At this time of year my thoughts often drift back to a long ago early summer day and a classroom in Brooklyn, New York. As I sat in class 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 ending, and July and August awaited, when the days were seemingly endless. It meant exploring parks, back yards and city streets with friends; baseball, Mr. Softee, stoop ball, collecting gum cards, flying wooden air plans and sometimes just staring at the clouds above. Trips to local candy stores offered many surprises, and June, July and August meant an array of 25 cent Annuals featuring Marvel’s top titles: Sgt. Fury, Avengers, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor. The Bullpen Bulletins page and 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 trip to the candy store.
Although I was only three years old when Fantastic Four Annual # 1 was published, and don’t recall reading the issue until many years later, I thought it would be interesting to point out a few items from the second published Marvel Super-Hero Annual (Strange Tales Annual # 2, which featured the Human Torch and Spider-Man, preceded it by a month) circa early July of 1963.
The corner symbol, which was introduced on most Marvel comics six months earlier (the idea originated from Steve Ditko), was also used on the premiere Fantastic Four Annual, featuring the same recognizable images of the FF that adorned the monthly comic book. Jack Kirby pencils; Jack Kirby inks ?
Who else to feature in the first FF Annual than their primary antagonist, the Sub-Mariner? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby upped their game considerably, crafting a very special 37 page extravaganza as Namor wages war against the surface world. Lady Dorma returns from the 1940s Timely era (originally Namor's cousin; the character was reinvented to become a love interest and rival to Sue Storm for Sub-Mariner's affections), Warlord Krang is introduced, lusting for both the throne and Lady Dorma and Namor's origin is retold and expanded, with his unnamed homeland now established as Atlantis. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are supported by Dick Ayers, whose inking added weight and personality, Artie Simek's stylish lettering and Stan Goldberg's effective coloring.
Looking closely at page 37; panel 4, the top portion of Sub-Mariner was clearly redrawn, likely by production man/artist Sol Brodsky. Kirby's original drawing must have had Namor knocking a few citizens around a little too forcefully for the Comics Code, and the sloppy movement lines as well as the figures of some of the bystanders, including the woman in the background are touched up. The lettering on "threatening" looks like it was altered, meaning another word may have been replaced.
FF Annual # 1 included many special features, such as an 11 page "Gallery of the Fantastic Four's Most Famous Foes!" Every original foe up to FF # 15 appeared, with sensational Kirby artwork and background info and copy by Stan Lee. Sol Brodsky inked most of the pin-ups, ("The Mad Thinker" is clearly inked by Dick Ayers). Ray Holloway provided the lettering for this one.
The FF's most popular foe, Doctor Doom by Jack Kirby; Sol Brodsky inks; Ray Holloway letters.
Did I say that Sol Brodsky inked most of the pin-ups? Looking at them again I'm not entirely sure that Kirby didn't ink a few himself. Brodsky had a slick line that was close to Kirby's own style but had individual enough ticks to be distinguishable most of the time. This image of the Puppet Master has what I've termed a "sparse" look that is indicative of Kirby's inking* It's possible "Kurrgo" and "The Hulk" may also be inked by Kirby, but I'm not certain.
Other special features contained in Annual 1 include a two page "Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four" which reveal 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 from his first issue. 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. Ditko probably added the spider on S-M's chest, fixed the web-lines on his costume and included underarm webbing. Ray Holloway letters.
The Annual closed out with an abbreviated reprint of the first 12 pages of Fantastic Four # 1, which was then only two years old. A number of alterations were made to keep the look of the characters consistent with their present-day versions. The Thing and Reed were touched up slightly, 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, from the reprint in Marvel Masterworks Vol 2, 1987. Stan Lee script, Jack Kirby pencils, George Klein inks, Artie Simek letters.
When the story was reprinted in FF Annual 1, Stan Lee decided to have the Torch redrawn in order to maintain consistency with the image that was familiar to readers since issue # 3. The alterations appear to have been administered by Sol Brodsky.
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 birth of Sue and Reed's child 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 summer Annuals (or King-Size Specials as they were sometimes called) showcased the work of some of their top talents, 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.
By 1969 the Annuals/Specials turned almost all reprint and even disappeared from the schedule for a few years. When they returned in the mid-1970's many of the stories lacked the imagination, excitement or superior talent of earlier days. I'll always be grateful, though, for those magical moments when I could walk into a candy store and discover Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 5 or FF Annual # 6 on sale - a clear sign that those precious days of summer had not yet come to a close.
* for a detailed analysis see my earlier post, "Kirby inking Kirby"