Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jack Kirby, and the story is “The League of the Handsome Devils!” from Fighting American #2, which was published by Prize Comics, an imprint of Crestwood Publications, and has a cover date of June/July 1954. These scans are from Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier (which is why they’re in black and white), which was published in 2008. Enjoy!
I wanted to show some more pre-1960s Kirby, especially action Kirby from the 1950s, and this story from Fighting American is all I have access to, and that’s in an adulterated form, as I’ll show below. Evanier’s book is pretty darned cool, though – I recommend it highly.
First up, Evanier shows the pernicious influence of the Comics Code. This comic was published a few months before it went into effect, and Evanier points out the very first panel (after the splash page) shows a dude about to get killed by another person holding an ice pick. In 1966, Harvey published a reprint, and the Code meant that the first panel had to be censored. As this story is the altered version, Evanier shows us that not only was the ice pick obliterated, the man’s scream and the fact that he was dying was also wiped out. Man, censorship is weird.
We do get some quality Kirby action in this story, however. Here’s the Fighting American and Speedboy (really?) intervening in a mugging:
Kirby is always great at perspective, and the “3-D” effect of the thug flying toward the reader is done really well here. The action flows nicely from left to right, and Kirby gives us the punk smashing right into some kind of post (which appears out of nowhere, but the visual is still cool). He has “Kirby hands” – don’t tell me that you don’t recognize them! – that are bigger than the other parts of him, because he’s coming right at us. In Panel 3, Kirby smartly shows the beating Speedboy receives from that angle, probably for a couple of reasons: One, so it wouldn’t seem as brutal as it is, because we can’t see Speedboy’s face; and Two, because the way the punk hits Speedboy, our eye flows down to the fallen shape of the Fighting American. It’s a nicely composed panel.
The attractive thieves are, it turns out, really ugly dudes who wear masks (it’s unclear why; their leader eventually claims that he hates good-looking people, and I guess the gang wears masks so that no one thinks they’re evil, because we all know that attractive people are never evil?), and this is where they reveal themselves. Panel 2 is a good Kirby panel: the hands (Kirby hands!) are thick and masculine, and they form a frame for the diabolical leader. Notice also that the ugly men are fairly typical Kirby ugly people – they wouldn’t be out of place as villains in a Fantastic Four comic from a decade later. Kirby was good at drawing ugly!
Here’s some more classic Kirby action – the Fighting American leaps from Panel 1 directly into Panel 2, smashing into the bad guys so hard that the upper half of his body disappears. As we saw a few days ago with Blue Bolt, Kirby liked drawing masses of bodies getting beaten up, and we get that in Panel 3. Evanier notes a mistake in this panel – Kirby was working so fast that he accidentally attached an extra arm to the thug in the middle. That’s what happens when you draw a mass of bodies – things get weird!
This story is recognizably Kirby, in that we can see the bold action coming together and the way he draws bodies beginning to become solidified. It’s interesting to compare this to his early 1940s work, which has some similarities but is also much rougher. In this comic, we can see the 1960s Kirby coming to the fore. Tomorrow, we’ll enter the 1960s and check out a certain book that changed comics history. What could it be????
In case you missed the past two days, feel free to check out the archives!