Monday, June 10, 2013

Jack Kirby's unknown Kid Colt cover

Over the years I've discovered instances where foreign comics reprinting american stories were provided original stats from publishers. When compared to the printed covers alterations ranged from minor (movement of copy or relettering of a word) to more comprehensive (the Ditko Spider-Man figure redrawn by Jack Kirby: Amazing Spider-Man # 35) . These unaltered stats were sometimes used on reprints in the states as well. Less often, an unpublished cover would be used, usually uknown to most fans. It's always a thrill to find such surprises and compare them to the originals.

The Dutch company Classics/Williams reprinted many Marvel comics in the 1960s and 1970s, ranging from superhero to pre-hero monsters. They also reprinted many of Marvel's cowboy heroes in the comic Sheriff Classics. This title cover featured the likes of Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, Ringo Kid, Two-Gun Kid (as Twee Pistolen Kid) and Ghost Rider (as, my favorite, De Spookruiter).

Sheriff Classics # 9111, 1968; De Spookruiter cover featured. Originally from Ghost Rider # 2, April 1967, Dick Ayers cover art.

Classics/Williams employed a mixture of styles, included some attractive painted covers and many that copied interior scenes by their own staff, often closely copying the work of Jack Keller, Dick Ayers, Jack Kirby and Larry Lieber. The Grand Comic Book Database has many of these covers on their site, as can be seen here:

scroll down to view the Kid Colt covers and check the four pages of covers.

While looking through those covers I came upon one that was not familiar to me. I have all the Kirby Kid Colt covers, including those he drew for Gunsmoke Western, and this cover was nowhere to be seen:

Sheriff Classics # 978, circa 1967, published by Classics/Williams. Image from the GCD.

The above cover art is pencilled by Jack Kirby and appears to be inked by George Klein. If the inking is the work of Klein it narrows the period when it might have been produced, since Klein inked Kirby on a number of covers and stories in the early 1960s, including Fantastic Four #'s 1 & 2. It immediately brought to mind a cover that also featured convicts, so I rummaged through my Kid Colt collection. It didn't take too long to find this cover:

Kid Colt # 97, March 1961. Kirby pencils; Ayers inks; Artie Simek letters and Stan Goldberg colors.

This cover also has Kid Colt in shackles and in a prison yard. One can also understand why the original cover was replaced. While the convicts in the foreground and background are well drawn and dramatic, the figure of Kid Colt is awkward. The published cover has perfect symmetry. The readers eye moves along with the convicts to the center figure of a despondent Kid Colt, with two police officers on either side. In the background stand two smaller offices and the prison walls. Dick Ayers' brushwork is excellent, as is Stan Goldberg's use of gray tones on the convicts. Stan Lee places Artie Simek's lettering above the artwork, although the cover could have worked just as well with no copy. The cover is an example of Kirby's ability to create images that draw the reader in. What kid wouldn't want to pick up the comic and read the story inside?      

The unpublished cover is an example that not every design worked. Stan Lee told me he often provided cover layouts for his artists, and he may have done so on these covers. Perhaps after he saw the original he realized it did not have the dramatic punch that was needed. It's entirely possible that the change was made at the directive of publisher Martin Goodman, who knew how important covers were to sales. In this period Kid Colt was a very popular title and strong seller, so it would be no surprise that the cover was scrutinized thoroughly. It's possible Kirby himself redesigned the new cover. Whatever the case, Kid Colt # 97 is an example of a redrawn cover that was improved tremendously in its second take. How many others still exist waiting to be found?              



Kid said...

The original cover looks more like Dick Ayers copying Kirby, Nick, although you'd know better than me. I've seen Ayers-drawn stories before that looked like watered-down Kirby and wonder if this is what this might be. What do you think - any possibility? Admittedly, some of it does look pure Jack - but other bits don't.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Kid,

I don't think there is any Ayers involvement on the cover. While Kid Colt's figure is a bit awkward and atypical of Kirby's work, the other characters are Kirby stock figures.

In the 1960-61 period Kirby was drawing practically every cover, with the exception of some romance and teen humor titles. Ayers hadn't drawn any covers for over a year, and wouldn't do any solo covers for quite a while.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I should have a look at those Dutch covers at the GCD. Are they complete? I know people who collect these books here in Holland, maybe they ca do a complete set of scans and who knows what else may turn up.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Ger,

The GCD doesn't have a complete run of all the covers, but it would be great if you find someone that has all the scans. I will have at least one other cover surprise that I'll be posting here soon, though. Stay tuned!

Unknown said...

Great find, Nick. Can't wait to see more cover surprises...!

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks Rand, Hope you enjoyed the Rawhide Kid cover find.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Did we follow up on this? Either you or one of my Dutch collector friend told me they had another one... has this been written up in TJCK and should we?

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I found what seems to be a comlete visual line of covers on this Dutch collectors website:

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Ger,

Thanks for the link. Some of the covers are reprints, others consist of new artwork based on interior scenes but I'll check through them and let you know if I discover any other unpublished covers.