Category Archives: 2011/08

Police Trap #6

Police Trap #5 (July 1955) was the first issue published by Charlton. It appears to be composed largely of work that was already in the work at the time of the sudden failure of Simon and Kirby’s own publishing company, Mainline. It would expected most of that work would be used up and Police Trap #6 would consists of newly created work. All of the work on issue #6 was drawn by Jack Kirby. Previously Kirby’s involvement was largely limited to providing covers with the only Kirby story appearing in Police Trap #5. Jack’s greater presence can be explained as a means of offsetting recent financial loses. The cost of creating the Mainline comics was covered by Simon and Kirby to be paid back by a share of the profits. However with the sudden demise of Leader News Joe and Jack would not get the money to recover their publication costs. Their incomes from Prize Comics were based on a share of the profits but with all the negative public criticism against comic books those royalties were probably down as well. By providing all the art for Police Trap #6, Kirby probably hoped to decrease the production costs, increase sales (and therefore his share of the profits) but also be paid as the artist as well.

Police Trap #6 (July 1955), pencils by Jack Kirby

The cover of Police Trap #6 is another less than spectacular piece of art. But it is interesting as a rare example of Kirby swiping from another comic book artist, in this case Marvin Stein. This is not a close copy, Kirby did not need any help in how to draw figures. Rather it is the unusual idea that Kirby picked up, that of counterfeiter’s being candidly filmed by the police. I had previously written about this swipe (A Criminal Swipe) where I provided an image of the Stein cover that Kirby swiped. In that post I offered the possibility that it was actually Stein that swiped from Kirby and that this cover was an unused piece left over from Simon and Kirby’s earlier efforts in the crime genre from 1947 to 1951). However I now consider this unlikely as the art for the Police Trap #6 cover does not seem to match
the style used during the earlier period.

Police Trap #6 (July 1955) “The Amateur”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

As mentioned above, Jack Kirby drew all the art for this issue which makes Police Trap #6 a special comic. Needless to say the art is all well done. Kirby had a flair for graphically telling a story. Note the short sequence of story panels at the bottom of the splash page. It starts out typically enough but then proceeds to two panels with captions or speech balloons. Text was not required to explain the story and in fact the lack of text makes the panels even more effective.

Police Trap #6 is also special in that all the art was inked by the same artist. I’ll explain why I think this inker was Mort Meskin below where his hand is even more obvious but here I will discuss why I believe it was not either Simon or Kirby that did the inking. Normally that might not be too difficult to determine because both Jack and Joe were much better inkers than many of the other artists they used to ink Kirby’s pencils. Here, however, we have a great inking job. Not only that but it is done in what I describe as the Studio style. On this page (and others in this book) can be found shoulder blots, picket fence crosshatching and abstract arc shadows (see my Inking Glossary for an explanation of the terms I am using). But note that the shoulder blots are not done in a manner typical for Simon and Kirby. They are less abstract and more apt to be broken up into pieces. The most glaring example of this is found in the man in the blue suite. There are other suggestions that this was not inked by either Simon or Kirby. Note the simple eyebrows even in the more close-up views provided in the splash panel.

It is unclear whether some of the typical Studio style techniques were done by the inker or instead were added by either Kirby or Simon afterwards. For example the abstract arc shadow in the first story panel is done in a very typical style. My suspicion is that the original inker provided these touches as well as they are so well integrated with the surrounding artwork. If this is true it is another indication on how well acquainted the inker was with techniques previously used in the now defunct Simon and Kirby studio.

Police Trap #6 (July 1955) “The Debt”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin Albistur

The story panels for the first page of “The Debt” follows the same pattern as seen in “The Amateur”. First an introduction panel that quickly places the reader into the action followed by two panels without text that show how the action unfolded. The big difference between the two stories is that while “The Amateur” has a typical splash the splash found in “The Debt” is actually a story panel as well. While collaborating with Simon, Kirby worked from scripts created by various writers but which he would then customarily rewrite. It is unclear how much of the published story was rewritten but there are often phrases that sound very much like Kirby. But who can say whether the original writer originated these unusual textless story sequences or that Kirby rewrote them into the script.

Police Trap #6 (July 1955) “The $64 Question”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

The $64,000 Question was a popular game show in the 50’s and even today you occasionally here someone use that term a colloquialism for a significant question. However that show first appeared on television in June 1955 much too late to have influenced this story (whose creation start around February of that year). However there was an earlier game show that was on the radio from 1950 to 1952 that was actually called the $64 Question. Although it was off the air when this story was created I am sure that was that show that formed the genesis of this story’s title.

Police Trap #6 (July 1955) “Only The Guilty Run”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

All the stories in this issue were inked by the same artist. “Only The Guilty Run” is the story that most convincingly shows that this inker was Mort Meskin. Like all the other stories from this issue the inking was done in the Studio style. Most noticeable in the splash is his use of picket fence crosshatching. Of course other inkers used this technique most notably both Kirby and Simon. However Meskin executed picket fence crosshatching with an almost mechanical control compared to the more spontaneous use by Kirby or the more rougher brushwork by Simon. Observe how Meskin’s “rails” and “pickets” are almost consistent in width and the “rails” are placed to almost entirely contain the “pickets”. Other Meskin inking characteristics can be found in the simplified and often angular eyebrows particularly those of the escaping thief in the splash panel. Of course since credits were not provided inking attributions can never be given with absolute certainty but I am as confident as it is possible to be that this inking was by Mort Meskin.

While the art may convince me that Meskin was inking there Kirby pencils I am somewhat puzzled how this came about. While Mort had inked Jack’s work before, generally he was too busy penciling and inking his own work. There were exceptions to this most notably in Boys’ Ranch (1950 to 1951) and Captain 3-D (1953). However in 1954 he had started working for DC. Meskin still did some work for Simon and Kirby but this was largely limited to some covers and nowhere near his prolific output when the S&K studio was going strong. Yet here he is providing a lot of inking for a single issue (plus one Kirby story for the previous issue). Very perplexing.

Police Trap #6 (July 1955) “Third Degree”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin

Despite the Comic Code all the stories from this issue are really quite good but I have to admit that I find “Third Degree” the least satisfying. The interrogation of the housewife by the burly police officer seems a bit forced. Still that story and all the others in this issue leaves one with a desire for another all Kirby crime comic. Unfortunately it was not to be, at least for some years (see Jack Kirby’s “In the Days of the Mob”) and never again with Joe Simon.

I have had a comment about why I believe this inker was Mort Meskin and not Marvin Stein. For readers who also wonder about this I suggest checking my previous posts Kirby Inkers, Mort Meskin and Kirby Inkers, Marvin Stein.

The Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume 1

DC’s latest Kirby archive has been out for a couple weeks but I have only just recently received my copy from Amazon. I thought I would provide some comments about what I consider a very important book. Before I do that I first must avoid legal prosecution and say that I was involved with this book although in a marginal capacity. I am credited in the book for providing some restorations and scans. Technically that is correct but the only restoration I did was the cover of Real Fact #1 which I had already restored for personal use and was provided to DC with the raw scan for their use if they so desired. I did provide some scans but only for a handful of covers. So my involvement in the book is even less than some previously issued Simon and Kirby archives.

Much of this book has never been reprinted before, or at least in this country. There are a few pieces that Simon and Kirby did for Real Fact Comics upon their return from military service. Regrettably “Pirate Or Patriot?” was not included in this archive. This is surprising since the cover and another story from the same issue were reprinted. The largest part of the book is devoted to work that Jack Kirby did during his second period of working for DC from 1957 to 1959. Among this are reprints from titles like House of Secrets, House of Mystery and My Greatest Adventure. I usually refer to them as horror genre but of course this was done during the Comic Code period so perhaps mystery, fantasy or in some cases science fiction would be better descriptions. The only superhero genre included are some Green Arrow stories and there is also a single western story.

During his first period of working for DC with Joe Simon, Kirby had a lot freedom in plotting and rewriting scripts. Unfortunately during his return to DC that was not the case. Still Jack did manage at times to have some creative input into the writing most notably in the Green Arrow stories which were unlike any other superhero stories published by DC at that time.

Artistically the work Kirby did reprinted in this archive was just fantastic but that can be said about the art from any part of his long career. What really sets the work in this archive apart is the inking. Fans often argue about who was the best inker of Kirby’s pencils. Personally I feel they almost always get it wrong. There was no better inker of Kirby art than Jack Kirby himself. Kirby was a master of the brush and of course he knew better than anyone what he was trying to achieve in his pencils. During his partnership with Joe Simon Kirby would often ink his own work but usually in collaboration with other inkers. In later years Jack’s work was generally limited to pencils with the inking assigned to others. But during the late 50’s Kirby did a lot of his own inking either alone or with some help from his wife Rosalind. The inking of the higher profile Challengers of the Unknown art was normally done by other artists but the horror and Green Arrow art was largely inked by Kirby himself so this volume has a lot of Kirby inking Kirby. Kirby inked it in a style that is just beautiful. I love this inking style so much I once wrote a serial post ten chapters long on it (Jack Kirby’s Austere Inking) with a chapter devoted to the material now covered in this omnibus (Chapter 7, DC).

Example page from The Jack Kirby Omnibus Volume 1

Of course many fans do not need to be convinced of Jack Kirby’s talent. For them what is important is how well done is the reprint. There is a lot of disagreement on how restoration should be handled on material from older comic books. Reprinting from the original comics is fraught with difficulties with results that are almost guaranteed not to please everyone. I am happy to say that is not an issue that needs to be addressed here. Most of the line art in this volume was taken from the original film. You just cannot get better than that and it shows. The work had to be recolored but that was all done in a manner faithful to the original comics. It is hard to believe anyone will be dissatisfied with the results. The only negative comment that can be made about this volume is the size of the book which requires that the art be reduced somewhat in size. Of course had the original size been maintained the volume’s cost would have had to been higher.

To sum up; interesting stories, great Kirby art, Kirby inking Kirby, reproduced from the original film. As far as I am concerned this is a must have book.

Police Trap #5

Police Trap and the other Mainline titles had been distributed by Leader News. During this period there was a renew public protest about the contents of comic books. The publisher that attracted the greatest amount of negative criticism was probably EC and some newsstands refused to accept their comics. Unfortunately Leader News also distributed EC and the boycott lead to their eventual failure. Without a distributor this meant the end of Simon and Kirby’s publishing company as well. But work had already begun on the art for the unpublished issues of the Mainline comics so Joe and Jack looked for a publisher willing to take on the titles. They made a deal Charlton and after an addition two month delay Police Trap #5 finally made it to the newsstands. This was the first issue of Police Traps to be submitted to the new Comic Code Authority although I doubt there was much of a problem with getting approval.

Police Trap #5 (July 1955), pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Compared to previous issue, the cover was not all that great. I cannot think of a Simon and Kirby cover that I would describe as poor but obviously some were better than others and this one was one of their poorest. I suspect that with the failure of Mainline and the search for a new publisher, Simon and Kirby just did not give the cover art as much attention as they previously would have.

Police Trap #5 (July 1955) “The Gun”, pencils and inks by Bill Draut

Bill Draut had drawn stories for Police Trap #1 and #3 so his presence here comes as no surprise. Draut provides “The Gun” with his usual well crafted art. However coming after his really great work on “Tough Beat” (Police Trap #3) this story can seem to be a bit of a let down. Due to financial problems arising from the collapse of Mainline, Simon and Kirby were forced to close down their studio. It seems that Joe and Jack continued to work together for a time but limited or stopped employing other artists. “The Gun” was probably work already completed before Mainline’s sudden collapse. Simon and Kirby would use some further work by Draut in the coming months but not much. Draut would work for other publishers but with the collapse of the comic book industry it must have been a difficult time for him. I am sure he eventually looked back at his time with Simon and Kirby as the golden age of his career.

Police Trap #5 (July 1955) “The Test”, pencils and inks by Joaquin Albistur

“The Test” was another fine piece of work by Joaquin Albistur. Albistur only worked for Simon and Kirby for a limited period of time, a little over a year. Probably Joaquin also looked for work after the closing of the Simon and Kirby studio. I have seen some original art for a smaller publisher but I am not sure when it was done. Albistur may have found some work but it does not appear he found much. At some point he returned to his native country Argentina.

Police Trap #5 (July 1955) “Bad Influence”, art by an unidentified artist

I am not sure who the artist was that drew “Bad Influence”. I will not claim he was one of my favorite Simon and Kirby artists but he did a good job on this story.

Police Trap #5 (July 1955) “Short Visit”, art by an unidentified artist

Another unidentified artist only in this case not nearly as talented as the one who did “Bad Influence”. Note the rather awkward pose of the policeman.

Police Trap #5 (July 1955) “Alibi?”, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Mort Meskin?

Up to now, Jack Kirby’s contribution to Police Trap was limited to the covers, one pinup (derived from an unused cover) and one splash panel. Was “Alibi” originally planned for issue #5 or was Jack filling in for working missing at the time of the collapse of Mainline? Who can say? But it is nice to see a Kirby working on a crime story again since the last one he did back in 1950. The tall vertical splash was rather unusual for Kirby and a reminder that Kirby was comfortable with any panel layout.

I am a little puzzled by the inking of this piece. Previously I have attributed the inking to Mort Meskin and there are parts that remind me of his work. Particularly the elderly woman in the second story panel. However there are other portions that do not look like Meskin’s brush for instance the sleeve of the older detective in the splash panel. During earlier periods I would explain this by the use of multiple artists sometimes used to ink Kirby’s art (describe by Joe Simon as an assembly line). With the bust up of the Simon and Kirby studio this now seems likely that only a single inker would be used (although either Simon or Kirby could be expected to do some touch up work). While I may hesitate to attribute the inking of this piece to Meskin, Mort was the inker for some other Kirby pencils that will be discussed when issue #6 is covered.

The Golden Age of Captain America, A Brief Return

Young Men #24 (December 1953) “Back from the Dead”, pencils by John Romita

The popularity of superheroes declined after World War II to the extent that only a handful remained by the end of the 40’s. However true peace did not follow the defeat of the Axis powers, at least not for long. The Communist took control over China, the United States became involved in the Korean War, and domestic politicians claimed that Communists had infiltrated society and government. If superheroes were popular in the last war it was reasonable that they might once again sell comics now that the Cold War had begun. At least that was probably the logic behind the return of the big three; the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America. All three heroes returned in separate stories in Young Men #24 (December 1953). “Back from the Dead” was drawn by a young John Romita. John Romita would end up drawing all the Captain America art for this revival with a single exception.

Young Men #25 (February 1954) “Top Secret”, pencils by John Romita

Romita’s art may seem crude compared to the work he did later in his productive life but his art was a cut above that which appeared toward the end of the first run of Captain America Comics. The art that Romita did for the relaunched Captain America is packed with energy. I am sure this was a labor of love. Simon and Kirby would release their own version of a patriotic hero called Fighting American but the timing is such that I doubt Romita saw it while he was still working on Captain America. Considering his age it is likely that Romita had not seen Simon and Kirby’s original take on Captain America either. But clearly Romita was familiar with the earlier run of Captain America. Romita often extended figures beyond the panel border a technique that can be traced back to Simon and Kirby but also used by subsequent Captain America artists Al Avison and Syd Shores. Romita also strove to give his figures a deep dimension another characteristic found in Kirby, Avison and Shores.

Young Men #27 (April 1954) “The Return of the Red Skull”, pencils by John Romita

The Red Skull returned as well, he clearly was too good a villain to let languish in hell. Of course after the defeat of the Axis powers he no longer served fascism. Nor was he a Communist. Rather he was a criminal quite willing to sell secrets to Communist powers.

Captain America #76 (May 1954)<, art by unidentified artist

Months after their reappearance each of the big three heroes got their own titles. Normally I would interpret this as an indication of good sales but considering how short the entire run of the relaunched heroes was I rather suspect it was a pre-planned roll out.

The cover art for the first new issue of the Captain American was the only Cap art from this run not executed by John Romita. I cannot say who did it but it is quite possible more than one artist was involved. There seems to be a distinct stylistic difference between Captain America and Bucky compared to the rest of the figures. This might be considered intentional if it was just criminals that had the rougher look but the policemen received the same treatment.

Captain America #76 (May 1954) “Captain America Strikes”, pencils by John Romita

It maybe hard for the younger readers to understand how threatening Communism seemed in the 50’s. With Eastern Europe falling under Soviet domination after the war and the Red takeover of China, Communism seemed to many to be steadily expanding. Captain America appeared perfectly suited to be the hero to combat such an evil. That certainly was the approach often taken in the relaunched Captain America comics.

Note that Steve Rogers, Captain America’s alter ego, was depicted above as belonging to the Army. However in Young Men #24 (December 1953) he was presented as a teacher which was the position he had at the end of the last Captain America run. I am not sure if they ever explained the transition back to the military. I suspect they did not since continuity was not a large concern during the golden age.

Captain America #77 (July 1954) “You Die at Midnight”, pencils by John Romita

Most of the Captain America splashes in Young Men or Men’s Adventure this period only used two thirds of the page but in Captain America Comics the full page was used although story panels were included in the corner. Romita made good use of the extra space. Again Romita’s art was not yet as good as that previously done by Avison or Shores but they still are rather nice splashes.

Captain America #78 (September 1954) “The Green Dragon”, pencils by John Romita

Probably the penciling and inking was separate jobs done assigned to different artists (most likely by Stan Lee). This was a very different arrangement from that found in Simon and Kirby productions. I do not know what inkers worked on Romita’s Captain America but I think they did a good job. At least the care taken for the inking seems to match the effort on the pencils.

Captain America #78 (September 1954) “His Touch is Death”, pencils by John Romita

In my last chapter about the previous run of Captain America I commented that while it now seems obvious that superheroes need super villains that logic was largely ignored during the golden age. This second run of Captain America repeated this error and only in the last issue is a super villain presented. Actually the quality of the stories themselves war inferior during this second run of Captain America.

A Review of Lettering by Howard Ferguson

Todd Klein provides a fascinating post of Simon and Kirby letterer Howard Ferguson. I do not always agree with him but it is great to read one letterer’s opinions about another. One word of caution, Todd includes a quote that claims Ferguson was an African American, not true. I even called Joe Simon to make sure.