Wednesday, August 9, 2023
Thursday, June 15, 2023
Romita was one of the top romance artists at DC before moving to Marvel in 1965. Cover to Girls' Love Stories # 85, March 1962. Ira Schnapp lettering.
Bill Ward's statuesque Torchy blended sex and humor, as seen on this splash page from Torchy # 4, May 1950. Image from http://comicbookplus.com/.
The last three panels on page 16 employ cartoony figures, ala the "Jack Davis style" Romita refers to in the article.
Stan Lee's account differed greatly:
Amazing Spider-Man # 37, June 1966.
Friday, February 17, 2023
Product branding* is a tool companies have used to remarkable effect dating back to the late 1800s. Just take a stroll to your local supermarket. There you'll encounter many examples, some in existence for over a century. A few that come to mind: Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Skippy Peanut Butter, Ivory Soap, Coca Cola, Maxwell House Coffee and so on. Through a combination of symbols, graphic design, copy, colors and familiar characters (Mr. Peanut; Kellogg's Rooster), consumers - sometimes unknowingly - make their buying choices. Loyalty and confidence is often built up in a product through quality and consistency. This holds true for everything from cars and restaurants to clothing, electronics, movies.... and, of course, comic books.
*(If you'd like to learn more about the history of branding I suggest sauntering over to this piece: https://99designs.com/blog/design-history-movements/history-of-branding/)
In the nascent comic book field material was culled largely from newspaper reprints, so publishers most often appealed to kids by featuring widely-recognized characters on covers (E.g. Popeye, Dick Tracy, Tarzan) over the need for a company name. This gradually changed when superheroes rose to prominence and new stories were prepared. A few examples include DC's circular image of Superman, Batman, etc, appearing in the upper left corner, accompanied by "A DC Publication" often located on the opposite side; Dell's square logo surrounded by "A Dell Comic" on four sides; "Archie Series" rectangle and the round "EC An Entertaining Publication" colophon. All were located on the top left hand corner in order to easily be seen wherever they were displayed.
Pulp magazine publisher Martin Goodman plunged into the business in 1939 with the debut of Marvel Comics # 1. The company was initially dubbed Timely, and occasionally employed an identifying shield with the slogan: "A Timely Publication" on its covers. In the 40s both a circular "Marvel Comic" and a triangular "A Marvel Magazine" were utilized at various points. In the 1950s Timely was rebranded as "Atlas Comics" (which was also the name of their distributor) with the name encased in a globe.
In the late 1950s, and into the early 60s there were no identifying marks on Goodman's comics line. Five months before The Fantastic Four # 1 debuted an almost unnoticeable "MC" surfaced on the covers of Journey into Mystery # 69 and Patsy Walker # 95, both cover-dated June 1961, with the rest of the line closely following suite, but it clearly lacked visual appeal. This all changed when, sixty years ago, during the month of February, 1963, a new look was displayed on newsstands and candy stores, courtesy of a multi-talented freelancer with a keen mind; an artist who understood the importance of a visual identity and a product that stood out from its competitors.
Steve Ditko had been drawing and crafting stories at Marvel beginning in 1956, often in collaboration with editor-writer Stan Lee, first on an array of fantasy-oriented titles and, circa 1962, bringing his own unique sensibilities to bear on their co-creations Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. Taking notice of the growing array of superheroes at the company he had a noteworthy idea:
"I suggested the corner box with a Marvel hero face and drew a face to show Lee and Sol Brodsky how it would look, and more important how and why the Marvel title with a hero face would be quickly seen, recognized, no matter how comic books sold in stores were placed in racks." Steve Ditko "Martin Goodman/Stan Lee," The Avenging Mind, 2008.
A little background for those of you not in the trenches of comic book history (isn't that what you came HERE for??). Sol Brodsky handled production in the early Marvel period and was of vital assistance to Lee in the day-to-day workings of the company. He was also an efficient artist and inked many early stories. Ditko's suggestion had to be approved by Publisher Martin Goodman, who was savvy enough to recognize a valuable idea. Goodman was also particularly fond of the word "Marvel," since it was the title of his first successful comic.
Ditko's corner box was heralded on the letters page of Amazing Spider-Man # 3, a month after it appeared on Marvel covers. The heroes' face, with the Marvel Comics Group company name alongside the price, was an attractive design.
Given the go-ahead, Lee and Brodsky brought in Jack Kirby, their top artist-creator, to illustrate most of the new images, which I'll kindly reproduce below, along with the first cover appearance.
Strange Tales starring The Human Torch # 108. Kirby pencils and inks.
Journey into Mystery with Thor # 91. Kirby pencils and inks.
Tales of Suspense featuring Iron Man # 41. Kirby pencils; Don Heck inks, taken from the cover of Suspense # 39. (this appears to be the only artwork that was not newly crafted)
Monday, November 14, 2022
"The Mysterious Mr. Vince," Tales of the Unexpected # 21, January 1958.
The above Tales of the Unexpected page and selected panels are all from Kirby-inked stories he produced at DC months before his return to Martin Goodman's company. These examples reference concrete details in Kirby's brushwork which will be increasingly recognizable in the images that follow.
(To read more about Kirby's pre-1959 inking I refer you to Harry Mendryk's blog: https://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/simonandkirby/archives/824 )
|Battle # 67, December 1959|
|Journey into Mystery # 56, January 1960|
|Battle # 68, February 1960|
Here is an instance where Kirby inked an interior story page. While Don Heck drew the rest of this seven page thriller from Journey into Mystery # 58, May 1960, Lee had Kirby illustrate the splash page, undoubtedly replacing Heck's original version. In all likelihood Heck's creature and startled bystanders lacked the immediacy and over-the-top drama Kirby was known for. He was, after all, king of the monsters! The technique here constitutes minimal details, so I wouldn't be surprised if Kirby rushed this out while dropping off work to Lee in the office (and it still packs a punch!).
|Tales to Astonish # 20, June 1961|
I originally credited Dick Ayers with the inking on this cover, but there are a number of Kirby tropes that made me reconsider, specifically his handling of the clothing, wheel squiggle (foreground) and brushstrokes on the water.
The Incredible Hulk # 1, May 1962. Image from the Grand Comics Database.
|Journey into Mystery # 81, June 1962|
|Strange Tales Annual # 1 features Kirby inks, which makes complete sense when a rejected cover was discovered several years ago. The original cover was inked by Dick Ayers, one of Kirby's primary delineators on the monster stories and during the first few years of his superhero work. Ayers' thick, solid inking was perfect for the genre and some of his work was retained on Kirby's version (the Shadow Thing vignette, noticeable on the brickwork). Lee apparently wanted the monsters to threaten humans, which Kirby included in the published version. A replacement would likely be rushed out in the office, so it makes sense that Kirby, instead of Ayers, inked the cover.|
|Rawhide Kid # 31, December 1962|
Another cover that screams "Kirby" to me. The use of basic strokes to denote hands and blocky inking on the Rawhide Kid's attire, along with the way the buttons are drawn - bigger and closer together - add up to a simple but attractive cover.
Rawhide Kid # 33, April 1963
I long suspected Rawhide Kid # 33 to be an Ayers inked cover but upon closer examination, particularly the clipped strokes on hats, made me reassess this to be Kirby's inking.
|Fantastic Four # 11, February 1963|
Tales of Suspense # 38, February 1963
This cover has all the earmarks of Kirby inking. Notice the simple lines on the background figures and the slashing technique. This looks 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' signature style is hard to completely miss.
|Tales to Astonish # 40, February 1963|
Kirby's inking of machinery was effective, giving it a cold metallic look. Ant-Man's costume is recognizable without any frills, as are the pedestrians, but Kirby was accomplished enough to make it all work.
|Journey into Mystery # 92, May 1963|
|Tales of Suspense # 41, May 1963|
|Strange Tales # 112, September 1963|
|Sgt. Fury # 3, September 1963. Kirby or Ditko inks?|
I'm still on the fence regarding this cover. In the Grand Comicbook Database the possibility of Steve Ditko as inker was brought up, and while I was initially skeptical, I clearly see him as a possibility. There are instances where Ditko literally traced Kirby's pencils, such as the "Giant-Man" story in Tales to Astonish # 50. The lack of definition in the hands and the soldier's garb looks like typical Kirby inking, but there's something about Fury's face (and, oddly enough, his canteen) that has a touch of Ditko.
This is the only Kirby inked romance cover I've discovered thus far. The face and hair of the woman in the foreground has a distinctive Kirby touch. Is this Kirby's last "unknown" inked cover of the period? Stay tuned!