Lee & Kirby: The Pencils of FANTASTIC FOUR #49

An awful lot of the production work materials from the comic books created in the formative years of the industry are long gone, discarded as unimportant “work product” on the way to producing finished comic book issues, which were the goal point all along. Fortunately, a lot of the original artwork has survived (though far from all of it) which gives us something to look at in order to gain some insight into the process. And in the case of Jack Kirby, in packrat style he maintained a file of old xerox copies and photostats sent to him by the companies he was working for. In this way, we’ve been able to recapture a good deal of his work in the form in which he did it–the original pencils, usually accompanied by his border story notes to scripter/editor Stan Lee. Probably the most famous story they did together in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR was the original “Galactus Trilogy” in issues #48-50. As it turns out, over half the issue survived in Kirby’s files as copies of his lettered pencils, which gives latter day fans a chance to see Kirby’s work exactly as it was produced, and to compare his border notes (or at least what survives of them–they are often partially cut off in these copies) with the actual lettering. Here then are the pencils for 12 out of the 20 pages of FANTASTIC FOUR #49.

Kirby at this point was still working on the larger twice-up original art boards that were industry standard. The first issue of the title he would draw at the smaller size was FANTASTIC FOUR #68. By this point, he was also making a bit more money per page than he had at the beginning, allowing him to lavish each page with a bit more attention and detail than had been the case only recently. The addition of Joe Sinnott as inker also appears to have given Kirby more confidence that any additional work he included in his pencils would be reflected in the finished product.

Kirby opens this issue with two splash pages back-to-back. This is an approach he’d take often in the 1970s (usually with a splash being followed by a double page spread) but I believe this is the first time that he does so. It helps to get across the scale of the threat posed by Galactus.

In answer to the question of who named the Silver Surfer, it certainly appears to be Jack. He uses the character’s full name in the border note on the lower left panel on this page, whereas he typically just calls him The Surfer.

Kirby makes a small error in his border note on the last panel here, referring to the Watcher as the Thinker–an understandable mistake. And scripter Lee doesn’t bother to address Kirby’s note on the second panel that the Torch is busy taking a bath while this is going on.

This one last page from further along in the issue also survived the passage of time.

By way of comparison with the final inking of Joe Sinnott, here are a number of page-by-page before and after images that I also have in my files. You can see both how much of Kirby’s original work Sinnott maintained, and how much he changed. In particular, some of the faces tend to get adjusted, notably Reed and Sue’s much of the time. But it’s a very faithful job all around.

11 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: The Pencils of FANTASTIC FOUR #49

  1. This is why I have so many issues of the Kirby Collector – seeing The Kings original artwork is often something to behold, like an original untranslated page of the Bible, or the Dead Sea Scrolls. You’re looking at a piece of real actual history.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The most shocking thing on these pages is the pencils by Kirby are superior to the final inks every time. Expressions are stronger. Even Sue’s hairdo looks better in the Kirby pencils. The coloring also takes away some of the impact. The panel on (I believe) page 4 showing the full figure Galactus looking out at New York from the rooftop makes Galactus look smaller in the printed version. The blue in the background being the same darkness as Galactus makes him look smaller than he would have looked over a paler sky.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Are you sure that Kirby nemaing The Silver Surfer is the first time the name appears? Is he not named that way by Stan in the previous issue? Or in the promotional activities around that issue. In that case Kirby is simply adapting to the name Stan gave him. If not, this to me is a momentous find. The anecdote that Kirby named the creature The Surfer and Stan changed it to The Silver Surfer is a powerful example of how he was ignored and made unimportant in his own mind. If he did it himself and just forgot, it is (yet another example) of how he remembered things in a more negative light than he experienced. To make a tricky comparison: is it still rape if you didn’t think so a month after the fact and only felt like it was years later? Some will say it can be, others will have doubts. It may even undermine my own statements here. But leaving that painful comparison, I would say that in this case at the very least it shows how compliant Kirby was at the time.


    1. It’s impossible to say with total certainty, but at the time Kirby would have been plotting and drawing this book, Stan likely wouldn’t have yet scripted #48. And there wouldn’t have been any promotional materials. That said, while we know that Lee was surprised at the appearance of the Surfer in the story, we also know the two men spoke about the character shortly thereafter, so it isn’t out of the question that the name was refined there. We’d need to see the original art fir #48 to know for sure. But given that border note, I’d say it’s much more likely the name was Jack’s.


      1. Knowing how Stan liked alliteration (Peter Parker, Bruce Banner etc), it’s just as possible that Stan created the name, or at least added the Silver part to it as that was his hallmark.


      2. Kirby did his share of that too, though: Funky Flashman, Big Barda, Granny Goodness, Glorious Godfrey. Perhaps by the time Galactus appeared, he’d already picked up the habit from Stan.


  4. I must say that in Kirby’s penciled rendering, Sue looks absolutely stunning, more so than in the completed version. Not to knock Sinnott’s inking at all, but something subtle in Kirby’s penciling was lost. IMO, Kirby produced some of his most amazing artwork during this period and his imagination was running full-steam ahead. Must’ve helped that his page rate had been increased and the number of titles he was assigned to decreased, meaning he could produce much better work on the titles he retained. Not that his previous work was bad, but it was if he had been unleashed to show to a greater extent than before what he could do.


Leave a 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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s