Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee

22 November 2018

Bob Dylan

Three Marvel comics, Tales of Suspense #49, The Avengers #3 and X-Men #3 were all published on the 10th of January 1964. Bob Dylan’s album, The Times they are a Changin’, was released three days later on the 13th of January.

I bought those three comics and that album that month. Or at least my memory tells me I did. The reality was that Marvel Comics in those days were shipped over to the UK where I lived and they didn’t arrive on these shores for nearly three months after they hit the newsstands in the US.

So in real life it wasn’t until sometime around early spring 1964 that I was reading those comics while listening to those songs. But anyway it was a long time ago, put it that way.

Tales of Suspense numbers 47 to 49 were unusual in that the Iron Man stories were drawn by Steve Ditko who is much better known as being the artist/co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr Strange with Stan Lee. His three Iron Man stories in the winter of 1964 though were a pivotal point in the early development of the Marvel Age of Comics.

He was asked by Stan Lee to redesign Iron Man’s costume (and the Dr Strange comic was postponed for a few months to give him time to do it!) These three issues show the transition from the clunky, very 1950s, initially grey and then gold iron suit that Iron Man first wore on his debut in Tales of Suspense #39 and was still wearing in Avengers #2, and its replacement with the red and gold costume much like the one he wears today.

I’ve always liked the fact that the cover to Suspense #49 was pencilled by Jack Kirby and inked by Steve Ditko and that the story in the book was written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko. It was a book that had the artistic input of, to me at least, the three most important people in the story of Marvel Comics in the early 1960s.

For no real reason other than my usual daily drawing practice I drew a version of the cover of that comic recently (while listening to Bob’s Times they are a Changin’ album) and while doing so reminded myself once again what great artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were. When I draw these days I have the most amazing luck to be able to sketch, ink and colour my drawings on an iPad Pro with an Apple iPencil. The same iPad also holds my complete Bob Dylan record collection.

That’s the incredible thing really. It was pretty easy back in the days of the Eagle comic in the1950s to predict that one day people might travel around with jet-packs on their backs, but who seriously would have thought that someone like Steve Jobs would come along and invent a tablet you could draw on with a pressure-responsive surface that also played all your favourite records to you while you were drawing? Unbelievable! (Or that the same tablet could utilise something called the internet to send print-ready files of that artwork to a publisher anywhere in the world almost instantaneously! Mind-bending!)

Iron Man

This is the ‘pencil’ sketch I produced with the iPencil on the iPad Pro that day using the Comic Draw app. The pencil tools in that app deserve a special mention. I think they are the best on the market bar none. I have tried out a large number of drawing apps over the last couple of years, but I find the Comic Draw pencils the most comfortable to use. They just feel right and you can sketch with them just as you would with (constantly sharp) pencils. If you ever get a chance to try out the app’s pencil tools I’d recommend you do so - I reckon you’d agree with me about the way it just feels completely natural when you’re drawing with them.

My inking is not my strong suit, but I tried really hard with this picture to see if I could re-create the look that Joe Sinnott used to get when he inked Jack Kirby’s pencils. I’m not saying I’m as good an inker as Joe Sinnott (or even anything like it), but just that I try to practice hard every week to hopefully improve my work in any way I can and there’s just something about the way he used to ink Kirby’s work that I always did admire. I also wanted to see if I could get anywhere near the amazingly smooth ink lines of Steve Ditko’s high-calibre inking. A tough task.

My efforts on this inking practice were a bit better than usual for me although there are plenty of really amateur bits that bug me to look at, but it was an OK afternoon’s work on a lazy Sunday and I felt I was getting somewhere with it.
It was a particular Sunday though as things turned out and by the time I came to work on the colouring of the picture the following day news was just breaking that Stan Lee had died.

It was only a few months ago in the summer that Steve Ditko had been found dead and I’d felt then that with his death and Jack Kirby’s passing way back in 1994 it was the end of an important time in the history of comic-book art. With Stan Lee gone too I guess it’s the end of an era.

I was thinking about that when I was colouring this work and listening, again, to Bob Dylan’s album. It’s significant, or so it seems to me, that the title track, The Times they are a Changin’, features so prominently in the film based on Alan Moore’s Watchmen book. It hadn’t struck me until then how clever that was.

My colouring work is something I’m also struggling to develop and I concentrated quite hard on the tonal values in this piece - colouring it took me almost as long as inking it had.

I only used flat-colours on this picture (although I did use the dry-brush tool on the Angel’s wings). My intention was to keep it 60s style really. I didn’t work up the cityscape that I’d pencilled the day before, but just introduced the flat sage-green colour as a background that I hoped would best show the juxtaposition of the yellow I’d chosen for Angel’s X-Men costume and the quite different yellow I’d selected to get some kind of ‘shine’ coming through as the gold in Iron Man’s (then) new costume.

I tend not to use shading too much when I colour my drawings, partly because I think too many colours and shades is like using too many different fonts all at once, but also because it is probably the singularly most difficult thing to master in comic-book work. Anyway, for a combination of all of those reasons I decided the drawing was finished as a study and exercise at this stage and I called it a day at that.

I added the title, 1964 Revisited, as a nod to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 album and also added the M.M.M.S sticker as an afterthought as I’d read that the Merry Marvel Marching Society was first launched in 1964 (I had thought it was ’65 or ’66, but apparently not).

My M.M.M.S number is 6039 A, so I guess that means I signed up pretty early and, yes, I still wear the badge…


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