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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 156: Science Comics #4

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade(s): the 1930s/1940s! Today’s page is from Science Comics #4 (a Cosmic Carson story), which was published by Fox Feature Syndicate and is cover dated May 1940. This scan is from Supermen!, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2009. Enjoy!

Wait, what's that name there? We were promised KIRBY!!!!!

For some reason, Jack Kirby used the pseudonym “Michael Griffith” early in his career (he used a lot of pseudonyms, actually, and I don’t know why; Mark Evanier probably does, but he’s not writing this, is he?), and so we get this page, which is proto-Kirby but still, in some ways, noticeably by the master. The introductory panel manages to be a static image with quite a lot of energy – the laser spelling out “Carson” is a superb touch, but the plane behind Mr. Carson draws our eye from left to right, while “Cosmic” himself is pointed that way. Kirby’s design sense is very nice – unlike a lot of artists of this time, he makes the armor and the gun actually look like something a man could wear and shoot. The struts (if we can call them that) extending from both sides of the gun harness make this far more realistic than the story might indicate. Carson’s face is well done, too – he looks joyful that he’s shooting a gun, but he’s also concentrating on the target.

In Panel 2, Kirby again shows some nice chops. The perspective of the panel helps create a nice sense of motion, as the ships hurtle from the lower left toward the upper right, drawing our eye from the caption box, which explains that it’s the “Martian night,” to the ships firing their weapons. The smoke billowing from the destroyed buildings ties the entire scene together nicely, as it and the beam from the ship helps create a kind of cross in the panel, forcing us to take in everything. In the final panel, Kirby places the caption box in the upper left, the natural falling place for our eye, so we learn that the fort has been destroyed by unknown attackers. Once again the design of the page is done well – the “V” of the glass-enclosed tube and the structure supporting it make our eye follow the people up and out of the panel and onto the next page. Kirby’s vision of the future is, naturally, very much of the 1930s/1940s model, but that’s okay – it still looks pretty cool.

Obviously, this is not the greatest work Kirby ever did, but even this early in his career (he was born in 1917), we can see how much further along he was than many of his peers, art-wise. This is a well-designed page, as Kirby makes sure we have some basic knowledge about what’s going on and that we want to turn the page. Who wouldn’t want to turn the page? It’s the King!

Next: Is this the greatest splash page in comic book history? You be the judge!!!! You can see some other groovy splash pages in the archives!

6 Comments

Of course, “Jack Kirby” is a pseudonym, too.

Why isn’t there a title called “Science Comics” on the racks today?

Michael: Well, sure, but I don’t know if he was trying out different ones and just settled with Kirby (as Evanier sort of implies in his biography) or if he decided on Kirby and then tried out some other ones.

There ought to be a place for Science Comics, but there ought to be places for a lot of different kinds of comics, too!

Couple reasons for nom-de-plumes.

1) Might be working on a house project. Just as any writer who writes Nancy Drew is going to write under Carolyn Keene.

2) Kirby was mad-prolific. To make the book look like it had more artists, he might’ve been asked to use another name for one or two of the stories. (Robert Heinlein had a similar problem early in his career. Many classic tales were written under a pseudonym so that it would appear that Astounding had more than one writer that month.)

In fact, when Kirby was at Lincoln, he drew– under different styles, no less! as Teddy, Ted Gray, Jack Curtiss, Bob Brown, and Lance Kirby, at least!

3) Simon and Kirby famously chose not to sign their work to Captain Marvel, figuring that it would not amount to much. Similarly, some of the pseudonyms might’ve been the comic book equivelant of “Alan Smithee”: allowing the artist to make a quick buck without tarnishing his “brand name.”

4. Just thought of this. Early in his career, Kirby did a lot of sidework for companies that were direct competitors to his main employer. Pseudonym would allow him to work on the side without jeopardizing his employment.

This “one artist uses several pseudonyms” seems to be less common nowadays in comics and writing but pulp era had a number of folks like this, either to hide exactly how productive they were or to preserve brand of their “own” name when doing something else (I assume there are a.g. several Harlequin writers who are not doing that under their own name).
same thing in music, I know at least one case of a singer in 30s who was so mad-prolific and popular he started to record with couple other names so the label would look like having more than just that one guy, and nowadays it is fairly common for artists to do side projects with different names (especially in electronic music field).

On that note…very nice page, it is nice to see Kirby avoiding the problem of other pages of the period, over-wordiness, but this is still definitely not decompressed comic. And good to see that Kirby designs were this impressive already this early.

To expand on the above, there were lots of reasons for Pseudonyms in that era (compiling MarkR & AS responses with them).

1. When working for multiple publishers
2. When working on a house project
3. When Ghosting for someone else
4. When you didn’t want your real name or standard pseudonym involved for quality reasons
5. Publishing restrictions (as noted by Mark, there were restrictions at most magazine publishers against more than 1 story per issue of the magazines in the era, and often additional limits on stories per year, if you weren’t a on-staff writer – and even the staff writers were using pseudonyms for more stories as well! Heinlein’s pseudonyms were done to defeat both these limits)
6. When writing in different genres (one or more name per genre)
7. To get a freelance product accepted by someone who didn’t like you (which typically lasted until a cashed/cancelled check got back to the publisher with marks that gave away your link to that job).
8. To keep family or your non-publishing “real” employer from knowing you’re working in such a “low” field as comics or pulps.
There are probably even more reasons than even these.

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