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 t
he 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.

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 Al
ex 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!


Edo Bosnar said...

My two favorite Thing artists are Byrne and Perez - I think this is due to the fact that I started regularly (as opposed randomly) reading FF at around issue #200 and Marvel 2-in-1 a few issues before the Project Pegasus saga, so those two artists really defined the way I thought that character should look. I give Byrne a slight edge here, even though I also hated it when he returned the "lumpy" look.
By the way, two other artists who really did a nice job drawing Ben are Barry Windsor Smith (in that fun story in Marvel Fanfare #15) and Bernie Wrightson (in that equally amusing Marvel graphic novel - scripted by Starlin!).

Karen said...

In our poll, BAB readers selected Jack Kirby as their favorite Thing artist, with 10 votes. John Buscema came in second with 4 votes, John Byrne and George Perez tied with 3, and Jim Starlin picked up 2 votes. Thanks for participating!

William said...

WOW! It's amazing how many more regular readers BAB has acquired since 2010! It looks like poor Edo was just about all alone back then. LOL

Kudos to him for sticking with it until the rest of latecomers came aboard for the ride.

Nowadays an article like this would probably garner at least 15 to 20 responses, if not more. (But I guess we'll see).

Anyway, I am HUGE Thing fan (wait, that didn't sound quite right), and I especially love Kirby and Byrne's interpretations of his look. At risk of incurring Karen's wrath I have never been a fan of Big John Buscema's Thing (again that sounded like other than what I meant). I never liked all the "little rocks", I always preferred the slightly larger, interlocking plates.

As I said earlier, see Kirby and Byrne for what I mean.

William said...

[sigh] In my previous post, sentence 2 was supposed to read "…the rest of US latecomers…" Man, I could really use an "Edit" button.

Anyway, while I'm typing, I forgot to mention my all-time favorite Thing story. It was Marvel Two-In-One #50 by John Byrne. Where the then present day, rock skinned Thing went back in time and encountered his past lumpy skinned self. Which naturally resulted in an epic fight. Which ended with the Thing beating himself.(OK, that time it was on purpose).

Anyone else have a favorite Thing story?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Humanbelly said...

In the original post you guys did kind of brush up near the idea that maybe it's really the inker who bears the load for whether or not we like how Ben is depicted. Although, yeah, size of skin-plates would fall on the penciler in the first place. Geeze, even when I was a kid I recognized that Ben must be absolute murder to draw, panel after panel. Not only is he made of about a zillion little lines, but those lines (at least for a good artist) have to show some level of consistent placement from panel to panel.
Myself, I prefer the somewhat larger body plates. When they get small and pebbly, it gets hard to actually see Ben clearly-- he becomes all texture and not enough form. But gosh, I don't think there was a Silver/Bronze Age FF artist who did a poor job on Ben. Really, I thought Romita was fine, too-- just not inked as well, as mentioned.

A bad Ben penciler? Oh boy, my own beloved Herbie Trimpe. If anyone has the facility to check out Incredible Hulk #122, w/ Herb, I believe, inking his own pencils, you'll see Ben being attempted by a very young penciler/inexperienced inker. . . and maybe not having the chops just yet to succeed.

As an aside-- the fellas in your Fine Line header, there? Could we get a roster? Is that Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Neal Adams, hmmm--Archie Goodwin?? Al Milgrom??, Sal Buscema, and. . . geeze, it looks like John Buscema again, but older. . . (? no way). Whatcha got?


Edo Bosnar said...

HB, they are, left to right: Kirby, J. Buscema, Adams, Byrne, S. Buscema and Romita, Sr.
And I'm actually wondering why you guys put in a picture of Sal, given that he's not discussed in the post. Should have had Perez or Pollard instead. Otherwise, I stand by what I said all those years ago. Except maybe now I'd probably add my own additional praise for Pollard who was a) one of the better artists who drew the Thing, and b) just a really solid artist in general (and, for a while there, a real workhorse).

The Prowler said...

My first issue of the Fantastic Four was 160, a John Buscema issue. Gil Kane does the cover. Ben's facing Akron and he's fixing to wallop him with a light post. Feel free to sort out the pronoun references in your spare time.

My favorite Thing story....favorite Thing story....hmmm...favorite....Thing....story. (Okay, I now have "These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things" stuck in my head)

Marvel Two-In-One. Black Widow and Ben are up against something or other. The cover is Ben trying to keep some big heavy thing off the ground and Black Widow is kicking guys to keep them away from Ben. In the story, they get captured. Natasha has a single use laser gun under a false layer of skin on her back. She needs Ben to peel the skin away and remove the parts. She starts to unzip her costume so he can reach the false layer. Ben's trying to cover his eyes and peek through his fingers and there's the classic "What A Revolting Development" thrown in.

Just an aside to Colin: I'm watching the Avengers Assemble episodes on my iPod at work during breaks. The one I watched recently is "Mojoworld". Hulk and Hawkeye get kidnapped and have to fight Torgo in the arena. I did not know this was a reworking of a Fantastic Four story. I knew Mojoworld is from the X-Men, but did not know Torgo comes from Marvel history.

HB: During the little run between Doug and PFG, was I the only one wanting to get the old yellow legal pas out? The debators know what I'm I right, am I right?

(There only two important things in living - finding out what you do well and finding out what makes you happy. And if God is smiling on you, they're both the same thing).

Humanbelly said...

Thank ya kindly, edo-- That's John Byrne?? I. . . thought he was blonde, for some reason! And gosh, did not recognize an elder John R, Sr at all! The beard threw me-- what a great smile, though.

Prowl: Of COURSE you mean "Arkon" on that cover, I have absolutely no doubt. Arkon is a formidable threat. . . Ben vs Akron, maybe not so much. I don't know how long the birthplace of Devo would hold out against ol' blue-eyed Benji's onslaught. (Heh-- I kid because I love-!)

I can't pull out a specific Thing story that I'd identify as my favorite of all time. He's such a dependably great character, and somehow seems to be largely tamper-proof in terms of creators with "big new ideas" for new directions and such. And there were some seriously questionable ones-- the exo-Thing-suit; the hyper-spikey mutation period; Byrne's back-to-lumpy. Probably the weakest period was when Simonson simply made him a human sidekick tagalong for awhile-- a generous gesture towards the character, but not a great story-telling move.

What should have been abandoned with him years and years ago (sort of like losing Don Blake in Thor) was the endless, stupidly-repetative cycle of find a cure/become human again/cure fails. Or, Ben CHOOSES to become the Thing again for any number of reasons. Over the course of time, this little drama has weakened the characters of both Reed (for so many inexplicable failures. . . sort of), and Ben, since the moping/whining doesn't jibe at all with the fact that he has chosen more than once, at conscious & subconscious levels, his Thing form over his human one. It doesn't work at all anymore as source of pathos. When I dropped the book they at least seemed to be on a path to give him SOME sort of time to exist in his human form periodically.


Doug said...

Edo --

The banner atop this post was created for use in a series. We also gave Spider-Man, the Vision, and Batman this treatment. So it was never intended to be character- or post-specific.

Trust us... generally speaking, we know what we're doing around here. ;)

And of course, size does matter when discussing rocks and plates.


Martinex1 said...

My favorite Thing story is in Marvel Two In One 26 with Nick Fury. Not a classic by any means in the set up and battle with Fixer and Mentallo, but for some reason it sticks with me as the two ornery and gruff WWII vets trade barbs. I liked when the Thing was everybody's grumbling buddy. And I liked Wilson's take on him. He seemed properly sized.

I prefer the larger rock Thing. When there are too many rocks he sometimes seems pebbly, scaly and even reptilian if not inked correctly. I think Starlin's rendition fell in that category; also I think he may have made the Thing's head a touch too small and gave him too much of a paunch. Just didn't look quite right. Overall I liked Byrne's version but I think at times he oversimplified his face and widened his mouth giving Ben a muppet look. Byrne did this more in the FF. I really like Perez and Wilson the best.

I think Marvel Two in One was under appreciated. There were some great stories with Project Pegasus, Serpent Crown and many one offs. The art was pretty solid throughout and Ben's characterization was consistent.

I prefer Ben as the center of the Marvel Universe. Everybody knew him and liked him and respected him, even as he hid his loneliness and self doubt behind his tough exterior. I likes his cigar chomping, poker games, catch phrases, and feigned disgust. Too bad that over the years Wolverine seems to have morphed into that character albeit with more violence.

J.A. Morris said...

I'd say Kirby/Sinnott gave us the best Thing. But my favorite would be Byrne/Sinnott.

Since it's been asked, my favorite Thing story is Marvel Two-In-One #75, featuring the Avengers, Blastaar and Annihilius and Super Adaptoid battling in the Negative Zone! This house ad for the issue is pretty great too:

Anonymous said...

I love the Thing, my favorite super-heroes tended to have some humor aspects, Beast, Hawkeye....

Perez is such a boggles my mind that Marvel can't find SOME kind of project for him!?!?


William Preston said...

I loved Buckler's run, in part, I suppose, because those were the first FF issues I picked up. He (and Perez) should be depicted before Adams and Sal B., I'd think.

I do want to post links to photos of the only two black artists you mentioned--and black artists and writers were a rarity in the Bronze age. I loved the work of both Pollard and Wilson. Wilson's run on MTIO was especially wonderful and should be praised down through the generations.

Anonymous said...

I agree about Ron Wilson...some of those MTIO scripts weren't great, but I always liked the art.

Mike W.

William Preston said...

PS: Sorry. I missed the earlier note explaining that the pictures weren't tied to the post.

Martinex1 said...

Keith Pollard is outstanding. He did some really nice work on Thor, Black Goliath, etc. Some of his covers were very memorable. I bought so many comics based on his covers alone.

Anonymous said...

Not an obvious choice - he's not even mentioned in the original post - my favourite Thing artist is Barry Winsor-Smith, purely on the basis of that Marvel Fanfare short he did. He really bought his own style to bear on the character in a way that no one else did. Of course, that's because he had the luxury of not having to churn out an issue of the FF or Two-in-One every month, but still.... the most memorable since Kirby.


Anonymous said...

Prowler, you're welcome - that's the first time anybody's responded to a comment of mine after I'd already deleted it !

The Prowler said...

Colin: It was one of those Kismet moments. Not often do I recognize when random moments in my life line up in sync!!!

HB: Arkon, Arkon, Arkon, Arkon, Arkon.....where I think it was snowy and 17 today.....

(I'm gonna give you an engine low to the ground... extra thick oil pan to cut the wind from underneath you. It'll give you thirty or forty more horsepower. I'm gonna give you a fuel line that'll hold an extra gallon of gas. I'm gonna shave half an inch off you and shape you like a bullet. I'll get you primed, painted and weighed, and you'll be ready to go out on that racetrack. Hear me? You're gonna be perfect).

Anonymous said...

I prefer the big rocks to the little rocks, for the very same reasons Martinex1 gave; the little rocks give his orange hide almost a scaly appearance, whereas the big rocks make his skin look more like stone, so big rocks it is!

As for my favourite Thing art combo, it's gotta be Kirby/Sinnott. A classic and still the greatest in my opinion.

As an aside, I have a reprint of FF #1 with Ben in his original lumpy orange hide; the transition to the rocky hide came later on but to me the biggest change over the years seems to be his personality. In this first issue, he's almost like a sullen thug, and somehow I believe Stan initially wanted him to be the 'bad guy', the one who made life difficult for the team because he resented his monstrous appearance. The grouchy but lovable cigar chomping ever lovin' blue eyed apple of Aunt Petunia's eye slowly evolved from that original incarnation.

- Mike 'skin like silk' from Trinidad & Tobago.

david_b said...

My Thing favs are as follows (order depends on certain issues or panels..)

1) John Buscema/Sinnott
2) Pollard/Sinnott
3) Kirby/Sinnott
4) Starlin/Sinnott (MF 11 was brilliant art..)

spencer said...

Great topic/article. Kirby w.Sinnott will always be the classic for me, but one that I liked (although not bronze age) was Jim Lee's look for 'ol Benji. Also, as an idea for future posts, how about fav Hulk/Thing fights of the bronze age?

Doug said...

Spencer -

Thanks for the comment.

On the main page, click on our link at the top for the BAB Library of Reviews. Once in there you can access our thoughts (and our readers' comments) on FF #s 12, 25-26, 112, 166-167, and Marvel Feature #11. Happy spelunking!


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