Well, okay, I found it interesting; your mileage may vary.
One of the pieces of original comic book artwork in the exhibit was the splash page for the Giant-Man and Wasp story “Now Walks the Android” from Tales to Astonish#61, published by Marvel Comics with a November 1964 cover date.
The credited artists on this story were penciler Steve Ditko and inker George Roussos, the later working under the pseudonym “George Bell” so as not to raise the ire of his primary employer DC Comics.
However, there was a third artist involved in the creation of this story: Joe Orlando.
Joe Orlando had been one of the primary artists at EC Comics in the 1950s, working on both their iconic science fiction, horror & crime anthologies and the wildly successful Mad magazine. In the later half of the 1950s he drew several Classic Illustrated adaptations. Beginning in 1966 Orlando was an important artistic & editorial presence at DC Comics, where he remained until he passed away in December 1998 at the age of 71.
In 1964, shortly before he landed at DC Comics, Orlando did some work for writer / editor Stan Lee at the burgeoning Marvel Comics. It was, unfortunately, not an ideal match.
Longtime Marvel Comics editor and comic book historian Tom Brevoort details the behind-the-scenes problems that plagued Orlando’s short stint at Marvel in general, and the production difficulties of Tales to Astonish #61 in particular, on his excellent blog. I recommend reading Brevoort’s thorough examination of the subject…
In short, while Stan Lee’s “Marvel Method” of giving the penciler a brief plot of a few short paragraphs and then having him go off to draw a full 20 page story based on that, or even having the penciler do the plotting all on his own, led to some great, now-classic stories, it was not without its hiccups. Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby both excelled at working in the “Marvel Method” but eventually both of them chaffed at the system and left Marvel to look for opportunities to write, draw & edit stories solo. John Romita, Herb Trimpe and Gene Colan all enjoyed the “Marvel Method” of creating comic books, and went on to be major artistic presences at Marvel after Ditko and Kirby departed.
But other artists found the “Marvel Method” difficult to work in, or were unhappy at having to do uncredited (and unpaid) writing, especially as Stan Lee would then appear to readers to be the sole writer on the comic books. That was definitely the case with Joe Orlando, who was an extremely talented artist. His experience at Marvel in 1964 demonstrated that he was much more comfortable working from full scripts.
So what does this tell us? Well, it is a good demonstration that there is no “one size fits all” approach to creating comic books. An approach that works well for some writers and artists may be a complete failure for others.
It also demonstrates that, behind the scenes, the creation of comic books was often times a difficult, unglamorous, poorly-paying profession. And I say this not to demonize anyone in particular, but to raise an awareness of the realities the industry in general, and to help bring about a more accurate understanding of the medium’s history.
Whatever the case, Tales to Astonish #61 offers an interesting example of the sometimes tortured, laborious realities of comic book production.
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 by Comic Book Historians group moderator Jim Thompson: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject.
I chose “coffee” for my subject. From the work of how many different artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee? I guess we will just have to see. I posted these daily on Facebook, and now I’m collecting them together here. (Please click on the “coffee” tag to read the previous parts of the series.)
21) John Buscema & John Romita
The art team of penciler John Buscema and inker John Romita join with scripter Stan Lee to tug on those heartstrings in “I Love Him – But He’s Hers!” This tale of torrid passions appeared in Our Love Story #2, published by Marvel Comics with a December 1969 cover date.
With her father having died unexpectedly and her brother serving in Vietnam, young Anne must work as a waitress to pay for college. Anne’s difficult circumstances are constantly rubbed in her face by her rich snob doom roommate Cynthia. Soon cruel Cynthia ups her taunts by showing off her handsome boyfriend at every opportunity. “This is Art Nelson, little woman – and he’s all mine! So you may look — but don’t touch!” Anne is, of course, instantly attracted to Art, but she dares not make a move, fearful of Cynthia’s temper. Cynthia’s taunts eventually back fire on her as Art, realizing what a horrid person she actually is, dumps her for the sweet, down-to-Earth Anne.
John Buscema has been referred to as “the Michelangelo of comics.” He was incredibly talented, one of the top artists at Marvel Comics for three decades, from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. Buscema was, however, not actually fond of drawing super-heroes, something he admitted to on several occasions throughout the years. He much preferred drawing Conan the Barbarian to any of Marvel’s spandex-clad crimefighters.
Given his dislike for super-heroes, perhaps he saw romance stories as a refreshing change of pace. It definitely drew on one of Buscema’s strengths, namely his ability to render beautiful women. He certainly does a damn fine job on this splash page, drawing Anne waitressing in a coffeehouse populated by a colorful crowd of hip java-drinkers.
Of course, Buscema was also vocal about his dislike for most of the inkers / finishers he was paired with, as he felt most of them overwhelmed his work with their own styles. So we can only guess how he felt about being inked by John Romita on Marvel’s romance stories, especially as the later’s style is very much in evidence.
Having acknowledged all that, from my perspective as a reader, this really looks stunning. I feel the combination of the two Johns results in a deft, effective blending of their signature styles.
A big “thank you” to colorist supreme José Villarrubia, who spotlighted this page on his FB feed.
22) Ron Frenz & Sal Buscema
Amazing Spider-Girl #15, penciled by Ron Frenz, inked by Sal Buscema, written by Tom DeFalco & Ron Frenz, lettered by Dave Sharpe, and colored by Bruno Hang, published by Marvel Comics, cover-dated February 2008.
Her name is May “Mayday” Parker, and she is the daughter of Spider-Man.
Yes, it’s a “Mayday” post, which would have been absolutely perfect for May 1st. Instead I posted this on FB on May 2nd. Oops. As the man used to say, “Missed it by THAT much!”
AHEM! Spider-Girl is the daughter of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, from a reality where their newborn baby was rescued from the clutches of the diabolical Norman Osborn. Now a teenager, Mayday has inherited both her father’s powers and sense of responsibility. Assuming the identity of Spider-Girl, Mayday attempts to fight crime and save innocent lives while juggling high school classes, an active social life, and a pair of parents who are understandably very concerned that their daughter is following in her father’s web-swinging footsteps.
Spider-Girl is the little comic book that could. Originally making her debut in a one-off story by DeFalco & Frenz in What If #105 (Feb 1998), Mayday graduated to her own ongoing series just a few months later. DeFalco, first paired with penciler Pat Olliffe, and later reunited with Frenz, did a great job developing Mayday and her supporting cast. Spider-Girl gained a relative small but very enthusiastic fanbase and ran for 100 issues, followed by Amazing Spider-Girl, which lasted another 30 issues. Mayday then migrated to several issues of Spider-Man Family and Web of Spider-Man, and then a Spectacular Spider-Girl miniseries, with DeFalco & Frenz bringing her story to a close with the Spider-Girl: The End special in October 2010. Of course, that was still not the curtain for Mayday, who has continued to pop up here and there. You can’t keep a good Spider-Girl down!
Mayday and her friends often hung out at Café Indigo, a coffee shop in Forest Hills, Queens. As per Ron Frenz:
“Café Indigo was introduced by Pat Olliffe, as a tribute to his wife’s architectural design business at the time.”
In Amazing Spider-Girl #15 the gang gathers at Café Indigo to welcome back their pal Moose, who had to move away for several months due to his father’s illness. Frenz does a great job with this sequence, giving it moments of both characterization and comedy. I love the facial expressions. Frenz is such a strong storyteller, as this page demonstrates.
Inking is provided by the legendary Sal Buscema, who has been working with Frenz regularly since 2003. They make a great art team.
23) Bill Sienkiewicz & Klaus Janson
May 3rd was artist Bill Sienkiewicz’s birthday. To celebrate the occasion, I took a look at two coffee-themed pages of artwork by Sienkiewicz featuring Moon Knight.
The first page is from the Moon Knight back-up story in the The Hulk magazine #17, penciled by Sienkiewicz, inked by Klaus Janson, written by Doug Moench, and colored by Olyoptics, published by Marvel Comics with an October 1979 cover date. The second page is from Moon Knight #23, drawn by Sienkiewicz, written by Moench, lettered by Joe Rosen, and colored by Christie Scheele, with a September 1982 cover date.
On the first page we have Moon Knight stopping in at Gena’s Diner, the Manhattan coffee shop he frequents while sniffing out info on illegal activities in his guise of cabbie Jake Lockley. Sienkiewicz was only 21 years old when he drew this story. His work here definitely brings to mind Neal Adams, who Sienkiewicz has cited as a major influence.
Even with the obvious stylistic similarities, we can see that Sienkiewicz was already starting to utilize some interesting layouts in his storytelling. Janson’s inking goes well with Sienkiewicz’s style here, giving it a grittier edge that suits Moench’s writing.
On the second page we have Moon Knight, Frenchie, Marlene and her brother Peter having fled to Maine in the dead of winter, hiding out in an isolated house in the woods Moon Knight owns in his Steven Grant persona. They are fleeing from Moon Knight’s old foe Morpheus, the so-called “Dream Demon” who has the ability to possess people in their sleep, and to create horrifying nightmares. In order to stay awake and prevent Mopheus from controlling them Moon Knight and the others are gulping down copious amounts of black coffee.
Morpheus utilizes his psychic connection to Peter to learn their location. He invades the house and seizes control of both Marlene and Peter. Moon Knight and Frenchie are unaware of any of this, as they are busy trying to rig up a generator in the basement as a defense against Morpheus. Marlene comes down to join them, ostensibly to bring them some much-needed coffee. Too late they realize that Marlene is now in Morpheus’ thrall. Eyes ablaze with madness, Marlene strikes a match and tosses it onto the generator, with explosive results.
This issue of Moon Knight was drawn by Sienkiewicz only three years after that story in The Hulk magazine and, WHOA, what a difference! Sienkiewicz’s work grew by absolute leaps and bounds in that short period of time. This page is a really good illustration of how much he developed. His work has become very stylized and atmospheric. His layouts are striking, and he utilizes inking and zip-a-tone to superb effect. You can see here that Sienkiewicz has begun his evolution to the stunning abstract artwork that he would soon be creating in the mid 1980s.
Credit must also go to the coloring by Christie Scheele on this story. Her work complements Sienkiewicz’s art so very well.
24) Wallace Wood
This artwork is from the story “The Probers” in Weird Science #8, drawn by Wallace Wood, written by Al Feldstein & Bill Gaines, lettered by Jim Wroten, and colored by Marie Severin, published by EC Comics with a July-August 1951 cover date. I scanned this from the hardcover The EC Archives: Weird Science Volume Two, issued in 2007 by Russ Cochran and Gemstone Publishing.
Growing up in the early 1980s, I discovered the classic EC Comics via reprints. I was never overly fond of EC’s horror titles, since I found the pun-slinging hosts sort of cheesy. But I was absolutely enthralled by the sci-fi stories in Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, with their insightful examinations of the human condition, their grimly ironic twist endings, and their realistic, detailed artwork. Looking back on these, I realize that many of the EC stories that made the biggest impression on my young self were those drawn by Wallace Wood.
Wood, known to his friends as “Woody” (reportedly he disliked being called “Wally”), was an absolutely incredible artist, with his intricately detailed spaceships & technology, bizarre aliens, and stunningly beautiful women. Wood is rightfully remembered for his brilliant work, and the word “classic” is deservedly used to describe the stories he drew for EC.
“The Probers” is a typical EC tale of cosmic karma. Interestingly the story takes nearly a page detour to showcase young Lawrence Cavips’s futile attempt to drink coffee in outer space. Captain Scott provides us with a demonstration of the correct way do things, using a straw to sip up the free-floating bubbles of coffee. Scott guesses this must be Cavip’s first mission, which the young man confirms, telling him “Right! I just graduated two months ago!”
What? Just graduated? Cavip went to Astronaut Academy (or whatever they call it) and no one there bothered to explain to him the behavior of liquids in zero gravity? What are they teaching kids these days? Ehh, the young punk was probably slacking off, too busy hanging out with girls and listening to that newfangled rock & roll. Why in my day…
25) Gilbert Shelton
“I Led Nine Lives!” written & drawn by Gilbert Shelton, appeared in the underground comic The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers #3 published by Rip Off Press in 1973. It was reprinted in Fat Freddy’s Cat #1, released by Rip Off Press in 1988.
The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers are a trio of San Francisco potheads: Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek, Phineas T. Phreak and Fat Freddy Freekowtski. Fat Freddy has an orange tabby cat, the so-called “Fat Freddy’s Cat,” although the cat is (unsurprisingly) much smarter than his human, and often poops on Freddy’s possessions, especially if he’s late getting fed.
Fat Freddy’s Cat occasionally recounts his supposed adventures to his three nephews, and “I Led Nine Lives!” he regales them with his time as F. Frederick Skitty, federal agent. Skitty is assigned by “the Chief” to stop a nefarious plot to poison the nation’s water supply with a drug nicknamed “Hee Hee Hee.” When asked what exactly “Hee Hee Hee” does, the Chief gravely replies “It turns you queer!”
Skitty parachutes into to the mountain headquarters of the “Hee Hee Hee” manufacturers. After accidentally shooting up the nudist colony next door, Skitty confronts the flamboyant terrorists, who inform them that he is too late, because “We already mixed the drug in the nation’s coffee supply!” Skitty guns down the terrorists and races back to Washington DC to warn everyone, only to find the Chief already drinking his morning coffee and softly giggling “Hee Hee Hee” to himself. Skitty shoots the Chief, reasoning “It was my patriotic duty.” He then realizes that by now everyone else in the country has probably also had coffee. “So I shot myself, too” he tells his nephews. However he quickly assures them that everything turned out fine because “I still had eight more lives.”
Of course that extra-long nose we see Fat Freddy’s Cat sporting in the last panel hints that perhaps his thrilling account might not have been entirely accurate, to say the least!
I scanned this from my girlfriend Michele Witchipoo’s copy of Fat Freddy’s Cat #1. She was probably my intro to Gilbert Shelton. Michele is very much into independent and underground comics, and she’s broadened my knowledge & interests considerably.
The challenge by Comic Book Historians group moderator Jim Thompson: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject until May 1st (if not longer).
I chose “coffee” for my subject. From the work of how many different artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee? I guess we will just have to see. I posted these daily on Facebook, and I’m now collecting them together here on my blog. Click here to read Part One.
6) Jaime Hernandez
Day Six’s superbly-illustrated page comes from Love and Rockets volume 2 #9 by Jaime Hernandez, published by Fantagraphics, cover-dated Fall 2003.
Brothers Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez have been writing & drawing their creator-owned series Love and Rockets since 1981, taking only a short break from 1996 to 2001. Jaime and Gilbert both introduced interesting, well-developed, genuinely compelling casts of characters in their portions of the series.
One of Jaime Hernendez’s lead characters is Margarita Luisa “Maggie” Chascarrillo, a woman of Mexican American heritage who grew up in southern California. Love and Rockets takes place in real time, and over the past four decades readers have seen Maggie progress from a teenager to adulthood to middle age. “The Ghost of Hoppers” ran through the first 10 issues of volume two. Maggie, at this point now in her late 30s, is an apartment manager in San Fernando. A visit from her old friend Izzy is followed by Maggie experiencing strange, eerie visions. In this chapter Maggie (who is nicknamed “Perla” by her relatives) pays a visit to the old neighborhood to see her sister Esther’s family. Over after-dinner coffee Maggie hears the latest gossip about Izzy’s spooky old house, which naturally worries her, given recent occurrences.
Love and Rockets is a soap opera, but both Jaime and Gilbert have regularly ventured into magical realism with their stories. The events in “The Ghost of Hoppers” are framed in such a manner that the reader can to decide if all of this weirdness is genuinely occurring, or if Maggie is merely imagining it all.
Whatever the case, “The Ghost of Hoppers” was another intriguing, moving installment in Jaime Hernandez’s long-running storyline.
7) Paul Pelletier & Romeo Tanghal
Green Lantern #66 by penciler Paul Pelletier & inker Romeo Tanghal, from DC Comics, cover-dated September 1995.
So, as someone who read these issues when they were coming out, I’ll put my cards on the table: No, I did NOT like that Hal Jordan went insane and destroyed the Green Lantern Corps, and no, I did NOT like that the new Green Lantern’s girlfriend Alex DeWitt was murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator. Those two admittedly major things aside, I actually liked Kyle Rayner, and I felt that writer Ron Marz did a good job developing the character over several years.
After Alex’s death, Kyle moved from Los Angeles to New York City, renting an apartment in Greenwich Village, presumably pre-gentrification. Kyle’s landlord Radu had a coffee shop on the ground floor, and Kyle was a frequent customer, since in addition to the super-hero thing he was a freelance artist, and between those two jobs he definitely needed his regular caffeine fix!
Kyle soon became involved with the former Wonder Girl herself, Donna Troy. Nevertheless, being young and a bit immature, Kyle unfortunately still had a bit of a wandering eye, as we see here when he meets his neighbor, a model named Allison.
I’m not sure which one is stronger, Radu’s cappuccino or Allison’s approach to chatting up guys. “You should invite me up sometime. Love to see what you do… you know, your etchings and things.” Oh, man, that’s right up there with “It’s the plumber. I’ve come to clean your pipes.” 🤣
Pelletier is a good penciler. I’ve always enjoyed his work, and thought he should be a bigger name in comic books. As we see here, he certainly knows how to lay out a “talking heads” scene in an interesting manner. Of course, it does help when one of your characters is a sexy gal.
8) Michael Lark
Gotham Central #6 by Michael Lark, from DC Comics, cover-dated June 2003.
Gotham Central, which was co-written by Ed Brubaker & Greg Rucka, successfully walked the line of being a serious police procedural in the vein of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels and the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street while being set in a city where a vigilante who dresses as a bat regularly fights a rogues gallery of insane costumed criminals. I admired Brubaker & Rucka for deftly straddling genres during Gotham Central’s 40 issue run as it chronicled the saga of the Major Crimes Unit’s detectives having to deal with Gotham City’s myriad super-villains, the police department’s own rampant corruption, and the interpersonal problems that resulted from having such a stressful, dangerous job.
Issue #6 is the first chapter of the five part “Half A Life” arc written by Rucka and drawn by Lark, which sees Detective Renee Montoya’s life severely upended by the duality-obsessed villain Two-Face. On this page we see Montoya, as well as Captain Maggie Sawyer, Detective Crispus Allen and Detective Marcus Driver. That’s Maggie Sawyer with the coffee pot in hand, with Driver also having a cup of java. After all, if you’re putting your life on the line in a crime-infested hellhole like Gotham, of course you’re going to rely on caffeine to get you through the day.
This is a nice page by Lark, with solid storytelling & characterization. He did superb work on this series. The dialogue by Rucka is really sharp, as well.
Hey, hey, the gangs all here… here being Day Nine’s artwork by John Romita & Mike Esposito from Amazing Spider-Man #53, published by Marvel Comics, cover-dated October 1967.
After co-creator Steve Ditko’s departure from Amazing Spider-Man a year earlier, scripter & editor Stan Lee took the series even more in the direction of soap opera. This was a good fit for the book’s new artist John Romita, who had recently come off of an eight year stint illustrating romance stories for DC Comics. Lee & Romita revealed the previously-unseen Mary Jane Watson, and began setting up a love triangle between Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker. In the 1960s there was undoubtedly many a teenage boy reading Amazing Spider-Man who fell head-over-heels in love with Romita’s gorgeous depictions of Gwen and Mary Jane.
Effectively inking Romita on this issue is Mike Esposito, using the pen name of “Mickey Demeo” as he was still working for DC at this time. Lettering is courtesy of longtime Marvel staffer Artie Simek.
Following a battle with Doctor Octopus at the science exposition, Spider-Man changes back into his civvies and heads over to The Coffee Bean with Gwen for a cup of coffee. Peter and Gwen arrive to find MJ, Flash Thompson, and Harry Osborn already present, with even Aunt May and Anna Watson popping by to say hello.
You just gotta love that sign with the skull & crossbones-ish beatnik coffee bean with beret, sunglasses & paintbrushes, accompanied by the warning “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Sounds ominous… their espresso must be extra-strong.
10) Charles Nicholas & Vince Alascia
Break out your violins and hankies, because our next entry is from Just Married #113 from Charlton Comics, cover-dated October 1976. “A Sacred Vow” is illustrated by “Nicholas Alascia,” the pen name for the long-time team of penciler Charles Nicholas and inker Vince Alascia, who drew numerous stories for Charlton. Their style was well-suited to the romance genre, and they also worked on Charlton’s horror, war and Western titles.
Young, beautiful Anne is trying to make her marriage to Gordie Barton work, but doubts are beginning to creep in…
“When we were first married, Gordie planned to take night courses at community college. Why does Gordie have to be a bookkeeper? Kevin O’Shay, upstairs, is a commercial artist… he’s interesting.”
We can tell that Kevin is an “interesting artist” because he wears a foulard & black turtleneck, and has a mustache & long-ish hair. Kevin must also be thinking about Ann, as one day when Gordie’s at work our resident artist is asking Anne if she’d like for him to pick her up something at the bakery, because there’s something he’d like to discuss with her. Anne invites Kevin back to her apartment for coffee, where the artist, spotting her coffee pot, elatedly exclaims…
“Aahh… real coffee! I always use instant coffee and I hate the stuff.”
No, Anne, don’t do it! Any man who’s too lazy to brew his own coffee is just not worth it! Especially when he comes right out and admits instant coffee is awful!
Kevin asks Anne if she will model for him, offering to pay her $20 an hour. Anne agrees, but keeps it a secret from Gordie, who she knows dislikes the artist because he feeds the stray cats outside. A week later Anne models again for Kevin. This time the artist begins putting the moves on her, declaring “You’re the most beautiful model I’ve ever had, Anne.” And with that he grabs Ann in his arms and kisses her. A shocked Ann pushes him away and flees.
Flash forward hours later and Gordie returns home to find Ann sobbing on the couch. A distraught Ann confesses her activities, and Gordie admits “Oh? I knew you’d been in his apartment. I feel like sneezing… I am allergic to cats, remember?” Anne realizes that, though she is attracted to Kevin, it is Gordie she wants to be with. Realizing that she needs to voice her earlier doubts, she tells her husband “Darling, I’d like to go back to my old job… and then we’d both take courses at night.” Gordie thinks this is a great idea.
As the story closes, Gordie casually mentions “If it’ll make any difference… I’ve seen O’Shay with at least three different girls this week! One woman will never be enough for him!”
So… Kevin O’Shay is a smooth-talking lothario who attempts to seduce married women and who is too lazy to make his own coffee. On the other hand, he does feed the local stray cats. Well, even Hitler loved animals, but we all know he was a huge @$$hole.
In all seriousness, it needs to be said that several decades ago romance comic books were a pretty big deal, and that a lot of young girls read them. This is borne out by Just Married, which Charlton had been publishing since 1958. However by 1976 the demographics of the readership had changed. Super-heroes had come to dominate the medium, and the audience was now primarily boys in their early teens. Just Married was a casualty of these changes, being cancelled just one issue after this one.
We can look back on these stories and mock them for their overwrought, melodramatic plots. Nevertheless, at least back then there was an effort by publishers to appeal to more than just adolescent males. Besides, if we’re going to be honest, if we look back on the superhero comics of our childhood years, we have to admit, a lot of those were overwrought and melodramatic, as well.
So the next time some idiot complains about female readers, just remember that for a long time girls and women did read comic books, and at long last they’ve returned to the medium. That’s a positive, because we need a growing audience, especially with the comic book industry’s current financial crisis.
By the way, I bought Just Married #113 and a few other Charlton romance comics about a decade ago for my girlfriend Michele Witchipoo because she likes the artwork on those old books. She’s also a huge Love and Rockets fan, which resulted in my somewhat casual interest in Los Bros Hernandez turning into following the series regularly.
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!
Sal Buscema is one of my favorite comic book artists. This month, November 2018, is the 50th anniversary his professional debut.
Sal is the younger brother of artist John Buscema. While he was still working on honing his craft, Sal would occasionally do uncredited background inking on John’s artwork. In 1968 Sal finally felt he was ready to enter the comic book industry on his own, and brought sample pages to Marvel Comics. He was quickly hired by editor Stan Lee.
Sal’s very first credited work for Marvel Comics was on Rawhide Kid #68, inking Larry Lieber’s pencils. According to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, this issue went on sale on November 5, 1968.
Sal’s second job also came out that month, on November 19th. Silver Surfer #4 was penciled by his brother John. It is now well-known that John was often critical of inkers, believing that only a few really knew how to do his pencils justice. He would have preferred to do full artwork, pencils and inks, but time and financial constraints often prevented this. John, from having had Sal assist him in the past, knew that his brother would do a faithful job inking his pencils on this issue.
“The Good, The Bad, and the Uncanny” features an epic confrontation between the Surfer and Thor, who have been manipulated into combat by Loki. It is often regarded as one of the high points of John’s artistic career, and from all indications he was satisfied with Sal’s inks on it, as well as on the next three issues.
Sal had initially intended to focus on inking, but he was very quickly recruited by Marvel to pencil. He was immediately thrown into the deep end, assigned the team book Avengers. His first work was penciling the cover to issue #67, and a month later did the full interior pencils for #68, paired with writer Roy Thomas and inker Sam Grainger. The issue featured the Avengers in a titanic tussle with the diabolical robot Ultron.
Sal went on to have a very successful career in comics. He worked on nearly every Marvel title published in the 1970s and 80s. Beginning in the mid 1990s he also began working for several other publishers. Sal was blessed with speed, an incredible work ethic, and a strong sense of storytelling. This meant that he could always be relied upon to turn in a quality job on time.
Although officially retired, Sal continues to work in comic books, primarily as an inker, most often paired with penciler Ron Frenz, who he has inked on numerous occasions over the past two decades, on a long run on Spider-Girl, as well as several other series. Sal is also currently working with Guy Dorian Sr. on several projects. Among these was the Rom storyline “Battle Scars” which saw Sal’s return to the cult classic Space Knight.
For a really good, informative look at Sal’s career and artwork, I highly recommend the excellent book Sal Buscema: Comics’ Fast & Furious Artist by Jim Amash with Eric Nolen-Weathington, from TwoMorrows Publishing. The cover artwork is a wonderful showcase of Sal’s dynamic artwork, an explosive illustration by Sal of the Incredible Hulk and his longtime adversary the Abomination slugging it out.
I want to offer my congratulations to Sal Buscema on creating a half century of amazing comic book artwork. He has brought enjoyment to so many readers over the past five decades, myself included. Thanks, Sal!