Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kirby Vs Ditko: Year One

A while back in response to my article on Ditko's Design Sense, a comment on that post got me wondering about Kirby's early Marvel work versus Ditko's early Marvel work. My first thought was that Ditko's early Spider-man covers were better than Kirby's early Fantastic Four covers, but I've never really examined them together. See what you think.

First here are the first 12 Fantastic Four Covers

Now let's look at the first 12 issues of Amazing Spider-Man

The first thing that jumps out at me is just how many of Ditko's early covers convey a sense of peril vs Kirby's. Spider-man is often at the mercy of his foe on the covers. By my count, there are 10 issues where Spider-man is imperiled vs only four of the early FF covers. (Five if you count the Puppet Master cover)

Early Kirby also tends to lean towards a flatter perspective than early Ditko. With the rare exception of FF 2 (the Skrulls cover) Kirby doesn't play around with perspective very much. Contrast that with Ditko does on Spider-Man 5, 10 and 12.

There is also a greater sense of movement on the Ditko covers. Kirby's covers often feel like the Calm Before the Storm. On three of them, the Fantastic Four are either just standing or walking.

Ditko also played more with layout than Kirby, notable examples being the 4 panel layout of issue 4 with Sandman, the 2 panel layout on issue 9 with Electro and the circle insets on issue 8.

Kirby's early covers also tend to have a more static composition. Check out how the figures are boxed in on these covers.

I think Kirby's early FF covers suffer because he may have had a hard time wrapping his mind around how different the characters were from the Challengers of the Unknown. Many of the first year FF covers look like they would harken back to the format that served him so well with that series.

Whereas Ditko instinctively knew how to have fun with Doc Ock's metal tentacles, curving them around the space or directing focus, it would be years before we saw the same kinetic design used with Reed Richards. During the first year, when Reed was stretching on the covers, it often comes across as an artistic afterthought. As the Series continued, Kirby would be more inclined to play with composition and movement.

Early Kirby would sometimes use the Human Torch's flame trail to convey movement, but it was never incorporated very organically in the design. Conversely, check out how Ditko uses the flame trail to add a rippling effect on the cover of Spider-man 1:

UPDATE: I was informed after I put this post up by commenter Kid, that Kirby actually drew this issue and Ditko inked it. The rippling effect may have just been a happy accident in this case as Ditko embellished Kirby's original art and then whoever added the cover title followed suit.

Ditko uses curved lines a number of times on his early issues. (1, 3, 5, 6) As a result, they do help give his covers a nicer sense of rhythm (or gestalt if you prefer.)

I started this article referring back to a theory I had, so I'll leave on the same note. I think that as the years played out, Kirby seemed to grow more than Ditko, partly due I suspect to the amount of work demanded from him. I'll see if that theory pans out in a future post.

- Jim


Trey said...

Interesting analysis!

Brendoon said...

G'day Jim!
I'm not really a fan of Kirby or Ditko (not against 'em either) but my initial feelings about the covers were quite different from yours.
The Kirbys gave me a much stronger emotional impact, they're strongly framed and the action is blockbuster style, overwhelmingly dynamic. My initial reaction to the Spideys was "hmm, they're okay, but kinda bland. No real emotional blast." I notice they don't have the same tight framing as the kirbys, so my eyes drift off the side of the picture going "so what's out here?" In the Kirbys I can't tear my eyes offa the clashing menace cos the frames won't let my eyes escape.
Different strokes, eh!

Kid said...

Interesting, but it was Kirby who pencilled the cover to ASM #1 - Ditko only inked it. Also, the covers were often drawn after Kirby had finished the interiors, and by that time his mind was already on the next issue.

Kid said...

PS: And Kirby also drew the Spidey figure on the cover of ASM #10. It's interesting to note that, although Stan got Jack to draw Spidey covers on at least a couple of occasions, such a thing never happened in reverse with the FF.

JimShelley said...

@Trey - Thank you! It was your original comment on my previous post that spawned this one.

JimShelley said...

@Brendoon - I more than welcome different strokes and opinions. Thank you. I was hoping I'd hear from someone in Kirby's Corner. :)

JimShelley said...

@Kid - That explains a lot actually! I thought Spider-man looked a little different on both covers. Thank you for the information!

Brendoon said...

Heh heh, welll, just standing in for the Kirby corner really. Truth to be told, when I was a kid I couldn't handle Kirby's stuff. Those square jaws and angular mouths scared me to death!

JimShelley said...

@Brendoon - yeah, Kirby art takes some getting used to.

Funny story: While at Heroescon with my wife many years ago, we were both going through the back issue bins looking for some specific comics when I happened to come across some cheap issues of Kirby's Kamandi. At the time, I thought the premise might appeal to Gina as she didn't read many comics, (not liking superhero stuff so much) so I slide the issue over to her for her inspection.

She took one look at it and said, "I don't like Kirby."

I was dumbfounded that she even knew who he was. :D

MattComix said...

@JimShelley. Yet, many is the tale of a person who hated Kirby's work at first blush only to become a huge fan later on, once something about this style finally clicked.

I was watching a special on YouTube about Jack Kirby and every comicbook artist interviewed had their own variation of that.

The only exception was Walt Simonson who said "Then I'm smarter than anyone else you've interviewed because I loved his work from day one! (laughs)."

Brendoon said...

Haha! these comments are brilliant!


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