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 many 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 a number of covers that look nothing like "the usual suspects". By comparing these covers to known Kirby inked work from the 1940s and 1950s I will attempt to dissect the stylistic tics that define Kirby's inking style on these early Marvel covers.

The Fantastic Four # 7, October 1962
While folks like comics historian 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 a look at what I believe are other 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.

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

clothing folds 

Machinery Squiggle
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 lacks intricacy - in fact it is often sparse - and he pays little attention to fine points like fingers, but his brushstrokes are sharp, and his indication for folds on clothing, for instance, give a feeling of accuracy. 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, December 1959

Battle # 67 is the earliest Atlas era 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 indicative of Kirby's known inked work.

Journey into Mystery # 56, January 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 no frills added. The sharp lines that denote water are similar to Kirby's DC inked stories. It also looks as though a few additional blocks of ice were crudely added by another hand, either staffer Sol Brodsky or possibly Editor Stan Lee, who could have lent a hand in emergency situations. The pre-Marvel, early 1960s office was minuscule, so anyone might have assisted in this period.

Battle # 68, February 1960

The following month we have another Battle cover.I'm not entirely convinced Kirby inked this one; the style is a bit sharper and more involved than usual, akin to Frank Giacoia's brushwork. While Giacoia was not freelancing for Lee in this period it's always possible he was seeking work and Lee gave him a cover assignment. Some elements are similar to Battle # 67, including the line work on the soldier's face. I'd label this "possible Kirby inks" but I have doubts.

While Don Heck drew the rest of this seven page thriller from Journey into Mystery # 58, May 1960, Stan Lee had Kirby produce the splash page, likely replacing Don Heck's original version, which may have been deemed less dramatic. Kirby was, after all, king of the monsters! The technique here constitutes minimal details in the inking, so I wouldn't be surprised if Kirby rushed this one one while dropping work off to Lee in the office (and it still looks great!).   

Tales to Astonish # 20, June 1961
I originally credited Dick Ayers with the inking on this cover, 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. Image from the Grand Comics Database.  

The Incredible Hulk # 1 has been attributed to a few inkers over the years, including George Roussos and Paul Reinman, but I'm "convinced" that Kirby is the actual inker. The sparse details, including the short strokes on Banner's clothing; the minimal detail on the Hulk's feet and face and overall simplicity shout Kirby to my eye. There is none of Roussos' heavy black inking, the finer line of Paul Reinman or Ayers' thickness in sight. I submit this important cover is inked by none other than Jack Kirby, probably because he was in the office and the job needed to be done. Back then the cover was just another job; no one knew that The Hulk would be a success let alone survive in comics and be recognized through movies and television 50 years later.   

Journey into Mystery # 81, June 1962
The following month featured 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 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. Further, I've learned of an earlier, rejected cover that was inked by Dick Ayers. A replacement would likely be rushed out in the office, so it would make sense for Lee to ask Kirby to quickly ink the cover. Not only was Kirby good, he was quick.   

Rawhide Kid # 31, December 1962

This is another cover that screams "Kirby" to me. The lack of any 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 this 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. Stan 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, never a slow artist, 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 as the culprit.

                         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, Ayers' thickness of line is hard to completely miss.

Tales to Astonish # 40, February 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
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 probably also inked the smiling Thor 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, 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?
Sgt. Fury # 3 is a cover on the fence with. On 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 the distinctive Kirby touch. Is this Kirby's last "unknown" inked cover of the period? Stay tuned!

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

 Fantasy Masterpieces # 4, which was advertised as inked by Kirby, was his last inking assignment for Marvel. In a business sense it was understandable. Kirby was too valuable as a penciller and had no interest in going over his pencils, but 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 inking had a raw, unfinished feel that, while not technically perfect, packed a wallop similar to a two minute rock song: fast, furious and exuberant, 


Kid said...

Kirby also inked a cover of Fantasy Masterpieces. It was so unusual an occurrence that Stan Lee mentioned it in the Bullpen Bulletins. I can send you a scan if you like. I'll have to check, but I think it was #4.

Nick Caputo said...


Never let it be said I don't take suggestions seriously! While I did mention the FM cover, I didn't add a scan, but I've updated my post and here it is. BTW, Fantasy Masterpieces # 4 is one of the earliest comics I recall my brother John buying at a Ice Cream parlor (yes, I am a vintage person), and as poorly printed as those old stories were, it made me aware of a far away era (it also introduced me to Pre-Hero Monsters as well).

Unknown said...

Nice work, Nick!

Batton Lash said...

Let me add that I think Ditko had a hand on the Sgt. Fury cover. Something about Fury's canteen (of all things!) looks like Ditko's handiwork. Also, that "Zog" cover-- there was something about the figure of Zog himself that doesn't quite look like Kirby's work. The way the body is composed always reminded me of Don Heck's figures. Who knows? Regardless, thanks for your good work, Nick! I look forward to your next entry!

Nick Caputo said...

Rand and Batton,

Thanks for the comments. Batton, looking at little details is important in identifying art styles, and I'ts interesting that you see Ditko's possible hand on the Sgt. Fury cover as well. I don't see any evidence of Heck on the Zog cover, what you may see in the composition of Zog is repositioning by another hand, as Stan was very picky on his covers.

Booksteve said...

Keep in mind that it;s fairly well documented that Kirby's wife Roz helped out with inking on a fairly regular basis beginning in the late fifties and lasting, I believe a few years at least.

Oh and count me in for the "Yes that's Ditko " on the SGT FURY cover. All kindsa little Ditko touches but the first thing I see is Dum-Dum's hand.

STEIBEL said...

Hi Nick,

Great article. Would you mind if I posted a link to your article on Kirby Dynamics and included enlarged versions of the covers you mentioned? Here is the site:


I think the covers would look great at the big size I can use at the Museum site and maybe some more readers will chime in with opinions. Thanks.

-Rob Steibel

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Great stuff and I completely agree on all cases. Have you included the romance covers? Are they all inked by others or did Kirby do some of those as well? What you don't mention on FF #11, is the fact that the Thing s drawn with a blocky hide, as Kirby always intended. It was Dick Ayers who softened Thing's look in his earliest appearances. I believe it was also one of the major arguments for Mark Evanier to give #7 to Kirby.

Nick Caputo said...


You are correct that Roz assisted in the inking department for some years, although I don't know if she was still helping Jack out in the Marvel period. A number of DC stories have a fine line that I don't see at Marvel that I suspect may be the work of Roz.

The more I look at that Sgt. Fury cover the more I'm leaning to Ditko inking as well.


You have permission to provide a link to my blog and to enlarge the covers.


All the romance covers I've looked over did not appear to be inked by Kirby. The majority were inked by Chris Rule and Vince Colletta although there is at least one mystery inker that I will take a closer look at.

Kid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kid said...

Nick, I can't find a contact address for you, so I hope you'll forgive me leaving this here. It's further info about Rob Kirby's planned book about British Marvel - from the 'It Came From Darkmoor' Blog:

From Cents to Pence - Rob Kirby to chart the history of Marvel UK

As announced by Simon Williams, over at the Make Mine Marvel UK!!! Facebook group, this week, there are plans afoot for the publishing of a written history of all things Marvel UK. Rob Kirby is the guy who's been piecing stuff together over the past couple of years, and while 'Marvel: From Cents to Pence – The Definitive Guide to Marvel’s British Comics 1951-2007,' to give it its full title, does not have a release date (as of yet) Simon assures us that work is complete on the text itself and its indices.

The book will apparently be published in hardback and as 'A Quality Guide' - the first in a new imprint of books from Dez Skinn's long-running publishing company. Dez was, of course, a former Editorial Director of Marvel UK, as well as being in charge of Warrior magazine in the 80s (V for Vendetta, Miracleman) - so if ever there were a right company for job...

Kirby promises that:

the first half of Marvel: From Cents to Pence will contain a copiously
illustrated 26 chapter history of Marvel’s activities in the UK, and is chock
full of surprising revelations, candid admissions, rib-tickling anecdotes, and
unexpected connections to the American side of Marvel’s many publishing
activities (thanks, in no small part, to much exclusive commentary by many of
the editors, writers and artists to have worked on the UK comics on both sides
of the big pond over the years). That leaves the latter half of the book to
dedicated to indices that, character by character, dissect in painstaking detail
almost every story ever printed by Marvel in Britain since 1972.

The book will also cover the post imprint days we live in now, and Panini's role in Marvel's distribution here in the UK, and will include breakdowns of pretty much everything Marvel UK ever put out; from US reprints to full ‘Printographies’ of every creator to have produced original material, which appeared here in print first, in the UK.

I have to say that this sounds really promising. I think that for every Marvel UK fanboy out there, regardless of age, there's always been a little bit of resentment at the lack of recognition given to some of the great work done for Marvel UK. Seeing it both discussed and recorded in print will hopefully remind a few people just how much was done over here.

And, as I keep reminding people, the term "Earth 616" originated here, long before the rest of the Marvel Universe embraced it.

Like I say, no finite details yet, but I'll spread the word as soon as I hear more. And for more details, if you've got access to Facebook, you can find the full item posted up on the Make Mine Marvel UK!!! group. They're a friendly bunch, and you can find them here:


The Seditionist said...

I am incredibly *not* persuaded. I only looked at a couple of the covers as well as FantMast 4 as a control. (I would assume there's no doubt about Kirby inking that one, right?) All I'd say is that the covers I looked at did *not* looked like they were inked by the man who inked FM4.

And not only does FM4 look to me far more Kirby-like than the others, it was inked a couple years after the other covers on the post yet looks the most Kirby-like. So "tics" in the FM4 cover should be even more pronounced in the earlier covers, but they are not.

IMO, of course. As Jim V. says, YMMV.

Doc V. said...

Bravo, Nick! The other inker on one of the romance issues was probably George Klein on TEEN-AGE ROMANCE #84.

And pay no attention to that bullying Seditionist! He's still trying to figure out how to spot Gene Colan's Timely pencils!


Nick Caputo said...

High praise coming from you Mike. I've spent many, many hours studying Kirby's known inking, and along with the work I own, poured over many examples on Harry Medryk's blog, where he identified Kirby inked stories of the 1940s and 1950s. I don't expect to convince everyone, but the evidence is there to decipher.

Nick Caputo said...


thanks for the info. BTW, Kid has a great Blog that I'm sure many will enjoy.


It's worth checking out. No Kidding!

Kid said...

Thanks for the plug, Nick. The cheque is in the mail.

Nick Caputo said...

For those who were asking about the mention of Kirby inking Fantasy Masterpieces, here it is, from the Oct 1966 Bullpen Bulletins:

"For years fans have been asking to see a sample of King Kirby's inking, but Jolly Jack just hasn't had the time to put down his pencil and pick up a brush. However, just for kicks, he both pencilled and inked the fight scene depicting Captain America and Ivan the Terrible on the cover of FANTASY MASTERPiECES # 4. So, if you want a real, not-soon-to-be-repeated treasure, latch onto a copy pronto."

the stiKman said...

What fun! For some time I have theorized that Bill Everett did some inking on the Fantastic Four 11 cover. The folds on the clothing are a clue.

None said...

It is great to finally get to see the Marvel art that you believe was inked by Kirby. I wish I could voice my opinion but unfortunately I have not done sufficient study of MM #4 the only documented piece of Kirby inking. But as you point out it is very reasonable that in a bind Stan might call on Jack to inked his own piece.

I know you said that Rawhide Kid #31 screamed Kirby to you but to me it screams someone else, Marvin Stein. In particular the brushwork in the shadow of the man at the center bottom and the blunt picket fence on the shoulder of the man on our lower right corner. Stein was a marvelous inker (working mostly for DC) and great at inking Kirby. But there is a really big problem with my attribution, Stein had left comics after 1959 although there is one story by him published by Harvey in 1962.


Nick Caputo said...


I don't see any signs of Everett's distinctive inking on the FF cover. Everett was only sporadically doing job for Marvel in this period, since he was employed at a greeting card company, notably DD # 1 in 1964. I don't believe he did any work for Marvel in late 1962.

Nick Caputo said...


Thanks for the comments. In 1962 Stan had a very limited number of artists working for him and Stein has never been mentioned as being among them, although I believe he did some work for Atlas earlier on (Doc V, please chime in here).

Perhaps Jack picked up some pointers from Stein and that's what you see in the inking.

the stiKman said...

Has anyone seen the original to Fantastic Four #11? I seem to remember seeing the bottom "heads" piece original many years ago. Looking more closely at the cover I see some "everettiness". Especially on the clothing, the torch, and the feet. However Reed's is a perfect match for the Kirby inking style. The "faces" strip looks rather like Ditko inking. I believe George Roussous once mentioned that in the pre-"George Bell"-early 60s that he and Everett and Ditko would occasionally drop in and do a little coloring when Stan Goldberg was swamped.But we can also agree to disagree. Thanks for posting a rreat article.

Nick Caputo said...


Everett did work in production in the mid-1960s and did some coloring, notably the Silver Surfer # 1. I've never heard any mention of Ditko coloring at Marvel, although he has mentioned that he suggested colors for Spider-Man's costume,which was not followed by Stan G.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick
great article, and am in agreement in all cases! I see though that you attribute Tales of Astonish 50 (not featured) to Ditko (who is also credited on the splash page). I see it as Kirby with some Heck corrections instead.....I rate Ditko as one of Kirby's best inkers, but I don't see any of his style in the Giant-man feature at all, and the inking instead appears to my eyes very similar to Rawhide Kid #31 or Suspense #36. I have not seen any of the original pages though.....however I don't see it as being impossible for Lee (or Brodsky)to have asked Kirby to ink over one afternoon in the office as it was too late to get Ditko. Kirby may not have considered changing the credit. It would also explain Heck even later on making certain fixes, which Ditko would have done....
Some comics where the inking credit is incorrect include Avengers #4 and FF Annual #5 (which I am sure you know about anyway!)
Thanks for the blog. I constantly look for new updates.

Nick Caputo said...


Thanks for the kind words. I'll take another look at Astonish # 50. I agree there is very little noticeable of Ditko in that story, but I attribute it to Ditko's rushing out the inks and practically tracing over Kirby's pencils, but I could be wrong. Credit boxes are not always correct, particularly in the case of inkers, since their credits are penciled in by the letterer who credits the inker that was assigned to the job. Sometimes last minute changes occurred and the correct name was not revised.

drivingovercanaan said...

Kirby always did great dogs.

Jim Long said...


The Sgt. Fury cover is inked by Vinnie Colletta. One key to look for is the organic look to the sand under Fury and Dugan.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Jim,

I'd have to disagree on Colletta here. His inking was much lighter and examples from the period, particularly inking Kirby on romance stories and early Thor, bear this out. I'm still of the mind that this is either Kirby inks or someone closely following his pencils.

Bfoss said...

This is the first really intelligent comic blog I’ve come across. It’s so rich in detail. A lot of blogs seem to focus on the writing and how everything fits into the Marvel Universe. There seems to be a focus on the art here, which is my main interest. Thanks so much, I can’t wait to read all of them.

Nick Caputo said...


Thanks so much for the praise. I do my best to focus on different aspects of the creators, often focusing on art-related subjects, but using it as a forum to celebrate writers, letterers and others involved in the fascinating world of comics.