Thursday, November 28, 2013

NOVA! The Evolution of an Unused 1976 Cover! Jack Kirby! Dave Cockrum! Marvel!

Even tho dandy Dave Cockrum created a ton of colossal cover designs, fantastic finished covers, and incredible interior art, not all of his images thrilled editors and powers-that-were at Marvel! Look below to check out this 1976 NOVA cover Dave drew, which was soon deemed to be "unexciting!" Editor Marv Wolfman swiftly steered the cover assignment to Jack "King" Kirby, and the rest is history! Click below to peek behind the scenes and see the step-by-step course this memorable image took, from inception to production!

Above: Dave Cockrum's illustration for the cover of NOVA #7! Take a look at Marv Wolfman's
scribbled notes about the various details of the cover he found lacking...

Above: A frantically-doodled sketch (by Wolfman?) detailing what is needed is sent
to artist Jack Kirby, who had just recently returned to Marvel after a stint at rival DC!
Note is from John Verpoorten, Marvel's production maven at the time!

Above: Jack KIrby's original pencil art for the cover!

Above, left: Inks (by Joe Sinnott) are applied over Kirby's pencils,
creating a terrific and attention-grabbing final cover (right)! Thanks

AND RESEARCH CENTER for above images!


James Robert Smith said...

I love Jack Kirby...but the Kirby version is not qualitatively better than the Cockrum cover. Also, the editor's bitch-whining about Nova not looking like a 17-year-old kid was NOT solved by Kirby's art.

Al Bigley said...


I'm sure Jack didn't care a bit about the then-new Nova, tho!

Al Bigley

Doug Downing said...

Thanks for the behind-the-scenes glimpse!

The finished product seems to owe quite a lot to inker Joe Sinnott: the removal of heavy blacks on Nova's helmet, the addition of legs (previously just a flying torso!), the alteration of the policemen's helmets, the shading of explosion debris… In Kirby's drawing, Nova looks bulkier and the black "squiggles" along his right side are jagged and angular. They've been smoothed out and reinterpreted for the final, inked version.

BTW, I'd guess the cover doodle was by Verpoorten, as he was also an embellisher.

Mr. Preece said...

I disagree, Mr. Smith. There are some critical flaws in Cockrum's cover that are solved by Kirby. Of course, we must try to think like editors. First off, Cockrum's left arm on Nova doesn't work. One can get away with anatomical distortions if that's the overall style and it fits the rest of the drawing. In this case it stands out as odd (and the oddest thing in the image shouldn't be what stands out the most). Kirby moves it out to the side in a clearer and less "odd" pose. Cockrum has the "cops" cropped so tight it's unclear what they look like. Jack shifts the angle enough, and addes a few more in the background, to make this part clearer. Verpoorten says they should look more like cops, which Kirby doesn't succeed on very well by simply redrawing Cockrum's 1920s-style football helmets so Sinnott was no doubt asked to ink them with US military helmets sometimes worn by cops.) But those things aren't the biggest reasons to redo Cockrum's cover. Cockrum has design creates great confusion by running certain design elements together in ways he should know better than doing. For example, Cockrum has a "cop" with a machine gun shooting and missing Nova to his right. But the angle of the shot makes it look like it's the cop who destroys the building in the background. That's a serious no-no that can create confusion for the viewer--which can quickly cost Marvel a sale. (An editor has to worry about every detail, especially anything that an impatient kid might use as an excuse to put the "dumb" comic back on the rack.) If we follow Cockrum's flight path for Nova we see Cockrum has created even more confusion. From Nova's body is a flight trail. Look where he's supposed to have flown through the building below. Cockrum has put the machine gun right over top where Nova blasted out. That's not only action lost, it's clarity lost. Jack fixes that in a much clearer and exciting way. Further back, Cockrum has put Nova's right arm right over his entry point into the aforementioned building. Jack does it too but Jack's is still clearer. The real problem here is that, at a glance, it looks like Nova's arcing flight path swoosh is actually a punching swoosh coming from Nova's left fist (which is why I say Cockrum's odd left arm draws so much attention). It looks like Nova first punched the tall building as he's punching the cops, which isn't possible based on the trajectory of Nova's body coming from below. Again, more confusion, especially for a kid. Can a kid figure all this out on his own? Of course he can. But WILL he stand there and, in his mind, in the two seconds he's considering buying this comic, spend the time and effort to do so? That's just too big of a risk for the editor to take considering all the time and effort put into making the comic. I don't think Jack perfectly clears up the tail of the flight path going through the pointy building in the back left, but the rest of the flight path is instantly clear (and he even has a firing pistol flash overlap the flight path to fix it further down and back). I'd say Jack and Joe did enough nudging to make a much better cover. But we probably all agree that Nova doesn't look much younger in Jack's version (or that he looked to old in Cockrum's version). That said, Jack did make a slight improvement by enlarging the ratio of Nova's head to his torso and his hands, a common strategy when drawing a younger hero.