Thursday, November 29, 2007

Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction: The Unseen Kelly Freas

You're not seeing double as these two comics are not exactly the same. What you're looking at is the the rejected Kelly Freas cover to the Marvel magazine, Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction #1 as published by Yaffa* in 1979.

Variant covers on Australian comic books are just one of the reasons why they're in demand. When researching the Newton line (an ongoing concern by the way) I discovered that there existed a variant cover for issue #2 of the magazine, Monsters Unleashed. This cover featured slightly altered artwork and, as near as I can determine, this cover only appeared on the Newton comic of the same name (I have ordered a pile of Yaffa Monsters Unleashed, so I'll be able to determine if the cover carried across). So how did this cover surface on an Australian comic?

It's well known that Marvel would commission covers and artwork from artists that they would then have altered, thus preventing them from being used in their original form. It's an age old practice, DC also did it, most notably on Jack Kirby's Superman work, the bulk of which was altered by the likes of Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson, or inked on covers by the likes of Neal Adams in an attempt to keep the 'house style'. At Marvel the artwork was mainly altered by staff on site, and most notably the art director of the time, John Romita. Before the art was altered a proof would often be made, and these proofs would be sent to the foreign markets for use in the locally made product. Often the wrong proof would be sent and as such many variant covers do exist in various non-American markets, making for unique comic books.

In this case the original art, by celebrated fantasy artist Kelly Freas, was rejected in it's original form and replaced for the American edition by a painting that featured John Romita figures. A partial reason why was then explained by series editor Roy Thomas in Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction #3. Roy's explanation is light on content and doesn't clear any real air, but then he didn't need to explain anything to the readers as an editor only answers to their publisher, not the general public. The explaination, coupled with a murky black and white image, says, "THE REAL McKELLY: Most readers raved (favourably) about the Kelly Freas/John Romita collaboration on the cover of issue #1, a team-up made necessary when a few last-minute changes were dictated and the fabulous Mr. Freas was off at an SF convention, picking up still another award. But just for the record, here's the original version.**"

The reason the official excuse doesn't ring true comes down to simple logistics. No matter how you look at it, it'd be virtually impossible to draw, render and paint two full figures, plus a complete background at the 'last minute'. This wasn't a simple case of changing a face on line-art, this was a major change to an important cover, and frankly no convention lasts as long it takes to do the amount of work that took place in this case.

Was Marvel justified in changing the covers? That's a personal choice really. In hiring Freas Marvel knew that they'd be getting a non-Marvel cover. While the space creatures look great and unearthly, the humans also look odd and very much out of place on a Marvel cover. In fact they look more like something you'd expect to find on a Warren or Skywald magazine, but certainly not the conservative Marvel of the mid 1970s. By having Romita change the figures the cover becomes more Marvelized and thus more user friendly. In my own opinion, as much as I adore John Romita's work, I prefer the original Freas cover over the re-touched version and it appears that one of the few, if not the only, place that you can see the full colour art is on that 1979 Australian Yaffa comic. Happy hunting.

UNKNOWN WORLD OF SCIENCE FICTION (Yaffa Publishing Group, a subsidiary of Page Publications Pty Ltd)

Cover price: $0.60
Date: 1979.

CONTENTS:
Slow Glass Prologue (Tony Isabella/Gene Colan & Tom Palmer) 3ps
The Day Of The Triffids (Gerry Conway/Ross Andru & Ernie Chua) 15pgs
A View From Without… (Neal Adams) 8ps
Hey Buddy, Can You Lend Me A… (Michael Kaluta) 5pgs
The Bradbury Chronicles (Shel Dorf & Ray Bradbury) 10pgs
Smash Gordon (Frank Brunner) 4pgs
Savage World (Wally Wood/Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Angelo Torres & Roy G. Krenkel) 8pgs
Past And Present Master: An Interview With Kelly Freas (Gerry Conway & Kelly Freas) 4pgs
Light Of Other Days (Tony Isabella/Gene Colan & Mike Esposito) 7pgs
Slow Glass Epilogue (Tony Isabella/Gene Colan & Tom Palmer) 1pg

All contents originally appeared in Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction #1, Marvel Comics

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* for more background information on the Yaffa/Page line do check out Kevin Patrick's excellent summary.

** Portion of Roy Thomas' editorial from Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction #3, Marvel Comics, May 1975, courtesy of Mark McDan

2 comments:

Don Hudson said...

After seeing both covers, I can see Romitas' improvement. No offense to Mr. Freas!

Danny said...

Yah, I can see what you mean. However it's all selective - both covers are fine, it's just that the Romita version is more Marvel than Kelly Freas' version, which is why I suspect that he was brought in to touch it up and make the required alterations.

Remember, this is a company that'd routinely alter artwork on covers and interiors just to ensure that the characters met the required standards and style. It did make for some interesting art combinations though.