Monday, November 14, 2022

Kirby Inking Kirby

Note: This is a revised and updated piece originally published on September 6, 2011.
One aspect of comic books that I've always been consumed with - not surprisingly - is the artwork. From my earliest days I was fascinated with the drawings, attempting to copy them and, in turn, becoming familiar with the distinctive characteristics of various comic book artists, in particular those who contributed to the nascent Marvel period. This led to an intense scrutiny of Jack Kirby's art, one of the premiere creative forces in the business and a primary co-creator of the superhero line. Circa 1959-1963 many talented artists in their own right embellished his pencils, including Chris Rule, George Klein, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Don Heck and Paul Reinman. Not widely known, though, is that Kirby also inked a selection of covers and interior pages. In this piece I will attempt to catalogue and identify his efforts as an inker. The format of a blog is perfect for this type of visual presentation and study, so take a look at the evidence as I dig through pages from over a half-century ago, presenting a fascinating glimpse into a hugely unknown aspect of Kirby's oeuvre.         

                         The Fantastic Four # 7, October 1962
While comics historian Mark Evanier has recognized the cover of The Fantastic Four # 7 as being inked by Kirby (to which I wholeheartedly agree) I contend that there are many other instances in the period from 1959-63 where he completed the art. 

As a starting point I offer a few examples of Kirby's stylistic tics dating back several years before his Marvel work. I believe this will provide context to my observations and substantiate my conclusions. 

"The Mysterious Mr. Vince," Tales of the Unexpected # 21, January 1958. 

clothing folds 

Machinery Squiggle
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 noticeable in the images to follow. 

(for an analysis of Kirby's earlier inking I refer you to Harry Mendryk's blog: )

Dating back to his earliest efforts Kirby could do it all: write, pencil, ink, letter - but going over his art in india ink was not a favorite chore. Paired with partner Joe Simon in the 1940s and 50s, a man who was also multi-talented, the team often collaborated on the art, with Simon inking Kirby's pencils to great effect. When Kirby finished the job he did so competently, with his wife Roz reportedly assisting on occasion by outlining in pen. Kirby often explained that he felt any professional could complete the job (and, perhaps more telling, his mind was always dwelling on crafting the next story). Nevertheless, I find his inking quite attractive. While it  lacks intricacy or detail, since he pays little attention to fine points like fingers, his brushstrokes are attractive, and his indication for folds on clothing, for instance, invoke a feeling of accuracy. This organic quality more than makes up for any missing elements.

Battle # 67, December 1959

Battle # 67 is the earliest Pre-Hero Marvel cover I've discovered that points to Kirby inking (Kirby briefly returned to Atlas in 1956-7 and, once again, I suggest you saunter over to Harry Mendrek's blog for a look at the stories he delineated in that period: Editor Stan Lee assigned most of Kirby's penciled art in this period to George Klein, Chris Rule, Dick Ayers or Steve Ditko. The above image bears none of their signature styles. The face of the soldier, the folds of clothing, the hands and background details (including the squiggle line Kirby employs on one of the enemy's helmets) are indicative of Kirby's earlier inked work.

Journey into Mystery # 56, January 1960

This is the first "monster" cover I've attributed to Kirby's inking. Everything looks as though it was succinctly finished, with no frills added. The sharp lines that denote water compare with Kirby's DC story (as shown above). It also looks as though a few additional blocks of ice were crudely drawn, either by production head Sol Brodsky or editor-art director Stan Lee. It should be noted that in this period Martin Goodman's comic book division was small, so anyone in the office (including freelancers) might be called on to lend a hand in emergency situations.

Battle # 68, February 1960

Journey into Mystery was followed by another Battle cover. Inking here looks a bit sharper than usual, perhaps indicating that Kirby spent more time on this piece. While there are enough elements pointing to Kirby as the leading suspect (clothing folds, hands, etc.) there is a possibility that someone else was involved.

                                             Journey into Mystery # 58, May 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, likely replacing Heck's original version, which may have been deemed too tame. Kirby 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 clothing folds, wheel squiggle (foreground) and brushstrokes on the water.

 The Incredible Hulk # 1, May 1962. Image from the Grand Comics Database.  

The Incredible Hulk # 1 has been attributed to several inkers over the years, including George Roussos and Paul Reinman, but I'm convinced Kirby is the actual inker. The sparse details, including the short strokes on Banner's clothing; minimal detail on the Hulk's feet and face and overall simplicity shout Kirby to my eye. There is neither Roussos' heavy use of blacks; Reinman's more precise line or Ayers' thickness here. Again, it was probably a case of deadlines and Kirby being available (and a speed demon). At the time of the Hulk's debut no one knew the character would survive over half a century later and become recognized through cartoons, television and movies. It was another job in between the next Fantastic Four and Rawhide Kid .    

Journey into Mystery # 81, June 1962

This cover is generally ascribed to Paul Reinman or George Roussos, but the minimally-detailed fleeing figures and the ink-slashes on the robot are indicative of Kirby inks.

Strange Tales Annual # 1, 1962

Unpublished cover, Dick Ayers inks. 

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 early Marvel superheroes. 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 lack of detail; only basic strokes to denote clothing folds; the simple hands and blocky inking on the Rawhide Kid's clothes, along with the way the buttons are drawn - bigger and closer together - add up to a simple but attractive cover.


                           Tales of Suspense # 36, December 1962

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

                                                Rawhide Kid # 33, April 1963

I long believed Rawhide Kid # 33 to be an Ayers inked cover but upon closer examination, particularly the folds on clothing and the clipped strokes on hats and lack of definition, made me reassess this to be Kirby inking.  

May 1963 cover-dated titles feature what I believe are a total of three Kirby inked covers. Lee apparently handed out assignments in batches, so on a given month you would notice Paul Reinman or Sol Brodsky inking two or three covers, with another four assigned to Dick Ayers. My guess is that Lee needed these covers inked in a hurry and assigned them to Kirby, who was sure to complete the work on time.

Fantastic Four # 11, February 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 studying this cover 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 un-detailed character faces, as well as the inking on the Torch, which is similar to his look on the Kirby-inked FF # 7, indicate Kirby is the inker.

                                          Tales of Suspense # 38, February 1963

This cover has all the earmarks of Kirby inking. Notice the simple lines on the background figures, the folds of clothing 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' thickness of line is hard to completely miss.

Tales to Astonish # 40, February 1963

Kirby had a unusual way of inking machinery, using 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
While the backgrounds are a little more distinctive and Ayers-like than Kirby's style, Loki's hands and costume barely have any black areas and Thor's helmet has a simple squiggle. Kirby also likely inked the smiling Thor corner trademark, which was soon changed to a more dour expression.

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, September 1963

The characters and background elements all point to Kirby's sparse inking. The Human Torch looks typical, although the "flame lines" appear different enough to suggest Kirby's hand. 

Sgt. Fury # 3, September 1963. Kirby or Ditko inks?

I'm still on the fence with this coverOn the Grand Comicbook Database the possibility of Steve Ditko inking this cover 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 outfits looks like typical Kirby inking, but there's something about Fury's face that has a touch of Ditko.

                                       Love Romances # 96, November 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 a distinctive Kirby touch. Is this Kirby's last "unknown" inked cover of the period? Stay tuned!

In addition to covers I believe Kirby also inked most of the pin-ups in Fantastic Four Annual # 1, 1963. Dick Ayers clearly inked the Mad Thinker, the only illustration that was not lettered by Ray Holloway (Artie Simek did the honors) an indication that the pages were worked-on in batches. Again, this almost certainly was due to deadlines, since the extra-length comic was probably completed at intervals.   

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

In the following years Kirby was a whirlwind of production and creativity, with Dick Ayers, George Roussos, Vince Colletta and most notably, Chic Stone and Joe Sinnott embellishing  his pencils. With Lee getting requests from fans asking Kirby to ink a cover or story, the artist did the honors in Fantasy Masterpieces # 4, illustrating his co-creation Captain America. It was to be his last ink-job at Marvel. In a business sense it was understandable. Kirby was too valuable as a penciller and had no interest in going over his pencils, still, it would have been interesting to see how Kirby would have inked an entire issue of FF, Thor, Captain America or the Hulk.   

Kirby's efforts as an inker is a small part of his enormous contributions to the world of comic art. Nevertheless, it deserves attention. Like his pencil art, his inking had a raw, unfinished feel that, while not technically perfect, packed a wallop similar to a two minute rock song: fast: furious and wildly exuberant. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

A Kaleidoscopic View of the Annuals and Giants in '62

Since the earliest days of the industry, when most comics cost 10 cents, publishers experimented with different formats and prices. In 1939 National (later know as DC) published New York World' s Fair Comics, a tie-in to the famous event that took place in Flushing, Queens that same year. Priced at 15 cents with 96 pages of content, it resurfaced as World's Best Comics # 1 (spring 1941), starring popular characters Superman and Batman alongside an assortment of other costumed heroes. The title was tweaked to World's Finest Comics, retaining the same price, although the page count was cut to 72, and later 64 pages, until 1954 when it reverted to standard size.

Clocking in at 100 pages, Fawcett's premiere issue of America's Greatest Comics was on newsstands circa 1941. One of DC's biggest competitors, their Captain Marvel even outsold Superman for a period of time. Mac Raboy cover art.     

Other publishers took note of DC's success, particularly Fawcett with America's Greatest Comics, starring top-seller Captain Marvel,  joined by Spy Smasher, Bulletman and various second-tier protagonists. Another heavy-hitter, MLJ, originally focused its attention on superhero fare, but the character of Archie Andrews surpassed expectations and soon became their primary focus, so much so that the company was eventually rebranded as "Archie Comic Publications." An array of 25-centers starring Archie and his teenage gang followed. While these comics sold at various times during the year, the summer months were often a period when extra titles proliferated; in all likelihood maximum sales were attained due to many youngsters being out of school.  

Fall 1949 saw the debut of Archie's first Annual. At a whopping 116 pages this comic must have been a boon to parents going for long car rides with their children! Bob Montana cover art. 

 Boris Karloff's Thriller was based on the anthology TV show of the same name. This 80 page comic was available on newsstands sometime around July, 1962, and included stories by Leo Dorfman and art by Mike Sekowsky, Ray Bailey, Tom Gill, Alberto Giolotti, Giovanni Ticci and Jerry Robinson. To mimic a phrase host Karloff began each show with:  "As sure as my name is Nick Caputo, I can assure you this post is a Thriller!"     

Dell's Little Lulu was a tremendous success headlined by author John Stanley, who had an affinity for writing about children from their point of view. Cover art by Irving Tripp. Marge's Little Lulu and Tubby at Summer Camp # 5, July 1957. 

DC had success with their 80 page Annuals many of which featured reprinted stories. Cover art by Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang and Curt Swan; inks by Charles Paris, lettering by Ira Schnapp.  Batman Annual # 1, June, 1961.   

In the early 1960s National/DC focused much of their attention on superhero-related content: 25 cent versions of Superman, Batman, the Flash and Justice League of America, selecting contents from their library of stories from earlier years. Archie publications, another powerhouse in the field, published The World of Jughead, Betty and Veronica Summer Fun, Little Archie and Madhouse. Western produced a huge selection of titles such as Hanna Barbera Summer Fun, Popeye, Little Lulu and Boris Karloff's Thriller. Harvey included extra-length presentations of their most successful comics such as Richie Rich, Sad Sack, Little Audrey, Spooky, Little Dot and Blondie

The comics spotlighted below filled the nation's newsstands in the summer of 1962, offering hours of entertainment for children trekking to the beach or going for long rides on vacation. Into the mix came the beginning of Marvel's Annuals. 


Millie the Model Annual # 1. Pencils (and likely colors) by Stan Goldberg; inks by Sol Brodsky; lettering by Artie Simek. 

That same summer Martin Goodman, publisher of Timely-Atlas (soon to become known as Marvel), aware of his competitor's profitability with higher-priced comics, tasked editor Stan Lee to follow their lead

It may have been Goodman's decision in choosing what titles to publish, based on sales of their ongoing series. Millie the Model, which began in 1945, was an obvious choice, since the character was extremely popular, appearing at the time in two titles (her regular comic and Life With Millie). This Annual featured all-new material by the regular team of writer Stan Lee and artist Stan Goldberg.   
Stan Lee was known to ask his audience for input - but it didn't start in the superhero titles - as this page reflects.  
Lee promoted both himself and artist Stan Goldberg on this feature page. He would continue that practice throughout the Marvel line.   

While cross-promotion became prominent during the Marvel superhero expansion, evidence points to Lee always being inclined to move in that direction, likely inspired by radio programs such as The Jack Benny and Fred Allen Shows, where the comedians had a running "feud" and supporting characters were often referenced or interacted with each other.     


One month earlier at rival DC the first Lois Lane Annual debuted (June 1962). It starred the feisty reporter who was recognizable to fans of both Superman comics and the TV show. Her core audience was likely young girls, a demographic that overlapped with Millie's buyers. Cover by Kurt Schaffenberger; lettering by Ira Schnapp. As an aside, I discovered the cover of this Annual on the floor of a closet in my house; an early childhood memory I've retained all these years later.  

The other title Marvel chose for extra-length treatment was Strange Tales, an ongoing anthology series in publication since 1952, originally consisting of horror material, but toned down to lighter fantasy fare when the Comics Code came into effect, and finally settled into monster-oriented stories in the early 1960s.  

Strange Tales Annual # 1 was on stands the same day as Millie, although it differed in that it consisted of material published just 2-3 years earlier. Jack Kirby pencils and inks (along with a touch of Dick Ayers; see the following caption); Artie Simek letters and (likely) Stan Goldberg colors.   

This was Kirby's original cover to Strange Tales Annual # 1. Stan Lee obviously felt the monsters needed to be menacing humans, so he instructed Kirby to revise the scenario. It was probably rushed out in the office; Kirby's pencils and inks on the second version being a telltale clue. Since I love minutia I noticed that the bottom right "Shadow Thing" figure and background were utilized (and slightly repositioned) with Kirby adding the fearful citizen, so a trace of Dick Ayers' inking can be seen on the published cover.

As noted, all the stories were reprints from the monster titles. Grottu originally appeared in Strange Tales #73, February, 1960. Plot likely by Stan Lee; Script likely by Larry Lieber; Jack Kirby pencils; Bill Everett inks; Artie Simek letters and Stan Goldberg the likely suspect as colorist.
Originally from Tales to Astonish # 6, November 1959. Steve Ditko art; Artie Simek letters; Stan Goldberg colors (?). Writer unknown. 
"I Saw the Serpent that Saved the World!" originally presented in Journey into Mystery # 55, November 1959.  Possible Lee plot; Lieber script; Don Heck pencils and inks; Artie Simek letters and Stan Goldberg colors (I think!) 

Strange Tales Annual # 1 included monster/fantasy/sci-fi stories by two of their top artists (Kirby and Ditko; each represented by four stories) closely followed by the talented Don Heck (three) along with solo outings by John Forte and Paul Reinman. It was a fine sampling of their monthly output.       

 Popeye and his cast of characters occupy this impressive cover by Bud Sagendorf, who wrote and drew all the interior stories. This was the first issue published by Western (aka Gold Key) with the numbering continued from Dell's series. Popeye # 66, July 1962. 

Western had the rights to many animated cartoons, including Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera and Jay Ward. They produced giants for many of them during the summer, including Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and Terrytoons. This attractive cover is attributed to Pete Alvarado and Norm McGary.   

Harvey specialized in comics for the small-fry, as the above trio of titles reflect, all of which were on sale during June-July of 1962. Sad Sack cover by George Baker, Richie Rich is uncertain and Casper is by Warren Kremer.   

Harvey produced one giant-sized adventure book in 1962, Black Cat, a character that dated back to 1942. Lee Elias cover art; Joe Rosen lettering. Interior stories were reprints drawn by Elias, with some scripted by Bob Haney. In later years Harvey's Giant's spotlighted Will Eisner's Spirit and Simon and Kirby's Fighting American.   

Archie Giant Series # 18: Betty and Veronica Summer Fun. Pencils by Dan DeCarlo; inks by Rudy Lapick. On sale in July, 1962.   

The Adventures of Little Archie # 24. Bob Bolling art and lettering; Victor Gorelick colors. Interior stories and art by Bolling; Joe Edwards, Joe Harold and Dexter Taylor. You could have purchased this comic in August, 1962.

I'd be remiss if I skipped over my favorite character, Jughead, who predated Kramer by half a century or so! Archie Giant Series # 19: The World of Jughead; Samm Schwartz art. If you could time travel back to the late summer of 1962 this comic would be available at your local candy store. 

Archie and his teenage pals were hugely successful, with their popularity overlapping on radio, television, music and animation. 

The 1962 Annuals/Giants consisted of an assortment of subject matter, although, as one can clearly see, the majority were mainly geared to kids. In that period humor, girl-oriented titles and cartoons, particularly the recognizable Saturday morning and afternoon syndicated programs, were extremely popular. Fantasy and superhero material were also gaining ground, and from 1963-68 Marvel often crafted new, longer stories and special features, the best arguably being the Lee-Kirby-Ditko Fantastic Four, Journey into Mystery/Thor and Amazing Spider-Man Annuals.  

Since there has been much written about that period (including on this blog) I believe its important to look at the bigger picture and get a realistic perspective of what was selling 60 years ago. Mainstream comics were readily available in candy stores, newsstands, luncheonettes, railway stations and many other locations that kids, either on their own or with family, could easily access. Unfortunately, in the decades that followed, the audience for comic books decreased, with children lured away by other, more attractive media. The remaining audience is marginal and consists of many older hard-core superhero fans, or those interested in adult-oriented fare. Gone, for the most part, is the ability - or interest - in reaching out to young readers. Thus, comics have become of interest primarily to the indoctrinated. Annuals, once a special presentation, produced with care, have been overtaken with superhero pyrotechnics, and such anthologies as Thriller are a thing of the past. 

Surviving the superhero explosion of the 1960s and the monster-horror era of the 1970s, Millie's Annuals remained in publication for a healthy run of 13 years, the final issue appearing in 1975. Stan Goldberg pencils (and possible inks), Morrie Kuramoto letters.   

Back in the day comics were published that appealed to a wide range of tastes, which I believe was a good thing. A Treasury of Horses, July, 1955.  Cover painter unknown.

Looking at it from an adult perspective I can appreciate the quality of work that went into the various titles. Each company had its own distinct style and the material in general was well-crafted. Many Annuals sold in the hundreds of thousands. Even at Marvel during the superhero boom of the 1960s, Millie the Model remained a solid seller into the 1970s. That audience is largely gone now, and it's doubtful it will ever return. The present generation has many choices with new technology, and the world moves much faster than it did decades ago. Still, those days can be reflected on as a distinct period in time, when comics were truly a part of our popular culture.  

There were GIANTS in those days! 96 pages worth! A charming baseball-oriented cover by Fred Ray, from World's Finest Comics # 3, Fall 1941