Tag Archives: adventures of the fly

Speaking of Art, Al Williamson’s Fly

This is the start of a new topic for the Simon and Kirby blog where I will write about original comic book art. This will not be a serial post where I would explore a subject over a number of posts. Instead each post will stand by itself with only the common theme of original art connecting them. There will be no order in what I write about and I will pick the particular subject as my mood suits me. Some of the pieces will be from my personal collection but most will be from the much more extensive collection that belonged to Joe Simon. I do that with the permission of the Joe Simon estate.

It is clear that many people, even comic book fans, really do not “get” original comic book art. But there is something very special about the original art as compared to the published comic books. It is not that the printing of the comic books was so bad (although that is certainly true) or that original art is unique while thousands of copies of a comic book may exist (but true again). What is truly special about the art is that it reveals the hand of the creators in ways that are simply not possible from the printed comic. There are nuances in things like inking that completely get lost in the production process. There are changes in the art that many people would consider blemishes but instead provide insight into the creative process. I remember a story about Joe Sinnott erasing margin notes because he thought it distracted from the art. Some original art have subject to extensive cleaning processes to remove all blemishes. I am sure this was done in an attempt to increase the value of the piece but to me it actually has quite the opposite effect. What may seem blemishes to some has an aesthetic quality for me. While aesthetics play an important roll in the value of original art, they have historical value as well.

Before writing about the original art for “One Of Our Skyscrapers Is Missing” by Al Williamson I would like to discuss a story that Joe Simon use to tell. Here it is as presented in his autobiography Joe Simon, My Life In Comics where he is talking about the Harvey Comics title Race For The Moon:

When I proposed the title, Jack welcomed the work. I wrote most of the stories, although Dick Wood, Dave Wood and Eddie Herron contributed some scripts. Because Kirby was penciling some of them, I was able to sign up three of the best inkers in the business. Reed Crandall, Angelo Torres, and Al Williamson, each of them a brilliant artist in his own right, all wanted to work with Jack. In addition to inking Jack’s pencils, they got to illustrate some stories on their own.

Although in his book Joe describes this story as concerning Race For The Moon, I remember Joe telling me that he heard about the story from something Williamson said. Williamson gave an interview for Jack Kirby Collector #15 where he discusses his work on Race For The Moon. I have written about Williamson’s comments in an recent post (Kirby Inkers, Al Williamson) but the what is important here is Williamson does not relate this story when talking about Race For The Moon. But in another part of the interview:

TJKC: You did a solo story for The Fly #2. How’d you get that job?

AL: I was asked by the editor, and he gave me a five-pager to do. I’d never done superhero stuff before, and I sat down and did this Jack Kirby-type character they wanted me to do. I penciled it and took it in, and the editor had a fit. “Aahh, you’re a lousy artist. This is no good.” I had to do the first two pages over again, and he paid me $45 for five pages of work. And when it came out, the only thing he’d changed was the splash, and he’d copied it from Jack. I was really pissed off. So dear old Angelo Torres gets a call from this guy, and he says, “I gave Williamson a job, and he’s a lousy artist, he can’t draw. I want you to do this four-page Fly story for me.” So Angelo went up and said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” Then he came over to the house and said, “Listen, Al. This guy said you can’t draw, you’re a lousy artist, and he wants me to do this four-page superhero thing, so I thought maybe I’d let you pencil it.” (laughter) So I did! I penciled the four pages, and gave it to Angelo, and he took it up. The editor looked at it and said, “See, this is great! You’re better than Williamson!” (laughter) So Angelo inked it, and the guy never knew I penciled it.

Clearly this is the same story but it concerns work for Adventures of the Fly #2. Williamson does not name the editor but it was Simon who put together the first four issues of Adventures of the Fly and he alone chose the artists and assigned the work.

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

In Williamson’s version of this tale he drew two stories for the issue. One that Joe was unhappy with and another drawn without Simon’s knowledge of his involvement. Williamson claims that Simon changed the splash of the first story but the rest was printed with no alterations. Williamson’s drawing style is very distinctive and there is no need for the original art to say with certainty that Williamson only drew one story for any issue of Adventures of the Fly. The drawing style alone would suggest that the splash for the story was pure Williamson. But the original art does conclusively shows that no changes were made to any of the art for this story, including the splash shown above. Any such changes would have to use white-out or other editing tools that would be completely obvious in the original art.

I have to say that I am rather dubious about another aspect of Williamson’s story, that Joe did not like his art. Simon used Al for inking Kirby pencils and for doing his own pencils for a number of Harvey comics for which Joe was the editor. While it is possible that Simon’s opinion changed just a couple of years later it would have to change again. When I knew him, Joe was a great admirer of Williamson’s art.

I suspect that the writing at the bottom of the page (present on the other pages as well) is a later addition. Usually the art was identified in ink in the upper left. In this case “FLY #2-P-9”, page 9 of issue 2 of Adventures of the Fly. It would remain on the proofs made when the art was shot for productions but could easily be removed before final printing. Occasionally someone forgot to remove them or did a poor job at it and they can be seen in part or whole in the printed comic books. This notation was done in ink to insure that it was still present when the initial stats were made. Pencils were problematic when photo imaging the original art to stats since they were not dark enough to insure a good image but too dark to be sure that they did not show up at all. Which is why pencils were erased after the inking was completed. While pencils notations like that at the bottom could easily be removed during the production process, they are redundant and do not serve any purpose.

Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “One Of Our Skyscrapers Is Missing” the back of page 2

Sometimes rather interesting things can be found on the back of comic book art. However in the case of this story the back of the pages are pretty much unadorned. The only exception is page 2 which is shown above. An explanation is in order about the writing in pencil that reads SI-0029. This is the Simon Inventory number, and yes I am to blame. I did the inventory for Joe’s collection and it was a difficult task. Joe had over 1500 pages of original comic book art (not including many production proofs). I needed a way to keep track of it while the inventory was being created. So I assigned inventory numbers that I placed on the back usually near an edge and always in an area without anything significant. I suspect that for page 2 I placed the inventory number further from the edge because of the water stain. Inventory numbers were assigned as I inventoried the piece and have no significance other than order that I encountered them while working. There was one exception in that I generally assigned inventory numbers for original art to numbers less than 1000 and used the higher numbers for things like proofs. I also assigned the same inventory number to all pages belonging to the same story. This helped me in getting the collection better organized as originally pages to a story were often scattered about in different places.

Note the two small black irregular patches. I believe these to be due to the inker preparing his brush. Similar markings, although much more extensive, can be found on the back of other pages that I believed Williamson inked. However these two small marks are the only examples found on the back of this story or any other one that Joe had from the Adventures of the Fly title.

Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “One Of Our Skyscrapers Is Missing” close-up of the back of page 2

One thing that is common to backs of all the original art for this story, and indeed of most original art from the period, was the Comic Code approval stamp. Today the stamp is of use because it provides a terminal date for the creation of the art. Art could have started earlier, and even inventoried for a period of time, but the stamp was only applied to completed art ready for publication. Thus this art was finished no later than May 29, 1959. The same date appears for the approval stamp for “Marco’s Eyes”, “Tim O’Casey’s Wrecking Crew”, “The Master of Junk-Ri-La” and some of the fillers from the same issue. Comic book cover dates were used by the publisher to indicate when to take the issue off the stands and sent back to the distributor. When converting the cover date to the date the art was created I usually subtract five or six months. Two months for the time on the stands, one month for distribution, one month for printing and one month or more to create the art. From that scheme I would expect the approval stamp to be four months before the cover date. But it is just an estimate as there was much variations in the publication of comic books. For Adventures of the Fly #2 the stamp appears to be closer to three months before the cover date.

Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “One Of Our Skyscrapers Is Missing” close-up from back of page 2 of a Batman sketch by Al Williamson

The back of page 2 has one other feature that might be a little hard to make out in the full page image but when enlarged and rotated 180 degrees turns out to be a sketch of Batman. Obviously Batman would not appear in a Harvey comic book so it maybe nothing more than a doodle or a drawing done to demonstrate some point.

Questions on Some Inking in Adventures of the Fly

I have recently posted on the initial issues of the Adventures of the Fly (here and here). There are still unidentified artists that penciled those issues (and more in the two Fly issues that followed). Identifying inkers is an even bigger challenged particularly because I am not that familiar with the brushwork of most of the possible inkers. However I recently noticed some inking in the Adventures of the Fly that was very familiar.

Adventures of the Fly #2
Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “Sneak Attack” page 2 (part), pencils by Jack Kirby

When I last wrote about “Sneak Attack” I attributed the pencils to Joe Simon. Well that was not the complete attribution. The bottom of the second page was an advertisement for the other Archie superhero comic, Double Life of Private Strong. The only art the ad contains is a standing figure of Private Strong changing into the Shield. It seems clear that the art was drawn by Jack Kirby. It is odd that the story and ad were done by different artists. I have studied the original art from Joe Simon’s collection and I can assure the reader that no cut and paste was performed to accomplish this.

The inking for the ad was really nicely done but unfortunately the details of which are obscured by rather poor printing. It is hard to see but the inner sides of both thighs were inked using picket fence crosshatching (Inking Glossary). The good news is that in the upcoming Simon and Kirby Superheroes volume from Titan “Sneak Attack” and the other stories I will be discussing here will be restored from the original art. Similarly robust picket fence brushwork was one of the characteristics of what I refer to as the Studio Style inking used during the Simon and Kirby collaboration. Not only did both Joe and Jack use this technique at that time but Mort Meskin did as well. I think, however, we can dismiss Meskin as the possible inker for the ad because he was no longer working with either Kirby or Simon and the inking here is a bit more spontaneous than was normal for Mort.

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

The spotting of the large figure of the Fly in the double page splash for “Marco’s Eyes is more finely worked than typical for either Simon or Kirby although either of them was certainly capable of it. Actually it is more finely worked than the inking found in any of the Fly art. So far I have not identified any brushwork in the figure that helps in determining an inking attribution.

Adventures of the Fly #2
Adventures of the Fly #2 (September 1959) “Marco’s Eyes” page 4, pencils by Jack Kirby

The story art for “Marco’s Eyes” shows an important characteristic that was typical of Studio style inking, what I refer to as shoulder blots (Inking Glossary). It is prominently shown in panels 2, 3 and 5 from page 4 but occurs elsewhere in the story as well. Numerous inkers have provided their shoulders with shadows but shoulder blots are distinct in that they occur on both shoulders regardless of how a shadow would expect to be cast. So far I have only seen Joe Simon and Jack Kirby make use of shoulder blots in their inking.

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

There are no shoulder blots in “The Master of Junk-Ri-La” unless the shadow in panel 4 from page 2 is counted as one (but I am not inclined to do so). There are, however, a number of examples of course picket fence crosshatching. The first panel from page 2 shows a scallop pattern to the shadow on the boy’s arm. This scallop inking frequently showed up in Kirby’s inking. But the inking of the eyes and eyebrows of the boy look very much like the work of Simon.

Adventures of the Fly #1
Adventures of the Fly #1 (August 1959) “Come Into My Parlor” story panels 3 and 4 from the double page splash, pencils by Jack Kirby

The double page splash and accompanying story panels of “Come Into My Parlor” also contains what looks like Studio style inking. Particularly note the spotting of the sailor from story panels 3 and 4. Observe the two cloth folds on the man’s shoulder in panel 4. These cloth folds show no indication of the tip of the brush which is a technique that was typical of Kirby’s inking. I am less convinced about the inking of the rest of the story. It should be kept in mind that it was common during the Simon and Kirby collaboration for Kirby to be involved with the spotting of the splash and leave the rest of the story to other inkers.

Studio style inking techniques are not limited to the four stories that I have discussed here. But their occurrence elsewhere in the first two issues of Adventures of the Fly seems limited to what looks like touch-ups of the work by other inkers. Such touch-up were almost certainly the work of Simon since Kirby was then a freelancer working from his house.

I only become confident about inking attributions after I have “lived” with them for some time. However it is my policy to present my current views in this blog even if they are likely to be subject to change. At this time I believe “The Master of Junk-Ri-La” was inked by Joe Simon. I am also fairly certain that Jack Kirby inked the splash pages of “Come Into My Parlor”. I am less confident about the inking attributions for the ad from “Sneak Attack” or “Marco’s Eyes”. I currently am crediting Kirby for that inking but I am bother about the frequent appearance of the tip of the brush in the inking which previously was not typical for Kirby although it was for 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.