Monday, 25 June 2012

Books: Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby


Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby
Written by Stan Lee, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby 

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

For a lot of people Jack "The King" Kirby is the most important name in superhero comic books. Loved and admired from everyone from Alan Moore to Grant Morrison (who described him as the "William Blake of comics") Kirby co-created many of comicdom's most famous characters including: Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men and pioneered an dynamic cinematical art-style that is still regarded my many as one of the high-watermarks of comics history. "Genius" is a word that a lot people like to throw around - so let's just say that a lot of people have thrown it lots of times at Jack Kirby's direction. At this point he's almost a one man genre - in much the same way you can talk about something being "Kafkaesque", "Lovecraftian",  or "Orwellian" - if you describe something as "Kirbyesque" to a comic book fan then they'll understand exactly what you mean (even if it's one of those things that is kinda hard to put into words: let's just say it involves a mixture of science-fiction with age old legends, the use of powerful bold archetypes that manage to both symbolically stand for and embody whatever it is they're about (be it America, Rage, or Evil itself) and lots costumes and strange machinary with zig-zaggy lines and circles). Like the man himself said: "I think I have a highly unique and unusual style, and that’s the reason I never sign my drawings... Everybody could tell any of my covers a mile away on the newsstand, and that satisfied me."

So with all that in mind - why exactly am I only getting around to writing about him now?

At the risk of making myself into a comics leper - shunned from the rest of comicfandom: I'm not a Jack Kirby fan.

For me there's always been a distinction in my mind between old stuff that you can enjoy and old stuff that you can respect. So with films like The Third Man or Touch of Evil or North by Northwest there's not really any part of me that feels like I have to make allowances - I can just press play and then sit back and enjoy the film. And then there's other stuff like Seven Samurai (which I just watched this weekend) - which altho I can appreciate as being good and well crafted and beautifully shot and always clear and to the point - was something that I found myself having to respect rather than actually enjoying (plus - damn that film is long). And Jack Kirby - well - at best he's someone that I can only ever really respect (and that's me being nice).

See - part of me believes that a reason that Kirby gets so much love from so many folks is that for lots of them growing up - Kirby was the best there was. And the reason that in a lot of people's minds he's still top dog is because the things you love when you're young have a habit to stick with you. (But - then again - there's some people younger than me - who still really dig his stuff [1] so perhaps my theory isn't that watertight). Also - I've gotta say - and yeah so maybe this makes me a little bit of a "true comics" philistine - there's not really that much stuff created before the whole Watchmen era when comics started to "grow up" that really captures (or can sustain) my interest. What a lot of people might forget now - is that - although there's still an odor that hangs over the medium that says that it's still - "just for kids" - back in the day that was literally true. It wasn't just that the general public thought that comics were infantile.

Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby is a hodge-podge collection of various Jack Kirby stories spanning his entire career and includes selections from all the hits: Captain America, Thor, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and The Inhumans (amongst others). I did try to read them all - but I will admit that the simplistic style and dated and stilted dialogue meant that after about 15 minutes I had to admit defeat. I tried skimming through and sampling bits from here and there but there was nothing to entice me - just - I dunno: just pictures of stuff. Old-fashioned superhero posing stuff. And yeah - ok - all the images are very dynamic and all the rest: but- it's the kinda of thing that made me feel tired as I was reading it and that's never a good sign.

[1] Although I can't shake the feeling that Matt Seneca - as good as his writing can be - might be a little bit of a hipster (sorry Matt). But then I have a problem with people who think it's funny to BBQ books [2].

[2] And - ha! Thanks to 4th Letter I've learnt that this is something that actually got back to Grant Morrison: "“[The] guy that ate Supergods!” Morrison laughs. “Cooked it and ate it on the basis that it was my fault that people couldn't find alternative comics in their local comics stores. And I was standing in the way, pretending to be the face of alternative comics, and how I actually stood for corporate this or corporate ... you know, I’m the man – again as I say, I’m a freelance writer, I'm not on staff at any company. But this guy ate the book!”" (from this New Statesmen Article).

Links: With Great Power Review.

Further reading: Kirby: King of Comics, The Bulletproof Coffin, Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

All comments welcome.

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