Lee & Kirby: THE STATS OF FANTASTIC FOUR #1, Part 4

And we are back, with the last of our sequence looking at Marvel’s archived stats from FANTASTIC FOUR #1 to see what they might tell us about how the book and the stories had been put together. Before we get into the fourth and final section of the issue, though, I want to share something else that’s related.

I came across this scan of the original artwork to the splash page of FANTASTIC FOUR #31 at the Auction Site where it was up for sale, and I thought that it was worth sharing in this context for a couple of reasons. Primary among them, the labeling of the page at the top as to its issue and number and so forth appears to be in the same hand that is apparent on the stats for FF #1. I’m guessing that’s the handwriting of Sol Brodsky, but that’s only a guess. But it shows that the labeling of the stat pages wasn’t done at the printer as we previously supposed, but rather was done in-house at Marvel before the book was sent out. That gives a bit more credence to the notion that the whole of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 was done front-to-back, just as we see it in the printed issue, without pages having been repurposed from other places. This is hardly conclusive evidence, but it’s one more brick. Secondarily, I wanted to run this to show the size of the original board, as opposed to the portion that was photographed for archiving. This gives us at least a sense as to how much of the original board may have been cropped out of Marvel’s archived stats.

Here on Page 20, there’s a bit scratched out on the labeling at the top of the page. Zooming in super-close on it, it looks to me as though this was nothing more than somebody having written the wrong flat number on this particular page and correcting that error. As we’ve spoken about on prior occasions, this three-panel sequence where the Thing takes his overcoat off is staged as though it is a reveal, which is odd given that we’ve already seen Ben Grimm in all of his monstrous glory earlier. This makes more sense from a storytelling standpoint of the back half of this issue had been intended as a shorter stand-alone story at first. It’s also worth pointing out that, especially in this sequence, the Thing’s physiognomy is a lot less human-seeming than what he’d evolve into over time. He’s weirdly proportioned, with no neck and an extremely wide body, and no sense of a skeleton or typical human musculature. In effect, he’s a lot more deformed than what we will come to think of when considering the character.

PAGE 21. It sure looks to me like somebody, possibly production man Sol Brodsky or inker George Klein, touched up the Thing figure in Panel 4, putting him back into his overcoat and hat (since he’ll take them off again in a couple of pages) and inadvertently making him seem a lot thinner and taller here that he really ought to be. Kirby would occasionally lose track of such continuity as whether the Thing had his coat on or off in the course of a story, so focused was he on what was to come next, so little discontinuities of detail such as this one crop up often in his stories.

There’s some evidence of editorial corrections on this page. In that first panel, comprised of three stacked smaller images, the bottom image has definitely been extended on the right side, indicating that it was originally more of a square (or that there was something on the right side of the image that it became necessary to take out–a figure of the Mole Man, perhaps?) The other two stacked images don’t show obvious signs of tampering, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that lamp in the topmost one was slid all the way to the right and was originally much closer to the woman. I wonder if this sequence might have originally only had those two images, and they were reworked to include the third. This whole stacked panel seems like a very unorthodox choice for Kirby, and so the hand of Lee would seem to be responsible.

Here on PAGE 23, it’s interesting to see just how small Kirby draws the Mole Man. He’s only half the size of Johnny Storm and appears to have been much more severely mutated by whatever strange energy he found in his descent into the core of the Earth than the narrative lets on. And in that last panel, there’s the Thing shucking his coat and hat once more. In that frame, when looked at up close, it’s possible that the Thing’s head has been retouched by another hand, made larger in proportion to his body. At least that’s what it looks like to my eye. Also notice ben’s short, stumpy legs in this frame–he really is a Thing in this first story.

PAGE 24 has a big, huge blob of printer schmutz on the upper right across Panel 2. Fortunately, it doesn’t go over any of the artwork itself. But at least one reprinting of this story didn’t bother to correct it back out. In Panel 2, those figures of the Fantastic Four at the bottom of teh frame seem to have been added in by somebody other than Kirby. There are a few lettering corrections here. RAISES in Panel 2’s caption has been altered, though I’ve no idea what might have been there before–could simply have been a straightforward typo. More interesting is the adjustment to the type in Panel 3, where FLY INTO BLAZING ACTION has been relettered, most of it at least. I wonder if it might have originally said FLY INTO AMAZING ACTION when/if this story had originally been intended for AMAZING ADVENTURES. Up close, it appears that only the BLA in BLAZING has been redone, meaning that whatever had been there earlier had to end in ZING and also had to be about a letter longer based on teh exaggerated spacing on FLY INTO. Similarly, in Panel 6, FLIES has been relettered, and somewhat crammed into a smaller space. The lettering guidelines, done in non-repro blue, have also reproduced a bit, indicating a last minute lettering fix. TRIES TO is also adjusted, which makes me wonder if perhaps this caption hadn’t originally been written and lettered in past tense, with RAISED ITSELF, FLEW INTO BLAZING ACTION, FLEW THE HUMAN TORCH and TRIED TO GRASP as the original copy. That final panel on this page also looks weird to me, specifically the arc of Reed’s elongated arm. That doesn’t really match the manner in which Kirby depicted Reed stretching.

And then it’s time for a super-fast wrap-up on PAGE 25. In Panel 3, the S in MELTS has been toucher up, but up close that looks like just repairing a regular typo. In Panel 5, the tip of the wing of the jet was added where the inker made the decision not to enclose the whole of the image in panel borders, dropping them out to open up that frame. A bit of the penciled border can still be seen within the wingtip. And in the final panel, the Thing and part of Sue seem to have been retouched. I wonder if perhaps Kirby had drawn the Thing back in his coat and hat there. But he certainly had nothing to do with that misshapen Thing face.

10 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: THE STATS OF FANTASTIC FOUR #1, Part 4

  1. Also, I think the narrator boxes on page 25, panels 1-3, were all originally written in past tense.

    I see corrections that look like it must have originally said “…raceD FOR” and “… antagonist siezeD the signal…” in panel 1, “…then they cAme…” in panel 2, and “…he blazeD a fiery swath which meltED the…” (caps reflecting my edits).

    In the case of “came/come” in panel 2, the “O” has a tiny artifact at about 7:00 which likely was the start of an “A.” Using that as a secret code decoder ring, the other examples above fall in line.

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  2. That drawing of The Thing on pg. 20 panel 3 (taking off the coat) has always been my favorite image of him. I think he’s as close to a Kirby monster as you can get. Wish he had kept that look.

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  3. Hmm, why couldn’t the printed pages have been repurposed from a story which hadn’t been given a final destination yet? Something maybe they had in preparation, or back inventory?

    The page 20 three-panel Thing reveal also makes sense if the original story was just a monster story, and this reveal is one way of adding “Fantastic Four” content to it.

    By the way, wouldn’t the obvious action here (page 20-21) be for Sue to turn back invisible immediately?

    Page 21 panel 4: Alternate explanation – the original character in that panel wasn’t the Thing.

    Page 23 panel 2: “He makes his first fatal mistake”. What mistake? The Mole Man does great, winning the pole fight without his opponent ever landing a blow. I conjecture, in the original story, the mistake was his *giving the opponent a pole*. Then the opponent had a weapon, later used to defeat a monster, in a page which was cut.

    Page 23 panel 8: I believe the Thing and Sue are patched-in here, and there was something else in the space they occupy. Sue’s left hand looks weird. I wonder if it was an additional correction, originally hidden due to the coat.

    Page 24: I’ll say it again, this page is such an art mess it’s a major factor in convincing me it’s reworking another story.

    Page 25, panel 1 – The text caption doesn’t make sense. The Thing’s “Can’t you even hold on to one little guy” strikes me as jarring coming from a surly super-strong grouch, who could immediately grab the little guy and not be gentle about it. But it would fit better if the character saying it was originally a normal human, or it was a normal human saying something else (like “We’ve got to get out of here!”).

    Page 25, last panel: Maybe the Thing wasn’t originally there at all.

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    1. I agree.
      Breakdowns-wise, this looks like no Kirby job I’ve ever seen, not even close.
      As for the notations on the boards, obviously they went on at the end.
      I think a theory is that FF1 was originally two stories for two issues of Amazing Adventures and, to make FF1, there was a lot of chopping up of the original boards. None of Tom’s work on this series of posts explains why the breakdowns are so different from anything else Kirby did.

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  4. I always love reading your blog, Tom. Aside from Mark Evanier, I consider you to be the foremost expert on Kirby’s work, especially in the early days of Marvel. With so little information available on FF #1 and 2, I’m always excited when I see something like this which gives possible insights as to the creative process at the time. Something I’ve always wondered about the way in which Lee and Kirby collaborated to create FF #1–had the “Marvel Method” of working already been established in the time leading up to FF #1? Or was the Marvel Method something that evolved naturally once Marvel began publishing multiple super-hero titles? Maybe we don’t even know the answer to this, but I’d love to hear any stories about the time leading up to that fateful month in 1961. It’s just a shame that both Lee and Kirby had such notoriously bad memories and their personal narratives of the early days are likely incomplete.

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  5. I’ve always had this deep and enduring affection for the way Kirby drew both the Thing and the Torch in FF #1. I think a major part of my love for these depictions is that when you compare their appearances even a few issues later, it was clear that Kirby was refining the looks over time and I would be surprised if he was subtly altering them so it would create the appearance of an evolution of the characters. I’ve always suspected he simply didn’t think through the changes all that completely and was primarily focused on an appearance that was pleasing to him.

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    1. Dunno what the pencils looked like back then but the pencils on the Thing seemed to be vague enough that Sinnott’s version was his version, not Kirby’s. Kirby subsequently pencilled the Thing the way Sinnott inked him. At the time, apparently, Kirby thought of the Thing’s skin as dinosaur hide, Sinnott inked it as something Rocky.

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