Lee & Kirby: The Cover to FANTASTIC FOUR #1

This past week I was called upon to do some work on the upcoming AUGUST 1961 Omnibus that Marvel is going to be releasing as part of the 60th Anniversary of the publication of FANTASTIC FOUR #1. The massive book will collect all of the other Marvel titles that were also on sale on or around August 8th, 1961 when FANTASTIC FOUR #1 went on sale–giving buyers a view of the entirety of the publishing landscape all at once. It’s a pretty fun project, and the collection is shaping up well. But that’s not why I’m writing this quick piece.

The reason I’m doing this piece is that working on this book gave me access to Marvel’s in-house stat of the cover to FANTASTIC FOUR #1 again. I’ve seen it before, but never thought to grab a copy of it for myself. And having done that, I thought I’d reproduce it here, so that we can look at it and see what, if anything, it further tells us about the development of the issue. Plus it’s just cool to see it this way. This would have been shot from the original art before the issue went off to press–but not before every last bit of fine-tuning was done to the piece. Both Martin Goodman and Stan Lee were notoriously picky about the covers on their titles–often to the point of craziness. They’d make last-minute changes right as the cover was meant to be heading out the door, typically in the service of visual clarity. But this is why so many Marvel reprints of the early stories have cover reproductions that vary a bit from the actual published books. Lee and Martin couldn’t stop fiddling with things.

I also saved a version where I adjusted the brightness and contrast, giving us a better view of the places where white-out was used to make corrections, of paste-ups and other such evidence. Sadly, there’s not a whole lot additional to see here. Notations at the top indicate that the cover was being produced for the JULY SCHEDULE and that the issue number and cover date should be #1 NOV. And the paste-up of Sol Brodsky’s logo and of all of the type on the FEATURING box is plain to see. But not much else. As you’d expect, the four word balloons were lettered directly onto the board before it was inked. And there’s nothing to indicate that this piece might have been done as a cover for AMAZING ADVENTURES or any other title–everything we see indicates that it was intended from the start for FANTASTIC FOUR #1

Comparing this stat to the published cover, you can see that a lot of attention was paid to the bystanders on the right side. The original cover as drawn has only three bystanders, where two others have been added for the printed cover–and the guy in the foreground has had his entire body turned (which was a good move–he’s no longer stepping on Mister Fantastic’s word balloon.) Additionally, a couple of added flourishes have been added to the row of shops: text indicating that the building in the foreground is a Beauty Salon, and that it’s at number 137. The building next door has had a 135 added to it, and a TO LET sign has been hung out between the two structures. Surely these alterations commanded far more purchasers than might otherwise have been attracted.

12 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: The Cover to FANTASTIC FOUR #1

  1. It’s been my guess that the random style of lettering for Fantastic Four and Amazing (Adult) Fantasy was inspired by the Twilight Zone title card lettering. Or was it more about trying to convey energy and the notion of “this is a different kind of book” with this almost-humorous bouncy lettering?

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  2. I always wondered why there were two different versions of the original cover, but what you say makes sense – I’ve seen many other changes to work by Kirby and others, and some of the changes seem so trivial as to seem almost pointless, but Stan had been editor/art director/plotter/writer etc for years so knew what he wanted. A Gil Kane Spider-Man story where he drew a funeral (George Stacy? I’ll have to look but aunt May and MJ were there as I recall), and the amount of changes were quite noticeable buy not sure of the reasoning. Romita said he hated making changes to Kirby’s work (because he was in the office and Kirby wasn’t) but once they had the stat machine he would make copies before he would change anything. I also remember chatting with Steranko at the 2009 NYCC and he told me would often deliberately deliver his work late to Stan so that he didn’t have time to make the changes he would often want.

    Stan certainly seemed to be very hands on with the books, inside and out before allowing them to go to print.

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  3. Most importantly, in the released version, the bystander is no longer tripping over Reed’s word balloon. Really, it was inconsiderate of Reed to send the word balloon that way when there is so much danger afoot

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  4. Talking of word balloons, there’s one in X-MEN #1 whose placement is bizarre. This is on page 15 panel 4 and it totally obscures the top half of Magneto’s body. I’ve always assumed this was a passive-aggressive move on Stan’s part to make Jack leave more room for his text

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  5. To my eye, those flourishes do make it a better cover in artistic terms. The 135 and 137 numbers, “Beauty Salon”, “TO LET”, policeman, all heighten the contrast of a mundane street in the background versus the fantastic (pun intended) heros and monster in the foreground. The cover version without these elements strikes me as perceptibly weaker, in terms of an “A/B test” (that is, if someone showed me the two versions side by side, and asked which is better, I’d go with the revised version without hesitation). Does it really matter for sales? Given that the cover is the main draw, it’s certainly possible that there’s a significant effect. There’s a story (possibly marketing/PR) that Google tested 41 different shades of blue to find the best performing one.

    I think this cover is consistent with the theory that the Mole Man part of FF#1 was a rush job done when it was decided to launch FF as a stand-alone book (or maybe faster than originally scheduled?). Since this features the Mole Man’s monster, the cover would then have been done after that decision. But it’s weakly against the theory that the Mole Man part was done first, for an Amazing Adventures or similar story, given there’s no evidence of it being originally intended for a different book.

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  6. Sue, would turning invisible FASTER really help you stop the creature? And Reed, how, when and why did you let yourself get tied up to begin with? What have you been up to?

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    1. Presumably if Sue could turn invisible quickly, the monster wouldn’t be able to grab her in the first place. And she could at a minimum do something like pick up a big piece of debris, turn it invisible too, and start bashing the monster in the face with it – the invisibility letting her get very close where she could wallop it for the most damage. Her best battle-plan seems to me to get the gun of the policeman in the background, and again, use invisibility so as to shoot the monster in a vulnerable area from point-blank range, which the policeman can’t do. This assumes the monster relies primarily on sight rather than, being an underground creature, something like vibration or echolocation. But that’s an assumption most people make by default.

      Thus I think the first part of her dialogue is entirely reasonable. It’s the second part which is dubious. One strong blast of flame down that wide-open gullet, or a sock in the nose delivered by the mobile rockpile, should be an obvious way to “stop the creature” (we don’t see it due the conventions of comics, but the FF is actually scarily lethal – Reed might be able to just use his elastic powers to block its airway, suffocating it in short order).

      No-Prize explanation attempt: Reed got tied up from a rope-entangling device designed to capture the monster, but something triggered it too soon (maybe The Thing rushing into the area when he was told to wait), so he (being close to it to adjust/monitor it) got captured by the ropes instead.

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  7. I wonder if the last minute additions might have been, in part, Sol Brodsky getting a little carried area the way Carl Burgos did in the 50s when he tweaked Brodsky’s Atlas covers. I can see that original area looked a little lame but as you suggest, Tom, it was a little bit overkill, as what the tweaker’s (again, I only assume it’s Brodsky) additions which were pretty much more than needed.

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    1. I tend to think not. Brodsky wasn’t likely to be making editorial changes on his own, he was only coming into the office one or two times a week and taking care of everything that Stan had stacked up in that time. I can’t envision him wanting to take on additional work, especially since there wouldn’t have been any additional pay involved.

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