Hot Streak: Gil Kane’s Green Lantern

« It was exactly an assembly line. You could look into infinity down these rows of drawing tables. » — Gil Kane

Some of our more sensitive readers may have noticed that we’ve been none too gentle with Gil Kane (1926-2000) in the past, dealing him some rather rough lumps at times. But that’s not the whole story: in taking stock of such a protracted and prolific (dare I say profligate?) career as his, much of it inevitably spent on autopilot, one must be discerning. In other words, I like some of Kane’s work, but there’s plenty of it I don’t care for. Still, WOT’s rule of thumb is that if we altogether loathe an artist and/or his work, we’ll just turn a blind eye.

And speaking of the sense of sight, what makes a great comic book cover? Must be my art school training and subsequent work in advertising tipping the scales, but to me, design and layout reign primordial as ingredients… as values. I’m often dismayed at many a would-be critic’s apparent method of assessing an image’s artistic worth, namely: how many popular characters does it feature? Is it action-packed? Is the issue sought-after and expensive? Does it feature a famous character’s début? Is it drawn by a fan-favourite artist who unquestionably do no wrong… because he’s a fan-favourite artist who unquestionably do no wrong? (and how dare you claim otherwise!)

Gil Kane reportedly generated around eight hundred covers for Marvel in the 1970s… of all levels of craft and quality. With that kind of frenzied output, it’s impressive that most were perfectly serviceable, given that there certainly was no time for meticulous, sober planning. They were generally over-captioned (not Kane’s fault!) and crassly sensationalistic, but that’s what Marvel sought and settled for.

It’s a shame that Kane and his former classmate at the School of Industrial Art (back in the early 40s!), DC lynchpin Carmine Infantino didn’t get on too well, because their Silver Age collaborations had a special spark… must have been the animosity. It had been noted by the DC brass, as early as the late 50s, that Carmine’s covers reliably caught prospective buyers’ attention and dimes. And so, by 1967, he was unofficially designing most of the publisher’s covers, and certainly the covers of all titles edited by Julius Schwartz. Green Lantern was among these.

So we turn today’s spotlight on a hot streak of seven. Kane gets his name in the title, but it would be more accurate to say they were Infantino-designed, Gaspar Saladino-lettered, Jack Adler-coloured, Gil Kane-pencilled and Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene-inked covers. The streak begins after Green Lantern no. 54’s downright poor cover, and ends with the interruption of Kane’s impressively long run of consecutive issues.

We begin with Green Lantern no. 55 (Sept. 1967, DC). Harmonious, easy-to-parse arrangement of numerous elements and exemplary integration of text. Design by Infantino, pencils by Kane, inks by Murphy Anderson, lettering by Gaspar Saladino, colours by Jack Adler. Oh, and lest we forget: logo designed by Ira Shnapp (circa 1964), classic Green Lantern uniform designed by Kane (circa 1959).
This is Green Lantern no. 56 (Oct. 1967, DC). Kane was never much for varying his monsters (see below). Pencils by Kane, inks by Anderson.
For a bit of comparison on how things were done from company to company, this is Tales to Astonish no. 91 (May, 1967, Marvel). This is what happens when there’s no planning or attention to detail: in an already-crowded cover, did we really need that ugly box advising us of the presence of The Abomination? He’s right there! (maybe the abomination refers to the cover itself). And the foreshortening nightmare that is the baddie’s left arm was so dire that, when a fan commissioned Arthur Adams to produce a recreation of this cover (which, things being as they are, many surely consider ‘iconic’)… he wisely corrected the anatomy and tweaked the poor composition. Interesting how Marvel’s heavy-fingered yes-man, art director John Romita Sr., was always game to “fix” Ditko and Kirby art, but saw nothing wrong with this one.
This is Green Lantern no. 57 (Dec. 1967, DC), featuring Catastrophic Weapons of Major Disaster!, written by Gardner Fox, pencilled and inked by Kane. Cover by Kane and Greene… love the placement of the signatures!
This is Green Lantern no. 58 (Jan. 1968, DC), featuring Peril of the Powerless Green Lantern! (a Julius Schwartz title if there ever was one), written by Gardner Fox, pencilled by Kane and inked by Greene. I’m not overly fond of the Kane-Greene mix, but Sid Greene, as a penciller-inker did some splendid work on the Star Rovers series (1961-64), co-created and scripted by Gardner Fox.
An issue whose price few can afford unless they bought it off the racks, this is Green Lantern no. 59 (March 1968, DC); pencils by Gil Kane, inks by Murphy Anderson. Featuring the introduction of GL alternate Guy Gardner, who was to be dubiously re(jack)-booted in the 1980s, by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton, as a jackass with an ugly uniform and a worse haircut. Notwithstanding the fact that the Green Lantern Corps would never bestow power and stewardship on such an immature and pompous loose cannon.
This is Green Lantern no. 60 (April 1968, DC); an evident Infantino design, with pencils by Kane and inks by Anderson… which interestingly ends up producing a prototype of Brian Bolland‘s distinctive style… a decade early.
This is Green Lantern no. 61 (June 1968, DC); pencils by Kane, inks by Greene, and featuring (groan) Thoroughly Modern Mayhem!, scripted by Mike Friedrich, pencilled by Kane and inked by Greene. Co-starring Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern.

-RG

12 thoughts on “Hot Streak: Gil Kane’s Green Lantern

  1. Connor Cochran June 15, 2021 / 13:48

    Gil Kane’s DC work in the ’60s was a profound influence on my own visual thinking.

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    • gasp65 June 15, 2021 / 15:51

      So then… Kane left his mark on you, Connor? (sorry!) Seriously, though, he was tremendously influential. In more lucid moments, I wonder at how we visual artistes tend to absorb so much from so many, often unlikely sources. If we’re lucky, this primordial soup coalesces into something personal and distinctive.

      For instance, I learned to shorthand background foliage from the inking work of Jack Abel, for instance. And I like the way he renders smoke.

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      • Connor Cochran June 15, 2021 / 18:05

        Synchronicity — just two days ago I read an unpublished story written by a Fairly Famous Author back when he was 15 years old, and the whole thing was about the Mark of Cain…

        We do indeed absorb everything we are exposed to as kids, though why some things are more influential than others is a deep mystery. In comics, I definitely absorbed material from Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, Carmine Infantino, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and many others. But as a kid, when I sat down to actually draw other peoples’ work I liked, it was Kane I copied endlessly. And also Hank Ketcham and Charles Schultz. All of these people and others are in my mind’s eye, but for some reasons I wanted those three in my hand as well. It’s an odd set.

        I also swallowed a bunch of older children’s book art whole, especially the Tenniel illustrations for Lewis Carroll and the John R, Neill Oz drawings. Later, as I discovered science fiction books and magazines, I similarly devoured Jack Gaughan, Kelly Freas, Ed Emshwiller, John Schoenherr, and Richard Powers. (Freas and Gaughan eventually became life-changing mentor/friends. Richard Powers I got to curate once as part of an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Schoenherr and Emshwiller, sadly, I never did meet.)

        But the single biggest youthful visual influence was the entire diverse collection at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, where I grew up. When I was 5 or 6 years old I took Saturday morning kiddie art classes at the Museum. They really didn’t teach us anything, but I always had a couple of hours free after the class before my mother could pick me up, and somehow I convinced the staff at the Museum to let me wander around looking at everything, unsupervised, before they opened to the public. That would never happen today for a bunch of different reasons, but I’m grateful to have had the experience.

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  2. Hart Liss July 31, 2022 / 15:57

    A few corrections.
    Romita was not art director when that TTA cover was done.
    The Kane covers don’t show signs to me of being drawn from Infantino layouts.
    As for any chemistry between Kane pencilling off of Infantino layouts: if true, it would be ironic or attributable to, as the case may be, to them having shared a studio and collaborated in the early/mid-1950s. Don’t actually know of any bad blood between them; then again, maybe there was and that’s how + why Kane ended up at Marvel ca. 1969/70.
    Weirdly enough, Julie Schwartz disliked Kane, which one would never know given the work he gave Kane. BTW, the importance of Kane to the GL book can be seen in the issues not drawn by him in the late 60s. There’s an energy missing IMO.

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    • gasp65 July 31, 2022 / 18:45

      Hi, Hart. Thanks for dropping by!

      You wrote:

      > Romita was not art director when that TTA cover was done.

      As far as I can tell, no one (but Stan) was ‘art director’ at Marvel at the time, and while Romita would not be officially appointed to the position until 1973, he *was* Stan’s right-hand ‘fixer’ right from his return to Marvel in 1966.

      « I got used to every instruction Stan gave and I would start to do it whenever he wasn’t around, so I became a de facto art director* without pay, without portfolio, without anything. »

      « I used to change a lot of people’s faces for which I got a reputation of being an egomaniac. They thought I was initiating it. I was just following orders like a Nazi guard. » Ouch!

      I would say that by the time that issue of TTA (cover-dated May, 1967), Romita was well ensconced as the ‘de facto’ art director.

      >The Kane covers don’t show signs to me of being drawn from Infantino layouts.

      Which is a testament to their success. The layout artist’s hand should be invisible, and the composition should play to the final artist’s strengths. Issues 55 and 60 seem quite Infantino-esque, and 61 has that ’30˚ tilt’ that Carmine favoured.

      Nonetheless, it’s established fact that Infantino had a hand in virtually every DC cover from late ’66 to the end of ’75. If he didn’t design them outright, he still had to sign off on them. That aside, it’s all speculation.

      >As for any chemistry between Kane pencilling off of Infantino layouts: if true, it would be ironic or attributable to, as the case may >be, to them having shared a studio and collaborated in the early/mid-1950s. Don’t actually know of any bad blood between them; >then again, maybe there was and that’s how + why Kane ended up at Marvel ca. 1969/70.

      When asked about Kane, the normally plain-spoken Infantino gets kind of evasive. Here’s an example:

      « Gil had a highly critical and often exaggerated opinion of everything and everyone — the Don Quixote of the comics field, but he could also be quite entertaining. Unfortunately, Gil was invariably late on deadlines and that had an influence on his leaving DC and going to Marvel. »

      > Weirdly enough, Julie Schwartz disliked Kane, which one would never know given the work he gave Kane.

      That’s odd… Infantino asserted just the opposite:

      « Gil and I were not really close, but he was very close with Julie. »

      Maybe they had a falling out later on…

      >BTW, the importance of Kane to the GL book can be seen in the issues not drawn by him in the late 60s. There’s an energy missing IMO.

      True, it’s hard to match Kane for sheer energy — but I’m afraid I prefer both Sparling and Sekowsky… though I’m surely in the minority. Still, it’s hard to deny that Kane was the defining, definitive GL artist.

      *more details on Romita’s rôle at Marvel in the 1960s: https://bleedingcool.com/comics/recent-updates/the-john-romita-deposition-for-the-kirby-family-v-marvel-lawsuit/

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      • Hart Liss August 1, 2022 / 18:27

        I found Infantino’s cover designs/layouts very distinctive. See, for example, Cardy’s covers over them. The design’s so strong, Cardy’s practically just inking them.
        As for Kane and Infantino, that’s from an interview with Kane about his early years, ditto the claim about Schwartz having an antipathy for him. I would say though that Kane was highly opinionated so maybe the thing with Schwartz was his finding Kane a pain in the ass to deal with.
        As for Romita, I looked at the transcript and it is in no way specific to when he started making art corrections for Lee, nor would the timing be of any relevance to his deposition.
        But, you know, all this history’s kind of sloppy because no one was paying that much attention to prosperity’s needs.

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      • gasp65 August 4, 2022 / 16:24

        Hi Hart! You wrote:

        > I found Infantino’s cover designs/layouts very distinctive. See, for example, Cardy’s covers over them. The design’s so strong, Cardy’s practically just inking them.

        Sure, but you’re perhaps not taking into account the ‘invisible evidence’, which is to say that what you do recognize as Infantino is what you deem explicitly Infantino-like… but I hold that had quite a range. Case in point: Steve Ditko once stated that Carmine was having an off-day when he designed his cover for First Issue Special no. 7 (featuring the Creeper), and so Ditko drew a dog taking a piss in the background to express his view. I wouldn’t have pegged that one as an Infantino.

        >As for Kane and Infantino, that’s from an interview with Kane about his early years, ditto the claim about Schwartz having an >antipathy for him. I would say though that Kane was highly opinionated so maybe the thing with Schwartz was his finding >Kane a pain in the ass to deal with.

        That’s quite plausible. Ask a guy about his opinion of another, then ask again a couple of decades later, all the more when the relationship is both personal and professional, and you may get wildly differing responses.

        >As for Romita, I looked at the transcript and it is in no way specific to when he started making art corrections for Lee, nor >would the timing be of any relevance to his deposition.

        Obviously, there’s no smoking gun; for instance, though, in Romita’s Wikipedia entry (quoting from an interview in Alter Ego), Stan had Romita second-guessing and revising other artists’ work — Bob Powell (I presume) and Dick Ayers — practically when Romita returned to Marvel.

        “… the first chance he had he shows me this Daredevil story somebody had started and he didn’t like it, and he wanted somebody else to do it. [He] showed me Dick Ayers’ splash page for a Daredevil [and] asked me, ‘What would you do with this page?’ I showed him on a tracing paper what I would do, and then he asked me to do a drawing of Daredevil the way I would do it. ”

        > But, you know, all this history’s kind of sloppy because no one was paying that much attention to prosperity’s needs.

        Agreed, and sloppy history beats Roy Thomas’ self-serving version of the ‘facts’ any old day. I presume you meant to say ‘posterity’, right? ‘cos Stan was *always* paying full attention to *his* prosperity’s needs. 😉

        Again, thanks for the insightful comments, Hart!

        Like

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