Tuesday, 18 April 2017


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS.  Cover art by JOE JUSKO

As all true Marvelites know, The SILVER SURFER
had his own mag in the '60s which ran for 18 issues, the first
17 being illustrated by JOHN BUSCEMA.  However, there's a
'sort of' 18th ish he got to do (with STAN LEE), in the form of
the 1988 hardback graphic novel, which had one large panel per
page.  As you'd expect from Big John, he delivered a superbly-
drawn adventure, and this is one book that should be on the
shelves of every dyed-in-the-wool Silver Surfer fan.

When JACK KIRBY first introduced NORRIN RADD
into the pages of The FANTASTIC FOUR, he imbued him
with a strange, other-worldly quality that suited the character
to a 't'.  He drew him in a fluid way, that captured perfectly the
manner in which surfers 'bob and weave' on the waves.  Within
a very short time though, Jack's figurework had become much
more blocky and static (maybe because of a reduction in size
of the artboards he drew on), which is probably why Stan
decided to give the Surfer's regular mag to Buscema.

One only has to look at the 18th and final issue of the
Surfer's own mag (which Jack illustrated) to see the wisdom
of Stan's decision.  In contrast to Jack's Surfer, John's version
is lithe, fluid, and flexible, and has an innate nobility that was no
longer evident in Jack's rendition of the silvery one.  You might
disagree with my assessment, but I have persuasive proof of it.
What's that you say?  Show you?  Okay then, I will.  I now
 present the following exhibits for your consideration.


Noddin Rod said...

Buscema was good but let us remember that he failed to make the comic a success. It may have fared better with the Surfers original artist at the helm. Kirby was better suited to the character he created than Buscema.

Kid said...

And yet it wasn't cancelled until AFTER Jack had drawn the 18th issue. And I think that the lacklustre reception of Stan & Jack's 1978 Surfer graphic novel amply demonstrates the opposite of your assertion.

John Pitt said...

I've got to admit it, but Big John's version really IS much better, ( much as I hate saying anything derogatory about Jolly Jack! ), but, credit where credit's due!

Kid said...

Jack had the Surfer nailed in his first few appearances, JP, but then he went 'off the boil'. There's nothing derogatory in recognising that fact, so don't feel bad about doing so. Recognising his few artistic weaknesses doesn't mean that you don't appreciate his many artistic strengths.

paul Mcscotty said...

Big Johns version for me is THE Silver Surfer (and Sal Buscemas version is right upthere as well). I did like Jacks version in the FF (and even SS 18) but I think the SS comic was doomed before Jacks involvment in woth issue 18 - the stories were hard work at times, ad alot of "errors" and had way too much navel gazing in most issues even for the 60s early 70s. Issue 12 of the original SS comic is in my top 10 of all time.

Kid said...

Thing is, PM, if one of the reasons why people didn't buy the mag was because Jack WASN'T drawing it, that trend should've reversed the second he took over. Obviously his ish didn't make much of an impact otherwise Marvel would've let it run for at least a few issues to see if sales would improve. I think the main problem was that the stories were just too long in the first 7 issues - they'd have been better having it as a regular-sized mag from the start. Also, the price was dearer when it was a 68 page mag, which wouldn't have helped either. By the time it changed to a regular mag the writing was on the wall, but you'd have thought Kirby could've saved it. However, by then, Kirby was going out of fashion to everyone but his most diehard fans (as we saw with his DC stuff), and there simply weren't enough of them to make the difference required. And, perhaps at the end of the day, the Surfer just wasn't interesting enough to stand on his own at that time because of, as you say, all the navel-gazing. I thought the last 8 Buscema issues were really good 'though, and if the series had started like that, it might've lasted longer. I think there was just a bit too much of Mephisto as well before then, which didn't really help.

Noddin Rod said...

The decision to cancel the Surfer MUST have happened BEFORE #18 hit the stands or issues 19 and 20 would have been drawn. No pages from #19 were ever drawn, no script has ever surfaced. Marvel must have decided to axe the comic just after sending it to the printers because Buscema's issues had been so badly received.

Kid said...

Stan says that a new direction was intended, but when it came to it, he just didn't have the heart to continue with it after Jack's 'first' ish. Stan wouldn't have set up a new direction if the mag had ALREADY been cancelled, so it's entirely possible, as you suggest, that the mag wasn't cancelled until after #18 had been produced.

However, according to the indicia in #18, the mag had switched back to bi-monthly (it had been monthly since #8), but there's a three month gap between the cover dates, meaning that Jack wouldn't necessarily have yet drawn any further issues, regardless of whether or not the decision had been taken to cancel at that point. It seems unlikely to me, however, that, three months after the previous issue of a poor selling comic came out, they would then cancel a new direction by their 'superstar' artist before seeing how it fared. You may say that they could have revived the title of course, if Jack's version had been a hit, but the fact it wasn't demonstrates that Jack's Surfer fared no better with readers than John's had.

Now, I've politely indulged you for two comments (good guy that I am), but unless you use your usual name and avatar next time, the dance is over.

(Edited for clarity and conciseness from my original response, and because I'd misunderstood part of your comment.)

Kid said...

Nah, that's still too long-winded. Here it is in a nutshell: Jack's version (#18) was clearly received at least just as badly as John's, as the cancelled title would've been revived if sales on that issue had indicated it'd be worth doing so. Therefore your suggestion that it may have fared better under the original artist isn't borne out by the facts.

However, Stan suggests it was cancelled AFTER #18 (whether before or after publication isn't clear), because he just didn't have the heart to continue it. Seems that Jack's version didn't inspire him too much then, eh?

Noddin Rod said...

The only thing we can say we know is we will never know.

Rip Jagger said...

This is one on which we agree. Buscema's Surfer does to my mind capture the essence of the character more effectively than Kirby. Kirby's Surfer had an emphasis on surfaces while Buscema captured the necessary balance such a character must by definition always maintain, the Surfer by Buscema never looks like he's about to fall. (Until of course when does.)

As for the the final issue of the run by Kirby putting the nail in it, I'd tend to agree with those who say that any one issue is not going to save a series, since there was no way to have the sales results before the next installment hit the presses. That issue seemed to be more about allowing Kirby more authority over his creations like he was momentarily getting on the Inhumans. Too little too late to keep him at home, the DC die was cast.

Rip Off

Kid said...

My only problem with Buscema's Surfer is that he sometimes didn't make him look 'silvery' enough, but the colourist could've fixed that. Other than that, Big John got him spot on. Kirby's Surfer perhaps looked more powerful, but he lost the grace which he'd first had under Kirby.

I wonder if Kirby had quit Marvel before he could draw his planned next issue of the Surfer? That would perhaps be another reason why Stan abandoned his plans for a new direction, as well as his heart not really being in it, as he later claimed. I know Goodman had a habit of cancelling titles before seeing the latest sales figures on low-selling comics (witness Amazing Fantasy #15), but if Kirby's Surfer ish had made an impact, the title would've been revived pdq.

The important thing to remember (for me) is that, looks-wise, Jack's Surfer ish was in no way a step up from John's. The Surfer's mag certainly didn't get cancelled because of the way Buscema drew it, that's for sure.

Phil S said...

I go with Buscema on this one. He did a better job of portraying the agony and frustration the Surfer felt. Kirby could do the same, look st his romance comics, but he didn't do it on the strip. It's foolish to say Buscema or Kirby "caused" a comic to fail. Perhaps the Surfer just wasn't popular enough.

Kid said...

I don't think that Buscema or Kirby CAUSED the comic to fail, PS, but clearly (and surprisingly) they couldn't save it. As you say, perhaps the character just wasn't interesting enough to sustain wider reader interest, but I thought it was a great little mag.

spirit of '64 said...

Kirby was leaving!! In desperation to save the title Stan tossed it to Kirby, and did not expect to find the resulting vitriolic ending, a piece of unsurpassed raw anger and emotion. After Kirby left, the book was supposed to be handled by Trimpe (hence the cover of SS18) but I think that Stan had lost heart by this time. He wanted his 'hamlet' to be a sales winner, and if it wasn't going to be, then he would leave his masterpiece to another time.
For me, you can't top SS 3 and 4, Big John's best ever comics.
Kirby still did a great Surfer, even after the early appearances. Look at the cover of FF 72, Sublime. There's also a great splash page of the Surfer above manhattan around that issue, but I can't remember the exact one. And I loved the Lee and Kirby Silver Surfer of '78, the only Lee tale NOT to be hyped all over the place on publication. Amazing given that Stan has a history of hyping all sorts of crap.
Finally I think the reason Stan gave Big John the Surfer was because Stan was desperate to work with the guy!!!! Previously on his return to Marvel Buscema had worked almost exclusively with Roy Thomas. Stan was already working with Kirby on the FF, Thor and Cap, so why not choose Big John when the next big assignment arose? Stan really should have consulted Kirby, who as creator should have had refusal rights, but the end result was a true milestone of the 60's, even though the series has subsequently fallen from fashion.
Love your blog Kid. Keep it up.

Kid said...

Love your comment, '64, keep it up. Yeah, I suppose Kirby still turned out a few good pics of the Surfer from time to time, but nothing that quite matched either his earlier efforts or Buscema's take on the character. Big John gave him a grace and fluidity that Jack seemed unable to achieve any more. Anyway, I count myself lucky to have all 18 original issues. Great stuff.

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