Wednesday, September 10, 2014

An Unknown Ditko Marvel Cover?

The cover to Tales of Suspense # 45 has puzzled me for some time. This time out I'll share my step by step process of investigation, deduction and conclusions.

Tales of Suspense # 45, Sept 1963, lettering by Artie Simek, colors by Stan Goldberg, art by??

This cover is often cited as pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Don Heck, and the error is understandable because it's partially correct (stay with me, they'll be a quiz at the end..)

When examining this cover something bugged me. Iron Man looked like a Kirby/Heck drawing, but the figures and poses of Jack Frost, Happy and Pepper didn't. 

                                                     Close-up of Kirby/Heck's Iron Man.

The Iron Man pose also looked awfully familiar, so I decided to go through Tales of Suspense #'s 39-44 which included all of Iron Man's stories up to that date, and I soon found what I was looking for.

        The splash page to Tales of Suspense # 43, July 1963. Jack Kirby pencils; Don Heck inks.

The figure of Iron Man used on the cover of Tales of Suspense # 45 was a stat taken from the splash page of Tales of Suspense # 43, published two months earlier! The illustration is exactly the same, with only a little "ice" added to his armor. This meant that it replaced a different Iron Man drawing that was apparently rejected by either editor/art director Stan Lee or publisher Martin Goodman for reasons lost to time. Kirby had penciled every Tales of Suspense/Iron Man cover before this one, and Don Heck, Iron Man's primary artist on interior stories,was rarely given cover assignments (some exceptions include Tales to Astonish # 49, Kid Colt, Outlaw # 113 and Two-Gun Kid # 66, all cover-dated November 1963). Jack Kirby was Marvel's primary cover artist in this period; the  exceptions being Stan Goldberg and Al Hartley on the teen humor/"girl" titles (Millie the Model, Patsy Walker, Modeling with Millie, Patsy and Hedy and Kathy) and Steve Ditko handling the Spider-Man cover art.  

Once I discovered the Kirby/Heck image was a stat I took a closer look at the other figures on the cover.

                                            An isolated image of the new cover art.

The first thing that struck me was Jack Frost. The villain lacked the solidity that Jack Kirby brought to his characters. The pose does have a Steve Ditko flavor, particularly Frost's fingers and gesture on his right hand. Happy and Pepper also had poses that looked Ditko-esque. Could this be a Ditko cover, inked by Don Heck? (there is no doubt in my mind that the inks are by Heck whose sharp line is evident) Was a Ditko Iron Man image replaced by a Kirby drawing? As of this writing no unaltered stats of the original cover have been discovered, but one never knows what will turn up...

I took a look at the interior Heck artwork to see if I could decipher any differences. 

                      The splash page to Tales of Suspense # 45, with sensational art by Don Heck.

Jack Frost doesn't look significantly different from the cover image, although that's not surprising since covers were often produced after the interior story was drawn, and Ditko would have based his figure on Don Heck's.   

"Iron Man Battles the Melter!", Tales of Suspense # 47, November 1963. Steve Ditko and Don Heck art. 

Two issues later Steve Ditko took over the art on Iron Man for a three issue run while Don Heck filled in on Thor in Journey into Mystery. According to Heck, Ditko only provided breakdowns, not full pencils, and Heck did the finished art. Heck's strong hand is clearly evident throughout the story, although the layout, figures and poses point to Ditko's involvement.     

Ditko drew Jack Frost some sixteen years later when he was an adversary of the Incredible Hulk, including a flashback to his first appearance. (thanks to Jon Holt for the reminder!). The Incredible Hulk # 249, July 1980. 

 So, who drew the cover? My gut instinct tells me that Ditko penciled the cover, but there is no conclusive proof. As often happened in the nascent period of Marvel's super-hero line, a hectic pace led to anyone stopping in the office lending a hand. Stan Lee may have needed a cover quickly; perhaps Steve Ditko showed up in the office and penciled it for him. When inked by Heck, Lee may have been disappointed in Iron Man's pose, and, with deadlines breathing down his neck, used a stat in lieu of new artwork. As an indexer for the GCD I added question marks to the artist id:

As my friend and fellow art identifier Michael J. Vassallo often states, there's no shame in adding a question mark when you're not 100% certain of an artist's contribution. 

We may never know the genesis of this cover, but it remains one of the many comic art mysteries that continually intrigue me. 


  1. Hi Nick,
    Pretty interesting question here. I think the Jack Frost rendering is the biggest piece of evidence that helps your hypothesis.
    Have you ever seen this late-Ditko-Marvel cover of Incredible Hulk #249?

    Jon Holt

  2. Hi Nick you're right. I think you are correct that beneath the Heck inks lie Ditko pencils. It may be that Heck was assigned to ink the cover so it would look more Kirby-like

  3. Jon, I had completely forgotten about that fill-in issue. Ditko also drew the interior and I've included a page along with a thanks to you.


    Heck inked three of Kirby's earlier Iron Man covers so Lee may have wanted a consistent look.

  4. Hi Nick. When I correctly pointed out the source of the Iron Man figure on this cover in one of my posts back in 2013 (Tales Of Suspense Cover Gallery Part 1), I attributed the other figures to Don Heck because of the inking style. Taking a closer look now, I can definitely see a hint of Ditko, so I suspect you're right. I'll add his name to the cover footnote in my post.

  5. I noticed that figure some years ago, too, and indexed it on the GCD, but going through my Tales of Suspense issues and discussing Ditko and Heck on their respective Facebook pages made me think of detailing my theory here. Many seem to agree with my id, although one or two think I'm a complete loony. You can't make everyone happy!