Page eleven (not shown) is a bit of a throwaway, looking not much like Kirby or even Avison, which it probably is. The layout is neither strong nor dynamic. Page twelve above, which does seem to be finished by Avison, is considerably better and at least the first half is primo Kirby in layout. Cap’s three-quarter back shot in panel two sets up a very nice machine gun panoramic scene in panel three. These are far from being Kirby finishes, but the drawings are effective. Let me repeat how much I love the colors in these comics, with their lovely lurid violets, acid greens and deep reds.
Page thirteen above looks like a strong Kirby action layout, with its plethora of leaping and hyper-extended figures throughout the area. The slugfests in panels five through seven are especially enjoyable. There is a strong compositional connection between Bucky’s uppercut in panel five and Cap’s shield slam in panel six, creating the circular movement that takes us around the two separate groups of figures. The tie up of feet at the border of the two panels brings the eye to the pile-up in panel seven.
The large first panel of page fourteen above is a border violating wonder of forced perspective that is 100% Kirby at his best. Several years ago, in a Kirby Kinetics post, I featured this panel as an example of deep space projection, so I’ll just reprint my earlier quote.
“Early comic books usually used simplistic middle ground shots with very little experimentation. Kirby, an avid film goer who studied movies for artistic techniques as well as inspiration, began to incorporate what he had seen and internalized into his earliest work. He began to design his panels for maximum impact as in this large panel from Captain America #7, circa 1942. The extreme foreground figure of the Black Toad has virtually leaped out of the page and into your face. The orthogonal lines of the room lead backward accentuating the momentum of the forwardly mobile pose of Captain America. Bucky runs behind, pushing Cap forward and the supine figures draped below give him further momentum. The fact that the vanishing point of the composition is well below the panel border also gives Cap even more upward thrust.”
The final page is somewhat average and appears to be mostly Avison. So it’s on to the next story in the following entry.
Moving on to page seven above, I see what could conceivably be a tighter Kirby layout, although many times it is difficult to tell. However, the placement of figures is fairly strong, particularly the circular arrangement of the group with Cap and Bucky in the last panel. The final drawing and inking appear to be by Avison.
Allow me to digress here and display an example of what a Kirby layout might be. The page below is a rough pencil layout that the King did for a 1966 Daredevil story to be drawn by Johnny Romita.
These are very loose sketches, establishing the plot and pacing of the story and the basic positioning of figures in the panels. A competent artist could use such guides to great advantage and still impose his own style upon the story.
This again begs the question, who is plotting these Captain America stories? My feeling has been that Kirby has predominantly initiated them with rough layouts like these above, later to be tightened by him or another artist, but some have suggested that Simon also did many of the layouts.
Now here below is something else to consider. It is a 1941 page from Pocket Comics #1 by Al Avison, in a story that would have appeared about the same time as Captain America #5.
Looking at the quality of this art, it is my opinion that Al Avison did not do much if any of the layouts for S&K’s Captain America, nor do I think that he provided much in the way of basic structural figure work for the book. I imagine that he was mostly used to tighten up Kirby, Simon or even another artist’s drawings and ink them. This apprentice learning process is how he became the much more accomplished artist that we would see after Simon and Kirby left the series.
Page eight (not shown) seems to possess little or no Kirby beyond panel one featuring Captain America. Nine shown above has a slightly better layout and more dynamic figures but some of them are ridiculously awkward, like the pitcher and batter in the last panel. Still, it does have some dynamism and could be the result of rough Kirby art. Page ten below has an even stronger flavor of Kirby kinetics displayed, with its array of leaping panel breaking figures.
Many thanks to John Morrow and Randolph Hoppe for the original Daredevil artwork.
Moving on to the second story in Captain America #7, Death Loads the Bases we see a dynamic Kirby drawn and inked splash panel above. The composition again displays Kirby’s signature knack for moving the eye around the panel in the direction that he wishes it to travel. We first see the skeletal umpire on the upper left gesturing towards the sliding figure on the right, whose diagonal position points to the black figure pitching the ball. The pitch brings us to Captain America, whose position brings our eye to the lower left sliding figure and then to the smaller inset second panel.
Page two, which I do not feature, is a fairly unremarkable layout done either by Joe Simon or Al Avison and finished by Avison perhaps with inker Sid Shores. Page three above probably has the same hands involved. We are at a baseball game, so there is an opportunity for some dynamic figure work, but it is not primo stuff. We are not getting much Kirby for our money folks. Skipping to page five below, we see a bit of classic Kirby in the layouts and some of the Captain America poses. The nicest bit is the juxtaposition between the action in panels four and five.
Panel seven, featuring Bucky tackling the Toad is also a nice piece of action. Kirby uses the back shot with extended leg twice on this page. Yet, even these are not tight Kirby drawings and they are finished by Avison competently, but not with any great display of skill. As usual, one wishes that there was a good deal more Kirby.
Page six below has a weaker layout, and probably not much is done here by Kirby. Panels one through five have some his fluidity of movement in the figures, but they are not finished well , and the remainder of the page is considerably weaker.
Page nine which I will skip looks like it could be a Joe Simon layout with Avison pencils and inks. Page ten above seems to have more Kirby in it, with panel one having a strong sense of forced perspective featuring Cap and Bucky crashing through the door. Panel two uses a composition that Greg Theakston dubbed the big O, which is the circular use of figures or objects that bring the eye around the canvas and in this case to the focus on Cap and Bucky.
Panel six has the dynamic jolt of Cap’s right cross to the Skull’s head, with the hero’s back and legs in a pose that could only be initiated by the King. Cap’s figure in panel eight also looks to me like a KIrby drawing. Much of the finished pencils and inking again appear to be Avison’s.
The first panel of page eleven above is another fantastic Kirby composition, with fighting and flying figures weaving wonderfully across the expanse.There is a cool example of the orange suited figure flying out of the panel and into your lap.
The remainder of the page looks to be JK’s layout, or loose drawing again finished and inked by Avison. Panel three is the only one that looks really clumsily executed and may have been finished from a really loose Kirby sketch, or even drawn by someone else.
Page twelve again looks like something that Kirby had little or anything to do with. Even the Captain America figures lack his panache, but it looks to me like Avison is involved somewhere.
Page thirteen above is a trifle better, but panel two is the only one that has much life in its conception. Neither the drawing or the inking look much like the work of Al Avison either. The story doesn’t end with much of a bang, but with a whimper. Movin’ on
Page six of Captain America #7 above carries on with fairly tight Kirby layouts in at least the first three panels, although the corpse in panel one is a bit dodgy. It appears as if Kirby focuses most of his attention on the main characters with tighter drawings and leaves the lesser cast to subordinates. Panel three’s composition with the Skull about to cut a deadly weight loose is a nice use of space, but the Cap and Bucky figures in panel five could have been better rendered. The Skull on the catwalk in panel seven is also strongly composed, but panel eight is sketchy again, so we continue with the typical uneven treatment this series has become known for. Again, it looks like Avison is doing most of the finishes and he or someone else, Simon perhaps is doing some of the layouts. Still, to me the composition of the page mostly says Kirby, with its use of gestures and objects to direct the eye.
There is a bit more action on page seven above and the poses look Kirby-esque. The transition from the first panel where Cap and Bucky are airborne to the second where the Skull/stagehand is running have that definite sense of animator continuity that Kirby was famous for. Also particularly nice is the roundhouse shield bash in panel five. There are definite Avison finishes here, as seen in details such as Cap’s kneecaps in panels four and five. The last three panels deteriorate artistically, and it almost seems as if Kirby is starting the page with a layout or drawing of the first few panels with some key figures and leaving the remainder for inbetweeners.
From this point forward, the story in general grows weaker with what appears to be less and less involvement by the King and more of what is probably Al Avison or someone else. Page #8 above begins with some promise, the first panel featuring an OK shot of the two heroes swinging away and the gloating Skull congratulating himself while unmasking. Panels three and four are strong, but the art in the last four panels is a tad sloppy. The drawing of the Red Skull in panel seven is quite abominable and doesn’t look like Kirby went anywhere near it.
We’ll finish up with this story in the next segment.
Due to the overwhelming lack of response, I have decided after a long break to resume this crucial artistic inquiry. Since I have no acceptable reproductions of Captain America #6, I’ve decided to skip the entire issue and carry on with number seven, which is just as well considering that issue six doesn’t particularly inspire me. What I like in particular about issue seven is that my second favorite Captain America artist, Al Avison does a good deal of work on the series beginning more or less with this issue. He did quite a bit earlier on in #4 and 5, but this issue is when it seems to me he really kicks it into high gear.
The splash page is nearly all Kirby, with a delightfully grotesque symbolically huge figure of the Red Skull, and tiny figures of Cap and Bucky trying to thwart him. It is a fantastic composition and is beautifully colored in lurid Golden Age hues, the like of which will probably never be seen again. There is something about the juxtaposition of the blue violet, red blue and pale green that so powerfully evokes a period.
Page two above appears to me to be pretty loose Kirby layouts finished mostly by Avison. I particularly enjoy the jagged panel layouts and the transition between panels three and four with the overlapping briefcase leading to the reclining figure in the chair. Jim Vadeboncoeur feels that the layout and art is all Avison, and I have to agree that the first two panels are pretty weak, but I believe it’s all still loose Kirby. For me, details like the thug’s open hand in panel five are a giveaway.
The final panel with the angled drawing of the leering Skull is a beaut, and possibly inked by Kirby. I also see crosshatched inking in the final two panels. Could this be evidence of George Klein’s inking. Again, the colors are wonderful, especially the light violet. I’m so pleased to have these actual scans to work with.
Page three above is much stronger and opens with some nicely drawn Kirby art, starting with a foreshortened dead body breaking the panel borders and continuing with the clever sequence of a newspaper blowing around for several panels until it lands on Steve Rogers’ pants’ leg. Again, the inking looks to me to be done mostly by Avison.
Skipping page four, we see Bucky and Steve decked out in “Gay Nineties” costumes for the Camp Lehigh play as the plot thickens on page five. This page also seems to be Kirby layouts with Avison inks. There is a nice overlapping of figures going on the the last four panels and a classic butt shot in panel five.
To be Continued.
Page six above looks even more like Mort Meskin’s work to me than the previous page. Take particular note of the facial structure of the blue-suited man in panel two, and the faces of the Nazi spies in panels four, five and six. About two years ago, Steven Brower, Kirby lister Glen Story and I debated on the possibility that Meskin had worked on this issue, and we compiled a montage of faces from several sources including Meskin’s Vigilante and some of the pages from the Bund story’s page seven. (By the way, for those interested in learning more about Mort Meskin, Steven Brower has recently had a book published on the artist, entitled From Shadow to Light.)
First I will present the actual page above so it can be enjoyed in its entirety for its beauty. This is classic vintage Kirby, with a plethora of great poses that showcase the King’s ability to make a figure dynamic even when it is at rest for the most part. Check out Cap’s body language in the casual leaning back pose in panel five and the complex arrangement of figures in the room. Ditto the figure composition in panel seven. Then below, I have displayed the Vigilante comparisons.
The ears on some of the heads seem particularly similar to me, if we look at the head shot of the Nazi in panel six and compare it to the panel of Vigilante and to the lab coated villain above it. There is also a similarity in the mouth and jawline of the rightward face in the blue panel to the standing Nazi directly below it, which is positively Steve Ditko-esque. (By the way, Mort Meskin was one of Ditko’s major influences.)
Skipping page eight, we come to what looks like some Kirby inking on page nine above, in the aerial scenes with Cap leaping about on the Stuka dive-bombers. There is some nice tight technical rendering of these planes that looks like his hand, and the rear view of Cap in panel five is also very Kirby-like. Page ten below is another slick beauty that looks again to me to be Meskin inked.
Panel four, in which Cap is holding a limp thug by the scruff of his shirt is a tiny masterpiece of elegant detail, and the final panel with Steve and Bucky on the right is a display of the kind of wholesome American sentimental purity that Norman Rockwell’s work would typify.
The question is, if this work is not Mort Meskin than who indeed is it? Another mystery inker added to the batch.
The mystery continues.