Category Archives: 2008/03

Kirby Kolors, Revisited

My post “Kirby Kolor, A Kirby Myth” from a few weeks ago recently triggered a far too acrimonious debate on the Kirby-list. The only thing I got out of it was that Greg Theakston, the main proponent of Kirby Kolors, has added a number of claims. So far there are three claims that Theakston has made that I find particularly remarkable:

  1. Kirby colored every cover that he inked.
  2. Kirby was the colorist for some of his Atlas work in Black Rider and the Yellow Claw.
  3. Kirby was the colorist for some of the Bulls-Eye reprints published by Super Comics in the 60’s.

I believe Jack inked a lot of his covers and judging by some of the volumes of “The Complete Jack Kirby” Theakston believes that as well. I therefore find it hard to reconcile the first claim with Joe Simon’s comment in the recent interview with Jim Amash that “We didn’t do any coloring. Once in a while we’d make a color guide for cover art”. As for the second claim, this was from the period when Jack had started freelancing. Color guides were done on silverprints made from the original art. This was before Xerox and the other photocopiers provided cheap and quick copies. The logistics of Kirby bringing his art into the office, returning days later to pick up the silverprints, and then returning once again with the completed color guides, well it all seems too much effort for the lower rates offered to colorists as compared to pencils. The third claim is very puzzling. The Super Comics reprints of Bulls-eye were not colored the same as the originals. It seems absurd that Kirby would accept the very low rates Waldman had to offer to provide color guides at the time when Jack along with Stan Lee were creating the Marvel universe and he was getting much better page rates. That Theakston insists on these claims indicates that his methodology for determining Kirby Kolors is seriously flawed to say the least. How could it be possible to judge his other Kirby Kolor attributions where such independent evidence is not available?

As I remarked in my previous post I feel there is a case to be made that four of the Foxhole covers may have been Kirby Kolors. Unfortunately those cover are so different from any other comics that I do not see a way to use them to help recognize any other coloring that Kirby may have done. Simon’s interview statement suggests that like many myths there may be a core of truth to Kirby Kolors. However I do not believe there is enough evidence from the Simon and Kirby period to provide guidance to that effort to find that truth. Evidence that my previous post’s theme of the canals of Mars indicates is required. Perhaps someday an intrepid scholar will be able to found a way around this conundrum but at this time it escapes me.

Joe Simon Interview and Captain America

As many of my readers probably already know, there is a lengthy interview of Joe Simon conducted by Jim Amash in the latest issue of Alter Ego (#76). I am sure it is the longest Simon interview ever published and it is filled with information that Joe has never previously revealed. In short it is the best Joe Simon interview ever, by a long shot. What I particularly appreciate is how Amash has managed to reveal the real Joe Simon, at least as I know him. Joe is a natural and entertaining story teller and that is a side no other interviewer has ever managed to bring out. My hat is off to Jim Amash, great job!

Captain America Comics #1
Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) “The Riddle of the Red Skull” page 13, art by Jack Kirby

The interview is accompanied by lots of great art, although on that subject I am certainly biased. Long time readers of this blog will already have been familiar with some of it but it is nice to see even those in print. There is an image I would like to comment on, one from the Captain America #1 described as “a photocopy of the original art”. Technically that is a completely accurate description, but nonetheless I fear that it might be misleading. I wish I could say that Joe still had any original art from Cap #1; it would be quite valuable today. I am pretty confident that all the actual art from Captain America #1 has been forever lost. The source of the Alter Ego image was a flat that Joe did save. The term flat may confuse some because Joe uses it in the interview as a name for magazines printed on non-glossy paper. In the context that I am using it now, a flat is a proof made during the construction of a comic. It is an image of four pages of the comic book arranged as they will be printed on a single sheet of paper. The images of each of the four pages were made from the original art without any colors. As such, flats are the next best thing to the long perished original art. Obviously both Joe and Jack must have known that there was something special about Captain America #1 because they both saved flats from that issue and that issue alone. Joe’s collection does not contain any other flats until some of those published in making Mainline comics (from 1954). In the sixties Jack sold his Cap #1 flats to Marvel for use in their reprint “Captain America, the Classic Years.” Those flats have been the basis for all the reprints Marvel has made since of the first issue of Captain America. Since modern printing technology is much superior to that used at the time for publishing Captain America #1, you can see better reproductions of the line art by purchasing one of Marvel’s reprint today then you would get by spending thousands of dollars for an original issue.

Some Obscure Simon and Kirby

Jack Kirby was released from military service earlier then Joe Simon. Jack returned to providing work for DC features such as Sandman and the Newsboy Legion. I do not know the date for Jack’s release from service but the comics provide some clues. Simon and Kirby had previously worked hard to provide DC with material to use while they were away. However it was not quite sufficient and other artists would be used to continue their features. This is most clearly seen in the covers for Adventure Comics. Adventure #98 (June 1945) and #99 (August) have covers that are clearly not by Jack while Adventure #100 (October) has a Kirby cover. Covers can be created with little delay especially by an artist like Jack, but stories require a script (even if Kirby would often pretty much redo it). The earliest post-war Kirby DC stories to appear were in Adventure #102 and Star Spangled #53 (both February 1946). That suggests that there was a gap of a few months where Jack was not getting much income other then whatever royalties that DC was providing.

Picture News #1
Picture News #1 (January 1946) “You Can’t Loose A Faithful Dog” page 4, art by Jack Kirby

The desire to produce some extra income may explain why Kirby’s earliest post-war interior art was provided for Lafayette Street Corporation’s comic Picture News. It is a short four page story about a dog that escapes while being transported to his owners’ new home and then travels 2300 miles back to their previous house. It is not much of a story. It starts with a two thirds of a page splash, but that is just a map showing the distance the dog traveled and does not offer much as a showcase for Jack’s talent. The next two pages use four panels to a page. This was a format that Jack had used for a time at the very start of his comic book career but had later largely abandoned for first eight and then later six panel pages. During that time Kirby might revert to four panels when he wanted provide more details. Sadly that is not the case for this story where often the art looks like it could have worked just as well in smaller panels. The best page is the last where Jack provides a splash like ending. The story is such that it seems Jack adhered closely to someone else’s script. Perhaps without Joe around he did not feel confident enough to modify it. Or perhaps Kirby just could not see what could be done to improve it while remaining faithful to the true story that it was supposed to be based on. Kirby inked the art himself and normally that should have assured superior results. The inking style is a simplified version as that previously used at DC. As such it could be called a Proto-Severe Style. For example note how in the final splash-like panel the boy’s clothing folds have the simple form typically found in Kirby’s Severe Style. However also see how the spotting on the little girl’s dress which is more similar to that from S&K’s DC period. Despite the fact that the art is all by Jack, neither the drawing nor the inking truly rescues this piece. “You Can’t Loose a Faithful Dog” may have an historical interest as an example of Jack without Joe, but it is otherwise a rare example of an all too forgettable work by Kirby. Even a genius does not always produce great art.

Real Fact #1
Real Fact #1 (March 1946) art by Jack Kirby (parachutist and Jean Laffite)

Although I believe that the story in Picture News #1 was done by Jack before Joe had returned, I doubt if that was true with Real Fact #1 (for DC). Stuntman #1 would come out just one month later and Joe was certainly involved with that. The need to recuperate financially after his military service probably explains Jack’s involvement in Real Fact as well. For the cover Jack did the parachutist and the image of Jean Laffite, the other images was by other artists. It may not be a masterpiece, but the simple figure of the airborne forest ranger is surprisingly effective. Not much action but Jack portrays the moment before the jumper pulls his release pin and just the thought of the soon to be billowing parachute adds a little bit of excitement. The inking is Jack’s as well in a style similar to earlier DC works. Here Kirby’s spotting does succeed in adding to the image’s impact; Jack did a beautiful inking job.

Real Fact #1
Real Fact #1 (March 1946) “The Rocket Lanes Of Tomorrow”, art by Jack Kirby

I wonder if the original readers of this comic appreciated the irony of a piece like “The Rocket Lanes of Tomorrow” appearing in a book called Real Fact? Still it provided an opportunity for Kirby to return to the realm of science fiction. Unfortunately it is not very exciting stuff, but perhaps I am just comparing it with the fantastic machines that Jack created much later. Judging largely by the cloth folds of the flying couple, the inking appears to be Jack’s. The next page has some men in space suits inked in a manner very similar to how Kirby handled similar costumes at the start of his comic book career.

Real Fact #1
Real Fact #1 (March 1946) “Pirate Or Patriot?”, art by Jack Kirby

At this point readers maybe wondering what happen to Jack, the works presented so far in this post just do not seem to have the typical Kirby impact. Well “Pirate or Patriot?” shows that Kirby had not lost his touch. Although a short four pages, this story provides the type of excitement that would appear in Simon and Kirby’s crime comics a year later. No qualifications about Kirby’s art here, it is all first rate stuff. Look at that splash panel, the composition was exciting enough when it was used for the cover of Daring Mystery #8 (January 1942) but Kirby has improved upon it. By providing a low viewpoint, so low that all the feet are at eye level, the advancing force seems more heroic. The perspective also allows the figure of Jack Laffite to be larger then his companions without seeming unnatural. Jack inked the piece himself and he did a superb job. Some of the clothing folds have the simple forms that would later appear in the Severe Style. Another page provides an early appearance of an abstract arch (see Inking Glossary for an explanation for inking terms used here). There are no signs yet of picket fence crosshatching or drop strings. For the most part the spotting is closest to what is found in prior works for DC. I doubt that we will ever see a DC Archive for Real Fact Comics, but “Pirate or Patriot?” certainly deserves to be rescued from obscurity.

Simon and Kirby would do a couple of other pieces for Real Fact Comics which I will discuss next week.

Captain 3-D #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirby Museum Post Original Art from Captain 3-D

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

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

Joe Simon and the NY Comic Con

I am happy to report that Joe Simon will appear at the New York Comic Con on Saturday, April 19. Joe will be at the Abrams booth signing Mark Evanier’s new book “Kirby King of Comics”. The last convention that Joe has attended was the 2006 Comic Con.

Red Raven Contest

The contest is over, so if you have not received my email (or if your initials are not GS) I am sorry to say you did not win. Please do not be discouraged, the number of contestants that respond to my contests are surprisingly small so those who do enter have good odds.

Captain 3D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wide Angle Scream, More Pinups

Boys� Ranch #4
Boys’ Ranch #4 (April 1951) “King Red Eye’s Last Raid” art by Jack Kirby
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A rampaging grizzly bear, escaping horses, a kicking mule, and the scrambling youngsters of Boys’ Ranch make this image one of chaos. That is except for the firm figure of Clay Duncan as he calmly aims his rifle to make the most of his shot, probably the only one that he will manage to get off. Although the scene is supposed to be chaotic, the composition is anything but that. The mule, boys and Duncan form a broad ‘U’ shape with the bear occupying the center. Each element that forms that ‘U’ directs our attention toward the grizzly. The bald eagle might seem out of place in the portrayed scene. We would not expect the eagle to have been sleeping among the crew and there certainly would seem to be enough Americana in the picture without it. But its does serve the purpose of balancing off the caption on the opposite side of the splash. All in all a carefully composed image not at all like the true chaos found in last month’s splash “Social Night In Town” but every bit as great a piece of art.

Before I continue, I would like to offer a little digression. In 1972 I lived for a short time in Denver. One weekend I went out into the front range of the Rockies to collect fossils. The weather was dry and my original plans were to roll out the sleeping bag and spend the night under the stars. However the area I was in was cattle country and there were absolutely no trees. I found that the cattle liked to visit my car so that they could use it to rub against. I did not relish the possibility of one of them stepping on me while I slept, so I spent the night in the backseat of the car. When I returned to Denver I heard on the radio that a bear had killed some cattle only a few miles from where I was. I felt that I was pretty lucky since the cattle congregating around my car could have easily attracted the bear and had I been outside he may have found me a much easier prey. After a few weeks of killing cattle the bear was finally shot, he was the largest bear killed in Colorado in over 25 years.

Boys� Ranch #5
Boys’ Ranch #5 (June 1951) “The Riders of the Pony Express” art by Jack Kirby
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The Pony Express rider runs his horse at full speed as he tries to escape some attacking Indians. The horse seems frantic but the rider appears almost casual with his rifle held over his shoulder. A trail of smoke exits from the gun barrel showing that the rider has already fired it once and will surely do so again if necessary. There is no question about the unpleasant intent of the Indians but the Pony Express rider seems in control of the situation. The Indians are not trailing behind the rider so they appear to have been trying to cut him off. It makes for an interesting composition with the farthest Indian almost at the center with nearer natives placed increasingly towards our right with the Pony Express rider bring the movement back towards the left. That is not the only way the eye is directed, an overhanging rock formation and some tree branches form an oval with all the riders. The caption rests comfortably on the right portion of the rocky arch. It is truly amazing the variations that are found in these wide pinups, each have their unique composition.

Boys� Ranch #6
Boys’ Ranch #6 (August 1951) “Remember the Alamo” art by Jack Kirby
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Clay Duncan enthralls his friends while spending the night out in the prairie with tales of the heroics of the defenders of the Alamo. The lower half of the splash depicts the cast of the Boys’ Ranch while the upper half portrays a dramatic battle. What a battle it is, fully in the Kirby tradition. Gun play takes a decidedly second place to hand to hand combat. This is not an all-over composition like we saw in “Social Night in Town”. A large figure occupies the center separating a left portion of large, mostly Mexican, figures from a right field where the large fallen Mexican figures reveal smaller fighters and a building behind. It would almost seem that the Texans were winning the battle! The only Texan that appears to be in immediate trouble is one in the right background who holds his hands to his face. Of course the Texan success could only be true for a relatively short time before they would succumb to the overwhelming numbers of their opponents. The hard struggle they have had up to this point is suggested by the head bandage and torn costume of our central fighter. He, and two others, one on each side, are obviously frontiersmen. I am tempted to identify the center figure as Jim Bowie because of the large knife he welds, mostly out of the frame. Also tempting would be to identify the wearer of a coon-skin hat as Davy Crockett except that there are two of them. Note how the one on the right brandishes his rifle in the same matter that Crockett does on the cover to Western Tales #32 (March 1956). The central figure’s outfit visually links him to the similarly garbed Clay Duncan below but more importantly suggests a common heroic nature. What a shift from the drama above to the quiet scene below. The members of the Boys’ Ranch are bunched up in the center with backdrops of rock formations and night sky. A lone horse is seen on our right compositionally balancing the caption that appears on the opposite side of the splash. The horse should be unsaddled for the night but a shoe horn and stirrups can be seen but not the rest of the saddle. It is the sort of thing I would expect from Jack, but not from Joe who rode a horse in the Coast Guard. It is however a minor and easy to overlook flaw.

Often the inspiration for Simon and Kirby creations can be found in cinema of the period. Jack and Joe were both of the age that they likely saw the movie “Heroes of the Alamo” but that was released in 1937 and thus does not explain the appearance of the Alamo theme at this particular time. Alamo movies and TV shows became more popular a few years later starting with “The Man from the Alamo” (1953), then “The Last Command” (1955), “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” (1955), “The First Texan” (1956) and pretty much ending with “The Spirit of the Alamo” (1960). The “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” is particularly important as it was part of the made for TV series that Disney produced about Davy Crockett that started a craze among young boys. Afterwards the Alamo largely disappeared from popular culture. At least part of this can be blamed on a shift in social attitudes; one of the freedoms the Texan’s were fighting for was the right to own slaves. Another attempt at the theme was done in 2004 with the film “The Alamo” but it did not achieve much success.

It would not be possible for me to overemphasize what a successful piece of art I think “Remember the Alamo” is. The combination of the action and quiet scenes was done so well it is easy to overlook how unnatural it really should have been. It is arguably the best of the double page pinups from the Boys’ Ranch titles and one of Simon and Kirby’s greatest creations. With the end of the Boys’ Ranch title wide pinups or splashes would disappear from S&K publications for the next few years. For Simon and Kirby it was a relatively quiet period with only one new title, Strange World of Your Dreams in 1952. This was followed by a flurry of new comics starting with Captain 3D (December 1953). The wide format’s small part of the activity will be covered in the next chapter.

Kirby Kolor, A Kirby Myth

Foxhole #2
Foxhole #2 (December 1954), art by Jack Kirby

Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, an Italian astronomer and a careful observer, drew maps of Mars in the early 20th century. Surprisingly they showed straight lines crossing the surface. Later the American Percival Lowell repeated and improved on Schiaparelli’s observations. These linear lines were called canals. Some used the term just as a convenience while others felt that they really were artificial water conduits. The maps these scientists drew would be used in textbooks until the robotic probes arrived to provide high resolution photographs. These photographs showed that not only were there no artificial canals on Mars, the linear features mapped by Schiaparelli and Lowell could not be found at all.

When prehistoric cave wall paintings were discovered in France and Spain they posed a significant dating problem. Because they existed on walls, the usual dating techniques of archeologists could not be applied. After much study, some scientists proposed a relative chronology based on the art style. Basically crude paintings and engravings were considered the oldest remains, paintings only using black followed, and then color art with more complicate perspectives were considered as done in the final period. Not everyone agreed with the proposal, but to most scientists it seemed very reasonable. However in the 1990’s some new caves were discovered which could be dated accurately. The art made use of color and perspective that by the old scheme would have put it in the final period. Surprising the dating showed the art was created from a very early period instead.

I could provide further examples where reputable experts have made observations that in the end were shown to be completely false. You would think that experts would dispel false claims, not generate them. What gives? Humans, and that includes experts, have an amazing ability to recognize patterns. No computer has ever been able to match man in this capability. Unfortunately there is one important flaw in our skill; we find patterns even when none exist. This has been scientifically demonstrated over and over. People will find patterns in randomly generated numbers, or even flips of a coin. People are particularly susceptible to false patterns when they already suspect they are there. This is why Percival Lowell was able to “confirm” Giovanni Schiaparelli’s Martian canals. Experts are as prone to this difficulty as anyone else. But how can one distinguish between valid patterns and false ones? What is needed is independent evidence. Without such evidence, all “observed” patterns should be treated with skepticism.

Foxhole #3
Foxhole #3 (February 1955), art by Jack Kirby

It is just that sort of skepticism that is called for on the subject of Kirby Kolors. This is a belief, shared by a surprising number of experts, that they can identify those stories and covers where Jack Kirby was the colorist. To date none of these experts have ever offered anything to back up their claims. The only justification advanced was the numerous works by Kirby they had studied. The only explanation as to what they looked for was vague talk of some colors such as salmon that Jack is said to have preferred.

In order to dispel these mysteries and arrive at an understanding of the true nature of Kirby Kolors, it is best to begin with a review of how comic book colors were created in those days. Comics, just like almost all color publications, were printed using CMYK inks. CMYK stands for the colors used; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK. Combining different amounts of these inks can provide a very wide range of colors. Inks are actually printed as pure colors but the perception of gradients is created by printing small dots that cover varying amounts of the paper. At that time comic books were printed on rather primitive presses where the low printing costs were more important then color accuracy. Therefore most coloring was done using fixed measures for each of the CMY inks; 0%, 25%, 50% and 100%. Theoretically it would be possible to include 75% as well but that measure was rarely used for comic book publication, I suspect that with the crude printing presses it would frequently fill in and become indistinguishable from 100%. Note that I indicated the comic color palette was formed by three inks (CMY) and I did not include K. Black is theoretically redundant; it can be made by using 100% of the three other inks (CMY). However inks are not perfect; mixing CMY inks does not usually create a rich black so a separate black ink is generally used instead. The black ink could also be used in the three different gradients but doing so does not actually generate any new colors since the various grays that are formed can also made with gradients of CMY inks. With three basic inks (CMY) and four gradients (0%, 25%, 50%, 100%) it is possible to create at most 48 distinct colors. Actually colorists usually did not use the entire palette, some would be considered too muddy. Ted Klein has a blog entry showing what he used to use for his coloring work. What is important is that the comic book colorist had a very limited set of colors to choose from. With all the comics that the abundant colorists worked on, there is can be no doubt that every color in the comic palette would have been used by numerous colorists. Pick any color from an old comics and a careful search through enough comics will show that a single artist would not likely be responsible for all of that color’s use. The idea that Kirby’s color guides can be identified by the use of salmon (50% Magenta) makes no sense. Salmon color can be found in a number of comics that Jack Kirby had no involvement with.

Chess has a small number of pieces yet they can be used to produce an incredible number of possible games. It is not a perfect analogy, but it does suggest that rather then trying to use a single color to identify a colorist you might be able to do so by identifying how different combinations of colors are employed. The more combinations that are used the more likely you could uniquely identify a colorist. The trick then becomes attaching certain color patterns to a particular artist. Unfortunately throughout the period of the Simon and Kirby collaboration comics did not provide credits identifying any of the colorist. Even afterwards when credits became more common, Jack Kirby was never identified as the colorist for any published comic book work. For such a prolific artist, there are surprisingly small numbers of colored works by Kirby. Most of the coloring Kirby did was for proposals and not actual comics and came after better printing methods were adopted and the older limited comic palette was abandoned. Joe Simon did do a lot of color work for the covers of Sick, however those covers were printed with the better printing presses used for standard magazines and therefore were not based on color guides nor did they use the limited comic book color palette.

Foxhole #4
Foxhole #4 (April 1955), art by Jack Kirby

Since there are no comic credits or color guides examples that can provide support of the Kirby Kolor notion, what about evidence provided by people who worked with Jack? Well there is such evidence but it is not supportive of this myth. Joe Simon has stated that in the deal Simon and Kirby struck with Prize Comics, they were responsible for putting together all the art of a comic and it was up to Prize to do handling the publication aspect. When asked about who did the color guides, Joe would always answer that was the publisher’s job. This means that all the financial burdens of producing the comic art fell on Joe and Jack. Simon and Kirby would only recover their expenses by their share of the profits when the issue was released. Under this arrangement the idea that Jack would proceed to create color guides without getting paid for it seems a bit ludicrous.

Foxhole #5
Foxhole #5 (July 1955), art by Jack Kirby

Most of what Simon and Kirby did after the war was for Prize comics, but not all of the it. Of particular interest for Kirby Kolors are the comics published by Mainline. Mainline was Joe and Jack’s own comic company and therefore at some level they were responsible for having color guides made. That is not to say Joe or Jack personally created the color guides, if Joe’s attitude about coloring is any example they probably handed this task to someone else. Simon’s collection still has a few color guides for some stories from a later period. When I asked him if he had done the coloring Joe replied that although he might at times color a cover he would never do so for a story. This remark has particular interest because of four extraordinary covers for Foxhole, a title started by Mainline and finished by Charlton. The coloring used on these four covers are very unusual, I do not recall every seeing anything like them elsewhere. Although the line art is incredible, the coloring plays an important part of what makes these four covers so successful. The Foxhole cover coloring is so good that one could suspect that they were not done by any ordinary colorist but could be the work of either Jack or Joe. These are the only examples where the myth of Kirby Kolors may have some validity, even then only if the bias is adopted that if it was artistically good Jack must have done it. Considering how much color work Joe has done later in his career and how little Jack did, this does not seem like a reasonable assumption. Even so, acceptance of the Foxhole covers as Kirby Kolors would not form the foundation for finding other examples, the dramatic coloring of the covers are not found anywhere else in the Simon and Kirby oeuvre, including the Foxhole interior stories.

I am not naive enough to believe that this post means the end of Kirby Kolors. Kirby fans are so enthusiastic that some want to credit Jack with whatever successes they can. Fans find support for these efforts from comic book experts. The experts in turn are so absorbed in finding connections and patterns in comic books that they fail to recognize the lesson of the canals of Mars.