page 2; “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang” pages 2 to 4, 6 and 8. Keeping in mind the problems about distinguishing Simon from Kirby and the difficulties presented by working on acetate it is quite possible that some of the pages I have attributed to Simon might actually been done by Kirby. Particularly suspicious are the number of Simon pages found in the last story. Assuming that was the last story actually penciled it is just where we might expect the greatest inking contribution by Kirby.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D” page 2, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Steve Ditko

Those keeping tally would realize that there are still a number of pages in Captain 3D that were not done by Meskin, Kirby or Simon. I believe most of them were done by the same artist. I credit them to Steve Ditko but frankly this also is very provisional. Since I have not done a careful review of Steve Ditko’s earliest efforts I really do not have a lot of inking traits to rely on. The most distinguishing feature of his inking, at least compared to Simon and Kirby studio artists, is his reliance on a pen for most of his spotting. Some fine pen work does show up in Captain 3D. However there are often brush spotting on the same pages sometimes covering over some of the pen lines. Some of this may be Ditko’s own efforts but some of it looks like Joe Simon going over and strengthening Steve’s work. The presence of a shoulder blot on one of these pages supports that suggestion. The lower part of the man’s jacket in the last panel of the page 2 of “The Man from the World of D” shows a type of feathering that I have never seen before in work produced by Simon and Kirby or artists that worked for them. Ditko also seems to have his unique touch in his way of doing eyes that shows up in Kirby’s pencils. I notice that Ditko had his own way of inking Captain 3D’s helmet. Ditko would create two simple bands or when the top band was near the peak it would be formed into a small semicircular field. All in all I assign 8 pages to Ditko; “The Man from the World of D” pages 2, 6 and 7; “The Living Dolls” pages 5, 6, 8 and 9; “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang” page 7.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Living Dolls” page 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by unidentified artist

I am concerned that since I do not yet have a good handle on Ditko’s inking style, especially on acetate, that perhaps some of the pages assigned to him may actually been done by some other artist. There is one page (page 4 of “The Living Dolls”) that I simple am not comfortable to assigning to any of the artists that I have discussed so far. I feel this indicates there was at least one other artist inking Captain 3D but I have no idea who he was.

Captain 3D
Captain 3D (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

I have saved for last a short discussion about the cover. The art for the cover was also used as the splash page for “The Man from the World of D”. Therefore it would have been done on acetate in order to achieve the 3D effect. It must have been a difficult task to ink on acetate carefully enough so that it could also be used for the cover. Perhaps because of that spotting is very minimal. It appears to have been done with either a pen or a fine brush. This might suggest Ditko inking but I feel it was actually done by Meskin. Meskin did not do much fine inking in the other interior art but some does show up particularly on splash pages where greater effort was made as for example the first page of “Iron Hat McGinty and His Destruction Gang”. The method used to spot the muscular forms on the cover does appear similar that used in the splash. Captain 3D on the cover also has eyes that suggest Meskin’s personal style. There are not much clothing folds but some on the upper torso are made using close parallel lines like those Meskin prefers. Finally Captain 3D’s helmet has a sinuous curve to the shadow; a device similar to what Mort used in the interior art.

The final breakdown is 12 pages inked by Meskin, 8 pages by Simon, 7 2/3 pages by Ditko, 3 1/3 pages by Kirby, and 1 by an unidentified inker. This is a little misleading because one of the pages attributed to Kirby consists only of two small heads and one of the pages credited to Meskin is an advertisement with only a single figure of Captain 3D.

In my next post I hope to discuss Captain 3D #2.