Sunday, 19 February 2017

GUEST POST BY AMIABLE AL: THE MORE THINGS CHANGE...


Pin-up of The THING, FF #2.  Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

Are you in for a treat!  No, that's not a question, it's a statement of fact.  ALAN McKENZIE, writer, editor, and a former wearer of 2000 A.D.'s mantle of THARG, has graciously written the following guest post which you're now about to read (if you're smart).  I'm making a rod for my own back here, because after you've read Al's post, the ones I write in future might seem disappointing by comparison.  Never mind, I'll just have to up my game.  Ready?  Okay, Al - take it away.

******    

I was thinking about The Thing recently.  Mostly because I was writing a post over on my 'Marvel in the Silver Age' blog, all about the Human Torch stories in Marvel's Strange Tales mags of the early '60s.  Back then, it seemed that no one could agree on what The Thing looked like.  Even Jack Kirby drew him in different ways in different titles... or so I thought.  But as I started to look at different comics that included the character during those formative years, it seemed more and more like there was a definite timeline.

Narrow doorways?  Then how did he get into the store?  (From FF #1)

In the first few issues of Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby was drawing The Thing like a big shapeless lump of orange clay.  This 'mudslide' Thing would last just a few months before Kirby started to tinker with his appearance.  So in the first issue of FF (dated Nov 1961, on sale in Aug), Ben Grimm's monstrous alter ego looked... well, kinda monstrous. There's no real shape to him.  His head seems to join directly to his shoulders without the benefit of a neck.  I'm guessing Kirby's thinking here was to make him look like a heavyweight wrestler, or an over-developed bodybuilder... in brown underpants.  And he acted all monstrous, as well.  He seemed constantly in a bad mood and there was a real sense of danger to the character.  There was also a weird undercurrent that he fancied Sue Storm and wanted her for himself.

Yeah, right.  Lose your temper, reach for a tree.  I do it all the time

It's been said elsewhere that the cosmic quartet are based on alchemical elements.  Mister Fantastic is Water, because his body can flow into any shape.  The Human Torch is Fire, of course.  The Invisible Girl is Air.  And The Thing is Earth... which fits his 'mudslide' appearance.  The second issue of FF (dated Jan '62) included a pin- up of The Thing, which gave us a really good look at the character, pencilled by Jack Kirby and inked by George Klein.  There's no reason to think that Klein was in any way stamping his own version of The Thing on top of Kirby's original pencils.  This would have been the way Kirby was drawing the character at this point.

The THING rips off his costume.  Be still my beating heart

With FF #3 (dated Mar '62), there was a bit of a shift away from super-powered individuals in street clothes.  My guess is that Stan Lee wanted the characters to have costumes - or maybe it was publisher Martin Goodman - but anyhow, first chance he got, The Thing ripped his costume to shreds, so there's not much doubt on where Kirby stood. (Though, on the pencils for page 7, Sue was wearing a mask, her intention being they'd all cover their faces - but it was erased before inking.)  There wasn't any real change in FF #5, except that The Thing was now in blue underpants and black booties.  He was still the same old mudslide, pencilled by Kirby and inked, for the first time, by Joe Sinnott.  Below, left, is a nice page of original art from FF #5 which better shows how the character looked at this point in his development.


In FF #6 (dated Sep '62 - above, right), inked by Dick Ayers for the first time, The Thing has lost the boots and gained a neck.  There seemed to be a move away from the mudslide look and Ayers was inking Ben Grimm as though his skin had the texture of dinosaur hide.  And this look would persist for the next year and a bit, so I'd always believed that's what Kirby had intended.   But here's something startling I noticed.  Take a look (below) at how Jack drew The Thing on the cover of FF #7 (dated Nov '62), just a year after his initial appearance.  It's the 'blocky' Thing readers would later come to know and love, but more commonly associate with the character's looks in 1964.  And we know this is what JK intended because he inked his own cover pencils on #7.


Meanwhile, inside the mag (above, left), The Thing is still inked by Ayers to look like he has dinosaur hide.  Over the next year or so, we'd continue to have the dinosaur-hide Thing in the Ayers-inked stories.  I'm not saying Ayers invented the dinosaur-hide look though.  In fact, below is a pencil sketch by Jack likely done in the early part of '62 which shows otherwise... but I do think Ayers was responsible for keeping the dinosaur-hide Thing going (possibly at Stan's instruction) long past the point when JK had moved on from that particular look.

1962 pencil drawing of The THING for
JERRY BAILS' fanzine ALTER-EGO

There he goes, ripping off his clothes again - swoon!  (FF #18)

With FF #18 (dated Sep '63), the blocky Thing made yet another appearance, on the cover (above), inked by Paul Reinman... though inside the comic, we still had Ayers' dinosaur-hide Thing.  It wouldn't be until Ayers was moved onto other assignments by Stan, that George Roussos (as Bell) would come in - at FF #21 (dated Dec '63) - and start inking The Thing the way that Jack Kirby was pencilling him... in all his blocky glory (below).

The rocky, blocky THING that fans came to know and love


And simply because I came across them while looking for images for this article, above is a Jack Kirby pencil drawing of The Fantastic Four from 1965 (Marie Severin redrew The Torch figure), and a later one from 1977, both depicting the familiar blocky Thing.  Much, much later, other hands - John Byrne, I'm looking at you - would revive the look of good old mudslide Thing for an entertaining run of issues (during his tenure from FF #232, dated Jul 1981 - #293, dated Aug '86).  In #238, Mister Fantastic tried once again to cure Ben's condition... the outcome was that The Thing reverted to his original, mudslide appearance.  The condition would last for a couple of years before The Thing mutated again...

...but that's a tale for another time.

******

And a great big Crivens thanks to Al for taking the time and trouble to write this fascinating guest post.  Feel entirely free to register your appreciation in our comments section.

13 comments:

Kid said...

Okay, I'll start things off (npi). It's interesting to note that it wasn't just The Thing's epidermis that changed, so did his size. He started off looking like he was nearly 7 feet tall, then (in later issues) diminished until, in many panels, he was smaller than Johnny.

TC said...

In 1966-67-68, comparing the then-new FF comics to the reprints in Marvel Collector's Item Classics, I did notice the difference in the Thing's appearance, although I didn't really give it a lot of thought.

His personality and speech pattern also evolved. As Al noted, Ben originally seemed dangerous, and you could easily imagine him losing his temper and actually attacking Reed Richards. He soon evolved into the "gruff but lovable" version that most Silver Age fans would remember. And his dialog was originally almost as formal as Reed's, but it soon changed to the tough guy/blue collar working class dialect.

The early stories did hint that he fancied Sue Storm, and I suspect that Stan was tentatively considering a love triangle subplot. It seems to have been dropped, even before Ben got his own girlfriend (Alicia). Similarly, there were hints of a Captain America-Scarlet Witch-Hawkeye triangle building up in the Avengers during the "Kooky Quartet" era. AFAIR, it was dropped and forgotten.

There were also inconsistencies with the Hulk's size. Sometimes, he appeared to be 7 or 8 feet tall, but, in the last panel of Avengers #1, he looked downright short. And his dialog changed, too, from the thug dialect (like Humphrey Bogart in a gangster movie) to the "Hulk no like Air Force dropping bombs on him" pidgin English.

Kid said...

And don't forget the Professor Zavier-Jean Grey-Scott Summers love triangle, which was dropped as soon as it started, TC. I featured The Hulk's AND The Thing's inconsistent sizes in a couple of blog posts a while back - maybe I'll repost them for those who may never have read them.

AirPiratePress said...

TC - As Kid noted in a comment on one of my earlier blogs, Stan also made a bit of a point in suggesting that Alicia greatly resembled Sue Storm. In fact, in FF 8 it's a key plot point that Alicia can pass for Sue Storm by simply putting on a blonde wig (or dying her hair blonde - it's not too clear in the story which it is). Personally, I'm glad that Stan moved on from the Reed-Sue-Ben triangle (and the other triangles he hinted at) as I found them a little creepy ...

Might be worth mentioning that the whole Sue-Namor "romance" was more of a sympathy thing, misinterpreted by Reed as a love triangle. As was the Alicia-Silver Surfer sympathy situation also misinterpreted by Ben as cause for jealousy ... Stan wasn't that great at the romance stuff, was he?

Kid said...

He probably did better in real life, Al. (Better than me, that's for sure.) I covered the Sue-Alicia resemblance in a post a year or two back, so that's maybe another one I should repost. It's obvious from the art (especially when Alicia has Sue's hairstyle, but her own colour later on in the story) that Alicia's hair was cut and dyed, but Stan scripted it to suggest a wig. The whole exercise was utterly pointless, as The PM could have controlled Sue along with Ben as he had puppets of both of them.

I'm not entirely sure that, initially, Sue didn't have a crush on Namor, Al, as she had a hidden photo of him in #6. I think once she decided in her own mind that it was Reed who she really loved, then it became more of a sympathy thing. Remember, in #9, Sue hints that she might have accepted Namor's proposal if he hadn't deceived The FF over the movie they were supposed to be making for him. (Hark at me, talking as if they're real people.)

Phil S said...

I was in San Diego attending a panel by Arlen Schumer and he confirmed what we all knew. Kirby most indentified with the Thing, his background and character. So imagine a guy from Hell's Kitchen New York. As for his look, I'm just too used to rocky Thing.

Kid said...

I prefer the original 6 and a half feet tall, mudslide/dinosaur-hide version, PS. He just looked more like a monster.

John Pitt said...

Interesting post, Al!
Now, as Kid already knows, I'm a simple man, so I see his changing appearance as simply the clay-like substance hardening and cracking over time and becoming rock-like.
And, as for the size discrepancies with him ( and the Hulk ) - simple human artist error - probably down to the sheer volume of stuff they were required to put out!

Kid said...

Would he be able to move 'though, JP, if his skin hardened as you suggest? Surely it would just crack and fall off? ("It's a comic, Kid. Anything can happen in a comic!") Of course the size discrepancies were simple human artist error (if Jack Kirby can ever be described as a 'simple human artist'), but I still found it annoying - whoever was doing it.

Phil S said...

I was thinking the Thing and Jack of Hearts would be a nightmare to draw and sure enough they met in a Marvel Two in One Issue.

Kid said...

Can't remember if I ever saw that ish, PS. I wonder if any hero (or villain) has a more 'busy' costume to draw than Jack of Hearts.

John Pitt said...

I suppose the same could be said then about the Stone Men From Saturn? I reckon if you question EVERYTHING in comics, you'd be able to disprove it with Science!
You know, I spent all of my youth blissfully unaware of any of these art errors, until you pointed them out to me, spotted by your eagle eye! Did you notice them as a kid, or upon revisiting the tales as an adult?

Kid said...

Not necessarily, JP, because the Stone Men were called that because they looked like stone, not because they actually were. The Stone Men's 'skin' is obviously more flexible than it looks. However, in your scenario with The Thing, you assumed that his epidermis 'hardened and cracked', which suggests a lack of suppleness (unless you were speaking relatively). Yes, I'm being far too pedantic now, but I'm not a member of the Pedants' Club of Great Britain for nothing. Some of the art errors I noticed as a kid or teenager, others I noticed later.

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