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Year of the Artist, Day 5: Jack Kirby, Part 5 – The Fantastic Four #29

by  in Comic News Comment

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jack Kirby, and the issue is The Fantastic Four #29, which was published by Marvel and has a cover date of August 1964. These scans are from Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four volume 3, my copy of which was published in 2010. Enjoy!

Kirby started getting more like “Kirby” as he worked on FF, and I happen to like issue #29 because of something he did in the issue, for the first time, I think. But we’ll get to that! First, we’ll notice that his Ben Grimm has evolved into the more “superheroic” Thing and less of the monstrous Thing. Sure, he’s still the Thing, but he looks more like a friendly cartoon character by now than an ugly monster:


It’s interesting that he kept Ben’s “lower-class” face even after he became the Thing, again implying that Ben is someone you can trust, as opposed to Reed’s elitist look. But Kirby has also changed Reed a bit, too, which is interesting:


Reed looks much older than he did in issue #1, and his lined face and slightly wider eyes make him less of an aloof, vain aristocrat and more of a man of the people. Kirby’s inker here is Chic Stone, and he’s someone else I don’t know much about, but his thicker lines make Reed’s face seem more earthy and therefore more trustworthy. Kirby also has added some width to Reed’s face, so it’s not quite as thin and pointed. By now, the reader knows that Reed is a good guy even if he can be kind of a dick, so Kirby and Stone’s face reflects that change.


One thing Kirby always did well in his superhero work is come up with fantastic machines, and when the FF stumbles into the home of the Watcher, he has some fun with it. We’ve already seen some of his machinery even back in the early 1940s, and this is similar – giant, weird structures that manage to be breathtaking and dazzling but also seem to retain some Soviet tendencies of brutal architecture. Look at Panel 3 and the line of … pods? stretching backward out of sight. It’s beautiful but also somewhat totalitarian. The machine in Panel 4 dwarfs our heroes, turning them into cogs in a vast clockwork. Yet it’s amazing, too. Kirby’s use of perspective in Panel 3 adds to this feeling – the row of machines feels endless because of the way Kirby curves them to infinity. This is a good use of tension in Kirby’s work – his machines are always impressive, but there’s also the sense that they could overwhelm the human element at any moment, and Kirby fights against that. This becomes more evident as Kirby gets older.


I just like this sequence. Sue, proving that she’s at least as useful as Abraham Lincoln’s mother, tips the Red Ghost into a “matter transmitter,” and Kirby shows him falling to … what? Who knows? It’s a cool visual! Note how Kirby makes it appear that the Red Ghost is actually moving just by using a simple swirl in the background as the villain gets smaller. It’s a simple effect, but still cool.

Finally, a device that Kirby uses for, I think, the first time in this comic – multimedia. That is, inserting photographs into the comic and then superimposing his own drawings over them. I know he did it later in FF to much better effect, but I don’t have a copy of that in color. I’m sure someone else did this earlier, but maybe not? Anyway, it’s not an entirely successful panel, but it’s still something different:


The Red Ghost takes the captive Four to the moon, and Kirby uses photographs instead of drawing the moon. As this was done in 1964, I tend to think he used a photograph of a model (it looks that way, anyway), but it’s still an interesting way to depict the panel. I think the technology wasn’t quite there yet to make this successful, and in the context of the comic it looks really weird, but Kirby got better at this, especially when he did more abstract things with the “Photoshopping.” I do wonder why he didn’t just draw the moon. It’s not like there are a lot of details on the moon’s surface, after all.

Kirby kept working for Marvel for another 6-7 years, but I actually don’t own any comics from that period of his life. Yes, I suck. So we’re going to move on to 1970s Kirby, but at another time. I’ll be back to Kirby in a while. I don’t want to get too burned out on the King. Instead, tomorrow we’ll begin looking at another artist who defined Marvel in the 1960s, and we’ll see where he got his start in the 1950s! Be here or be square! In the meantime, you can check out the small-but-getting-bigger archive!