Monday, May 14, 2012

Jack Kirby's interpertation of Spider-Man

Since my post on the cover to Avengers # 11 yesterday received its share of interest I thought I'd follow up with a look at how Jack Kirby drew Spider-Man, as witnessed on a number of early Marvel covers. Kirby did not easily adapt to drawing Spider-Man. Steve Ditko's costume design was unique, with its webbing design and full face mask. Kirby rarely got the details right, and, oddly enough, some of these errors appeared uncorrected on covers.

Strange Tales Annual # 1, 1963. Kirby pencils; Sol Brodsky inks?

I started out with this cover since I noticed the background, circular webbing motif is similar to the design  on Avengers # 11. Stan Lee often designed covers with the artists, so this may be an instance where he decided to use the same idea on the Avengers cover a year or so later. As we can see here, there are a number of instances where Kirby differentiated from Ditko in his interpretation of Spider-Man. Spidey's webbing in not always drawn correctly, notably on the belt and the feet; the left foot in particular has lines that are completely wrong. The boots are smaller than Ditko's version, and the spider on the chest is noticeably absent. Kirby does draw the underarm webbing, and overall presents an acceptable Spider-Man.



 

Amazing Spider-Man # 10, Mar 1964. Kirby pencils on Spider-Man, Ayers inks?

This Kirby drawing of Spider-Man, which appeared a few months after the Strange Tales Annual, is interesting since it has Spidey in a side view. You'll notice that Kirby's Spidey face mask is flat, with no definition of a nose (or face underneath), as is noticeable when Ditko draws him. Here Kirby remembers to draw the spider on the chest (unless someone else added it), but he draws the ankles very thin, and the webbing on the glove that is pointing to the Enforcers has lines going all the way to the fingers. Interestingly, the glove holding the webbing has the lines on the fingers correct. It looks like Ditko may have fixed that hand, although why he didn't fix the other is a mystery.


Ditko Spidey - close up from the cover to Amazing # 21, Feb 1965

I thought it would be interesting to compare a Ditko Spider-Man figure/pose with Kirby's. As mentioned, Ditko's mask looks like it has a nose whenever there is a side view. Ditko's musculature is more realistic, and his webbing design is fluid. His Spider-Man looks thinner and younger, while Kirby's is bulky and stiff. There is quite a difference between the two interpretations.

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Tales To Astonish # 57, July 1964. Kirby pencils; Sol Brodsky inks

One last cover worth noting. Here Spidey is swinging through the air on his web, which looks more like a net than the webbing Ditko draws. In every drawing I've seen, including the interior stories Kirby pencilled, Spidey never shoots his webbing with his index fingers as Ditko's version does: Kirby has Spidey making a fist when shooting his web. Once again, the webbing design on Spidey's costume is off, looking like a series of U's on his arm (the webbing also covers his entire arm). The spider on his back is also missing. 

Noting the differences between Kirby and Ditko's versions is not meant in any way to denigrate Kirby, only to show how diametrically opposed they were in style. Ditko, for his part, had a very hard time drawing the Thing; his hard rocky exterior appeared to confuse Ditko's design sensibilities . Still, there were occasions where both men were able to do acceptable work on others characters. I always thought Ditko did a fine job on the Human Torch, while Kirby's Dr. Strange cover vignettes (which look like they were based on Ditko's interior scenes) and guest appearances, while not perfect, costume wise, had a charm of their own. Both mens individual imprints are unmistakable. That's one of the things that makes their art and storytelling endlessly interesting.         
   
        

    
 

10 comments:

Kid said...

Although Jack sometimes drew an acceptable Spider-Man, I don't think the character would've been the success he was if Jack had drawn him from the beginning. Great as he was, Jack had his artistic limitations. Stan Lee was smart enough to know what they were. Perhaps Jack's lesser Spidey attempts were down to the speed at which he drew...maybe if he'd familiarised himself with the costume more he'd have had better success. Great post as usual.

Nick Caputo said...

Kid,

I think Spider-Man was so much Ditko's that it was hard for most artists to wrap themselves around the character. Until John Romita came around there was no other artist at Marvel that I can think of who would have been able to do an acceptable Spider-Man.

Teddy I @ Pencil Ink said...

Yeeesh. That Strange Tales annual cover by Kirby is painful to look at.

Fred W. Hill said...

That cover to Amazing Spider-Man #10 is painful too. Ditko's original cover, which was rejected, was far superior. While Kirby & Ditko successfully switched out on the Hulk, I don't think Ditko would have done that well on the FF, Thor or Cap, while Kirby would have been terrible on Spidey & Dr. Strange.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Fred,

I disagree about Ditko's original cover. It was too cluttered and awkward. The mixed cover of Ditko and Kirby isn't outstanding, but it is clearer. Ditko did a decent Cap story in the 1990's inked by Terry Austin.

I agree with you on Ditko's version of Thor. He would never have been able to bring that sense of majesty and epic drama that Kirby was exceptional at.

Comicsfan said...

It's certainly an eye-opener to come across Marvel characters that Kirby's style wasn't suitable for. It seems to be the consensus in whatever forum I come across that Spider-Man is one of those characters, and I agree. Even in Fantastic Four #73, which should have put Kirby's best foot forward on Spider-Man if anything could (particularly with Sinnott's inking), Spidey seems a little stiff. Daredevil fares much better in action in that issue (though I've never really had a problem with Kirby's rendition of DD).

Nick Caputo said...

Comicfan,

FF 73 also had some corrections on Spider-Man by Romita. Kirby just couldn't "get" Spider-Man, although there were a few times he did an acceptable job. Two instances were on a Marvelmania cover and the original Spider-Man poster for MarvelMania International, although the posted that was published and sold was drawn by Romita, based on Kirby's original.

thetrellan said...

Looking at these, I suspect Kirby simply didn't like Ditko's design. He probably knew what was expected, but thought it ridiculously busy. Even Ditko didn't have set rules for how the webbing should be oriented, or how many strands should go on the mask. I remember reading through the series and feeling great relief when I finally got to the Romita era. Romita finally established plain rules for the web design, and it looked much better.

Kirby, on the other hand, had a habit of taking shortcuts. His Falcon was often drawn with a simple triangle in place of the usual beak design, and his pencils for Jimmy Olsen show a Superman with one diagonal slash instead of the usualy S shield. But that single slash on the shield was interesting, and something like it was eventually used by Alex Ross on Kingdom Come. Jack knew the important thing was the overall impact of the image, and in this he never disappointed.

The thing to remember is that Ditko's design left too much room for interpretation, and that he himself didn't always interpret it the same. In fact every time it looked like the man was progressing artistically, he would return to form, having learned seemingly little. I hated that about him.

Kirby, by contrast, grew by leaps and bounds in the same period. If you ask me, he'd have made a fine Spider-Man artist, and ultimately would have established rules similar to Romita's much earlier had it been up to him.

thetrellan said...

It's also important to remember that Jack had a fluid way of approaching design that evolved over time. In the first issue of Fantastic Four, no 2 drawings of the Thing looked the same, and he continued to change his approach to the character until some time in book's 40s, when he finally had the look he wanted.

Something similar would have happened with Spider-Man under Kirby. But I'm glad he wasn't on the book. His style and plots are too grandiose for a complex little guy like Peter, and it would have taken Jack away from either Thor or the FF, and either situation would be unacceptable.

Nick Caputo said...

thetrellan,

I agree that Kirby had a way of taking shortcuts and many of those worked out splendidly. His changes on the Falcon's costume were fine to my eye, even if they were often corrected in the bullpen (ie his boots). Having said that, though, I still see Ditko's Spider-Man costume as being very individualistic and a wonderful design. It is true that he didn't always interpret it in exactly the same way each time, it was a strong enough visual to work perfectly. Romita did simplify and make the costume consistent, true, and I enjoyed his version, but it was watered-down from the Ditko's.

Kirby and Ditko had very different ways of telling stories and designing costumes and characters, but I enjoy the differences between the two; it makes them unique creators.