The Virtues of being Fantastic #02: The Thing
In the last installment of this series about the Fantastic Four, we talked about Reed Richards’ contribution to bringing a different take on how superheroes were drawn by the time the Fantastic Four hit the newsstands way back in the 60’s.Right now, though, let’s take time to appreciate everyone’s favorite blue-eyed orange tough guy with a heart of gold, Ben Grimm. We’re going to say this right off the bat: you should stick to drooling over pictures of steroidal 90’s comic book characters if you don’t think that The Thing is one of the most beautifully drawn characters in the history of comics. It’s true, not a lot of artists can pull off illustrating the bright, craggy exterior of the ever-loving Grimm the way Jack Kirby did it. As a result, modern artists that handled drawing the orange brawler almost always end up illustrating the Thing either as an expressionless monster when they focus too much on the jaggedness and rough qualities of his look or a generic muscle-bound character that just looks like they have orange, lined skin instead of the essential stone exterior the Heart of the Fantastic Four requires.
And that’s what makes Jack Kirby’s status as a master cartoonist all the more apparent: he was able to illustrate a character with the intense qualities pulled straight out of the monster genre without sacrificing that element that makes the Thing retain a sense of humanity in him. As a result, readers were able to become witness to one of the most empathetic and bombastic characters superhero comics have ever produced by way of Kirby creating a perfect balance between the monster and superhero genre, then imbuing it with Marvel’s narrative house style of infusing their superhero titles with human drama. In this instance, it was Stan Lee’s scripting that gave the ace pilot/orange golem that trademark Brooklyn toughie personality.
Fun fact: Jack Kirby actually based certain design and character arc elements of the Thing on himself. There’s the element of Ben being a type of working class Joe which arguably would not make the character as endearing if he were written any other way. And of course, there’s the cigar, which Jack Kirby himself enjoyed in real life while he crafted a whole universe on his drawing table.
Without the Thing, the Fantastic Four wouldn’t be the team that it is, and we will even go far as to day that it is indeed Ben Grimm that makes the whole franchise stand out. Hell, some would even consider the character the whole selling point of the Fantastic Four! If you’re wondering why, then you should know that even before Marvel’s First Family was introduced to readers all over, there was already a team book that bore similarities to the whole F4 dynamic: DC’s Challengers of the Unkown, which was also co-created by Jack Kirby. In fact, we can even say that it was with the Fantastic Four that Kirby had perfected the approach to drawing a team book. He never fails to amuse.