Sunday, April 27, 2014

Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott!

When Jack Kirby was working on THE FANTASTIC FOUR he was teamed with a number of embellishers (also known as inkers). Just about all of these men were very talented and dedicated, but sometimes the inking styles contrasted with Kirby's pencils and layouts and the results were not what they should have been. In the case of some of the guys who worked with him on other titles, they cut corners to produce more work in less time and the results of those efforts were almost criminal.

But, by and large, Kirby had a lot of great collaborators when he did FANTASTIC FOUR. I always very much enjoyed seeing Steve Ditko ink Kirby's art, but this was a rare teaming. Dick Ayers generally was quite good, but worked with Kirby less and less as the years passed. Everyone has their favorite inker over Kirby's pencils, and I am no exception.

My favorite inker for Kirby was Joe Sinnott. His inks were very crisp and exacting and he tended to make the reader more aware than most of the other collaborators on just how skilled Jack Kirby really was. And nobody...NOBODY...understood the character of Ben Grimm (aka "the Thing") better than Joe Sinnott. He brought the brutish hero into perfect clarity like no other inker who had preceded him. In fact, even after Kirby abandoned his creations at Marvel, Sinnott continued to carry that understanding of how to ink those characters over the pencils of artist/writers who followed in Kirby's massive wake.

So here's to my favorite Kirby inker, Joe Sinnott!

This image is, to me, one of the best illustrations I ever saw of Ben Grimm.
A great battle issue by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott.
An early appearance of The Inhumans, another Kirby creation!
I've always felt that Ben Grimm was Kirby's romanticized version of himself. That's why Grimm seemed to dominate the title, and why the character was so rich and fully realized that he was the book's fan favorite.
Jack and Joe!!

Eight Days and Counting

Just eight more working days until we hook up the Casita and head to the Outer Banks. I don't really know what to expect, but I'm really looking forward to the trip. Other folk keep telling me that the drive to the Outer Banks is not the nightmare it once was now that several of the two-lane roads have been converted to four-lane freeways. We'll see. Our reservations for campsites are all done so we don't have to worry about that.

I suspect that bird life will be similar in variety and number to what I have witnessed in the low country of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. So I hope to take plenty of photos of birds while we're there. And alligators, of course. It would be nice to spot some whales. I haven't seen any pilot whales for many years, so I'm hoping to catch sight of a pod of them. We'll see.

These critters were all captured on photo images in Florida, but it's the kind of thing I'm expecting on the Outer Banks.

Gator. Waiting for dinner.

Osprey chick in nest.

Among my favorite and most present of large birds, the Great blue heron.

The Black vulture.

The Green heron.

Friday, April 25, 2014


In the 1950s, Kirby did a comic book called RACE TO THE MOON for Harvey Comics. It ran for only three issues, despite having some great artwork and a decent concept. Apparently, Harvey had intended a fourth issue, but cancelled the book. Still...they had some unpublished artwork featuring Kirby's "3 Rocketeers" characters--that art stayed at Harvey for some years.

Then, in 1965 Harvey decided to finally publish those brief stories, along with some other material they had on hand as BLAST OFF #1. Although Harvey had moved into the very young children's market with titles like RICHIE RICH, CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST, WENDY THE WITCH, LITTLE DOT, etc., they had once published all sorts of comics, including adventure stories. So this was likely a move to test the waters and see if they could generate some income with that kind of project once again.

However, sales must not have been very good, despite the fact that all of the art in this issue is about as good as it gets. The Jack Kirby stories were inked by the ultra-talented Al Williamson. And there are backup stories in the book completely illustrated by Williamson. So as an art-lover's book, it's a true gem of a comic.

My copy of BLAST OFF #1!
The combination of Jack Kirby and Al Williamson produced some stunning work!

What came first? These images, or Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots?

Kirby creatures and technology as inked by Williamson! What joy!

And all published by Harvey Comics! What's not to love?

Comics from the 40s through the mid 60s would often include two pages of text stories. One old pulp writer I used to know (Ryerson Johnson) wrote a lot of these for both Dell Comics and DC Comics. He said that they were included because of an obscure rule in Postal regulations that gave cheaper postage rates for publications that had a certain amount of text, as opposed to just comic images. Thus, it was profitable for publishers to pay authors to pen these short-shorts for their books. A lot of great writers worked in this form for the publishers in the day, but the lion's share of them seem to have been written by Otto Binder, who was half of the "Eando Binder" pen-name...the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, most famous for the great pulp novel ADAM LINK: ROBOT.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fantastic Four #20.

I landed another back issue for my FANTASTIC FOUR COLLECTION. This one is a decent copy of #20. The story features as its villain, the Molecule Man, a character who can control the molecular structure of any non-organic material. Which makes him one very dangerous fellow. The book also features another of Kirby's amazing creations, The Watcher. We had first seen him in issue #13 of the book, so this was a bit of a surprise to see him pop up again. As always, he breaks the rule that he is not supposed to interfere with the history of the human race, in this instance to explain the arrival of the Molecule Man and to give the Fantastic Four a head start in preparing to meet him.

The plot is relatively simple and does not display much of the story-telling maturity that Kirby would later use to great effect. But you can already see that he is building up a mythos, adding to it with each issue of the book. The Watcher is a great device to use to further a plot, and Kirby had already grasped the richness of being able to fall back on it from time to time.

This issue features some spectacular layouts by Kirby, and you can see that he was really enjoying utilizing Ben Grimm as a battering ram to move the action along. The inks by Dick Ayers are okay...a bit heavy for my tastes, but serviceable. There were always less capable inkers to use on Kirby's pencils, and Lee didn't hesitate to use them, unfortunately. In this case, though, Ayers did a decent job.

The cover to my copy of THE FANTASTIC FOUR #20.

I always loved this opening page. It tells so much about Kirby's ripening storytelling abilities. Reed was content to plod along, carefully, but Ben seizes the moment.

The Watcher appears to warn the team of what they are about to face. I liked this early version of the character, but the later, more human form was probably the best for the fans.

The Molecule Man makes his appearance! I love that long shot of the streets of New York City.

Absolutely wonderful action featuring Ben and the Torch at work against their adversary, who is obviously superior to them in power and abilities.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Back Yard Vultures

Almost every day a group of Turkey vultures cruises over our neighborhood. Jove knows where they roost, but just about every day I can look up and see at least one of them scoping out the local territory looking for some corpse to eat. Today I was taking it easy on a cool afternoon looking for other birds to photograph. But the other stuff...the crows and the song birds and such just didn't want to make an appearance. I was just about to go put the camera away when one big vulture came swooping low over the tops of the local houses. And I got just a few shots before he soared away.

The first pass over the yard. I wasn't sure he was going to double back, but he did.

This time I was ready and got some halfway decent photos.

I kept the lens pointed at him as he continued to pull away.

I reckon he was looking for anything edible.

And this was the last image I captured as he vanished behind the rooftops.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easy Sunday

After suffering hideous leg cramps yesterday evening (see my job as a letter carrier), I didn't feel like doing much of anything today. We journeyed to Carole's mom's place to eat dinner and mess about with the Casita. Getting within three weeks of our vacation to the Outer Banks, so we're pushing to get everything in order.

Other than that...all I've done today is rest and read. I haven't even written today.

Casita with azaleas.

The pink blossoms were fading, but the white blossoms were at full.

We planted these just a few years ago.

An azalea bed near the clothes line. We hung out all of the bedding from the trailer on the line today.

We missed the peak of the dogwoods by a few days. But this tall one in the back was spectacular.

I like to take a photo every year of the Casita sitting beneath the dogwoods in full bloom. But we missed the peak for the dogwoods by a few days.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I love reading World War II history. There's a reason a lot of people look upon it as "the good war". Because the Axis Powers really were the most vile and odious lot of villains ever to grab political power in the modern world. And because the personalities who fought this war were so intriguing (on all sides), I never tire of reading about them.

In the days of my youth there were many war titles in comics. Most of these were simple-minded affairs and not worth looking at except as silly entertainment. But occasionally I would happen upon truly excellent war stories and actual history lessons presented within the pages of various comics. In the 1960s we had the stories of Sam Glanzman appearing in titles published by both Charlton Comics and DC Comics. Glanzman was the first and the best of the artist/writers to chronicle the history of World War II in comics format.

Later, in the 1980s, with the proliferation of alternative comics and with the advent of the graphic novel format there were more comics of the non-fiction format, many from the points of view even of our adversaries. The world of history really opened up to the comics format in those years.

Then, of course, that fertile period in the comics industry all but died in the comic book publishing implosion of the mid-90s. It seems to only recently begun to recover.

Just recently, I had the good fortune to come into possession of the first two volumes of a wonderful World War II bit of "faction" from the comics creator, Wayne Vansant. Vansant came to the attention of most comics fans with his brilliant work on the Marvel Comics title THE NAM, chronicling the unfolding of that most unfortunate of military history. Since those days he has continued to produce comics in both periodical and graphic novel format.

The two volumes I just received (and consumed) are in his KATUSHA series. These books follow the title character, a female soldier in the Red Army of the Soviet Union. The reader sees her as young teenager before the outbreak of the war, to her days as a Ukraine partisan, and then as a Red Army sergeant in a tank unit. Vansant uses his vast talent as an artist/writer to take us into the girl's life within her family and as a soldier in the various units with whom she struggles against the Nazis.

Vansant's vast knowledge of World War II and all of its facets are in full display as this very complicated story unfolds. We see the contradictions of the society of Europe and of its peoples spelled out wonderfully in his gorgeous artwork and in his careful and objective prose. It's an absolutely amazing display of storytelling. In addition, the author is point-perfect in the way he illustrates the hardware of warfare within the theater of eastern Europe at that time, and of the tactics always at work by both the Germans and the Soviets.

I heartily recommend these two graphic novels. If you're searching for great war comics, look to anything from Wayne Vansant, especially his newest effort, KATUSHA.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Additions to My Comic Collection.

In my quest to collect every issue of THE FANTASTIC FOUR written and illustrated by its single creator, Jack Kirby, I landed four books that I didn't have today. Now, with the exception of #48, I have every issue that Kirby did after #20. Hopefully, I'll find a decent copy of #48 soon. Then I'll concentrate on getting all of the issues that I don't have before #20.

I've always liked this cover. Not sure exactly why, except that it intrigued me and impressed me when I was a kid. The Mad Thinker ended up becoming one of the villains that Kirby utilized the most in his run as writer/illustrator of FANTASTIC FOUR. Toward the end, I think he was using him so much to avoid creating any new characters for his employers to steal from him.

This was another cover that grabbed my attention and would not let go when I was a kid.

One of the first continued storylines to be used by Kirby in the book.

This one had been very tough for me to locate! It's the first appearance of Kirby's brilliant character, The Black Panther, aka T'Challa, Prince of Wakanda. Rumor is that the Panther will become a movie character in the near future, so the value of the book has been on the ascendancy.

Monday, April 07, 2014

First Photo Sold

Because of the invention of digital cameras, I take a LOT of photographs when I'm on my hiking, backpacking, camping, and kayaking trips. Just because I take so many damned photographs, I sometimes take ones that are pretty good. And every year I sell several images. Sometimes I will donate an image to a good cause or to a project I like.

But the first photo I ever sold was one that I took of the old fire tower on the summit of Mount Sterling in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

And it is, from a winter backpacking trip I took into the Great Smoky Mountains backcountry by myself in 2005.

The Mount Sterling fire tower. The Park Service seems to be allowing this one to deteriorate through benign neglect. They may be using it as a beacon of some sort (witness the power line in the background), so they may be willing to leave the frame intact and to allow the cab to fall apart. I did climb the tower and was going to go into the cab, but when I opened the trap door, the flooring of the interior looked so rotten that I decided not to chance it.
This was the view from the top of the staircase (and just beneath the cab). These are the highest peaks in the northeastern section of the Park, including Mount Guyot, the second highest peak along the spine of the Smokies.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Winter Has Fled (at last)?

Well, it looks like Old Man Winter finally has the worst of his claws out of the local weather. It's supposed to be rather chilly tonight, and we have had to actually close the windows, but I think we'll see no more sub-freezing temperatures and frozen precipitation for the rest of the season.

We went to Carole's mom's place and did some stuff to get the Casita ready for our next trip. Still a few weeks away, but it's good to get these things done in good time. I walked around the yard and took in the sights. Carole's dad, Frank, did a really nice job with landscaping the place when he was here. In the years since his passing we have moved out a few dead azaleas and cut down some dying dogwoods and replanted new shrubs and trees where we could. I noticed today that the grounds need some TLC, which we can give them in a couple of weeks--removing dead limbs, raking out some rough patches, and removing some invasive plants. But by and large, the yard is going to be gorgeous in a couple of more weeks when the azaleas burst out in full bloom and the dogwoods show off their white color.

Looking forward to the dogwoods and azaleas in full bloom behind the Casita.

Some of the azalea beds need some work.

The pink blossoms are preceding the white ones.
 And some macro shots of mainly wildflowers in the back yard:

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Let's Go Trippin'!

Between the day job, trying to work on my novels, and planning our next vacation I remain worn completely out. We have to get a new tire for the Casita, but that's about all that has to be done before we can hook her up and get on our way. We plan on doing a fair amount of kayaking while we're down in the low country, so I have to search for a new kayak. I think I have one picked out, but I still have time to think about it before we head east.

I'm hoping to be able to go hiking in the mountains at least once in the next few weeks, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get in a trip to the high country. We'll see.

Hanging Rock State Park, NC.

On The Cascades Trail, Virginia.

On the flanks of Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina.