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Comics legend John Byrne was still just a comic book fan in the early 1970s. Like many aspiring professionals, though, he would develop his own comics, practicing his art. One such piece surfaced in Comics Interview #25 in which a Counter Earth Crystal gained powers that duplicated those of the Human Torch. As Byrne noted when those early pencils were published, this was created “in the days when Rich Buckler was doing the Fantastic Four, and doing it in a pseudo-Kirby style. So I said, ‘Well, if that’s what they want, I can give it to them.’”

The piece was never finished. It was never inked, let alone scripted or colored. But in 2004, a group of fans got together to complete it. Byrne himself provided his synopsis of the story:
The female Torch is Crystal, but from Counter Earth (which you may recall the High Evolutionary creating in the first WARLOCK).

Basic premise: Altho the H.E. prevented super powers happening on Counter Earth, he did not interfere with the basic genetics, so the strain that produced Medusa and Crystal as Inhumans produced them as mere mortals. The appearance of the H.E. in my story is a flashback to his creation of Counter Earth, and a quick recap of how he shaped events there (with the AniMen interfering and wrecking the "perfect world" he meant to create.) There is also a duplicate Johnny Storm, who meets and falls in love with Crystal there.

Which takes us to the last page. Reed has determined that the female Torch is too volatile to be allowed to remain on Earth, so he decides to duplicate what happened on C.E. when her father (the guy with the beard) launched her into space in suspended animation. Reed swears he will do what he can to find a cure, but offers little real hope. A dejected Johnny (our Johnny) wanders off as Ben observes Johnny is 'the only guy ever to have lost the same girl twice -- on two different worlds!'
Long-time fans might note how some of the ideas presented here were later used in the creation of Galactus’ herald, Nova. Fans might also note the inclusion of Medusa as a member of the FF, as well as Johnny’s short-lived red and yellow uniform, both of which were the status quo of the team from Fantastic Four #132 until #147.

The project was finally completed and given the artificial designation of Giant-Size Fantastic Four #1. (The first Fantastic Four Giant that Marvel published was actually titled Giant-Size Super-Stars #1. It was renamed to Giant-Size Fantastic Four with the second issue, meaning that no Giant-Size Fantastic Four #1 was ever actually published.)

Story and Pencils: John Byrne
Script: Mike O'Brien
Inks and Color: F. Ron Miller, Matt Hawes, James Pipik, Darren Taylor, James Stewart, James C. Taylor, Bill Dowling, Stephen Bertrand, Bill Wiist
Letters: F. Ron Miller and Matt Hawes

A few years back, I picked up IDW's Jack Kirby's Thor, Artist's Edition. I was interested in seeing precisely how Vince Colletta went about inking Kirby's pencils, as he had a reputation for erasing figures and simplifying details for the sake of getting his work done more quickly. I mean, to think that readers were getting this Kirby book that had some of his work deliberately removed? What kind of monster would do such a thing?!

It's probably a good 20% larger than most of the Artist's Edition books (mimicking the size of the original art Kirby was using at the time) so there's a lot of gorgeous detail to take in. The book includes six complete Thor stories (all by Kirby and Colletta) plus almost another 50 pages of originals from a smattering of random issues.

The first thing I noticed is that Colletta was very liberal with white paint. Beyond just the occasional touch-up when he had a stray ink line to cover up, he used white as an artistic element itself, adding in extra highlights or amplifying a Kirby Krackle effect with a secondary, reversed Kirby Krackle on top of the first. Sometimes, in places where Kirby seemed to have laid down some particularly heavy pencils, Colletta would simply paint over them with white rather than bother trying to erase the marks completely. He was very generous with his use of white on the page, moreso than any other inker I've seen.

The first instances I noticed where Colletta left part of the art uninked were background elements. None that were critical, by any means, and they were all pieces that butted up against word balloons. It looked like Kirby had penciled the whole panel, but the lettering took more space than he'd anticipated and, while the balloons didn't completely cover his art, they covered enough that inking what remained would have been somewhat confusing since you couldn't tell what the lines were for.

I eventually found a background vase/planter that Colletta had removed in favor of just a straight column. But here again, given the placement near the sole character's head, I could see some justification for the change from a readability perspective. I found a few other incidents like that: where a minor background element was removed or simplified for what could easily be understood to be an attempt to improve reader comprehension.

In fact, in the whole of the book, I found exactly one panel where Colletta had removed whole figures and I didn't see how that would improve the panel's readability...
If you look closely, you can see that three of the figures have been whited out. One in the lower left, one just to Thor's right, and one underneath the second thought balloon. The one under the thought balloon makes sense, in the same way that some of the deletions I mentioned earlier do. I don't really see a reason why these two other figures, though, would be left out. Their inclusion wouldn't seem to impact legibility at all, and the amount of time inking them -- especially relative to the details on the rest of the page -- seems negligible.

But other than that, though, I can't find anywhere where Colletta deliberately left out portions of Kirby's pencils in an effort to seemingly save time. In fact, there are any number of instances where he could have cut some corners in his inking but did not. Large fight scenes with crowds of people, the High Evolutionary's workshop with electronic doodads all over, the filigree on any number of Asgardians... Colletta had plenty of opportunities to skip over Kirby's details, but he elected not to.

It seems to me that his reputation has been highly exaggerated. My guess would be that the couple of instances where he did that were the start of it. Perhaps someone glancing at his art boards without really studying them may have noticed the heavy use of white paint and assumed Colletta was using it to hide Kirby's pencils? Judging from what I see here, though, Colletta's reputation seems highly undeserved.

I'm still not fond of Colletta's inking style, personally -- I think a heavier line suits the power behind Kirby's work better; someone like a Joe Sinnott or Mike Royer -- but I don't think Colletta should be maligned as someone who just cranked work out as quickly as possible with no regard to the stories being told. From what I'm seeing, he was actually very concerned with the storytelling, and he was largely working to make sure these were more readable than Kirby had originally drawn them.
Charles Schulz's 100th birthday was this past weekend and scores of cartoonists set aside their regular strips to pay tribute to the creator of Peanuts. Each cartoonist had their own take, of course, some simply saying 'thank you' while others replicating some of Schulz's classic iconography and gags while others still working in jokes about the characters themselves. The Schulz Museum has posted them all on their site, so I won't copy them here, but I did want to make a few callouts on some specific strips.
  • Barney Google & Snuffy Smith -- Schulz was indeed nicknamed "Sparky" after the horse in Barney Google. (The now-titular Snuffy Smith wouldn't be introduced until 1934.) The horse debuted in the strip about five months before Schulz was born and was a wildly popular character for a time, hence Schulz's uncle giving him the nickname. Although clearly no longer worked on by its original creator Billy DeBeck, who passed away in 1942, it's still strikes me as wild that the strip has outlasted Schulz.
  • Curtis -- I'm pretty sure "Just chillin', homie" isn't current slang these days and it feels kind of stilted, but it's still radically more hip that anything Schulz ever wrote into Peanuts. Mostly, I'm just amused Ray Billingsley opted to deliberately give Charlie Brown wildly out-of-character dialogue.
  • Drabble -- Schulz is obviously well-known for his drawings. I've blogged before of the iconography of Schulz's front porch. But Kevin Fagan gives us an excellent reminder of how critical and iconic the very language used in Peanuts was. Any one of those terms immediately elicits an entire string of old comics from memory.
  • Family Circus -- Family Circus started in 1960; Billy is canonically seven, so the earliest you could claim he was three would be 1956. But that's six years into Peanuts' run, so the timeline doesn't work to say Billy saw Peanuts' debut. I think it would've been cool if the timing could've lined up on this better.
  • For Better of For Worse -- The strip has been in reruns since 2008. Lynn Johnston came out of retirement for this! ❤️
  • Mary Worth -- The Peanuts strip Mary is reading originally ran on January 13, 1991. I am unsure if it holds any particular significance for either Karen May or June Brigman, but it happens to be the Sunday strip used when Fantagraphics announced their Peanuts Every Sunday 1991-1995 collection.
  • Mutts -- Patrick McDonnell is referencing a Peanuts strip from January 28, 1999 in which Schulz drew his characters at the very same museum depicted here, but the picture of Snoopy was originally one of Mutts' protagonist Earl.
  • Pearls Before Swine -- Shelock Holmes debuted in Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, which was first published in 1887, making Holmes a 19th century character, not a twentieth century one.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: B.C.: The First Thanksgiving

Kleefeld on Comics: My First Graphic Novel: The Winning Pup

Kleefeld on Comics: First Comic in the Macy's Parade

Kleefeld on Comics: Thankful For...

Kleefeld on Comics: Black Friday Comics

I'm surprised more newspaper cartooninsts don't make references in their strips to holidays and broad events like that. They're created far enough in advance that they can't really refer to the news of the day since it'll be the news of last month by the time they run, but there are a lot of events on the calendar and can be used to make the strip seem current and topical even if it isn't. Plus, it can offer a springboard for jokes, so they don't have to start from absolutely nothing. Every artist draws inspiration from different sources and in different ways, of course, but I would think having an ongoing calendar of predicatable events would be invaluable for someone trying to do a gag-a-day cartoon in the newspaper.

But here we are in 2022, on the day after Thanksgiving, and I can only find a handful of newspaper strips that reference Black Friday at all. I did see a few othes that referenced it being the day after Thanksgiving by mentioning leftovers or a turkey that managed to survive, and even a couple about Christmas shopping generally but those seemed focused on the Christmas side of things rather than the express notion of shopping ON Black Friday specifically.
Despite my displeasure with how Thanksgiving got started I am thankful for everything I have. I've particularly been cognizant of it the few couple years in the wake of dealing with the pandemic. But I'm sitting here at the tail end of 2022 under my own roof. With my wonderful wife in the next room. Who's been extremely supportive of my crazy notions like building a personal comic library and running a marathon. Which I've been able to comfortably afford because I've got a secure and well-paying job. Which allows me the luxury of being able to work from home.

I'm sitting here in my library right now, and I repeatedly finding myself just staring around the room, still giddy at having been able to realize a dream I had for many years now. And even in lieu of the holy-crap-is-this-the-most-fantastic-collection-ever sense of awe I had at the Billy Ireland Library and Museum, that I'm able to do something even remotely capable of being called a comics library makes me inordinately happy.

And within the sphere of comics writing, I usually just sit off in my own little corner, banging away on my keyboard. I don't have a lot of interaction with other folks about my ideas, so I'm left to assume that I'm shouting at the wind. But being able to write an academic level textbook about webcomics, and having that nominated for an Eisner Award last year? I can't tell you how far beyond any dreams I might've had growing up that is. And I'm sitting on a semi-related announcement that will be made in early 2023 that would equally have blown my teenage mind.

I wonder sometimes what my teenaged self would think of current me. I suspect there'd be some level of disappointment at not being professionally employed in an expressly creative field and having instead "sold out" to "the man." But being an award-nominated writer, having run several marathons, being an extra in an Avengers movie (that there even IS an Avengers movie!), having a smart home more advanced that the one Bill Gates ostensibly had in the 1980s when I first heard of the idea, surviving a lightning strike, literally saving the life of a drowning cousin, being able to 3D print almost anything I want out of my utility closet... Fifteen-year-old me would probably not even come close to recognizing current me; what I've been able to do in my life, both in terms of the technology at my disposal as well as my personal skills and talents, is well beyond whatever I might've dreamed of doing. I've never had a formal "Bucket List" but if I had, I would've had to re-write it several times over with the number of Bucket-List-level items I would've checked off.

My wife is in the kitchen now working on what I have no doubt will be a delicious Thanksgiving meal. While I'd love to be able to go for a quiet run afterwards, getting hit by an SUV a few years ago put a damper on that; however, that my body was able to take that much damage and still be able to walk or even run (to a limited degree) is absolutely incredible. There is seemingly no end of awful things going on in the world right now and there are no doubt many more to come. But I am thankful for where I am personally in my life. The friends I have, the things I've been able to achieve (or were priveleged/lucky enough to stumle into!), the safety net I've been able to craft for when things do go sideways... I remain thankful for everything I have.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the annual staples of television viewing on Thanksgiving morning here in the US. The parade started in 1924 and became such a popular hit that it factored heavily in the 1947 story and film Miracle on 34th Street. Giant balloons have been a hallmark of the parade and the obviously commercial endeavor often showcases characters from a variety of intellectual properties. Including, of course, many characters from comics! I'm sure many of you have seen Snoopy in various years, while both Superman and Spider-Man have made multiple appearances. But the question today is: which character that originated in comics was the first to appear in the parade?

Well, let's check off some of the obvious ones that I just mentioned. The first Snoopy balloon debuted in 1968, despite being conceived back in 1966. However, in 1967, there was a float promoting the You're A Good Man Charlie Brown muscial from that same year. While Spider-Man's debut in comics pre-dates all that, the character didn't appear in the Macy's Parade until 1987. It saw a lot of use, though, being active every year until 1998 when a giant tear across the stomach was found to be unrepairable. (And while it doesn't factor into the "first appeared" discussion here, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Marvel Universe float that was used from 1987-1989.)

All right, so how about Superman? Well, the first Superman balloon was in the 1940 parade, a mere two years after the characters comic book debut! That particular balloon only appeared for one year, but it was very much a colossal appearance measuring in at 75 feet tall!

Action Comics #1 was pretty early in what we consider comic books, though, so there can't be too many more candidates, right?

Well, if we look at all the sponsorships that United Features put in... they didn't bring in a "Comics Stars" float (featuring Garfield, Marmaduke, Nancy, etc.) until 1983 and the Garfield balloon debuted a year later. What about Popeye? He's more known through animation, but he first appeared the E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre strip. A Popeye balloon first rolled down 34th street in 1957, but a Popeye float first appeared in 1939! The year before the Superman balloon! I can only find this one photo of it (at right) and it's clearly not during the parade.

Still, that was the parade's sixteenth year. Is there anything earlier still?

Macy's often claims that Felix the Cat was their first balloon introduced to the parade in 1927. However, Felix was an animated character that got his start in 1919; his first comic strip appearance didn't happen until 1923. Still earlier than anything I've discussed so far, but his origins aren't from the comics. Besides, photographic evidence shows that the Felix balloon wasn't used until 1931.

Which is significant here because we do have photographic evidence of a series of balloons from 1929 and 1930. And that photographic evidence shows the balloons in question are of Hans, Fritz, Mrs. Katzenjammer, The Captain, and The Herr-Inspektor -- the cast of The Katzenjammer Kids! The strip had been running for a little over three decades at that point, including during a fraught legal battle between creator Rudolph Dirks and publisher William Randolph Hearst.

1929 marked the parade's sixth year. In reviewing the previous five years, information becomes pretty sketchy but most of the first four years seem to center around common nursery rhymes and fairy tales. (Cinderella did make an appearance in 1926, but the now-more-famous Disney movie wasn't until 1950. The version from the 1926 parade was more of a generic princess design in an ornate-looking horse-drawn coach.) A smoke-breathing dinosaur float was added in 1927, lending a more general fantasy theme to the parade. This was expanded somewhat in 1928, which featured "cosmic ghost" and "carnivorous goldfish" balloons.

So it looks like The Katzenjammer Kids are indeed the earliest comic characters to appear in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! They were only used twice, but that's still a full decade before Popeye's and Superman's first showings!