Review by C.J. Bunce
One of writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby’s most famous creations is the subject of a new coffee table book from Abrams ComicArts. Reprinted at nearly 9 inches by 12 inches, Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel, a new hardcover edition of The Fantastic Four, Issue #1, is going to be one for big fans of the characters. Unlike 2005’s book Maximum Fantastic Four, which included one panel per page in a 9″x12″ format with re-colored and enhanced artwork, Fantastic Four No. 1 Panel by Panel features color, blown-up scans of each page in its original context with all its Ben Day halftone dots jumping off the page. The book is out this week and available here at Amazon. And it has much more than a close-up look at this seminal issue in the history of comics that is worth checking out.
Created by designer Chip Kidd with text by Marvel editor Tom Brevoort and historian Mark Evanier, and photographs by Geoff Spear, the focus of the reader is seeing this first titled issue of the Fantastic Four in this kind of format. Beyond that, the creators include several appendices where they flesh out some of the age-old battle of whether writer Stan Lee or artist Jack Kirby was any more “the creator” of the book and characters than the other. Usually such debates lean toward the artist for all his/her time and effort, but here Stan Lee gets more of the respect he deserves. If a genius takes an hour to accomplish his task, is he any less a genius than someone who takes a week or a month? Somehow “sweat equity” has translated among comics debaters into artists being somehow more responsible for comic books than writers, which I’ve always scratched my head at. In this book you’ll see a series of essays that present both sides well.
You have to wonder what Jack Kirby would think of his work reprinted so large–those halftone dots work in comics and other art because the intended print size was small, so blowing it up does distort the original image.
For the publication of a book about an important comic issue, an original copy of The Fantastic Four, Issue #1, is not all that difficult (if pricey) to obtain for scanning purposes. A fine copy with good interior pages (and a lesser quality cover) is scanned in totality and included at the end of this volume. Reprints of this first issue have been available for decades, but it’s nice to see the color and pages of an original issue included here. One detractor of this edition is the frequent splitting of panels at the gatefold. At some point someone will figure out a way to capture the original art and colors in a contextual panel-by-panel version that doesn’t block the view of the art.
As for the content of the issue, it really speaks for itself. Lee and Kirby begin in the middle of the action, following up with an origin story. And this team-up is so very much a Stan Lee group of characters and another of his trademark origin stories. The book also showcases the kind of artwork a generation of readers grew up with when they wanted their superhero fix.
Another plus of this edition is incorporation of the vintage advertisements, both within the blown-up format and in the reprint of the original issue at the back of the book. It’s a good reminder of the innocence of the era in which these characters were conceived.