Category Archives: 2010/02

Vagabond Prince, “The Madness of Doctor Altu”

Simon and Kirby Blog
Black Cat #8 (November 1947) “The Madness of Doctor Altu” page 3, art by Joe Simon

As I mentioned in a previous Vagabond Prince post (“Trapped on Wax“) the origin story was meant for Boy Explorers #2 issue but not published. Joe Simon drew two other Vagabond Prince stories. It may seem odd that Joe would produce stories that were not meant to be published for another four months (Boy Explorers was a bimonthly) but Joe was not the only artist doing that.

Jack Kirby drew three Stuntman stories that were never published. Each started with a double page splash. Such wide splashes were only used as the centerfold of the comic so this meant that Jack had drawn the stories for six months after what turned out to be the last Stuntman. Two of the splashes were completely inked while the spotting had not been finished on the third. The outlines of all three stories were inked but without any spotting. Because the inking was never finished none of these stories were ever published. Titan’s upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes volume will publish one of them for the first time.

Bill Draut was another artist that produced stories ahead of publication. Draut drew four Red Demon stories none of which were published in either Stuntman or Boy Explorers. That has led me to believe that there might have been a third intended Simon and Kirby title that got cancelled before it was even launched (Bill Draut’s Demon). The Red Demon was published later in Black Cat Comics but the fact that the origin story was the third published shows that the stories were inventory and not originally created for that title.

Harvey Comic’s lack of concern with the original order of the inventoried stories shows up with Vagabond Prince as well. The second story, “The Madness of Doctor Altu” ended up being the last one published. It is clear that the Doctor Altu story was meant for Boy Explorers #3 because it was announced as such at the end of the “Trapped on Wax” story (which should have appeared in Boy Explorers #2).

Joe purposely adopted Jack Kirby’s art style in the Vagabond Prince. None of them were signed, but if they had been I am sure it would have been with a Simon and Kirby signature. After all that is what Joe did for some Boy Commando stories that he did while in the Coast Guard and it is also what Jack did when he returned from military service before Joe did. Of course Joe could not perfectly adopt Jack’s style; no one could handle perspective or a fight sequences quite like Kirby. Still “The Madness of Doctor Altu” has some superb art. Note the dramatic perspective Joe uses in the first panel from page 3. And while Simon may not been quite as good as Kirby, Joe still can provides some great fight scenes. One fight scene was even swiped by Jack Kirby many years later (Kirby Swipes from Simon) a rare instance of Jack swiping from another comic book artist.

It is not just the art that makes Vagabond Prince such a great feature, it is also the story. Joe’s plot for the Doctor Altu story takes an unusual twist concerning the man saved by the heroes at the start of the story. I will forego being more explicit for fear of spoiling it for any my readers that have not yet read the story, but fear not it will also be included in Titan’s upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes. Like “Trapped on Wax”, this plot concerns the Vagabond Prince protection of the poor. It is an example of the cultural wars between the elite and the downtrodden, although appropriately exaggerated for use in a comic.

Doctor Altu is an example of a long haired villain by Simon and Kirby. I previously posted about another one, Professor Enric Zagnar from a Vision story (Featured Story, The Vision from Marvel Mystery #25). Marty Erhart commented about two others: the Fiddler from “Horror Plays the Scales” (The Wide Angle Scream, Captain America #7) and Mister Goodly the warden from Star Spangled #11 (The Beginnings of the Newsboy Legion). I wonder if the post-Beatle generations can truly appreciate the antagonism that most American’s at that time felt about men with such hair. Calling someone a “long haired intellectual” was by no means a compliment.

Next week the final Vagabond Prince story, “Death-Trap De Luxe”.

More Kirby Krackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vagabond Prince, “Trapped On Wax”

Trapped on Wax
“Trapped on Wax”, art by Joe Simon

Just about everything Simon and Kirby produced was great stuff but I am sure most fans have their favorites. Previously the only superhero work I included among my favorite Simon and Kirby productions was Fighting American. Well that has changed as I now add Vagabond Prince. There are only three Vagabond Prince stories and they were all drawn by Joe Simon. Even Joe admits he is not as good an artist as Jack Kirby, but I like Joe’s art and there are other aspects of the characters he created and the stories he wrote that makes Vagabond Prince so appealing to me.

Trapped On Wax
“Trapped on Wax” page 7 panel 1, art by Joe Simon with touch-up by Jack Kirby

The origin story for the Vagabond Prince, “Trapped on Wax”, has never been published in its entirety. The marking on the artwork shows that the story was initially meant for Boy Explorers #2. However that title was abruptly cancelled (as was its companion title Stuntman) because of the flood of new comic titles that occurred after paper rationing was lifted so that many of the titles never even made it into the actual newsstands racks. Harvey issued a black ink only version of Boy Explorers #2 for subscribers but that was not only much reduced in size but also in the amount of content. Not only did Vagabond Prince fail to be included in the small Boy Explorers #2 but it was never later printed in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Black Cat comics like most of the art left over from the cancelled Stuntman and Boy Explorers. The reason “Trapped on Wax” was not printed later was because the art was not finished. Initially the entire story was completely inked but apparently some sections were unsatisfactory. The art was done on two ply illustration board. The term “two ply” refers to the fact that there are actually two layers of surfaces suitable for use. A razor was used to cut around the parts that needed changing and the first ply was carefully pealed off. The newly exposed second ply was penciled and the outlines inked, however the full spotting was never done. You can see the results of one such unfinished correction in a panel from page 7 shown above. Observe the simple outline of the man standing in the background. Although the man of the right, the hero, was fully spotted some additional changes were being done, in this case by Jack Kirby. I wrote about this and some other changes in one of my earliest blog posts (Simon and Kirby as Editors). Because the art for “Trapped on Wax” was not finished it was still in Simon and Kirby’s possession. Joe has said to me that material published in Green Hornet, Joe Palooka and Black Cat was used without their permission. Even though only comparitively little effort would have been needed to complete “Trapped on Wax”, Simon and Kirby never would finish it.

Having escaped publication by Harvey Comics, “Trapped on Wax” was included in “Simon & Kirby Classics published by Pure Imagination in 1987. Only at that point page 9 was missing. Joe wrote a new script for the missing page and Jack penciled new art; this would be the last Simon and Kirby collaboration. This was an interesting approach to provide a complete story but since the new page was done 40 years after the original work it was not a completely satisfactory arrangement. Fortunately in the meantime someone had sent Joe a printout of the original art for the missing page 9 and Titan will be publishing the complete story for the first time in the upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes volume.

Humor was an important component of all of Simon and Kirby’s superhero work. However the humor was generally not directed at the hero until Joe and Jack did Fighting American (Fighting With Humor). For instance most of the humor in Stuntman was at the expense of Fred Drake (who might be described as an unknowing sidekick for Stuntman). But in Vagabond Prince the hero, Ned Oaks, is often made fun of. Not only does he make a living writing outrageously bad poetry but he sometimes seems quite clueless, as can be seen when the villains of “Trapped on Wax” first meet him:

Ned Oaks: Gentlemen, I welcome you to my domicile as a flower would great a gentle ray of sun!

Henchmen thinking: Zowie! He’s buggy all right!

Even his sidekick considers Ned Oaks a little nutty. Considering the humor I cannot help but wonder if the Vagabond Prince’s costume was purposely a little goofy.

One of the unique characteristics of the hero for Vagabond Prince is that he actually is rather poor. In “Trapped on Wax” we find him living in a run down cottage. In later stories we will see him residing in a tenement. Not only is Ned Oaks poor, but the people he defends in the stories are generally poor as well.

Next week, “The Madness of Doctor Altu”

Kirby Krackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures of the Fly, the Second Issue

Adventures of the Fly #2
Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “Tim O’Casey’s Wrecking Crew”, pencils by unidentified artist

If a young boy can be transformed into a fully costumed adult superhero with a magic ring, why not have a leprechaun as an opponent? Not strange enough? Well then give the leprechaun some giant robots to play with. The only thing missing in this delightful story is Jack Kirby. Too bad because I am sure Jack would have added his own personal touches and transformed it into a masterpiece.

Adventures of the Fly #2
Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “One of Our Skyscrapers is Missing” page 3, pencils by Al Williamson

Al Williamson was already a talented comic artist when he did “One of Our Skyscrapers is Missing” for this issue. And I have little doubt that he did this story. The various monsters that inhabit these pages all possess the Williamson touch. If Williamson was working from layouts, he took great liberties with them. His panel layouts are the most interesting ones found in either the Shield or the Fly. Further his artwork is far superior to the other artists working on the Archie superheroes that I have reviewed so far with the sole exception of Jack Kirby. That said the art for this story is really far below his best efforts. The work Al did for Race for the Moon the previous year was much superior.

Adventures of the Fly #2
Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “Sneak Attack”, pencils by Joe Simon

“Sneak Attack” is another of the pieces that generally get attributed to Jack Kirby but were actually drawn by Joe Simon. The reason for this misattribution is a credit to Joe’s skills at mimicking Jack’s style, often with the help of plenty of swipes. The pilot with the funny head gear was swiped from Kirby’s “Hot Box” (Foxhole #2). However it shows that Joe is not just copying Kirby as the head is in full frontal view instead of the 3/4 profile that Jack drew.

Adventures of the Fly #2
Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “Marco’s Eyes”, pencils by Jack Kirby
Larger Image

It is an old theme, but Kirby frequently returns to previous themes and improves upon them. In this case it is the idea of a stage performer using his power of hypnosis as a means of conducting crime. The earliest predecessor was probably an untitled story about sometimes called “Sando and Omar” from Captain America #1 (March 1941). “Marco’s Eyes” has some nice art and all in all a good effort, but certainly not among the better Simon and Kirby’s work. The double page splash is perhaps the weakest that S&K ever did. This is unfortunate since it is also the last the two would work on together.

Adventures of the Fly #2
Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “The Master of Junk-Ri-La”, pencils by Jack Kirby

While I would hardly call “The Master of Junk-Ri-La a masterpiece, it is a much better work than “Marco’s Eyes”. It does however contain some humor that might not be appreciated by many modern superhero fans used to bleaker tales. For instance the villain uses a giant fly swatter against the Fly.

The two stories in Adventures of the Fly #2 would be the last collaboration between Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for many years. The Jack Kirby Checklist includes “Muggy’s Masterpiece” from Adventures of the Fly #4 but that is clearly incorrect. Even the way the Archie superheroes were created made them more of a Simon effort than a Kirby one. Still the two had worked together in one form or another for a period of about 18 years. There may have been other comic book collaborations that were longer but there were none there were better. Or at least that is my opinion. But I may be biased; after all this is the Simon and Kirby Blog.

Since this is Kirby’s last work on the Fly I thought I would briefly touch on the part that it played in the creation of Spider-Man. Others have written in great depths about this issue but here I will only provide a brief outline of the events. Joe Simon, C. C. Beck and Jack Oleck got together in 1953 or 1954 to create a new superhero. Initially the name Spiderman was considered and Joe even created a logo using that name, but in the end the character was called the Silver Spider. Joe took the initial artwork by Beck and pitched the idea to Harvey Comics but they declined to publish it. Years later Archie Comics approached Simon to create some new superheroes and Joe came up with a new Shield and the Fly. Joe retrieved Beck’s Silver Spider art work from Harvey and sent it off to Jack to use as reference when he drew most of the art for the initial issues published in 1959. In 1962 Stan Lee worked initially with Kirby to create Spider-Man but in the end turned to Steve Ditko to provide the art. The work that Kirby did on Spider-Man has never been published but Ditko later described Kirby’s version as looking like the Fly.

The main source of contention about the creation of Spider-Man concerns not so much the history as the interpretation of that history. The most common subject of disagreement is whether Stan Lee and Steve Ditko should be considered the joint creators or if Jack Kirby should be included as well. While I have provided a broad history behind the creation of Spider-Man that I believe most comic scholars would largely accept there are numerous details that scholars seem unable to agree on. Even as simple a concept as the term creator turns out to have very different meanings depending on who is using it. I will not try to advance my own opinion as to who should be credited for creating Spider-Man. I prefer to let each reader come to their own conclusions. But I find it incomprehensible how some insist on crediting Jack Kirby as a Spider-Man creator while excluding Joe Simon.

Adventures of the Fly, the First Issue

Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “The Strange New World of the Fly”, pencils by Jack Kirby

Recently I posted about Jack Kirby’s work on the origin story of Private Strong, aka the Shield. In Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) Jack also had the honors of doing the same for the other new Archie hero, the Fly. Only in this case Kirby based the story on art that C. C. Beck did for the unpublished Silver Spider. Some have called the Silver Spider a Simon and Kirby creation but that simply is not true. Kirby had nothing to do with the Silver Spider which was a creation of Joe Simon, C. C. Beck and Jack Oleck. When I previously discussed the Silver Spider (The End of Simon & Kirby, Chapter 10, A Fly in the Mix) I dated this creation as 1953. To be honest I no longer remember where I got that date but it is not an unreasonable one. This would put it during the time of the Simon and Kirby collaborations but in “The Comic Book Maker” Joe writes about how the Silver Spider was created as a favor to Beck. An examination of xerox copies of the original art confirms Kirby’s absence.

Tommy Troy was an orphan like Lancelot Strong but the resemblance ends there. We meet Tommy in an orphanage but he ends up hired out to an elderly couple. Not kindly Kent-like farmers, but a mean, elderly couple with a reputation of dabbling in magic. Beck’s Silver Spider story had included a genie to add an element of humor, but Kirby has dispensed with him. However concept of a young boy who transforms into an adult superhero was Beck’s who repeated it from Captain Marvel.

Adventures of the Fly #1
Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “The Fly Strikes”, pencils by Joe Simon

Just like in Private Strong, the origin story for the Fly is actually told in a series of separate stories. The first one ends with the Tommy Troy being given a magic ring and transforming into the Fly. The second, “The Fly Strikes”, tells of the Fly’s first combat against criminals. This second story is actually based on the end of the origin story that Beck drew.

“The Fly Strikes” is generally credited to Jack Kirby but I am not convinced. I suspect that it is another case of Joe Simon swiping from and imitating Kirby. Joe was particularly good at doing this. Note the Fly peering into the window in the second story panel. This is a swipe from Fighting American #1 (Captain America Returns). I have no indications that Kirby was working from layouts in the stories that he did for this issue. Nor do I believe Jack would bother to swipe from himself. Why would he when he could do it much faster without a swipe? So as I said I believe this story was actually done by Simon.

Adventures of the Fly #1
Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “Buzz Gun”, pencils by Jack Kirby

While the origin story came from Beck’s Silver Spider and the Fly’s powers seemed to be based on directives from Joe Simon, the Fly’s costume is derived from the Night Fighter, a Simon and Kirby creation that was considered for Joe and Jack’s publishing company, Mainline, but never used (Night Fighter, an Abandoned Superhero). Two characteristics stand out. One was the goggles. Similar eyewear appeared in the Black Owl from 1940 and 1941 (Simon and Kirby’s Black Owl). The presence of these goggles in two superheroes with a night theme suggests they were meant to be an aid for seeing in the dark. Of course such night vision would not be that appropriate for the Fly nor is it a power that the Fly ever used. Perhaps the eyewear was nothing more then a visual reference to the insect’s compound eyes or perhaps Jack saw no reason to remove them when he based the Fly’s costume on that of the Night Fighter.

One of the other features that the Fly inherited from the Night Fighter was a pistol of some kind. All that remains of the art for Night Fighter are two unfinished covers and neither offers any clues as to what use the pistol was put to. My guess is that it was for shooting a wire for scaling buildings such as that used by the Sandman, another superhero that Simon and Kirby worked on during the war. While a wirepoon might be a useful device for the Night Fighter it would be rather superfluous for a superhero like the Fly who is able to walk up walls. Well in “Buzz Gun” Kirby shows how the Fly’s pistol is used. It makes a noise! Oh well.

Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “Come Into My Parlor”, pencils by Jack Kirby
Larger Image

Jack Kirby’s last chapter for the origin story opens with a spectacular double page splash. The title exclaims “for the first time in comics: the wide angel scream”. Of course this really was not the first use of a double page splash a subject that I covered in a still unfinished serial post (The Wide Angle Scream). The chances are that none of the Fly readers had seen any of Simon and Kirby’s earlier uses. While Simon and Kirby did not originate the double page splash, nobody else did it better. Further by 1959 the wide splash was no longer used by anyone. I can imagine the impression the centerfold splash made for potential buyers of the comic. How could they resist. I am sure I would not have. I would have been 9 at the time but sometime around that period I had read some of the DC superhero comics. I found them boring and had given up on comics for a while. Unfortunately I never saw any of the Simon and Kirby creations.

Adventures of the Fly #1
Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “Sign of the Triangle”, art by Joe Simon

The Jack Kirby Checklist includes this among the work that Kirby did for this issue but I am not convinced. To me it looks like Simon did the drawing. However this confusion is really understandable because the illustration appears to be a swipe from the cover of Foxhole #3 (February 1955) which had be drawn by Kirby. It is not an exact copy, but I do not believe Simon ever did exact copies. The inking looks like Joe did that as well.

Adventures of the Fly #1
Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “The Search”, pencils by Joe Simon

I may not be confident about attributing the illustration for “Sign of the Triangle” to Simon but there seems little doubt that Joe did the two page Shield promotional piece called “The Search”. This one is full of swipes from art by Kirby. For instance the man being punched through a wall and then left hanging was from the origin story in Fighting American #1 (April 1954, Captain America Returns). Note that while Joe follows pretty closely the man stuck in the wall he has added the man’s face for the punching image which Jack had cut off by the panel edge.

Adventures of the Fly #1
Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “Magic Eye”, pencils by George Tuska?

The final story is completely independent from the Fly origin and done by another artist, I believe it is George Tuska. I questionably attributed some work from Private Strong #2 to George as well; let us see if some of my more knowledgeable readers will agree with me on this one as well. This is another example where I do not see any obvious swipes of Kirby.