Last week I wrote a short tribute to Joe Sinnott, who passed away at 93 years old on June 25th. Sinnott’s career stretched across seven decades. He worked on so many different comic books during his lifetime that I wanted to spotlight some more examples of his work, both doing full art, and as an inker / embellisher. Here are twelve highlights from his career.
1) “Drink Deep, Vampire” is one of Joe Sinnott’s earliest stories. It appeared in Strange Tales #9, published by Atlas Comics with an August 1952 cover date. Decades later Sinnott would cite it as a favorite.
2) Sinnott drew many Western stories for Atlas during the 1950s. Here is a good example of his work in the genre. “The End of the Dakota Kid” appeared in Gunsmoke Western #46 (May 1958).
3) One of the earliest jobs on which Sinnott inked Jack Kirby was the monster story “I Was Trapped By Titano the Monster That Time Forgot!” in Tales to Astonish #10 (July 1960). Right from the start they were doing great work together. They certainly did a superb job depicting Titano, an immense crab.
4) Sinnott did a great deal of work for Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact published by George A. Pflaum. One of his most noteworthy assignments for that educational comic book was “The Story of Pope John XXIII, Who Won Our Hearts,” a 65 page biography serialized over nine issues. Here is the beautifully detailed opening page of the first chapter, published in Treasure Chest vol 18 #1 (September 13, 1962).
5) Journey Into Mystery #91 (April 1963) featuring Thor was one of the very few Marvel Comics superhero stories for which Sinnott did the full art. He did nice work on this one. I especially like the first panel on this page, with the beautiful Valkyries in flowing gowns descending from Asgard to give an imprisoned Thor his belt of strength.
6) Ask who was Jack Kirby’s best inker, and many fans will respond that it was Joe Sinnott. Sinnott did superb work over Kirby at Marvel, especially on Fantastic Four. Issue #72 (March 1968) has one of the most iconic covers from their run, and it doesn’t even feature the FF. Instead we have the Silver Surfer soaring through outer space, with the Watcher in the background, surrounded by a bundle of “Kirby crackle.”
7) Tender Love Stories was a short-lived romance series from Skywald Publications, who were in operation for the first half of the 1970s. The cover of the first issue (February 1971) has the interesting pairing of Don Heck and Joe Sinnott. I’m one of those people who believe Heck was underrated. His style was well-suited to the romance genre. Sinnott’s inking complements Heck’s pencils on this piece.
8) Sinnott remained on Fantastic Four for a decade after Kirby departed. In the early 1970s he was paired with John Buscema. This splash page from FF #137 (August 1973) beautifully showcases Sinnott’s detailed, polished inking. The textures on the castle walls, the forest surrounding it, and the Moon in the sky above are incredibly rendered.
9) Although from the early 1960s on nearly all of Sinnott’s work for Marvel was as an inker / finisher, from time to time he did full art for covers and licensing art. Here is one of his occasional covers, for The Invaders #30 (July 1978) featuring Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch in battle with a Nazi flying saucer.
10) Sinnott stated a number of times that his favorite character to draw was Ben Grimm, the Thing. In addition to inking the Thing in innumerable issues of the Fantastic Four, Sinnott also did inks / finishes for the character in his solo series published in the 1980s. Sinnott was paired with penciler Ron Wilson, and they made an effective team. Here’s a page from The Thing #24 (June 1985) that has Ben tussling with the Rhino. Just look at the detailed, textured manner in which Sinnott inks the Rhino’s costume.
11) Sinnott did very little work for DC Comics. One of the few jobs he did appeared in the pin-up book Superman: The Man of Steel Gallery (December 1995). Sinnott inked longtime Superman artist Curt Swan, and it was a beautiful collaboration. Looking at this, I really wish Swan & Sinnott could have worked on a few Superman stories together. I got this autographed by Joe at a comic book convention several years ago.
12) Deadbeats is a vampire soap opera written & penciled by Richard Howell and inked by Ricardo Villagran published by Claypool Comics. It ran for 82 issues, and has continued as a web comic. Howell asked a number of different artists to ink the covers throughout the run. The cover to the penultimate installment, Deadbeats #81 (December 2006), was inked by Sinnott, who had previously inked Howell a few times at Marvel. The coloring is by John Heebink.
Originally I was going to show 10 examples of Joe Sinnott’s artwork, but I just could not narrow it down, which is why we have 12…. or 13, if you count Joe’s self-portrait at the top. Even with that I still had to leave out a few examples I really liked! As I said before, Sinnott did so much great artwork over the decades. Please feel free to mention your own favorites in the comments below.
Legendary comic book artist Joe Sinnott passed away on June 25th at the age of 93. Sinnott had such a long and distinguished career as an artist that I really could not do him justice in a short blog post. I will touch upon a few highlights, but for a much more detailed examination of his career I strongly urge everyone to get a copy of Brush Strokes With Greatness: The Life & Art of Joe Sinnott written by Tim Lasiuta from TwoMorrows Publishing.
Joe Sinnott was born in Saugerties, NY on October 16, 1926, and he lived in that area for almost his entire life. Following service in the U.S Navy during World War II, Sinnott attended the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now known as the School of Visual Arts).
One of his instructors was artist Tom Gill, who asked Sinnott to work as his assistant. Sinnott assisted Gil for nine months in 1949.
In 1950 Sinnott decided to find work on his own, and he was soon receiving regular assignments from Atlas Comics, the precursor to Marvel. Atlas editor Stan Lee assigned numerous stories for Sinnott to illustrate which saw print in the company’s war, horror, science fiction and Western anthologies.
In 1957 Atlas experienced a severe contraction due to its distributor American News Company being shut down by the federal government in an anti-trust case. Sinnott was one of the many freelancers let go by Atlas, and so he had to find work elsewhere. He worked for a number of clients, including Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, an educational, Catholic-oriented comic book published by George A. Pflaum that was distributed to parochial schools in North America.
Stan Lee asked Sinnott to return to Atlas in 1959. Within two years the company had transformed into Marvel and begun its successful superhero revival. During this period Lee first had Sinnott work as an inker over Jack Kirby, initially on stories for Atlas war and monster anthologies, and then on some of the early Marvel superhero books, such as Fantastic Four #5 (July 1962) the first appearance of Doctor Doom, and Journey Into Mystery #83 (Aug 1962) the first appearance of Thor. Sinnott also contributed the full artwork for some of the early Thor stories that appeared in Journey Into Mystery in 1963.
Lee had actually wanted Sinnott to become the regular inker over Kirby on Fantastic Four following issue #5. However at this time Treasure Chest assigned Sinnott to draw the 65 page biography “The Story Of Pope John XXIII, Who Won Our Hearts,” which was serialized in nine issues between September 1962 and January 1963.
Soon another ambitious project was assigned to Sinnott, a biography of the British rock band the Beatles published by Dell Comics in 1964. Sinnott was given a mere month within which to illustrate the entire 64 page book. It speaks highly of both his talent and professionalism that he turned in the job on time while doing quality work. And, as I’ve observed before, drawing likenesses can be very tricky. All things considered, I think Sinnott did a fair job capturing the appearances of the Fab Four.
Following the completion of these two biographies, Sinnott began to work for Marvel almost exclusively. He also continued to illustrate stories and covers for Treasure Chest up until the title came to an end in 1972.
Sinnott did finally became the regular inker over Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four beginning with issue #44 (Nov 1965). The art team of Kirby & Sinnott on FF in the second half of the 1960s is highly acclaimed. As historian Mark Alexander stated in his book Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years (TwoMorrows, 2011)…
“In an uncanny stroke of luck and perfect timing, just when Kirby gained the time to improve his artwork, Joe Sinnott became the FF’s regular inker. Sinnott was a master craftsman, fiercely proud of the effort and meticulous detail he put into his work. … That slick, stylized layer of India ink that Sinnott painted over Kirby’s pencils finished Jack’s work in a way that no other inker ever would. Comic fans had never witnessed art this strange and powerful in its scope and strength.”
Following a falling-out with Marvel, Kirby departed Fantastic Four with issue #102 (Sept 1970). Sinnott, however, remained on as the FF inker / finisher for 15 years, until issue #231 (June 1981). In the post-Kirby decade Sinnott inked pencilers John Buscema, Rich Buckler, George Perez, Keith Pollard, Bill Sienkiewicz and John Byrne on Fantastic Four. It’s generally regarded that Sinnott helped maintain artistic consistency on the title during the Bronze Age.
Sinnott became a much in-demand inker / finisher at Marvel from the mid 1960s thru the early 1990s. He was paired with numerous pencilers during this 27 year period. As longtime Marvel editor Tom Brevoort explained on his blog:
“Joe Sinnott defined the look of the Marvel art style as much as anybody this side of John Romita, and more than any other inker in the business. His smooth linework and clean finish gave a pristine, sleek, modernistic flavor to any assignment he worked his brush over, regardless of the penciler. He’s absolutely my favorite inker of all time, a guy who improved the quality of any series he was working on. Additionally, Joe is an absolute professional, and a hell of a nice guy.”
Sinnott’s last regular assignment for Marvel was Thor, paired with penciler Ron Frenz from 1989 to 1991, another wonderful collaboration. In 1991 Sinnott made the decision to retire from monthly comic books, although over the next 28 years he continued to contribute to various miniseries, special editions, pin-ups and other projects, and to ink the Sunday installment of the Spider-Man newspaper strip. In March 2019, at the age of 92, he FINALLY made the decision to completely retire as a professional artist, although he continued to draw for pleasure until nearly the end of his life.
The news of Sinnott’s passing this week was met with sadness. This was not only because he was an incredibly talented artist who worked on hundreds of great comic book stories, but because he was also a genuinely good person, beloved by friends, colleagues and fans alike. As comic book writer & historian Mark Evanier opined on his blog this week:
“If you were in a crowd of folks who worked in the comic book industry and announced, “Joe Sinnott was the best inker who ever worked in comics,” you wouldn’t get a lot of argument. If you said, “Joe Sinnott was the nicest guy who ever worked in comics,” you’d get even less.”
I was one of the many fans who was fortunate enough to meet Joe Sinnott when he was a guest at comic book conventions. He always came across to me as friendly, warm and down to Earth.
Sinnott was one of those people whose work I enjoyed before I met him, but afterwards I became even more of a fan by virtue of the fact that he was such a good guy.
Joe Sinnott leaves behind a rich, creative legacy, and he will definitely be missed. I wish to offer my condolences to his family and friends for their loss.
The challenge: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject. I chose “coffee.” From the work of how many comic book artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee? I post these daily on Facebook, and collect them together here.
31) Rich Buckler & Joe Sinnott
“The Mind of the Monster” from Giant-Size Super-Stars #1, penciled by Rich Buckler, inked by Joe Sinnott, written by Gerry Conway, lettered by Artie Simek, and colored by Petra Goldberg, published by Marvel Comics with a May 1974 cover date.
The Incredible Hulk leaps into Manhattan and passes out in a deserted alley. Transforming back into Bruce Banner, the cursed scientist heads over to the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building headquarters, hoping Reed Richards can find a cure for his condition. Only Ben Grimm, the Thing, is home, but he welcomes Bruce, telling him “Guy’s like us’ve gotta stick together.”
The Thing asks the frazzled Banner “Ya want some java?” A grateful Banner accepts, and the Thing brews him a cup of coffee using some weird-looking Kirby-tech. “Don’t look at me, Banner — it’s one’a Stretcho’s dohickeys.” Yeah, leave it to Reed Richards to take something as simple as a coffee maker and transform it into a ridiculously complicated device!
The Think lets slip that Reed was recently working on a “psi-amplifier” to restore his lost humanity. An eager Banner decides that with a few modifications the device can cure both of them in one shot. Unfortunately they don’t wait for Reed to return before proceeding with the experiment, and of course something goes wrong. Next thing you know, we have another epic battle between the Hulk and the Thing, but with a twist: the Thing’s mind is in the body of the Hulk, and vise versa. Hilarity ensues… hilarity and several million dollars worth of property damage.
As explained by editor Roy Thomas in a text piece, Giant-Size Super-Stars was a monthly oversized title that would rotate through three features: the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Conan the Barbarian. After this issue was released Marvel changed their plans. Spider-Man and Conan both received their own quarterly Giant-Size series, and Giant-Size Super-Stars also became quarterly, renamed Giant-Size Fantastic Four with issue #2.
The creators behind “The Mind of the Monster” were the regular Fantastic Four team: writer Gerry Conway, penciler Rich Buckler, and inker Joe Sinnott. They all do good work on this entertaining tale of swapped identities and smashed buildings. Buckler does a fine job showing via facial expressions and body language that the Thing and the Hulk have switched bodies. Longtime FF inker Sinnott does his usual great work finishing the art.
32) Rick Burchett
Presenting a double dose of caffeinated cliffhangers starring those two-fisted aviators the Blackhawks! Action Comics Weekly #632 is cover-dated December 1987, and Blackhawk #2 is cover-dated April 1989. Both stories are by the creative team of artist Rick Burchett, writer Martin Pasko, letterer Steve Haynie, and colorist Tom Ziuko, published by DC Comics.
I was sad to hear that longtime comic book writer Martin Pasko had passed away on May 10th at the age of 65. Among the numerous characters Pasko worked on was the revamp of the Blackhawks conceived by Howard Chaykin. Pasko chronicled the aviation adventures of Janos Prohaska and Co in serials published in Action Comics Weekly, and then in an all-too-short lived Blackhawk ongoing series.
Pasko was paired with the great, underrated artist Rick Burchett. I’ve always enjoyed Burchett’s art. His style is simultaneously cartoony yet possessed of a sort of gritty verisimilitude (I hope I’m articulating that in an accurate manner). Pasko & Burchett chronicled the Blackhawk’s post World War II adventures which saw the ace pilots becoming embroiled in the Cold War anti-Communist activities of the newly-formed CIA.
Within the pages of the Action Comics Weekly #632, the Blackhawks have been tasked with transporting chemist Constance Darabont to West Berlin to pick up an experimental batch of LSD. Unfortunately for Prosahka and his team Constance is murdered in Berlin and replaced by Nazi war criminal Gretchen Koblenz. On the flight back the diabolical Gretchen spikes the Blackhawks’ coffee with the LSD, pulling a gun on Olaf Friedriksen when her deadly ruse is discovered!
Blackhawk #2 ends on a much less life-threatening note, but certainly one that is just as dramatic. Over morning coffee Janos and the Blackhawks’ assistant director Mairzey ponder the current whereabouts of the missing Natalie Reed, as well as wondering what will become of Natalie’s infant son. Mairzey tells Janos that she has been considering adopting the baby. Suddenly an unidentified figure enters the room and announces “I was always afraid to tell you this before… but I’m the father of Natalie’s baby…”
The Blackhawk serials written by Grell & Pasko and drawn by Burchett were among the best material to run in Action Comics Weekly. I’m happy they’ve finally been collected together with the excellent Blackhawk miniseries by Chaykin. Hopefully a second collected edition will reprint the ongoing series by Pasko & Burchett.
33) Jack Davis
Today’s art comes from “Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone” in The Haunt of Fear #21, drawn by Jack Davis, written by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines, lettered by Jim Wroten, and colored by Marie Severin, published by EC Comics with a Sept-Oct 1953 cover date.
When I was a kid I preferred the sci-fi stories from Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, but as I got older I developed a taste for EC’s horror titles. I guess my dry, offbeat sense of humor came to align more closely with EC’s macabre pun-cracking horror hosts.
“Dig That Cat… He’s Real Gone” is the story of Ulric the Undying, who makes his fortune staging very public, very violent deaths from which he miraculously recovers each time. In a flashback, we see that Ulric was previously a nameless bum on skid row who was approached by Dr. Emil Manfred. Over a cup of coffee, Manfred claimed that he had discovered the secret of a cat’s nine lives, and offered to surgically transplant that ability into the bum, with the end goal of gaining wealth & fame. Manfred is successful and “Ulric the Undying” is created, but this being an EC horror story, of course things eventually take a very nasty turn for all involved.
Jack Davis was a frequent contributor to EC’s horror anthologies, illustrating many of their most famous, or perhaps infamous, stories. Davis was certainly adept at creating moody atmospheres perfectly suited to Al Feldstein’s scripts. His artwork was also appeared regularly in EC’s satirical comic books Mad and Panic. Following the demise of EC’s comic book line he drew trading cards for Topps. From the 1960s onward David, who was renowned for his caricatures, did a great deal of advertising work, movie posters and magazine covers. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 91.
34) Ross Andru & Frank Giacoia
Amazing Spider-Man #184, penciled by Ross Andru, inked by Frank Giacoia, written & edited by Marv Wolfman, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Glynis Wein, published by Marvel Comics with a September 1978 cover date.
I recently learned of this storyline thanks to Brian Cronin of Comic Book Resources. In the previous issue Peter Parker had asked Mary Jane Watson to marry him, but she turned him down. A despondent Peter returned home, only to discover someone was waiting for him in his apartment! On the splash page of this issue, we discover who: Betty Brant, secretary to Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson, and Peter’s girlfriend from way back when. Betty, who is all glammed up, has let herself into Peter’s apartment and made herself a cup of coffee to await his return. Now that he’s home, Betty greets him with a very warm welcome.
There’s just one itsy-bitsy problem here: Betty married Ned Leeds a few weeks earlier, and she is supposed to be in Europe with him on their honeymoon.
Yeah, that’s the old Parker luck at work, all right. You propose to the woman you love but she turns you down, and when you return home you find your recently-married ex-girlfriend has broken into your place, raided your supply of coffee, and is looking to have a fling with you. Oy vey!
The subplot of Betty attempting to hook up with Peter, and Peter being very tempted in spite of that whole “just married” thing, went on for nearly a year. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that it all ends badly for poor Peter.
Penciling this tale of torrid emotions and pilfered caffeine is veteran comic book artist Ross Andru. After two decades of working for DC Comics on such titles as Wonder Woman, G.I. Combat, The Flash and Metal Men (the last which he co-created with writer Robert Kanigher), Andru came to Marvel in 1971. He penciled Amazing Spider-Man for five years, from 1973 to 1978; this was one of his last issues. Andru is paired here with well-regarded inker Frank Giacoia, who had previously embellished ASM during the early part of Andru’s half-decade run.
35) Alex Saviuk & Al Wlliamson
Web of Spider-Man #91, penciled by Alex Saviuk, inked by Al Williamson, written by Howard Mackie, lettered by Rick Parker, and colored by Bob Sharen, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1992 cover date.
Following up on our last entry, it’s another Spider-Man page featuring Peter Parker, Betty Brant, coffee and… oh no, Betty’s throwing herself at Peter again, isn’t she?
Okay, what’s actually going on here is that Betty has been working undercover on a story for the Daily Bugle. She’s investigating the organization belonging to the international assassin the Foreigner, the man behind the murder of her husband Ned Leeds. When Betty happens to run into Peter in the street she locks lips with him and drags him into a nearby diner so that she can give him the information she’s been collecting to pass on to Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Unfortunately the people who are following Betty see through her ruse and attack the coffee shop. What follows is Spider-Man spending the rest of the issue trading blows with a pair of the Foreigner’s armored goons in the java joint, which of course gets demolished. I hope the owners had their insurance premiums paid up!
Betty had spent a long time after her husband’s death traumatized & vulnerable. This was the beginning of a new direction for her, as she quit being Jonah’s secretary, became more assertive, and began a career as an investigative journalist for the Bugle.
The pencils are by Alex Saviuk, a really good artist who had a long run on Web of Spider-Man, from 1988 to 1994. I think Saviuk’s seven year stint on often gets overlooked because this was at the same time McFarlane, Larsen and Bagley were also drawing the character, and with their more dynamic, flashy styles they consequently receiving more attention. That is a shame, because Saviuk turned in solid, quality work on Web of Spider-Man. I enjoyed his depiction of the character.
As we can see from this page, Saviuk was also really good at rendering the soap opera and non-costumed sequences that are part-and-parcel of Peter Parker’s tumultuous personal life.
On the Facebook group Comic Book Historians, moderator Jim Thompson issued a “Call to Arms” to occupy and cheer up those of us who are working from home or unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The challenge: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject until May 1st (if not longer).
Jim had already been posting his 1000 Horses series for the past three years, each day showcasing artwork featuring a horse drawn by a different artist. Group member Mitchell Brown has done several shorter themes, most recently “My Enemy, Myself” featuring “evil twin” stories.
Mitchell sometimes collects together some of these FB posts on his entertaining & informative blog, the appropriately named A Dispensable List of Comic Book Lists. That inspired me to do the same with my blog. Here is the first installment in the Hopefully Almost Daily Comic Book Coffee. From the work of how many different artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee? I guess we will just have to see.
1) Shannon Wheeler
Let’s start off with the obvious choice: Too Much Coffee Man by Shannon Wheeler. Too Much Coffee Man first appeared as a self-published mini comic in 1991. In a 2011 interview with The New Yorker, Wheeler explained the origins of the series:
“In 1991, I drew an autobiographical cartoon for The Daily Texan with themes of alienation and loneliness. When I described it, people’s eyes glazed over. As a cheap gag, I started “Too Much Coffee Man.” I still address the same themes, except now there’s coffee. People like coffee.”
That’s certainly true. I’m drinking coffee at this very moment, right as I’m typing this sentence.
From such humble beginnings, Too Much Coffee Man has been in near-continuous publication for almost three decades. The series has enabled Wheeler to humorously explore existential angst, the lunacy of American society, and the dangers of overindulging in caffeine.
This artwork is from Common Grounds #5 from Image Comics, cover-dated June 2004. Script is by Troy Hickman, pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Al Vey, letters by the Dreamer’s Design team, and colors by Guy Major. I’m going to quote from my own previous blog post about Common Grounds…
Published by the Top Cow imprint of Image Comics in 2004, Common Grounds was a six issue miniseries written by Troy Hickman, with contributions from a number of extremely talented artists. It initially began life as a mini comic titled Holey Crullers that Hickman had worked on with Jerry Smith a few years before. Common Grounds was set around a nationwide chain of coffee shops that were frequented by costumed heroes & villains, a sort of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for super-humans. The various Common Grounds stores serve as “neutral territory” where both crime-fighters and criminals can gather peaceably to enjoy a cup of joe and some doughnuts.
Hickman and his artistic collaborators introduce a cast who, on the surface, are expies for famous DC and Marvel characters. Hickman utilizes these to both pay homage to and deconstruct various storytelling structures and devices of the superhero genre. What I like about how Hickman goes about this is that he does so with a surprising lack of sarcasm or mockery. All of his jibes are of the good-natured sort, and he takes equal aim at the implausible silliness of the early Silver Age and the grim & gritty trappings of more recent decades. Common Grounds is simultaneously extremely funny and very poignant & serious.
I’m fairly confident I’ll be featuring work from some of the other Common Grounds art teams in future installments! It’s definitely due for another re-read.
3) Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott
If you’re going to talk comic books, sooner or later (probably sooner) you’re going to have to discuss Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Whatever the specific division of labor was (and all these decades it’s almost impossible to determine that precisely) the two of them working together in the 1960s created the majority of the Marvel Universe.
It all started in August 1961 with the Fantastic Four, a group who right from the start were characterized as much by their all-too-human disagreements as their super-powers. And no one was more dysfunctional than the gruff Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, who had been transformed by cosmic radiation into a monster.
Early on Ben Grimm very much straddled the line between hero and villain, and in those first few issues the rest of the FF found themselves wondering if the Thing, consumed by anger & self-loathing, might violently turn on them. However, the Thing gradually evolved into a character who was both gruff & comedic. We see one of the first hints of that here, in this scene from Fantastic Four #5, cover-dated July 1962. Ben is attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee, only to get razzed by literal hothead the Human Torch.
This is one of those pages that really makes me appreciate Kirby. I love the panel with the Thing holding the cup of coffee. This was when he still looked like orange oatmeal, very much a horribly disfigured individual, before he evolved into the almost cartoony orange brick form we are all familiar with. There’s this simultaneous humor and tragedy in that panel, as Ben Grimm, now this huge, grotesque figure, is almost daintily holding that coffee cup & saucer, a very human gesture, and a reminder of what he once was, and longs to be again.
Inks are by Joe Sinnott, his first time working on FF. Lee wanted Sinnott to become the regular inker, but soon after Sinnott received the assignment of drawing the biography of Pope John XXIII for Treasure Chest. Sinnott had inked about half a page of Kirby’s pencils for the next issue when he got the Treasure Chest job, and so had to mail the art back to Lee, who then assigned it to Dick Ayers. Sinnott fortunately got another opportunity work on the series in 1965, commencing with issue #44, and for the rest of the 1960s did a superb job inking Kirby. Sinnott remained on FF for the 15 years, inking / embellishing over several pencilers.
In a case of Early Installment Weirdness, we see the Torch reading an issue of The Incredible Hulk #1, which in the real world had come out two months earlier. It seems at this point in time Lee & Kirby had not quite decided if the Hulk occupied the same fictional universe as the FF.
4) Werner Roth & John Tartaglione
X-Men #31, cover-dated April 1967, was penciled by Werner Roth and inked by John Tartaglione. “We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!” was written by Roy Thomas.
X-Men in the 1960s was a title of, um, variable quality. Series creators Lee & Kirby both left fairly early on, and newcomer Roy Thomas sometimes struggled to find a successful direction for the book. Thomas was paired with penciler Werner Roth, who did good, solid work… but regrettably did not possess a certain dynamic quality necessary for Marvel-style superheroes. Also, I’m not sure if Tartaglione’s inks were an especially good fit for Roth’s pencils.
Roth was, however very well-suited to drawing romance, war and Westerns comic books. He certainly was adept at rendering lovely ladies, as seen in his exquisite art on Lorna the Jungle Queen in the 1950s, which he inked himself. So it’s not surprising that some of Roth’s best work on X-Men was when the main cast was in their civilian identities, and the soap-operatic melodrama was flying fast & furious. Witness the following…
Here we have two different coffee-drinking scenes on one page. At the top, Scott Summers, Warren Worthington and Jean Grey are hanging out with Ted Roberts and his older brother Ralph at a greasy spoon known as the Never-Say-Diner… really, Roy?!? Ted was a short-lived rival to Scott for Jean’s affections, and Ralph was (spoilers!) a short-lived villain named the Cobalt Man. Elsewhere, Hank McCoy and Bobby Drake have taken their dates Vera and Zelda to their semi-regular Greenwich Village hangout, Coffee A Go-Go, where Bernard the Poet is, ahem, “reciting his latest masterpiece.” The scene closes with Bobby creating the world’s first iced espresso.
5) Joe Staton
This entry is drawn by one of my all-time favorite artists, the amazing Joe Staton. “Vamfire” is a short story featuring E-Man and Nova Kane, the awesome characters created by Nicola “Nick” Cuti & Joe Staton at Charlton Comics in 1973. This story was originally planned for Charlton Bullseye in 1976. It did not see print until a decade later, in The Original E-Man and Michael Mauser #7 (April 1986) published by First Comics, who had the E-Man rights in the 1980s.
I’ve blogged at length about E-Manon several occasions. Suffice it to say, it’s an amazing series, with brilliantly humorous & heartfelt writing by Cuti and wonderfully imaginative artwork by Staton. This six page story introduces E-Man’s negative energy sister Vamfire, a sort of proto bad girl anti-hero who would reappear in later stories. “Vamfire” also introduces Nick and Joe’s Café, and Staton draws himself and Cuti as the proprietors. Nick and Joe’s Café would also return in later stories, with the running gag that their coffee was always terrible. Nevertheless they somehow managed to stay in business, no doubt due to being strategically located near Xanadu Universe in Manhattan, where innumerable sleep-deprived college & graduate students were desperate for a caffeine fix to keep them awake during the school’s interminable lectures.
This year Marvel Comics is celebrating their 80th anniversary with the release of Marvel Comics #1000 and a number of specials reuniting older creative teams. The occasion prompted me to take a look back at 1986 in general, and at Fantastic Four #296 in particular, when Marvel celebrated their 25th anniversary.
I’m sure at least a few people are wondering “How in the name of Irving Forbush could Marvel have celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1986 and then only 33 years later be celebrating their 80th?!?”
The fact is Marvel Comics actually has two anniversaries. The first is for late August 1939 when Timely Comics, the company that would one day be known as Marvel, released their very first comic book, Marvel Comics #1 (with an October cover date). The second is for early August 1961 when the first issue of Fantastic Four was published (with a November cover date) ushering in what is now known as the “Marvel era” or the “modern Marvel universe” that has been in continuous publication to the present day.
This, of course, is very convenient for Marvel Comics, as it gives them not one but two historic anniversaries to celebrate every few years with high-profile specials and reprints, as well as the accompanying publicity.
In any case, back in 1986 it was the 25th anniversary of the debut of Fantastic Four #1 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. Marvel made a fairly big deal of it, with Marvel Saga and The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition offering in-depth explorations of the characters’ histories (in the days before trade paperbacks and the internet both of these titles were invaluable resources to young fans such as myself). Marvel’s then editor-in-chief Jim Shooter also launched the New Universe with much fanfare, but due to various behind-the-scenes events that line ultimately did not last long.
Another part of the celebration was that all of Marvel’s comics released in August 1986 featured cover portraits of their lead characters, surrounded by a border of character illustrations, the latter of which were drawn by longtime Marvel artist John Romita. A gallery of these covers can be viewed on Sean Kleefeld’s blog.
This finally brings us to the main subject of this post, namely Fantastic Four #296, the big 25th anniversary issue commemorating the birth of the Marvel era. This 64 page story was plotted by Jim Shooter, scripted by Stan Lee, lettered by John Workman, colored by Glynis Oliver, and edited by Mike Carlin. It was drawn by a very impressive roster of artists: Barry Windsor-Smith, Kerry Gammill, Vince Colletta, Ron Frenz, Bob Wiacek, Al Milgrom, Klaus Janson, John Buscema, Steve Leialoha, Marc Silvestri, Josef Rubinstein, Jerry Ordway & Joe Sinnott.
The set-up for “Homecoming” is a bit on the convoluted side. A couple of years earlier, during the lengthy run by John Byrne that immediately preceded it, Ben Grimm aka the Thing had been written out of the book, and She-Hulk had come onboard the fill his spot. In recent issues the Thing had been lurking at the periphery, as Byrne was setting the stage for him to finally return to the team in their 25th anniversary story. But then Byrne abruptly departed Marvel, going over to DC Comics to do a high-profile reboot of Superman. This left Shooter and Lee sort of scrambling to pick up the pieces, to tell a story that makes sense with what Byrne had recently been doing.
As FF #296 opens, the Thing is despondent. His ex-girlfriend Alicia Masters is now dating Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. The Thing, who resembles a large pile of orange rocks, feels more disconnected from humanity than ever. After brooding in the rain at the site where Reed Richards’ rocket ship crashed years before, and the team all first gained their powers, Ben decides to exile himself to Monster Isle, home to the FF’s very first foe, the Mole Man, who himself has been ostracized by humanity.
Days later the rest of the team learn from pilot Hopper Hertnecky where their friend & teammate has gotten off to. Hopper reiterates to them the Thing’s longtime frustration that while Reed, Sue and Johnny all gained amazing powers from the cosmic rays that bombarded their spaceflight, Ben was horrifically mutated. Reed once again begins to beat himself up over his role in his best friend Ben becoming a monster. However this time Sue bluntly states that this time Ben is unfairly taking out his frustrations on Reed, that whatever Reed did or did not do, he has attempted on numerous occasions over the years to help Ben, to find a permanent cure for him.
Motivated by Sue’s words, Reed decides he needs to see Ben one last time, to settle their argument once and for all. Sue and Johnny insist on accompanying him. She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot, however, choose to remain behind, realizing that this is a family matter, and as close to the team as both of them are, they haven’t been there since the very beginning.
Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Woman and the Human Torch journey to Monster Isle. They are quickly attacked by the Mole Man’s army of strange monsters. They are brought before the Thing, who has taken to dressing like the Mole Man. Ben tells the others they shouldn’t have come, this is his home now. He tells them that he is going to help the Mole Man create a safe haven for outcasts of society.
Ben is convinced of the Mole Man’s altruism, but he begins to experience doubts when Alicia unexpectedly arrives. The blind woman coerced Hopper into flying her to Monster Isle, so that she can make her peace with Ben. Learning that Alicia has broken up with Ben, and that Ben has been showing the rest of the team around the subterranean domain, the Mole Man’s bitterness & paranoia inflame. He has his servants kidnap & disfigure the Human Torch as punishment for Johnny “stealing” Alicia from Ben.
As upset as Ben is about Alicia being with Johnny, this nevertheless shocks & disturbs the Thing’s confidence in the Mole Man. Ben’s faith is further shaken when Reed explains that the earth-moving device the Mole Man intends to use to create an island refuge for humanity’s freaks & outsiders will cause devastation to the mainland.
At long last Ben realizes that no matter how noble Mole Man’s motives might be, he is nevertheless a disturbed, dangerous fanatic. The Thing joins with the others to wreck the Mole Man’s machines, and to restore Johnny to normal. As the subterranean headquarters beneath Monster Isle crumble, they make a break for it. The issue ends as they are rescued by Hopper in a rubber raft. A grumbling Ben reluctantly admits that his place is with the team, and at long last the Fantastic Four are reunited.
The plot by Jim Shooter is a solid one, in that it achieves two primary goals: It commemorates the anniversary & history of the Fantastic Four, and it gets the original line-up back together for the first time in two and a half years. Perhaps it’s not the best FF issue I’ve ever read, or the most imaginative, but it’s entertaining.
The script by Fantastic Four co-creator Stan Lee is also good. In later decades Lee sometimes became almost a parody of himself, with his whole “Face front, true believers!” bombastic, tongue-in-cheek style of prose and promotion. Some of that is certainly on display here. However, as the editor and the main writer / scripter at Marvel throughout the 1960s, Lee was largely responsible for giving most of the company’s characters their distinctive voices & personalities. Looking at this story it is apparent that he had remained capable of poignant, dramatic writing, especially if paired up with a talented artist / collaborator. Lee’s opening narration and dialogue for FF #296 is very effective and combined with the art by Barry Windsor-Smith results in a genuinely moody, atmospheric scene.
Speaking of the artists, there are some distinctive choices on display in FF #296. The aforementioned work by Windsor-Smith immediately set the tone. On several pages the story cuts back & forth between his art and a flashback of the FF’s origin drawn by Kerry Gammill & Vince Colletta. It definitely offers an interesting contrast.
In general I am not overly fond of Colletta’s inking. Nevertheless, back in the mid 1960s he did ink several of the Lee & Kirby FF issues, and his work on this story in conjunction with Gammill’s pencils evokes a Silver Age feel that is very well suited to a retelling of the events of the team’s first story.
There are several pages by the team of Ron Frenz & Bob Wiacek. Frenz is a very solid, effective storyteller, so he is certainly well-suited to dramatically render scenes that feature a significant amount of exposition and character moments. Wiacek is one of the best inkers in the biz, and his finishes complement Frenz’s pencils.
I also enjoyed the pages by Al Milgrom & Klaus Janson. They are two artists with very different styles, yet the combination works very well. Milgrom’s super-hero oriented penciling is very effective for rendering the team fighting the Mole Man’s weird, wacky monsters, and Janson’s inking gives it a darker, gritty feel.
The next pairing, John Buscema inked by Steve Leialoha, is a bit odd. Both are incredibly talented artists, to be certain. In addition, Buscema was the first regular penciler on FF after Kirby left the title, doing really good work during the early 1970s, so he’s an appropriate choice to contribute to this issue. Nevertheless, I do feel Leialoha’s inks sort of subsume Buscema’s characteristic style. Of course, it is possible that Big John was only contributing layouts, something that became more prevalent for him in the 1980s, leaving it up to Leialoha to do the lion’s share, and resulting in more of his style coming through.
I think that under any other circumstances the team of Buscema & Leialoha would have been very effective. It’s just that here, on this particular story, a somewhat more traditional inker might have been a better fit for Big John. But that’s purely an emotional, sentimental judgment on my part. At the very least, this does demonstrate once again just how significant an impact the inker can have on the finished artwork.
The next segment is by then up-and-coming penciler Marc Silvestri and established inker Josef Rubinstein. This was a year before Silvestri would begin his well-received run on Uncanny X-Men, but there’s definitely a lot of potential on display, with solid action & effective storytelling, and it’s apparent why he soon became a hot artist. Rubinstein’s inking ably supports the young penciler.
Rounding out the issue is Jerry Ordway on pencils and Bob Wiacek & Joe Sinnott on inks. It was certainly very appropriate to have Sinnott involved in this issue. He had a long, acclaimed association with the Fantastic Four series. Sinnott inked the second half of Lee & Kirby’s long FF run, and is generally regarded as one of the best inkers ever paired with Kirby. After Kirby left Marvel, Sinnott continued as the book’s inker for over a decade, working over John Buscema and several other pencilers, right up until the beginning of Byrne’s run.
That said, in my mind Ordway inked by Sinnott was another unusual choice. Sinnott is an inker whose work is almost always recognizable, no matter who he inks. Ordway, however, is one of those pencilers whose style is so strong & distinctive that, no matter who inks his pencils, the finished artwork basically looks the same. To my untrained eyes Ordway inked by Sinnott does not look much different that Ordway inking himself, or Ordway inked by Wiacek or Al Gordon or Dennis Janke or anyone else.
Oh, well… I’m probably quibbling. The pages by Ordway, Wiacek & Sinnott look great, and that’s the important thing. Ordway has stated that growing up in the 1960s he was a huge Marvel fan, so it must have been a thrill for him to work on several issues of Fantastic Four around this time, especially this anniversary story.
In any case, the back cover artwork is by John Buscema & Joe Sinnott. It’s a really nice image that showcases both artists’ styles, and really evokes the early Bronze Age era of the title. So that gives us a really good example of “traditional” FF artwork.
However, there are two individuals who were not involved with Fantastic Four #296. The first is Jack Kirby. The second is John Byrne.
Kirby is, of course, the co-creator of Fantastic Four. He co-plotted & penciled the first 102 regular issues of the series, as well as the first six annuals. Kirby’s role in the creation & development of the Marvel universe cannot possible be overstated.
As for Byrne, he is often credited with the revitalization of the Fantastic Four title. The writing on FF throughout the 1970s is generally regarded as uneven. Byrne came onboard as writer & artist with issue #232 in 1981, and very quickly made the FF into an exciting, popular series. His time on the book is frequently compared to the original Lee & Kirby run.
However, once again real-world events intruded. By 1986 Byrne and Shooter were not on good terms and, as previously mentioned, this led to Byrne abruptly leaving Fantastic Four. His last full issue was #293, released just three months earlier.
I doubt that back in late 1986 any of this impacted on my reading of Fantastic Four #296 in the slightest way. As I said before, this was pre-internet, so I had no way of easily finding out about all of these events.
Nowadays, though, I have a much greater knowledge of the history of the Fantastic Four series, and an awareness of what was going on at Marvel in the mid 1980s. So when I re-read this issue a couple of weeks ago, the absences of Jack Kirby, who co-created the first decade of the book, and John Byrne, who had just come off a five year run that saw a creative renaissance, felt especially conspicuous, as well as exceedingly unfortunate.
Not to jump on an anti-Marvel bandwagon, but I certainly understand why over the past three decades so many artists & writers have chosen to go the creator-owned route. After all, if Marvel can screw over Kirby, the guy who created many of their characters, well, they’re certainly not going to hesitate to kick anyone else to the curb, either. Far better to retain ownership of your characters and benefit fully from their success, no matter how modest, than to create a runaway hit for Marvel (or DC Comics, for that matter) and see other people make millions of dollars off your creativity.
Having said all that, I do still enjoy a few Marvel and DC books, such as Fantastic Four (the current run written by Dan Slott is the best the book has been in a long time). I just believe that it’s absolutely crucial for anyone who wants to work for the Big Two to go in with their eyes open, to know exactly what their rights are, and to be fully aware of the history of the industry, so that they do not find themselves in the same position that Kirby and so many others unfortunately did.
One other note: Back in 1986, I was 10 years old, and the idea that Marvel was celebrating its 25th anniversary was a little difficult to comprehend. To me 1961 seemed so incredibly far in the past.
Contrast this to a couple of years ago, when Image Comics celebrated their 25th anniversary. My first reaction was that there was absolutely no way Image could be 25 years old, and it was impossible for 1992 to have been a quarter of a century ago.
I guess it’s just one of those matters of personal perspective. Anything that happened before you were born is automatically ancient history, and anything that happened during your lifetime, even if it was decades ago, still feels like the recent past because you were there and experienced it firsthand.
Between 1941 and 1943 Klein was employed by Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel. Creator credits in the Golden Age were often missing or inaccurate, but it is generally believed he worked on such titles as All-Winners Comics, Captain America Comics, USA Comics and Young Allies Comics at Timely.
In 1943 Klein was drafted to serve in World War II, and served as a private in the Army Infantry. Honorably discharged in 1946, Klein returned to his career as an artist, working in both comic books and as a magazine illustrator.
Several of the periodicals that Klein worked for, both before and after the war, were pulp magazines published by Timely’s owner Martin Goodman, specifically Best Love, Complete Sports, Complete War and Detective Short Stories. Klein was also a regular contributor to Wyoming Wildlife, the award-winning magazine published by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. His work in Wyoming Wildlife and other publications apparently gained Klein some renown as a landscape and wildlife artist.
Klein once again did work for Timely, or Atlas Comics as it came to be known in the 1950s. Among the various titles Klein worked on at Timely / Atlas in the late 40s and early 50s were the romance series Girl Comics and the well-regarded fantasy / romance series Venus, although (again due to the lack of credits) the exact details of his involvement are a matter of deduction and guesswork.
During this time Klein also branched out to work for other publishers such as ACG, Ace Comics and Prize Publications. By the early 1950s much of Klein’s work was for National Periodical Publications, aka DC Comics.
Beginning in 1955 Klein, working as an inker, was regularly paired up with penciler Curt Swan on DC’s various Superman titles. Looking at the Grand Comic Database, the first story drawn by the Swan & Klein team seems to be the Superboy story “The Wizard City” written by the legendary Bill Finger in Adventure Comics #216, cover-dated September 1955.
Swan and Klein continued to work together for the next 12 years, with their art appearing in various issues of Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superman, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.
Truthfully, Swan is a penciler who at times leaves me a bit cold. He’s one of those artists who I recognize as technically proficient, someone who is a good, solid storyteller. However often his work just does not connect with me personally. That said, there is something about the teaming of Swan and Klein that really appeals to me.
Having been born in 1976, obviously I did not read the stories they drew when they first came out. About 20 years ago I really got into the Legion of Super-Heroes and began picking up the various Legion Archives. I was immediately taken with the work that Swan & Klein on those Superboy and the Legion stories from Adventure Comics in the 1960s. I regard Klein as one of the best inkers Swan ever got during his lengthy career.
As per writer & editor Mark Waid’s bio of George Klein written for the Legion Archives:
“Klein set new standards for his craft with his razor-crisp brushline, which brought new dimensions to the art of Curt Swan, the penciler with whom Klein was most frequently paired. Together, Swan and Klein defined for years to come the look of Superman and his cast of characters; to this day , most Legion of Super-Heroes aficionados consider Swan and Klein to be the all-time finest Legion art team.”
Klein’s work over Swan’s pencils is an excellent demonstration of just how significant a role the inker can have on the look of the finished artwork in comic books.
Probably the stand-out stories of this era were written by the then-teenage Jim Shooter, who introduced Karate Kid, Princess Projecta and Ferro Lad to the Legion, as well as the villainous Fatal Five. Swan & Klein did a superb job illustrating these now-classic stories.
One cannot discuss Klein’s work in the Silver Age without mentioning Fantastic Four. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1961, that title was the birth of what came to be known as the Marvel Universe. For many decades the specific details concerning the creation of the early FF stories have been shrouded in mystery.
“I would also conjecture that perhaps the choice of George Klein to ink these early issues–if indeed he was the inker as is generally believed today–was to try to give them more of a super hero feel than Kirby’s monster or romance or western work. Klein at the time was inking Curt Swan on Superman, and you really can’t get a more classic super hero finish than that.”
Absent the original artwork for those first two FF issues resurfacing, or some previous-unknown documentation being discovered, we will probably never be 100% certain; nevertheless, the general consensus is that Klein very likely inked those two issues, placing him right at the birth of the Marvel Age of Comics.
Klein’s work for DC on the Superman family of titles took place during the regime of editor Mort Weisinger. The late 1960s saw an editorial shake-up at DC. Although Weisinger remained in control of the Superman books until 1970, this behind-the-scenes instability is reportedly what led to Klein departing the company. He quickly found work at Marvel Comics which, eight years after the introduction of the Fantastic Four, was achieving both commercial success and critical acclaim.
Klein’s first assignment at Marvel was inking John Buscema’s pencils on Avengers. After inking a couple of covers, Klein became the regular inker with issue #55, cover-dated August 1968. Klein remained on Avengers for nearly a year.
Roy Thomas: So how did you feel about George Klein’s inking compared to some of the others?
John Buscema: From what I’ve seen, a very credible job, not bad.
Considering that Buscema was notoriously critical of most of the artists who inked his work, I suppose by his exacting standards this was high praise indeed!
Klein also inked Gene Colan on Avengers #63-64, Sub-Mariner #11, and on several issues of Daredevil. Klein was probably one of the best embellishers to ever work over Colan, who could often be a bit challenging to ink.
Additionally, in early 1969 Klein inked two very early jobs by a very young Barry Windsor-Smith, in Daredevil #51 and Avengers #67. Klein’s finishes gave some much-needed support to BWS who, although he was already showing quite a bit of promise, was still honing his craft.
Last, but certainly not least, Klein inked Jack Kirby on Thor #168-169, which were cover-dated Sept and Oct 1969. It has been opined that Vince Colletta’s inking of Kirby was a good match on Thor, as the feathery line work provided a specific tone that was well-suited to the mythological characters & settings. It was much less appropriate to Kirby’s sci-fi concepts, which is why Colletta was a poor fit on Fantastic Four.
Similarly, when Kirby took Thor in a more cosmic direction in the late 1960s, Colletta’s inking felt out of place. So it was definitely nice to have Klein’s more polished inking on these two issues, which saw the god of thunder learning the origin of one of Kirby’s most cosmic creations, Galactus. These Thor issues were very likely the last work that Klein did before his untimely death.
According to the Field Guide To Wild American Pulp Artists, Klein was hospitalized for cirrhosis of the liver in May 1969, less than a month before he died.
“It’s tragic that Klein passed away as young as he did — and the fact that he’d gotten married just a few months before makes it even more so. Unfortunately, his work over Curt Swan on the Superman books all those years was uncredited, and his subsequent stint at Marvel was too short for him to have made the impact of a Joe Sinnott or Tom Palmer. I agree he’s underrated.”
I really believe that Klein would probably be much better remembered as an artist if he had not died so young. He did very well-regarded work on comic books in a career that lasted nearly three decades.
The reissuing of so much of DC and Marvel’s material from the Silver Age does mean that younger fans such as myself have now been able to rediscover Klein’s work. Additionally, all these decades later Klein, as well as everyone else who worked on those early DC stories, are at long last receiving proper credit for their work in those reprint volumes.
There are so many creators from the Golden Age and early Silver Age who helped to make the comic book industry what it is today, creators who in the past were unfortunately uncredited and overlooked. I hope this short profile on one of those creators, George Klein, will inspire readers to seek out some of these classic stories, and to develop more of an appreciation for the people who crafted those imaginative tales.
Thank you to all of the websites from which I gleamed information about and artwork by George Klein. I believe I’ve included links to all of them, but if I did miss anyone please let me know!
This week longtime comic book artist Joe Sinnott announced his retirement, bringing an official end to a career that spanned nearly seven decades, from 1950 to 2019.
With the recent passing of Marvel Comics writer & editor Stan Lee, the decision was made to bring down the curtain on the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic strip that he had been scripting since 1977. The 92 year old Sinnott, who has been inking the Sunday installments of the newspaper strip since 1992, decided this would be an appropriate time to formally retire.
Here is the Sunday March 17th installment of the newspaper strip. As I understand it, this was written by Roy Thomas, penciled by Alex Saviuk, inked by Joe Sinnott, and lettered by Janice Chiang. It’s a pleasant coda to the comic strip continuity with Peter and Mary-Jane Parker departing for a vacation in Australia. Since this is the wrap-up of the strip, I think we can safely assume that for once Peter and MJ will actually have a nice, relaxing time, and no super-villains will be following them Down Under.
Y’know, it’s funny… when the news broke that Sinnott was at long last calling it a day, the very first thing that popped into my mind was that he actually began the process of retiring back in 1991.
Sinnott’s last monthly assignment for Marvel Comics was Thor, inking / finishing the pencils of Ron Frenz for two and a half years, from issues #400 to #429. A few months after Sinnott’s final Thor issue, in the letters page of #433 (cover-dated June 1991), Frenz wrote a heartfelt tribute to his collaborator. Frenz explained that Sinnott was taking “his first steps towards a well-won and laurelled retirement.”
Well, it appears that Sinnott really enjoyed drawing, and possessed a genuine love for comic books, because it took him until now to finally retire. During the past 27 years, in addition to inking the Sunday installments of the Spider-Man strip, Sinnott contributed to several projects, among them the Marvel: Heroes & Legends special, the Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Comic Magazine miniseries, a pair of Untold Tales of Spider-Man annuals, and Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure.
Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure was published in 2008. It reconstructed & completed the long-lost “final” FF story that Kirby plotted & penciled way back in 1970 right before he departed Marvel for DC Comics. Nearly four decades later Stan Lee finally wrote the script for this story. Joe Sinnott’s embellishments had been an absolutely perfect match for the Fantastic Four stories Kirby penciled in the mid-1960s, so of course he was the first and only choice to ink this special.
It was always a pleasure to see Sinnott’s occasional returns to the comic book biz over the past two and a half decades. I regard him as one of the all-time greatest inkers / finishers in the history of the medium. His stellar work inking Kirby was just one part of his career. Over the decades Sinnott did superb work over numerous other pencilers, among them John Buscema, Rich Bucker, George Perez, Ron Wilson, John Byrne, and Ron Frenz.
Over the past decade Sinnott has also been very involved in Bob Almond’s Inkwell Awards. The “hall of fame” award the Inkwells give out is named, appropriately enough, the Sinnott.
I have been fortunate enough to meet Joe Sinnott at comic book conventions several times over the years. I can definitely tell you that his talent is matched by his kindness. Each time I met him he came across as polite, enthusiastic and gracious.
Above is a photo I took in 2011 of Joe Sinnott with another great creator, Walter Simonson, at the Hawthorne NJ comic con. It’s always awesome when you meet creators whose work you enjoy and you discover that they are also genuinely nice people.
Congratulations to Joe Sinnott on bringing to a close a long and distinguished career. I hope he enjoys his retirement, because he definitely deserves it.
For a brief moment it appeared that 2018 was to be the Year of Super-Hero Weddings. Batman and Catwoman were all set to tie the knot, and Colossus and Shadowcat were also ready for wedded bliss. Unfortunately, Selina Kyle left Bruce Wayne at the altar, and Kitty also backed out at the last sec, much to Peter’s consternation. In that case longtime on-again, off-again couple Rogue and Gambit decided to take advantage of the occasion to impulsively leap into holy matrimony, so at least somebody got hitched in the X-Men books.
Third time was the charm, though, and as 2018 came to a close we finally got a scheduled wedding go through as planned: Benjamin Jacob Grimm, aka the Thing, married his longtime girlfriend, blind sculptress Alicia Reiss Masters.
The blessed event took place in the pages of Fantastic Four #650, or if you prefer issue #5 of the current volume. Setting up the event is the Fantastic Four Wedding Special. Dan Slott was the main writer, with Gail Simone stopping by to give us Alicia’s bachelorette party.
(What volume of Fantastic Four is Marvel up to, anyway? I honestly don’t know! With all the renumbering and rebooting that Marvel keeps doing, who can keep track?)
Of course, as soon as the news broke about Ben and Alicia’s impending nuptials, alarm bells immediately began blaring in the heads of longtime readers, myself included. After all, back in FF #300, Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, had married Alicia, only for this to later be retconned away when Alicia was revealed to have been replaced by a Skrull imposter named Lyja.
Dan Slott swore up & down on social media that there would be no Skrulls involved. The house ad for FF #650 even boldly proclaimed…
“No bait. No switch. Not a dream. Not a hoax. And we swear, not a single Skrull around. This is really happening!”
Of course, that still leaves shape-shifters, and evil other-dimensional duplicates, and Space Phantoms, and LMDs, and clones… hey, Dan Slott spent a decade writing Amazing Spider-Man, so at this point he probably has clones on the brain!
*Ahem!* Actually, there was a moment towards the end of FF #650 where it briefly appeared the wedding was going to be called off, and I literally considered throwing my copy of the issue across the room in frustration. Fortunately, though, Ben and Alicia did go through with the ceremony. So it seems that this is really, truly supposed to be the real, permanent marriage of Ben and Alicia… at least for the present. Keep your fingers crossed!
Whatever the case, unlike a lot of super-hero weddings, which come across as sales events, this actually does feel like a natural progression. Alicia was first introduced waaaaay back in Fantastic Four #8 (1962) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers. Alicia was manipulated into disguising herself as the Invisible Girl as part of a cockamamie plot by her stepfather, the diabolical Puppet Master, to destroy the FF. There was an immediate attraction between the Thing and the sensitive young woman, and the very next issue they were already dating.
The Wedding Special contains a humorous back-up by the great Fred Hembeck. Narrated by the Puppet Master, this vignette touches on how her introduction prompted a crucial turning point in the Thing’s early development. If you read the first few FF stories by Lee & Kirby, the Thing was very much depicted as a dangerous character, a being whose rage and self-loathing at his horrific mutation threatened to lead him to villainy.
And then the Thing met Alicia, who sensed the kind, sensitive soul underneath Ben’s anger and depression. From this point forward the Thing was written as alternately tragic and comedic, a heroic and loyal figure who masked his pain at being trapped in a monstrous form with a gruff, irreverent persona.
It has often been observed that the Fantastic Four is not so much a super-hero team as it is a family, one that is often dysfunctional, but which at the end of the day will stick together through hell & high water. Slott has only been the regular FF writer for a few issues, but he’s scripted the characters several times in the past, including on the Thing’s short-lived solo series in 2006. So I find that he already has a really good grasp on them. Slott’s stories are the perfect mix of soap opera dramatics and irreverent humor. He was definitely well-suited to write the wedding of Ben and Alicia.
Over the past couple of decades, I have gravitated away from mainstream super-hero books. My interests are much more on books that are character-driven. I am a huge fan of Love and Rockets by Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez.
I think that’s why I appreciate Slott’s work on FF so much. He isn’t writing a book that centers on super-powered beings slugging it out, but on the family dynamics of Reed, Sue, Ben, Johnny, Franklin, Valeria, Alicia and the rest of the extended FF family.
That’s certainly the case with the Wedding Special and issue #650. Slott does a superb job at exploring new sides to characters who have been in print for decades. I appreciated Slott’s look at the friendship between Susan Storm and Ben Grimm, and the examination of how Sue feels about what happened to Ben, the sense of responsibility she feels, as she was the one who pushed him to pilot Reed Richards’ ill-fated spaceship. Slott reveals that in the early days of the team, in an effort to help the Thing find some happiness, Sue played matchmaker, encouraging him to pursue a relationship with Alicia.
The interaction between Ben and Johnny during the bachelor party is also well done. It’s one of the best scenes between these friendly rivals that I’ve seen in the series’ entire history.
The actual wedding was beautifully written by Slott. It’s a lovely scene. I was especially moved when Slott revealed Reed’s wedding present to Ben and Alicia. It actually made me a bit misty-eyed.
I was also happy that Ben and Alicia had a Jewish ceremony. After all, the Thing is Jewish. At the same time, I appreciate that Slott didn’t make it a huge deal. It was just one detail in the story. As I’ve said before, I like that Ben Grimm is Jewish, but I certainly do not think that should be his defining characteristic. In other words, he is a character who, among other things, happens to be Jewish.
By the way, I am curious if Alicia might also be of Jewish ancestry, as her late biological father was named Jacob Reiss.
Among the close family members who attend the wedding are Ben’s Uncle Jake and Aunt Petunia. It was nice to see them again after so many years.
A few readers were upset that Aunt Petunia was depicted as being in her 40s or 50s here. After all, when we first met Petunia in FF #238, she was shown to be both young and attractive. I realize that John Byrne did this to humorously subvert reader expectations, since before that, whenever the Thing mentioned Petunia, the implication that she was a tough, feisty old lady. However, I don’t know if in the long run that was such a good idea. Maybe it wasn’t such an issue back in 1982 when Byrne wrote that story, but nowadays the idea that Uncle Jake, a senior citizen, married a woman who was young enough to be his daughter is sort of weird & uncomfortable. It’s probably a good idea to nowadays depict Petunia as being somewhat closer in age to Jake.
Anyway, I really did enjoy Slott’s work on these stories. I like the idea of Ben and Alicia as a married couple. I just hope that Galactus doesn’t end up eating the Earth before we get to see Ben and Alicia go on their honeymoon!
Gail Simone also does good work with the characters in her segment for the Wedding Special, penning a tale that is both humorous and poignant. I hope she has another opportunity to write the FF again in the future.
The artwork on these two issues was also great. Laura Braga does sexy, humorous work on the bachelorette party story in the Wedding Special, while Mark Buckingham & Mark Farmer turn in some effective art on the second tale, evoking the style of Kirby as the Thing has a surprising encounter with the Puppet Master.
The framing sequences of FF #650 are illustrated by Aaron Kuder, culminating is his gorgeous depiction of Ben & Alicia’s wedding. In places Kuder’s art here brings to mind the work of John Romita Jr and Frank Quitely.
Mike Allred & Laura Allred contribute the moving flashbacks to the couple’s early days. The Allreds possess a style that is distinctively “indy” while nevertheless evoking the wacky, offbeat elements of Silver Age stories.
It was a pleasure to see Adam Hughes illustrating the bachelor party sequence in #650. Hughes is very well known for his cover artwork, and for his depiction of sexy women. As a result, it is often forgotten that he is also a good storyteller who knows how to lay out pages. He certainly does good work here, both on the humorous sequences and in the quieter character driven moments.
The reason why Hughes mainly works on covers is because he is not an especially fast artist who is capable of drawing a monthly series. That’s unfortunate, because as he demonstrates here, he knows how to do solid interior work.
Providing the letters for both issues is VC’s Joe Caramagna.
Topping off these two comics, quite literally, are covers by Carlos Pacheco & Romulo Fajardo Jr and Esad Ribic. Pacheco’s cover is my favorite of the pair, but I certainly like both.
Let’s raise a toast to Ben and Alicia. Long may they be a happy couple. What God has joined together, let no man (or Skrull) put asunder!
One of the most iconic images associated with the American holiday Thanksgiving is Norman Rockwell’s painting Freedom from Want. Painted by Rockwell in November 1942, it was published in the March 6, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I am going to quote from Wikipedia here, and hopefully it’s accurate!
Freedom from Want, also known as The Thanksgiving Picture or I’ll Be Home for Christmas, is the third of the Four Freedoms series of four oil paintings by American artist Norman Rockwell. The works were inspired by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address, known as Four Freedoms.
The website Totally History offers the following analysis of the painting’s composition:
The painting depicts three generations of a family around a table at Thanksgiving. The father is standing at the head of the table as the mother is about to place a large turkey in front of him.
The opulence of the turkey is counterbalanced by the relative scarcity of other foods on the table and the presence of water as the only beverage.
Over the past 75 years Freedom From Want has been the subject of numerous homages and parodies, including within the comic book medium. For my tongue-in-cheek celebration of Thanksgiving this year, here are 10 of those images.
Probably one of the best well-known comic book covers to pay tribute to Freedom From Want is JSA #54 (Jan 2004) from DC Comics. Drawn by Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino, this cover features Superman and Power Girl serving Thanksgiving dinner to the Justice Society and Justice League. I am going to abstain from making any comments about “breast or leg” here, although the jokes do sort of write themselves. Sorry, Power Girl!
Nobody does political satire in comic books quite like the legendary Howard Chaykin. Here is a panel from American Flagg! #4 (Jan 1984) from First Comics, featuring one of the most dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinners you are likely to ever come across.
Hmmm, this turkey tastes a little funny. Ha ha ha… sorry, I just couldn’t help myself. Anyway, speaking of dysfunctional, not to mention just plain disturbing, here is the cover to Evil Clown Comics #4 by the late Alan Kupperberg from 1989. I’ve never found any physical copies of this series, but I believe that it collected together the Evil Clown Comics stories by Kupperberg that were published in National Lampoon.
A slightly less unsettling image is offered up on this variant cover to Garfield #7 (Nov 2012) published by Boom! Studios. I’m certain anyone who has ever had cats can identify with the danger of your feline companions attempting to make off with the Thanksgiving turkey. It’s certainly happened to us on a couple of occasions!
The talented and much-underrated Gordon Purcell offers up this lovely tribute to Rockwell on his cover for Flare #31 (Feb 2006) from Dennis Mallonee’s Heroic Publishing, which has been releasing fun, entertaining comic books since the mid 1980s.
Back in the early 1990s Marvel Comics had not one, but two ongoing Barbie comic book series, both of which lasted for several years. Both titles had some talented creators working on them. It was probably one of Marvel’s more successful efforts to reach a young female audience. Here’s the cover to Barbie Fashion #37 (Jan 1994) by Anna-Marie Cool & Jeff Albrecht.
Chase was one of those really good titles from the 1990s that unfortunately never really found an audience and was cancelled too soon. D. Curtis Johnson did some really great writing on this series. Cameron Chase had some serious family issues, so of course here we are flashing back to Thanksgiving of days past on the cover to issue #6 (July 1998). This striking image is by the superb team of J. H. Williams III & Mick Gray.
Good old MAD Magazine, always ready to skewer politics, pop culture and society! This send-up of The Saturday Evening Post is from issue #39, published waaaay back in May 1958. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a credit for the artist. Can anyone help out?
Update: As per the link helpfully provided by M.S. Wilson in the comments below, this piece was done by regular MAD contributors writer Tom Koch & artist Bob Clarke.
Marvel’s First Family celebrates Thanksgiving on the cover to Fantastic Four # 564 (April 2009) by Bryan Hitch. I’m sure that, among the various things for which the Invisible Woman is thankful for this year, it’s that Reed Richards opted to slice up the turkey in the traditional manner, as opposed to inventing an Atomic Powered Turkey Carver which would have undoubtedly blown the roof off of the Baxter Building.
Let’s close things out with the cover to Betty #119 (Jan 2003) by Stan Goldberg & Bob Smith, which has the gang from Riverdale celebrating Thanksgiving, complete with Reggie Mantle’s usual snarky comments. I’m not completely certain if this cover is a specific homage to Rockwell, but it is certainly close enough. In any case, Archie Comics too often falls under the radar, which is too bad, since they have some really great art.
(This was by no means a comprehensive list, and a quick search of the internet will reveal many more tributes to Freedom From Want.)
I hope everyone enjoyed this little selection of Thanksgiving-themed comic book artwork. Have a good holiday, and let’s all try to be thankful for for what we have, because there are a lot of people much less fortunate in the world.
I was saddened, but not surprised, to learn that Stan Lee had passed away. He was 95 years old, and had been in poor health for some time now.
Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber, was an incredibly important figure in American comic books. Lee was the editor and main writer at Marvel Comics during the 1960s, when what is now known as the Marvel Universe came into being. Lee co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Steve Ditko. He co-created the Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Black Panther, Inhumans, and X-Men with Jack Kirby. Other characters he had a hand in conceiving were Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil and Ant-Man. It was apparently Lee who had the idea of creating superheroes who had flaws and who experienced everyday problems, just like normal people.
Lee also was an amazing publicist with an outsized public persona. He enthustastically promoted the Marvel brand and characters with the zeal of a master showman.
In subsequent decades there has been a great deal of debate, often contentious, concerning the division of labor, of exactly who did what, in the conception of these various characters and series. It is often difficult to parse these things in collaborative efforts. One might as well try to precisely determine who did what in the Beatles. I’ve heard Lee and Kirby likened to Paul MacCartney and John Lennon, and I think it is a valid comparison. Both were talented musicians, but each in a very different way, and when they worked together something occurred, some creative magic that you cannot explain or break down in any sort of analytical manner. So it was with Lee and Kirby, and with Lee and Ditko.
It is also worth mentioning that in the early 1960s no one – not Lee, not Ditko, not Kirby – no one had even the slightest idea that half a century later these characters would still be in print, much less become cultural icons worth millions of dollars. No one was taking detailed notes regarding the creative process, because they were all too busy attempting to keep the nascent Marvel Comics afloat.
It is obvious, however, to even the most casual reader that Stan Lee had a central role in the creation, and success, of the Marvel comic books of the Silver Age. Read any story by Ditko & Lee, or Kirby & Lee, and then read any story done by Ditko or Kirby working solo. They are very different, especially in the dialogue and narration.
One can argue that Lee could have made more effort to credit the precise contributions of Ditko, Kirby, and his other creative partners. That is probably true. But it is important to keep in mind that Lee made sure to credit to his collaborators, in a time when many comic books were published without any creator credits. He demonstrated more consideration than most other editors, and his efforts in this area did later lead to more precise attribution in subsequent decades.
Stan Lee also addressed a number of political and social issues in the stories he co-wrote and edited. I’ve heard Lee described as a “middle of the road” liberal by the standards of the 1960s, and nowadays he would probably be considered a moderate. It has been said that Lee was too liberal for Ditko, and too conservative for Kirby.
Nevertheless, the fact that Lee was willing to discuss controversial topics, however tentatively, within what in those days was regarded as a children’s medium, is significant in and of itself. Again, this laid the groundwork for subsequent creators who would more directly, and forcefully, tackle political issues within the comic book medium.
In 2018, with Comicsgate trolls expressing hatred for politics in comic books and disparaging social justice warriors, it’s important to recognize that Stan Lee was extremely interested in social justice. He co-created a number of black characters, and scripted numerous stories decrying humanity’s violent & intolerant nature. This was most pronounced in the Silver Surfer series he worked on with penciler John Buscema in the late 1960s. Although at times verging into the anvilicious, Lee’s pleas for peace & brotherhood were clearly genuine and heartfelt.
The above page from Silver Surfer #4, featuring beautiful artwork by John & Sal Buscema, provides an example of Lee’s progressive social commentary from that series.
Lee also promoted this message in Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins editorial pages. In one late 1960s edition of Stan’s Soapbox, he wrote:
“Racism and bigotry are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed supervillains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them – to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are.”
I have written about Captain America #130 before, but I am going to touch upon that issue again here. Published in 1970, it was written by Stan Lee and drawn by Gene Colan & Dick Ayers. At one point Cap is asked by a group that claims to stand for “law & order” to make a speech on national television denouncing student protestors for their treasonous and un-American activities. Cap supposedly agrees, but once he is on the air he makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, exactly how he feels…
“I’ve been asked to speak to you today – to warn America about those who try to change our institutions – but, in a pig’s eye I’ll warn you! This nation was founded by dissidents – by people who wanted something better! There’s nothing sacred about the status quo – and there never will be!”
This scene was written by Lee almost half a century ago, but it still remains incredibly relevant.
Whatever his flaws & shortcomings, Stan Lee played a crucial role in the shaping of the American comic book industry, in the growth of Marvel Comics into a major publisher, in the careers of the creators who he mentored and who followed him, and in the development of comic book fandom. He will definitely be missed. ‘Nuff said!