The Wolverine Artist Who Decided the Hero Didn’t Need Clothes

Summary

  • Sam Kieth’s artwork in Marvel Comics Presents was unconventional and offbeat, drawing criticism from some readers who thought Wolverine’s body proportions were strange.
  • Kieth’s initial pages for his Wolverine run on the series depicted Wolverine fully nude, causing concerns about appropriateness. However, the issue was resolved by covering up Wolverine in subsequent pages.
  • Kieth’s unique artistic choices, such as Wolverine’s unconventional body proportions and attempted changes to the “Snikt” sound effect, brought a distinctiveness to his work that many readers loved


Welcome to the 916th installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, a column where we examine three comic book myths, rumors and legends and confirm or debunk them. This time, in our second legend, see how Sam Kieth decided to take some liberties in a Marvel Comics Presents story in terms of how much of Wolverine’s body we’d see in the story.

Sam Kieth is one of the most inventive comic book artists of the past forty years, with his almost abstract approach to comic book art. In an era of extremely detailed comic book characters, Kieth was bold enough to try to do something completely different with his artwork, and it was extremely compelling in just how offbeat it all was.

Kieth became most famous in the early 1990s for drawing the Wolverine lead feature in Marvel Comics Presents, before he took his talents to Image with his creator-owned series, The Maxx, which famously was adapted into a cult classic animated series for MTV. Kieth has returned to Wolverine on a number of occasions over the years, and has also done a bunch of excellent high profile Batman miniseries.

Sam Kieth's Wolverine cover for Marvel Comics Presents #85

In any event, as noted, Kieth first broke out doing Wolverine for Marvel Comics Presents, initially paired with Peter David, who Kieth had worked on for Marvel’s short-lived Nightmare on Elm Street comic book series (which was canceled for an interesting reason, as I noted in an old CBLR from years ago), and then an issue of Incredible Hulk. Their initial storyline was interesting for Kieth making some bold choices in terms of Wolverine’s lack of clothes, although he took things a bit TOO far!

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How did Sam Kieth’s Wolverine mess with people’s minds a bit?

In a great interview at Sequential Tart with Katherine Keller, Kieth described his start on Marvel Comics Presents, and the strange reactions he received from readers…

It was literally luck that I just happened to be there at the right time and I just started doing covers for them and the cover editor at the time just kept saying that it was wrong and that I should be fired — every issue — and Terry Kavanaugh was really cool and was like, “No, no, just keep letting him screw it up and do weird things.”

Kids would write in and say things like: “Wolverine’s okay, but his back is too round.” “What’s up with Wolverine’s feet? Why are they growing?” And, “Wolverine is really out of proportion, I think your artist is losing his mind or something.” And it was funny, because the letters I would get would be kids who really loved it, or kids who were saying “Why are you ruining my universe.” They had a very specific view of the world. “I’m going through latency,” they wouldn’t say it in those words, but, “I’m going through this world view phase where I’m trying to categorize and order things, and you’re causing chaos by giving me a version of things that are drastically different from everything else. So please, please, please go away and not do that anymore.” [Laughs] So, in that way it was almost a relief when I went off and did my own book, because then I could screw around and introduce my proportions.

Now, heading into Kieth’s run on Marvel Comics Presents, he was following the iconic Barry Windsor-Smith and the historic “Weapon X” storyline. As I noted in a CBLR a while back, Windsor-Smith had some pushback from Marvel over the fact that Wolverine is naked throughout the story. As he told Will Murray in Comics Scene #18, “The thing is, he doesn’t have that stupid costume on. In fact, Logan is naked throughout the series. It was tricky. At first, [Marvel Editor-in-Chief] Tom DeFalco was upset when he saw the first couple of stories. But I generally got away with it by deftly shadowing certain areas.

There was one ridiculous panel – I don’t know what I was thinking of – where Logan has just killed a bunch of animals. It was a test. And he stands up and he roars. And it’s full-frontal nudity! I can’t get away with that, so I kept etching it and crosshatching it, until it looked more and more like I was deliberately trying to cover this guy up! I tossed that around for about a year-and-a-half. At the very last moment, I was down at the office and I’ve got this stupid whiteout pen and I’m trying to make it look like he’s wearing underpants, which is even more ridiculous.”

Here is the page in question…

Weapon X somehow has

There was another instance in the series where Windsor-Smith seems like he just couldn’t figure out anything else to do and also just sort of kind of drew underwear on Logan in a scene where he fights against a bear.

Weapon X fights against a bear

Terry Kavanagh told me once about hearing Windsor-Smith and DeFalco negotiate how much they COULD show in certain scenes, like how many bubbles were needed on this page…

Bubbles were used to cover up Wolverine's nudity

Well, Kavanagh would soon have to deal with something like this with Kieth, as well, when Kieth delivered his pages for Marvel Comics Presents and they all had Wolverine fully nude!

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How did Marvel Comics Presents handle that much Wolverine?

When Kieth first sent in his pages for his Wolverine run on the series, he followed Windsor-Smith’s lead by having Wolverine naked…

Wolverine confronts a wolf

However, according to Terry Kavanagh, Kieth’s original pages were sent in with Wolverine just OUTRIGHT naked…

Wolverine shares food with a wolf

When Kavanagh pointed out that this was inappropriate, Kieth apparently told him that the script didn’t say Wolverine COULDN’T be completely nude.

Of course, they just covered things up for the issue…

Wolverine is hungry for blood

And it wasn’t a problem going forward, but it’s still pretty funny. It reminds me of an old CBLR about how Kieth thought Wolverine’s claws should be “Sinkt” instead of “Snikt,” and he kept trying to sneak it into his comics (including getting it past Kavanagh on one early Marvel Comics Presents issue).

Very funny stuff. Thanks to Terry Kavanagh for the head’s up about this funny little bit! And thanks to Katherine Keller and Sam Kieth for that great interview bit!

Comic book legend about Wolverine being nudeCheck out a Movie Legends Revealed!

In the latest Movie Legends Revealed – How did a film musical turn the song, “Tinkle Bells,” into a Christmas classic?

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film and TV. Plus, Pop Culture References also has some brand-new Entertainment and Sports Legends Revealeds!

Feel free to send suggestions for future comic legends to me at either cronb01@aol.com or brianc@cbr.com.

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