Category Archives: Comic Book Art

Here’s A Few Things About Comic Books

This is going to be one of those round-up blogs, in which I comment on a number of comic book related topics. I have a few things to comment on, but not enough on each topic for a full write up, so…

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It’s real. It’s an actual comic book cover. The February 1966 issue of Lois Lane would finally address the issue of Clark Kent’s flimsy disguise. A nice suit and Buddy Holly glasses? Really? If I removed my glasses and donned a Superman costume, people would still know it was me. So, how did this disguise work in the comic books, TV shows, and movies?

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That’s me, holding the comic book in question. Geez! My toupee needs adjusting.

I read this issue (which you can buy at NostalgiaZone.com – $10 cheap!) and I’m going to spoil it for you. DC Comics doesn’t really explain how Superman keeps fooling the world.

The story in a nutshell: Editor Perry White has to leave the Daily Planet while he serves, temporarily, in the US Senate. His replacement is awfully handsome, a “dreamboat” according to Lois, but he also acts suspiciously. Lois goes on a date with him that first day after work and thinks there’s something up with the guy.

She learns he is the leader of S.K.U.L. (Superman Killers’ Underground League) and she gets roped into a plot to kill Supes. She gets Lana Lang to help her decode the instructions she had been given by this secret underground league. When the message is decoded, Superman bursts in on Lois and Lana and makes that declaration we see on the cover. Lana does admit they’ve had their suspicions.

Superman then removes his mask and he turns out to be the leader of the kill Superman club. But, he’s really an FBI agent trying to smoke out that League and he enlists Lois and Lana to help him. Continued next issue.

They don’t exactly explain how Superman/Clark Kent can fool the world with a suit and glasses.

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The sexism just oozes from the narration paragraph at the top. “The Daily Planet’s pretty reporter,” “cute nose.” Yuck!

While reading this comic book from 52 years ago, I was struck by how blatantly sexist it is in its treatment of women and Lois Lane in particular. Lane is an investigative reporter, yet she’s described as stumbling onto stories. Her immediate reaction upon meeting the new editor is to think of him as a dreamboat. And neither Lane nor Lang bring up the topic of marriage, yet that’s what “Superman” deems the best way to berate these women for their stupidity. Marriage must have been a major theme in the Lois Lane series, after all it was a “girl’s” comic.

Switching gears, a couple months back, on a Facebook comic book fan group page, there was a discussion of whether the cover of Marvel’s Fantastic Four #1 was an homage to or a rip-off of the cover illustration of DC’s The Brave and The Bold #28 (the first appearance of the Justice League Of America). Look below for a comparison.

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Compostionally the two cover are very much alike. I prefer the Fantastic Four cover, because I prefer Jack Kirby’s drawing to Mike Sekowsky’s. Although, Sekowsky’s anatomy drawing is better and FF #1 isn’t Kirby’s best cover. It’s good, just not his best.

(OK, I’m a Marvel kid. I’m required by the MMMS to always prefer Marvel covers. Even if drawn by Rob Liefe… NO! There’s no way I can do that! I must draw the line somewhere!)

At first, I thought it was coincidence. Then I learned that the Fantastic Four was the result of a mandate from Atlas Comics publisher, Martin Goodman, to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with the Justice League of America, DC’s super team that debuted just about a year earlier. Learning that bit of history has me leaning toward rip-off.

What do you think?

Finally, as part of that JLA/FF discussion, someone brought up the practice of artists copying other artists in the creation of comic books. They provided an image (see below) that certainly is evidence of copying.

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Top frame: Jack Kirby • Middle frame: Gil Kane • Bottom frame: Rich Buckler

There’s no denying the second two frames were copied from work done by Kirby in the first frame, assuming that image is the original use of that punch. You will note that Gil Kane (second frame) made a couple changes to the pose: Captain America’s left arm is held differently and his hips are turned to the right. Kane’s variation, in my opinion, makes the pose a little on the awkward side, especially the lower part of his left leg.

Gil! If you’re going to copy the master, copy the master.

Someone in the group discussion claimed that Stan Lee, himself, would hand artists frames of comic art, usually drawn by Kirby, and instruct them to copy that frame. This revelation was offered without any source citation, so it may be untrue. And it may be a case of artists just copying other artists, in this case Kirby, because the other artists may have solved a difficult problem. When you consider how quickly artists had to get the work done with looming deadlines and the need to do as many pages as possible in a day to get decent pay, copying is understandable.

Artists were paid lousy. If you could only manage one page a day, you’d starve.

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A Great Cover To Get Excited About

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Working for a comic book store has its moments. Sometimes you’re able to find that one issue for which a customer had been looking far and wide and for so long. There are the occasions when a little kid comes looking for advice on what to collect. (I always tell them to find something they like and collect that. Don’t worry about value, but keep it in good shape. Comic book collecting should be fun.) And sometimes we get a customer who is just damn excited to find a comic book drawn by their favorite artist. An original, not a reprint. From the early days. And it’s affordable!

That last scenario happened on Saturday. A fellow came in and found himself a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #33 (February 1966) drawn and inked by the incomparable Steve Ditko. It would be his first original Amazing Spider-Man purchase. Until that Saturday, he had been collecting reprints. The customer placed his find up by the register for safe keeping as he searched around for any other gems. That’s when I noticed the cover.

Ditko, along with Jack Kirby, was instrumental in creating the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee in the early 1960s. His style is unmistakable and, to be honest, doesn’t always work for me. But this cover caught my eye.

It was Ditko who designed Spider-Man’s look. He is responsible for what must be the second most iconic costume in all of comic books. First would have to be Superman, but Spider-Man is right up there. That’s a hell of an achievement.

The cover says it is “The Final Chapter” and we see our hero, apparently trapped, as the water rises. The cover is done simply and effectively with tension and drama. But is Spider-Man really trapped? Is he contemplating his escape? Or is he giving up and letting the flood waters take him?

Surely, our hero isn’t giving up.

The composition is straight forward and elegant. Spidey is right at the center trapped with the water is rising. What will he do? The text helps set the tension. Can this possibly be the final chapter? Is it the end of our hero?!

The reader just has to find out!

That’s an effective cover. And it is very gratifying to know the copy we had in the shop has found a loving home.

(Hmmm. It’s curious. The other Amazing Spider-Man cover I declared great also had Spidey threatened by rising water. It seems I have a thing for wet Spider-Men. I might have to call my therapist.)

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January’s Great Comic Book Cover Is By The King

29715I’ve said this before: When I was younger and first collecting comic books, I didn’t really care for Jack Kirby’s artwork. I did come to appreciate when I got older and had studied comic book art very closely and for a long time. Lately, I’ve been hearing other comic book collectors saying the same thing. Although they haven’t said how much they’ve studied the art, they have come to an appreciation and love for Kirby’s genius.

With this month’s great cover, I think I might have been a fan of Kirby in my younger years, if one thing would have been true. If Bill Everett would have inked more of the King’s work. In those days, Mike Royer, Vince Colletta, or Joe Sinnott were teamed with Kirby most often. They were all fine inkers, but Bill Everett, a excellent artist in his own right, seemed to really gel with his fellow comic book pioneer.

Look at that cover (The Mighty Thor #171, December 1969). Penciled by Kirby, it has many of his telltale features. There’s the round biceps, the odd-looking yet expressive hands, and those great skyscrapers. And, of course, that dynamic struggle pose between to super-powered foes. Kirby was so good at dynamic.

On this cover, there’s also a more defined anatomy. More restrained somehow. More disciplined. And I love the expression on The Wrecker’s (he’s the guy in the green jumpsuit) face. There’s something about those eyes. I attribute these elements of greatness to Everett’s inking. Everett should have been Kirby’s inker far more often. If this cover is any indication, they would have made a hell of a team.

It’s a great cover.

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Here’s This Month’s Great Comic Book Cover

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This month’s great comic book cover comes from the religious Treasure Chest series (volume 1, number 5 – August 18, 1966). I haven’t read this comic, but I thinking it’s a safe bet that, since in was published in 1966, it’s not going to have a very sympathetic view toward the Native peoples who were fighting for their land and way of life. The title – The March To Glory: The Story of Custer’s Last Stand – pretty much confirms my suspicion.

But, I’ll put America’s troubled and sometimes shameful past aside to look at what I think is a great cover by artist Reed Crandall.

Although, what exactly happened during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or the Battle of the Greasy Grass as it is called by Native Americans, will never be known, the image depicts Custer separating his forces as a Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, or Arapaho warrior observes. Since most of us know the results of the battle (Custer’s forces were soundly defeated), we can assume the splitting up of his men was probably not a good idea. Also, knowing the history, there’s a sense of foreboding to a lone warrior witnessing Custer’s error.

Crandall does an excellent job rendering the warrior. I don’t know if the garments worn are accurate, but the drawing is wonderfully done. It’s not a comic book superhero we see, but a realistically drawn man. The anatomy is right and looks real. There’s no exaggeration, no over-muscled physique. The coloring is muted with the exception of the bright orange markings of the Native’s battle gear.

Sometimes an illustration of a scene anticipating a great battle can be every bit as great as the battle scene itself. And that’s the case with this month’s great cover.

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This Month’s Great Cover Is By The King!

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I love a good battle cover. The kind of cover that shows the hero or heroes in pitched battle against some unbeatable foe. Unbeatable by anyone other than our hero, I mean. This admiration of a good battle cover is something a great deal of comic book collectors share. A good battle is the essence of an exciting super-powered comic story, so give the readers a battle cover to let us know what we’re in for.

This month’s installment (Captain America #106 – October 1968) is a terrific battle cover. Drawn by the King himself, Jack Kirby, it shows Captain America going toe-to-toe with an android version of Steve Rogers, Cap’s secret identity. Why would there have been an android version of Steve Rogers? I don’t know. I haven’t read the comic book. That’s not important.

What is important is how really great this cover is. The action just jumps off the page. Kirby was the master at that. There’s Cap’s fist sticking right out at us as our hero prepares a dynamic punch. And that pole thing – is it the boom of a boom mic? – wielded by the android is also right there in our faces.

I think it might be a boom mic because it looks as though the two combatants are fighting in a TV studio or maybe on a movie set. See the spotlights in the background? Is it a studio of some kind, in which they fight? I don’t know. I haven’t read the comic book. That’s not important.

What is important is the cover is well composed and very dramatic. It captures the eye with action and promises more exciting action on the pages inside. And it says so right there, “Cap Goes Wild!”

Bravo, Mr Kirby! Bravo!

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October’s Great Cover is a Howler

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I mean it’s a howler in the sense that it is October, the month of Halloween, and I chose a comic book cover with a werewolf on it. And werewolves howl, so…

When I was a kid, one of my favorite Marvel titles was Werewolf By Night. I was and still am into Universal Studios’ classic monster movies: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Wolf Man (1941). And the Werewolf By Night series went hand in hand with those movies. I especially liked the first few issues with the incomparable Mike Ploog’s artwork. However, my favorite single issue is still Werewolf By Night #9, which was wonderfully draw by Tom Sutton. I wrote about that issue a long time ago.

As you have probably noticed, this month’s great cover isn’t an issue of Werewolf By Night. I did one of those covers as my first great cover of the month blog. No, this one is an issue of Moon Knight (#29 – March, 1983). It’s drawn by one of comic books’ most intriguing artists: Bill Sienkiewicz.

I first saw Sienkiewicz’s work in this Moon Knight series. I thought he was good, if a bit of a Neal Adams look-a-like. But, soon, much like Barry Winsdor-Smith, John Romita Jr., and Mike Mignola, Sienkiewicz stopped trying to draw in the fashion of most comic book artists and allowed his own style to emerge. This cover is from the beginning of that emergence.

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More man-like version.

There was also a change in how the Werewolf was depicted. The decision was made to move away from the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man look to a more wolf-like monster. It would still walk upright like a man, but its face would be that of a wolf. More like Marvel’s character Man-Wolf.

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More wolf-like version.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a bit torn by that change. I really like the early version, but this version is more horrifying and much more monstrous. Especially the way Sienkiewicz draws the creature on this cover and in the book.

There are five elements to this cover illustration: The eyes, the fangs, the blood, the crescent blade, and black. The use of black is brilliant. It can’t help but create a mood of horror and dread. This creature isn’t human. It can’t be reasoned with. The earlier version of the Werewolf could, at times, look almost cuddly. This version is poised to bite your face off.

This cover certainly caught collectors’ eyes back in 1983. It’s still eye-catching now.

It’s such a great cover.

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Warning! This Great Cover Might Make Some People Feel Queasy

Those of my readers who suffer from trypophobia, fear of holes, will want to skip this week’s blog. It’s OK. I understand that this month’s great comic book cover, Harvey Comics’ Little Dot #160 (August, 1975), might be difficult to look at. You are excused. The rest of you – read on!

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There’s not a lot of information I can give about this cover. I can say I think it’s a great example of Pop Art, but I don’t know who illustrated it. I can say the person who inked it is obviously one of those old hands at using the brush. Those artists with that kind of inking skill always impress me. So precise and so flowing. It looks simple, but the skill level has to be way up there.

Look at how simply Little Dot’s mouth is done. And her hands. I’m certain the artist also worked quickly. He or she cranked this whole cover out in the time it would take me to ink a few of the dots on the page. Very few. Dang, those artists were good.

Harvey titles were never anything I was interested in. I always thought it was kids’ stuff. Not like the sophisticated super men and women in tights fighting the bad guys comics I was collecting. I never cared about Richie Rich, Little Dot, Little Lotta, Hot Stuff, Spooky, or dead Richie Rich. What was he called? Oh, right. Casper. But I do appreciate the skills of Harvey’s artists. They had to work fast, that’s just how comic books had to be made, and, at Harvey, the artists had to conform to a certain look. That may have changed in more recent years, but back in the day when different artists worked on Little Dot, Little Dot still had to look exactly like Little Dot. No variation! It’s not easy shedding one’s own personal style. At Marvel or DC, the artists could express their own style. At Harvey, they had to follow the template. Those were the rules.

Harvey also didn’t do much to identify their artists. So many worked in anonymity. That’s a shame, because I’d really like to give credit to the artist who created this great cover.

Update: I’ve been informed that it is likely that the artist for the cover is Warren Kremer. He worked for Harvey for many, many years. So, excellent work, Mr. Kremer!

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