Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Variations On A Theme

After looking at artist Jack Kirby's second series of pin-ups of the Fantastic Four (published in Fantastic Four Annual #2), it's easier to read much more into the characters of Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny than it was when Kirby did his first series of pin-ups of the team members in the earliest issues of the comic.  But those first pics had their appeal.  Striking but less vibrant, they nevertheless served to give new readers a more personal look at these characters they were just getting to know.

Even though these portraits were Kirby's first step out of the gate in portraying the FF, it was this grouping of pin-ups which artist John Byrne later chose to pay homage to when drawing his own pin-ups of the team (from Fantastic Four Special Edition).  Taking a fresh look at these old Kirby pin-ups with their newer Byrne counterparts, you'll notice more similarities than differences. For instance, these two pages of the Torch, with Kirby's work on the left and Byrne's on the right:

Byrne's improvements are obvious, adding much more detail as well as a reason for the Torch to be at such a high altitude in the first place. There's also the small point that, in Kirby's drawing, the FF wouldn't have been able to spot the Torch's signal to them if he'd really placed it that high in the atmosphere.  (Though both minor points can be easily explained by Johnny just enjoying his power and showing a little team spirit.)

We also see the same basic layout with Reed from both artists, though Byrne removes the nasty gunman:

I think the main problem with Kirby's depiction of Reed is that, for a pin-up, Reed is pictured too much "at a distance" and doesn't make much of an impression, except to display his elastic abilities. Byrne corrects for that while keeping the same elements of the background--though, with the exception of Sue's page, Kirby compensates by adding insets of the character's face to each pin-up, a feature which Byrne chooses to eliminate.

Sue's pin-up has a little more variation--a different hairstyle, as well as a different background. But look at how Byrne includes the nice touch of the "star" caption:

The pin-up of the Thing is the only one of the grouping which strays from the clear pattern of Byrne's work here:

I think a nice touch would have been to include the mangled street lamp shown in the earlier drawing with the rubble at the Thing's feet in Byrne's rendition. Though with all of that debris, maybe we're just not sharp-eyed enough to spot it, eh?


Kid said...

Byrne really suited the FF. After Kirby and Buscema, he breathed new life into the series, which had become a bit stale over the years. And his appreciation for Kirby was obvious from the get-go. Great post.

Comicsfan said...

I've had my objections to Byrne's work here and there, but I enjoyed his take on the FF for the most part. It was obvious he had a love of the subject matter, and many of his stories were intriguing and downright entertaining. He had a very good run on the book.