Lee & Kirby: More Thoughts on FANTASTIC FOUR #1

I recently got an e-mail from Glen David Gold, the fine writer and Kirby enthusiast, who had a few additional thoughts about FANTASTIC FOUR #1 and how it may have been put together. We ended up corresponding a bit dissecting these questions, and so with Glen’s permission, I’m going to post some of that correspondence here and also expand on it a bit.

GLEN: I have always been bugged by the structure of the book — the 8 page opening and the 5 page flashback, then the remainder that you could just start on page 9 if you omitted the origin.  It’s an odd kind of way of doing things, and I can’t think of another Lee/Kirby origin book that flashes back then back to the present like that, right? 

So I’ve been looking at pp. 9-13, a lot.  And my general theory is that this was done separately from the rest of the book – I think Stan and Jack did it first, as an origin/proof of concept, with the pin-ups used used in issues 2, 3 and 4.  I think Stan then wrote the larger story around it, because he recognized that it needed more of an introduction than Jack brought him.

Do I have evidence?  Eh…  Mostly it’s just strangeness that my theory would in some cases explain:

First weird thing is that 4-tier  p. 9, a construction Jack used very rarely.  But when he did, there wasn’t an error as there is here: the bottom of the panel breaks in tier 2 don’t line up with the top of tier 3.  And the way that Ben’s back is done in tier 2 panel 1 is really rough, as if it’s been cut from something larger. 

So here’s a sub-theory: Page 9 is actually two pages cut and spliced together.  Stan’s synopsis gives room to the idea of the authorities trying to keep them away, and more stuff about the commies being ahead of them.  Maybe there was some talk of that that they cut for time.

And something else, which maybe solves a problem you pointed out.  What if the top two tiers of p. 9 are the bottom tiers of a page that was topped by — page 1 panel 1, the portraits where a logo would normally be?  Because there the four of them are, in the same order as in that p. 9 panel, with Ben as a human, and Johnny in that sweater. (Susan’s neckline is wrong, but oh well.) I figure there’s still a missing tier or two to fill in the remainder – and Jack wouldn’t just put four floating heads right over a tier of the same people, so there’s probably something further going on that I’m not quite seeing.

I started thinking about the origin specifically because I was reading it and counting elipses, dashes, exclamation marks, and characters beginning sentences with “I — I.”  In other words, looking for evidence that maybe Jack dialogued the origin part, then brought it into Stan that way.  Sure, there’s a lot of that, but it’s not like FF 6, so I am agnostic about whether Jack dialogued it.  I really don’t know what Jack’s writing style was like in 1961, so I can only shrug about that.

The Stan synopsis is a puzzle.  (And I totally believe it’s real and contemporarneous – I’m not a Stan truther.)  I’ve collaborated with folks plenty, and I couldn’t tell you by looking at this if he wrote it before or after talking to Jack the first time (though he definitely wrote it after talking to the Comics Code, as per his notes about the Torch).  It’s weird that he doesn’t mention anything about the first 8 pages (except that there’s “a meeting”) or the action after the origin.  If I were to reverse engineer a reason for it it exist, it feels like he and Jack met, talked the general origin through, they tossed ideas out, and Stan started riffing, recording what they said and then building.  And mmmmaybe Jack went home and wrote the origin out, his own version of fleshing out the notes.  And I think that when the origin got turned in, it was in present tense, and Stan went back and did the narrative captions in past tense, which is why he gets some of them wrong and they remain in present.  (p. 9. panel 4, “sped” takes up less room than “speeds,” which would fit in that space a lot better.  p. 9 panel 6 is is in present tense; page 10 panel 1 is in present tense; page 11 panel 1 is in past tense; the remaining narrative captions are in past tense).

The last panel on 13 is only there to bring us back to the present.  If the OA ever shows up, I’d bet there’s evidence it was something else, a text box promising a new adventure, something like that.

And that panel got me thinking –Those guys were verrry efficient story tellers.  So why should p. 8 panel 6 mimic p. 13 panel 8 and then page 14 panel 2?  Seems like an editing choice to keep grounding us in the present day. 

TOM: You make a few interesting conjectures here about FF #1. I need to take a closer look at a few things, but looking at the book again with some of what you’re talking about in mind, I have a few conclusions that I can draw.

First off, I’m still convinced myself that the back half of the book was originally drawn as a stand-alone story, without the opening 13 pages. The one problem I keep bumping into there is that we don’t get any sort of origin story for the team that way, which just wasn’t the way things were done in those days. But if you look at just the latter half of the issue and ignore the copy, it all works as a self-contained adventure—with stuff like the Thing’s reveal when he disrobes carrying the required impact.

Similarly, I think you’re right that there was some cutting-and-pasting involved in Pages 9-13. There are a couple of places where that’s clearly in evidence already, and a few more jump out at me looking at this with your thoughts in mind: the sequence at the very end where the heroes all put their hands into the center is another Kirby triptych arrangement, and yet like with the transformation of Ben, there are only two panels of it here. I’m guessing that one was eliminated in order to make room for that last panel that you were speaking of. Regardless, with the strange storytelling and pacing in that sequence, I would bet that maybe a page’s worth of images were excised from it, possibly to get it into a smaller space so as to make room for the colorful opening.

The idea that the opening heads came from elsewhere and were moved to the opening splash page is a good one. Additionally, looking at it closely, those heads may not have been in those circles initially, or arranged horizontally. So there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of where they might have come from. I instinctively want to put them on the opening splash page of the Mole Man back half—where they fit reasonably well. I do think that you may be right that Kirby came in with the whole origin sequence drawn up, possibly in a presentation form along with the character designs, and then Stan and he cut it down for inclusion into the eventual issue.

So if I were to guess at the sequence of events now, I would say:

1)      Kirby brings in the origin pages to help explain and sell the concept to Stan and Martin Goodman. Probably this includes the character pin-ups as well.

2)      Goodman and/or Lee decide to roll the series out in one of the monster books. I’m thinking AMAZING ADVENTURES just because that was the book that was changed by the creation of FF, but it could have been any of them. To this end, Stan and Jack began work on the Mole Man pages.

3)      Goodman, seeing that super hero books (in particular JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA) are suddenly selling really well decides to make the whole thing its own magazine. Lee and Kirby retool the pieces that they’ve got in order to make the whole thing into a self-standing package, condensing and compressing as need be.

That all said, my opinions and guesses here could change again should somebody else point out something interesting about all of this.

GLEN: I like your idea of the second half of the book being on its own.  Maybe you’ve covered this before, but the FF 1 book is weird for yet another reason — the chapter headings aren’t numbered.  Every monster and western book I can think of with multiple chapters have a “Pt 2” or whatever on the appropriate title splash.  Not here. Even AF 15 and FF 2 have them.  Would have taken Stan five seconds to write numbers on them if he’d thought of it.  For some reason he didn’t.

I like your idea of those floating heads going over the FF vs. The Mole Man chapter heading.  (This is a bit esoteric, but Stan’s wording there, “HERE THEY ARE…” isn’t the same thing as “INTRODUCING.”  It sounds slightly off to my ear, like it’s a response somewhere down the line to “who are they?”) 

About page 13. Your mention of how the bottom tier is probably re-worked from a typical Kirby triptych made me look at it more closely. Not only does that check out, I think there’s evidence in the art itself.  (Maybe you’ve written about this already – apologies if I’m re-discovering North America.)  Based on the dialogue balloon tails, in panel 1, Johnny is clearly to the left and Reed at the bottom.  In panel two, Reed seems to have moved to the left.  And the dialogue doesn’t make the best dramatic sense.  First: “Same goes for me” doesn’t sound at all like Susan Storm’s diction.  The build from “There’s only one still missing…Ben!!!” to him saying he isn’t Ben, but THE THING, and adding his meaty paw should finish out the scene.  Reed adding that he’s Mr Fantastic afterward undercuts that. 

I’d guess the first panel was originally Reed, as leader, declaring he was Mr. Fantastic.  Was there just his hand out or was Sue already there too?  I actually think she was there first, and it’s her hand on the bottom.  This is insanely specific, but here goes: looking at how Jack built tension, and the thicknesses of each wrist my hunch is that Sue was to the left,  and Reed on the bottom.  That configuration, two wrists and hands joining at a right angle, visually build tension, demanding another hand to join them — and look, the first extant panel has the hands adding up in that order, with the hand on the far right atop the first two.  As drawn, the first hand in the pile is palm-up, and the second is palm-down, suggesting that Sue and Reed are holding hands (aw!). 

How does Sue’s hand end up on top of Reeds in the second extant panel?  No idea.  

This doesn’t solve the weird balloon tail problem in the second extant panel (which also has a break in the border in my reprint version, right by “Reed’s” dialogue balloon.)  I think that last tier was re-dialogued at high speed and no one noticed the crazy way the balloons pointed. 

GLEN: This showed up on the HA website today. It’s  odd-looking.

Lot’s of reasons that it’s odd, but the panel layout seemed unusual for Jack.  For the hell of it, I looked up the pub date of Rawhide 25, which this page is from.  December 1961.  And most of the stories in that issue of Rawhide have 1-2 pages with four-tier pages or tiers with four panels/three panels/one panel or three vertical panels over three horizontal panels.  Same with issue #24 (October 1961). But not #23 or #26.  In fact, most of Jack’s Rawhide work has pedestrian formatting.  #22 is on a grid – 5 panels a page, mostly, like FF 20.  #24 and #25 seem to be the only period where he was experimenting.  Same time as FF 1.

So I looked up the monster books. 

Yup.

Everything is pretty straight-forward until TOS 22 (Brutto), October 61, where there are pages with vertical tiers over horizontal tiers, and one with 3 horizontal tiers over one vertical tier.

AA 6 (Sserpo), November 61 four tier pages, horizontal over vertical tier pages

JIM 73 (The Spider Strikes), October 61 four tier pages, Channel X has a FIVE (!) tier page – four horizontal and one vertical

TOA 25  (Krogarr) ..I dunno how to  even describe what’s going on with the tiers on p. 2, but also check out  p. 5 and 7.

I can go on, but  the oddball panel layouts continue in almost every monster book from November 61 into 1962, ending with Strange Tales 93 (February 1962). Then they pretty much stop. and return to normal. 

No idea what’s up with that.  Was he bored?  Experimenting?  Was DC doing something like that? 

Does this provide any clues as to how FF 1 was composed? 

TOM: That sure seems to me like somebody told Kirby to do more horizontal compositions for some reason–either Stan Lee, who’s the most likely culprit, or Martin Goodman, and then Kirby did it for awhile until his regular storytelling instincts took over again and it was past the time when anybody cared. No idea what this might have been in response to, though–maybe something as simple as some sequence in some story that Stan or Martin thought looked too congested. It’s also entirely possible that this was something that Kirby experimented with entirely on his own and eventually got bored with–but that tight timeframe and how pervasive the approach is throughout all of those other stories make me think that it was Jack trying to carry out the boss’s request, at least for a while.

3 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: More Thoughts on FANTASTIC FOUR #1

  1. Arguing against the idea that Kirby was directed to vary the layouts is the fact that at the end of his career he returned to occasional four-tier layouts and long horizontal panels in, e.g. Hunger Dogs and Captain Victory.

    Like

  2. [Apologies if this comment posts twice] Arguing against the idea that Jack was directed to vary the panel layout is the fact that at the end of his career he returned to occasional four-tier layouts and long horizontal panels (and even weirder layouts) in, e.g., Hunger Dogs and Captain Victory.

    Like

  3. Interesting tweaks on long standing observations about FF #1. I suspect “The Mole Man’s Secret” was originally intended for Amazing Adventures #6, with “Krogg!” by Reinman subbed in, when the Kirby (Dr. Droom?) story was reworked into a FF story.

    Like

Leave a Reply to drdroom Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s