Lee & Ditko & Orlando & Rockwell: A New Discovery in the Multiple Car Crash of TALES TO ASTONISH #61

You never know what’s going to turn up in the world of comic books, even after decades have gone by. So I was astonished to see the page I’m about to share with you turn up at one of the comic book auction sites recently. It’s an amazing thing unto itself, but it also provokes a bit of re-evaluation concerning what I laid out about the making of this story several months ago.

First off, for anybody who wasn’t around to read that piece new, it can be located here:

To break the situation down very simply once again: the Giant-Man story in TALES TO ASTONISH #61 had been promoted as featuring artwork by Dick Rockwell, an artist who had worked for the company in its pre-super hero days and who was best known within the field as a newspaper cartoonist. Instead, the story that finally saw print was a mess, with several hands in evidence–attributed primarily by editor Stan Lee to Steve Ditko and George Roussos, but which had mostly been penciled by Joe Orlando before extensive revisions were made.

So this page turned up on Comic Connect for auction not long ago. In the description of the item, the site notes:

Discovered underneath the published art by Steve Ditko and George Roussos was this unfinished version of the title splash by Golden Age artist and nephew of the legendary illustrator Norman Rockwell. Rockwell’s work is very rare, and this piece is also an interesting peek into the creative process of early Marvel Comics. The drawing is all original, as well as the Rockwell and Art Simek credit boxes in the lower right, all other text elements are modern reproductions

It’s a really nice piece, but it adds some additional questions to the story of ASTONISH #61. Initially, the thinking was that Rockwell didn’t do any work on this story at all, and that Orlando was called in to sub for him. But it’s clear that he penciled and partially inked this splash page at least, before turning back the assignment. So what happened? And did he do any work on further pages? We may never know for certain. But if i was to take a guess as to why Lee had this page redrawn, putting aside the question of whether it would have fit in stylistically with what Orlando and later Ditko had done, I would guess that the concern was that Giant-Man was simply too large here. He’s colossal in comparison to those kids, and while it doesn’t bother my eye at all, it may have been enough to make Lee ask Ditko to replace it for the final story, which he eventually did. Ditko’s splash page shows Giant-Man as still being large, but not so overwhelmingly so as on this page. He’s in better scale to the observing kids.

We also get to see the missing credits, which give a bit more credence to the notion that Rockwell may have penciled more of this story before bowing out that we previously thought. After all, the story would only have been dialoged and lettered after the penciled pages had been done, and Rockwell is the only artist name listed. So it could be that Orlando was called upon to re-pencil a goodly portion of Rockwell’s work, and after he walked away from the job as well, Ditko came in to finish things up. This would help to explain the odd page layouts and compositions on certain pages, if there were three separate artists involved in putting them together.

So, this page raises more questions than it answers, but that’s often par for the course in this sort of comic book archaeology. And if nothing else, it gives us a very nice look at a potential Marel superstar who got away. Based on this one example, I would have been keen on seeing Dick Rockwell draw more for the Marvel of this period. He was clearly a skilled illustrator.

7 thoughts on “Lee & Ditko & Orlando & Rockwell: A New Discovery in the Multiple Car Crash of TALES TO ASTONISH #61

  1. With the detail Rockwell put into this splash, it doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t have time to complete the assignment. It was a good, time-saving decision that Orlando and/or Ditko took out about 3/4 of the spectators in the background.

    It’s interesting that the dialogue was designed with Rockwell’s splash in mind. Since the Marvel Method is plot first, pencils next, then dialogue (and lettering BEFORE inking), it seems to suggest that Rockwell might have gotten much further than just that one page. However, it’s fortunate and amazing that even this ONE page resurfaced almost 60 years after it was created.

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  2. Since the page was lettered and partially inked, I’d bet Rockwell drew the whole story.

    And my guess would be Stan had it reworked because it was dull. In his previous comic book career, Rockwell had mostly drawn romance, Western and crime stories — all realistic settings, normal clothes — and taking a look at them, they’re pretty staid. Even his adaptation of DESTINATION MOON is very quiet, very straight-on realism.

    I never saw anything Rockwell did that suggested he could handle a Marvel-style assignment or exciting superhero action. He did a good job on STEVE CANYON for years, but CANYON had lots of talking heads and when it had action it was realistic, rarely exaggerated. Plus, of course, Caniff could change anything Rockwell did that didn’t measure up when he was finishing up the art.

    I’d guess that Rockwell did the whole story, or at least enough of it for Stan to start feeding pages to the letterer, and at some point Stan realized it just wasn’t working, and he’d have to have it redone.

    I have no way of proving this, but that’d be my guess. Rockwell just wasn’t the kind of artist who could do what Stan needed out of a Marvel artist at the time. He wasn’t even someone who could have done what Julie Schwartz or Mort Weisinger needed out of a superhero artist at the time.

    He could draw nicely. But he couldn’t do superhero excitement.

    Or at least, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

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  3. Like Kurt, I’m veering towards Rockwell either penciling or laying out the entire story that was revised by Ditko. Researching through some of Rockwell’s attributed comic book work I’m seeing tropes such as the use of vertical panels, three tier panels and other unusual layouts. Faces also, particularly that of Henry Pym on page 5, point to his involvement.

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    1. Sounds about right to me. If so, I’m wondering about Orlando’s role in the story, if the odd panel layouts can be attributed to Rockwell. I wonder where Mark Evanier got his information concerning Orlando, or if it was ever corroborated by anyone else who was there.

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  4. Maybe the rest of the Rockwell pencilled pages didn’t work for whatever reason, but that splash looks better than the replacement. The Converti-car is still in the lower left and it’s interior has been simplified. I’m guessing there was a time crunch.

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