In I Can’t Cover What I Am, I spotlight a collection of comic book covers (of at least ten covers) that follow a specific theme.
Ron Frenz’s early years at Marvel were interesting. He first really to people’s attention when he was doing licensed work on Marvel’s Lucasfilm comic book series, The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Star Wars, in particular, really made saw Frenz shine, when he took over the series in 1983 with writer Jo Duffy (right when Return of the Jedi was on everyone’s mind). Working with legendary comic book inker Tom Palmer, Frenz did breakdowns and Palmer did finishes and they were truly dynamite. They excelled at the likenesses of the main characters, but not in that ridiculous way that you sometimes see artists do nowadays where it looks like they just digitally altered the literal still of the character from the film into the work. This was just traditional likeness work (Palmer has always been AMAZING with likenesses, so that was no surprise, but Frenz was still fairly new to Marvel – he only started working there in 1982, so he was the bigger revelation). I really dug Cynthia Martin’s work following Frenz (Duffy’s run on the book, in general, was excellent) but she went in a whole other direction than Frenz.
Then Frenz, of course, followed up John Romita Jr. on Amazing Spider-Man, right when Tom DeFalco took over from Roger Stern. The whole bit about Star Wars is important to note if only because it puts into context how good Frenz is at likenesses, which works with licensed characters but also works when he decided to try to do a Steve Ditko vibe with his work on Amazing Spider-Man. It was this really cool modern day spin on Ditko’s early Spider-Man. Modern enough to work for current audiences, but enough Ditko there to really be a throwback, as well. Really outstanding stuff.
So then DeFalco and Frenz end their Spider-Man run and they eventually move over to Thor. Thor, of course, is one of Jack Kirby’s two main series from the Silver Age. The two substantial Marvel runs that meant the most to him (Captain America obviously meant a lot to Kirby as a character and the Inhumans were very important to Kirby, as well, as was the Silver Surfer, but his two most iconic runs at Marvel were clearly Fantastic Four and Thor).
When Frenz and DeFalco took over Thor, they were following in the footsteps of the OTHER most iconic Thor run, Walter Simonson’s stint on the book. Simonson had also went back to Kirby’s run a LOT on this run, but he did it in a much different fashion than DeFalco and Frenz. DeFalco and Frenz decided to do the Ditko thing I mentioned before – bring that Kirby style directly to the late 1980s.
What Frenz did, though, was much more than just draw in the Kirby style. He intentionally worked in lots of actual Kirby panels into his stories. This, to me, is different from the common idea of “swiping,” where an artist uses another artist’s work to fill in for their own storytelling. Storytelling has never been a problem for Ron Frenz. The dude can clearly tell a story really well. He doesn’t need to look to Jack Kirby to know how to lay out a panel. No, here, it was MEANT to be clear that he was working Kirby panels into his stories. It was a giant homage to Kirby.
Here is an example. First a Kirby panel and then a Frenz/DeFalco panel…
Frenz got teased about it a lot at the time…
Now, feel free to dislike what he and DeFalco were going for, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think it really fits the traditional negative view of “swiping.” It’s not like that dude who chopped up Jim Lee’s X-Men #1 into nearly all of his panels for a Ghost Rider/Wolverine team-up. This was a clear homage going on. Everything was above board.
The Kirby tributes continued with the covers. My buddy Chad Nevett wanted me to write about the covers, so here you are…
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