Category Archives: 2007/02

2007 New York Comicon

For me this year’s Comicon is an improvement, I got in. That is not to say I was very happy how they handled it. There was only one small entrance into the show. This meant that even with tickets (the show was sold out so you had to have tickets) it took an hour to get in. For some special events (like Stan Lee’s signings) you had to go outside the show to get tickets. Having spent over an hour on line I was not about to go out again and have to wait on line once more.

Once in the show the crowds were generally manageable. They did have wider aisles so generally it was not too hard to walk around. That is except for Artist Alley. That was a disaster. Narrow walkways made passage painfully slow and difficult.

It’s not the San Diego show but I think it could be. However San Diego was a show that grew into what it is today. New York has had to start up running. The show’s management has made improvements but they have to make a whole lot more. If they don’t do so quick enough I am afraid the Comicon will never go much beyond what it is today.

I went to a couple of interesting panels. One on a movie that is being made of Will Eisner’s Spirit. Frank Miller was not there, but he will be directing it. Boy talk about mixed feelings. Frank is great and Sin City, both the graphic novels and the movie, were masterpieces. I look forward to the movie 300. The panel made it sound that the Spirit movie was going to be on the dark side. But the Spirit resides in Central City not Sin City. We shall see.

Also a panel on the Marvel Bullpen. Ralph Macchio, Gene Colan, Joe Sinnott, Fabulous Flo (sorry I do not remember her last name) and of course Stan Lee. Very entertaining and off course Stan stole the show. Not that he did this in a mean spirited way. Often Stan would redirect questions aimed at him to one of the other panelists. During questioning from the audience many of the speakers prefaced their questions with gratitude to Stan for all that he did. At one point Lee said that he did not deserve all the credit. That there were other artists that were important to Marvel’s success such as Jack Kirby, etc. He then added something to the effect of “but of course I was the most important”. Now if you read this it may make Stan sound bad. But to hear and see it delivered it was something else entirely. Nothing in the original questions required him to say anything about Jack or the other artists. His remarks about the importance of these artists sounded absolutely sincere. In his statement about his own importance Stan was obviously hamming it up and it was clearly meant to be a joke.

As for Simon and Kirby I did not see much original art. There was the cover art for the Harvey Fighting American. That is a bit of a puzzle for me because Joe still has “original art” for this cover made from stats. Why would he have done that if he still had the original art? My guess is that the art had already passed from his hands. Maybe Kirby had it or maybe it was already belonged to a collector. I did see once piece that was an important clue as to the identity of an artist that worked for S&K or perhaps Simon alone. I will post more on that if clue turns out to be valid.

The Comicon has thrown my scanning schedule out of whack. But I do have some more Foxhole ready that I can post on next week. Perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll be able to wrap Foxhole up.

Foxhole #4, Enter the Comic Code

Foxhole #4
Foxhole #4 (April 1955) unused cover by Jack Kirby

Public criticism about the contents of comics had lead to the creation of the Comic Code. Although not a legal requirement, publishers knew that they must submit their work to this agency for approval or be rejected by most newsstands. Simon and Kirby’s company Mainline was no exception to this. So when along with their other titles Foxhole #4 was submitted for approval the Comic Code rejected the cover. Its depiction of a dead enemy sniper was too much for the delicate sensibilities of the young. In all honesty even without showing any direct signs of violence it is a very compelling but disturbing piece of art. S&K’s substitute cover had a close-ups of a face wear camouflage makeup. Simon and Kirby could still produce great covers within the Comic Code framework.

Foxhole #4
Foxhole #4 (April 1955) “Find And Fire” page 1 art by Bill Draut

The rejected cover for Foxhole #4 was based on an interior story “Find And Fire” by Bill Draut. It is unclear to me whether the cover developed from the story or the other way around. Often Simon and Kirby productions have this cover/story connection. Not infrequently each does not tell quite the same tale. Draut’s story starts with a splash very different from Jack’s original cover. Most of what we see is just the tree foliage. Only the sniper’s hand and firing rifle are visible. By doing so Bill has captured horror of having to cope with an unseen foe. The story itself is about a medical corpsman having to deal with a Japanese sniper alone. As a medic he is not supposed to fight and does not carry a gun. The Japanese, and the sniper in particular, did not care about such niceties and the American is forced to confront the sniper armed with only a knife. Its a great story illustrated by one of S&K’s top talents.

Foxhole #4
Foxhole #4 (April 1955) “Thirty Year Man” page 1 script by Jack Oleck art by Joe Albistur

This time instead of Jack Kirby, Jack Oleck provided the script for the artist Joe Albistur. It is a great story about a professional soldier and the outfit he first trains and then fights with. The plot is not all that surprising but with it Albistur manages to present some great art. Look at that splash panel. Joe is marvelous at capturing people and their gestures but here he out does himself. There twelve individuals portrayed, each one uniquely. Only the face of two men are partially visible and yet Joe infuses them with personality. Elsewhere in the story there is a fight sequences with four panels without text. Previously we saw Bill Draut draw something similar. Could Oleck have written Draut’s story also and provided similar directions? Or could both artists have decided to do this themselves? However the decision was made it was an effective device to use in cases like this were the image was sufficient and words were not only superfulous but were actually detrimental.

This is the second Foxhole piece credited to Jack Oleck. Two scripts are not much to work with in trying to understand Oleck’s writing style, but it is all we have. Actually that is not true. From Joe Simon’s collection I have part of another script by Oleck. That will be the subject of a future post.

Foxhole #4
Foxhole #4 (April 1955) “Mayhem In The Sky” page 1 art by Art Gates

As I have said before I enjoy most of the stories in Foxhole. They are generally well written and the artists are very talented. I also get a kick out of “Mayhem In The Sky” but probably for reasons that were not originally intended. It is like watching a slasher movie where much of the fun is knowing that when someone goes out into the night to investigate a noise that he will be the next victim. This story is about an American plane that will be bringing some Japanese prisoner to Australia. The only guard will be wounded Australian soldier. Did I hear the background music become foreboding? When the plane reaches altitude it is placed on autopilot and the co-pilot takes a nap! At this point the background music is downright chilly. Needless to say it is not a stalker that is unleashed but a plane full of Japanese soldiers. Yeah it all seems a bit unbelievable but it is fun.

Foxhole #4
Foxhole #4 (April 1955) “Suicide Run” page 1 art by Bob McCarty

Bob McCarty, a veteran of the Air Force, illustrates a submarine story. This is typical of Foxhole. Although written by veterans they are not autobiographical stories. Still the real service that the creators experienced does imbue Foxhole stories with special qualities. The men in the stories are not the clean cut heroes depicted in movies of that time.

Foxhole #4
Foxhole #4 (April 1955) “It’s Mutual” page 1 art by Ted Galindo

“It’s Mutual” is the earliest artwork for S&K by Ted Galindo that I am aware of. Hereafter Ted would often be employed by Simon and Kirby and, after the S&K studio breakup, by Joe Simon. Generally Simon and Kirby used the more talented artists of their day. Unfortunately I feel Galindo is an exception, I would call his work adequate at best.

Coming Attractions and Other Comments

Well next weekend is the big N.Y. comic convention. Last year I was one of those who spent a couple of hours on line only to be turned away. I did help Joe Simon with his appearance the next day. But helping Joe kept me so busy that I really did not get to see much. Joe will not be showing up this year and I have bought my ticket in advance. Hopefully things will work out better this time. Unfortunately there does not seem to be any Kirby panel. Where is our east coast Mark Evanier? I will be on the look-out for anything of interest concerning Simon and Kirby. We will see if I find anything worth posting about.

I have scans ready from Foxhole #4 so even with the convention going on I am sure I will be posting on that issue. I hope my readers do not mind this review of comics which have so little Kirby art. The artists who worked for S&K may not have been in Kirby’s class (who was?) but they are talented nonetheless. Focusing on this one title has helped me clear up some attribution errors I have previously made. My biggest surprise was how often Joe Albistur shows up. S&K really relied on him a lot during this period. I plan to give this sort of treatment to the other Mainline titles and Win A Prize.

Recently I have been trying to inventory Joe Simon’s collection of original art. It is so great to look at so much stuff, including the art from Foxhole that I have been posting about. One of the surprises is how much work Joe did with DC during the ’70s. When I posted on the Sandman #1 cover I mentioned that the comic art was given the job number SK-2. Well DC also used JS numbering for work that Joe provided and they go up into the mid 300’s. Much of it was for romance comics Young Romance and Young Love. There are a few pieces, some with JS job numbers, that were “Written Off”. I suspect this means that DC felt they would not publish them even though they paid for the work. I suspect that they were concerned about getting Comic Code approval.

Featured Cover, Fighting American #4

Fighting American #4
Fighting American #4 (October 1954) by Jack Kirby

Another great FA cover done during the period when this title was more about humor then about being the typical superhero. In common with the cover for Fighting American #3 we find our hero about to spring a surprise on his clueless foes. I love the line “let me kill Speedboy just this once”. It is a great cover filled with Kirby’s unique humor touches such as the absurdity of Rhode Island Red lighting her cigar with a torch. I find that Jack had his own way of humor which includes the physical appearance of the subjects. To me it is very different then what Joe Simon did for the covers of Sick. It is also why I am always surprised that many still think that Guys and Dolls was done by Jack when its visual humor is so much like Joe’s.

I am rather surprised about the green face that the colorist provided for Yuscha Liffso. It makes him look not so much funny as weird. I guess it is the only thing about the cover that I find objectionable.

There were three more issues to Fighting American, not including the Harvey issue. Unfortunately these later covers just do not have the “punch” found on the first four issues. These last issues came out at the same time as the Mainline titles so I suspect Jack’s creative energies were going there instead.

Foxhole #3, The Writers Jack Kirby and Jack Oleck

Foxhole #3
Foxhole Comics #3 (February 1955) “The Face” art by Joe Albistur, script by Jack Kirby

The artist for “The Face” is Joe Albistur who does marvelous work. Earlier I had misattributed this story art to John Prentice. To be honest at that time I did not look carefully at the story and relied on an old attribution from my database. When I scanned and restored the story it was just so obvious that Albistur, not Prentice, was the artist. Albistur’s men are often quite varied and he is good at capturing traits and gestures. Men by Prentice often follow a more restricted mold with long faces and small eyes. At times Joe would do a man’s face in a manner similar to John. Even so Joe’s work can usually be distinguished by their more rough appearance while John’s are done in a smoother manner. When it comes to women the two artists are worlds apart. Prentice’s women have a sophisticated beauty while Albistur’s are more earthy. A nurse in “The Face” is a clear giveaway that the artist is Albistur. Joe only worked for Simon and Kirby for about a year, with cover dates from September 1954 to October 1955. During that time Albistur shows up often and for that limited period he can be considered one of the usual suspects for S&K productions.

Although Albistur is a fine artist what makes “The Face” a special treat is that Jack Kirby is credited. Since the art was obviously not done by Jack that means he must have been the writer. I do not have any doubts that Jack contributed to the writing of many Simon and Kirby productions. We know however that S&K employed writers. My understanding is generally Jack and Joe Simon would verbally provide an outline of a plot to their writers. Then when the script came back S&K might then make whatever alterations they saw fit. The suggestion for “The Face” is that Jack did a more complete approach to the writing. Joe Albistur was from Argentina and did not serve in the U.S. army. So to keep with the basic premise behind Foxhole the writer would have to be someone with military service. Certainly Jack filled that requirement. But I am not sure why someone like Jack Oleck was not used since he also was a veteran. The Kirby & Albistur combination would be used again in another issue of Foxhole. Jack Kirby’s art output had dropped during the period that the Mainline comics were being produced. I cannot help but wonder if one of the reasons for this more limited Kirby art production was due to his doing more writing. Unfortunately credits were not given in the other S&K titles so it is hard to be sure.

Our narrator flies a Spitfire as part of a British air force strike on Nazi occupied France. During a dogfight our hero gets badly wounded by enemy gunfire. With great difficulty he manages to fly his plane back to home base but makes a crash landing. Up to this point this is very much a war story, now it seems to turn into something from Black Magic. While our hero believes himself to be dying and familiar face appears to him. It is not the face of someone close to him but it is familiar nonetheless. We are taken back to before the war when our narrator was visiting Vienna where he met the man. This individual was trying to escape from the Gestapo who were after him because of his religion. The comic does not say, but obviously he is Jewish. Our hero helps the man escape to Switzerland but never managed to find out either his name or profession. Now the story returns to wartime and our injured airman comes to a finds out what the importance of the man whose face he has seen.

It is easy to imagine that this is a Kirby plot. Although a war story it has the sort of plot twist that is common in S&K productions like Black Magic. There is nothing in the writing that suggest that this was not done by Kirby or that anyone else played a significant part in creating the script. On the other hand missing from the script are any of the typical Kirby laconic speeches. I have remarked previously about these. They are frequently delivered as a retort to someone else, have an odd sort of off topic quality, and are a little over the top. These short speeches often are found in Kirby drawn S&K pieces and re-occur late in his career when he once again was able to achieve more control over his work. I leave further discussion of this subject off until later when I review another Kirby/Albistur story from Foxhole.

Foxhole #3
Foxhole Comics #3 (February 1955) “Office Upstairs” art by Bob McCarty and script by Jack Oleck

I previously discussed the background story of “Office Upstairs”. It concerns the Death March and the Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. The story itself is narrated by a soldier and begins shortly after Pearl Harbor. The Americans and Bataan are unprepared for the Japanese assault. The soldier also blames the softness of his fellow Americans. In particular the evident softness of the non-combatant who serves as the medical officer. It is only after the Death March and the struggles in the prison camp that the soldier changes his mind about that medical officer.

I have to admit there are parts of this story that are rather corny. Still I find it incredibly moving. As usual Bob McCarty does a excellent job on the art. This is one of the few S&K productions we can say who the writer was. Jack Oleck may have been Joe Simon’s brother-in-law but this story shows he was an accomplished comic book writer. Although Joe has indicated that Jack did a lot of writing for S&K we rarely can say which stories were his. In a future post I will discuss another Foxhole story that is credited to Oleck. At some time I will also write about a story not from Foxhole that Jack Oleck wrote.

Foxhole #3, Bob McCarty and Art Gates

Foxhole #3 had a new development, S&K started to provide a credit box. It really appears that even before this S&K would encourage their artists to sign their work. Well at least artist signatures were not unusual in Simon and Kirby productions. Credit boxes were something else and these appear in no other Simon and Kirby comics. Actually credits were rather unusual in the industry before the Silver Age of comics. There were some special exceptions such as Bob Kane for Batman (of course his credits was for work that was mostly ghosted by other artists). Even Simon and Kirby often got credits when working for Timely or DC. But these were special cases. Bob Kane’s credit was part of the deal he made with DC when he created Batman. While Simon and Kirby’s comics were so successful that their name alone could help sell a comic. Most artists at that time would never get such credit.

The credits now provided in Foxhole were not present to highlight the artist. In fact the credit box does not identify what the cited individual did. In some cases he was the artist, in others the writer. You cannot tell this from the credit box. The information the credit box does supply is what military service the individual had performed. The premise behind Foxhole was that the creators were actual veterans and these credits were used to show that this was actually true. Even so these Foxhole credits provide a window into contributors to Simon and Kirby productions that we may not otherwise have. As far as I know the artist Bob McCarty never signed any of his work for S&K. The credits in Foxhole was the only method I had to help identify his work. We know some of the writers that work for Simon and Kirby but generally we have no idea who did what. But Foxhole provides some stories written by one of them, Jack Oleck. Even more surprising we have some stories written (but not drawn) by Jack Kirby.

Foxhole #3
Foxhole Comics #3 (February 1955) “Chicken” page 3 art by Bob McCarty

You might think you know what to expect from a story with a title like “Chicken” in a war comic book. You would expect a story about bravery and overcoming fear during battle. But this is Foxhole and what you get is something else entirely. Instead we meet Mac, a soldier who has been fighting the Nazis for eighteen days and now finds himself close to Paris. His daydreams of a visit to that city seemed destroyed when he is told that they will not be going to Paris because they are going to let the French underground take it. A chance encounter with a guy in a jeep named Freddy leads Mac to go to Paris despite orders. Freddy tells Mac to ditch his stripes because it will be safer if M.P.s show up. Well Mac and Freddy have a great time in Paris; beer, girls, dancing, the works. That is until the M.P.s show up. But Mack and Freddy are not about to be taken in. They split up and Mac makes it back to his company. There he finds that he is about to go on another campaign. As he prepares Mac sees Freddy only to be surprised at who Freddy really is and we learn what the meaning of the title was.

I like Bob McCarty. He may not have a style as distinct as Draut, Meskin or Prentice but he draws a good story. He does not seem strong in artistic effects like the use of chiaroscuro but knows how to adjust his panel compositions so as to keep the story interesting. His lines are clean and sensitive with a flair and not dry. Simon and Kirby generally used good talent and Bob McCarty is no exception. The credits tell us that Bob served in the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force was part of the Army and not a separate branch of the military during the war.

Foxhole #3
Foxhole Comics #3 (February 1955) “Listen To Me, Sam” page 1 art by Art Gates

This is a story of Joey a young man who desires to revenge the death of his brother who was killed in Korea. Joey switches places with Sam who recently got his draft notice. Joey becomes a good soldier, so good in fact that he becomes a hero. Unfortunately for Sam this leads to deception being discovered.

Foxhole #3
Foxhole Comics #3 (February 1955) G.I. Yaks art by Art Gates

The credits tells us that Art Gates was a Field Correspondent for Yank Magazine. Yank Magazine’s motto was “written by the men… for the men in the service” Art is a bit of a surprise to me. His forte really seems to be gags comics. Yet he also is able, as “Listen To Me, Sam” shows, to draw standard comic book stories. I do not think there were many artists who like Art did both. Art also did some “realistic” pieces for some of Simon and Kirby’s romance comics but those were all very short, generally single page works.

Foxhole #2, Bill Draut, Jack Kirby and Another

Foxhole #2
Foxhole Comics #2 (December 1954) “Walkie-Talkie” page 3 by Bill Draut

The Commies cut a communication line and later kill the man sent to repair it. They then use the dead soldier’s walkie-talkie to contact the Americans pretending to be the soldier. The fake soldier reports that he is lost and will use the signal strength as a means of finding his way back to headquarters. Of course what the Commies are really doing is using this as a means of locating the American headquarters so that they can attack it.

Like he did in “The Replacement”, here Bill Draut uses an bird’s eye view at the start of the action before zooming in. I find this a very un-Kirby way of telling the story so I am convinced once again that Bill is not working from Kirby layouts. Another nicely done effort by Draut, particularly considering that the story is only three pages long.

Foxhole #2
Foxhole Comics #2 (December 1954) “Hot Box” page 1 by Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby only provided the covers for most issues of Foxhole. However for Foxhole #2 Jack penciled two of the stories. I previously discussed “Booby Trap”. The second Kirby contribution is “Hot Box” a real gem despite its short length of only two pages. What a splash panel! Despite it being a close-up, because of the head gear all you can see of the man are his eyes. Only part of the gun that he is firing is visible and we cannot see his target. But with the low angle viewpoint, the empty cartridges flying about and the effective use of perspective this is one of Kirby’s most exciting splashes. Jack keeps this sort of visual impact in each of the panels that follow. Only two pages, but Kirby makes the most of them. The story itself is rather simple. We are told that the plane was hit by flak during a raid. The aircraft was still flying but a fire had developed. The crew was trying to make it back but the effects from the fire was growing, hence the title for the story. Jack provides a dramatic end, it is almost another splash panel.

Jack Kirby did not draw many stories for Foxhole. Those that he did provide are just so incredible. I suspect that many artists would not give their best effort for such a short story as “Hot Box”. Jack on the other hand seemed to take this shortness as a challenge. He wanted to provide the all excitement of a fuller length story. I believe he was completely successful and that “Hot Box” was the best piece from Foxhole.

Foxhole #2
Foxhole Comics #2 (December 1954) “Dishonorable Discharge” page 1 by unidentified artist

“Dishonorable Discharge” seems a little out of place in Foxhole. For one thing most Foxhole stories are three to six pages long. If we discount Foxhole #7 (which was not a Simon and Kirby production) only “Dishonorable Discharge” is longer having ten pages. I do not know who the artist was but I do not think he did anything else for Foxhole or the other Mainline titles. Further the story itself seem more appropriate for a crime magazine then a war one.

The story takes place in ’36 and ’37 well before the U.S. entered the war. At the start we find Socker Bates doing deep sea diving for the navy. Socker wants to show a girl a good night on the town and he does, spending money like there was no tomorrow. Unfortunately it turns out he stole it from the navy paymaster. Socker is apprehended, sentenced to serve a year in prison and then given a dishonorable discharge. With his bad discharge, Socker has trouble finding work. Eventually he teams up with a down and out character who has a diving suit. Together they do salvage operations. A girl comes between them and Socker finds out that his partner is planning to run off with the girl and the money. That is until Socker Bates decides to take revenge.

Like I said it sounds more like crime genre then war. It is not even appropriate for Police Trap, Mainline’s crime comic. Police Trap focuses on the police angle not the criminal but the police are nowhere to be seen in “Dishonorable Discharge”. This story is so out of place for Mainline that I really do not believe that S&K had it made. Rather I suspect that S&K picked it up, probable at a bargain price, from some failed comic book line. Or perhaps from the artist when the story was rejected by its intended publisher. S&K did something similar when they bought some romance work from the failed publishing company of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. That romance work ended up in some of the Prize romance comics that S&K were producing at this same time. In any case “Dishonorable Discharge” is one the poorer efforts from the entire Foxhile comics.

Featured Cover, Mystery Men #10

Mystery Men #10
Mystery Men #10 (May 1940) by Joe Simon

I was pleasantly surprised by a gift I received not too long ago from my niece. It was a calendar with a pulp art theme. I had never mentioned to her any interest in pulp art. In fact it is area of Americana that I have not dealt with very much. Anyway the calendar had some great art and was much appreciated. Then while in a book store I spotted “Pulp Art” by Robert Lesser. Well I really have too many books and even with its great price I was reluctant to buy it. That was until I spotted the painting from The Mysterious Wu Fang (see image below). Then I could not resist it, after all now I could consider the book as part of my Simon and Kirby research.

Now there is are four years between these two publications. Did Joe pick up a copy at a used book store or had he kept a copy from when it first came out? Who can say, but there is little doubt that Joe liked the image.

But there was also an unexpected link. When I looked at caption to the illustration of this painting in Lesser’s book it said the original was from the Steranko collection. Seems like Jim and Joe have similar tastes.

The Mysterious Wu Fang
The Mysterious Wu Fang (March 1936) by Jerome Rozen from the book Pulp Art by Robert Lesser

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.

Foxhole #2, Jack Kirby and Bill Draut, A Comparison

Foxhole #2
Foxhole Comics #2 (December 1954) “Booby Trap” page 3 by Jack Kirby

Most Foxhole stories are very short yet they have no feeling of being rushed. Jack Kirby’s story, “Booby Trap” is only six pages long but look at page 3 where he spends four panels on the approach of a Korean farmhouse. What a masterpiece this page is. The distant view of the farmhouse with the troops safely concealed by trees. The silent but exposed crossing of the field. The arrival at the farmhouse and the preparation for the use of a grenade. Ending with a sudden reprieve and the revelation about the presence of a female civilian. Kirby is renown for his handling of action but on this page he shows he can also be the master of suspense. He does it so well that it is a side of Kirby that you wished he did more often. As for real action there is plenty of that to follow. But for Jack action is up close and personal. His soldiers are real warriors who fight with knives or hand-to-hand. Even when a rifle is fired it is not from a distance but so close that there will be no second try if the first does not hit its mark.

But a comment about page 3 is in order particularly since I am showing it out of context from the rest of the story. Today with our post-Mi Lai concern about non-combatant casualties the soldier who stopped the throwing of the grenade would be viewed as the hero and the grenade owner as being callous at best. But this is the ’50s and the rest of the story makes it abundantly clear that the man who stops the grenade attack is actually a screw-up who does not take sufficient care while in enemy territory. As the “real” hero says in the text from panel 4

We had to be sure about the place! But, that’s what grenades were for… to help make sure!

This is the equivalent of shoot first and ask questions later.

I do not know if Kirby actually wrote the script. My impression of how Jack worked at the time was he and Joe provided a plot outline to a writer. When the writer returned with a script that Kirby would draw Jack would then make whatever alterations that he saw fit. Certain phrasing used in the story seem pure Kirby to me. Such as this gem from the last panel of page 3:

A dame! First dame I seen in months.. and not bad!

So what! So what! You’ve got no time to ask her for the next waltz! We’re gonna give this place a fast shuffle!

Before leaving my discussion about “Booby Trap” perhaps I should point out that the B.A.R. referred to in the first panel of page 3 is short for Browning Automatic Rifle. The B.A.R. man is shown in that panel as the one on the left in the foreground. In the story this acronym is used without any explanation. They just assumed that the reader would be familiar with the term. Although the B.A.R. man would show up again in the story and we will get a better view of his rifle, we will never get to see him fire it.

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Foxhole Comics #2 (December 1954) “Replacement” page 3 by Bill Draut

From the same issue there is a story by Bill Draut that makes a good comparison piece to Kirby’s “Booby Trap”. “Replacement” is an even shorter work being only four pages long. In a previous discussion about Bill Draut I had commented that I thought Bill was a little uncomfortable with drawing action. I had come to that conclusion because in his early work Draut really did seem to have a little problem with things such as fight scenes. Most of the work that Bill did later was for romance comics and would not require action. But as this story shows (and at least one other in Police Trap) I was incorrect. Actually it should have been obvious that Bill would know how to handle action scenes, after all he served as a combat artist for the Marines during the war. His early shortcomings in this area probably was due to his then-inexperience in comic book art.

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Foxhole Comics #2 (Decemberr 1954) “Replacement” part of page 4 by Bill Draut

I am sure there will be those who say that the reason that Draut handled the fight scenes in this story so well was due to having worked from Kirby layouts. But I do not at all believe that to be the case. Kirby likes to handle fighting “up close and personal”. Even the advance on the farmhouse that is imaged at the start of the post is done as if the viewer was actually a part of the operation. Bill on the other hand gives a bird eye view of the fight before he zooms into the thick of things. To me these are two very different ways of telling the stories. In “Replacement” The fight does becomes hand-to-hand on the next page, but even there Draut’s technique seems very different then that used by Kirby. Everything indicates to me that this story was not done using Kirby layouts.

As for the writing, I do not find any of those “pure Kirby-isms” like I see in “Booby Trap” and so many other S&K stories drawn by Jack. I still believe that Jack and Joe were involved in the providing plots to their writers. That would explain why, despite all the different artists that worked for Simon and Kirby, their productions have their own unique flavor. But when the script returned from the writers, Kirby was more apt to re-write material he was going to pencil then he was for stories to be drawn by other artists.

There is something special about the fight scene presented by Bill. Notice that the last four panels have no text, and this actually extends to the first three panels of the next page. Such a sequence of panels without text was quite unusual at the time, I cannot thing of another S&K production that has one. Years later Jim Steranko would cause a bit of a stir when he did something similar over two pages. After Steranko this technique has become more common.

My purpose in comparing Bill Draut’s story with the Jack Kirby piece is to show differences in approach. It is not a rating of one artist over another. Such a comparison really would be unfair to Draut. After all there really are not many artist in the same league as Kirby. Actually the only one I consider an equal to Jack is Will Eisner. But I feel that stories such as “Replacement” show how really fine an artist Bill Draut was.