Category Archives: Atlas Kirby

With A Little Help From My Friends

I admit it, when I post about the work that Jack Kirby did after the breakup of the S&K studio I am getting into an area that I really do not have a lot of expertise. But what Jack did during S&K is important to understanding what he afterwards, and visa versa. Further I really feel I have something to contribute in areas such as Kirby’s style of inking his own work. However when it comes to things like DC editors, artists and inkers I am really at a loss. Fortunately I had a couple commenters provide some useful information to a recent post of mine.

I did not respond to Nick Caputo in the comments but I did email him offline to ask him to review the entire Kirby story in All-Star Western #99. When Nick did so this is what he had to say:

I took a look at the All Star Western story and, comparing it to the other stories in that issue which I believe Giella inked (“The Double Life of Sherrif Trigger, pencilled by Carmine Infantino and “Duel of the Twin Indians” penciller unknown, as well as the cover pencilled by Gil Kane) I would credit the majority, if not entire, Kirby story to Frank Giacoia inking. Giacoia has a sharper line than Giella and his faces are more defined. There is also some different techniques used on figures and backgrounds (for instance, the lines on the rocks on page 5, panel 2). While it’s possible that Giella did some background work in places, I see more Giacoia here than Giella.

Bob H. also felt that Giocoia was the inker for this story. But he also added an interesting observation:

… given that it was the only story Kirby did for Julius Schwartz’s editorial stable, where Giacoia was a regular, and the “Foley of the Fighting 5th” was an ongoing feature, this was probably more of a ghosting job for Kirby, which is probably why a lot of his tendencies are repressed. Kirby did similar ghosting for Giacoia on some “Johnny Reb” comic strips in the same period.

Well like I said I do not know much about DC at this period, but Bob’s suggestion that Jack was ghosting makes complete sense.

So my thanks to both Nick Caputo and Bob H. for their contributions.

Two Early Westerns by Jack Kirby

Both Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had drawn some Western comic stories at the start of their careers. After their team up, Simon and Kirby would return to this genre but would combine it with others. Boys’ Ranch was Western plus boy gang and Bullseye added costumed hero to the mix. Simon and Kirby would even produce comics that joined the romance with the Western genre. As for pure Westerns, the only work Simon and Kirby did was some covers. After the break up of the Simon and Kirby collaboration, Jack began doing freelance work for both DC and Atlas, some of which included Westerns. I thought it might be interesting to examine some examples from early in Jack’s freelance period.

All-Star Western #99
All-Star Western #99 (February 1958) “The Ambush At Smoke Canyon” page 5 art by Jack Kirby

I am going to do this backwards and start with the later of the two stories. “The Ambush At Smoke Canyon” was published by DC with a cover date of February 1958. The six page story begins with the return of a scout’s horse to Fort Desolation without the scout himself. Realizing that something is amiss but with most of the force away on detail, Lt. Dan Foley goes out alone to try to follow the horse’s trail. Foley finds the scout pinned down by some Pawnee. Dan sneaks past the attackers and finds the scout wounded but not badly. Dan convinces the scout to sneak out and use his (Dan’s) horse to get help. Meanwhile Dan lures the Pawnee into a cave and traps them there until help arrives.

I got to say this is not that great a story. Does it seem reasonable that not only was Dan able to sneak past the Pawnee but that the scout was then able to sneak back out again? Even the method Foley uses to lure the Indians into the cave seems more contrived then ingenious. All and all a rather forgettable story.

However Jack Kirby has rescued otherwise uninspiring stories just by the visual excitement that he can add. Unfortunately that is not the case for this story. In fact a quick glance at the art might leave one unsure that it was done by Jack. I believe Kirby did the art, the two Indians of panel 5 of page 5 (see above image) look to me to be good evidence of Kirby’s pencil. There are some other examples in the story as well. But why does Kirby’s involvement seem so unobvious? One reason is a recurring problem now that Jack was freelancing. More and more in the future someone else would ink Kirby’s pencils. At times, and I think this is one of them, the inker seems to deliberately mask some of Jack’s eccentricities and make art look more like the house style. Whether the inker of this story was trying to correct Kirby or just was not talented enough, his overbearing inking has done a great disservice to the art.

Sometimes no matter how poor the inking, Jack’s powerful drawing would shine through. I do not know why that did not happen here. The layouts are not very interesting. There is little use of some of Kirby’s favorite techniques such as exaggerated perspective. Much of the action is from a distance, while Kirby usually favored his action up close and personal. Even the one fight scene included was handled rather poorly. I may not be able to explain why Kirby’s art in this case was one of his more forgettable efforts, but clearly freelance work did not always provide the best circumstances for Jack’s art.

Two-Gun Western #12
Two-Gun Western #12 (September 1957) art by Jack Kirby “No Man Can Outdraw Him” page 3 art by Jack Kirby

The next Kirby Western we will examine is a five page one done for Atlas with a cover date of September 1957. It tells about the arrival of a gunslinger into a small town. He is “the fastest gun in the west” and no one in the town is anywhere near his match. Therefore the Gunslinger is largely unopposed when he orders people about and takes what he wants. That is until he becomes interested in a beautiful girl.

Two-Gun Western #12 was one of the last comics published before the Atlas Implosion. Like other work for Atlas prior to this event, in “No Man Can Outdraw Him” Kirby seems to have a lot of control over the content. I can not say for sure whether he did the script, but there is something about some of the dialog that is has that slightly over the top quality that Kirby so often used.

The inking looks very different from what Jack for recent work in Yellow Claw (December 1956 and February 1957) or Astonishing #56 (December 1956). For those prior works Jack had adapted the Simon and Kirby house inking style. This style makes use of a special type of crosshatching using a brush instead of a pen. Common to the S&K house style are a set of long roughly parallel lines intersected by a series of shorter lines which I like to think of as a picket fence design. Another technique is the use of a row of tear shaped dots. Kirby used this style for the early Atlas work I mentioned but modified it by using a finer brush. However none of this is found in “No Man Can Outdraw Him”. In that story there really is no crosshatching of any kind. Instead spotting is used more sparingly so that the art has a light look to it. When larger dark areas are introduce they tend to be made by completely flooding an area with ink.

Despite the different styles used between these stories I think it would be a mistake to discount Kirby as the inker for the Two-Gun Western story. Look at the forearm of the gunslinger in the fifth panel of the image I provide above. Notice how the nearest portion is made from a couple of closely placed black strips followed by a larger area of black taking up the rest of the forearm. This same sort of technique for spotting clothing became common around the time of the Mainline titles such as Foxhole. A good example can be seen in the lower leg of the paratrooper in the cover for Warfront #28 cover dated January 1956. This concept of modifying the S&K studio inking style but dropping crosshatching and simplifying the spotting can also be seen in other Kirby works of about this period. For instance in “Town Full Of Babies” (Black Cat Mystic #60, November 1957). I have also previously remarked on this showing up in the all Kirby Prize romances that Jack did staring about November 1955 and going to December 1956). Kirby would evolve the style even further in the late Young Romance (starting about February 1958 and ending with December 1959). I believe that Kirby found the inking technique he used for Yellow Claw too time consuming. His inking therefore evolved into a quicker style. But the style was not just faster, Jack was much too good an artist to settle for that. Instead he used it to great advantage to give his art a stylized or abstract look.

Jack’s drawing seems to adjust to his new inking style, it also adopts a more stylized look. Jack’s figures often take on exaggerated but very expressive posses. Sometimes this results in some strange distortions such as the small torso of the hero in the second panel shown above. For Kirby it was always about depicting the story and giving his figures life, never about being anatomically accurate.

In short “No Man Can Outdraw Him” is a small masterpiece. It did not provide Jack Kirby’s wild imagination an outlet like he had in Yellow Claw but otherwise it shows what Kirby could do when he had control over what his work. The reverse, which is when Jack lost that control, is shown in “The Ambush At Smokey Canyon” that I started this post with. In all fairness these two are extreme examples, there was a whole lot of middle ground that Jack would occupy in later years. Still it brings to mind two “what ifs”. What if Kirby had continued to ink his own work for the Challengers of the Unknown? Wally Wood’s inking is very beautiful but I cannot help but think it would be more expressive had Kirby used his new style on it. Or what if Atlas never imploded? Kirby seem to have more freedom before the Implosion then after. Who knows what sort of masterpieces Jack might otherwise have produced for Atlas?

You can never provide real answers for such “what if” questions. All we can do is enjoy what was actually done. Unfortunately most of Jack Kirby’s pre-Implosion work for Atlas are obscure and have not been reprinted. However I have one other Kirby Western to discuss but that will have to wait for another post.

An Astonishing Jack Kirby Story

Astonishing #56
Astonishing #56 (December 1956) “Afraid To Dream” page 1 by Jack Kirby

It was mid 1956 and the Simon and Kirby studio had failed. Jack Kirby would help Joe Simon with some projects that if successful might bring the team back together again (in the end they did not). But in the mean time Jack had turned to freelance work in order to support his family. Jack was trying to sell DC on a new title that he and Joe Simon and developed called Challengers of the Unknown. Jack had also taken on some work from Atlas. It was a company he had worked for many years ago when it was called Timely. On that occasion Timely had failed to deliver of their promise of a share of the profits from S&K’s creation Captain America. If that was not bad enough, as Atlas they did not pay their artists all that well. But none of that really mattered because Jack simply needed the work.

Kirby took over all the story art for Yellow Claw #2 (December 1956). I have previously posted about this comic and I consider Jack’s Yellow Claw work for issues #2 and #3 to be some of his best effort. It appears that Jack did all the work himself; writing, penciling and inking. Of course since it is Kirby the penciling is great, but the real treat is to be able to see Jack inking his own art.

For the same month as Yellow Claw #2, Jack would do a four page story for Astonishing #56 call “Afraid To Dream”. It concerns a man who has trouble sleeping. His nights are disturbed by a continuing nightmare. In his dream a man crashes in a spaceship on a hostile world. It is night and the world is filled with numerous perils that the injured man must transverse in order to get to safety. But the spaceman must reach his destination soon for when day arrives the planet’s surface becomes too hot for him to survive. Jack has done other stories with vignettes showing the journey of some individual. Therefore I am confident that Jack also wrote “Afraid To Dream”.

Like YC #2, Kirby also inked his own pencils. The inking uses the S&K studio style of spotting only with a finer brush. Finer that is compared to previous S&K productions but still probably too extreme for DC. It is interesting to compare this Atlas work with the spotting that Jack had been doing the past year for Prize romance comics. At a glance these two inking techniques might appear quite distinct. The Prize romances have limited use of spotting and when spotting is used it generally floods an area with black. While for Atlas Jack did a lot of spotting (using a finer version of the S&K house style) and would rarely flood an area with black. However for Atlas Kirby would often cover a large area with closely arranged S&K style inking. These larger dark area are shape similarly as the flooded areas of the 1956 Prize romances. The differences between the two approaches is probably related to the jobs. During the previous year Jack had been doing the penciling for pretty much the entire line of Prize romances. Jack had help, at least at times, with the outline inking but he did the spotting himself. Considering the amount of work he was doing he wanted to keep the inking to a minimum and so avoided the S&K style hatching. When an a black area was needed, flooding it with inking would be quickest. With Atlas Jack probably wanted to impress Stan and the readers. So it was back to S&K style shop hatching but applying it with a finer touch. Jack may have been hoping that his work Atlas might lead not to just work as a penciler but to producing the comics like he had previously in the S&K studio.

The difference between the true masterpiece and the rest is often surprisingly small. The spotting that Jack did for YC #2 and #3 is just amazing. Although the inking done for “Afraid To Dream” uses a similar approach somehow it just does not achieve the same results. It feels a bit rushed to me and just slightly off. Not much, so it is still enjoyable, but not achieving the masterpiece status.

“Afraid To Dream” is just four pages long and it is hardly one of Jack’s greatest work. Still the story is enjoyable and it is nice to see what Jack could do by himself. Kirby seemed to have a lot of control over what he did for Atlas at this time. Jack would loose that control for the work that he would shortly do for DC. However conditions at Atlas would in the not distant future change dramatically with the event called the Atlas Implosion. Kirby would return to doing freelance work after the Implosion, but working conditions would not be the same. After that Jack would be penciler only, writing and inking would be done by others.

Astonishing #56
Astonishing #56 (December 1956) by Joe Maneely

Jack may have been welcomed back to Atlas but he was not Stan Lee’s number one artist. Stan’s bright eye boy was Joe Maneely. Maneely was fast and he used detailed inking. Stan turned to him time and again for the most important covers or stories. The early death of Joe Maneely in 1958 probably had more impact on the future of Marvel Comics then even the Atlas Implosion. What would Fantastic Four #1 have been like if it was drawn by Maneely and not Kirby? Or what about Spiderman with Maneely instead of Ditko? Of course this sort of “what ifs” can never be truly be answered. I must confess I find Maneely to be the antithesis of what I seek in a comic book artist. To me his art is extremely dry and overwrought. I have no doubt that if he was the artist for the Fantastic Four I would never had become a Marvel junkie.

The End of Simon & Kirby, Chapter 7, On His Own

YC #2 Concentrate On Chaos
Yellow Claw #2 (December 1956) “Concentrate On Chaos” by Jack Kirby

Previously in the End of Simon and Kirby started their own publishing company in August 1954 which unfortunately would fail after April 1955. The pair received some income from having Charlton published remaining issues from the now defunct Mainline comics. They also produced work for Western Tales published by Al Harvey. 1956 would find Jack doing pretty much the entire contents for the Prize romance titles as well as supplying some covers for Harvey comics. It appears that Joe was doing some editorial work for Harvey. The all Kirby romances would end in December 1956.

Things must have looked financially bleak for Jack towards the end of 1956. Mostly he was working on three bimonthly romance titles for Prize. If he was still receiving a share of the profits he may have realized that Prize was in trouble. Two of the romance titles would be cancelled after December. Kirby would turn to Atlas and DC for work as a freelance artist. The Jack Kirby Checklist has Battleground #14 (November 1956) as the first work for Atlas. In December Jack would do the entire contents for Yellow Claw #2 which he would also do for issues #3 (February) and #4 (April). Showcase #6 (February 1957) published by DC would introduce Challengers of the Unknown. This hero team would appear in four issues of Showcase before being launched in their own title. During the following months Jack would do other work for DC, mostly in their horror/science fiction titles. Actually Kirby would do work for both Atlas and DC at the same time, although as the year progressed Jack would work primarily for DC. This was probably due to the higher page rates at DC and problems Atlas was having.

YC #2 Temujai, The Golden Goliath
Yellow Claw #2 (December 1956) “Temujai, The Golden Goliath” by Jack Kirby

The Yellow Claw was the creation of Al Feldstein and was originally drawn by Joe Maneely. It was unusual in that the main protagonist was the villain, a Chinese mystic purportedly working for the Communists, but actually intending to rule the world himself. As a mystic the Yellow Claw has such powers as the ability to control mens’ minds, to observe from great distances and to fake a man’s death. In the first issue Maneely did a fine, if rather dry, job but the stories themselves are not all that exciting. All that would change when Jack Kirby took over in the second issue. This was years before the Marvel Method, but even so it is clear that the plotting of the stories is by Jack. We find a psychic committee that can alter reality, a giant robot masquerading as a oriental deity, a microscopic army, a space alien and more. Not only does Kirby pull out all stops for the plots, he produces some of his best pencils. But even more special is that fact that Jack would provide the inking in issues #2 and #3. What a fantastic inking job Jack did. Although he retains some of the features that he showed in the all Kirby romance comics from the previous year, some of the older shop style inking returns, now done with a finer brush.

These two Kirby issues are nothing short of masterpieces. The only flaws are comparatively dry covers by other artists and the Yellow Claw’s emblem that Jack inherited which looks too much like a chicken foot. Unfortunately for issue #4 all the inking was done by John Serevin who almost overpowers Jack’s pencils. How did these issues come about? It is hard to believe an artist so recently starting at Atlas, even Jack Kirby, would just be given free rein. More likely, having been offered to work on Yellow Claw, Jack quickly returned with a proposal that not only included art, but a script as well. Even though he was hired as a freelance artist, it is obvious that Jack wanted something more. If Yellow Claw did not work out, who knows some other proposal from Kirby might have? But alas it was not to be, a few months after the end of Yellow Claw, Atlas would not appear on the comic book racks for a short time in an event now referred to as the implosion. Atlas would start up again, but it would be a very different company with a much reduce line of comics. After that there was little chance that Jack could arrange a working relationship like he had in the Yellow Claw for Atlas again, at least not until many years in the future.

Showcase #6
Showcase #6 January 1957) by Jack Kirby (from Challengers Of The Unknown Archives)

Like so much of comic history, the details of the birth of the Challengers of the Unknown are not clear. Joe Simon has said that he and Kirby jointly created the Challengers. I have read the original introduction to the Challengers reprint volume written by Mark Evanier were he states that Kirby told him the same thing. Incidentally that statement on the creation of the Challengers is almost certainly the reason that Mark’s introduction was rejected by DC and replaced when the volume was printed. In a legal deposition, Jack Schiff stated that the Challengers was pitched to DC by both Joe and Jack. If that is true, could some of the early Challengers stories actually be Simon and Kirby productions? Some have even suggested that they were originally meant for Mainline Comics, had their company survived long enough.

One of the unusual things about the first two issues of Challengers (Showcase #6 and #7) is the presence of oddly shaped panels, including circular ones. This is a layout device that Simon and Kirby had used often earlier in their career, but was not one found in their Mainline comics. I rather doubt that the Challengers stories were worked up early, therefore I suspect that it was done after the Mainline failure. Joe Simon has said that it was their practice that when then made a proposal, that they have a body of work ready to go. So it is likely the initial stories were drawn up while Simon and Kirby were still collaborating. But it was done during that time when each worked from their individual homes. That collaboration was very different from what it was previously. But none of the other S&K productions of that period have similar panel layouts. So although I fully believe that the Challengers was a Simon and Kirby creation, the drawing and panel layout of the initial issues owed more to Kirby and less to Simon.

The inking is odd mixture of spotting techniques similar to that in the all Kirby Prize romances of the last year, combined with some more naturalistic touches. For example on the cover to Showcase #6 (see above) on the fence toward the right edge we find an abstract shadow arch typical of S&K shop inking. On the fence to the left however we find shadows that were clearly meant to be cast by three team members. I would not call the spotting truly naturalistic, but there was a movement away from spotting that was completely abstract to one that tried to retain the design effect but still give a natural explanation. Although some of the spotting looks to me like Kirby’s hand, there appear to be other inkers also involved. Marvin Stein and Roz Kirby have been suggested by some. In any case although the inking looks nice overall, it simply does not match up to the effort done in Yellow Claw or even earlier Simon and Kirby productions.

Green Arrow, Prisoners Of Dimension Zero
Adventure Comics #253 (October 1958) “Prisoners Of Dimension Zero” by Jack Kirby

Kirby would also take over the minor hero Green Arrow. Apparently Jack had some influence of the plots for Green Arrow because they would adopt a science fiction approach that seems pure Kirby. Here Jack also does the inking with, according to Mark Evanier, the help of his wife Roz. But the inking is rushed and way below the quality in the initial issues of the Challengers.

Generally as a freelance artist for DC and Atlas, Jack would be working from a script and would have no control over who would ink any pencils he submitted. Other then the examples I wrote above on, I really cannot say how much influence he had over the stories he drew. But I can say that Joe Simon played no part in any of this freelance work that Jack did. This is true even in the case of the Challengers of the Unknown. I do believe that Joe Simon joined Jack in pitching the Challengers to DC. I am sure that the two artists wanted an arrangement like the one with DC during the war. But DC now probably wanted full control and had little interests in sharing the profits. That left only the penciling, which would not pay much if shared by two. It is not the sort of arrangement that would interest Joe, so he left it to Jack alone.

Sky Masters 2-15
Sky Masters (2/15/59) by Jack Kirby

Life as a freelance artist was probably not ideal for Jack. But there were not many options open to him. Starting in 1957 he continued to provide some romance stories and covers for Prize (to be discussed in more detail in a future chapter), but there now was less of that work. Simon would continue to pitch new ideas to Harvey Comics (again to be discussed in a later chapter) but unless one of these projects became a blockbuster of a hit, Jack would really have to depend on his freelance work. On October 4, 1957 Russia surprised the world by launching the first satellite, Sputnik I. This spawned the space race and despite the fact that the Russians were ahead, America seemed confident that we could catch up. With the new interest in space came an idea for a newspaper syndication comic strip that ultimately became Sky Masters for Jack Kirby to pencil. The strip started in September 1958. The history of Sky Master is fascinating, but outside of our subject matter. But important to this discussion is the fact that legal actions about the Sky Master deal developed between Kirby and Jack Schiff, who unfortunately happened to be Kirby’s editor at DC. It was bad enough that Kirby lost the case in court, what was worse was the fact that he would no longer do any more freelance work for DC. The last DC work (Challengers of the Unknown #8) would be dated June 1959. The Sky Masters strip itself would end in February 1961. Unable or unwilling to get work from DC and therefore with even less options open to him, Kirby would depend more on Atlas for freelance work.

Chapter 6, A Friend’s Romance

Chapter 8, If At First You Don’t Succeed