Monday, September 26, 2011

Ditko's Shade

While personal issues have kept me from updating my blog for the past few weeks (including another Kirby inked cover to add to the growing list), I've found a few moments to discuss the recent Steve Ditko Omnibus, which opens with a complete reprinting of his 1970s creation, Shade, the Changing Man. Although its wonderful to see the last issue, which was cancelled along with a plethora of other titles in the notorious "DC Implosion", it is unfortunate that current policy decrees that the stories be reprinted in their "original form", meaning without color. The problem is that Shade # 9 was originally produced FOR color, and was only published in black and white because the book never made it to the colorist before cancellation (coloring is one of the last phases of the production process). As with the earlier Blue Beetle and Capt. Atom stories, which were printed in fanzines that could not afford color, these stories cry out for color. 

So far, I've read the first six issues, and it's clear that production wise, these stories shine with the better paper and printing used here. When these stories were first published in 1977, the printing quality in most comics was abysmal. Fine lines wobbled, and any detail was lost. Here we see every line of Ditko's work, and the original coloring is accurately reproduced, much of it vivid and clear.



Ditko created the character of Shade, and it fits into his concept of a heroic individual. As with many Ditko heroes, Rac Shade is a man who is wanted for crimes he did not commit, pursued by both criminals and the law. He wears a scientific outfit that gives him the ability to alter his appearance based on his opponents fears. Like his later Static, the outfit could be used for good or evil, depending on the wearer. Although there is a base on earth, much of the story tales place in other-dimensional realms. Ditko's plot is thick with characters and concepts, perhaps a little too dense in places, but he also adds some interesting twists and turns from issue to issue. Of note is Shade's love interest, Mellu, a Government agent; a strong, independent woman who blames Shade for the crippling of his parents, but who always harbors a modicum of doubt over his apparent guilt. What is interesting is that Ditko actually resolves this problem by the 6th issue and does not steretch it out interminablly. 



Ditko's visual concepts stand out in his design of villains such as Form; a woman who can change into a misty substance, Sude; a large mechanical face with small arms and big teeth, and Khaos; a distorted figure who represents destruction. Ditko also plays with lighting effects ala Wally Wood, and his close ups of characters faces is delightful.



While Shade has a lot to offer, there are a few drawbacks as well. I find Shade's visual signature of "changing" his appearance through the M vest in order to frighten his foes to be lacking in drama. A big fist and a scary face can only go so far.Shade's costume is simple and not up to the standards Ditko has set for himself. Shade probably would have worked better without the "altering" concept and with perhaps another visual signature instead (such as Static's look). Michael Fleisher provided the dialouge for all the stories, and it is workmanlike at best. Fleisher has stated in interviews that he didn't particularly care for Shade and was just doing a job, and while I've enjoyed his solo writing on strips such as Jonah Hex, its too bad DC didn't get someone more sympathetic to Ditko's ideas, with the ability to write compelling dialouge.

Having said all that, I look forward to reading the last three instalments. This was Ditko's last hurrah for the major companies, in terms of his devoting energy and investing effort in a concept all his own. After this, most of his ideas would go the independent route, with work for DC and Marvel almost entirely produced on pre-existing characters or anthology stories (Yes, I know he worked of Speedball, but others were involved in that character as well, and it did not have the depth of Shade, retreading old paths for the most part). 

I'll probably have more on Shade and the Ditko Omnibus in a future blogpost.                      

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kirby Inking Kirby- UPDATED!

I wanted to alert folks who have already seen my Kirby inking Kirby post that it's been updated with two additional covers I've discovered. In adding some Kirby inked info to the GCD, I noticed a Tales of Suspense listing with my Kirby inking ID from some time ago, staring me in the face!  I also found a romance cover as well. I try to be as thorough as possible, so if anything new pops up I'll add it to the post, so we can have as complete a list as possible all in one spot. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kirby Inking Kirby

In studying various inking styles over the decades, I've become familiar with the the distinctive fingerprints of many artists, in particular the early Marvel period. Jack Kirby was embellished by a number of very talented and individual inkers circa 1959-1963, including Chris Rule, George Klein, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Sol Brodsky, Don Heck, Paul Reinman and George Roussos. There have, however, been numerous covers that look nothing like "the usual suspects" and by comparing them to known Kirby inked work from the 1940's and 1950's, i'm convinced that Kirby was assigned the inking chores on quite a few of his early Marvel covers when Stan Lee was in a bind.


The Fantastic Four # 7, Oct 1962
                                                   
While folks like Mark Evanier believe that Kirby inked the cover to FF # 7 (and I wholeheartedly agree), I suspect that is just the tip of the iceberg, and since a blog is great for studies such as this, presented here, for the first time, is what I believe are Kirby inked covers. These examples present a fascinating glimpse into a rarely seen or appreciated aspect of Kirby's late 1950s and early 1960s artwork.



Tales of the Unexpected # 21 Jan 1958-Kirby inking 

      
Clothing folds

                                                 
Face


Hands
Machinery Squiggle
                                                       

water
Kirby is not known as an inker, and, unlike many artists, didn't like to complete the job because he felt any professional could get it right (and he was more interested in producing the next story). Nevertheless, I find his inking quite attractive. Kirby's inking is not intricate - in fact it it is often sparse - and he pays little attention to fine points like fingers, but his brushstrokes are sharp, and his indications for folds of clothing, for instance, add the right amount of detail. There is an organic quality to Kirby's inking that more than makes up for the missing elements, and I'll illustrate some of those points on each cover.


Battle # 67, Dec 1959

This is the earliest cover I've discovered that points to Kirby inking. Most of the Pre-Hero  covers in this period drawn by Kirby were inked by either George Klein, Chris Rule, Dick Ayers or Steve Ditko. This cover bears none of their signature styles. The face of the soldier, the folds of clothing, the hands and the background details (including the squiggle type line Kirby uses on one of the enemies helmets), are familiar to Kirby's known inked work.


Journey into Mystery # 56, Jan 1960

 This is the first Pre-Hero Monster cover I've attributed to Kirby inking. Everything looks as though it was inked as needed, with nothing extra added. The sharp lines to denote water are indicative of Kirby's DC inked stories. It also looks as though a few additional blocks of ice were crudely added by another hand, either Sol Brodsky or possibly Stan Lee, who might have lent a hand in emergency situations.



Battle # 68, Feb 1960

The very next month we have another Battle cover.In some ways the inking looks more involved than usual to be Kirby's work, but other elements are very similar to Battle # 67, including the line work on the soldiers face. Despite the appearance of a more detailed cover, in the final analysis I suspect this is all Kirby.


Tales to Astonish # 20, June 1961
                                      
This is a cover I originally thought was inked by Dick Ayers, but there are a number of distinctive Kirby tropes that made me reconsider. The line work on the folds of clothing, the squiggle on the wheel in the foreground, and the brushstrokes on the water are all typical of Kirby inking.



The Incredible Hulk # 1, May 1962
The Incredible Hulk # 1 has been attributed to many inkers, including George Roussos and Paul Reinman, but I'm "convinced" that Kirby actually inked this cover. The sparse quality, including the way clothing is inked on Dr. Banner, the lack of detail on the Hulk's feet and the singular way the face is inked point to Kirby. There is none of the heavy brushwork of Roussos, or the finer line of Paul Reinman. Ayers would also have used thicker brushwork , so I submit this important cover is inked by none other than Jack Kirby.


Journey into Mystery # 81, June 1962
The following month features this cover, generally ascribed to Paul Reinman or George Roussos. While the background figures are so small its hard to denote any distinguishing features, the robot has sharp, thick lines that are indicative of Kirby inking.



Strange Tales Annual # 1, Summer 1962



A new cover to a reprint compilation that features bold brush work, particularly on folds of clothing and typical lack of detail on hands.

Rawhide Kid # 31, Dec 1962

This is another cover that screams "Kirby" to me. The lines on the clothing, the simple hands and the blocky inking on the Rawhide Kid's clothes, along with the way the buttons are drawn, bigger and closer together, add up to a very attractive cover.


Tales of Suspense # 36  Dec 1962


This Kirby fantasy cover clearly has the same distinguishing inking characteristics. Note the policeman in the foreground, the bare minimum lines on his face and clothing  (and don't you just adore the dog!)  

May 1963 cover dated books feature what I believe are a total of three Kirby inked covers. Stan Lee apparently handed out assignments in batches, meaning on a given month you would see Reinman inking three covers, with another four assigned to Ayers. My guess is that Stan needed these covers inked in a hurry and  assigned them to Kirby, who, never a slow artist, was sure to complete the work on time.


Fantastic Four # 11, Feb 1963


 While the cover of FF # 11 was altered in places, likely by Al Hartley (mainly the figure of Sue), the inking is another matter. In looking this cover over some years ago I asked Dick Ayers if he inked it. He emailed me, informing me that his record books indicated it was not one of his covers. The coloring on the cover is very dark, making it hard to pick out details, but the sparse look of the characters faces, as well as the inking on the Torch indicates Kirby input.


Tales of Suspense # 38, Feb 1963
This cover has all the earmarks of Kirby inking. Notice the lack of detail on the background figures, the folds of clothing and the sharp lines. They look nothing like Ayers' work, nor the other inkers of the period. While it is true that Ayers followed Kirby's line closely in a few instances, it was highly unusual, and Ayers'  thicker inking style was hard to completely miss.

Tales to Astonish # 40, Feb 1963

Kirby had a particular way of inking machinery, mainly hard, sharp lines. The Ant-Man figure has little detail added to his costume, and the faces and figures of the pedestrians are also slight.


Journey into Mystery # 92, May 1963

Here is another cover that screams Kirby to my eyes. Note Loki's hands and costume, which barely have any black areas, the way the rocks and sea are minimally inked, and Thor's helmet, with the slight squiggle. Kirby probably also inked the smiling Thor face corner trademark, which was soon changed.


Tales of Suspense # 41, May 1963 

Iron-Man's armor has the same choppy lines that accompany Kirby's inking of machinery, and Dr. Strange's clothing again has simple folds.   
Strange Tales # 112, Sept 1963
The characters and background elements all employ Kirby's sparse inking. The Human Torch looks typical, although the "flame lines" appear different enough to suggest Kirby's hand. 


Sgt. Fury # 3, Sept 1963   Kirby or Ditko inks?
Sgt. Fury # 3 is a cover I'm not totally convinced Kirby inked. On the GCD, the possibility of Steve Ditko inking this cover was brought up, and while I was initially skeptical, I'm aware that there were instances where Ditko literally traced Kirby's pencils, such as Tales to Astonish # 50. The lack of definition in the hands and the outfits looks like typical Kirby inking, but there's something about Fury's face that looks a little different, so this may be Ditko inking.


                                                  
                                                     Love Romances # 96, Nov 1963

This is the only Kirby inked romance cover I've discovered thus far. The face and hair of the woman in the foreground, has the distinctive Kirby touch. Is this Kirby's last "unknown" inked cover of the period?




                                 
                                 Detail to the cover of Fantasy Masterpieces # 4, Aug 1966 

This is all the Kirby inking I've discovered so far, although its possible I may have missed something. If anything else turns up, it will appear in a follow up post. Fantasy Masterpieces # 4, which was advertised as inked by Kirby, was his last such assignment for Marvel. In a business sense it was understandable. Kirby was too valuable as a penciller to Stan Lee, and had no interest in going over his pencils, but an entire issue of FF, Thor, Ant-Man or the Hulk embellished by Kirby would have been interesting to see, don't you think?