The Buttons of Doom

By | Friday, May 10, 2024 Leave a Comment
How about a Flashback Friday? The following is the very first piece I wrote for The Jack Kirby Collector way back in 2003. Actually, I think I may have written in 2002, but it didn't get published until issue #38 in 2003. Frankly, I'm kind of surprised how quickly/easily I found an electronic copy of what I wrote in a format (RTF!) that was still useable! Anyway, here my original "The Buttons of Doom!"

Think big, but start small, they say. Appropriate here for two reasons. First, this is my foray in the researching Jack Kirby’s artwork and, while I have aspirations for great discoveries, this is not one of them. Second, how many of you noticed the size of Dr. Doom’s buttons over the course of Jack’s run on the Fantastic Four?

Upon reading through The Jack Kirby Collector #33, I found an interesting aside. As the caption points out, Stan Lee added some gutter notes to the original art of Fantastic Four #85, page 9. Playing art director, Stan apparently was dissatisfied with the large buttons used to clasp Dr. Doom’s cloak in place. He writes, “I think the big ‘buttons’ should have more detail, pattern, or modeling. They look too unfinished, too cartoony, this way.”

At first, it struck me as an odd request. Why would Stan now begin to concern himself with a minor detail like that? Especially on a character that had been around for the better part of a decade.

A quick scan through Dr. Doom’s previous appearances, though, reveals that the large clasps were in fact part of an evolution of the character’s visual. His early appearances in Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man show a single small button holding his cloak in place. Not being one to dwell on inconsequential details, though, Jack’s renderings of Doom alternate between double and single button clasps over the character’s next several appearances. (Sometimes within the same issue!) Jack eventually settled for the two button approach, but down-played their visual importance. Even Doom’s appearances as late as Fantastic Four #60 show him with small claps, often covered by his hood.

So Fantastic Four #84 marks the first significantly-sized buttons on Dr. Doom’s cloak. They grow even larger in #85; a comparison between the splash on page 5 of #84 and the last panel on page 9 of #85 shows the circles to be the same size, despite a vast difference in the figure proportions. Stan’s suggestion for more detail begins to make sense.

Then we find Stan’s gutter notes again on the artwork for Fantastic Four #86, page 17. “Sol [Brodsky] — I’m not sure I like these designs on the button. They look like sunflowers!” Curious, considering the design we see published is simply a few diagonal lines to represent a reflective surface. Clearly the artwork was changed at some point after Stan’s comment.

So what design would Jack have included to make Doom’s clasps look like sunflowers? Well, without having the original to examine carefully, my guess would be a simple cross-hatching pattern. A rather logical texture for buttons.

It seems to me that this was production manager Sol’s invention, however. In the small reproduction I have, there are two circles also in the gutter next to Doom’s clasp. One hollow, one slightly smaller, but nearly filled in. The simple word “Thruout” hangs next to them. A note from Sol, perhaps, suggesting an idea to Jack. Or directions to inker Joe Sinnott. Was that filled-in circle the actual pattern Sol wanted before Stan’s sunflower reference? And who finally decided on the reflection lines? Why was Sol acting as a go-between for the writer and artist?

Minor questions in the end. Virtually insignificant in fact. But I think it shows a part of the failure to communicate that built up to Jack’s leaving a little over a year later. It also shows that we should be grateful Stan had some say in the art direction; otherwise we may have had to witness the Thing rolling on the floor laughing at the Sunflowers of Doom!
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