Monday, December 15, 2014

To (Kir)by Or Not To (Kir)by

Sunday Meskin Measures.

Today we have a very special treat for all you Mort Meskin lovers. It's a Mort Meskin story that has not yet been listed on the Mort Meskin checklist. As I have been saying, the Digital Comics Museum has been putting up lots of Simon and Kirby books in the Prize Spotlight Month. Many of these come from the annotated copies of Jim Vandeboncoeur, arguably the best art identifier out there. He'll certainly tell you so himself. But the title is deserved. In the days when collecting was still affordable (although a lot harder without the internet) he amassed many comics, especially from the lesser appreciated companies, which at the time included Prize. He used those book to create the first list of comic book credits with James Ware and because they had so much to compare it to (and backed their research up with visits to artists, asking them what they worked on and who they knew worked with them) most of these identifications still stand.

One of the books recently uploaded from Jim's collection (with one of his identification cards) has a story he identifies as being drawn by Mort Meskin, that wasn't named as such in a larger forum yet. It is from Headine #28 and it is indeed an oddity. First have a look and then we'll talk.

First of all, Mort Meskin is not supposed to be at Prize at this time of his career. In 1946/47 when this story probably was drawn, he was finishing up a great career at DC, drawing The Vigilante. This had brought him together with James Robinson, who helped him with some stories. They became a partnership and together went out to look for work. This did bring them to Prize eventually, where they did a couple of stories for Young Love, published in 1948. But they also took on two titles and other work at Standard and their schedule must have been pretty full, there. So why Mort Meskin would do a story like this for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon is a mystery. All of the work he did was with James Robinson, so why go out and do something on his own? Especially when it is clearly a try-out, like this.

Because that's the second point I want to make. Some commenters on the Digital Comic Museum were doubting if Jim's attribution of Mort Meskin was correct. It looks like Meskin, but it parts of it look like Jack Kirby's work as well. Now at some points in his career, Jack Kirby tried to increase his output by 'jumpstarting' other artists with either thumbnails or drawing alternate story pages. This looks like one of those jobs, where Jack Kirby drew some parts of some pages and no pages of some of the other pages. It is those other pages we can clearly see Mort Meskin. But I suspect he is there as an inker on the other ages as well. Now it could be that Meskin was merely mimicking Jack Kirby for his first job for the illustrious duo. But I agree with the commenters that some of the faces look just too much like Kirby to me just imitation or swipes. To further complicate things, it seems that Mort Meskin may not have inked all of the story himself. At that point Jack Kirby drew all his pencils is sharp lines without shadows. Those pencils were then inked very loyally (almost traced) by someone at the studio (maybe even by Joe Simon himself). After which Kirby himself (or when he wasn't available anyone else at the studio) added the blacks. Mort Meskin was capable of doing such tight pencils as well and it seems the same process was followed here. If you look at the first page, it also seems to me that he added the blacks to all the pages, even the ones that may or may not have been pencilled by Kirby.

Now you go through my collection of early Meskin and Kirby material to make up your own mind.


Britt Reid said...

Looks like Kirby layouts/roughs.
Many "camera angles" (especially panels involving perspective) and faces look "Kirbyesque".
Could Meskin have been doing inks over someone else's full pencils on Kirby layouts?
The 1940s-50s NYC artist scene was famous for "jam sessions" and artists helping each other out to meet deadlines...back when deadlines actually meant something.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Let's start with saying that a lot of things are possible. Not everything is probably, though. In the working style of Smon and Kirby free for all jam sessions were out. Everything was tightly controled (one would assume by Joe Simon). Even when diverse hands jumped in on a late minute job, functions or pages were assigned to certain people. In this case, Jack Kirby has said many times that he liked doing the first and alternate pages, putting in as much of his own influence on some pages and letting the rest go - so the reader wouldn't notice the odd page being 'off'. Going by the timing my guess is that this was a try-out job by Meskin, around the time he was losing his work at DC r knew he wold be losing it, but before he started working full time with Jerry Robinson (why do I keep saying James, when I know it's Jerry). There is enough of Mesin in some of the faces (especially later on in the story) for me to think he did the pencilling and I don't think Kirby wold have provided lay-outs for someone as capable as Meskin.