Lee & Kirby & Everett & Grandinetti & Friends – The Messy Story of Tales to Astonish #84

Even with the limited output allowed to them under the terms of their distribution deal with Independent News (which only permitted the Marvel of the 1960s to release a certain number of titles every month), Marvel often ran into situations where the talent they had on hand in order to complete everything wasn’t enough. During that era, editor Stan Lee was looking for more artists that he could bring into the fold–artists who could work following the “Marvel Method” of production. In effect, artists who could largely plot their stories themselves. Lee had some success in on-boarding a number of talented creators in this role, including John Romita, Gene Colan and John Buscema, all of whom would go on to be long-time contributors to the line. But once in a while, an artist was given an assignment and washed out, and the result was a frantic scramble to get the story completed and up to the minimum standards of the Marvel group. The Hulk story in TALES TO ASTONISH #84 is one of those instances.

Over the last few issues, the Hulk series was being plotted and laid out by Jack Kirby. Kirby had also been handling the Sub-Mariner stories in the same issues for the past two months, and so he intertwined the narratives a little bit, along with a story that had been running in the Nick Fury feature in STRANGE TALES. The Hulk, Fury and the Sub-Mariner all ran afoul of the mysterious Secret Empire–and so loose was the plotting on this serial that at once point the Secret Empire was said to have been defeated and dissolved from within by an undercover Gabe Jones without anything to that effect having happened in a story. It was a bit of a loosey-goosey mess. Given that, it’s possible (though unlikely) that Kirby did layouts for at least the opening page or two of this Hulk story as well. Both of those pages look to have been finished by Bill Everett, the creator of the Sub-Mariner, who had been performing these duties on the Hulk series for the past few months. It’s also possible that Everett just created the opening two pages himself out of whole cloth to replace two other less successful pages–as we shall see, this story had a lot of hands on it.

Because this installment of the Hulk’s adventures was actually penciled by Jerry Grandinetti. Grandinetti had been active in the comic book field for several years, and is most remembered for the work he did alongside Joe Simon. It seems likely that Lee was attempting to integrate Grandinetti into the Marvel team with this assignment. But ultimately, Lee was unhappy with the work that Grandinetti turned in, and had extensive alterations made to it–alterations so extensive that Lee ultimately took the art credit off of the job, attributing it to “Almost the whole blamed Bullpen.” And that’s a bit understandable, as the final story is a directionless mess of a thing that feels as slapped together as it actually was.

ADDITION: Will Murray points out that around this time, Jerry Grandinetti had also been doing layouts for the Sub-Mariner installments of the 1966 Marvel Super Heroes cartoon, which is probably how he wound up on Stan’s radar.

SECOND ADDITION: Mark Evanier tells me that Grandinetti got the job storyboading for the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon based on his work penciling for Marvel, not the other way around.

Bill Everett wound up inking and reworking most of the story, but there are additional hands involved as well–possibly to help replace pages that Lee felt were beyond salvaging, and which may have taken the story in directions that he wanted to discard. As I mentioned earlier, it’s entirely possible that the opening two pages were complete substitutions on Everett’s part for the opening pages that Grandinetti turned in. Additionally, Lee makes some hay out of repurposing some Gene Colan images from the lead Sub-Mariner story in this issue, creating a fun little almost-crossover between the two series that also serves to replace more unusable artwork. And Everett builds a page of flashbacks out of panels cribbed from the previous three issues to recap the Hulk’s recent rampage in the form of newsreel footage–again, likely in the service of making up for a sequence that had to be discarded. (Everett had done this same thing with some Steve Ditko artwork in one of his earliest stories succeeding Ditko on Doctor Strange over in STRANGE TALES.)

Other hands who may have contributed to the final artwork on this story include Dick Ayers, john Tartaglione, Mike Esposito and Sol Brodsy–even if their contribution simply amounted to making corrections on what Everett had done, or in inking partially completed pages. Throughout, the Hulk mostly looks like Everett’s version of the character, but the poses he’s in sometimes don’t appear to be Everett’s work. And the Next Issue blurb is a good indication of how dire things must have been–without Kirby and no regular artist in place, Lee himself didn’t have any idea what was to come in the next chapter–and wouldn’t until he worked it out with John Buscema, who did some of his earliest work back at Marvel on the Hulk series beginning with the next issue. There is a subplot with Rick Jones agreeing to drive a car to New York–a car with a mysterious something hidden in its trunk. But I would bet that Lee had absolutely no idea what that trunk would contain when he scripted this sequence, and it’s anybody’s guess whether this was a plot thread incorporated by Grandinetti or Everett.

But the job made its print date, and that was what was important in the short term. It does showcase, though, how even experienced artists in the field such as Grandinetti could wash out in terms of generating both the excitement in the artwork that Lee craved, and could also be stymied by the need for them to make up most of the events of the storyline themselves. Some artists took to it (and as other writers began to carry more of the load during Marvel’s expansion following the renegotiation of their distribution, the need lessened a little bit, as those writers tended to provide a bit more specificity to the artists they worked with, by and large.) but for every success, there were failures. The Hulk series seemed particularly directionless right at this moment.

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