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Saturday, June 8, 2019



By Michael Wurl

- click image to enlarge -

An opportunity was presented to me in 2014 to collaborate with one of the giants of the comic book industry, Jack Kirby. Well, collaborate isn't quite accurate, seeing as Kirby passed away 20 years prior in 1994. What I did get to do was answer a challenge to ink and color an unused rough cover layout done in pencil by Kirby in 1954.

Who is Jack Kirby, you say? I'll pretend you didn't just ask that...Kirby being legendary in the industry.  But if you had a sheltered life and are unaware, Jack "King" Kirby is co-creator of Golden Age hero Captain America, and practically the architect of the 1960's Silver Age of Marvel Comics, his credits including (co)creating the Fantastic Four, Thor, Black Panther, Hulk, the Avengers, Nick Fury, Silver Surfer, etc., etc... Basically if you've ever seen a Marvel movie, Jack Kirby had a creative hand in most characters popularized today. Kirby's distinctive art became more and more stylized as the years went on, and can be easily recognized once you have seen it.

Captain America #1, 1941
Cover by Jack Kirby 
Some Kirby creations (all except Spider-man) 

In 1954 Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg) had been working in comics for nearly 20 years. One of the jobs he had was creating a cover for a new comic book called FOXHOLE about soldiers in war combat situations. Here is his initial design for issue number 1, shown below.

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For reasons unknown, that cover was never produced, and Kirby's published version of FOXHOLE #1 is shown below.

Kirby's original cover was never finished...until now.
While I'm not 100% satisfied with my work (I'd like to re-do the water), I did my best to keep all of Kirby's lines and original work intact. I wanted to change many things, like Kirby's double door landing craft (there were such craft in WWII, but most personnel carriers were of the drawbridge variety), but I resisted most desires to change anything by the King of comics. It ended up being more of a daunting challenge than I had first believed, and I have gained a brand new respect for Kirby's art, as well as anyone who ever had the privilege of inking his pencils.

The scene is an amazing action tableau with fantastic depth of field, with figures up close and extending back into the horizon, giving it a wonderful 3D effect. I found one of the biggest challenges was trying to determine what Kirby's thoughts and ideas were for areas of the penciled art that was left fairly loose and vague. Without knowing exactly what his exact concept for these rough and loose areas, I had to do my best to interpret what I could.

The work was both a joy and a challenge.

It was a joy in that it was art from comics legend Jack Kirby. I mean, what comic fan wouldn't want to be associated with the "King"?

It was a challenge for several reasons. One reason, the art as I received it from the website was only 72 dpi and not particularly large in size. I would have preferred 300 dpi and then I could reduce as needed without losing details. Having to enlarge 72 dpi  to ink doesn't make it easier.

Another challenge was that Kirby pencil layout was relatively rough, that is, not excessively detailed in any way, and rather vague in certain spots. Without the benefit of being able to ask Mr. Kirby what he originally intended for these unclear areas necessitated  some creative interpretation, as well as attempted trans-time warp psychic thought exchange. Yet, try as I might, I just couldn't read Jack Kirby's mind, after all. 

What I wanted to achieve was to be as true to Kirby's lines as possible, to bring forth that which he originally envisioned as best as I could, without changing anything, as much as I might feel like it.

I finished inking it and put it aside until I felt like returning to add color. I had intended to add flourish lines and details to the inks (Kirby's drawing style had changed from the 50's to the 60's, his most remembered period), but I determined that the simple bold lines would suffice, as I didn't want to risk f@*#ing it up accidentally by adding too much. As I looked at the inked page I noticed one thing: the left side of the image seemed to be missing something.

Here is the inked version before alterations...

First inked version, before alterations

2nd inked version, after alterations

This was a depiction of a beach landing, yet the only craft visible was the lone landing craft (with ship behind it). Where were the other ships? These guys couldn't accomplish much success  alone. So after looking at a similar Kirby cover done about 10 years after this one, I saw what I needed to do.

Kirby cover art for Sgt. Fury #3, 1963 (inked by Steve Ditko, Spider-Man co-creator)

Like Kirby did in this SGT. FURY cover, I needed to add at least a couple of battleships to that empty sea. Also, I re-checked Kirby's pencils and noticed I had omitted  a couple of shots of the strafing gunfire beyond the prone soldiers legs. So, I added that in as well. Now, it was ready to color.

I feel it turned out pretty good. I'm pleased with it, for what it is.
Here again is the original Jack Kirby rough pencil cover art, and my subsequent inks and then colors on top of it.

Click images to enlarge.

Jack Kirby's unused cover art for FOXHOLE #1, 1954

Kirby's cover inked by me after revisions

Kirby's FOXHOLE #1 unused cover art, inked and colored, finished

A closer look at some details:

- before revisions - 

- after revisions -

With added battleships, and added gunfire (also added boot lacings), the scene became more balanced design-wise.

The main characters...close-up.

Kirby's main character - his face says, "What the hell am I doing here?!"

Kirby's soldier #2 - "Look out! Get down!!"

Kirby soldier #3 - too late, the enemy shelling has done it's dirty work, and this soldier has made the ultimate sacrifice.

This "Day At The Beach" is no fun at all - dead soldiers cover the shoreline.


Thank you, Jack Kirby.
Thank you, greatest generation American soldiers of WW2 and D-Day.
God bless those who serve and fight for our freedoms.

God bless America!