Category Archives: 2010/09

“From Shadow to Light”, an Ode to Mort Meskin

I have previously posted an announcement for this book with a comment on how important a volume I believed it would be. Of course I had not yet seen the book at that time so now that I have the question now is did Steven Brower succeed in doing justice to a great artist like Mort Meskin? The answer is a resounding YES!

This is a large book, the paper size is 9 by 12 inches. In my opinion this is a perfect format for a project like this. Scans of printed comic books have been enlarged for better viewing and the size works nicely with the reproductions of original art. And there are a lot of both spanning Meskin’s entire career. It starts with some work that Mort did in high school. While not very exciting compared to what would follow, it still is great to see the initial efforts. I could detail all the reproductions that follow but I fear that such a list would prove too tedious while the actual art is certainly not that. But I cannot resist mentioning some of my personal favorites such as some great Vigilante splashes, amazing work for the Fighting Yank (working with Jerry Robinson), terrific Golden Lad covers and some truly beautiful romance covers for Prize Comics. While those are my favorites, what is presented is actually much fuller and thoroughly representative. It is not just isolated pages of art. While a marvelous artist, Mort Meskin was also a consummate graphic story teller. “From Shadow to Light” has a Golden Lad and a crime story; both complete and never before published.

Mort Meskin was an artist’s artist. Brower has brought together comments from some of the creators who acknowledge how important Meskin was to them personally. Artists such as Steve Ditko, Joe Kubert, Alex Toth and Mort’s sometime partner Jerry Robinson. These are not just your usual commentary, they provide discussions of Meskin’s actual working methods. I found these very revealing and they answered some questions that have been nagging me for years. Particularly the commentary by Robinson. Jerry was Mort’s collaborator on a lot of comic books. I have often wondered exactly how they worked with each other, what rolls each played. Well Robinson answers that directly. I have also wondered why so much of Meskin’s comic book art is still exists as un-inked pencils. Very surprising since at least some of it, such as a couple of pages from Treasure #12 that are reproduced in this book, had been published. Again Robinson provides the answer.

Anyone who has followed this blog should know I am a big Mort Meskin fan. He did a lot of work for Simon and Kirby and therefore appears frequently in my posts. I have even written about Mort’s prior career (Early Mort Meskin and Mort Meskin before Joining Simon and Kirby). But the Internet is not the best format for viewing Meskin’s art. You really need a book for that and Steven Brower’s “From Shadow to Light” is that book. You do not want to miss this book.

Bullseye #4

Bullseye #4 (February 1955), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The cover prominently includes the target in its design, as do all the Bullseye covers. The original art for this cover still exists. However apparently the top of the original art had been cut off (probably by Simon and Kirby to be recycled for another cover). In cases like that it is common that the art would be restored by adding a stat of the missing piece but in this case the entire top section was inked by hand. The restorer did a good job with the lettering but pretty much botched up the small figure of Bullseye throwing a tomahawk.

Like the last issue, this one has two Kirby penciled and inked Bullseye stories. As I mentioned before this was much more Kirby than any other Mainline title.

Bullseye #4 (February 1955) “The Pinto People”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

A wounded man seriously in need of medical attention, an Indian warrior desperately seeking a rifle, an Indian tribe that runs with their horses not on them, and two villains out for what they thought would be an easy score. This is a very imaginative but rather meandering tale. It would seem to me that this story has more of Kirby and less of Simon than usual. Some readers may like that others may not.

Bullseye #4 (February 1955) “The Pinto People” page 3, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Not only faster than their horses, the Pinto braves never stop running. You even have to lasso one down in order to have a discussion. I am not sure why they have the horses to begin with or where they are running to. For that matter where are the rest of the tribe? But the story moves so fast and the art is so terrific that chances are the reader does not even get around to be bothered with all of that.

Bullseye #4 (February 1955) “Doom Town”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

“Doom Town” is a more classic Simon and Kirby story. Here our hero is accompanied by an unusual creation, Major Calamity. A magnet to bad luck so disastrous that people either want to kill him or flee. But Major Calamity is not the villain of the story that dishonor goes to Big Red Devlin. Only Major Calamity can save the town, with of course Bullseye’s help. What follows is pure Simon and Kirby. Plenty of action, a great fight and a touch of humor. Fortunately this story has been reprinted in “The Best of Simon and Kirby”.

Bullseye #4 (February 1955) “Ghost Town Ambush”, art by unidentified artist

No sooner that the Sheriff Shorty feature gets introduced than its place is taken by another story. (Do not worry Sherriff Shorty will be back.) Frankly “Ghost Town Ambush” is a pretty poor replacement. I do not know who the artist is but he really is not all that good. If anything the writing is even worse. It tries to use all the cliches but nothing seems to work. A one point a villain on a horse sneaks up behind a sentry all the time saying out loud what he is doing. Boy some sentry. All in all this is surely the most forgettable story in the entire Bullseye title.

Bullseye #4 (February 1955) “Ghost Town Ambush” page 7, art by unidentified artist

Why such a clinker? Well the lettering provides a clue. That first letter in the captions is often enlarged and colored. While Howard Ferguson often used that device when working for Simon and Kirby it was not used by his replacement Ben Oda. Its appearance in “Ghost Town Ambush” suggests that this story was not actually produced by Simon and Kirby. This was the time that the comic book industry was starting to crash. Simon and Kirby picked up some

Bullseye #3, Here’s Kirby!

Bullseye #3 (December 1954), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

The first two issues of Bullseye could be considered as a scaled down version of the Simon and Kirby MO; Jack drew or laid out the first issue but provided a single story for the second. However Bullseye #3 falls completely out of the pattern. There are two new Bullseye stories in the third issue and both were drawn by Kirby. All the subsequent issues of Bullseye would also have two Kirby drawn stories as well. No other Mainline title would have nearly as much Kirby involvement. Only Fighting American (a Prize title) got as much attention at that time from Jack, and even that title followed the more standard Simon and Kirby MO with less Kirby toward the end. There is little doubt that Simon and Kirby considered Bullseye their most important title at that time. Even today Joe considers Bullseye as one of his favorite comics.

Bullseye #3 (December 1954) “Devil Bird”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

In the 50s dinosaurs may have helped to sell comics but frankly they were difficult to make truly threatening. Back then (the 50s that is) dinosaurs were depicted as lumbering brutes dragging their tails along behind. Truly scary dinosaurs, of the Jurassic Park variety, would not be possible until years later when scientists realized that birds and mammals were better models for dinosaurs than crocodiles. Kirby bypasses all those problems by using in this story the flying reptiles pterosaur (technically not dinosaurs). Devil bird indeed. This is probably the scariest depiction of a prehistoric animal ever in the history of comics. And certainly my personal favorite Bullseye story.

Bullseye #3 (December 1954) “On Target”, pencils by Jack Kirby and John Prentice, inks by John Prentice

Simon and Kirby decided to include in this issue a condensed version of the Bullseye origin story (they had done the same thing for Fighting American). The original art for Bullseye #1 was done on illustration board, so a razor was used to cut around desired panels and they were peeled off the board and mounted on another. This was a simple and cost effective method but the unfortunate consequence is that today most of pages the original art from Bullseye #1 are missing a panel or two.

Bullseye #3 (December 1954) “The Ghosts Of Dead Center”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

While not truly a humorous piece, “The Ghosts of Dead Center” provides a bit a humor. There is money to be made when the railroad is built through Dead Center. Well that is once it is rid of those pesky “trespassers”. Unfortunately for those avarice villains, Bullseye has overheard their plot and even more unfortunately Dead Center is where he was raised and where his Indian friend, Long Drink, still resides. But Bullseye is just one man against many so he uses various tricks to defeat his foes. And that is where the humorous touch comes into play.

Comics from the golden age did not have anything like the concept of continuity. Once past the tale of the origin and the stories were pretty much independent. This was largely true with Simon and Kirby as well. But here at the ending of the golden age we have a story that refers back to Bullseye’s origins. Not quite like modern continuity, but much further than anyone else would use until the Marvel Universe was created in the 60’s.

Bullseye #3 (December 1954) “The Ghosts Of Dead Center” page 7, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Kirby uses a 7 panel layouts for all the story pages save the last. A more standard layout would have 6 panels so the extra panel meant that none of the pages had a grid layout and some of the gutters would meander across the page. But the last page has 9 panels in a symmetrical grid arrangement. Kirby seemed to like this panel layout for his fight scenes. I feel this layout minimally distracted from the images. Kirby would also downplay or eliminate the backgrounds. Therefore all the attention is drawn to the fighting figures and the choreographed action. Nobody did this sort of thing better than Kirby.

Bullseye #3 (December 1954) “The Adventures of Sheriff Shorty”, pencils and inks by Leonard Starr

With this issue Simon and Kirby would begin using a backup story that did not involve Bullseye. Leonard Starr has the honor of introducing the new feature Sheriff Shorty. The piece appears to be unsigned but hallmarks of Leonard’s hand occur all over the story art. I wrote that the piece appears to be unsigned but note the funny series of short lines along the left splash panel margin over the green pitcher. Frankly I had never noticed it before but recently I had the opportunity to conduct a careful examination of the original art. What the art shows is that white-out was used along both the right and left borders to reduce the width of the image area by a small amount. It was small but enough to cover Starr’s signature which had gone along the original panel border going from bottom up (that is as if the page had been rotated clockwise 90 degrees when he signed it). What remained of the signature was considered too unimportant to clean up. Although covered by white-out, Starr’s signature can still be made out on the original art so there is no question about the attribution.

Bullseye #3 (December 1954) “The Adventures of Sheriff Shorty” page 4, pencils and inks by Leonard Starr

Starr was very fond of using tall narrow panels for work provided to Simon and Kirby. Actually he pretty much got out of the habit for his more recent romance art but narrow panels show up often in the Sheriff Shorty story. But notice the odd arrangement of this page. The last panel almost seems like an after thought and frankly a rather intrusive one at that. Here again my examinations of the original art provides an explanation. The art shows that the last panel was pasted on afterwards and panel 6 had been tall and narrow like all the other panels. Further this was not Starr’s doing. There exists another page of original art that never made it into the story. A panel was cut out of that unused art page and with some rearrangement became the last panel of page 4. This re-editing was almost certainly done by Simon and Kirby and it was the sort of thing that in the future Joe would do very often.

Farewell to Jerry Grandenetti

Sandman #1 cover proposal, art by Jerry Grandenetti

Comic artist and historian Jim Amash has written that Jerry Grandenetti has passed away (Jerry Grandenetti RIP). Actually it was not recently either, he left us last February. While pretty much ignored by today’s fans, Grandenetti had a long history as a comic book artist. Much of that was for publishers like DC but more pertinent for this blog is his efforts with Joe Simon. Jerry worked for Joe Simon for Sick and some short lived titles produced for DC in the 70s (Green Team, the Outsiders, Prez and Champion Sports). Simon feels the work that Grandenetti did on those DC titles with Greig Flessel supplying the inks were spectacular but that fans did not seem to agree.

I have not written much about Jerry in this blog. There was an artist who signed some works with the initials JG and Jerry was one of the candidates for that attribution (Little Shop of Horrors, Chapter 4). Joe does not remember Grandenetti working for him then but with so many artists working for Simon and Kirby at that time he could easily have forgotten. I always meant to send Jerry some copies of that work to see he thought but unfortunately never got around to it. Grandenetti played an important part on a couple of posts about the cover for the Simon and Kirby 1971 version of the Sandman (Jerry Grandenetti and Sandman and Sandman Revisited). Jerry’s rough proposal for the Sandman cover was obviously the basis for Kirby’s published version.

To be honest I originally did not hold a high opinion about Grandenetti’s art. This was largely the result of my review of the covers that he did reworking what was originally done by Jack Kirby (Black Magic at DC). I am always the first to say how unfair it is to compare Jack Kirby with any other comic book artist. However even when recognizing the dangers of such a comparison, it is still all too easy to fall into that trap. My earlier negative evaluation was greatly changed when I recently had the occasion to scan some of the original art for Prez and the Green Team as well as an unpublished horror story. I now have come to realize the high quality of that work. It is rather unfortunate that Jerry Grandenetti has become another of the forgotten comic book artists.

Bullseye #2, Western Scout

Bullseye #2 (October 1954), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

As I discussed in the previous chapter, the previous modus operandi for Simon and Kirby was to make much use of Kirby in the initial issues of a new title and then make more frequent use of other artists for later issues. However in general the Mainline titles deviated from that pattern. The first issue of Bullseye could be viewed as a somewhat scaled down version of the original MO in that Kirby drew the first chapter and provided layouts for the other two. Unlike the first issue, Bullseye #2 was not a long story divided into chapters but instead provided three independent stories each done by a different artist. One of the surprises here was that Kirby did not do the lead story.

Bullseye #2 (October 1954) “Trial By Fire”, art by an unidentified artist

Simon and Kirby used a lot of different artists during this period. This was probably due to the combination of supply (comics had begun to crash resulting in a number of artists looking for work) and demand (there was a need to replace the normally prolific Kirby who was preoccupied with business matters). With such a large selection of artists to choose from, I am surprised that Joe and Jack picked this one to do the lead story “Trial By Fire”. It is not that he is a poor artist (he actually did a pretty good job on this story) but I just cannot help feel that someone else (John Prentice or Bob McCarty) could have produce a superior story. As the reader may have gathered, I have not been able to identify the artist although further research should rectify that situation. The splash may have been laid out by Jack Kirby although without seeing other work by the artist it is hard to be sure.

Bullseye #2 (October 1954) “Trial By Fire” page 6, art by an unidentified artist

While it is possible that Kirby laid out the splash, it is clear that the rest of the story was not based on Kirby layouts. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the fight scene on page 6, but it definitely was not drawn the way Jack would have done it.

Bullseye #2 (October 1954) “Union Jack”, pencils by Jack Kirby

The splash page is a typical Kirby fanfare. What a great splash panel. Back to back, Union Jack and Bullseye take on the world, or at least the room. Bullseye even seems to be enjoying himself. The story panels are also by Jack and he use of tall narrow panels is unusual for him. The inking looks a lot like the work of John Prentice, but that would be surprising as John was not the artist for the rest of the story.

Bullseye #2 (October 1954) “Union Jack” page 2, pencils and inks by Bob McCarty

For the remainder of the story, pencil honors went to Bob McCarty. For a short period Bob had become a Simon and Kirby regular and with good reason. This story is a good example of what McCarty was capable of. His handling of action was very unlike Kirby’s, but is by no means a criticism. I am a great admirer of McCarty and this story is arguably the best piece from Bullseye by an artist other than Jack.

McCarty typically made much use of a pen in his inking but without abandoning the brush. “Union Jack” shows less of the pen work than usual but I still believe it was inked by Bob. I am not, however, convinced that Bob inked the splash page as well. McCarty never signed his work for Simon and Kirby but some of his pieces for Foxhole were provided credits.

Bullseye #2 (October 1954) “Grand Prize”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Humor almost always plays a part in Simon and Kirby creations but generally not so dominate a factor as found in “Grand Prize”. It is a marvelous little story with lots of purposely goofy characters and other visual humor. All the more enjoyable because Kirby supplies the inking himself. I suspect it was this emphasis on humor that explains why it was not used as the lead story, a spot normally taken by Kirby.

Bullseye #1, Simon and Kirby’s Own Western

Bullseye #1 (August 1954), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

In 1954 Simon and Kirby launched their own company which they called Mainline. For years Joe and Jack had produced comics but this time they would be publishers themselves. Mainline released four titles: Bullseye*, In Love, Foxhole and Police Trap. I have previously written about Foxhole and In Love, but had not gotten around to the other two titles. For various reasons this seems like a good time to correct that neglect. Certainly my delay in discussing Bullseye was not due to it being an inferior comic. While Foxhole remains my personal favorite of the Mainline titles, Bullseye has much to recommend it particularly for Kirby fans.

Simon and Kirby’s modus operandi for creating new titles was for Jack Kirby to provide much of the art for the initial issues with less support from Jack in latter releases. This was decidedly not the MO for the Mainline titles. The closest any of them come to the original MO was In Love where for the premier issue Jack drew the featured story, a whooping 20 pages. Kirby drew little for the second issue and while In Love #3 had a lot of Kirby almost all of it was a recycled syndication proposal strip. Kirby provided no story art for Foxhole #1 but 8 pages for Foxhole #2 and nothing thereafter until Foxhole #6. Jack provided very little for Police Trap until the final issues. Why the change in MO? It certainly was not due to any change of opinion about the value of Jack’s art. After all he would provide most of the cover art. The logical explanation is that much of Kirby’s time was required to help run the new company. I have seen a invoice submitted to Simon and Kirby during this period that deducts an advance Jack Kirby gave to the artist.

The way Simon and Kirby introduced new features changed over the years. The Captain America origin story is short and seems little more than something to get quickly out of the way so they could go with the more interesting stories. The origin story seem to become more important to Simon and Kirby over the years. With Bullseye, except for a few fillers, the entire magazine is dedicated to the origin story. The origin is told in three chapters; “The Boy”, “The Youth”, and “The Man”.

Bullseye #1 (August 1954) “Bullseye, The Boy”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by John Prentice

The saga starts with Bullseye’s birth during an Indian attack. The raid turns into a massacre and only the baby and his grandfather, Deadeye Dick, escape. The boy is raised by his grandfather and an old Indian scout, Long Drink. Under the old man’s tutelage, Bullseye becomes a master marksman. The Indians return and brand the boy’s chest with a target, the Bullseye mark that plays an important roll in the design of the comic covers and splashes.

The boy being an orphan is a common theme for Simon and Kirby. Previously the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos and the boys of Boys’ Ranch had all been orphans. Much has been made of Kirby’s making orphans of their characters but it is good to remember that he was not the only one doing this. After all Superman, Robin and Billy Bates (Captain Marvel’s alter ego) were orphans as well.

Bullseye #1 (August 1954) “Bullseye, The Boy” page 5, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by John Prentice

The first chapter is drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by John Prentice. Well except for page 2 which is sufficiently different from the rest that I believe Prentice drew it as well. Prentice does not use the Studio style inking that was so commonly applied to Kirby’s pencils but instead John works in a manner more typical of his own work. Kirby’s art was influenced by Milton Caniff while Prentice followed the footsteps of Alex Raymond. With such disparity in styles you would think the combination of Kirby pencils and Prentice inks would be a poor mix but I think it comes off surprisingly well. Jack’s inkers during the Simon and Kirby collaboration range the gamut from horrible to amazing but I feel Prentice ranks among Kirby’s top inkers. However I do not believe John ever inked Jack’s pencils other than in this Bullseye issue.

Bullseye #1 (August 1954) “Bullseye, The Youth”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by John Prentice

Bullseye not only the master of pistols and rifles, but in all manners of weapons that are shot or thrown. For this splash Kirby has created a classic example of exaggerated perspective. What a great combination of action and humor. John Prentice did the inking but it appears Kirby did some touch-ups (for example adding the picket fence crosshatching on the green shirt and the drop strings on the grey pants, see my Inking Glossary). Generally Simon or Kirby would ink the splash page but having Prentice do the inking provides a much better integrated chapter. John does a much better job ink the splash for this chapter than he did for the previous one.

Bullseye #1 (August 1954) “Bullseye, The Youth” page 5, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by John Prentice

The rest of the chapter following the splash page was penciled and inked by John Prentice. John does a good job, but of course I expect Kirby fans would prefer that Jack had done the honors. I have chosen one of the more uncharacteristic pages from the chapter to show above. I provide this page because it best address the question of Kirby layouts. One of the conclusions I reached in my long serial post Art of Romance was that Kirby did not generally provide layouts for stories drawn by other artists as has so often been asserted by Kirby fans in the past. When I previously showed this page in the blog (John Prentice, Usual Suspect #3) Nick Caputo pointed out that the Judge looked like a Kirby creation. I have to admit that the heavy set Judge does not look like a typical Prentice character. However I find panel 2 to be an even more convincing example of a Kirby layout. It seems so typical for Jack and I have never seen John do anything like it. So I agree that Kirby may have been providing layouts for this chapter. There are other panels that look more like Prentices’s own layouts so I suspect that either Kirby provided only a rough or incomplete layout or that Prentice felt free to modify them whenever he desired.

Bullseye #1 (August 1954) “Bullseye, The Man” page 7, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by John Prentice

The third chapter was executed in the same manner as the previous chapter; a Kirby penciled and Prentice inked splash followed by a story drawn and inked by Prentice. Once again there are indications the Kirby provided some layouts. Panel 4 of the page shown above is a really good piece of evidence supporting a Kirby layout. While Prentice did not do a lot of action scenes during the time he worked for Simon and Kirby, what fight scenes he did looked nothing like this one. I do not recall ever seeing among Prentices’s art such a rotational slug or the way the man falls back. But both are frequently occurring motifs in Kirby’s work.

So does the fact that Kirby provided layouts of some sort for Bullseye contradict my conclusion based on the romance comics that he did not provide layouts? Not really because during the Mainline period things were done rather differently than what had previously been the norm. Typically Kirby’s contribution to the first issue of a new title would be more significant than what occurred in Bullseye. Apparently Jack was too busy with Mainline business matters to devote much time to the art. Providing layouts was the next best thing to doing drawing himself.

This begins another serial post. I am not sure yet whether I will write a separate article on each issue or combine some. While each Mainline title has its own unique qualities, Bullseye is something special. Particularly for Kirby fans.


* This title is most commonly called Bulls-Eye but I am not sure why. Bullseye is a name and it should be spelled in the manner used by the creators of that name. The hyphen was never used in the actually comics. On the cover and splashes the name occupies two lines so I suppose a good argument can be made that Bulls Eye should be the proper designation. That name format also appears in some of the indices, but others use the single word form, Bullseye. When the character is referred to in the actual stories he is always called Bullseye.