Monday, February 8, 2016

The Chic Stone Age of Comics!

For a period of time in the 1960s Chic Stone’s inking over Jack Kirby epitomized the look of the Marvel Comics Group. Stone however, was no newcomer to the field, having worked for a procession of publishers dating back to 1939, including Marvel’s earliest incarnation, Timely Comics.

Charles Eber Stone was born on January 4th, 1923 in New York City. Stone had an affinity for drawing early on and was absorbed by the Sunday color comic pages, studying the work of everyone from Milton Caniff to Rube Goldberg. At 16 he got his first break, working for the Will Eisner/Jerry Iger comics shop which supplied stories to various publishers. As an office boy Stone was given the usual beginner tasks, including erasing pencil lines on the original art, making corrections and getting the comics ready for publication. Stone soon got an opportunity to draw, and he kept a busy schedule in the years ahead, freelancing at Fawcett, Ace, Lev Gleason, Timely, Fiction House ACG and Charlton. Although Stone's art appeared in many genres, including crime, horror, superhero and romance, his most accomplished jobs early on veered toward humorous material. 

It's uncertain whether this Bulletman story is an example of very early Chic Stone art; he may only have assisted on backgrounds or inking. One thing is certain, though, someone was having fun, as the note in panel four, if you read it closely, has the message: "Chic Stone is a jerk". "The Ghost of Hamlet", Bulletman # 7, September 1942. Image from Comic Book Plus   

"Inside Dope" a baseball oriented humor strip which took up the middle tier in between ads, appeared in Lev Gleason's Boy Comics # 31, December 1946. Image from Comic Book Plus:  

For the short-lived Consolidated Magazines Stone drew two episodes of the "Bobbie and Sox' feature appearing in Lucky Comics. The above splash, signed with Stone's trademark illustrative signature, is from # 4, May 1946. Image from Comic Book Plus. 

Stone succeeded artists Joe Maneely and Mike Sekowsky on The Gunhawk, a character who starred in his own title and was also featured in the anthology Wild Western from 1950-1952. Stones earliest Timely work appeared in 1942, on the "Jeep Jones" feature in USA comics. While Stone was most prolific in western themed stories, he also illustrated sports, crime and mystery tales. The above example points to Stone's ability to draw more detailed, realistic characters and settings when called for. Wild Western # 21, April 1951. Scan courtesy of Michael J. Vassallo. 

In the 1950s crime stories were popular fodder (and big sellers) in comics and Stone drew many stories in the genre. Although Stone's natural style tended to be cartoonish, he had a strong sense of storytelling and layout, as can be observed in the first two panels. "In His Father's Crimson Footsteps", author unknown, from Ace Magazines Crime Must Pay The Penalty # 26, June 1952. Image from Comic Book Plus:

Stone appeared to be a smart businessman, seeking out assignments outside of comics throughout his career. Tim Tomorrow is a store giveaway, dated August 1952.    

Ace also published horror tales, and Stone showed a facility for the material. He would return to the genre in later decades, as we will see. "Sinister Return of the Princess of Baal", writer unknown, Baffling Mysteries # 11, November 1952.

Stone continued to produce horror/supernatural oriented material for companies, including Charlton. The impressive splash is from This Magazine is Haunted # 21, November 1954. Author unknown, lettering by Charlotte Jetter.  

Many artists who worked in comics during the 40s and 50s were versatile, some due to natural talent, others out of sheer desperation. There was a better chance of getting more work, particularly in the 1950's, when romance, crime, war, western, jungle, science fiction and horror comics were in abundance. Stone clearly had an affinity for lighthearted material, as seen from the "Little Hank" strip which appeared in Boy Comics # 99, March 1954. Thanks to Frank Mastropolo.

It's no surprise that in later years Stone became a prolific contributor to the Archie line of teen characters. This page, from Charlton's TV Teens # 5 (October-November 1954) displays his flair for animation and caricature. Stone art (and possible story), Charlotte Jetter lettering. Image from Comic Book Plus:

Another Charlton series Stone drew (and likely wrote) was My Little Margie, based on the popular TV series starring Gale Storm. Splash from My Little Margie # 6, March 1955, lettering by Jon D'Agostino. Image from Comic Book Plus:

From 1956-1962 Stone's comics work was sporadic, with only a handful of stories appearing, mainly for Charlton and ACG. This was a lean period in the field; following the senate investigation on comics and the subsequent creation of the Comics Code Authority many companies folded. Stone sought out employment elsewhere, taking jobs as art director for magazines, including True Experience, The American Salesman and Dig; in advertising agencies, animation and even a short-lived attempt at publishing his own magazine Boy Illustrated, which lasted a scant two issues.  

"The Case for E.S. P.", Richard Hughes script, Ed Hamilton letters, Forbidden Worlds # 112, July 1963. Image from Comic Book Plus:

"Old Ya-Hoooo!", Richard Hughes script, Ed Hamilton letters, Adventures into the Unknown # 143, September 1963. Image from Comic Book Plus: 

Stone was a prolific contributor to the American Comics Group line (commonly referred to as ACG), working for writer/editor Richard Hughes on a fairly consistent basis from the late 1950s into the mid-1960s when the company closed its doors. Most of Hughes titles centered on romance and mystery/suspense/fantasy anthologies, and Stone had a hand in many of them.   

By late 1963 Stone was seeking other freelance comic book work besides ACG (he drew solo stories for Archie and National in the early 1960s). Having worked for Timely/Atlas in the past, he looked up his old editor, Stan Lee, whose Marvel line was beginning to get some attention. Goodman's comic book line was still a small operation, though, and Lee was looking for accomplished talent. As Stone recounted in an interview with James Cassara in Jack Kirby Collector # 19, February 1997:

“I happened to walk into the Marvel offices at the time Stan Lee was editing a Jack Kirby pencil job. Looking over his shoulder I was totally awestruck by the magnificent penciling. Stan looked at me and asked, ‘Chic would you like to ink this?’ My knees turned to jello; all I could murmur was, “you’re kidding?” Leaving his office, for the first time in my life I doubted my ability to do justice to this man’s magnificent art.

Despite Stone's misgivings, his first inking job over Jack Kirby, a 13 page Thor story from Journey Into Mystery # 102 (March, 1964) was bold and distinctive, as this splash page clearly demonstrates. Lee must have been impressed by the results, as Stone became the regular inker on Thor from this point on. 

Strange Tales # 118 (March 1964) was the first of many Stone-inked, Kirby-drawn covers that graced newsstands and compelled kids to pick up Marvel comics in the 1964-65 period. The Dr. Strange vignette is by Steve Ditko, taken from an interior panel. Artie Simek letters; Stan Goldberg colors.

The "power of Kirby and Stone" (to borrow from the cover copy) mesmerized many a kid in the 1960s (me included), but, I suspect if this was the first time I'd seen this image I'd still be taken by its elemental composition: simple, direct and filled with drama. Tales of Suspense # 54, June 1964. 

Stone inked his first Fantastic Four cover a month before he was given the interior assignment. At Marvel covers were usually produced after the inside art was completed, so this was an impressive preview of what was to come. Fantastic Four # 27, June 1964.

Stone's splash page inks to Fantastic Four # 28, July 1964. While Kirby was graced with some fine inker's on the FF before Stone arrived, particularly Dick Ayers (even though he only inked FF # 13, likely due to deadline problems, and the cover to # 14; Steve Ditko's embellishment is also worthy of special note), his rendering seemed perfect for the strip. Stone had an affinity for inking the Thing's rocky structure and added an overall quality to Kirby's pencils. 

Stone took over the interior inking (and covers) on the X-Men with the 6th issue . Since there were more characters to portray, X-Men covers tended to be crowded, but Kirby was adept at drawing busy scenes, and they didn't turn out too bad! X-Men # 6, July 1964.

Speaking of hectic covers, this free-for-all is another animated Kirby-Stone effort. The same month Stone took over the inking on X-Men he was also given the third team book, The Avengers! In the space of a few short months Lee was confident of Stone's ability to keep up with the pencils Kirby was turning out at a whirlwind rate. Avengers # 6, July 1964. 

(A note on cover dates for those interested in minutiae - and why else would you  be here? -  Although FF, Avengers and X-Men all share the same cover date of July 1964, and, as many know, cover dates were advanced by 2-3 months to maintain longer shelf life, it would follow that all the July cover-dated comics appeared on stands in March of '64. Not so. Avengers and X-Men showed on in stores in early March, 1964; the FF made it to the corner candy store in early April. Got that? Then please explain it to me!)      

Jack Kirby had the ability to bring a sense of urgency into even quiet scenes with the use of choreography and body language. This splash page is but one of countless examples. Stone solidifies the scene with his strong inking. Avengers # 7, August 1964.

Many Kirby covers had a sense of mystery and suspense, and a panic-filled city with a character turning people to stone would get the attention of many a youth. On a personal note this issue (as well as Avengers # 6) is stamped in my mind as some of the earliest covers I recall from childhood. Journey into Mystery # 107, August 1964.

 The FF walk down a foreboding street, with the image of the omniscient Watcher among the heavens above them. To set the record straight, there is absolutely NO truth to the rumors in fan circles that the FF was based on real life Yancy Street Gang members, Barry Pearl, Jacque Nodell, Michael Vassallo and yours truly. We have had the same look of trepidation, though, when we approach our computers to see if anyone is reading our blogs! Fantastic Four # 29, August 1964.

Unbelievably, Stone was not only able to keep up with Kirby, but had time to ink other artists at Marvel, including some of the "girl" titles, which were at that point a mix of humor and soap opera. A year before Peter Parker graduated high school, Patsy and her schoolmates were deciding whether to go into the work force or continue their education. While only Stan Lee and Al Hartley are credited (full credits didn't always appear in the teen titles) Chic Stone's distinctive inking is evident, and, to cover all the bases, Artie Simek was the letterer and Stan Goldberg is the likely culprit as colorist. Patsy Walker # 116, April 1964.

Stone inked all the new stories in Fantastic Four Annual # 2, Summer 1964, with the exception of the cover (production man/artist Sol Brodsky did the honors - and quite well) and did a superlative job; his lush brush work is evident on this page. "The Fantastic Origin of Dr. Doom!", Stan Lee co-plot; Sam Rosen letters, Stan Goldberg probable colorist. 

In addition to the two stories in FF Annual # 2, Stone also inked all the special pin-ups, including the gallery of villains.

 Stone inked many Strange Tales covers starring the Torch and Thing, although the covers were often more compelling than the non-Kirby-Stone interiors. While there is only one Ditko, whose imaginative Dr. Strange stories were the real treat of each issue, the Kirby-Stone team admirably captured the essence of his approach on the bottom tier sequence. Strange Tales # 126, November 1964. 

The Hulk's title was cancelled after only six issues, but Stan Lee kept him in the public eye, bouncing from title to title as a protagonist in The Avengers, FF and Amazing Spider-Man. The Hulk was given a second chance as the co-feature in Tales to Astonish beginning in issue # 60. This time out Steve Ditko was at the artistic helm, but Jack Kirby continued to draw all the covers, with Chic Stone inking the majority. Tales to Astonish # 61, November 1964. 

Another magnificent Kirby-Stone pin-up that appeared in X-Men # 8, November 1964. Sam Rosen letters, Stan Goldberg (probable) colors. 

Stone inked a total of nine Kirby covers in December, 1964 dated comics, more than half of Marvel's output. The only titles Kirby and Stone didn't touch in this period were the teen-romance line, under the helm of Stan Goldberg and Al Hartley; Daredevil, drawn by the great Wally Wood, and Amazing Spider-Man, crafted by Steve Ditko. The house ad from Fantastic Four # 33 showcases four of those covers. As Chic Stone explained in his interview in Jack Kirby Collector # 14:

"Sales were very good at this time, and became even better when Stan conceived the idea of having powerful "poster like" covers. Of course no one could do that better than Jack Kirby. For a time, Kirby/Stone covers dominated the newsstand."

When Captain America was given his own 10 page feature in Tales of Suspense, Chic Stone naturally joined Kirby as inker. Stone was Cap's primary inker, working on all but two stories during his tenure at Marvel (those issues were admirably inked by Frank Giacoia). Here is the splash from Cap's second outing in Tales of Suspense # 60, December 1964.

The neighborhood kids on the splash page of Journey into Mystery # 112 (January 1965) bicker over the eternal question, "who is stronger, the Hulk or Thor", much like real-life youths fighting over their favorite baseball player or team. Stone inked thirteen consecutive issues of Journey into Mystery (#'s 102-114), making it his longest ongoing assignment at Marvel.

While it appears that Carl Burgos, the creator of the original Human Torch and a prolific cover artist for Atlas in the 1950s, drew the Giant-Man and Wasp figures (Burgos was drawing the feature at the time) the backgrounds and puzzled policeman may have been added by Kirby. Chic Stone inked it all.Tales To Astonish # 63, January 1965.   

Dragon-Man was a Kirby monster filled with personality; his characteristics included a parrot-like head. The figures of both he and the Thing are almost 3-D like in appearance. Stone explained how he achieved this technique in his Jack Kirby Collector interview: 

"Much of the figure work was rendered with a # 3 Windsor-Newton sable brush. I used a three-dimensional inking style which gave the illusion of depth to the illustration. This was a lesson I learned from none other than Milt Caniff, explained to me when I was a mere, wide-eyed sixteen year old."   

 Panel from "Calamity on the Campus", Fantastic Four # 35, February 1965.  



Shades of Keith Emerson!  Kirby was often ahead of his time; the villain on this cover looks like a crazed rock star playing a synthesizer, an image that would become commonplace in concert halls in a few short years. Avengers # 13, February 1965. As fast as Jack Kirby was, he couldn't draw every superhero title. He dropped the Avengers after issue # 9, continuing to produce sensational covers with Chic Stone.

Kirby and Stone were reunited on The Avengers one more time, at least partially, since Kirby provided layouts, with Don Heck completing the finished pencils. Kirby's breakdowns often consisted of rough figures indicating the basic composition, but the top panels, showcasing futuristic landscapes and spaceships, point to more detailed layouts than usual. Avengers # 14, March 1965. 

Kirby's innate ability to make each page flow effortlessly from panel to panel is enhanced by Stone's vibrant inking. Fantastic Four # 36, March 1965. 

The penultimate Kirby-Stone effort on X-Men brought a revamped Ka-Zar (formerly star of Goodman pulps and comic books) back to life, although no mention of his former incarnation appeared. Perhaps Goodman instructed Lee to re-use the name for copyright purposes? Poster-like splash page by the usual suspects. X-Men # 10, March 1965.

Arguably one of the finest Kirby-Stone covers ever. Kirby touches on his own experiences in combat to bring the scene to life. Fury and the Howler's weariness and exhaustion in the oppressive desert heat is palpable in their body language. Chic Stone's inking, combined with the two toned coloring by Stan Goldberg, creates an unforgettable mood. Sgt. Fury # 16, March 1965. 

Dr. Strange took center stage on this cover, with the Torch and Thing appearing in a vignette (although they did get to "Meet The Beatles" in this issue). Another example of the stark, powerful work of two great talents (Jack Kirby and Chic Stone, to be precise!) Strange Tales # 130, March 1965. 

Chic Stone does an admirable job inking Don Heck's pencils on this exciting splash from Tales of Suspense # 64, April 1965. In addition to inking Kirby, Stone also embellished Dick Ayers, Larry Lieber, Carl Burgos and Bob Powell at Marvel (and I'm probably forgetting someone!). Like pairing the right musicians or actors together, some combinations work better than others. Kirby and Stone, however, was a magical teaming of talents. 

Stone also inked a handful of Kirby's western covers (Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt Outlaw and Rawhide Kid). This dramatic scene is from Rawhide Kid # 45, April 1965.

The iconic image of the Hulk was later used in ads, on a Lancer paperback cover and eventually as the corner symbol in Astonish and later his own revived title for years to come. Tales to Astonish # 67, May 1965. 

Kirby and Stone's sixth and final X-Men cover is one of the best in terms of composition and effectiveness. The eerie figure walking on air and a mystified X-Men (and populace) complete the deal. X-Men # 11, May 1965.

Although Dick Ayers penciled this story, editor Stan Lee felt the first and last pages required a more dramatic characterization than Ayers rendered and had Kirby re-do them. On the splash it appears that Kirby only penciled the figures of Fury and Pamela Hawley. Chic Stone inked the entire story, with the exception of the last page, likely inked by staffer Carl Hubbell. While this was Stone's only interior contribution, he did a superlative job inking Kirby's cover art on issues #'s 11-13 and 18. Sgt. Fury # 18, May 1965.  

While the Red Skull had to be toned down to be accepted in a Comics Code approved book (the 1940s incarnation was deemed too horrific and the Code emphasized that his face could not have the appearance of a "real" skull). Despite these foolish demands Kirby and Stone still managed to give the Red Skull a sinister look. "The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull!" Stan Lee co-plot; Artie Simek letters,Tales of Suspense # 66, June 1965.

While Chic Stone didn't ink the interior FF story, he applied his masterful brush strokes to the cover of Fantastic Four # 39, June 1965 (Wally Wood inked the Daredevil figure). It would be his last contribution to the title with Kirby, ending a run of 12 covers, 11 interiors and one Annual and herarlded the end of a very special era.   

Sometime in early 1965 Stone made the decision to move on, looking for more penciling work. He had this to say in a personal letter to this author on March 22, 1997:

Indeed, Stone was prolific and didn't lack for work. He had already begun to pencil stories for his old editor Richard Hughes at ACG while still at Marvel and drew issues of Sea Devils, Metamorpho, Superboy and Batman (ghosting for Bob Kane) at National. In addition, he found advertising jobs, and that's just for starters!

One of Stone's first post-Marvel assignments was taking over the "Nemesis" strip beginning in Adventures Into The Unknown # 157 (June-July 1965). Writer-editor Richard Hughes hoped to catch some of the Kirby magic, since Stone absorbed and adapted some of Kirby's traits, but the stories lacked innovation or personality. Hughes reluctantly turned to superheroes in the 1960s when they regained popularity, but he was clearly more at home writing genre material. Stone drew Nemesis for thirteen episodes until Hughes returned Adventures Into The Unknown to its fantasy roots. The title ended four issues later, though, and shortly afterward, In 1967, the long running American Comics Group closed shop. Adventures into the Unknown # 166, August 1966. 

In addition to comic book work Stone was busy with many outside projects. He drew a series of ads for AMT, a company that produced model cars. The example above appeared in August, 1966 dated DC comics. Ed Hamilton lettering. In 1967 Stone drew a specialty comic promoting Ideal Toys popular Captain Action doll, published by National/DC and likely packaged by ACG.     

Beginning in 1966 Chic Stone freelanced for the Tower Comics line, packaged and produced by Wally Wood, primarily penciling and inking Dynamo and "Lightning" stories. While Stone signed most of his stories, this splash appears to be his work, possibly over Wally Wood breakdowns. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents # 9,  October 1966, Ben Oda lettering.  

In 1967 Jack Kirby produced two assignments outside of comics and called on Chic Stone to ink both of them. Captain Nice was a promotional piece for an NBC TV show debuting in January of '67. The show attempted (and failed) to capitalize on the phenomenal success of the Batman show which debuted in the previous year. Kirby and Stone's art was utilized in television ads and in publications such as TV Guide. In the May 1967 issue of the prestigious Esquire magazine Kirby wrote and drew a three page story to accompany an article on Jack Ruby. "46 Hours and 36 Minutes in the Life of Jack Ruby" Kirby is attributed as coloring both pieces. 

You can read a more detailed account of the Esquire story here (and see the complete story) at this site:     

At Dell, Stone drew TV related titles The Outer Limits, Garrison's Gorillas and, with ongoing interest in UFO's, stories for Flying Saucers Comics, including this attractive cover. Ben Oda lettering. Flying Saucers # 2, July 1967. 

In addition to his collaboration with Jack Kirby, Stone also produced solo art for Esquire. I'm uncertain whether this example predated the Kirby job, but its surely mid-1960s era. This art accompanied Stone's interview in The Jack Kirby Collector # 14, February 1997.   

Stone produced gory covers and interior art for Myron Fass' Eerie publications, a line of low budget horror magazines. Weird, Volume 3, No 1, February 1969.    

In the early 1970s Stone returned to Marvel, briefly reunited with Jack Kirby on "The Inhumans" feature, one of Kirby's last assignments before leaving for DC. Unfortunately the four stories he inked lacked the dynamism of earlier collaborations. There may have been several factors involved; at this point, even though he was writing and drawing the material, Kirby was ready to move on; the 10 page length was also confining - Kirby was used to a larger canvas, and squeezing five or six characters into the story didn't help. Soon after Stone left the FF, Joe Sinnott took over the inking, and his sophisticated, precise line became fused with Kirby's science fiction oriented stories. Stone would fare better in other instances, and with different artists. The above splash, from Amazing Adventures # 2, September 1970, is an example of one of their stronger pages.  

While Stone received assignments from Marvel he continued to freelance for other companies. Stone both wrote and penciled this "gruesome" (although not as gruesome as Eerie publications line) story for Skywald's black and white horror line. Jean Izzo letters. Psycho # 3, May 1971. 

I'm uncertain if Stone ever had the opportunity to ink veteran artist Syd Shores in the Timely-Atlas period, but the results in the 1970s was rewarding. This was one of the last titles Shores drew before he died. "The Man Who Gunned Down Red Wolf!", Gardner Fox script, Denise Wohl letters, Red Wolf  # 5, January 1973.    

Stone continued to freelance for Marvel into the late 1980s, inking, penciling and often providing finished artwork over breakdowns by John Buscema and Keith Pollard. In addition to work on Fantastic Four and The Invaders, Stone had long runs on familiar characters Thor and the Thing (in Marvel Two-In-One) and worked with Sol Brodsky in the special projects division (coloring books, children's publications). Bob Budiansky pencils, Marvel Two-in-One # 59, January 1980.

Stone's affinity for humor came through in the hundreds of stories he drew and/or inked for Archie comics and their assorted characters from the mid-1960s through the early 1990s. Over the years Archie comics was one of Stone's most consistent accounts, followed by Marvel and ACG. Everything's Archie # 153, January 1991, Rudy LaPick inks. Original artwork from Heritage Auctions. 

In his later years Stone retired from full time work, although he still produced commissioned art for fans. He passed away on July 27, 2000 at the age of 77.    

With a career in comics lasting over 50 years, Chic Stone deserves recognition, not due to  longevity, but for his own unique achievements. His work in the industry ranged from humor to horror, and he had the capacity to craft both with great zest.  

Much like a character actor or background musician, Chic Stone was a solid, dependable,often unnoticed professional, but when coupled with a "leading man" he rose to the occasion. For a brief moment in the 1960s Stone was teamed - by fate or happenstance - with Jack Kirby, striking a mellifluous note that resonates long past its inception. 

In 1997 Chic Stone inked Kirby's Thor one final time for The Jack Kirby Collector # 14. The pencil piece was drawn circa 1970 and published in a portfolio. Even in his later years Stone could bat it out of the park! 

Dedicated to my good friend, Frank ("Dude") Mastropaolo, whose affection for the Kirby/Stone era was  - an the very least -  an inspiration for this post.