Thursday, June 28, 2018

55 Summers Ago: Fantastic Four Annual #1

At this time of year my thoughts often drift back to an afternoon in late June and a classroom in Brooklyn, New York. As I sat at my desk I stared longingly at the outside world through an expansive open window - a perfect day in my mind’s eye. The semester was dwindling down, final exams were concluding, and the months of July and August beckoned, when the days seemed endless. Summer meant exploring parks, back yards and city streets with friends; baseball and stoop ball, collecting gum cards, flying wooden airplanes and rushing to purchase Ice Cream from the Mr. Softee truck when its familiar melody wafted through the air. Sometimes it was an immense pleasure just to stare at the clouds above as time stood still. 

Trips to local candy stores (for those too young to know, those establishments sold loose candy, soda, rubber balls, newspapers, magazines and, of course, comics) offered numerous surprises: June, July and August brought an array of 25 cent, triple-length Annuals comprising Marvel’s top titles: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Journey into Mystery with Thor (there was also the popular Millie the Model, but I didn't pay attention to it back then). The Bullpen Bulletins' page and Marvel checklist told us what Annuals to expect each month during the summer, but we didn't know what week they would arrive, so anticipation was high with each visit to the newsstand.

While most superhero fans paid little attention to the teen/humor titles they were best sellers at Marvel for many years. Millie the Model starred in 12 Annuals, from 1962-1975, a pretty strong run. Patsy and Hedy were not as fortunate, headlining a single Annual, but it was on sale the same day as FF Annual # 1, so I featured it here. Al Hartley cover-art. Sam Rosen lettering and Stan Goldberg colors.     

Sgt. Fury King-Size Special # 4, August 1968. Dick Ayers pencils; John Severin inks; Sam Rosen lettering; Marie Severin possible coloring. 

Strange Tales Annual # 2. Jack Kirby pencils; Sol Brodsky possible inks, Artie Simek lettering; Stan Goldberg colors.  

Strange Tales Annual # 2, on-sale in July, 1962, was Marvel's first 25 center to showcase superheroes. The Human Torch, who headlined the monthly comic, was teamed with Spider-Man in an 18 page story that failed to live up to expectations - even with the considerable talents of Lee, Kirby and Ditko (the remainder of the issue featured reprints of pre-hero monster tales). Fantastic Four Annual # 1, which debuted the following month, was a superior product in both content and presentation, and is deserving of a closer look.

My first encounter with FF Annual # 1 took place when it was reprinted in its entirety eight years later, in September, 1970 (cover-dated December). John Romita pencils; John Verpoorten inks; Sam Rosen lettering.  

 The iconic corner insignia depicted head or full figure drawings of Marvel's characters, with the company logo and price underneath it; this allowed consumers to easily identify a favorite title on the crowded newsstands.It was Steve Ditko who suggested the idea to Stan Lee, which was approved by publisher Martin Goodman and implemented across the entire line on comics dated May/June 1963. It may be surprising to some in the modern era of corporate titles and specific duties, but the small-time operation that was 1960s Marvel allowed for innovations such as Ditko's. The informal approach was akin to a group of musicians who contribute in various ways that are often unknown but add immeasurably to the finished product.The first Fantastic Four Annual utilized the same images of the quartet that adorned the monthly comic. Jack Kirby pencils and possible inks. 

Who else to feature in the first FF Annual other than their primary antagonist, the Sub-Mariner? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby upped their game considerably, crafting a special 37 page extravaganza with Namor waging war against the surface world. Lady Dorma returns from the 1940s Timely era (originally Namor's cousin, the character was reinvented as love interest and rival to Sue Storm for Sub-Mariner's affections), Warlord Krang is introduced as an antagonist, lusting for both the throne and Lady Dorma. Namor's origin is retold and expanded, with his homeland (never named by creator Bill Everett) now established as Atlantis. Lee and Kirby are admirably supported by Dick Ayers, whose inking brought substance and personality to Kirby's pencils. Artie Simek's stylish lettering and Stan Goldberg's effective coloring added the finishing touches.    

A close examination of page 37, panel 4, reveals that the top portion of Namor was redrawn, most likely by production assistant Sol Brodsky. Kirby's original illustration apparently had Sub-Mariner knocking citizens around a little too forcefully for the Comics Code.The sloppy movement lines and some of the bystanders, including the woman in the background, are clearly touched up.  

                                           The Skrulls. Kirby inks?. Ray Holloway lettering. 

 .                                    Dr. Doom. Brodsky inks? Ray Holloway lettering. 

The Mad (quite honestly I think he looks more perturbed) Thinker. Dick Ayers inks. Artie Simek lettering.  

                                     The Puppet Master. Kirby inks?. Ray Holloway lettering.  

FF Annual # 1 included a plethora of special features, such as the 11 page "Gallery of the Fantastic Four's Most Famous Foes!" Every villain up to FF # 15 appeared, with sensational Kirby artwork and dramatic copy by Stan Lee. To my eye it appears that Kirby inked the majority of illustrations, although Ayers clearly inked "The Mad Thinker" and possibly "Dr. Doom." Sol Brodsky's inking bore similarities to Kirby's own (what I've termed) "sparse" style; he may have inked The Sub-Mariner illustration. Stan Goldberg is believed to have colored the entire issue.

(for a detailed analysis of Kirby's inking techniques see my earlier post, "Kirby inking Kirby":    

  Other special features in the Annual include a two page "Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four," which revealed heretofore unknown facts about the powers and personal lives of the FF, and a schematic of the Baxter Building. 

"The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man!" is an expanded retelling of the FF's first encounter with Spidey in Amazing Spider-Man # 1. Inking Jack Kirby's pencils, Steve Ditko kept Spider-Man's look consistent, fixing errors in costuming that often occurred when Kirby drew the character, such as incorrect web-lines, lack of underarm webbing and a missing spider symbol on his chest. Ray Holloway lettering.  

The Annual concluded with a truncated reprint of Fantastic Four # 1 (the first twelve pages), published just two years earlier. A number of alterations were made in order to maintain consistency with their present-day incarnation. The Thing and Mr. Fantastic were slightly redrawn, but the biggest change was in the depiction of the Torch. 
The Human Torch was originally drawn as a featureless blob of flame, as seen in Fantastic Four # 1, November 1961 (as reprinted in Marvel Masterworks Volume 2, 1987). Stan Lee script, Jack Kirby pencils, George Klein inks, Artie Simek letters. 

For the 1963 reprint Lee had the Torch redrawn (Sol Brodsky being the likely culprit) conforming to a more human appearance familiar to readers since issue # 3.     

This was the first of many exciting annuals. In future years, special events in the FF alone included the origin of Dr. Doom, the wedding of Reed and Sue, the re-introduction of the Original Human Torch; the announcement of Sue's pregnancy (although, like early television, the word was deemed unsuitable; it was simply stated that Sue "is going to have a baby") and the child's birth the following year. 

While page lengths and special features changed from year to year depending on time constraints (new stories became much shorter, with reprints filling out the 1965-1966 specials) from 1963-1968 Marvel's Annuals (or "King-Size Specials" as they were sometimes called) showcased the work of numerous talented craftsmen, including  Lee, Kirby, Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas, Don Heck, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Larry Lieber, Al Hartley, Stan Goldberg and Marie Severin. 

John Romita's stunning cover to Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special # 5, Summer 1968. If you were a kid staring at this image in a candy store would YOU pass it up??

By 1969 Marvel's Annuals consisted almost entirely of reprint material and were even withdrawn from the schedule for several years. When they returned in the mid-1970's many  were lacking the imagination, excitement and creative punch that exemplified their earlier efforts. I'll always be grateful, though, for those magical moments when I walked into a candy store and discovered a brand new Annual awaiting me - a clear sign that those precious days of summer had not yet come to a close.            

What better way to conclude this post than by showcasing the cover of that magical first FF Annual? Kirby and Ayers art; Artie Simek letters; Stan Goldberg colors. It went on sale at most newsstands on July 2, 1963. Were YOU there??   


Kid said...

Great post, Barry. Regarding that corner box, the heads look like Ditko inks over Kirby's pencils, but they may have been taken from different sources so it's hard to be 100% certain. I'd say the Thing is definitely by Kirby & Ditko 'though.

Barry Pearl said...

I can't believe it was 51 years ago. Those were precious days, something special always happened in those Annuals. I bet Tony Isabella, the author of 1,000 Comics you must Read, will post. After all,this was his #1 comic!

Great stuff!!!

Shar said...

Great post Nick! The corner box images are from the cover of FF #11, so that may give a clue as to the inker.

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Shar - Thanks for spotting the original publication. My Kirby inking Kirby post posits that Kirby may have inked that cover - and I still think he's the primary suspect.

Kid said...

I can't believe I called Nick Barry - I'll never be able to show my face around here again. (Too Late - I just did.) I'd just been looking at Barry's blog, so obviously got confused. Don't worry, Nick - I'll call Barry Nick next time (trying saying that fast five times) to make up for it.

Nick Caputo said...

Thanks a lot, Kid! Now Barry will start taking credit for MY posts as well as his!

Unknown said...

Another great post Nick. I enjoy reading your blog. I had actually forgotten that the Torch had been redrawn in FF Annual #1! -- Bob

the stiKman said...

I believe the FF "heads", first published on the lower portion of the cover of FF #11, were inked by Bill Everett.
There a several Everett-isms such as the costume "fold-concepts" and the contour outline of Sue's foot. Anyone around here ever see the original? One piece of art or two? The torch head is almost Ditko-esque but the torch head in the above scene is similarly inked and I see no other Ditko-isms in the above scene.

Barry Pearl said...

Thanks to the Kid's mistake everyone will think I inked FF #1

Nick Caputo said...

The stiKman,

One reason Everett can be discounted as possible inker is that he wasn't drawing comics or working for Marvel when FF # 11 came out. Everett only returned to draw DD # 1 and had to bow out since he was an advertising executive. He didn't return to Marvel full time until 1965. There are similarities to Everett's inking but after examining many of Kirby's earlier stories he inked, I still think this is an example of Kirby inking.

Kid said...

Barry - you mean you didn't? Now ain't that a kick in the head!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick!
Great work as always.
I am sure you have already covered this, but in case you haven't, I want to ask you about Fantastic Four Annual #3.
Specifically, some of the diverse hands that may have contributed to the lead story. My peepers aren’t as good as yours, but I say Al Hartley inked Patsy and Hedy on page 3, panel 2. Also, I say Wally Wood inked Karen and Foggy on page 11, panel 3, and I think Ditko drew the itty bitty pic of Spider-Man on page 14, panel 4 (C’mon, look at that right foot.. pure Ditko).
What do you think?

Ed from Toronto

Nick Caputo said...

Hi Ed,

Al Hartley is the likely culprit for Patsy and Hedy. I don't see any sign of Wood, though, and that is indeed a Ditko Spidey; a stat was used to replace the Kirby/Colletta original, which was seen in a recent issue of the Jack Kirby Collector.

Thanks for the kind words, they are greatly appreciated.

Haydn said...

I discovered Marvel in the early 70s, when they were too understaffed to put out all-new Annuals. Summer 1963 must have been a great time to be a comics fan!

BTW, despite what the GCD thinks, the cover lettering for the Patsy and Hedy annual sure looks like Adorable Artie Simek to me.

Unknown said...

Thanks for a trip down memory lane once again.

Nick Caputo said...

Glad you enjoyed it brother. And thanks for buying so many of those comics all those years ago!

Barry Pearl said...

I love your annual blog about annuals. What a wonderful time, when everything was new. I thought it would never end. I miss it.

Unknown said...

Though I started actively collecting Marvel Comics in 1966, I couldn't afford to also buy the annuals until the summer of '68. Spider-Man Annual #5 and Fantastic Four Annual #6 were the first ones that I got...and I read and reread them until the pages fell out. They were, indeed, special.

Rick said...

The inking on the heads looks like Sol Brodsky, as does the whole cover. Ayers is credited, though it doesn't look like his work. Fromm FF#11.

Nick Caputo said...


I was lucky to have an older brother (Hi John!) to buy those Annuals, although I don't know if he was able to purchase them before 1966. i recall those, along with Marvel Super Heroes # 1, as being bought off the stands. FF Annual # 6 and Spidey # 5 I distinctly recall buying at the candy store and they were truly special.

libraryguy said...

LOve what you said about Ayers inking, it really added a softer, more 3-D dimension to the Kirby art, which other insiders flatten like Chick Stone and yeah Sinnot too.

Shapilier said...

Man FF Annual was a great one classic story my favorite part was Kurschev, Stalin's replacement, slamming his shoe on the table. I've always loved those pinups, do you know what they stopped doing those after 1964/65

Nick Caputo said...


I thought Ayers really worked perfectly with Kirby in this period.


My guess is that time constraints led to less new content/feature pages in some of the later Annuals.

JWhiting said...

Another great post about the Marvel Annuals! Thanks for filling in the details about my favorite summer reading.

Nick Caputo said...

Jwhiting - I'm pleased you're enjoying these posts.