Captain America’s Origin, part I- by Norris Burroughs   3 comments

Welcome to the second post of Kirby’s Golden Age Captain America, where I am attempting to dissect the pages of the famous series in order to determine who did what and where. First, I’d like to explain why this blog is called “Kirby’s Golden Age Captain” instead of Simon and Kirby’s etc. Despite my respect for the contributions of Mr. Simon, I feel very strongly that Jack Kirby was the prime artistic creative force in their partnership. Joe Simon, although claiming that he created Captain America prior to presenting it to Jack Kirby, clearly states that Kirby drew the book’s first issue. It was Kirby’s style that became the template for the way the Star Spangled hero was portrayed, both by the artists in the S&K studio as well as after the team left for greener pastures.

I’d also like to emphasize that I am not setting myself up as an expert art spotter whose attributions should become part of public record. I’m basically interested in dialog and eliciting the opinions of others to support or counter my own. I pay close attention to the opinions of more seasoned Kirby spotters such as Jim Vadeboncoeur, Mike Vassallo, Harry Mendryk and Greg Theakston, and I welcome their feedback.

Researcher, Jim Vadeboncoeur suggested that I go through the series of issues of issues page by page. At this stage that may be too ambitious for me. The main reason I am reluctant to do so is because I don’t have quality scans for the early issues. In such cases I am willing to fall back on the Marvel Masterwork versions, but some of these pages are so atrociously reproduced that I cannot bear to study them with any serious intent. The pages from that series that I do use are ones that appear to have sufficient clear detail to conduct an investigation. I would appreciate it if anyone has scans of these books that they send them to me at

With that caveat, let us start at the beginning.  The cover and the first three pages of the origin story in Captain America #1 are pretty clearly drawn and in my opinion at least partially inked by Kirby. In his biography, The Comic Book Makers, Joe Simon asserts that he wrote the story and did rough layouts for Kirby to follow. I’m a bit skeptical of this claim, because it seems unlikely that Kirby would need layouts done for him, but I’ll accept the notion that Simon did have some input in the structure of the page.

The initial drawing of Cap on page #1 is identical to a drawing that Simon did at some point, but if it was his drawing, it was tightened up and inked by Kirby. Past the splash, I have even more doubts. Panels two and three look to me like Kirby compositions.

Page two also looks to me as if Kirby composed it as well as drew and inked much of it.The inking style is distinctive and bears some similarity to Kirby’s embellishment of the Hurricane back-up story, a page of which I have included at the end of this post for comparison’s sake. Kirby had a tendency to use a series of finely etched lines to define facial features, musculature and clothing.  He particularly favored this technique for the heavy shading of pectoral and deltoid muscles as appears in the Cap figure on page one. I also see this in the distinctive shading of one side of the face on the three pages. However, the inking on the page is inconsistent and some of the faces are less skillfully inked than others. It may be that Kirby is just touching up portions of the page to achieve a better overall feel.

In my opinion, the composition of panel one on page two is  pure Kirby. The saboteur on the far left looms menacingly over the scene in a very Kirby-esque way, and his grotesque expression and hand gesture appear to conjure the ensuing explosion. The lower wedge of the explosion’s shape brings the eye to the second panel.

Next, we see the artists in question experimenting with the circular third panel, which misdirects us a bit. The eye drops from it to the fifth panel, prior to scanning the one preceding it. Jim Vadeboncoeur believes that this panel is Joe Simon’s work, both for the layout and the gag line sentence that Roosevelt speaks. In the words of author Charles Hatfield from his book Hand of Fire, “Simon had a penchent for elaborate, sometimes even gimmicky layouts that Kirby admired and absorbed early on.”

This sequence and what follows is even more compelling because Kirby virtually re-imaged it early in 1965 in a re-telling of Cap’s origin. The profiles of Roosevelt and the soldiers appear almost identically in the later version.The King’s inking traces are less strong on page four, but we know that his affinity for these pages is palpable, because Kirby later re-draws the lab equipment and the hag peeling off her mask on page five, as shown in the lower fragment from ‘65’s Tales of Suspense #63.

There are portions of other panels that appear to be drawn or inked by different hands, despite Simon’s claim that Kirby drew the entire issue. It is fairly certain that that Simon did draw as well as ink a good deal of the book, and I see some of his inking in the secondary figures on page four. Simon also states that the primary inker on Captain America’s first issue was Al Liederman, so we can assume that inking that does not appear to be Kirby’s or Simon is by him. Personally, I would like to see a sample of Liederman’s work or a positive ID of something in these pages that showcases his technical tendencies.

However, something about page five suggests the work of another artist, originally brought to the world’s attention as well as to mine by researcher Mike Vassallo. It is the quality of the line work and specifically the crosshatched shading in panels two and five of page 5 that call to mind the technique of inker George Klein.

This story, like those to follow in this issue is for the most part very quickly drawn. Kirby got into the habit of lavishing attention on the Splash panel. After a page or so, he worked less carefully, sketching or just simply laying out the story, until he came to a panel or sequence that captured his interest, whereupon his style became clear again. In those panels where he was not giving his all, the technique of a less accomplished inker could do little to improve the penciling.

What is even more frustrating is that the back-up feature in this issue, Hurricane is beautifully drawn and inked by Kirby. One can only surmise that the Hurricane episode had already been completed prior to the publication of the rush job that became Captain America #1.

The Hurricane strip is a good indication of Kirby’s best work in that moment, which other panels in the comic can be measured against. It would have been wonderful to see this sort of beauty and consistency throughout the whole of Captain America #1, but then, we wouldn’t be having this scintillating dialog.

The investigation continues.



Posted January 3, 2012 by norris burroughs in Uncategorized

3 responses to “Captain America’s Origin, part I- by Norris Burroughs

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  1. Nice post, Norris, sad not to see any commentary. I, like you, have been attracted to the puzzle that is the assemblage of Captain America #1 through 10. There has always seemed to be a massive “vested interest” in attributing most of the work to Simon & Kirby. Also, like you, I find that “myth” unacceptable – strictly on the face of the art. Like any myth, there is some truth in it and we all accept varying amounts of it.

    So there’s this Simon & Kirby and Al Leiderman drew Captain America #1 in a great hurry “myth” Simon and Kirby drew and inked and Leiderman assisted. I enter the fray with four “preconception”:

    First of all: I pretty much believe the story. Based on the amount of work Simon & Kirby were producing in early 1941 (I must beg to be allowed to speak in “cover date time”, which I KNOW is off by 3-4 months – we can do the math later), there’s no reason to think otherwise.

    Second: The pressure from Martin Goodman after Simon sold him on the idea is probably a factor, but I think it’s been overstated – in the interest of a good “story”. Did S&K have CA done BEFORE selling it to Goodman? Impossible! There’s no pressure and no “story” if it was already complete and no need to call in Al Leiderman.

    Third: Kirby laid out the stories, not Simon. Simon’s claim to the contrary simply isn’t supported by the art. As you point out, there are simply too many examples of Kirby’s action panels (and calm panels) for it to be Simon. Based on all prior examples of Simon’s story-telling, he simply wasn’t up to the job.

    Fourth: I agree that there are some instances of Simon pencils and I believe that they can be fairly well isolated.

    Having said that, let me also say that I make no claim that this is the definitive “truth”. I, like you, am relating what I’m seeing with my eyes. These are MY thoughts and beliefs and you (and anyone else) are free to agree or disagree with them.

    Cover: I think Simon laid it out, stiff, posed background figures and all, and Kirby may have worked a bit on the main and foreground figures.For the life of me I can’t figure out who INKED this. It looks like neither Simon nor Kirby.

    Page 1. I see Simon on Cap and Bucky, with Kirby on everything else. I don’t see Kirby inks so much as Simon’s. You attribute far more inking to Kirby than I’m wont to do. I believe that Kirby was MUCH more prized by Simon as a penciler and utilized primarily in that role. Attributing inks to Kirby at this stage is, I believe, akin to attributing inks to him in 1964. Possible, but unlikely and/or rare.

    Page 2. I see Simon breaking up Kirby’s layouts with that inane Roosevelt/Human Torch panel. I think Simon drew both of the Roosevelt faces. I think that these are Leiderman’s inks. The explosion is indistinct and the two hands of the saboteur indicate to me that the inker wasn’t understanding what Jack meant to convey. That, plus the coronas (where the blacks in the backgrounds are feathered to reveal blacks in the foreground) in panels 2 & 3, are indications to me of a novice inker. I think Kirby might have inked the face of the central figure in panel 2.

    Page 3. You don’t discuss this, but to me this is almost pure Joe Simon with Leiderman and Simon inks. And it’s very boring.

    Page 4. Kirby layouts, primary pencils on panels 1,2,6 & 7, and MAYBE some inks in critical spots/faces. Simon pencils on other panels and on secondary figures and probably inks there, too. Uninspired inks on the glass windows and the machinery make me suspect Leiderman once more on backgrounds.

    Page 5. Kirby layouts/pencils and S&K inks. Is Klein here, too? It’s hard to come up with a scenario that includes him. His VERY first comic book credits come ONE YEAR later than this (also attributed by Michael Vasallo, Mystic #5, March 1941). Without further indication that he was a) working in comics, b) working at Timely, and c) working for Simon & Kirby, I have to guess that no, these aren’t Klein’s inks, no matter which techniques match. Lots of inkers did cross-hatching.

    Okay. That’s what I think. Hope it stimulates some discussion – even if it’s just between the two of us.

    Peace, Jim (|:{>

  2. Let me climb further out on this limb, Norris. Reviewing the inking on the cover, I am somehow visually inclined to suggest that perhaps Martin Goodman maybe had Alex Schomburg touch-up the inks. I simply can’t explain them otherwise. They are completely atypical S&K.

    FWIW – JVJ (|:{>

  3. I have almost zero feel for who did what on Captain America #1 – 10, but do want to say that one of the problems I see is that Jam stories are hard enough to figure out who did want, even if we know who was there to do it. And we don’t know who was there to do it. Just within the past month on the Mort Meskin yahoo list, was a discussion about a fine artist who claimed he did early work on Captain America. His timing fits, but of course his name has never come up (that I know of) by anyone that we know was there. I give some credence to his comment, as he did do occasional (credited) pulp art. How many other folks may have bounced in and out of the Simon and Kirby studios, inking a couple panels or backgrounds for a couple of bucks,?
    So a hard job, glad to see yall trying to accomplish it!

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