Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Early Marvel House Ads

My indexing for the GCD often leads to interesting roads. I've been adding lettering and coloring credits to Marvel’s titles, circa late 1950’s through the 1970’s. While going over some early Amazing Spider-Man interior credits (adding Stan Goldberg’s coloring credit, since he  colored just about all Marvel’s product from the late 1950's to around 1968) I included info on the early letters pages and many of Ditko’s outstanding pin-ups.
One credit I corrected was a house ad in Amazing Spider-Man # 1: “A Personal Message from Spider-Man”, which is actually a personal message from Stan Lee, explaining that a new letters section would soon be appearing.  


"A Personal Message from Spider-Man" from Amazing Spider-Man # 1, Mar 1963, as reprinted in the Marvel Milestone Edition. Kirby and/or Brodsky art. Lee calls for letters and explains why they won't be printed in the 2nd issue

The GCD had Steve Ditko credited with the art, but that is clearly not the case. I suspect this is a quick drawing by Jack Kirby, likely inked by Sol Brodsky.  Ditko never drew Spider-Man with broad shoulders  nor did he draw the webbing on the side of the arms in that fashion.
This got me thinking about Stan Lee’s house ads and promotional work in the early days of Marvel. While promotions early on consisted of copy, sometimes crudely lettered (perhaps by Lee himself) scrawled on the top and bottom margins of story pages, Lee soon began to take up full pages to promote specific comics or new titles. This was not surprising, since house ads were prolific in the Timely era, also likely written by Lee. In time, though, a narrative was beginning to take shape, and Lee’s energetic style and dynamic copy set a pace that stood out.

An early full-page ad for Amazing Adult Fantasy and the Fantastic Four, from Strange Tales # 95, Apr 1962. This would have appeared at the time FF # 3 was on the stands. Ditko drew the top half; an inventive 3 panel vignette; Kirby drew the bottom half, with inking by Sol Brodsky. Lee bombastically proclaims the two comics "the greatest new fantasy magazines in the world!" It's worth noting that Lee was giving attention to his co-creators early on. The cover to this issue features a caption that reads:

 "Also..another off-beat little classic by Lee and Ditko..."   




Lee's ad copy for the Fantastic Four is over the top but compelling. What kid wouldn't be interested in reading it? From Strange Tales # 97, June 1962




Lee singled out Amazing Adult Fantasy in his ads, which appeared on the last page of his Ditko written stories in the other fantasy magazines. Alas, the title failed to sell, although the last issue featured a character that went on to some degree of notoriety....










Lee scattered these ads for the new Hulk comic throughout his fantasy line. For all I know he sneaked them into Millie the Model! The first two examples are from Strange Tales # 97, June 1962. The last one is from Fantastic Four # 4, May 1962. It's likely that the crudely lettered ones are by Lee himself. The copy that appeared in FF # 3 is probably by Artie Simek. Sol Brodsky and Flo Steinberg were the extent of Marvel's office staff at this point, so anyone who walked in the door usually pitched in at one time or another.



Lee promotes the new Amazing Spider-Man # 1 in the letters section of Fantastic Four #12 (Mar 1963). The Fantastic Four, coincidentally, made an appearance in that issue, as did the Hulk in the FF's current issue. Even in the humor titles Lee's characters intermingled. Lee's marketing skills inspired brand recognition and under one guiding hand it was a success.   



"The Greatest SYMBOLS in Comics" . An early Marvel house ad focusing on the superheros who were growing in fan interest and sales. Art by Kirby and Sol Brodsky. Spider-Man figure probably penciled by Kirby and inked by Ditko, similar to - but not the same figure - as the one on the cover to Amazing # 1. 

By the time this ad appeared in the May 1963 issue of Fantastic Four #14 Lee was hitting his stride. He now had a corner symbol that identified his characters on the comic book racks (invented by Steve Ditko); a company Logo (Marvel Comics Group, a recycled name originally used on occasion in 1950's ads); and a distinctive slogan: "The House of Ideas!" The super-heroes were rapidly becoming an essential part of the line, and Lee promoted them with authority.       








I guess we'll never know if Lee was two pages short and needed to fill space, or deliberately used those pages to promote the new Sgt. Fury comic; the next issue AND Fantastic Four Fan Clubs! (Fantastic Four # 15, June 1963). Note that Sgt. Fury is advertised "In the Fantastic Four style". Lee was aware of Dr. Doom's popularity, and his use of Ant-Man was an attempt to raise sales on a weak title. The Dr. Doom figure, as well as the Torch (who looks very awkward) may be swipes by Sol Brodsky, although Ant-Man may be penciled by Kirby and inked by Brodsky.        


Finally, we have a coming attraction page that appeared in Avengers # 2, Nov 1963. The Sub-Mariner was the main antagonist in early Marvel Superhero comics; taking on the FF and the Avengers, along with appearances in Strange Tales (the Human Torch feature), and later the X-Men and Daredevil, before he eventually returned to a feature role in Tales to Astonish. The heroes had a common foe to unite them (and the line) and Namor was a compelling and sympathetic character. Jack Kirby pencils, Sol Brodsky inks.   

Lee's promotional skills continued to improve in the years ahead. The house ads, combined with letters pages, Bullpen Bulletins and the MMMS fan club formed an identity for Marvel - a fresh face among their conservative competition. Coming soon will be a look at some of the MMMS ads, including one written and drawn by Marie Severin which was noticed by Publisher Martin Goodman, leading to her obtaining penciling work at Marvel. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Mystery of Kevin Banks

In the early 1970's Marvel began reprinting some of their kids humor titles from the 1950s, often altering the art of changing characters names. Homer the Happy Ghost by Stan Lee and Dan DeCarlo, as well as Lee and Maneely's Dexter the Demon was reprinted, under the name Peter the Little Pest. Li'l Kid's was another title that likely featured 1950s reprints (there was no content info on the GCD) but with the 10th issue new material was published.



Lil Kid's introducing Calvin # 10. Kevin Banks signature along with N. T. 
Image from the Grand Comicbook Database.

For three issues the title changed to L'il Kids introducing Calvin, a humorous strip featuring an African-American child. the cover is signed K.Banks, along with the initials M. T. who may actually be the artist, as Steve Bennett speculates. Interestingly, the splash page has a drawing of the writer and/or artist, which only tells us that he looks like a fairly young man at the time. You can read more about what Steve has to say about the strip and see scans of the interior stories here:



I've never heard anything about the strip nor the artist. I've quizzed folks like Roy Thomas and Tony Isabella, but they don't recall anything.  I've scoured the internet and have come up with few clues. Does anyone know who Kevin Banks is? Was Banks a writer or artist ? Or both? And who was N. T. ? Did he go on to draw other strips? Perhaps work in obscurity at companies like Charlton or Gold Key?  

Any comments or information would be appreciated.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Barry Smith's uncredited Marvel Art (UPDATE)

Indexing comics for the GCD always turns up some interesting discoveries. While I was adding credits to Nick Fury, Agent of Shield I happened to check the interior to # 10, credited on the splash page to Frank Springer as artist. Over the years I've learned that published credits are not always correct. The credits are lettered in before the comic is inked, so there are instances where the inker who was originally intended to do the job had to bow out at the last moment, or was scheduled on another book that had a deadline. Mark Evanier has noted a number of these instances in his columns, but there are times other information is missing. There may be only one letterer credited, with pages completed by someone else. Occasionally another artist fills in on a few pages, or completes the book. And there are odd instances when only a few panels are done by someone else; perhaps changing a scene for story purposes. Often the original artist was not available to make changes, so a staffer made the correction. In the case of the SHIELD story it appears there was another reason.



On page two of the story, panel one is clearly drawn by Frank Springer (the credited artist), who also drew the splash page. Springer's more naturalistic figures are replaced by work more closely adhering to Jack Kirby's style, with broader and more exaggerated characters. The lettering also changes in panels 2-4. Artie Simek's simple, distinctive style is replaced by a less precise look, the work of staffer Morrie Kuramoto, who was usually called on to do correction work. In panel 4 another letterer takes over, Jean Izzo, the daughter of Artie Simek, who also lettered for Marvel. It's worth noting that Johnny Craig, credited as inker on the splash, also inked the Barry Smith pages. Since the inker is one of the last in the production line, these pages were likely pasted in and included with Craig's other pages.



Page 3 is a complete Smith page, inked by Craig and lettered by Izzo with corrections by Kuramoto. One can see the Kirby-style dynamism that is not part of Springer's work. In fact, Springer was attempting to follow Steranko in panel arrangement and style more than anyone else. Aside from the jagged panels, Smith is copying Kirby more than Steranko on these pages.

Page 4 features Smith art only on the first two panels (or three panels if you include Fury's face as a separate  panel); with perhaps John Romita touching up some figures in panel one. We then segue to the section we left off, with Fury walking through the streets of New York. Springer returns, as does Simek's lettering. 

Nick Fury, Agent of Shield # 10 is cover dated March 1969, which coincides with Barry Smith's first credited work for Marvel in X-Men # 53. The Bullpen Bulletins that month notes:

"Everyone's talking about bashful Barry Smith, the surprising new staffer we just imported from merrie ol' England."

They go on to mention his work on the current X-Men and an upcoming issue of SHIELD. Smith did draw a full issue of SHIELD only two issues later. but was this his first work for Marvel, or were these pages produced later than the X-Men story? Judging from those few pages, I suspect they were drawn after the X-Men. They are certainly crude, but look a bit more confident in presentation. Were these pages a test to see if he could draw SHIELD on a regular basis? Were they purposely inserted into the Springer drawn story?

I went to one of the sources around at the time. Roy Thomas had this to say:


"Afraid I don't recall anything about why Barry would have been called on to draw a couple of pages' worth of that story... but it certainly wouldn't have been just to 'test' him.  It must be that, for whatever reason, Stan (and he would definitely have been the only person to make that decision at that time) must not have liked Springer's depiction of action and tried Barry out on jazzing it up."

I opined that perhaps the two and a half "missing" Springer pages had Fury walking through the streets of Manhattan, lost in thought. When Springer's art resumes, Fury is still outside, so the lack of action may be a possibility. I'l take another look at the later pages to see when any action takes place.      

 It's an interesting mystery, and a little known footnote to the early work of Barry Smith, who would go on to make a name for himself illustrating the adventures of Conan the Barbarian, where his artwork grew into a lush, detailed style that gained deserved attention. Still, his early work had a sense of enthusiasm that translated to the printed page, something that Stan Lee and Roy Thomas recognized from the start.          

To view some of Barry Smith's earliest work. pin-ups published in the British weeklies, go to Kid Robson's site on my blog list.  You won't be disappointed!