Two different pals recently recommended two different books to me. I ended up really enjoying both recommendations and strangely, reading them both at the same time made the experience all the better.
Professor Laurence Maslon recommended Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel to me, and I’m glad he did. The Professor is not only a Broadway expert (check out his recent NYTimes story here) but a comic expert too. You may have enjoyed his Superheroes! A Never-Ending Battle Documentary, which ran on PBS a few years ago.
This is an engaging coffee table book, celebrating the first issue The Fantastic Four and the birth, in many ways, of Marvel Comics.
As you could infer from the title, this book showcases each individual panel of the 1961 comic. But Chip Kidd, one of my favorites, and Geoff Spear, add in a little zing to it all. No panel is pristine. Each one is a little off kilter. Some in the cropping, some in the colors, some in other ways. Kind of just like the original comic was first presented, and read, all those years ago.
Several smart comic folks, including Mark Evanier, provide additional thoughts and focus on this important comic. It’s an enjoyable package.
The Lost Jack Kirby Stories by Chris Tolworthy is a book that was recommended to me by Pete Carlsson. Pete’s a great guy and a brilliant designer. He just helped put together our ITHACON posters, in fact. And he’s also a long-time comic fan with an appreciation for both the Silver Age and for a creator like Jack Kirby.
In this book, Tolworthy takes a deep dive into a myriad of Kirby comics – mostly Marvel stories – to extrapolate and examine them from every angle in order to develop theories about what was really going during the creation and development of these tales. There are several comics historians that do this sort of thing, but I really liked the way Tolworthy works to fit the pieces together.
In fact, TwoMorrows’ The Jack Kirby Collector is always a great read, and now that I think about it, I realize they devote many so many articles to these topics too.
The very first chapter of The Lost Jack Kirby Stories focuses on Fantastic Four #1, and Tolworthy makes a compelling case as to why he feels this story was repurposed from an earlier tale or tales. So many things don’t add up or seem awkward. I never really noticed these things over the years. Tolworthy makes, and works hard to prove, the claim that the Mole Man portion of this comics was another story about a professor, his two young proteges and atomic energy.
Tom Brevoort makes similar claims in Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel, but in his essay, he didn’t go as far as Tolworthy did.
(I tend to enjoy Brevoort’s online blog and his recent conversation with Andrew Sumner on Forbidden Planet TV was great too.)
How much is true? How much is over-thinking? How much is fanboy inside baseball? I don’t know. But I do know it’s all a fascinating rabbit hole to fall into…and using Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel as a counterbalance/reference tool made it even more fun for me.
Thanks to the Professor and Pete for giving me these reccos. What else have you guys got?