Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Smaller Surfer

It took thirteen issues into the Silver Surfer's first series for readers to sound off (or, perhaps, simply to be acknowledged) about a change in the Surfer's look that happened fairly early in the title:

The two readers are referring to the introduction of what the Hulk would probably call the "puny Surfer." Where the Surfer was noticeably shifted from a formidable figure: a figure who looks like he could be flattened by his own masthead:

And along with the loss of mass came a startling loss of detail and silvery finish, as these side-by-side before-and-after images show:

Until, by the next-to-last issue of the Surfer's run, he'd been reduced (literally) to almost puppet stature:

Nor was the letters page any quieter on the subject:

So to refresh my memory, I took a look at the Surfer's first appearance in Fantastic Four, drawn by artist Jack Kirby. I didn't expect to find Johnny Weissmuller portraying the Surfer, of course, but I didn't find a 98-pound weakling, either:

In a book on artist Sal Buscema by Jim Amash and Eric Nolen-Weatherington, Buscema is reported to have said that his brother John had asked for him to replace inker Joe Sinnott on the Surfer book because of the feeling that Sinnott was overpowering his pencils.  So the change in the creative team was made.  Sal would end up staying on the book for about four issues, and then Dan Adkins came aboard to ink the bulk of the Surfer's remaining issues. And by the end, despite presumably more of John Buscema's pencils distinguishing the character, there seemed to be very little of the artist in the Surfer--short of minimal layouts.

Finally, Marvel would give a tepid response to the issue:

Good lord, grasping at straws for "a silent majority." It seems clear which way Marvel is swinging on this, doesn't it. Unfortunately, the subject would become moot with the cancellation of the Surfer's title after the next issue.

When the Surfer next appears a little over a year later in the pages of Thor, with John Buscema again as penciller, apparently Sam Grainger's inking on the prior issue's closing panel didn't agree with Buscema--and Sal Buscema was once again brought in to ink his brother's work on the Surfer. And look at the change of Buscema's presentation of the character from one issue to the next. First, Grainger's gleaming and strong figure:

And then, freshly bleached and trimmed down by the Buscema brothers:

There's an obvious reason why inkers are often referred to as "finishers," as they "flesh out" the initial work of the penciller into something recognizable that has form and substance and reaches off the page.  If we take a look at Buscema's next work on the Surfer, look at how Sinnott once again gives us a more "finished" product:

Which is not to say the fault for the Surfer's steadily diminishing stature should be entirely laid on the finisher's doorstep.  Over the years, it was clear that a "heavier" inker was needed for John Buscema's work, with the strength and detail of his earlier incredible pencils at Marvel nowhere evident in his later artwork.  Yet the almost dizzying decline of his work on the Silver Surfer series in a span of just seventeen issues stands out from the rest, as it was arguably more high-profile--a description the Surfer himself, ironically, couldn't claim for his own appearance at the end of his run.

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