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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

THINGS I LEARNED FROM DRAWING ONE PAGE OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR


I recently sat down and drew page 11 from Fantastic Four #49 ("If This Be Doomsday," April 1966; written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby).  This is the page where Alicia Masters shows the Silver Surfer what Beauty is.  If you haven't read these classic issues of the Fantastic Four, I encourage you to do so!  Especially this series, "The Galactus Trilogy," which ran from issues 48-50.  (And you might as well keep reading through issue 51 as well, "This Man, This Monster," which many critics consider the greatest superhero story of all time.)

Anyhow, as I was drawing this page, my mind was flooded with observations, thoughts and questions, which I reckoned I would share with you here today.  For reference, here's my version of the page:

(Click twice to enlarge.)


COMMENTS, THOUGHTS, AND LESSONS I LEARNED UPON DRAWING PAGE 11 OF FANTASTIC FOUR #49:

• So many words!

• At first glance, the page seems to be divided into a standard six-panel grid (with the bottom tier broken into 3 smaller panels), but actually each tier is of independent size.  The top row panels are slightly taller than they are wide, and taller than any of the other panels on the page.  Row 2 is more square-shaped than Row 1 (ie shorter), and Row 3 is even shorter still.  The Row 3 panels are divided into a vertically symmetrical pattern, with the two outside panels being slightly wider than the middle one.

• Silver Surfer uses the word "word" four times in seven panels.

• How many pages like this did Kirby crank out in a day?  Because I was exhausted after drawing just this one.

• In panel two, the ellipses after "sculptures" contains only two dots;  in panel six they save room by adding the exclamation mark onto the final dot in the ellipses.  Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I've used this trick in my own comics before!  Also, every line of dialogue on the page ends in an exclamation mark or a question mark.  Commas are used sparingly-- most of the text comes in short, staccato bursts.

• The Silver Surfer goes from Unquestioningly Destroying the Earth to Understanding Beauty in three short panels.  Maybe this is one reason why each one of these classic old comics issues provides the reader with such a fulfilling experience.  They are jam-packed.


Silver Surfer and Alicia Masters © Marvel Comics Group, Inc.

15 comments:

  1. Great job, John!

    It's interesting that Kirby flipped Alicia and the Surfer's staging in panel three -- the rest of the page has her on the right and him on the left -- maybe so that her hitting his chest moves the eye left to right and on to the next panel? All the other single-direction action on the page is either vertical or left-to-right as well.

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  2. Get pick, John. I remember reading that way back when and it's one of the few pages that stuck with me. Your teaser panel took me right back.

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  3. Excellent observations--what a great exercise. The color version has a strong V-shaped composition that doesn't stand out as much in black-and-white. The white shapes of Silver Surfer's body lead the reader's eye to that bottom, middle panel, where Silver Surfer is emphasized by contrasting red; this is also the moment in the story when he makes the big realization. An example of content and form aligning brilliantly!

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  4. A more interesting exercise might be redrawing a page, and rewriting it based on Kirby's margin notes. In any event rewriting Lee's maudlin pap would be more worthwhile than redrawing Kirby's art.

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  5. I have to say, John, I love your version. It is simple and beautiful.

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  6. Man, that is hilarious! King-Cat style Fantastic Four! Is Stan Lee the writer? Because he's amazingly chatty in a delightful way. But chatty indeed.

    Would love to see more. Favorite panel by far is Susan Storm in horror.

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    1. Yes, I suppose 'chatty' is one word one might use to describe Stan Lee's dialogue.

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  7. The Silver Surfer "eats" too fast. But I have read these comics way too fast. Very, very cool.

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  8. Thanks everyone! Just to clarify a little, I didn't draw this page as an intentional comics exercise, it just turned out that way.

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  9. Here's the page with Kirby's original short-hand dialog.
    http://twomorrows.com/kirby/media/23ff4911.gif

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  10. As to Kirby's page-per-day speed: Stan Lee tells a story of how he gave Kirby a script for the first issue of the next three-issue story arc for the Fantastic Four, plus a rough outline for the 2nd and 3rd issues, mostly as a reference for Kirby about where the story was going. This was late on a Friday, and Lee expected that, come Monday, Kirby would have some rough pencils of the first few pages and some questions/feedback. Instead, Kirby shows up with finished pencils of the first issue and half the second issue . . . of an entirely different story that Kirby just thought up over the weekend, something like 30 pages in two-and-a-half days!

    And then there's John Byrne during his salad days in the 1980's: Howard Chaykin shared a studio with Byrne while Chaykin was doing the original run of America Flagg - Chaykin confirmed Byrne typically pencilled AND inked 8 pages a day.

    If you're a comic book artist, it's people like this who make you realize what little you're doing with your life . . .

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  11. This reminds me of the master painting studies we did in art school wherein the teacher tells you to copy a masterpiece. The idea being that we can learn how to be great by imitating the greats. Now, John, you too have learned from a master. Professor John Rooney would be so proud!

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  12. Thanks everybody. For curious readers, here's an entire essay about Kirby's work on the Silver Surfer, which is pretty much heartbreaking:

    http://twomorrows.com/kirby/articles/23notes.html

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  13. Great stuff, John! I love those Kirby FF's. Esp the middle of the run.

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  14. John, Here is a new version of the article on Kirby's "Fallen Angel." It has more and larger illustrations. Also a second article on the same topic.
    http://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/effect/a-failure-to-communicate-part-two/
    http://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/effect/rough-surfing/

    Patrick Ford

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