Saturday, November 30, 2013

FF Big Little Book Mysteries

Big Little Books were first published in 1932, with prose on the left side and a single illustration on the right. The books starred many popular characters from comic strips, cartoons, movies and television, including Popeye, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Tarzan, Donald Duck, Lassie, Flipper, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Man from Uncle, Bugs Bunny and Yogi Bear.

You can read more about the history of Big Little Books here:

William Johnston is credited with writing the 1968 Big Little Book featuring the Fantastic Four, which was published by Whitman. Curious about William Johnston's background, I searched online and discovered his fascinating history:

The first four pages provides you with Johnston's bibliography. He was a prolific writer whose books included many television tie-ins. His most successful run was on Get Smart, but he was versatile. and other books included Dr. Kildare, Room 222, Bewitched, Ironside and novelizations of movies such as Klute. Surprisingly, he left the field of writing and became a bartender in the 1970's.

I've had this book in my possession for 45 years, ever since it was purchased, likely at Woolworth's, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, where I resided as a child. It is one of the earliest comics related items I own that goes back that far, with the paperback version of All In Color For A Dime a close second.  Herb Trimpe pencils, John Verpoorten inks.

While Johnston, who wrote other material for Whitman, was credited as author (and, while clearly written for a young audience, Johnston did a worthy job of making the characters, particularly Ben, whose wisecracks remained intact, sound like their comic book counterparts), the artists were brought in from Marvel, although they were not credited in the book. Herb Trimpe was a relative newcomer to the field - as noted in my previous post - but he was given the assignment mainly, as he once explained to me, because Kirby was too busy on his comic book work and didn't have the time to produce outside work. While Trimpe was new to the field, he quickly adapted to the Marvel style, and clearly followed Kirby's look as closely as possible on this job.

Trimpe does an acceptable job of aping Kirby's style, as seen on this page. This image was also used for a jigsaw puzzle that was produced around the same time. I had that puzzle also, although, sadly, it has been lost to the ages.

Trimpe worked on staff for Marvel in this period, as did production assistant (and later production head, replacing Sol Brodsky) John Verpoorten. Verpoorten was assigned to ink the book, and did a fine job, with his style very much in the mold of Joe Sinnott.

  A Kirby-esque image of Reed and Sue by Trimpe and Verpoorten. Trimpe got the hang of Kirby's style early on, and would soon go on to draw the Hulk for a long and successful run.

As can be seen by this illo, Trimpe had a good sense of storytelling, producing a dramatic illustration. While some of his drawings were not as confident, and he relied on Kirby swipes on some pages, overall Trimpe did a fine job on this assignment. 

There were a few drawings of the FF throughout the book that may have been replaced with stats of Kirby artwork. This was likely due to the characters not looking "correct". The above image of the FF is one that I've found. 

Taken from page 3; panel 3 of Fantastic Four # 77, August 1968. This image was statted and used for the Big Little Book, with Sue added.  

There are also a few drawings throughout the book that don't look like Trimpe/Verpoorten. The above figures have poses and a confidence of line that look like Kirby's concurrent FF work, particularly the Thing, It's possible this may also be a stat from an FF issue, although thus far I've not found the image in either the monthly comic or the Annuals. It's also a distinct possibility that Kirby was asked to pencil one or two drawings to replace a less dynamic picture while he was in the office.     

Here is another scene that has the FF in poses that are too perfect to be Trimpe drawings, although Reed's face may be altered by another hand. Again, this could be a stat from an FF issue, and if anyone finds where it was originally from I'll add the info here. Aside from these two illustrations, I don't see signs of any other possibly new Kirby artwork. The rest of the page is clearly the work of Trimpe/Verpoorten, though. 

The possibility of other hands involved in the book exists. While it looks to my eye that John Verpoorten inked the majority of the book, there are a few illos that look like the work of another inker. The pencils here are by Trimpe, although the inking on Dr. Weird's face has an unusual look.

This illustration is even more distinctive, and while it may be pencilled by Trimpe, I see signs of inking and/or alterations by Bill Everett. This would not be unusual, as Everett was working on staff at the time, but the eyebrows, nose and mouth have stylistic touches that Everett is recognized for.

I hope you've enjoyed taking a trip back to uncover some 45 year old secrets as much as I have. It's been a long time since I've opened that well worn Big Little Book, but, as I've often found, there's usually something new and interesting to discover.     

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Werner Roth, Herb Trimpe and Kid Colt Outlaw

Werner Roth began working for Martin Goodman's line in 1950. A versatile artist, Roth produced quality work in many genres, including crime, war, western, romance and adventure. Some of the characters and features he was associated with include Apache Kid, Matt Slade, Venus, "Jet Dixon" and Lorna, Jungle Girl. When work dried up at Atlas in 1957 Roth (along with Gene Colan and John Romita) migrated to DC, where he drew romance stories in titles such as Secret Hearts, Young Love, Falling in Love and Young Romance. Roth was skilled at drawing attractive women, which served him well for many years. In 1965 he sought to rejoin a growing Marvel and was rehired by Stan Lee, where he worked over Jack Kirby's layouts on X-Men before taking over full pencils. Roth continued on the strip for two years, working for other companies from time to time, including Gold Key and King comics. In-between his X-Men gig, he was also assigned work on a few Sub-Mariner stories in Tales to Astonish, as well as a short run on Kid Colt Outlaw. 

On Kid Colt he was inked by a newcomer to comics, Herb Trimpe. Trimpe began his career assisting artist Tom Gill, who worked for Dell. Trimpe's first work for Marvel appeared in 1967, and his training consisted of penciling western fillers and the lead stories in two issues of Kid Colt Outlaw (#'s 134 & 135). Trimpe showed great promise and had  a strong eye for storytelling. One way of learning the Marvel style of dynamics was inking other artists, and Trimpe was soon assigned inking jobs over Dick Ayers (Ghost Rider # 7) and Marie Severin ("Dr. Strange") and, most importantly, "The Hulk", a character he would soon inherit and become closely associated with. To read more on Trimpe's career, latch on to Alter Ego # 124.

An impressive cover by the talented Werner Roth on his debut issue of Kid Colt Outlaw. Herb Trimpe's inking is a complimentary addition. Artie Simek letters, Colors possibly by Stan Goldberg. Kid Colt # 138, January 1968.  

I emailed Herb Trimpe way back in Sept 23, 2003, when I was working on my article on Roth that appeared in Alter Ego # 42, although he never met the man, he did discuss his inking:

"The only thing I remember is how clean his pencils were, and I think they were over layouts in blue pencil. He was easy to ink, just connect the dots."

Dynamic splash page to Roth's first Kid Colt story, inked by Herb Trimpe, who does a splendid job "connecting the dots"

An example of Roth's command of layout and pacing. "The Avenging Son", Gary Friedrich script, Al Kurzok letters, Trimpe inks. The second story from the aforementioned Kid Colt # 138.  

Roth and Trimpe's second and final Kid Colt cover. After this issue Kid Colt was cancelled for a period, resuming publication after an 18 month gap, although only in reprint form (# 140 included a Roth inventory story inked by Vince Colletta). Trimpe, however continued to draw a slew of exciting covers over the years, terminating when the Kid rode off into the sunset in 1979, Trimpe was at his side till the end, his last cover appearing on # 226, October 1978. Kid Colt Outlaw # 139, March 1968, Artie Simek letters.

Roth draws the reader into the scene, with Kid Colt in the foreground. Trimpe's brushwork is equally effective. The splash page from the opening story. the same month this issue appeared Roth was teamed with Herb Trimpe on "The Origins of the X-Men" back-up in X-Men # 42.

Roth displays his storytelling skills, with each panel flowing into the other with precision. "Showdown at the Silver Spur!" Gary Freidrich script, Artie Simek letters.

Kid Colt was likely cancelled abruptly and inventory drawn for issue # 140 started to appear just four months later in Rawhide Kid.

You can't keep a good "Kid" down, as the cover to Rawhide Kid # 64, June 1968, announces the (brief) return of Kid Colt. Herb Trimpe is on hand to ink Larry Lieber's cover, with Sam Rosen lettering. Trimpe also inked the lead Rawhide Kid story, although that combination was not as effective.  

Two Kids are not always better than one, especially when one is an impostor! "The Deadly Double", Gary Freidrich story, Al Kurzrok letters.

Trimpe's last inking job over Roth appeared in Rawhide Kid # 67, December 1968. The final Roth drawn story was presented in Kid Colt # 140 (November 1969) when that title was revived. At that point Trimpe was busy working on the Hulk, so Vince Colletta inked the story. Colletta would be assigned the inking duties over Roth when he moved to DC and penciled Lois Lane for a long spell, beginning with # 106, November 1970.   

Herb Trimpe became a solid craftsman, taking over The Incredible Hulk from Marie Severin and working with her brother John, who superbly inked many of his stories. For over thirty years Trimpe worked steadily for Marvel. In addition to his run on the Incredible Hulk, Trimpe drew Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. "Ka-Zar", "Ant-Man", DefendersGodzilla and Indiana Jones and many others. In 1985 Trimpe returned to the western genre, penciling a four-issue Rawhide Kid mini-series. Trimpe was often seen on the convention circuit and produced commission work. He was a hell of a nice guy who, sadly, passed away in April, 2015.

After the cancellation of Kid Colt, Werner Roth moved onto other strips, returning to X-Men for a period, over layouts by Don Heck, assisted on Avengers Special # 2, and a final western, the "Gunhawk" feature that appeared in Western Gunfighters. The majority of Roth's 1970s work was for DC, returning to romance stories, mysteries and, as noted, Lois Lane. Roth died of cancer on June 28, 1973, at the age of 52. Although Roth's style was more subdued than many of his peers, especially the larger than life "Kirby dynamics" that typified Marvel's Super-Hero line, his art had a quality of design and sincerity. Roth's son, Gavin, has also passed away, but some years back I was fortunate to contact him via email. He kindly responded to my numerous questions about his father and allowed me to publish his responses as a sidebar to accompany my article in Alter Ego. Gavin had this to say about his father's work method:

"Dad's training was more meticulous, starting with plotting the pages out, tightening it up, and finally finished pencils. When I say finished pencils, I mean that you could look at the page and the artwork sparkled. It had life; it was finished." 

On a personal level, Gavin made this observation about his father:

"He appreciated other artists' work and would comment of how he liked what they had done, and why it worked as a piece of comic art. I never heard him say anything bad about anyone. He wasn't like that."

I think that THAT part of his personality shines through in much of his comic book work.

Werner Roth and Herb Trimpe were from two different eras of comics, yet both were backbones of the industry. While their art was never flashy or overly decorative, they could tell a story clearly and with an understanding of how a page flows. They worked in varied genres for many decades and their contributions to the field deserve to be recognized.      

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Audrey Hepburn, Jack Kirby and a Cast of Thousands

Comic books often looked to movies for ideas, stories and current trends. Westerns, crime, romance, monsters and science fiction all filtered into comics. Simon and Kirby's Newsboy Legion were inspired by the Dead End Kids; Lee and Kirby's Hulk was a mixture of the Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Frankenstein Monster; a horde of giant insect and bug movies were echoed in Marvel and DC's late 1950's-early 1960's output.

Many artists were also moviegoers; they absorbed the storytelling, cinematography and intensity of their experiences and translated them to a different medium, where - in olden days (yes, kids, there was a time computerized special effects didn't exist), their pencils journeyed beyond anything movies could conceive.

Character actors represented a diverse offering of personalities of all types: they often brought a distinct flavor to the movies. Artists took notice, and many a comic book were scattered with these familiar faces.      
And, of course, there were the movie stars, whose larger than life presence was another influence. There have been countless times I've looked at a comic and noticed a familiar likeness, either star or character actor, by artists such as Gene Colan, John Romita, Gray Morrow, Don Heck, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane and so many others.

Jack Kirby was a confessed movie enthusiast, and those faces saw their way in his stories throughout his career. From Edward G. Robinson to Charles Bronson, Kirby had a cast list to choose from.  
Audrey Hepburn was a extremely popular actress in the 1950's and 1960's, well-known for movies such as Roman Holiday (1953), which she won an Oscar for best actress, Sabrina (1954) and Funny Face (1957).  In 1961 she was in another hit, Breakfast at Tiffany's. I particularly enjoyed her performance in Wait Until Dark (1967). Hepburn exuded an air of sophistication, fragility and beauty, and her image sold scores of movie related magazines.


                          Stan Lee was also a movie fan, and often asked for familiar types, such as a Sidney Greenstreet villain, or an Errol Flynn hero. Lee and/or Jack Kirby took notice of the charismatic Hepburn

Eyebrows, face, gloves - look familiar? Kirby pencils; Vince Colletta inks, Sam Rosen letters, Stan Goldberg colors? No script credit, but likely a Lee plot and Lee or Lieber script. 
"By Love Betrayed" Love Romances # 102, Nov 1962

What's interesting is Kirby's image from the splash page is reused on the cover. Lee must have thought the Hepburn like figure was more attention getting than the three figures that occupy the rest of the cover (one of which is the same character). The three figures and background was probably reduced, cropped or otherwise altered, making the cover layout look odd. The new content was likely inked by Al Hartley. Sam Rosen letters, Stan Goldberg colors.

"To Me, He Was Like A God!", Kirby pencils, Colletta inks, John Duffy letters, Stan Goldberg colors? Again no scripting credits, although it reads like Lee (or Lee plot/ Lieber script) Love Romances # 104, March 1962. 

Two issues later Lee reused the Kirby-Hepburn face a THIRD time. Compare the woman in panel one to the figures above. The hair and clothing is altered, and the eyes are moved to the left, but its the same drawing. As has been discussed in depth in earlier posts, Lee often tinkered with covers and splash pages, and alterations were usually completed by whoever was available at the time. Apparently, Lee thought Kirby's original drawing was not attractive enough.

I believe there are other Audrey Hepburn lookalikes (and other famous actresses) scattered throughout the romance line. Don Heck drew her type as well. And I'm sure other famous figures "appeared" at DC, Charlton, Dell and other companies. Today, the movie-comics influence has come full circle, and film looks to comics to appropriate ideas, visuals and characters. Kirby, not surprisingly, is one of the biggest influences.          

For more on Audrey Hepburn and her films, check here: