Year of the Artist, Day 4: Jack Kirby, Part 4 – The Fantastic Four #1
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jack Kirby, and the issue is The Fantastic Four #1, which was published by Marvel and has a cover date of November 1961. You may have heard of this issue. These scans are from Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four volume 1, my copy of which was published in 2011. Enjoy!
I’m not going to write too much about this issue, because, well, it’s The Fantastic Four #1 – I mean, it’s pretty famous. Kirby was 43 when he drew this (it was released before his 44th birthday in August 1961), and he’s in fine command of his skills. I still don’t believe he had reached his peak, art-wise – his 1970s DC and Marvel work is better than this is – but he has honed his craft quite well. I just want to check out a few things about the issue.
First up is the group, which we see here for the first time all together:
As I noted yesterday, Kirby liked his middle- to upper-class white academic types (of course, in the 1950s and 1960s, that was a common stereotype), and Reed could easily be Richard Temple from The Strange World of Your Dreams a decade later. Kirby gives Reed an odd, heavy-lidded look, one full of contempt, if you ask me. He doesn’t suffer fools like Ben Grimm lightly! I don’t even know who he’s looking at, unless he’s trying to share a sneer with the reader – “Can you believe this palooka is bothering me?” Ben is a nice contrast to Reed, as Kirby does indeed make him a bit of a palooka. His eyes are wider, making him more trustworthy, while Reed’s East Coast Liberal Elite eyes are thin and duplicitous. Ben not only has a wide nose, but Kirby makes his entire face wider, too, implying that Ben has been in his share of fights and his face has been mashed a bit. Everything about Ben is thicker, even his fingers, which makes him feel more grounded, while Reed looks like he’s going to slither away. Plus, Ben is wearing a green checked jacket, a kind of “down-to-earth” look, while Reed is wearing cool blue. Meanwhile, Sue has the high Kirby cheekbones (Johnny, the pretty boy, has them too), and that waspish waist – put down that cracker, Sue! It’s interesting how well Kirby can get across the personalities of his principals with just one drawing – even Johnny, with his sweater, shows that he’s younger than the other two. Of course, we’ve already met the characters, but if Stan Lee and Kirby had begun with this panel, it would have told us quite a bit.
(And yes, this panel directly precedes this famous one, which has to be a candidate for the greatest panel of all time, doesn’t it?)
Here’s Ben’s transformation into the Thing. Sue, who already called Ben a coward, now gives him his name. Man, Sue was a bitch in issue #1, wasn’t she? Anyway, Kirby, as we all know, made Ben much more monstrous early on than he later became, and this is a good view of that. That first image is pretty horrifying.
Finally, I love this panel of monsters that the Mole Man unleashes on the FF as they try to escape his underground lair. Kirby draws some good monsters, and this is a reminder that Marvel was hedging their bets with this comic – they had made their bones in the late 1950s with monster comics, so while they might have had plans for superheroing in Fantastic Four, they also wanted the people who were reading their monster comics to follow them to the new comic. So they put the giant monster on the cover of issue #1 and had a lot of monsters featured within.
You’ll notice the clean inks in this issue. No inker is listed, but according to the table of contents, George Klein is generally thought to be the inker of issue #1. I don’t know anything about Klein, but it’s interesting that the style is much tighter than we saw two days ago, which was a far moodier piece. I know this is a reprint, so I’m not sure how clean the inks are in the original, but if you happen to have your original copy of Fantastic Four #1 lying around, I’m sure you can check it out! I just wonder if it’s a tighter inking line because it’s a “superhero” book and therefore Lee and Kirby wanted it to be more accessible. Beats me. I just found it interesting.
So that’s the comic that changed everything. Blah blah blah, let’s move on. Tomorrow, I still want to focus on 1960s Kirby, even though I don’t own a lot of his 1960s work. More to the point, I want to show something that Kirby might not have pioneered (I don’t know if he did or not), but he made popular and acceptable in comics. Fun fun fun! In the meantime, I’ve already put up the archives, in case you haven’t been around for the first three days of the year!