Archive for January 2012

Red Skull Part 1 by Norris Burroughs   3 comments

Finally we get to The Red Skull! The one we’ve all been waiting for. The splash panel is decent, but not earth shattering. The drawing of the Skull is the best part of the page and the Cap and Bucky figures are not terribly dynamic. In my opinion, there are precious few really dynamic Kirby drawings of Captain America in this first issue, and only two that really stand out for me. We’ll get to those in the next post.

This is probably Simon inking loose Kirby drawings, although I’d wager Kirby also had a hand in the Skull’s inking. Panels two and three of this page also say Kirby to me.

Page two below looks more like Kirby, with I believe copious inking by his hand as well. I immediately notice the King’s use of background elements such as the car’s interior in panel one. It is a simple compositional device, but very effective in the dramatic framing of the two characters.

In panel two the use of the bookshelf and globe to focus attention on Major Croy is also notable, and the shot in panel three of the villain climbing through the window is a beauty. Finally, the ominous shading in Major Croy’s face framed by the bookshelf in panel five is classic. Kirby again uses the wonderfully eerie floating skulls in panel eight.

Sadly, we lose most of Kirby for the next page (not included here) as well as page four seen below. There, we see Bucky’s profile in panel one rendered in that peculiar style that I first noted in page three of the Sando and Omar story. It is a strange and scratchy vaguely illustrative style that I first attributed to Joe Simon, but since then I am beginning to question that opinion. There is a clear tendency towards fairly inept linear overworking here, which I can no longer associate with either Simon or Liederman who appears  less capable. Observe as well the final panel profile of the thug with his hand extended to catch falling debris. Who the hell can this be if as I now believe it is not Simon?

I ask the reader again to return to page three in the first post of the Sando story and look at the inking of Steve and Bucky in panels two, three and eight. As I continue this exploration, I find that my opinions are modified by Jim’s V’s observations and my own new revelations.

Page five looks to again be loose Kirby drawings, finished and inked by Liederman, with more black arrows assisting continuity. Bucky’s figure in panel two looks like Kirby’s dynamics, and I also see fairly strong Kirby action in the contrapuntal positioning of the green suited thug slugging Bucky in panel five. The final panel of the Red Skull looming over Bucky could have been a thing of beauty had it not been finished so poorly.

At this point, I feel confident in stating that I see at least five distinct ink hands in issue one in general; Kirby’s fine detail and shading style, Simon’s competent journeyman hand, Liederman’s somewhat rushed and awkward rendering, and finally less often observed, a confident thick brush and pen crosshatch style as seen on page 5 of the origin story that I will call George Klein for lack of positive ID, as well as a peculiar over-rendered Illustrative touch that I’ll refer to as the illustrator.

Again, I may be completely off the wall here, but for the sake of this dialog, I must state what I observe and wait for it to be challenged. Some of my opinions have changed since this inquiry started and I’m certain they will do so again.

More to come…

NWB

Posted January 31, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

Rathcone part Three by Norris Burroughs   2 comments

Continuing, we will omit page ten and move on to a somewhat better constructed action scene, which looks to me to be a combination of Simon and Kirby layouts, drawings and mostly Simon finishes and inks. As I’ve said regarding this issue, the more I look at the artwork, excluding the origin and the Red Skull segment, there seems to be more of Simon’s work than I’d previously acknowledged. Even if I accept the notion that Kirby is doing the lion’s share of the initial figure work, this page in particular looks to me to have been tightened up and inked by Simon. The first panel’s three-quarter back shot of Captain America looks like his style, particularly features like the nose.

I am riffing a bit here, when I say that the second panel looks more Kirby-esque, but not so much the remainder of the page. S&K are still a bit too clever with the strangely edited panel sequential breakdowns and a profusion of directional arrows.  The general dynamic here works better than page four, although both sequences are tied together with the peculiar use of the central diagonal figure, which in this case is Captain America.

The team will soon abandon this artifice entirely.

Page twelve has a similar flavor to that of page eleven, and again feels to me to be largely the work of Simon. I sense Kirby’s presence predominantly in the more complex action shots such as the overhead three-quarter back sleeper punch panel, but I cannot be certain.

Again, if we take Simon on his word, Kirby drew most of this issue, but I have my doubts about much of it. Then there is the fact that at one point several years ago, Greg Theakston opined that Simon drew several of the figures on this page. The fact remains that so little of this work bears more than a passing resemblance to the Hurricane strip in the same issue, with its beautifully sculpted figures and relatively complex backgrounds.

Let us move on to page thirteen, where we encounter another chessboard shot, although not as nice as the previous one. There’s some pretty decent drawing here, but nothing to get very excited about. I like the figure of Cap kicking the table and a similar pose mirrored in the panel just below it, but essentially the page is adequate but somewhat dull.

 

I was going to finish reviewing in Rathcone part four, but frankly, I’m tired of this story. I think it’s about time we visit the Red Skull chapter and at least have some fun examining some quality Kirby mixed in with the dross.

NWB

Posted January 30, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

Rathcone part Two by Norris Burroughs   2 comments

Moving on to page five of the Rathcone story, we open with a classic Kirby action pose. It is the three-quarter back shot of a smashing roundhouse left that Cap has delivered to the trench coated killer. Ink-wise this is a difficult call to make. It may be Liederman hitting his stride and working well over tight Kirby pencils, but the Cap profile on top left panel two says Simon to me. I’m more inclined to believe that it’s mostly his inking here.

The last panel has that crosshatch again, and the very nice shading that is similar to the Steve Rogers face on page five of the origin sequence. This looks like the work of that facile fourth hand that I’ve been suggesting might be George Klein. I’ll skip the following page, again citing a combination of copyright concerns and poor art. This is one of the duller pages, so I don’t feel bad about omitting it. Page seven is no gem either, a rush job with sloppy inking probably by Liederman, and a really terrible drawing of Rathcone shaking his fist. Cramped seventh and eighth panels don’t help matters much.

Please note that when I say terrible, it is merely in the context of comparison with Simon & Kirby, which is a very high standard to uphold.  This story doesn’t really pick up steam until page eleven. However in the interests of scientific artistic exploration, I will move on to page eight, where we may perceive some notable work that stands out from the rest.  First off, the page, like much of the book is poorly reproduced. Ink lines disappear and it is frustrating to attempt to study them.

The first panel is nice and dramatic, but the rest are fairly mundane. The page design is pretty boring and drawn too quickly.  However, the fifth panel contains some fairly remarkable etching lines in the face of the bald Nazi strangler on the right. This particular face looks to be rendered by a hand different from the remainder of the page. Could this be Kirby, working with an extremely fine brush, or someone else again?

Panels seven and eight contain some pretty weak drawings, as Bucky descends a staircase. However, upon turning the page, we encounter a somewhat  inventive page design, commencing with a truncated full figure of Bucky on the far left peering into a doorway.

An arrow directs us right to panel two, lest we incorrectly look down at the circular third panel. We next see Bucky in a long shot looking at the perspective of a chessboard manned by miniatures of Cap, Rathcone and him. This is a nice panel, with orthogonal lines converging on Bucky somewhere on the horizon, but it’s really too small and loosely inked. It would have made a really spectacular large panel.

The next four panels are missteps, literally and figuratively as Bucky, in panel five runs from the room to the right, but then you see his figure breaking the panel border and running down and diagonally back left to panel seven. There he is again running towards left and is tripped by Rathcone.

Again, I must add that I feel that looking at much of this story, I am more and more inclined to believe that this is Simon’s page design. Initially, I was resistant to Simon’s claim that he laid out much of the first issue, but the more I study this stuff, the more I am willing to take Simon at his word. This book is so rushed that the writer/artist team surely did everything conceivable to meet the deadline. This process could certainly have included Simon doing loose panel breakdowns or even pencilling full figures and backgrounds.

What seals the deal for me is seeing that Kirby experiments with this sort of out of phase panel thing later in the issue in the Hurricane story, and as you can clearly see in the page below, his execution is vastly more successful. One can only once again bemoan the fact that Kirby never got an opportunity to do the quality of work on Captain America that we see in this Hurricane story. There the arrows are entirely unnecessary. The action flows effortlessly from panel to panel and the eye goes to wherever Kirby wishes it to. The figure of Hurricane in panel two takes us immediately to the panel below where he strikes the green figure. His spayed legs bring us back left to the panel with the man holding the supine woman. Her legs then bring us right-ward to the charging Hurricane.

Thankfully, as we shall see in our next post, the last several pages of the Cap story are better composed and drawn, and therefore less painful to study.

NWB

Posted January 29, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

Rathcone part 1 by Norris Burroughs   2 comments

We now come to the issue’s third story, Rathcone or the Chessboard of Death or whatever. As I mentioned before, this story strikes me as being too long and not very well written or drawn. There is very little good art by Kirby, some decent drawings, finishes and inking by Joe Simon and some very bad drawing, finishing and inking by Liederman or someone else.

The splash panel I believe to be at least partially inked by Kirby. I’m fairly adamant in stating this belief, despite some people feeling that Kirby was too valuable as a layout or pencil artist to waste his time on inking. Jim V believes most of the inking that I cite as Kirby to be that of Joe Simon. Again I am more than happy to be shown the error of my ways, but until that time, I will keep my own council. From what I see, Kirby’s brush and pen hand is the deftest and the surest in the mix. I see his expertise in the clean lines and feathering on the splash panel on Cap’s figure as he descends the staircase. I also see him at work in Rathcone’s face and cloak as well as on the figure of death. I don’t see any of Joe Simon’s work until page five.

Page two above has some decent Kirby penciling, although fast and loose. Liederman is probably the inker here and does OK, because the pencils are tight enough to follow without improvising. Compared to Kirby and Simon, Liederman’s hand is fairly amateurish. This assessment is based on the notion that there are only three inkers present. In the event that there are four or more, Liederman may or may not be the main culprit in the botch job to come. I also see the possibility of the fourth inker on this page being the aforementioned George Klein. There is some characteristic crosshatched shading here, and a hand that appears to be steadier than some of the later awkward inking. If you compare the quality of this page to the following two, it looks decidedly more professional.

On page three, the story begins to decline in quality and gets even worse on page four. The first panel of page three is a joke, with barely enough graphic information to make a coherent image. Panels two and three are better drawn and constitute a striking layout choice. The rest of the page is adequate.

The first panel of page four is nicely drawn, as Cap leaps for a flagpole. Panel two is an acceptable follow-up, with the killer observing Bucky following him at the end of an alley. Then the problems begin. One of the most important aspects of graphic storytelling is the balance and flow of the shapes and sizes of figures within panels. In my estimation, the figure of Bucky and the third panel itself are both too small.

In the fourth panel, Kirby and Simon commence again with fancy layouts, which often do not work. The more I see of this sort of thing, the more I believe that in many such cases it is Simon doing the layouts. I like the dynamic of having the villain’s leg protruding into panel five,  but I feel that the composition then falls apart with the poorly drawn or finished picture of the thug slapping Bucky. A black arrow indicates that we go next to the right, which is logical except then our eye must travel back left to the small, feeble scene of Cap tackling the villain.This is certainly not optimal use of space for the purposes of storytelling.

We will see more shenanigans like this as the story continues.

Posted January 23, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

Sando & Omar II by Norris Burroughs   6 comments

Closing in on the end of the Sando and Omar story, we find a page that for some reason, has stayed with me since the first time I saw it as a 13 year old back in 1965. It was really the bottom tier panels of Cap and Bucky and the collapsing bridge that said “Golden Age” to the young teenager that I was then. Again, this looks like loose Kirby pencils tightened up by Liederman and Simon and/or perhaps another hand. The floating heads thing in panel one is interesting, and one has to wonder who was the first in comics to do it. Omar’s figure in panel two is very crudely drawn, but the running Cap figure in panel four has a nice Kirby-esque flow to it. As I said, I particularly like the shocked three-quarter faces of Cap and Bucky, which are nicely if simply inked, and the bridge collapse also does a good deal with very little, giving us the rudiments of a deep space composition  simply with the tilted angle of the bridge and the tumbling cars.

I’ve omitted the first tier of panels in the next page, again for two reasons. The ink line reproduction is very poor, so it is a good choice to leave out in order to avoid copyright infringement issues.

I’m still imagining that there is a fourth inker on this book. Of the team, Liederman’s style appears to me to be the least accomplished, as depicted in such instances as the crowd faces on page 2 of this story. Simon’s look, unless I’m mistaken is more like what we see on page three and areas of page five where he seems to be focusing a good deal of attention on faces. These strike me as somewhat over-rendered and not quite on target.  There is a pecular quality to the structure of noses and mouths, as I observe in Cap’s profile in panel 4 of page five above, which in my abridged presentation is panel 2. I also attribute to Simon the drawing of Cap slugging Sando in my panel four. It has a stiff and posed look that doesn’t say Kirby to me.

 

 

I continue to stress the possibility that there are multiple hands working here. The Cap faces on page three that I attribute to Simon don’t look remotely like Liederman’s crude crowd faces. They don’t resemble Kirby’s distinctive shaded faces either, nor for that matter do they look like the face of Reinstein in panel 2 of page 5 in the origin story. We will discuss more of this dizzying variety of looks in the following story, of which I will post only very selective bits, because it is quite long and full of some very strange and bad artwork, most of it seemingly not done by either Simon or Kirby. Simon’s artwork, while not up to the level of Kirby’s, has a degree of journeyman professionalism about it that is lacking in much of the finished drawing in this comic book.

The following page is one of the nicer ones in this story, with the bizarre exception of the final panel, which is so small and cramped that it has to be seen in order to be believed. One has to ask sometimes, what were these guys thinking, but I guess the rushed conditions are a reasonable explanation for this.

The page design up until that point is quite nice, with strong spacially arranged Kirby compositions in panels one and two. Kirby’s layouts, generally with liberal use of figure and background elements as well as some limted perspective cues always stands out when compared to some of the less accomplished panels.

 

Sando’s face in panel three looks like Kirby inking to me, because of the precision etched linework. I see quite a lot of this style jumping out at me fairly regularly, and if it isn’t Kirby, I must then ask who else it could be, as I have mentioned that Simon’s facial rendering is not generally this sharp.

Although most of these men will not appear until later issues, the list of artist attributions in the Golden Age Cap Masterworks Volume, which covers issues 1-4 reads as follows, Reed Crandall, Bernie Klein, Al Avison, Al Gabriele, Al Liederman, Syd Shores, Alex Schomberg, Ed Herron, Martin A. Burnstein, Howard Furguson, William Clayton King.

The main point that I’m making is that I, and apparently most other people are somewhat unfamiliar with the styles of several of these gentlemen, and the sooner we can find other clear samples of their work, the sooner they can be identified in the tangled tapestry that is Captain America 1-10. I see Crandall in issue two and three, Roussos in three,  Avison in issues four and fve, Shores in five, and Schomberg clearly on the cover of issue three, but some of the other names are not so familar to me.  I make a plea to anyone reading this to contact me if you have any early samples of the men listed, for the sake of comparison.

The final page again appears to have little unadulterated Kirby in the mix. I don’t see much more than his rough layout, finished by others. I have cropped this page for the stated reason, but the bottom right panel of Cap shaking Betty Ross’ hand looks like Simon inking, while the remainder looks like Liederman and/or someone possibly on the aforementioned list.

 

We will continue our inquiry with the Chessboard of Death story in the following post.

NWB

Posted January 19, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

Sando and Omar   2 comments

We now move on to the second story of Captain America #1, which although it has no title, we will call Sando and Omar for obvious reasons. I’ve been stating that Kirby is inking his own pencils on the splash pages and I believe this to be true here as well. Jim Vadeboncoeur very kindly just commented on my initial entry, saying that he believes Kirby did little inkng in this issue. That may be the case, but I clearly see that there are a minimum of three and perhaps even more hands inking this issue. As I study the pages, Simon’s and Liederman’s styles become recognizable to me and neither of them are particularly facile in comparison to the third more accomplished hand.

In my opinion,  what I see as Kirby’s hand is the most masterful. His lines are the truest to the apparent intent of the drawing, with beauty and economy in the detail work in faces, muscles and clothing.

Page two is an entirely different story as far as technical skill is concerned. Except for the first panel which is a beautifully arranged miniature deep space composition, the page is drawn very quickly and inked more or less indifferently. My assumption is that this is the low end of Al Liederman’s abilities. A good example of what I am talking about is the inking in the crowd’s faces in panel five and Omar’s head in panel six. The shading around his yellow dome-like skull serves no constructive artistic function, as opposed to the sort of shading that Kirby uses so effectively.

Page three changes style radically,  into what appears to be an example of Joe Simon’s inking over much of his own drawing. The drawing of Sando and Omar walkng up the aisle in panel one is so poorly composed in terms of the relative size and spatial relationship of the figures that I hesitate even to attribute it to Simon. Much of the rest of the page is better drawn. In panel two, we see a peculiar jowl shape to Bucky’s face that recalls Simon’s later drawings of boys like Gabby and Brooklyn in Boy Commandos.

This page is the first of a series that have an unusual and distinctive shading technique that stands out because it is so incongruous.  The inker, Simon presumably, is also shading faces a la J.C. Leyendecker, a popular illustrator of the period, but the work is ineffective and misses the mark, while drawing attention to itself unnecessarily. Look at the shading in Steve Rogers’ face in panels three and six to see what I am on about.

Generally, I see less Kirby in full pencils or inking in this story than any other in the first issue. However, as I mentioned earlier, he did seem to have a fondness for these stories when Captain America returned in 1964. Kirby chose to re-work three stories from Cap#1 in 1965. He adapted Cap’s origin, this story and the Red Skull episode to his dynamic sixties style in several successive issues of Tales of Suspense. The final art sample in this post is his re-take of the Sando splash, so that we may enjoy the comparison of time periods while also mapping Kirby’s artistic development.

We can see how effectively Kirby has reconfigured the circular composition, so that the figures of Cap and Sando are considerably more dynamic. Kirby has even taken the smaller figure of Bucky from the original panel below and inserted him into the melee. We’ll complete this particular story in the next post.

NWB

Posted January 17, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

Cap’s Origin, part Two, by Norris Burroughs   4 comments

As we continue, let us briefly revisit page five of Captain America’s origin, in order to study the layout more completely. Whether or not we accept Simon’s claim that he did all of the primary layouts, we cannot fail to notice that whoever the initial artist is, he has chosen to draw several of his figures violating the panel borders. This panel is not the first instance of that practice in this particular comic, but it is the one that first strikes us most powerfully. Steve Rogers has just been transformed into a super soldier, and we see him appraising himself here in panel five as his left shoulder protrudes well into panel six.

Both Kirby and Simon have acknowledged their admiration for artist Lou Fine, whose work is shown below in a page from Smash Comics #18 from 1939. We can clearly see that Fine has preceded Kirby in using this overlapping figure technique here with his drawing of the Ray, pile driving an opponent from panel three up into panel two. We can also see that the early 40’s Captain America bears some resemblance to the lithe muscularity of Lou Fine’s figurework.

Moving on to page six of Cap’s origin, I see what looks like fairly strong Kirby inking here. The drawing is fast and loose, with minimal backgrounds. Kirby is working the deadline close, and not lavishing his attention too much on fine details, but the drawing is strong and dynamic. I see his ink hand especially in the spotted blacks of the pistol barrel, and in Steve Rogers’ chest and abdominal muscles as he yanks the Nazi spy through the glass enclosure window.

I also see Kirby’s brush in the shading of the villain’s left cheek in that same panel. There is a great deal of finesse in the sculpting of that small face that indicates Kirby’s level of skill. Again, I desperately wish that I had better reproductions to work from.

Kirby once more paid homage to his Golden Age roots by doing an updated version of a vintage panel tier in his 1965 Captain America origin. It is the image seen below of the Nazi spy firing his weapon that Kirby re-imaged in a slightly different context. Observing the comparison of pages separated by twenty-five years we are presented with the amazing revelation that is a individual artist’s development.

The reproduction quality of the ink lines on page #7 in the Masterworks volume copy is abysmal. It is for that reason and for reasons of possible copyright infringement pertaining to the posting of complete stories that I will skip the page entirely and move to the final page of the origin story. It is the pivotal scene where young Bucky Barnes discovers that Pvt. Steve Rogers is actually a Superhero.

This page is a bit more difficult for me to judge. Panels two three and four look to me to be Kirby-inked, but the face of panel one looks a bit scratchy. Again, I would love a positive ID of inker Al Liederman’s traits. What is striking is the corona around Cap’s shoulders in panel one and around his chest in panel two, that separates his shape from the black background. I also see this technique on page two, around the chest of a soldier in the second panel. Initially, I surmised that this was a Kirby inking trait, but after conferring with Jim Vadeboncoeur who believes this to be an artistic cop-out, I withdraw that opinion. I still believe that Kirby inked most of the panels in question, but I now think that the spotted blacks and coronas are the work of another fill-in hand.

I do not see much of anything in the inking of this first story that looks like Joe Simon. He will turn up in the next blog covering the second story.

NWB

Posted January 9, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized