It’s widely known in the early Marvel superhero medium, the first attempt of The Incredible Hulk with a mere 6 issues on the first run was more of a failure than a success. From a collection standpoint, Hulk’s first run, most notable issue #1 is one of the most sought after Marvel Silver Age books, only a close second behind Amazing Fantasy #15 (1st Spider-Man), which also introduced the character.
After The Fantastic Four launched in the Summer of 1961, the future of Marvel’s outcome was on this series, which would either make ‘em or break ‘em. I think we all know how the story ends, as the Fantastic Four Series was an enormous success not just with kids, but with teenagers and young adults alike. So what comes next? Well leave it to Jack “The King” Kirby artist and visual storyteller, along with editor Stan Lee to come up with the next title.
Before Spider-man, Thor and even the Silver Age revival of Captain America came The Hulk…
In the beginning of 1962, Jack Kirby pitched the idea of The Hulk, which in an interview decades later explains came oddly enough from a woman saving a child underneath a car. It was published in the Comics Journal:
“KIRBY: The Hulk I created when I saw a woman lift a car. Her baby was caught under the running board of this car. The little child was playing in the gutter and he was crawling from the gutter onto the sidewalk under the running board of this car — he was playing in the gutter. His mother was horrified. She looked from the rear window of the car, and this woman in desperation lifted the rear end of the car. It suddenly came to me that in desperation we can all do that — we can knock down walls, we can go berserk, which we do. You know what happens when we’re in a rage — you can tear a house down. I created a character who did all that and called him the Hulk. I inserted him in a lot of the stories I was doing. Whatever the Hulk was at the beginning I got from that incident. A character to me can’t be contrived. I don’t like to contrive characters. They have to have an element of truth. This woman proved to me that the ordinary person in desperate circumstances can transcend himself and do things that he wouldn’t ordinarily do. I’ve done it myself. I’ve bent steel.”
What’s most interesting about Hulk’s origin inspiration is Kirby was less interested in the physical characteristics of the hero and more about individuals abilities under extreme pressure when forced into action.
Remember this era still marked the high point for Sci-Fi and monster related stories, while superheroes were being reintroduced. The idea would be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scientist that turns into a Frankenstein type green monster whenever he gets anxious or angry and smashes everything in sight. You know the rest, the classic Kirby story takes place, with a gamma Ray explosion, which turns Dr. Bruce Banner into The Incredible Hulk.
Interestingly enough the Hulk started out as a gray monster for the first issue, one rumor behind this was the cost at the time to print gray over a different color, which I personally don’t buy. Similarly, when Kirby designed the first Iron Man bulky MK1 suit, it was also gray, only to change to a yellow suit in issue #2, so what gives? The best thought behind both Hulk and Iron Man was Lee wanting a brighter eye catching look, less monotone being gray, in this case Hulk being green in issue #2 and iron man going yellow from issues #40-47. Hulk also was built off the Karloff Frankenstein monster who was a greenish gray in look, which the green hue may have had an influence on the later issues.
Similarly to Kirby’s Fantastic Four’s original art, both issues #1 and #2 art of The Incredible Hulk also no longer exist, were likely discarded in the early ‘60’s, so the earliest art is from issue #3, as seen here.
Both Lee and Kirby had a hard time in the first couple of issues distinguishing whether the Hulk is more of a hero or villain of sorts. It isn’t until issue #3 where we see more of a heroic view of The Hulk where he goes to save his sidekick, Rick Jones and actually flies for the first time. Issue #3 also has our first true villain, the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, no longer an alien antagonist. Rick Jones in this same issue and moving forward can actually control the monster with his mind. Therefore, when in need he can summon The Hulk as seen in issue #3 when he is hypnotized by The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. Speaking of issue #3 and the above characters let’s now look at our subject art…
Here is what represents the earliest art of The Incredible Hulk, as mentioned above it’s widely known the art from issues #1 and #2 do not exist. Art from the first series of 6 issues is exceedingly rare, especially issue #3 being the earliest art of the character, therefore being the most desirable amongst collectors. What makes it even more desirable is it’s been kept out of the public eye, never crossing the auction block, nor has it been featured in online galleries or articles until now.
You may quickly notice this is the following page (consecutive) and is ultra rare in today’s market to not only have 1 page form Hulk’s earliest original art but consecutive pages is unheard of! It also happens to be one of the best Hulk pages in the book with the monster leaping out and in action throughout the page.
This appeared in the story "The Ringmaster", which features the first appearance of the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, supervillains who pose as circus performers. The Ringmaster uses his hypnosis on the crowds that come to see their shows, allowing the other criminals to rob the attendees of their money and jewelry. Rick Jones, the teenage boy responsible for the creation of Hulk due to his carelessly driving his car onto a gamma-bomb test site, has taken a break from helping Bruce Banner with his new monster-changing problem. Rick is attending the circus to get some relaxation time in when the Ringmaster attempts to hypnotize the entire audience. Rick apparently has some telepathic abilities as he's able to resist the Ringmaster's hypnosis and send out a mental distress message to the Hulk asking for help. The monster quickly leaps to the location of the circus tent and makes an entrance. The Ringmaster instructs the Human Cannonball to stop the green goliath. The Cannonball carries a hammer that resembles Thor's enchanted Mjolnir but apparently lacks its powers. One of his cronies aims the Cannonball toward the Hulk, but it appears he bounces right off of him and the force rips through the roof of the tent sending the Cannonball flying. However, on the following page, a firehose turns out to have the ability to down the Hulk for some reason. The Ringmaster captures the Hulk and turns him into a circus clown.
This particular page features the Hulk in the first panel in a perfect full length ideal image, almost Frankenstein like, which also happens to be the title page scene with Rick Jones pointing while controlling the monster.
Here is the title splash featuring the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, and similar image of Rick Jones pointing instructing Hulk to stay put (closely similar to our top panel).
Outside of the amazing first panel of Hulk and Jones is what truly makes this page special with the great storytelling and overall page flow by Kirby. After Jones visits his aunt for food, he stumbles upon a seemingly innocent circus, only later to find out he’d be hypnotized by the antagonist of the story, The Ringmaster, as seen on the bottom tier panels! Those great bottom panels showcasing our story villain the Ringmaster and his circus of crime, set up the climactic scene to follow where Hulk goes to rescue Jones, only to be caught himself and made part of the circus act. Overall this great page features the main three characters of the story, not only Hulk and Rick Jones, but also the first appearance of the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime!
One thing that’s overlooked is Dick Ayers work on the series as he’s Kirby’s primary inker on 4 of the 5 issues he worked on, and played a rather large role in the overall look of the character as we know today. In contrast to Ditko’s work on Hulk, which he inked Kirby only on issue #2 and then did pencils and inks on the last issue #6 (see below), we see an all together different interpretation of the character. Similarly to our article on Spider-man, both artists distinctly draw their characters in their own style, whether is be a Kirby Spider-man or a Hulk Ditko, you’ll be able to tell the artists differences right away. We’ll get into this further as we discuss Ditko’s work on the final issue of the first series, Hulk #6.
From the Kirby Museum by Rob Steibal-
“I think Dick Ayers is really underrated for his work on this series — I believe he played a huge role in determining the look of the Hulk character early on. Especially compare Dick’s inks above to Ditko’s work below in Incredible Hulk# 2 (Jul 1962). Ditko puts a lot more linework on the face of the Hulk character, especially underneath the eyes.
Ditko’s interpretation of Jack’s pencils with the additional shading makes the Hulk look mysterious — like a character in Ditko’s famous monster work — whereas Ayers’ version is slick and more traditionally “superheroic” in terms of being delineated in a straightforward, no-nonsense style. Interesting to see the Hulk visually transitioning from a typical Kirby/Ditko monster into the more modern Kirby/Ayers superhero.
I can only imagine how the character would have evolved if Jack had worked on the Hulk for 100-or-so issues as he did on Fantastic Four, Captain America, and Thor.”
Jumping forward to issue #6, Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother), in an interview and sworn testimony (Kirby v Marvel) he recalled Kirby once storming out of Lee’s office angry and threw out future Hulk layout pages, we’re presuming for issue 6. Lieber was a huge Kirby fan at that time so he rescued the layouts from the trash and kept them, revealing them to the world decades later in 2011. The thought was Kirby was pulled from the Hulk series, perhaps for artistic differences or at the time Marvel was adding more titles and felt it was best to remove their top dog Kirby onto more successful titles. Issue 6, not knowing at the time being the final issue, would be given to Ditko who does story layouts, pencils and inks.
Issue #6 would also be the Hulk’s first full length story of 24 pages, no chapter breaks or subsequent stories. This was a bold move for the title also indicating it would continue forward, though as we all know it was canceled thereafter. We should mention, according to the Marvel lead cataloguer, Vartinoff based on her 1975 on comic art database there were only 19 pages accounted for issue #6, which we should also note 5 of these pages do not include the Hulk in the art. Furthermore, though the database was catalogued for years after 1975, and was eventually turned in the 1980’s, from multiple sources a lot of the art seemed to go missing between this time. It’s noted when Kirby’s art was returned in 1987, many of the envelopes from the inventory list marked (19), (22), (meaning pages), were at times less than half that amount, sometimes nearly empty. Well it turns out multiple marvel executives had access to the wearhouse during this time and pages were possibly taken for trade, fan giveaways, business deals or perhaps for their own personal gain.
Our above Kirby subject art from issue #3 as seen is the earliest art catalogued at this time indicating there were 24 pages in the warehouse in 1975, it's hard to say how many pages are really out there? Not to mention similarly to issue #6, 5 of the pages from issue #3 do not have Hulk at all in the art. As far as surfaced, or public ally seen via auction, CAF (Comic Art Fans) galleries and articles we’ve seen only a handful of original art from issue #3 in the open, and the same with issue #6, 7 pages by all accounts, 3 of which lacked a Hulk presence on the page.
In the early Marvel Age era, Hulk is widely considered as the #2 commodity in the Silver Age collector market. The go to source for the comic collector is the Overstreet Guide, which recognizes Hulk #1 as the #2 list of Top 50 Silver Age comics. I think we all know who’s #1, yep, you guessed it, old webhead with Amazing Fantasy #15! (*If you haven’t already, please check out our article, Beginnings of Spider-man). We’re removing Captain America from this discussion seeing he came about in the dawn of the Golden Age in 1940-41 with Timely. Very little early Captain America art is known to exist from the beginning, other than the original concept art of the character in the Library of Congress (c.1939), our early Sentinel of Liberty ad art (c.1939-40) and another character design concept piece (c.1941). The first known Cap original art pages are from Captain America #5 that's surfaced to date.
Moving back to Hulk, imagine if there was no Amazing Fantasy #15 art that existed (1st Spider-man), which now resides in the Library of Congress, instead only his 3rd appearance art, which would be Amazing Spider-man #2. What would that command in today’s crazy art market? What if there were only a handful of pages that ever reached the market on those? Would they command crazy, outrageous numbers? You bet…Now, I ask you the same with very little that’s surfaced the earliest original art of the Hulk? Arguably Marvel's second most valuable character in the group. Though monetary value is really tough to say, seeing that Kirby only worked on the first five issues of Incredible Hulk, making the earliest Hulk pieces some of the very rarest and most desirable Kirby artwork in existence! At the end of the day our page is not for sale, but it’s always interesting to add current values into the discussion.
Going back to issue #6, the final chapter for the first series of Hulk, we now see Ditko’s version, again a different take on the character. Why the last issue went to Ditko and not Kirby no one truly knows, but the best guess is Kirby and Lee’s artistic differences on the character, more than what Lee claimed pulling Kirby off a failing title, or that he was just too busy. Whatever the reason is, we welcome Ditko’s approach to the story plot and character, though short lived, it laid the groundwork for his future Hulk run in Tales to Astonish shortly after in 1964.
When I was doing my usual research on the subject, it dawned on me Hulk 6 is the same cover date as Spider-man #1, March 1963, technically tying as Ditko’s second Marvel superhero artwork (pencils and inks), only next to Amazing Fantasy #15. Though, based on job number and are relentless research on the “Beginnings of Spider-man”, the job # from Spider-man #1 “Freak, Public Menace” was done earlier, it’s still the beginning and considered his peak art period.
Similarly to our other Hulk art page above, this page has a usual Ditko flow, though in a different hand it tells a similar story. This page of three tiers features three of the story's main characters, giving each their own scene. The top row features a trapped and frustrated Hulk ready to break through the wall, (great first panel detailed image), middle row a dejected and rejected Rick Jones with General Thunderbolt Ross, and the bottom row features the Metal Master on his World Domination Tour. Wonderful story flow and pacing from a master, Steve Ditko! Note the detail of the Hulk in the first panel, particularly as we discussed above around his eyes to give him a more menacing look.
Note the middle tier panel featuring Rick Jones and General Ross is an interesting one of the era, as Ross is more sensible to the young man suggesting him to stay in school! Ross seems to care for Jones as his own boy in this instance for the first time.
Again, both Kirby and Ditko interpret their different versions of the character early on in the Hulk folklore, and both seemingly did it well. The version today we probably all relate to is Kirby’s, but the Ditko version is a more refined detailed monster. Either way, it ends here with issue #6 with Ditko. As many will conclude the initial series as a failure for Marvel, we argue these 6 issues helped pave the way for the character, and Hulk seemingly continued on different titles as a guest appearance for a number of months until Avengers #1 launches with a September 1963 cover date. From that point on, Hulk is then given both his feature and back up stories a year later in Tales to Astonish in September 1964, and eventually taking over the title in April 1968 with The Incredible Hulk #102. The rest is history folks, in the 1970’s Lou Ferrigno made the Hulk a household name with his popular tv show, and with the MCU he’s been an ongoing character from The Avengers to Thor and most recently She-Hulk.
In conclusion, taking one’s Hulk version over the other, both Kirby and Ditko once again through their artwork and storytelling, helped pave the way for the legacy of the Hulk as we know him today.
The Incredible Hulk #3 (Earliest Issue Art of First Run) page 19 by Jack Kirby- The page was created at twice-up scale in ink over graphite on Bristol board with an image area of 12.5" x 18.5".
The Incredible Hulk #6 (Last Issue of First Run) page 12 by Steve Ditko- The page was created at twice-up scale in ink over graphite on Bristol board with an image area of 12.5" x 18.5". There are whiteout art and text corrections in a few panels. The board is lightly toned and in Excellent condition.