Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Mystery of Kevin Banks

In the early 1970s Marvel attempted to capture a segment of the audience they had not focused on for many years. Comics geared towards young children were selling well for other companies, specifically Archie Publications, Western/Gold Key, Harvey and Charlton, and since sales on their superhero line were showing signs of weakness (confirmed by the cancellation of X-Men, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD) publisher Martin Goodman began to diversify in the hope of gaining new readers. An inexpensive way of achieving this goal was to dip into the vast Timely-Atlas 1940s-50s inventory, which included war, western, jungle, horror and romance material. 

Only one new title was created, Harvey, "inspired" by Archie's successful group of comics. Initially written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Stan Goldberg (who had been working at Archie for a few years), later issues were produced by Stu Schwartzberg and Henry Scarpelli. Running sporadically from 1970-1972, Harvey lasted only six issues and didn't cause the Silberkleit's (Archie's publishers for those of you not "in the loop") to lose any sleep. 

Just because it looks like an Archie comic that doesn't mean it sells like an Archie comic! Stan Goldberg art, Sam Rosen lettering, Harvey # 1, October 1970. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.

The bulk of Marvel's foray into children's comics lay in their past, where they had a wealth of features to reprint. They consisted of a Casper the Friendly Ghost copy, Homer the Happy Ghost (brought back from the daed, excuse the pun - since Casper continued to fly off the stands) by Stan Lee and Dan DeCarlo, Lee and Joe Maneely's Dexter the Demon, which was re-titled (with some art alterations) as Peter the Little Pest and Li'l Kids/Li'l Pals which featured reprints of Howie Post's "Little Lizzie". The 10th issue brought a change, as a brand-new series debuted.


                                                                                                                       Li'l Kids introducing Calvin # 10 (February 1973). Kevin Banks signature is seen  on Calvin's desk, with the initials "N. T." nearby. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.

For three issues the title changed to Li'l Kids introducing Calvin, a humorous strip featuring an African-American child. The cover is signed "K. Banks", along with the initials N. T., which I assume is the inker. Unfortunately, I'm stymied as to who those initials belong to. The splash page has Banks drawing a cartoon of himself.


Banks (standing) posing with long-time letterer/production man Morrie Kuramoto in the Marvel Bullpen circa late 1972 or early 1973.  Photo from Foom # 2, Summer 1973. 

A photo of Kevin Banks appeared in Foom # 2, Summer 1973, a fanzine produced by Marvel. "Behind the scenes at the Marvel Bullpen" focuses on many of the behind-the-scenes staff. Banks is only mentioned as "L'il Pals" artist with no further information. The photograph reveals Banks to be a young man.    

Little has surfaced about Kevin Banks or his short tenure at Marvel. I've quizzed folks who were there at the time, including Roy Thomas and Tony Isabella, but they have no recollection of the man. I've scoured the internet and have come up with few answers, although a few details have surfaced since I originally wrote this post in 2012. Two people knew Banks many years ago (see the comments section) adding that he lived in the Bronx and was an artist for the New York Daily News. It remains a mystery WHAT he drew, though. A comic strip? Single-panel editorial panel? Filler art? My friend Michael J. Vassallo has been researching and collecting The Sunday News comics and thus far has not seen anything with Bank's by-line. 

Many questions about Kevin Banks work in comics remains a mystery. Did his only comic book work appear in three issues of Li'l Kids? Could he have drawn or written stories in obscurity at a company such as Gold Key, where creator credits were often non-existent? Or was he employed at the Daily News or another newspaper? Since he was a young man back in the 1970s there is always a chance that Kevin Banks may one day surface to tell his story.  

And who was N.T. ?  

If anyone has further information on Kevin Banks or knows his whereabouts please contact me at caputon66@aol.com. Maybe one day I can update this blog post with the heading "mystery solved" 

12 comments:

Barry Pearl said...

I looked him up in Horn's Encyclopedia of comics to no avail.

I know Bill Foster, a great guy and a good authority on African American comics and their creators. Remember the PBS show with "Negro" comics that Jackie was on? He was also one of the comic book authorities.And one of the Board members for the book I was in. I emailed him asking for information. I also directed him to your blog.

carddown said...

The inkers initials are N.T.
Here's a look at another cover with a signature:
http://www.comicvine.com/lil-kids-/37-177432/

Nick Caputo said...

Barry,

Thanks for your assistance. Carddown, thanks for the correction, I will fix that.

Steven Thompson said...

I, too, tried to track this one down a while back to no avail.

I really don't think you can even depend 100% that the caricature of the artist IS the artist. Grass Green, an African-American artist, caricatured himself as white in one of his early seventies stories, for example.

Steven Thompson said...

Who was editing these otherwise reprint titles at the time? That would seem to be someone to ask if they're still around.

Nick Caputo said...

Roy Thomas was the editor at the time, but there was so much product out that he had no recollection of Banks, or who N. T. might have been.

Kid said...

Wish I could help, Nick, but I know nothing about this one. If it was a rush job, the artist may have used the initials of a pseudonym, which will make identification even harder.

Miss Cotton Tail said...

he is my uncle we still have some of the original comics

Anonymous said...
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Aubrey Lafrance said...

kevin banks lived in my building 3673 third avenue in the bronx he took me to marvel once and introduced me to marrie severine he showed me the first issue of calvin when he finished he also complained to me that he thought herb trimpe was a terrible artist and he didnt understand why they wouldnt use him f0r there mag0r characters. i remember he just moved and i never heard from him again

John F. Walker said...

Kevin was also an artist for the daily news comic strips. I also lived in the building at 3673 Third Ave, BX NY

Nick Caputo said...

Aubrey,

It's nice to hear from someone who knew Mr. Banks. Thanks for sharing your memories.

John,

I was a reader of the Daily News so I likely saw some of his strips. Do you know if if drew single panel editorial or worked on a strip?