Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: King of Comics

There are certain books about comics that I like to pull down from the bookshelf and re-read from time to time.  Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones, the fictional but true to life The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman histories by Les Daniels. But there's one book that I hardly ever pull down from the shelf to re-read because it's almost never on my shelf - Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier.

Mark is perhaps my favorite blogger on the internet. His blog, News From Me, is one that I check in on every single day. Mark's career as a writer and a historian of comic books, animation as well as his associations across a varied range of artists across a broad spectrum of venues, from TV to stage, from film to page, has given Mark an almost Zelig-like repository of stories and insights into the entertainment industry.

Mark got his start working as an assistant to the legendary Jack Kirby; this was around the time of Jack's arrival at DC to create such groundbreaking concepts like New Gods, Mister Miracle, Kamandi, OMAC and more. Mark was already a fan of the artist that Stan Lee called "The King" from his work on Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor for Marvel. His time actually working for the man only increased his admiration of this creative visionary.

And it's this admiration that fuels Kirby: King of Comics. I happened across this book at Barnes & Nobles about a year or so back. And it is a brilliant, insightful, heartfelt book, a tribute to the artistic wizardry of Jack Kirby.

It was an "artistic wizardry" that I came late to appreciate.

When I was first coming up as a regular comics reader for whom comic books was less a casual distraction and now was an ongoing habit, I did not "get" Jack Kirby. Everything in a Kirby comic looked....well, not just weird but TOO weird. Lots of glaring eyeballs, fists the size of mountains, monsters straight out of a pepperoni fueled nightmare. At that age, I was more in tune with the cleaner work of Dick Dillin, Curt Swan and Irv Novick. Jack Kirby, by comparison, was, TOO crazy.

So if Kirby didn't do as well at DC as DC and Kirby had hoped, sorry, it was sort of my fault. OK, I was just 1 kid but who knows? Maybe some cigar chomping sales guy at DC said, "See here, if just ONE kid buys ONE freakin' copy more of Mister Miracle, we can keep this thing going for ol' Jack!" So sorry if that "one kid" wasn't me.

When Kirby went back to Marvel, he took over writing and drawing Captain America. I remembered picking up this up one from the spinner rack and Jack's style was even "crazier" than before.  Add to that the series that Jack created during this period: The Eternals. Machine Man. Devil Dinosaur. (Yes, Devil Dinosaur!)

And sadly, at the house Jack himself built, Jack was no longer welcome. After a couple years back at Marvel, Kirby was no longer doing comics for either Marvel or DC.

But there came artists who really grabbed my attention and the attention of other young readers with dynamic poses, way out designs and insane perspectives. Artists like George Perez and Keith Giffen and John Byrne and more. When I realized how much of modern comic art was built on the foundations of what Jack Kirby built, I begin to look at Kirby's art in a whole new light.

One source of that realization was, of all places, Normalman by Jim Valentino. Valentino wrote and drew this series about this one lone normal guy on an Earth populated by super heroes. There's one sequence when a character begins to glow with enormous power and the other characters exclaim, "Watch out! He's striking a SIGNIFICANT....KIRBY POSE!!!!"

Of all things to stick out in my mind, it was this that brought to mind just how significant Kirby is to the language of comic book art. Yeah, other artists may be technically better artists than Kirby but the true power and joy that one feels when reading a comic book featuring a larger than life character? Yeah, Kirby made that. Other artists are riffing on Kirby but who was Kirby riffing on?

So looking at Kirby: King of Comics really drives home the artistry and the craft behind Jack Kirby's work. One piece in the book that just blew my mind was a story that Kirby wrote and drew in the 1980's called "Street Code".  Here is a 2 page spread from that story as printed in Mark's book.

Click on the image to enlarge. 

That is...beyond amazing. Look at the detail rendered in the street and the buildings and, yes, the people, people with individual faces and characters. Rendered in pencil, the power and wonder of this illustration comes from the roughness of the art. This is the art of Jack Kirby before one single drop of India ink gets applied. And it is an astonishing sight.

Mark loved Jack Kirby and as only a person who loves someone can do, he lets us know of Jack's shortcomings; but other than an awkward communicator with little or no business negotiating skills, those shortcomings were few. Jack Kirby was a great artist who was also a loving husband and father whose driving concern was the welfare of his family.

So yeah, I re-read parts (or even all) of Kirby: King of Comics a lot. But there aren't many stories more inspiring than the story of Jack Kirby.

I think I'll read it again.

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

Is Dave-El Stressed?

A day after Dave-El's birthday, another year older and closer to death, am I feeling stressed? YES! Yes, I am a bit stressed!!!