Saturday, January 24, 2015
BAB Firsts - It's a Fine Line: The Thing in the Bronze Age
Doug: Karen and I would like to start a new series where we look at some of our favorite characters as depicted by some of our favorite artists. Of course Karen has expressed her love recently for the Bashful One, so we thought we'd kick this off with a look at Benjamin J. Grimm, as seen throughout the Bronze Age of Comics.
Doug: To commence, we have to discuss the King himself, Jack Kirby.
Karen: I like how the Thing's look became more refined over time. He went from looking lumpy and almost soft to the more solid, rocky hero we all know and love. How much of this, I wonder, was also due to the inkers involved?
Doug: The image at left is indeed inked by the stalwart of the Fantastic Four strip, Joe Sinnott. I think it goes without saying that Sinnott's inks added polish and depth to Kirby, really texturing Jack's pencils. I mean, look at that picture -- it looks like Ben's skin is made of rocks!
Doug: Next up was the Jazzy One, John Romita.
Karen: He was on the strip for such a short time period, it's almost easy to forget he was there! Just 4 issues -103 to 106. Although Romita seems able to draw any character well, I don't think his style was especially suited to the Thing, although his take on Ben was certainly acceptable.
Doug: I think the fact that John Verpoorten inked Romita for most of his short tenure might lead to the less-than-memorable memories! I believe Sinnott only inked him on his last issue. I've read before that Romita was not satisfied with his work, and part of that was his insecurity from following Kirby's run.
Karen: I've read the same thing, and it certainly makes sense! That's a very tough act to follow.
Doug: After Romita's brief tenure on the Fantastic Four, Big John Buscema took the reins of the World's Greatest Comic Magazine.
Karen: Now we're talking! In my mind, John Buscema is the Thing King! It probably has to do with the fact that he was the artist on the FF when I started reading it.
Doug: I actually have the original art to the sample at left, and it's just beautiful. Buscema's facial expressions on this page really convey first Ben's irritation, then his determination during this battle against the Miracle Man. I also like that Buscema really gives Ben some bulk, but as I'd remarked during our Marvel Two-In-One posts, kept Ben within that six-feet tall range of height.
Karen: That's definitely how I think of Ben -as bulky, heavy, but not particularly tall. I agree with you, he is frequently drawn too tall nowadays -but then so is the Hulk. As always, Buscema is a master of facial expressions and body language, able to easily convey Ben's emotions, despite his monstrous appearance.
Doug: Following Buscema was the sometimes dubious run of Rich Buckler.
Karen: I feel badly for Buckler. I believe he was told to emulate Kirby early on in his career. It's unfortunate because I really like his own style. I'm not even going to get into the swipes issue here. But he did a good job on the Thing.
Doug: I've included parts of two pages from FF #159 that really show off Buckler's finer effort. You know, the larger panel on the far right brings up a point -- how do you like Ben's exterior to be drawn? Large rocks (like here), or small (as in the Buscema image above)?
Karen: Hmm, I haven't really considered it, but I can tell you this: I notice when I feel that the rocks are not drawn properly. I think it's actually a fairly difficult drawing challenge -how do you get across the idea that he's composed of those crazy, interlocking rocks? How do you shadow them? Are they flat or do they project slightly? I think some artists and inkers can pull it off, and some just can't.
Doug: After Buckler, the FF were penciled by George Perez.
Karen: Can Perez draw anything bad? I don't think so! His runs on FF were beautiful, and he brings a lot of character to his version of Ben.
Doug: The sample I chose for George Perez comes from his earliest stint, and from a period I just loved -- the exoskeleton era that followed the Thing/Hulk two-parter. Perez seemed to have a way of making the Thing somewhat bulbous, which is not a bad thing. Funny -- if you've ever seen the book How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, I really think Perez actually draws Ben the very way Big John Buscema instructs! I'd also argue that, again early on, Perez echoed Buckler's later work (after he got away from his Kirby-ish phase).
Karen: Perez' Thing was maybe a little more streamlined than some of the others, but still had the expressiveness and mass that I like.
Doug: Keith Pollard was the successor to Perez. I'll say here that when I read these issues off the newsstand/spinner racks, I thought Pollard's art was quite good. Looking at these issues again after 30 years, he's certainly not bad -- quite serviceable in fact. But being sandwiched between George Perez and John Byrne? That would be tough for anyone! I did like the story that Pollard illustrated, when the FF were on the outs -- there were four solo issues followed by a good Doc Doom story that culminated with issue #200. Pollard really drew some dynamic scenes in the series.
Karen: Pollard is probably the most overlooked Thing artist. He had a very solid style, not especially flashy, but very good nonetheless.
Doug: John Byrne's first stint on the title extended from issue #209 to #221 and was initially dominated by Joe Sinnott's inks. However, Byrne later changed the way he interpreted the Thing, bringing him back to his lumpy origins. We've provided two samples here -- the panels to the left were inked by Joe Sinnott, and the panels below to the right were inked by Byrne himself. In fact, our latter example is from the story when the Thing did indeed return to his original Kirby-style form.
Karen: Byrne 's run is of course highly regarded and I think his Thing always looked great, although I was not fond of the return to the lumpy version. However, I've always felt that Byrne was his own worst inker, and I prefer Sinnott's inks to Byrne's. But either way, his Thing is a big brute, which I like. Sometimes though, Byrne's Ben seems to be extremely round -have you ever noticed that?
Karen: Speaking of Sinnott, shouldn't we remark on the man who was with Ben the longest? His inking brought a certain continuity to Ben and the FF regardless of who the penciller was at the time. His version of the FF is indelibly marked in my brain, the same way Terry Austin's contribution to the X-Men has shaped how I see those characters forever.
Doug: There is no mistaking that, in spite of the heavy hitters who've put pencil to paper on the FF, Joe Sinnott is the magazine's most valuable player. He really provided a pretty seamless reading experience. I'd argue that the only time the art on the book seemed to lack were the issues when Sinnott was not present. I'd say that even for Byrne's highly-regarded second stint on the book. No doubt it's classic -- but could it have been even moreso with Sinnott on board?
Karen: How about Ron Wilson? He drew Ben over in Marvel Two In One for many years. Perhaps his most memorable work was in Marvel Two In One Annual #7, when the Thing battled the Champion. He seemed to really 'get' the Thing, and did some very good work on the title.
Doug: Wilson's a solid guy, and perfect for the team-up style books. I always felt like he gave a great effort on those books.
Karen: There's been a lot of other artists who have drawn the Thing as a guest star in other titles. A couple that come to mind are Neal Adams and Jim Starlin. It's hard to get a real impression of Adams' Thing, as I only recall seeing it in The Avengers during the Kree-Skrull War. I would say his version is OK, but there are a number of other artists that I feel do a better job. Surprising, as Adams is right up there in my personal favorites of comic book artists.
Doug: I wonder what a Neal Adams commissioned sketch of Ben would look like? I know Adams would give it his all...
Karen: I think regular readers know that Jim Starlin is a comics god to me, but...his Thing looks a little, I don't know, off to me. It's not bad, but for some reason it just doesn't quite look like the Thing to me. The two panels here are taken from Marvel Two In One Annual # 2. The bulk is right...maybe it's the legs. I can't put my finger on it.
Doug: I'm with you, though on the image at left -- the arms and legs seem just a bit off.
Karen: OK Doug, I know this isn't Bronze Age, but what do you think of Alex Ross' Thing, shown here from Marvels? I have to say I like it. He looks thick and bulky, and his rocks/scales are all so defined. And look at those big ol' hands!
Doug: I'm sure by now our readers know that we collaborate on these posts by coming to Blogger at different times to make our posts/edits. So they might be surprised at the level of same-mind that we sometimes have -- I literally had thought of the very image you posted at right, and when I next logged in here to see what your last work had been about here it was! Ah, yes -- great minds... And no, Alex Ross doesn't draw anything poorly!