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.     


Kid said...

Interesting stuff, Nick. Although I've heard of these books, I don't recall ever seeing any before now. And for your next trick?

Unknown said... you say, Trimpe quickly adapted to the Marvel style.
And I quickly adapted to liking Trimpe art on the westerns and the superheroes.
If I am remembering right this BLB was drawn during the time Sue was wearing a skirt as part of her costume.
Wonder why there was never a Spider-Man BLB?
A request for your next trick would be to show some of those minicomics that came out of bubblegum machines.

Nick Caputo said...

Even I don't know what's up my sleeve, so if I surprise myself I hope the audience is surprised as well.

There were no other Marvel related BLB's but I believe that is because this was at the tale end of the run.

DD, the mini-comics are an interesting item. I have to check if I have any in my collection. I believe all of them were drawn by Marie Severin.

Nick Caputo said...


I stand corrected. There was a Spider-Man BLB which apparently came out in 1976:

Nick Caputo said...

and here is a link with art from the first chapter:

Not sure of the artist, possibly Larry Lieber, with inking by Giacoia and/or Esposito.

Rip Jagger said...

I adore this book. This was one of the gems which got me into comics and I was very proud I recognized Trimpe's art when I was still a young of the Hulk.

I still have this book along with other lovely BLBs of the era like Space Ghost, Man from UNCLE, Aquaman, Shazzan, Major Matt Mason, and many more.

Thanks for the detailed analysis.

Rip Off

James said...

Thanks Nick, this was a very fun and informative read. I still have the BLB but alas, I no longer have the puzzle.

Kid said...

The 'tale' end? See, you even throw in puns when we're not looking. (It's 'tail' end. Ooh, I'll have to stop this pedantry - I'm too used to editing Barry.)

Shar said...

Fun post, Nick!

The depiction of Sue and Reed ("He Intends to Destroy Us")above by Trimpe and Verpoorten is based on a similar shot of them from FF #49.


Nick Caputo said...

Rip and James,

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. This is the only Big Little Book still in my possession, although I once had Dick Tracy meets Facey, which appeared in the same period (my pal Doc V has it though). I was a big Dick Tracy fan (still am).


Thanks for pointing the similar figures, I noticed there were many similar scenes that Trimpe copied, and that would probably fill another blog post!


You got me! I'll try to be more careful. I don't want to keep you away from Barry's spelling errors! :)

Rick said...

Great post, Nick. I still have a couple of copies of this book, and the puzzle. I wrote to Whitman to compliment them on the book, and asked if they had any more Marvel projects lined up. They replied, and said that at the time, they did not. Spidey obviously came later. I didn't recognize Trimpe's work at the time, but did spot the various Kirby stats.

Shar said...

Nick, your post inspired me to buy the book from eBay. :) I'd read this as a child and I thought I'd remembered that Sue was in her miniskirted FF costume in this (the costume DL Degg referenced). Sure enough,she is wearing the minskirt in some pictures here (mostly in swipes from FF #71--she only wore that miniskirt in issues 68-71). What a trip down memory lane!
Question, the book I bought is a softover, has a 69 cents price (as opposed yours above, that shows 39 cents) and inside the book the illustrations are black and white--is your edition in color? Thanks!


Nick Caputo said...

Hi Sharon,

Glad you found the book so quickly. Yes, I recall Sue in the mini-skirt costume for a short time and forgot to mention that she was drawn in that costume in the BLB.

The version you have is a reissue. It's pretty much the same, as you noted, except the price and without color. In researching I saw this version mentioned in a few places. I never knew another version existed!


Shar said...

Thanks, Nick--yes, now I see there are different versions on eBay, including hardcovers that were originally 39 cents, like the edition you have. That's the one I wanted--so it's back to eBay! :)

Kid said...

Nick, I've misplaced your email address, so I'll leave my best wishes for a great Christmas and super New Year for you here. Hope Santa was kind to you.

Nick Caputo said...

Kid - Thank you kindly, and a Merry Christmas to you!

EvenSpot said...

I remember these little big books. At Christmas my brother & I use to get them as stocking stuffers. I still have them along w/ my ViewMaster.