Here’s a second portion of our look at Marvel’s archived stats for FANTASTIC FOUR #1, as close to looking at the original artwork as we can get. As with last time, there isn’t a whole lot new that’s revealed here. But having the ability to get up real close on some of these pages does underscore a few points about them. And we’ve started this process, so we might as well continue.
This next bunch of pages showcases the origin of the group, and is filled with dense pages like the one above, Page 9. There’s a belief that this sequence may have been crafted earlier, as a stand-along entry with a now-missing splash page before it, and edited somewhat to get it down to the number of pages available for the origin in FANTASTIC FOUR #1 given the addition of the action opening. Looking at that first panel again, the framing sure seems weird to my eye–and feels more natural if you remove the Johnny Storm figure from the shot. Does this mean that the original version of this origin didn’t include the Human Torch? Maybe? A similar argument could be made about Panels 5 & 7, where the fourth head/figure feels a bit like it’s been jammed into an otherwise solid composition. There was also clearly a lettering correction in Panel 3 where Ben’s line was changed to HER NO from whatever had been there previously. Given the spacing on that balloon, whatever it was would have been a longer word or series of words, at least slightly.
But if the Torch was a late addition to this story, then the inclusion of Page 5 here on Page 10 is a masterpiece of patching. Looking at it up close, there is no sign that anything was changed here, no evidence of patchwork or correction. Which isn’t absolute, of course, since the purpose of such patchwork was to be invisible to the final reader. But that panel sure looks as though it was drawn along with the rest of this page. Interestingly, there are some stray marks in Panel 4 and Panel 6 that look to me to be bits of the ballooning on non-reproduction blue pencil actually showing up. There’s a stray tail by the second balloon in Panel 4 and the whole curve of a balloon shape can be seen in the background hatching in Panel 6. As we know Lee often did placements (and sometimes even scripted directly) on the original art boards, these artifacts probably came from his hand.
Here on Page 11, that first panel was definitely extended on the left side, with the art reduced a bit. Additionally, looking at it up close, there’s evidence that area was extended at the top as well. So this could simply be a case where Lee felt there wasn’t enough space for the caption he was writing and instructed that the art should be reduced in size to fit and then finished off.
Here on Page 12, there’s a bit of evidence that there was some cut-and-paste going on around Panel 4. I’m of the belief that Kirby originally drew this sequence with a full three-panel transformation sequence on the part of the Thing–a triptych structure was one of his favorite go-to moves for showcasing progression, so it’s always seemed odd that we only get two panels here, the first of which has Grimm in mid-transformation. It’s possible that Panel 5 was initially Panel 6, and that portions of the tree and the Thing’s foot were added on the right, more space on the left. That whole foot structure doesn’t look like Kirby to me. Neither does Mr. Fantastic’s hand in the final panel, weirdly sticking out from Ben’s wrapped up body. And ditto his weird elongated leg. There’s another bit of gunk on this particular proof, across Panels 2 & 5.
And finally, on Page 13, that final panel looks like a pasted up add-in. I’m guessing that the bottom tier here was originally three frames of the heroes all stacking their hands. Another triptych that had been shaved back by a panel, possibly to provide connectivity to the opening sequence. And again here, I would bet that Panel 4’s art was reduced in size to make room for the copy. In that final frame, there’s a weird bit of linework on Johnny’s sleeve next to the boxed 13. Looking at it closely, it looks like more stray non-repro linework that photographed–and it seems to be a portion of the number 13 circled, as though labeling this page. Which makes sense, if the origin was originally done as a stand-alone unit and was now being incorporated into a full length book. That finishes up the first half of the issue, so this feels like another good breaking point.