Last month Michele and I went to the Society of Illustrators to see the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit. It was a great opportunity to see a very impressive & diverse selection of original artwork from comic books was on display, both from mainstream and alternative creators.
Here are just a few highlights from the Comic Art Sale and Exhibit, which ran from July 15th to October 23rd…
The unpublished cover artwork originally intended for Avengers #37 (Feb 1967) drawn by Don Heck for Marvel Comics that was eventually used as a cover by editor Roy Thomas for his comic book history magazine Alter Ego #118 (July 2013) from TwoMorrows Publishing.
A page from the Doctor Strange story “The Many Traps of Baron Mordo” drawn by Steve Ditko from Strange Tales #117 (Feb 1964) published by Marvel Comics.
The cover artwork for Green Lantern #56 (Oct 1967) penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.
The cover artwork for Hawkman #8 (June-July 1965) drawn by Murphy Anderson, published by DC Comics.
Two pages from Fantastic Four #116 (Nov 1971) penciled by John Busema and inked by Joe Sinnott, published by Marvel Comics.
A page from Incredible Hulk #196 (Feb 1976) pencil breakdowns by Sal Buscema and finishes by Joe Staton, published by Marvel Comics.
Two pages from the underground comix series The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers created by Gilbert Shelton.
The cover artwork for Laugh Comics #182 (May 1966) drawn by Dan DeCarlo, published by Archie Comics.
A daily installment of the newspaper comic strip Sky Masters penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Wallace Wood that ran from September 1958 to December 1961.
The cover artwork for Not Brand Echh #9 (Aug 1968) drawn by Marie Severin, published by Marvel Comics.
A page from Red Sonja #6 (Nov 1977) drawn by Frank Thorne, published by Marvel Comics.
While I definitely enjoyed this exhibit, it was slightly sobering to realize that in many cases the artists sold their original artwork many years ago for a fraction of the current asking prices. In some cases some of this artwork was given away by the publishers as gifts to fans, or flat-out stolen. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances. So I can certainly understand why in recent decades comic book artists have chosen to sell their original work at much higher prices.
Sal Buscema is one of the four recipients of the 2021 Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award. I was honored to be asked by The Inkwell Awards to write a profile of Sal examining his work as an inker, and providing examples from across his impressive, lengthy career.
Sal Buscema issued a brief statement concerning his induction into the Hall of Fame:
“I want to thank everyone responsible for this award which I revere and cherish. I consider this to be truly a great honor. Once again, thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”
Joe Sinnott, the award’s namesake and first winner, passed away in June 2020. His son, inker and Inkwell Awards Special Ambassador Mark Sinnott, has graciously assumed his legendary father’s position. He issued the following statement regarding Sal Buscema’s work:
“My dad always enjoyed working with Sal. He could do it all. He is as gifted a penciler as he is an inker. Joe was fortunate to ink Sal on The Hulk, ROM Spaceknight, The Fantastic Four, and the Sunday Spidey strip, as well as several others. Sal’s inks over his brother John on The Silver Surfer and his work on The Avengers is outstanding.”
Please follow the link below to read the The Inkwell Awards profile piece on Sal Buscema:
My sincere thanks to talented artist and good friend Guy Dorian Sr, who has collaborated with Sal Buscema on several recent projects, for his invaluable assistance in preparing this article.
Sal Buscema, one of my favorite comic book artists, celebrates his 85th birthday on January 26th. I’m going to take a look back at how I discovered Buscema’s work as a young comic book fan. (Part of this retrospective is based on a couple of posts I did several years ago. I guess you can consider this a “director’s cut” or something like that.)
Appropriately enough, I first saw Sal Buscema’s artwork in two issues of The Incredible Hulk, one of the series with which he is most closely associated.
On several occasions Sal Buscema has stated that the Hulk was his favorite character to draw. As he related to Jim Amash in the book Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist, published by TwoMorrows in 2010:
“I identified with [the Hulk]. Do you know what I liked about the Hulk? … He’s totally unique. He’s monstrous, lumbering, huge, unbelievably strong, and he gets even stronger when he gets angry. He has the mentality of a child. It’s so completely different from anything that you’ve drawn before. Is there another character as unique? … He’s an anti-hero, and yet because of his unbelievable power… look at all the fantastic things he’s capable of doing and usually does. That’s the fun and the constant stimulation that I had with this character.”
Buscema was the penciler on The Incredible Hulk from issue #194 (Dec 1975) to #309 (July 1985), an astonishing nine and a half year run. During that time Buscema missed only seven issues. I believe his 109 issue run on the series has never been surpassed by any other artist.
The very first issue of The Incredible Hulk that I ever read was #285, cover-dated July 1983. It would have been on sale in early April 1983. I was six and a half years old and my parents bought it for me.
The Incredible Hulk #285 was topped off by a fantastic cover drawn by artists Ron Wilson & Joe Sinnott. As a kid, I thought it was an amazing image. The Hulk was fighting this giant orange figure seemingly made out of flames. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. And, oddly, instead of striding around in his usual torn-up pants, on this cover the Hulk was wearing a shirt, tie, jacket and shoes. That said, his pants were still purple, so not everything about him had changed!
Flipping open the comic, I came to the first page of “Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life.” The creative team was writer Bill Mantlo, penciler Sal Buscema, inker Chic Stone, lettered Jim Novak, colorist Bob Sharen and editor Al Milgrom. This splash page again had the Hulk wearing a jacket & tie, his hair neatly combed. Rather than running around on a destructive rampage, he is seated at a desk, narrating his memoirs into a Dictaphone.
Over the course of the next several pages the Hulk recounts how Dr. Bruce Banner created the Gamma Bomb. While attempting to save the life of teenager Rock Jones who had wandered onto the test site, Banner was caught in the explosion of the weapon he created. The radiation now caused Banner to transform into a savage monster whenever overwhelmed by stress or anger. I distinctly recall that my seven year old self was surprised that in this flashback Banner’s assistant Igor, who set off the Gamma Bomb in an attempt to kill the scientist, was a Soviet spy, rather than an alien robotic infiltrator as he had been depicted in the animated episode “Origin of the Hulk” the year before.
Buscema drew an absolutely savage depiction of the Hulk in this flashback, as Banner transformed into the jade giant for the very first time, on the striking splash page seen at the top of this blog post.
Following this was an amazing two page spread by Buscema & Stone that illustrated the chaotic life of the Hulk over the next several years, the long and winding road taken by a green goliath who was more often than not hunted by humanity. Among the numerous characters glimpsed in this flashback montage, my seven year old self recognized from the animated series the villainous Leader and his pink artificial servants, Betty Ross, her father the militant General Ross, and the equally belligerent Major Talbot. Of course I also knew who Captain America was.
I was surprised to find out that Bruce Banner’s identity as the Hulk was public knowledge, since in the cartoons it had only been known to Rick Jones. Years later I learned that the Hulk was probably the earliest major super-powered protagonist to have his secret identity revealed, way back in Tales to Astonish #77, which was cover-dated May 1966.
At the end of this montage, we come to the Hulk’s current status: At long last, after all this time, Bruce Banner has managed to gain control, to retain his human intelligence when transforming into the Hulk.
While the Hulk has been busy recounting his life, a crew of workers from Stark Industries headed up by Scott Lang, the new Ant-Man, has been constructing Northwind Observatory, a laboratory where Banner can resume his scientific studies. Turning back into his human form, Banner joins Lang to supervise the installation of the laboratory’s power core. At the last minute, Banner discovers that the power core was not designed by Stark Industries, but acquired from a company called Soulstar. Banner immediately recognizes the name, but before he can prevent it, the power core is hooked up, there is “a massive electromagnetic discharge,” and a strange being emerges.
This creature, we are informed, is Zzzax the Living Dynamo (aka the guy guaranteed to always get the very last entry in the Handbook of the Marvel Universe). Looking something like a humanoid lightning bolt, Zzzax is a creature that feeds on the human life force. Before the monster can consume the stunned construction crew, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and tackles this old enemy.
Unfortunately the Hulk comes to a realization: In his old savage, child-like persona, the angrier he got, the stronger he became, but now, guided by Banner’s rational intellect, the Hulk cannot easily become angry, meaning his strength is limited. And so the gamma-spawned giant realizes that, instead of relying on brute force to defeat Zzzax, he must now find a way to out-think his fiery foe.
As a kid, I thought The Incredible Hulk #285 was a fantastic issue with an amazing bad guy. Yep, the idea of an intelligent Hulk was unexpected, but I just shrugged and read on. Mantlo’s script was a really good introduction to the character of the Hulk, neatly surmised through the plot device of Bruce Banner penning his autobiography. The second half, with the Hulk fighting Zzzax, was really exciting.
On the art side of things, the work by Sal Buscema was high quality. To the best of my knowledge, this was the very first comic book I ever read that was penciled by him. As I mentioned above, Buscema would eventually become one of my all time favorite comic book artists. A number of years ago when Our Pal Sal appeared at a NYC comic book show I had him autograph this issue. It was actually my second copy, since I read the original one so many times as a kid that the cover eventually fell off.
In regards to Stone’s inking, it is pretty good. Having subsequently seen a great deal more of Buscema’s work, I have to admit that there were others who did a better job finishing his pencils, among them Joe Sinnott, Gerry Talaoc, and Buscema himself. In the aforementioned Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist he admits that he wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Stone’s inking. Looking back at it as an adult fan, yes, I tend to agree with him. That said, back when I was a little kid completely lacking in any knowledge of the subtleties of inking, I thought the artwork by Sal & Chic looked just fine. I guess that’s probably the more important thing.
Even though I really did enjoy The Incredible Hulk #285, because I was just a few months shy of seven years old I very seldom had a chance to go buy comic books on my own, so I ended up not reading another issue of the series for a couple of years. When I finally did, it was issue #309. And if I thought #285 was a bit odd, well, that next one was downright bizarre!
The Incredible Hulk #309 was cover-dated July 1985, exactly two years since the last issue I had read. And it was quickly obvious that a heck of a lot had changed in those two years!
The cover to issue #309 was by Mike Mignola. It’s a pretty early piece of work by the future creator of Hellboy. But you can certainly see his potential as an artist in this unusual cover image. This had to be the first time that I saw Mignola’s art. It certainly leaped out at me as a distinctive piece.
“The Triad” is written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Gerry Talaoc, lettered by John Workman, colored by Bob Sharon and edited by Carl Potts. The last time I had seen Bruce Banner he was in full control of his bestial alter-ego and had been accepted as a hero by the people of Earth. Now, though, the Hulk appears to be somewhere far, far from home, struggling to string together a simple coherent thought.
Within a few pages, Mantlo quickly brought readers up to speed. Buscema renders another of his dramatic flashback montages. I learned that the now-intelligent Hulk was haunted by Doctor Strange’s arch enemy Nightmare, who twisted Banner’s dreams to re-awaken the green goliath’s bestial alter ego. Nightmare hoped to use the Hulk as weapon against the Sorcerer Supreme. However, Strange was able to help the remaining spark of Banner’s consciousness strike back at the demon. Unfortunately the Hulk was left with no mitigating human influence, and became an uncontrollable monster. Rather than have to destroy his old friend, Strange exiled the Hulk to the extra-dimensional Crossroads, which linked up to a myriad of other realities.
And, wow, poor John Workman, a highly skilled letterer, had to try to squeeze all of this information onto a single page! I recall my eight year old self squinting as I read this recap, trying to make out all that tiny lettering.
Now, in the present, after some time wandering the Crossroads, traveling from one strange world to another, the Hulk’s sentience is very gradually awakening. And with this renewed awareness, the Hulk discovers he is now accompanied by a trio of unusual figures. The Triad is made up of a blue-skinned demon Goblin, a young orange-skinned girl Guardian, and a shining magenta star Glow. These mysterious figures were somehow linked to the Hulk, their purpose to help restore the Hulk’s psyche.
Walking through one of the Crossroads portals, the Hulk and the Triad are transported into the middle of a vast alien desert. Although the desolate sands stretch as far as the eye can see, and the harsh sun beats endlessly down, the Hulk refuses to activate the “fail-safe spell” cast by Doctor Strange that would return him to the Crossroads when he feels discontented. As a massive sandstorm sweeps in, the Triad attempt in vain to convince the Hulk to wish himself off this planet before they all perish.
Finally, having survived the brutal elements, the Hulk at last finds that which his inhuman senses had detected from far off: a lush oasis. The Triad realizes that the Hulk was not on a mission of suicide, but was driven by the will to find this oasis, meaning his mind is continuing to heal and come back together.
This was a really odd story to read as a kid. The Hulk was stranded on the other side of reality, fighting not some supervillain or the military, but the very elements, accompanied by an incredibly odd threesome. Mantlo really crafted an unusual story, having the Hulk’s struggle against nature juxtaposed against the Triad’s examination of and insights into his mental state. It is a very introspective tale.
At the time, I had no clue who the Triad was supposed to be. Within the next few issues, Mantlo would reveal that they were the splintered aspects of Bruce Banner’s subconscious mind given form and independent thought. Certainly this was a clever, innovative idea. Reading issue #309 with the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that Mantlo sprinkled the dialogue with a number of hints as to the true identity of the Triad.
Mantlo really broke a lot of ground with his run on Incredible Hulk. Having already given us an intelligent Hulk, he has now exiled the jade giant from Earth and begun to embark on an examination of Bruce Banner’s psychological background. A cursory glance at the Hulk stories that have been written in the decades since readily demonstrates just how much this influenced subsequent writers.
This issue’s artwork was absolutely incredible. The thing that really struck me was the depiction of the Hulk by Buscema & Talaoc. Obviously in other comic books and in cartoons the Hulk had always been a big, strong creature. But this was the first time I had ever seen him drawn as such a huge, bestial, imposing figure.
The depictions of the Crossroads and the desert planet that the Hulk and his strange companions visited were very vivid and detailed. Buscema did a great job on the pencils, crafting these alien environments. And the inking by Talaoc was absolutely superb. He created a tangible atmosphere of oddness for the Crossroads. On the desolate world, his embellishments bring to life a harsh landscape that alternates between cutting winds and a brutal sun.
Buscema stated in the Fast & Furious book that Gerry Talaoc was one of his favorite inkers to work with…
“Gerry Talaoc was a terrific draughtsman and… he drew better than I did. He probably still does. [laughs] And the look of the book was great. I loved what he did. To me the final product was what counted.”
I agree that Buscema and Talaoc went together exceptionally well. Talaoc really enhanced Buscema’s penciling without overpowering it.
Eight years ago I found out that Gerry Talaoc was retired and living in Alaska. I was able to mail a few comic books to him to get signed, and I made certain that The Incredible Hulk #309 was one of them.
On the letters page of The Incredible Hulk #309 editor Carl Potts revealed that this was Sal Buscema’s final regular issue penciling the series, ending his nearly decade-long run. I don’t recall if this meant anything to me back then, since I was just a kid and really wasn’t paying attention to the credits.
Years later, though, I would learn about the behind the scenes circumstances that led to Sal Buscema’s departure from The Incredible Hulk. Buscema and Bill Mantlo, who came on as writer with issue #245, had initially gotten along very well. Regrettably though, as Buscema recounted in Fast & Furious, after several years Mantlo started becoming much more hands-on and demanding in regards to the artwork & storytelling, requesting that Buscema draw pages in certain ways…
“What [Mantlo] was asking for was not good. I didn’t care for it at all, and I have to trust my judgment, because I’m the artist and he’s not. I hate to be this blunt about it, but the fact of the matter is that in many cases where Bill described what he wanted he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not an artist, because he had no concept – and I do not mean that derogatorily, but simply as a statement of fact – of the relationship of one object to another in a given space. He would ask me to draw things that were impossible to draw.”
Buscema reluctantly asked Marvel Comics to take him off The Incredible Hulk. It’s an unfortunate end to his historic run. Nevertheless, looking at his penciling for issue #309, it is apparent, to me at least, that Buscema was doing high-quality work on the series right up until his departure.
By 1985 it had become a bit easier for me to buy comic books. So fortunately I was able to pick up most the next several issues of the series.
Mike Mignola came onboard as the new penciler. A few issues later the entire team of Mantlo, Mignola & Talaoc relocated to the pages of Alpha Flight. After brief stints by John Byrne and Al Milgrom, The Incredible Hulk gained a new writer, Peter David, who had a lengthy, brilliant run that has some of its roots in Mantlo’s work.
Looking back on Mantlo’s run on The Incredible Hulk, it was innovative and exciting. Despite the difficulties he had working with Mantlo towards the end, the artwork by Buscema was superb. In 2012 a good portion of the Mantlo & Buscema run, issues #269 to #313, was collected in, appropriately enough, a triad of trade paperbacks: Pardoned, Regression and Crossroads.
From my recollection, the point at which Sal Buscema’s artwork really began to stand out in my mind was when he became the regular artist on Spectacular Spider-Man in 1988. His work on that series was outstanding. And so, when I later ended up looking back at those two issues of The Incredible Hulk that I had picked up as a kid, I now realized they had been penciled by Our Pal Sal, which only increased my appreciation for them. It’s great to re-examine them and really absorb the incredible skill Buscema displays with his dynamic layouts & storytelling. Just check out the action, energy and drama on display above, on page 20 of The Incredible Hulk #285.
I definitely recommend purchasing Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist. It is still available from TwoMorrows Publishing.
Credit where credit is due: The format of this piece was partly inspired by Alan Stewart’s entertaining and informative blog Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books. Hey, as the saying goes, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best! You can read Alan’s entries on Sal Buscema, which so far look back at some of his work from the late 1960s and early 70s. And if Alan keeps blogging (and I certainly hope he does) perhaps in another six or so years he’ll be discussing Our Pal Sal’s work on The Incredible Hulk.
In conclusion, I want to wish a very happy 85th birthday to Sal Buscema, and thank him for the many great, enjoyable comic books he’s worked on over the decades.
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.
Welcome to the tenth Comic Book Coffee collection. I’ve been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee. I’m hoping to do 100 of these entries on FB, which means we’re halfway there.
46) Frank Miller & Klaus Janson
Here’s a coffee-drinking cover, courtesy of penciler Frank Miller and inker Klaus Janson. This is for Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15, written by Denny O’Neil, lettered by Jim Novak, and colored by Bob Sharon, published by Marvel Comics in September 1981.
I know sometimes covers are designed by people other than the credited penciler, although I cannot find any info to that effect for this one. Regardless, whether it was Frank Miller himself or someone else, this is an incredibly striking image. The reader is seeing through the eyes of Doctor Octopus as he drinks his morning coffee and reads the Daily Bugle’s account of the latest battle between Spider-Man and the Punisher.
In the last couple of decades, what with the proliferation of ninjas, prostitutes, racism and Goddamn Batmen in his stories, it is easy to forget what made Miller such a well-regarded creator in the first place. Looking through this Annual recently, I was reminded what an absolutely incredible storyteller he can be. Miller’s layouts for this story are astonishing. He does a hell of a job showing Doctor Octopus making full, creative, deadly use of his mechanical tentacles.
The inks / finishes by Klaus Janson in this Annual are very effective. Janson’s inking has always been wonderfully well-suited to creating moody atmospheres. His artistic collaborations with Miller, here and on the ongoing Daredevil series, are certainly well-regarded.
47) Michele Witchipoo
Here’s a page from the Psycho Bunny story “Summer of COVID19” written & drawn by Michele Witchipoo, which is currently on Webtoon.
Psycho Bunny is a misanthropic, foul-mouthed, alcoholic rabbit who lives in Queens, NYC. He been featured in a series of self-published comic books created by Witchipoo over the past 15 years. This latest story sees Psycho Bunny dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, and the accompanying insanity, in his own rage-filled way.
On this page Psycho Bunny is at his job at Any Company Inc, stuck listening to his annoying co-worker Bill the Badger, who thinks COVID-19 is a hoax. Glancing around to make sure the coast is clear, Psycho Bunny slips out an airplane bottle…
“The manager isn’t around. Gonna sneak some booze into this shitty coffee.”
Yes, Michele is my girlfriend. I may be biased, but I think she is a very talented artist. She has self-published a number of comic books, and her work has been included in several small press anthologies. Michele’s illustrations were first published in 2010 by MTV Press.
“Psycho Bunny: Summer of COVID19” can be viewed at the link below. Stay tuned for future installments.
Avengers #246, penciled by Al Milgrom, inked by Joe Sinnott, written by Roger Stern, lettered by Jim Novak, and colored by Christie Scheele, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1984 cover date.
Al Milgrom shows off his strong storytelling chops on this page featuring the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. Inking is by Joe Sinnott, his third appearance in this Comic Book Coffee series. For many years Sinnott was a much in-demand embellisher at Marvel. I enjoyed the work Milgrom and Sinnott did together. They were a solid art team.
During a meeting at the White House, the Vision attempts to convince the President that the Avengers should report directly to the Oval Office. This is all part of the Vision’s plan for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to gain more power & responsibility, with the final secret goal of the Vision himself assuming control of the world.
The Vision now seeks to establish himself as a “man of the people” with whom the public is comfortable. In order to make his profile more public, he and the Scarlet Witch are returning to New York not by Avengers Quinjet but by commercial airliner.
To the Scarlet Witch’s surprise, the Vision orders drinks from the stewardess. “My wife will have tea with lemon, and I’ll take coffee… cream, no sugar!” This prompts another passenger to remark, “’Ey, how about that? The Vizh takes his coffee the same way I do!” A satisfied Vision thinks to himself “Perfect! Just the reaction I wanted!” Yep, the Vision certainly understands him human psychology!
All of this leaves the Scarlet Witch bewildered. “He never drinks coffee! What is going on?” I don’t know if Roger Stern intended this to be a deliberate reference, but this scene always reminds me of the 1980 disaster parody movie Airplane!
49) Frank Turner & Bill Black
Femforce #44, penciled & inked by Frank Turner, written by Bill Black, and lettered by Tim Twonky, published by AC Comics in December 1991.
Let’s take another look at Femforce. Having been exposed to a flawed version of the chemical compound that originally gave Ms. Victory her powers, the Femforce team leader was transformed into the anti-social bad girl Rad. Breaking away from Femforce, Rad led a wild, hedonistic lifestyle.
Rad recently lost a bundle in Atlantic City, and so reluctantly agrees to create a youth formula for a wealthy woman who promises to pay her a fortune. What Rad does not realize is that the elderly lady and her assistant are actually Lady Luger and Fritz Von Voltzman, who she fought as Ms. Victory back during World War II. The Nazi war criminals are plotting to duplicate the chemical, and they slip Rad a drugged cup of coffee to incapacitate her.
Frank Turner got his start in the mid 1980s working for black & white independent companies Graphik Publikations, Eternity and Malibu. In the early 1990s he drew a number of stories for AC Comics, as well as a few jobs for Millenium Publications, doing some very nice work at both companies. I certainly liked the art he did for Femforce. Turner then worked for Marvel between 1992 and 1994 as an inker on several different titles.
New Mutants volume 2 #13 penciled by Khary Randolph, inked by Rich Perotta, written by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir, lettered by Dave Sharpe, and colored by Ian Hannin & Rob Ro, published by Marvel Comics with a June 2004 cover date.
The second New Mutants series saw the original team becoming teachers and Xavier’s School, instructing a new generation of young mutants in the use of their powers & abilities. This final issue of volume two served as a bookend to the debut of the New Mutants in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 two decades earlier.
Donald Pierce, the cyborg terrorist who was the original team’s very first adversary way back when, has returned. Pierce and his new team of mutant-hating Reavers arrive in Salem Center NY planning to eliminate Josh Foley, a teenager who worked with them before he learned he was a mutant, along with any other students at Xavier’s School that they can set their sights on.
Encountering Cannonball, Mirage, Karma, Wolfbane and Sunspot, the original line-up, a bloodthirsty Pierce gloats that the last time they met he nearly killed them. However, this time the former students handily defeat Pierce and the Reavers, showing just how much they’ve grown in the years since.
DeFilippis & Weir do a good job with the downtime scenes that were a hallmark of the original series. Prior to Pierce’s attack, the reunited original class head to The Grind Stone coffee shop to touch base and catch up. Sunspot, the incurable ladies man Roberto DaCosta, just cannot help flirting with Luna, an attractive barista at The Grind Stone, leading Karma to playfully slap him upside the head. Randolph & Perotta do a wonderful job illustrating the fun, comedic moments of this scene.
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.
Tonight is Super Bowl LIV (that’s 54 for you non-Roman types) between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs… and I’m not watching. Sorry, but football is not my thing. I’ve never been able to figure out the rules of the game, no matter how often I try to watch it. Besides, I have always found the Super Bowl a real test of endurance, given that it’s a 60 minute game stretched out to four hours by innumerable commercial breaks and a typically-vapid halftime shop.
Also, I am soooo not a fan of the NFL, who have continually tried their hardest to push aside Colin Kaepernick for protesting racial injustice & police brutality, but who are more than happy to make Michael Vick a Pro Bowl caption, in spite of his conviction for running a dog-fighting ring. Add to that the whole dealing with pot-smokers more harshly than wife-beaters, and the attempts to sweep traumatic brain injuries under the rug, and I have little use for the NFL. No wonder the rest of the world plays soccer instead!
And now that I have probably managed to get the entirety of football-loving America violently angry at me, let me welcome everyone to another installment of my occasional feature It Came From the 1990s. This is where I take a look back at various odd, unusual or noteworthy comic books that were published during that decade. Since today is Super Bowl Sunday, hey, I might as well cast my glance at NFL SuperPro #6. Published by Marvel Comics, it inadvertently became one of the most controversial comic books of the 1990s.
What was NFL SuperPro about? I’m a bit lazy, so I’m just going to quote Wikipedia here:
“NFL SuperPro was a short-lived comic book series published by Marvel Comics, centered on Phil Grayfield, an ex National Football League (NFL) player who survives a freak accident and wears a near-indestructible football uniform. Produced in collaboration with the NFL and written by Fabian Nicieza and artist Jose Delbo, the series started publication in 1991 and ended after 12 issues.”
The character made his debut in the NFL SuperPro Super Bowl Edition special released by Marvel in January 1991. Probably the most noteworthy aspect of this book is the painted cover by the incredible Joe Jusko, which can be seen above. I supposed it’s a toss-up over which was a career highlight for Jusko, painting this cover or the one he did for the Nightcat special.
(Okay, in all seriousness, this is a good reminder that when you are a freelance artist, even one as acclaimed as Jusko, you sometimes need to take on assignments that are a bit, um, unusual, because at the end of the day it’s money in the bank. Ditto for everyone else who worked on NFL SuperPro, and who were just trying to pay their bills.)
Several months after the Super Bowl Edition an ongoing NFL SuperPro series was launched which, as indicated above, lasted for a year. And that brings us to issue #6, cover-dated March 1992.
“The Kachinas Sing of Doom” was written by Buzz Dixon, penciled by Jose Delbo, inked by Mike DeCarlo, lettered by Janice Chiang and colored by Evelyn Stein. The cover was penciled by Rob Tokar & Ron Frenz, with inks by the legendary Joe Sinnott.
Phil Grayfield, in his role as a sports journalist, is doing a story about ice skating champion Laura Eagle when she is attacked by a trio costumed as Hopi kachina figures. The kachninas, who are armed with such ridiculous weapons as nunchucks and a chainsaw, are ostensibly after Laura because she has turned her back on the Hopi to become an athlete in the “white man’s world.” However, in a twist straight out of Scooby Doo, the kachinas are actually a group of non-Indians in the employ of corrupt businessman Tyler Gaunt. Gaunt has his thugs dress up as kachinas in an attempt to discredit a group of Hopi political activists led by Laura’s sister who are opposed to Gaunt opening a casino on their tribal lands.
When this issue was published the real-world Hopi tribe was reportedly very unhappy, and found it offensive. This almost certainly had to do with the villains dressing as kachinas, which are important figures in the Hopi’s faith. Even though in this story the kachinas were unmasked as Caucasian villains, it seems likely that, given how frequently Native Americans have been poorly depicted in American popular culture over the decades, the Hopi were just annoyed at elements of their culture & faith being appropriated. Or perhaps they didn’t like the idea of Laura having traumatic childhood memories of the kachina ceremonies.
As per both the Recalled Comics website and Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed on Comic Book Resources, Marvel responded to the Hopi’s complaints by pulling the comic from sale. However, by the time they made the decision the next issue had already shipped to stores, rendering the whole thing a bit meaningless.
By the way, one of the aspects of NFL SuperPro that was often derided by readers was that Phil Grayfield was, to quote Buzz Dixon, “certainly not the sharpest crayon in the box.” That can certainly be witnessed in this scene from issue #6…
*Shakes head sadly* Oh, Phil, what are we going to do with you… well, other than bring your comic book to a merciful end in another six issues?
At one point The Chicago Sports Review described NFL SuperPro as “perhaps the worst comic book ever created,” although I don’t think it’s nearly as deserving of such hyperbolic vitriol as some other comics which were more risible or embarrassing. All these years later I think most comic book fans look back upon it with a shrug of bemusement.
Still, if you were to choose one image to perfectly sum up NFL SuperPro, well, this panel from issue #10 certainly does the trick…
Believe me, Phil, we’re all asking exactly the same thing!
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.