Fantastic Four No. 1: Panel by Panel
By Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear, Mark Evanier, and Tom Brevoort
Abrams ComicsArts, 240 pages, $40
The first title to usher in the Marvel Age of Comics has been previously annotated in other books, most notably one five years ago. But here, designer Chip Kidd does his usual in-depth look with incredible blow-ups of each panel of each page of the story that introduced us to Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm, and Benjamin J. Grimm.
The vast majority of the book is filled with these detailed looks, shot by Geoff Spear from a 1961 copy of the comic. It’s an interesting look, forcing you to examine things in extreme close-up, so much so that some panels lose detail in the spine.
It’s all too much and somewhat overwhelms you visually. And then, when we get to the meat of the book, Tom Brevoort’s analytical breakdown of the comic, we’re given thumbnails whle the text asks us to look at details requiring you to flip back to the specific blown up panel or past the essay to the page by page reproduction of the comic, which bookends the hardcover.
Brevoort has been studying the comic for some time over at his always entertaining blog and has revised those posts here for what should be considered a definitive examination; that is, until the original art is ever located. He notes theories that have been bandied about for decades whether or not the story was intended for one of the anthology titles before publisher Martin Goodman moved it to a new title or if the FF were shoehorned into an existing Mole Man versus mankind story, a hallmark of that Atlas Comics era which stretched through the latter 1950s. He notes where art extensions (credited for the most part to production manager Sol Brodsky) were likely done and where penciller Jack Kirby’s routine layouts were changed, likely by writer/editor Stan Lee.
It all makes for fascinating reading but the page by page analysis really belonged with the page by page reproductions not the thumbnails. This design misfire mars a handsome, albeit expensive, book for what it is.
Brevoort’s notes along with the essay from Mark Evanier, even-handedly examines what Lee and Kirby likely brought to the characters and story. They even seem to definitively identify George Klein as the inker, settling a debate that has raged for decades. Acknowledgement is given to the conflicting claims about which creator did what and I agree with Evanier that credit has to be equally shared since, after all, none of us were there when they worked on the project.
Finally, there is the short typed outline that Lee first showed Roy Thomas in 1966 and some conjecture is provided as to why Lee wrote it.
All in all the information provided in one place is a fine tribute to the 60th anniversary of this seminal release. As with most Abrams ComicArts releases, the production values are high, the glossy paper thick, and the overall package handsome. Yes, you’ve seen some or all this before but having it all in one place makes for a nice addition to your comics library.