Friday, 18 May 2012

THE SPIRIT WORLD OF JACK KIRBY...


The new book. Art by Neal Adams (based on
Kirby design)

What can one say about JACK KIRBY that hasn't already been said
by those far more proficient at bending words to their will than I'll ever be?
I'm a huge fan of the man and his work - albeit without the tendency to deify
him to the extent that some fans do. You know the sort of thing I mean - "Jack's
art should have been printed directly from his pencils", "Jack should've been
allowed to be his own editor", "No one else should've been allowed to
dialogue his stories", etc.

The fact was however, that Jack - although he was a brilliant storyteller
when it came to laying out a comicbook - had a tin ear for dialogue, making
his scripting somewhat less than the dynamic, pulse-pounding match for his
pencilling that it should have been. Also, Jack's art in later years began to suffer
from the accumulation of 'shorthand' techniques he had developed to allow him
to draw so many pages on a monthly basis throughout his long career and
not miss a deadline.

The original magazine

Over time, his rendition of musculature and anatomy departed from any
semblance of reality as his figures became squat and stocky and far less fluid
than had once been the case - while shadows cast on any floor had absolutely
no discernible relation to whatever object was supposedly responsible for them.
Say what you like, but the pinnacle of Jack's career was the work he produced
along with STAN LEE at MARVEL COMICS, when Stan was responsible
for 'punching up' the stories with his scripting, and capable hands like JOE
SINNOTT, VINCE COLLETTA and DICK AYERS (to name but three)
added their considerable talents to softening some of the harsher
'eccentricities' of Jack's art while enhancing its strengths.

Which finally brings me to DC's release of Jack's SPIRIT WORLD one-
shot from 1971. This was a companion mag to IN THE DAYS OF THE
MOB (which I hope DC will also reissue in the same deluxe format), both of
which were attempts by Jack to go beyond the boundaries of mere comicbooks-
for-kids with proper, 'legitimate' magazines that grown-ups would buy. MARK
EVANIER reveals the details behind those attempts (and their failures) in his
informative introduction to the second portion of the book, so I won't spoil
your anticipation of reading it for yourself (if you're going to buy a copy)
by repeating them here.

Interior page from magazine. Inked by Vince Colletta

I'm lucky enough to own both of Jack's DC/HAMPSHIRE mags from the
'70s, but the draw for me with the deluxe edition of Spirit World was that it
also contains material originally prepared for what would have been the second
issue of the mag (which was never published). These tales were later resized (on
some pages), coloured-up, and printed in some of DC's monthly supernatural/
mystery themed comicbooks. It's not recorded whether Jack or MIKE ROYER
were responsible for the 'drawing up' which is evident on various panels, but
some of it is rather clumsy.

However, nice as it is to see these other tales, I have to admit that
they're somewhat underwhelming in both the art and writing departments.
Mike Royer, while himself an accomplished artist and inker, was under
instruction to render Jack's pencils just the way they were, with no changes
or alterations - so it's hardly his fault that the pages are very far from examples
of Jack's art at its best. The scripting is dull and leaden, and does nothing to
lessen the commonly-held perception that Jack's strong points did not include
dialogue and exposition. One can't help but wonder what these stories
would have been like had Stan or ROY THOMAS been in charge
of the writing duties.

Please, DC - this one next

Having said all that however, the book is a nice little addition to any
Kirby fan's library (despite its somewhat distracting inability to maintain
the density of tone from page to page - especially on the b&w ones), but
sadly it doesn't represent Jack at the top of his game. It has to be said
'though, that Jack not at "the top of his game" usually still offered
something worth looking at.

One final word - I'm surprised that DC chose to publish Spirit World
first, instead of In The Days Of The Mob, which is the more interesting of
the two magazines in my opinion. (Although that could be due to the nostalgia
factor associated with me actually owning the latter in the early '70s, whereas I
didn't obtain the former 'til many years later when I was an adult.) Regardless,
let's just hope that sales are good enough to warrant DC releasing the
companion publication in the very near future. 

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I see they chickened out of reprinting the words "The President Must Die" on the cover of the book. Wonder why?

Kid said...

It does seem a bit strange to have one illo without a caption, but perhaps they were worried about some nutter seeing it as a 'sign' - y'know, a 'command to be obeyed' sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing the ads for "Spirit World" and "In the days of the Mob" in the DC comics and being desperate to get them as a kid -I never saw them anywhere until about 7 years ago when I picked up Spirit World for £1 at a jumble sale (in great condition)- Mmmmmmmm not the greatest (imho)from Kirby but for a quid great value- I would still love to see "In the days of the Mob" McScotty

Kid said...

Stay tuned, McScotty - I'm planning on posting a story from that very mag sometime soon. (My copy of Spirit World isn't that great, but at least it had the poster.)

Anonymous said...

Dougie (not anonymous) said...

I remember being flung into gloom at the thought of the world ending by the time I was in my twenties.

Planning to get Spirit World for my birthday.

Nick Caputo said...

Kid,

This comic scared the hell out of me as a 10 year old. I especially remember being chilled by the photo that read "Don't plan on visitnig Paris in 1990"..or words to that effect.

Kirby was certainly aiming for an older audience, likely trying to appeal to those who enjoyed Hammer films and supernatural phenomenon. While I have the original I've been re-reading the hardcover edition and a mumber of things struck me. Kirby's writing leaves a lot to be desired. For some reason I expected it to read a little better, but it doesn't. I also noticed how good Colletta's inks look here. Although many disagree, I thought the black and white (or blue ink) was suitable for the supernatural material.

Kid said...

I didn't get this issue 'til my 20s or 30s, but even then I thought the girl ghost draping herself over the doctor at his desk was quite effectively done. As you say 'though, Nick, Kirby's scripting let him down here. I agree with your other comments on this mag too.

Kid said...

Nick, I don't have your email address - if you send it through the comments section, I won't publish it, but then I can contact you.

Al said...

Everyone's entitled to their opinion, having said that, you're full of shit. Perhaps not all of Jack's dialogue was to your taste, but he didn't need Stan Lee's editing, trust me. No one edited Stan when his writing was excessive, or when he wrote the credits, for that matter.

Kid said...

As you say, everyone's entitled to their opinion. Doesn't mean they're entitled to express it in a rude or disrespectful way 'though - like you did.

And Jack certainly DID need Stan's editing and input. The fact that Jack never again had a success that came anywhere close to his Marvel work testifies to that.

In fact, some might say that Jack never again had a success...period. Of course, I'd be too polite to say that.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

Whyvare Stan Lee, Roy Thomas & Marvel Cpomics being mentioned AT ALL in a review of a JACK KIRBY book done for DC?

Jack was, first and foremost, a WRITER. The art existed to support it, not the other way round. Stan Lee tended to give everyone an "adolescent smartass" personality, while Roy Thomas's dialogue is simply the stiffest and most unnatural in comics history. He does have a talent for unusual characters, though (I'm thinking Dr. Strange and CONAN).

The more I look around, one thing has become increasingly clear to me. The ONLY people who have a problem with Jack Kirby's writing are STAN LEE fans.

Kid said...

It's obvious why they're being mentioned - by way of comparison as to how good Jack could be when collaborating with others, as opposed to when he did everything by himself.

And one thing that has become increasingly clear to me is that the only people who DON'T have a problem with Jack Kirby's writing AREN'T Stan Lee fans. Which is as redundant a point as the one you just made.

However, COMICBOOK fans tend to recognize that the combination of Lee & Kirby often led to a finished product far superior to anything that either could produce independently. The facts of history speak for themselves.