Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Canines, Comics and the King

The unconditional love of a dog for its master is a universal experience. As such, it is no surprise that the relationship between human and hound has always been part of our culture; from stories in books, films and television to imagery in photography, paintings and - of course - comics. In comic strips alone one can find a number of examples, including Tige (Buster Brown); Sandy (Little Orphan Annie); Queenie (Dondi) and Snoopy (Peanuts). In comic books dogs appeared or starred in numerous features, from adaptations of four legged movie stars (Rin Tin Tin; Lassie) to new strips (Rex, the Wonder Dog) and even companions to popular heroes (Superboy's pup, Krypto; Batman and Robin's adopted dog, Ace). 

MGM's Lassie # 13, October-December 1953. Cover painting by the talented Dell/Western artist Mo Gollub, whose artwork adorned the covers of the title's initial 36 issues. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database. 

Lassie # 47, October-December 1959. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.

In 1940 author Eric Knight wrote a short story that was expanded to novel length, that introduced Lassie. The courageous collies adventure's went on to enthrall countless children and adults, becoming one of the most popular animal stars in movies, television, radio and comic books. Lassie headlined his own Dell and Gold Key titles in the 1950s and 1960s, many scripted by Gaylord Du Bois, a prolific writer who worked on a tremendous variety of features for the company.     

Rex, the Wonder Dog was DC's answer to Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. He went them one better by taking on not only bears and alligators, but dinosaurs! The series ran for eight years, from 1952-1959, illustrated initially by master artist Alex Toth and then for the majority of the series by Gil Kane, who was quite adept at drawing animals. The Adventures of Rex, the Wonder Dog # 32, April 1957. Gil Kane pencils; Bernard Sachs inks, Ira Schnapp letters. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.      

The German shepherd "Pooch", created by writer Robert Kanigher and drawn by Jerry Grandenetti, was a recurring character in the "Gunner and Sarge" feature for seven years. Joe Kubert cover art, Our Fighting Forces # 87, October 1964. Image from the Grand Comic Book Database.

While many exceptional comic book artists rendered dogs with great skill and authenticity (Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Alex Toth, Don Heck and Neal Adams come to mind) for this post I'll focus on one of the industry's most accomplished creators.   

Jack Kirby is rightfully hailed as an artistic powerhouse whose overwhelming concepts and fantastic imagination has pollinated countless comic books. Just as important, though, was Kirby's ability to depict the mundane. This was achieved through his keen observation of people, places and things around him. Kirby showed an affinity for drawing animals throughout his career, with dogs in particular playing a part in many stories.  

The expression on the dog as he observes a romantic couple was so charming that I HAD to buy the comic! Kirby pencils (I believe; although some have attributed the pencils to Joe Simon); Joe Simon inks. Young Brides # 25, November-December 1955.

      "Logan's Next Life!" Kirby pencils and possible script; Joe Simon inks, Howard Ferguson letters.

"The Last Enemy!" Kirby art and possible script; Joe Simon inks; Howard Ferguson letters. Both stories from Alarming Tales # 1, September 1957.

Simon and Kirby produced the fantasy/anthology title Alarming Tales for Harvey comics, and dogs were prominently featured in two stories. "Logan's Next Life" questions the possibility of reincarnation. A stray dog dies saving an infant from a fire. When a doctor examines the baby he discovers the dog's birthmark on the child's shoulder. In "The Last Enemy!" a man travels into a future world where intelligent animals rule the world. Some of the concepts presented in this story, including Kirby's heroic Bulldog, would be revised fifteen years later in his Kamandi series for DC.   

 One of my favorite Kirby mutts is pictured in the above panels (it took me almost a week to track down this story, but I think it was worth the wait) a lovable mixture of hyperactivity and goofiness. Although he exasperates his owner, the dog winds up saving the world from a martian invasion. Man's best friend, indeed! "The Martian Who Stole My Body", Dick Ayers inks, Journey into Mystery # 57, March 1960. 

Lockjaw was an over-sized bulldog who had the ability to travel through space and time. A pet to the genetically advanced Inhumans, he was part of an ongoing story line in The Fantastic Four. While clearly larger than life, Kirby gave Lockjaw the attributes of a real dog, as witnessed by his holding onto his steel "stick". Kirby's expression on Johnny Storm conveys a genuine sense of joy and affection for his canine companion. Joe Sinnott inks, Fantastic Four # 55, October 1966. 

Kirby captures the dog's body language and curiosity with great facility. Joe Sinnott inks. The Silver Surfer, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Simon and Schuster, 1978.

   Jack Kirby spending some quality time with his own lovable pooch, circa 1991. Photo originally presented in The Jack Kirby Collector # 10, April 1996. 

Jack Kirby not only demonstrated his comprehension of a dog's behavior, personality, movement and physical structure, but also, and perhaps more importantly, a palpable sense of affection comes through in his drawings, one that many of us can relate to.    

 In memory of my brother John's dog, Sam, a wonderful companion and my buddy for the past 12 years.