Category Archives: DC Kirby

More Kirby Krackle

Tales of the Unexpected #18
Tales of the Unexpected #18 (October 1957) “The Man Who Collected Planets”, art by Jack Kirby

In a comment to my previous post (Kirby Krackle) Ger Apeldoorn remarked on the existence of another Kirby Krackle prototype. Unfortunately Ger was unable to provide the specific comic that it appeared in. Perhaps he meant the one that was recently brought to my attention (thanks CL), “The Man Who Collected Planets” from Tales of the Unexpected #18 (October 1957). The Kirby Krackle prototype also appears on the cover (which Kirby did as well) but I find the splash page a better example of this technique. I have previously dismissed some of the supposed Kirby Krackle prototypes (based on techniques used to indicate smoke), but how does this new (for me) contender stack up? Well it is composed of rounded (but not circular) spots, there is a tendency to form clusters, they are meant to depict energy (although more of a simmering than a high energy) and there is a cosmic connection (he is after all an alien). So while it is not perfect Kirby Krackle it is so close to the real thing that it makes a perfect prototype.

When I wrote a serial post on Kirby’s Austere and related inking styles I included a chapter on his DC work (Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 7). Unfortunately at the time I had access to a limited portion of that work and so I could only make some provisional conclusions. Now I am able to examine a much better selection of Kirby’s DC material but I have yet to do a careful review so my observations must still be considered as tentative. My belief is that the art for “The Man Who Collected Planets” as well of the cover was inked by Jack Kirby himself. Perhaps the best indications that this was Kirby’s inking can be found in the last panel of the image provided above. Observe the rather blunt but well controlled brushwork, the scalloped inking pattern own the man’s shoulder and the use of short brushwork arranged into strings. So the credit, if the reader accepts this as a true Kirby Krackle prototype, belongs to Kirby.

Tales of the Unexpected #18
Tales of the Unexpected #18 (October 1957) “The Man Who Collected Planets” page 3 panel 5, art by Jack Kirby

As I described above, the Kirby Krackle prototype surrounding the alien figure is used to describe a simmering energy and not the high energy that true Kirby Krackle depicts. The lower energy level drawn by Jack is quite appropriate for his subject. However the story includes art where much higher energy levels are shown, as for example the panel from page 3 shown above. As can be seen this Kirby Krackle prototype is even closer to the real thing. The dots are more irregular in size and they form more obvious clusters. Personally I cannot see how anyone could claim this is not a perfectly good prototype from which true Krackle was developed.

Tales of the Unexpected #18
Tales of the Unexpected #18 (October 1957) “The Man Who Collected Planets” page 5 panel 5, art by Jack Kirby

I cannot resist providing another panel to show that my previous example of the Kirby Krackle prototype was no accident. While I fully accept this as a prototype, that by no means negates my claim that the example I provided from Captain 3-D (Kirby Krackle) was a Krackle prototype. Far from it, I believe it only strengthens my claim. The DC example is just what would be expected as a step intermediate between the earlier Captain 3-D (1954) and the full blown Krackle that Jack started using in 1968. Only small changes needed to go from the primitive version from Captain 3-D to the better (but still not perfect) version in the DC story. This means that I still maintain that Joe Simon was probably responsible for originating what would later become called Kirby Krackle.

Kirby Inkers, Marvin Stein

I have written about Kirby inking Kirby, but what about Jack’s other inkers? Scholars of the Silver Age have it comparatively easy, many of Jack’s inkers are actually given credit. This provides a head start even in those cases where no inking credits are given. But in the Simon and Kirby years no inking credits were ever provided. Fortunately most S&K studio artists inked their own work. Therefore examining the work by the studio artists can give insight into what to look for in order to determine if they also were Kirby’s inkers.

I am going to start with Marvin Stein. What I am going to say about Marvin is pretty preliminary. I really have not studied Stein as an artist as much as I have other who had worked for Simon and Kirby. This is probably because I have mixed feelings about Marvin’s art. On the positive side Stein was often good at depicting action. However some of his drawing seems a bit crude.

Marvin Stein starts showing up in Simon and Kirby productions in 1951. Not long after his appearance there seems to have been a change in the production of Headline and Justice Traps the Guilty, two crime titles that S&K had created. Well actually Headline had existed before S&K but was not a more general anthology, it was S&K who converted the title to crime. The postal statement for Headline #46 (March 1951) lists Nevin Fiddler as the editor. About that time the artists for both crime titles changed and Jack Kirby work would no longer appear. Marvin Stein would become a prominent part in the new Prize crime issues. Stein did almost all the covers and usually the first story. It was not that unusual for Stein to provide a second story as well.

Headline #51 (Jan 1952) art by Marvin Stein

There is a photograph that indicates that Marvin worked at the Simon and Kirby studio at one time. Certainly he was greatly influenced by Jack Kirby, particularly in the portrayal of action. But Stein did not pick up any of the typical S&K studio inking. Missing from Marvin’s own work are things like picket fence brush work, abstract arch shadows or shoulder blots (see the inking glossary). Stein did occasionally use something like drop strings.

Justice Traps the Guilty #88
Justice Traps The Guilty #88 (August 1957) “The Spoilers” page 7, art by Marvin Stein

The above image is a typical page of Stein pencils and inking. Marvin’s brushwork tended to be rather blunt. This can be very apparent when the faces are of a smaller size, as for instance in panels 1, 2 and 4. A blunt brush work can even be seen in closer faces as in the criminal in panel 4. Stein often would use very broad cloth folds that seem slightly bent at about the middle of their length as seen on the man in the foreground in the first panel. Cloth folds often have ends that stop abruptly at a right angle (as in the first panel) or a slight angle (there are a couple examples on the man in the second panel). Form and shingle lines are often quite robust. Although not apparent in the image above, Marvin would sometimes make long and simple eyebrows. These eyebrows can resemble those by Bill Draut.

Justice Traps the Guilty #91
Justice Traps the Guilty #91 (February 1958) “Power Failure” page 4 panel 5, art by Marvin Stein

Occasionally Marvin would like to depict faces with a sort of negative highlight, as in the image above. This is done with diagonal brush work and like so much of Stein’s inking in a rather crude manner.

Young Romance #93
Young Romance #93 (April 1958) “Jealousy”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Marvin Stein

Among Jack Kirby’s late Prize romance art is one story, “Jealousy”, where the spotting for the facial features is rather blunt. The facial inking looks so much like Marvin Stein’s that I am certain he was Jack’s inker. Note the final panel where the man’s right eyebrow is extended into a crease above the nose. This is a characteristic often seen in Stein’s own art, for instance panel 3 from the Justice Traps the Guilty #88 page I showed earlier. Surprisingly the spotting other then for the faces in this story seems more carefully done then is typical for Stein.

This blunt treatment of facial features does not seem to occur in inking for any other of Kirby’s work for Prize. But otherwise similar spotting can be found in the inking of a number of Kirby stories. Could it be that Marvin Stein used greater care when inking for Kirby then he did on his own work? Depending on the answer to that question, Stein could have been a frequent inker of Kirby or a rare one.

Showcase #6
Showcase #6 (February 1957) “The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box”, page 6, panel 3, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Marvin Stein (from DC Archive edition)

When I wrote the DC chapter to “Jack Kirby Austere Inking” I was hampered by my limited access to the work. I am still not ready for a more thorough evaluation of Jack’s DC period but I have gone back over it with Marvin Stein fresh in my mind. Previous I attributed the inking to the initial Challengers of the Unknown stories to Jack. With my latest review I find a number of examples of inking that look like Stein’s work. Take a look at the face in the panel image I provide above, it has Stein’s blunt brushwork style. Also note that a couple of the cloth folds have the slightly off right angle ends that Stein prefers. There is still inking in the first two Showcase issues that look like Kirby’s brush. The red giant in “Dragon Seed” from Showcase #6 seem much better done then I have every seen Stein do. Also the second page from Showcase #7 with its scenes of the Challenger members doing various daring deeds. The problem is that Stein’s blunt brushwork is rather similar to Jack’s Austere style. I now suspect that most of the inking for Showcase #6 and 7 was actually done by Stein with Kirby doing the more difficult parts and perhaps touching up Marvin’s work as well.

Challengers of the Unknown #3
Challengers of the Unknown #3 (August 1958) “The Menace of the Invincible Challenger”, page 10, panel 2, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Marvin Stein (from DC Archive edition)

Marvin Stein did some of the inking for later Challenger stories also. The image above from COTU #3 has the same shadow highlights we saw before from Stein’s crime work. But these later inking differ from Showcase #6 and #7 in that Jack Kirby does not seem to have taken a hand in any of the spotting.

I have added a checklist for Marvin Stein, which like all my checklists are works in progress. However a checklist of Stein’s inking Kirby will have to wait, at least until I have reviewed some of the other Kirby inkers.

Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 7, DC

Atlas may have started to use Kirby’s freelance work first but it was DC that published the majority of Jack’s art from this period. Part of the reason for this imbalance is due to Atlas undergoing the episode now call the Implosion. Although Atlas only stopped actual publication for a few months, a lot of what was used after the Implosion was left over inventory work. The Implosion may have biased Jack’s freelance work toward DC, I am sure the another reason was simply that DC paid better.

In any case there is a lot of work done between Jack starting at DC (February 1957) until when he left (June 1959). Potentially this chapter could have been the most significant one in this serial post about Kirby’s inking. Unfortunately I have very limited access to Jack’s DC work. Therefore I consider this chapter to be my most tentative. A more thorough analysis of Jack’s DC inking will have to wait but I fully intend to return to it someday.

Showcase #6
Showcase #6 (February 1957) from the Challengers of the Unknown Archives, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The Challengers of the Unknown was Jacks first freelance work to be published by DC. The Challengers were a Simon and Kirby creation but I have not detected any involvement of Joe in the production of the art. Jack did all of the inking of his pencils for the first two issues (Showcase #6 and #7). Considering the date, it is not surprising that we do not find any use of the Studio style. Besides Joe Simon has said that DC did not like the use of crosshatching, which they derogatorily referred to as hay. S&K Studio techniques such as the picket fence would have been seen by DC as particularly offensive. Perhaps DC’s attitude is why Jack abandoned the Fine Studio style that he used so successfully in the Yellow Claw. I may also explain the absence of pen work that Jack had been using for Atlas. So Jack used the Austere style when inking the Challengers. There are some holdovers from the earlier styles such as the abstract arch shadow that appears on the right side of the cover to issue #6.

Showcase #6
Showcase #6 (February 1957) “The Secrets Of The Sorcerer’s Box”, from the Challengers of the Unknown Archives, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The first page of Showcase #6 probably gives an even better example of how Jack would ink the Challengers. No picket fences but there is the use of what could be called a modified drop string. Cloth folds are generally simple spatulate shapes. The image looks lighter with larger blacks done by flooding the area with ink. Also notice the shoulder blot in the circular panel. Kirby does nice inking for these stories but they seem to lack some of the spontaneity found in his Atlas and Prize work. It is possible that this is due to someone having “cleaned” up his inks. Since my observations are based on the DC Archive this might even have been done during restoration.

After the first two issues other inkers began to be used. I used to think that Jack may have been involved in inking some of the later covers. But on reviewing them again for this post I no longer think that is true.

House of Secrets #4
House of Secrets #4 (May 1957) “Master Of The Unknown”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

I am sure that for Kirby, and DC as well, the Challengers were probably Jack’s most important effort. It was not, however, the only material that he produced for DC. Jack also did a number of stories and some covers for DC’s horror comics. Perhaps because this work had a lower profile Kirby would do more of his own inking then he did for the Challengers. The inking style used was the same for both. The example of the splash panel from House of Secrets #4 is typical Austere inking.

I would like to draw attention to the casting of the chair’s shadow. During the Simon and Kirby collaboration, shadows often were presented in a very abstract manner. So abstract that I am not always sure what things like the shoulder blots or abstract arch shadows are supposed to represent. The shadow for the chair provides some its source’s distinct features such as its oddly shaped legs. It seems to me that in Jack’s DC work there is more of an effort to provide more “realistic” shadows.

Tales of the Unexpected #16
Tales of the Unexpected #16 (August 1957) “The Magic Hammer”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Although we do not find pen work in the Challengers art, it does show up sometimes in what Jack did for DC’s horror genre. Often pen use is limited to special purposes, such as the depiction of rain and stormy weather. It is almost as if rain images provided Kirby with an excuse to use a pen, which he otherwise avoided when doing work for DC.

Tales of the Unexpected #17
Tales of the Unexpected #17 (September 1957) “Who Is Mr. Ashtar?”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby from Fantastic Tales #6 (reprint published by Thorpe and Porter, scan provided by Ger Apeldoorn)

The above splash is a case that received a lot of spotting using a pen. Is this an exception or was a pen used more frequently then I thought? Unfortunately my very limited examples of DC Kirby do not allow me to say. This example has more elaborate then pen use then what was done for Atlas. The frequent use of parallel pen lines, the spacing between lines, and some of the irregularities match what was done for Atlas. I suspect that the same hand did both. What I am less sure of is whether that hand was actually Kirby’s. The above example may look like complicated pen work but it is actually has a simple layout. Just the sort of thing that Jack could have directed an assistant to do. Provided that the assistant became comfortable with the use of a pen, they need not even had been an artist.

Tales of the Unexpected #22
Tales of the Unexpected #22 (February 1958) “Invasion Of The Volcano Men”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Most of this splash page from Tales of the Unexpected #22 is typical Austere inking. But look at the spotting along the centers of the arms and legs of the right figure. Spot lines of this general type often are not used to indicate shadows but just used to provide an volume to the art. Therefore I refer to these as form lines. In this splash these form lines are unusual in how densely that are used. Kirby is using this special treatment because the men are wearing special uniforms, almost like spacesuits. This is probably done to suggest a metallic nature to the suit’s surface. Years later Jack would devise a totally different way of handling the same thing. But this type of form lines was used frequently by Jack early in his career when he was doing science fiction stories (Early Jack Kirby Chapters 2, 3, 5, and 9.

House of Secrets #11
House of Secrets #11 (August 1958) pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Kirby would also provide some covers for DC’s horror genre comics. These are inked in the Austere style very much the same brush techniques as the covers Jack did for the Challengers. Note the presence of drop strings which continue to be used but in a more reserved manner. There is some spotting using a pen but it is very unobtrusive. In this case the pen is limited to the dust cloud in the background.

Adventure #253
Adventure #253 (October 1958) “Prisoners Of Dimension 0”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

DC had a wide array of superheroes but Kirby would only get to work on one of them, the Green Arrow. The Green Arrow appeared in Adventures Comics where it was effectively a backup feature to Superboy. I do not know if I can say that the Green Arrow was DC least significant superhero, but it certainly was among the less popular ones. Was this reluctance to use Jack for standard superheroes because most of his recent work was outside the superhero genre or was it because they feared that Jack’s unique style might conflict with the previous image of these superheroes? In a way DC’s management was probably correct because the Green Arrow immediately showed the Kirby touch. Not just in the art either, the stories showed Jack’s influence as well. This may explain why Kirby only lasted seven issues. Jack had done something that was considered almost criminal by some at DC, he made the Green Arrow interesting.

Jack did his own inking for all of his Green Arrow pencils. The inking was the same Austere brushwork that we have seen used else where at DC. Perhaps because the stories were on a regular schedule the inking seems a little bit more rushed then some of Kirby’s other DC work. In the introduction to the tradeback reprint, Mark Evanier says that Jack’s wife Roz helped with the inking. This was probably limited to filling in blacks or maybe even doing some outline inking with a pen.

Adventure #254
Adventure #254 (November 1958) “Green Arrow’s Last Stand”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Spotting with a pen also limited in the Green Arrow art. But it does show up and once again is used for rain scenes. Could Roz have done some of this pen work under Jack’s direction? It is hard to tell from these stories but this is a topic that I will return to in this series.

Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 1, Introduction
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 2, Mainline
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 3, A Lot of Romance
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 4, Prize Covers
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 5, Harvey
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 6, Atlas

Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 8, More Harvey
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, Chapter 9, More Prize
Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking, A Checklist and a Glossary

other post with Kirby inking Kirby:

Strange Tale Indeed
Battleground, Jack Kirby’s Return to Atlas
Captain 3D

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.