Monday, 29 May 2017


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

The word 'genius' is oft bandied around far too
freely these days.  Perhaps it's always been so.  I've
seen JACK KIRBY described as a genius, but, much
as I love what he did when he was good at what he did
(which, let's face it, he wasn't in his later years), I don't
think he can rightly be called a genius, according to
the true and wider definition of the word.

Why do I say that?  Few things are created in
a vacuum, they're normally developments of what
has gone before, and that was true of Jack.  He didn't
create the medium of comicbooks, and his stories were
almost always based on what he'd read in the pulps, SF
magazines, science journals, or seen in movies.  MARK
EVANIER revealed that Jack referred to a book on
Norse mythology when plotting his TALES Of
ASGARD back-up stories in THOR.

Do you remember the FANTASTIC FOUR
issues where The THING is held hostage by The
SKRULLS on a planet modelled on 1920s America?
Inspired by episodes of STAR TREK.  Do you recall the
FF saga where the fab foursome find themselves 'guests'
in LATVERIA?  Inspired by The PRISONER.  Sure,
Jack put his own spin on them, but they were deriv-
ative, not wholly original.  They were, however,
immensely entertaining, so hats off to him.

Sadly, Jack's artistic abilities deserted him in
the latter part of his career.  HUNGER DOGS, it
must be admitted, was a mess, looking like it had been
drawn (badly) by a 13 year old kid trying (and failing)
to imitate the style of Jack Kirby.  Whenever I look at
it, I'm saddened to see the decline of a once-excellent
artist who'd known how to lay out a story in a way
that few other comic artists could emulate.

Genius?  No, but certainly a legend, and rightly
so.  As I've said before, when Jack was at the top of
his game, there was no one who could match him art-
wise, especially when he was paired with an inker who
enhanced his strengths and diluted his weaknesses.  But
even giants wither and shrink, and, sadly, Jack was no
exception to the effects of time on his titanic talent.
Titanic being the operative word, as, just like the
famous liner, it eventually sank from sight.

However, in this, the 100th year of Jack's birth,
it's better not to dwell on the negative.  Instead, let's
take a look at some FF covers and splash pages from a
time when Kirby was still regarded as 'King'.  True, the
crown had begun to slip a little, but it would be several
more years before it fell off completely.  As someone
once said in a movie:  "Such, my friend, is life!"



Rip Jagger said...

I'd disagree with you on this key point. I do agree that there is no question that Kirby's deserted him in his later years (though I put that fall from grace later than some) though certainly by "The Hunger Dogs" his lack of clear vision was evident. But I think Kirby was indeed a bonafide genius. He was an astounding creator. The well he drew from (both literally and figuratively) was enormous, and he touched ideas which had been only vaguely hinted at in comics previously. John Buscema was a great artist, Wally Wood was a master of his craft, and Jack Kirby was a genius. That's the way I see it.

Rip Off

Kid said...

Well, I would never try to dissuade you from your belief, RJ, but my idea of a genius is someone who does more than just write and draw comics for a living. When it came to art, JK had a power in his drawing, along with what seemed to be a natural grasp of sequential storytelling, but his anatomy and musculature often betrayed a lack of understanding of how humans were put together, and he just seemed incapable of keeping the proportions of characters in relation to one another consistent.

As for touching on ideas which had previously only been vaguely hinted at in comics, these ideas weren't his own, but were cribbed from other sources. He did what he did extremely well - better than most even - but I hardly think that his talent necessarily equates to him being a genius. Now, had he done what he did with perfectly rendered pictures and with none of the idiosyncracies of his style, and come up the concepts he wrote about from the depths of his own imagination, then perhaps you could make an argument for him being a genius - but only perhaps.

As I've said, when he was at the top of his game, he did what he did brilliantly (for the most part), so I'm not denying his prodigious talent in drawing entertaining comics, and I'm perfectly prepared to admit his status as a legend - but genius? No, the guy (or gal) who has a sudden brainwave and comes up with a cure for cancer - he (or she) I'll call a genius. Jack Kirby was by all accounts a nice man and a talented visual storyteller, but the reason he stood out was not so much because he was the best artist who ever lived (because he wasn't), but because, for the most part, the rest of the available product (comicbooks) at the time was unremarkable.

But while I admire your dedication to the man, I shy away from the idea of 'deifying' him as many seem to do these days. Especially those with books to sell.

Colin Jones said...

Those were the first four stories when the FF joined The Titans in #27. I can remember standing in a shop called Cards & Gifts (they also sold comics) and dithering over whether to buy The Titans #27 or Super Spider-Man & The Super-Heroes (apparently I only enough money for one of them). I vividly recall flicking through The Titans and being blown away by Kirby's stunning art - but I ended up buying Spidey :D

Kid said...

You obviously weren't blown away enough by Kirby's stunning art, eh, CJ?

TC said...

Dictionary definitions of "genius" include "exceptional talent," so, in the broadest sense, you could consider Kirby a genius. But the definitions also associate genius with creativity. In most cases, Kirby didn't create new concepts, he just took existing ones (e.g., superheroes) and did them extremely well. (Which is a lot more than most of his successors could ever do.)

Kamandi, for example, was just DC's version of Planet of the Apes, and The Eternals was Marvel's take on the "ancient astronauts" theme.

That said, I didn't really notice the inaccuracies of anatomy and musculature when I was eight years old and reading Thor, Captain America, and Fantastic Four. Or when I was twelve and reading Mister Miracle. But I disliked his style when he did The Losers in DC's Our Fighting Forces. IMHO, and FWIW ($0.00), Kirby's larger-than-life style was great for larger-than-life genres (superheroes, monsters, science fiction), but not as well suited to more realistic genres like Westerns and war stories.

Genius? Maybe, maybe not. Exceptionally good artist? That is not even open to debate.

Kid said...

The definition of 'genius' has become, like a lot of words, looser over the years, and now reflects the way people mean it in common usage, but once it had a more strict meaning I believe. I don't see Jack as a genius, because he didn't draw 'properly' (anatomy, perspective, etc), even though, visually, he laid out a good story for a lot of his career. He was exceptionally good art-wise in some ways, but exceptionally bad in others (two left hands or feet, etc). If you look at the figure of the Silver Surfer on the cover of FF #50, his legs sprout from his waist, and though the figure is dramatic, it isn't particularly well-drawn. However, we're talking comics here, where the artists had to pound it out with not much reflection as they did it, and for the purpose of entertaining kids it did the job. In many ways, for a good, while, Jack did the job better than most, but not everyone can be a record-breaking champion or leader of the pack forever. It's the same with comicbook artists in my view. There'll always be someone who comes along and does what the last guy did, only better. So, I'd say that, for much of his career, Jack was an exceptionally good comicbook artist, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he was an exceptionally good artist per se. That, of course, IS debatable.

spirit of '64 said...

Kirby saw himself as a storyteller, and his stories had a pace and rhythm that could not be matched elsewhere. His comics had action, clarity and, often neglected, grace. Jack was a number one talent in the 40's, of the early 50's, and for most of the 60's. Comics is a young man's game, and few were at the top of the tree for as long as Jack. Jack, Steve and Stan revolutionised comics in the early 60's, then jet powered comics out into the stratosphere with in my opinion the greatest series of comics ever produced in the mid 60s. Then Jack's art had everything, and Sinnott was the icing on the cake. Jack's art was ever evolving, and his style became far removed from the realistic style that became every popular from the late 60s on. By the 70's Jack's eyesight started suffering; he had good days and bad days. Some of his 70s work was fantastic (especially his True Divorce, never published, his Days of the Mob 2...published only a few years ago), and some was very ordinary. I still am awed by some of Jack's work on the Eternals (before the awful cosmic Hulk sequence), but most of Jack's covers were very unimpressive. By the 80s most of the artwork had become...I don't know how to describe it properly but it was really really painful for me to look at. Each drawing seemed forced, and without the joy, power and grace that had once enthralled me. It was a far cry from the masterful art of previous decades.
Jack was always different, and a beehive of new ideas. He was a master of many genres, most especially the superhero but also romance, westerns and science fiction. Jack was brilliant at medieval architecture and scientific equipment. He had immense natural ability, was fast and did not need to make roughs. Simon told him never to erase!!! He worked tremendously hard for any employer, but was bad at office politics and ended up feeling unappreciated and taken advantage of. Marvel wanted him out of the way and treated him awfully.
As a young man with Joe Simon he took a stand against fascism; Captain America 1 came out before Pearl Harbour and Jack and Joe had threats made against them. Later Stan and Jack were pioneers in bringing racial diversity to comics: first with Gabe Jones, then with the Black Panther.
Jack was a big science fiction fan, and I think that he more than any other comics creator was able to shine a light on the future. Cloning; smart phones and body engineering especially come to mind.

Jack thank you especially for, amongst others:
Captain America, the Boy Commandos, Stuntman, the Boy Explorers, Black magic, Young Love and Romance, Boys Ranch, Bulls-Eye, Fighting American, Sky Masters, the DC House of Mystery/Secrets/Unexpected shorts, Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid, all those crazy marvel monsters, the Thing, the FF, the Avengers, Thor, Dr Doom, the X-Men, The Inhumans, the Black Panther, the Watcher, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Tales of Asgard, the Recorder, Tanya Nile, Ego, the High Evolutionary, the Negative Zone, Nick Fury, Krang and Immortus, the cosmic cube, Darkseid, Granny Goodness, Orion, Mr Miracle, the Forever People, the Demon, Kamandi, OMAC, the Eternals, especially Kro and Thena, the Uni-Mind, the Celestials, Devil Dinosaur and Moonboy, Captain Victory, Mr Little.
Thank you for 40 years of amazing work.

Kid said...

Yeah, but don't beat around the bush, '64 - did you like his work or didn't you? (See? I can do humour.)

Spirit of 64 said...

Ha maybe went a bit over the top there.
Always did cheer on the little guy, the underdog ( which Jack was for most of the 70s and 80s)!

Kid said...

That's all right, '64. Nice to see such enthusiasm for something.

Paul McScotty Muir said...

I would say Kirby was a comic book genius (not a genius in any other area of the arts imho) and seeing his art here that just reinforced that for me - I never really liked a lot of his work at DC apart from Jimmy Olsen and Kamandi - It was his first spell at Marvel that shone for me month after month of amazing work year in year out - but he needed a foil like Stan Lee to bring out his real talent. I will need to get a good reprint of those FF tales shown here I forgot just how good they were.

Kid said...

My definition of a genius is this, PM. Let's say you can play the piano and do it spectacularly, but you had to put in many years of devotion and practice to master it. No matter how well you play, I'd be a bit hesitant to call you a genius. Let's say, however, you learned to play the piano to same high standard - but it only took you a week. That, to me, would make you a genius. Incidentally, these tales were reprinted in Marvel Masterworks, so you should check out FP for the relevant volume - probably Vol 8. Did you get your book on Spanish comic artists yet?

Paul McScotty Muir said...

No not bought that Spanish book yet , not been in FP for a while still reeling at buying the Dr Strange book (as good as it is) so cutting back a bit (but its on my list with a few others from the Epic line) I need to save my pennies as want to get a new (used) car soon. For me a true genius is Einstein etc in comic terms I kinda tone its use down (as with football) in reality it is "only" drawing stories or kicking a ball although I wish I could draw like Kirby and kick a ball like Renaldo but I know what you mean.

Kid said...

Would you settle for drawing comics like Renaldo and kicking a ball like Kirby? (What's that? You already do? You're halfway there then.)

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