Tag Archives: Jack Kirby

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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Captain America Is Back! And On a Great Cover!

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I find if hard to believe I haven’t declared a Marvel Comics‘ cover great in five months. What’s wrong with me? I might be in danger of losing my MMMS membership. Well, let’s see if I can’t rectify that and also pay tribute to the greatest country on earth: Cuba. No! Um. I mean America. Right. That’s what I mean.

During World War II, superhero comic books were very popular. Those heroes were enlisted to fight Hitler and his Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese forces. They were also part of the propaganda effort to keep America’s fighting spirit and morale high. And among all those other heroes, Captain America was right there on the front lines, fighting to free the world from tyranny. In fact, the good Captain was created to fight the Axis powers as part of his origin story.

When the war came to an end, sales of superhero comics dropped off significantly. With the exception of DC Comics‘ superheroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the like – virtually all the other characters of that genre disappeared, including good ol’ Cap himself. Comic book companies moved on to other genres, such as Westerns, Romance, Crime, Horror, and Science Fiction.

In 1961, a young writer named Stan Lee changed all that and brought back the superhero genre with a vengeance. Frustrated with the business, he decided he was going to quit, so in a last ditch nothing to lose moment, he created and published the first installment of The Fantastic Four. The world of comic books was changed forever.

Next thing he knew, along with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee was creating a whole collection of unique and exciting superheroes. In 1963, it was time for another  superhero group, so Lee and Kirby brought together the newly minted characters Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, and the Hulk to form the supergroup The Avengers.

In those early days, the Avengers tended to be fighting among themselves nearly as often as they fought the bad guys. They needed a dynamic leader. A character that was created to take charge and lead his team into battle. Someone with the rank…say…of captain. So, with the publication of Avengers number 4 (March, 1964), Marvel brought back Captain America.

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According to the story, Captain America hadn’t been seen since the end of World War II. The world assumed he was dead. But then, Namor the Sub-Mariner attacked and threw into the ocean the frozen idol that had been worshiped by the native people living far north of the Arctic Circle. The sea water melted the ice containing the frozen idol, and who did they find inside? Why, it was Captain America! The Avengers rescued the captain and he joined the group.

Classic stuff!

But enough with the background story, let’s look at the cover.

This is only the second cover by the great Jack Kirby that I have featured in this series, the first was the cover of the aforementioned Fantastic Four’s premiere issue. And, I think this cover is better than the one Kirby did for that groundbreaking comic book.

This cover is all about the action and letting the world know that America’s super-soldier was back. And there he is right in front. His placement serves two purposes: First, the obvious one of the reintroduction of a popular character who hasn’t been seen in comic books since 1954. Second, the placement is an indication that the group has a new leader. True, he didn’t assume the mantle immediately, but it didn’t take long.

Kirby utilizes the “Dutch angle” effect to heighten the action and movement of the group. They are moving fast and ready to fight. You better watch out, bad guys! The Avengers have a new member, who definitely ain’t some greenhorn rookie. Oh, no! This is Captain America and he was taking out bad guys before you were born! Well, except for you, Baron Zemo and Red Skull. You were the bad guys he was fighting. But the other Avengers either weren’t born yet or they were in diapers! Except Thor of course…

Anyway, I digress.

Kirby’s anatomy drawing wasn’t great, but that was never his strength. His strength was drawing dynamic and exciting scenes. And this cover delivers.

Eyes front, world! Captain America is back!

Packing Peanuts!

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Another excellent cover…

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In this installment of my monthly look at comic book covers I really like, I’ll be looking at the cover of Fantastic Four #263 (Feb. 1984). The cover was illustrated by one of my favorite comic book artists: John Byrne. When he drew this cover, he had already been both drawing and writing a substantial run of the Fantastic Four series, starting with issue #232.

Bryne was given the task of revamping Marvel Comics‘ signature super-hero family: The Fantastic Four. Some of what he did was to bring the group more in line with their original look. He did away with the super-buff Mister Fantastic and made him thinner, less super-hero, more super scientist. He reworked the look of the Thing, he would even return our ever-lovin’ blue-eyed monster to the lumpy, Jack Kirby original version for a time. The groups’ uniforms no longer appeared painted on, there were folds and creases again as when Kirby designed them.

Byrne even explored the potential of the Invisible Girl. He had her go evil for a time, which seems to be his thing. He was involved with the Dark Phoenix of the X-Men series and her going evil. And he had the Scarlet Witch give into the temptation of evil during his writing and drawing stint on the Avengers. He must really like ELO’s Evil Woman.

Once he was done making the Invisible Girl far more powerful than she had been and put her through her evil phase, he rechristened her the Invisible Woman. Progress! Did I mention this was 1984?

This stint drawing the FF was not Bryne’s first go ’round. He had done the breakdown pencils and layouts for a while earlier. Joe Sinnott, the great inker from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, but this was the Bronze Age and his inking seemed… meh, did the finished art for those issues. One could barely tell Byrne had anything to do with the art of those stories.

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Sinnott’s inks, not helping.

Be that as it may, when Byrne took over the FF writing and drawing, he churned out some intriguing and entertaining stories and some excellent art. I will say this wasn’t the height of his art, which he achieved on the X-Men with the help of inker Terry Austin, but still very good stuff.

This month’s cover (see above) is very dramatic. The Thing is desperately trying to find Johnny (the Human Torch) in some kind of inferno of debris. I’m not sure  Johnny can be burned, he is the Human Torch, after all. Still, the Thing is determined to rescue his little “brother”.

The high contrast inking and color, using mostly orange and yellow with white highlighting, makes this cover feel very hot. And it makes Ben Grimm’s desperate search more desperate. I also like the dry brush inking (or maybe it’s charcoal) to create the texture of the burning debris and smoke.

It’s a terrific cover. Worthy of high praise. Which I just gave it.

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John Buscema’s Avengers

Early on in my comic collecting days, my favorite title was The Avengers. Those early days were the mid 70s and I was collecting the new books. It didn’t take long for me to begin collecting back issues of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I wasn’t always so concerned about the condition of the books, I just wanted them in my collection. I now have virtually every one of the first 200 issues.

Well, I lack the most valuable ones. I ain’t made of money, you know! Most of it was spent on comic books. That doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Anyway.

When the Avengers started in 1963 the books were illustrated by (who else?) Jack Kirby. For a long time I wasn’t much of a fan of Kirby’s work, but I did eventually come to really like it. Kirby’s anatomy drawing was never his strong suit, but his layout and dynamic design and action drawing were top notch.

Next came Don Heck, taking over the pencils with The Avengers issue number nine. Heck was a better anatomy drawer than Kirby. His characters were more realistically drawn, if a little bit stiff and less dramatic than Kirby’s characters.

If only there was an artist who could somehow combine Kirby’s dynamic action with Heck’s more anatomically correct illustration…

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Issue number 41 introduced just such an artist: John Buscema. I think he was Marvel’s best artist in those Silver Age days. (Yes, there was Gil Kane. He was a very close second.) I really, really liked the way Buscema drew his Avengers. Big! Dynamic! Full of movement!

Compare these three fight scenes:

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Jack Kirby

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Don Heck

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John Buscema

Even without color, Buscema’s is so much more exciting and melodramatic. The others are good, I just think Buscema was simply a better illustrator. (Although, the bad guy in the center of Buscema’s drawing does appear to be wearing a metal diaper.)

Buscema’s characters were powerful and graceful. I especially like the way he drew the Vision:

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The Vision introduced to the Avengers by Buscema. Lithe and broodingly powerful. The pose reminds me of Michelanglo’s David.

I had read that Buscema never felt very comfortable with drawing superheroes. He felt his true calling was to illustrate Conan the Barbarian. And he was the artist for most of the Conan issues from number 25 to number 190. That’s a hell of a run.

John Buscema’s run on The Avengers in the late 60s was among the most beautiful and awe-inspiring work in the history of comic books. (How’s that for hyperbole?)

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“John Buscema isn’t going to draw me anymore?”

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This cover changed the world…

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No, I don’t think the headline overstates it. If a frustrated young comic book writer hadn’t taken his wife’s advice back in the early 1960s, today’s world would be very different.

As Stan Lee tells it, he had become frustrated working on Western, Romance, and Monster comic books and was thinking about quitting. He confided in his wife, as husbands always should (right, Honey?), about his wanting to leave and she suggested before he quit he should write something he really wanted to write. He was going to quit anyway, why not give it a shot?

That’s how the world got the Fantastic Four, which lead to one of the greatest outpouring of creative content ever. Stan Lee, teamed up with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, began cranking out an entire universe of superheroes, the likes of which had never been seen before. It was a marvelous universe to behold.

And the Fantastic Four was the Big Bang.

So, let’s look at the cover, shall we? This is the second installment of my monthly look at comic book covers that I love. Or really like. Or have a certain fondness for. I mean, I don’t wanna marry them. I’m already married. That would be bigamy.

Anyway, the cover of this historic comic book was illustrated by Jack Kirby (who else?!). It’s not his most visually exciting effort, but he does what is necessary to introduce the reader to these new characters.

Kirby chose to keep Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Sue Storm (Invisible Girl) in their civilian clothes, I think, in order to play up Marvel’s angle that their superheroes were real people with everyday real world problems. It was that angle that made Marvel’s characters so much more interesting and identifiable than DC’s characters at the time. DC got better. Competition does that.

There is a monster on the cover (two if you count The Thing), so Lee didn’t completely abandon the monster themes. And one of Kirby’s strengths was his monster creations. Even in my younger days of not really liking The King’s work, I did like his monsters. They were awesome.

And then there’s the dialogue. Well, again, what the characters are saying is mainly meant to introduce them to the reader. Each of their names is mentioned either by themselves or one of the other teammates.

It was also a long time practice in comic book writing to end nearly every sentence with an exclamation point. Unless someone was asking a question, everyone was speaking very urgently. That overuse of the exclamation points did eventually subside.

I find a couple things curious about the cover. One is how the banner box with each of the FF’s hero names (fully exclamation marked, of course) makes it sound as though the members of this group had been in other magazines prior to being teamed up in this one. It’s just a minor awkwardness. I’ll live.

The other curiosity I have is just how did Mr. Fantastic end up in those ropes? Surely, the monster didn’t tie him up. Were he and Sue up to something a little kinky perhaps?

You know, with his stretching ability and her invisibility, things could have gotten very interesting…

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It isn’t all about Marvel…

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Well, I’m doing it! I’m crossing over into DC Comics territory. I was a Marvel Comics kid who would rarely pick up a DC title back in the early days of my collecting. For some reason, Batman and Superman and all those other DC characters didn’t interest me. I took the motto “Make Mine Marvel” to heart in those days. But,as I got older and more serious about collecting, I worked my way into the DC Universe.

This was when I mainly bought comic books with exciting covers. But, I also liked the monster stories. And because I liked monsters so much, I laid down my hard-earned 20 cents and purchased this DC comic book, The Demon #13 (Oct. ’73).

The Demon was a series created, drawn, and written by the great Jack Kirby. Kirby was king. He was the major talent behind the creation of the language of comic book art. He was a pioneer. He is probably the most influential artist in comic book history and, for years, I thought he sucked.

That’s right. I couldn’t stand his stuff. In my formative years as a cartoonist, I couldn’t understand why he was the king. As I worked to improve my drawing skills, I kept looking at his work and thought it was crap. “He can’t draw!” I would think.

Kirby didn’t draw anatomy well. Look at the hands he’d draw. How many knuckles does a human finger have? How long is a thumb compared to the fingers? Who has squared off fingertips? And that’s just the hands!

I could go on, but I did eventually come to appreciate the greatness of Jack Kirby’s art. So let’s just move on, shall we?

The Demon #13 might have been the first DC Comics title I’d ever purchased. He’s been a favorite character of mine ever since.

This was long before the Demon started speaking in rhyme. That’s the one thing that annoyed me about the later incarnation of the Demon. I like the Hell aspect and that the Demon is kind of evil while still being a good guy. And I love his alter-ego’s name: Jason Blood. Such a cool name!

The art I’ve selected from this issue are all full page illustrations, with one exception. In fact, one is a two page spread!

The cover (see above) has an interesting use of color to help direct the eye. Your attention is drawn to the Demon and his two adversaries. The monsters are less significant, but still important. And the Demon’s declaration, “I’m unleashing every terrible thing your mind can think of! Can you take it?” makes one wonder if he talking to his adversaries or is he talking to us? Probably both.

The two page spread is chock full of Jack Kirby goodness. Some of his best work is this big drawing stuff. It’s big, spectacular! And Kirby was very good at making sure that the design didn’t leave the reader confused. The storyline continues to flow through the dramatic art.

demon 2 page spread

There’s also that black dotted cosmic fire thing the Kirby was so fond of using. I don’t know if he invented it, but it is a signature element of his art. And countless Kirby-influenced artists (myself included) have used the same effect.

So, the next page I’ve selected is the first page of chapter two. It introduces “the Monster”. A not so subtle take on the Frankenstein legend. Kirby’s version was created by Baron Von Evilstein.

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Baron Von Evilstein! That’s fantastic! With a name like that how could you not be evil? That name can’t help but pigeon-hole a fellow. Even if he wanted to be a philanthropist, how could he while named Evilstein?

The Monster is huge. He’s craggy and menacing. And I love the metal bars that protrude from him. Maybe not quite the same as the flat-headed creature that Boris Karloff brought to life, but the similarities are there.

There’s a single frame that I’ve included that has its focus on the creatures hands.The hands are stretched out imploringly to a woman he sees as a friend. It brings to mind Karloff’s so expressive use of his hands in his portrayal of the Monster. No other actor who played the Monster ever came close to Karloff. Part of the reason for that, I think, is due to the way Karloff used his hands.

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Let’s compare! Kirby’s monster…

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…Karloff’s monster. The images mirror each other.

Speaking of hands, this brings me to the final piece I’ll be including. It’s the first page of chapter three. Kirby sums up the action of the scene while deftly bringing in the Demon. That’s a pretty cool hand there. We’re in for some action!

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DC may not have held much interest for me back in the old days, but as you can see there was something good going on. I’ve remained a Marvel kid, but DC could also produce some pretty good stuff.

Hell. I’m a Marvel kid whose favorite character is Batman.

Go figure.

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Tom Sutton & Werewolf By Night

Artist unknown.

Werewolf By Night #9 Artist unknown

When kicking around ideas for this blog with the fellas at the Nostalgia Zone, I mentioned I was considering writing about how much I didn’t like Jack Kirby’s comic book illustrations. Yeah, yeah, he’s the King. He practically invented the art form. He certainly made it possible for Marvel Comics to become the dominant (and best) comic book publisher in the world. His influence on comic book art is still being felt today. But, I just didn’t like his work.

You will note that I said I didn’t like it. Past tense. Sometime in my art school years (much farther in the distant past than I care to admit), I found something in his art that I hadn’t when I was younger. Yes, there were the squared fingers, the funky anatomy, the three styles of women’s faces (the heroine, the old lady, and the fat gal) that he always drew. But there was melodrama, composition, dynamic action, and those cool large black dots! His weird characters of the 70s: Kamandi, the Demon, and OMAC were way out there. And his monsters were awesome! I found that I suddenly quite liked his work.

The Demon #1 - Cool cover by Jack Kirby, but this isn't about the King.

The Demon #1 – Cool cover by Jack Kirby, but this isn’t about the King.

I guess it’s good to be the King.

But the boss said that Kirby has been written about to death. He suggested writing something about a lesser known artist. OK. How about…

Tom Sutton (1937 – 2002) had worked for Charlton and Marvel, as well as doing work for various horror magazines. He illustrated mostly horror genre stories starting in the 1960s on up to the 1990s. I must admit I don’t know a great deal about his body of work, but there are two comic books that stand out as among my most favored from my early days of collecting.

In 1973, for a two issue run, Sutton both penciled and inked Marvel’s ‘Werewolf By Night’. Since Sutton worked mainly in the macabre of comic bookdom, he was a rather nice fit with the Werewolf title. For the first seven issues of ‘Werewolf By Night’ the fantastic Mike Ploog was the penciler. Then, starting with issue number 8 and going through number 12, a series of guest artists took the helm, before Ploog returned for issue number 13.

Sutton was brought in to do issues 9 and 10.

As I said, Ploog was a fantastic artist, with his work heavily influenced by the great Will Eisner. Ploog’s werewolf was cool, if maybe a little bit cuddly. Sutton’s werewolf was much more sinister looking. Darker. More animalistic. I was far more frightened by Sutton’s werewolf than by Ploog’s or Gil Kane’s or Werner Roth’s or the dreadfully dull Don Perlin’s.

Here is a side by side comparison of Ploog’s and Sutton’s werewolves. Ploog’s shows more discipline is his drawing and would make a terrific poster. Sutton’s is wilder and is much more menacing.

werewolf comparison

Is it me or does the werewolf’s left leg look as though it’s backward in Ploog’s drawing?

I also find Sutton’s work to be more cinematic in his approach. Here are a few examples:

The opening page of number 9 is outstanding. It shows the werewolf running through a rainy night in Los Angeles. He runs over rooftops, through back alleys, then into traffic and, ultimately, gets seen full flash in the headlights of oncoming cars. I just love it!

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As the opening pages of the first part of this two issue story unfold, we see that the werewolf is being pursued. He’s followed by a ragman who can somehow track the werewolf from under the streets, through the sewers of LA. I’m not sure how that is accomplished, but no matter. It is in those pages that Sutton creates a great feeling of impending doom as one frame in particular demonstrates. Look at that shot drawn from a low angle focusing on the ragman surrounded by his ominous shadow. So good!

WBN 9 Page 2

Later in number 9 (page 14), we find a surprisingly nonchalant Jack Russell alone in his room. I would expect him to be a bit more on edge seeing as how he should expect to be changing into the werewolf any minute now. Still.

The muted colors are also effective if poorly printed.

The muted colors are also effective if poorly printed.

Outside we see more ragmen emerging from the sewers and stealthily approaching Jack’s house. I really like the way Sutton drew those frames. The house is done in simple shapes, while the ragmen appear to float across the ground. And the one ragman who looks back over his shoulder is quite chilling.

The werewolf is captured through the use of a high frequency whistle that causes severe pain in the creature. The werewolf quickly learns he must do the bidding of Sarnak, the masked leader of the ragmen. On the last page of issue 9, we can see just how painful the whistle is (see the detail below).

It's difficult to see in the image,but the werewolf's eyes were drawn as diagonal lines.

It’s difficult to see in the image, but the werewolf’s eyes were drawn as diagonal lines.

Issue 10 has a very good cover by Sutton, however I think the werewolf is in danger of being crushed by the falling blocks. They look awfully heavy. I can’t find out who illustrated the cover for number 9 (see above). It could have been Sutton, but I don’t think so.

Werewolf By Night #10

Werewolf By Night #10

From issue 10 I’ll include two examples of Sutton’s work from the end of the story. (Spoilers!) First we can see the twisted and gnarled faces of the ragmen, who were also under the control of Sarnak, as they begin to regain their senses. They realize they had been manipulated by Sarnak and determine they will make him pay.

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Sutton draws the ragmen converging on the villain, swirling around him, and, on the final page, Sarnak is unmasked and revealed to be just another surface dweller, clean and soft. Not one of them.

WBN 10 Page 28

Altogether, this was a fine two part story that showed Tom Sutton would have been an excellent choice as the regular artist for the series, but, after two more issues (11 & 12) brilliantly drawn by Gil Kane, Mike Ploog returned to draw three more, then the drawing was turned over to the very ordinary Don Perlin and the artwork was all downhill from there.

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