Sunday, 13 October 2019

WHEN JACK KIRBY GOT IT WRONG...


Copyright MARVEL COMICS

JACK KIRBY, for all his strengths as an artist, also had quite a few weaknesses.  His covers had impact, but sometimes they weren't that well-drawn and didn't always bear scrutiny.  Jack was a lazy artist in some ways - not that he didn't put a lot of 'detail' into his pencils (or a lot of hours in at the drawing board), but he often never took the time to draw things properly.  (Leaving out fingernails for example - it was usually the inker who added them.)

Controversial you think?  Well, consider the facts.  Was it really beyond Jack's skill as an artist to look at how STEVE DITKO drew SPIDER-MAN and reproduce Spidey's webbing in his own drawings?  Was he really incapable of looking at how SUPERMAN's hair and 'S' symbol were drawn by CURT SWAN and replicate them in his own strips?  I don't think so, he merely couldn't be bothered trying.  That's certainly a form of laziness.

But look at all the detail in surviving stats of his pencils, you say.  Yeah, but some of it was 'pseudo-detail', intended just to fill space - dashed off with the broad end of a pencil with no finesse.  A lot of the time it worked, but, also, a lot of the time it didn't. Generic squiggly lines to denote the gleam of armour or metal, areas of abstract shapes to denote shadows, but bearing no relation to what cast them.

Take a look at the cover of AMAZING FANTASY #15 (above) for example. Spidey's mask looks okay, but that's down to Ditko inking Jack's pencils.  However, that left arm and hand are far too long, and the webbing on the sleeve is in the wrong place.  Also, his right leg (even allowing for foreshortening) is too thin compared to his left, his boots appear to be of different lengths, and the guy tucked under his arm is a dwarf, whose legs look as if they're growing out the front of his lower abdomen.

So bad is that KARLOFF-faced figure, that I've often wondered whether that was the way Jack drew him;  could Steve have redrawn the legs under instruction from Stan? Surely he'd have done a better job?  Yeah, the cover has impact, but it's far from being one of Jack's better drawings.  What say the rest of you?

Kirby pencilled Supe's face okay - it was the hair that never looked
right, and the parting sometimes jumped from one side to the other

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Kirby/ Ditko art team is one of my favourites,and the AF cover also one of my favourites. For me it works!!!!!
Spirit of '64

Kid said...

I'd say it works overall (impact), but it certainly has some dodgy components, S64.

Phil S said...

how Interesting. I actually feel the opposite. Mainly I am not keen on Jack's Superman. I think I am too used to Swan.

Hackney Steve said...

I don't think you can accuse Kirby of laziness, kid, considering the amount of pages he was pencilling a month - you can't have that quantity without the quality sometimes suffering. I think Kirby was a brand, so you forgive a lot providing you get what you expect - loads of attractive (to kids), action-packed, stylised art. I guess the companies were content to fix things that were 'off-model' in exchange for the amount of pencilled pages Jack could generate, and the dynamism he imbued them with.
I don't think anyone exemplifies US comics more than Kirby, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have bad days. I much prefer the more detailed work of Adams, Wrightson, Brunner, etc, but I'd much rather have King Kirby's storytelling even with him taking liberties with anatomy than the ugly Image look that marred mainstream comics for years...
This is purely in defence of Jack's artwork...I stand by what I've said before about his scripting and self-editing - bloody awful!

Kid said...

In the case of Jimmy Olsen, it was Anderson's Superman, PS, but the faces were mainly acceptable I thought. Had Jack taken the time to draw Supes' hair in the accepted manner, any slight facial differences would have been less pronounced.

******

Ah, but there's laziness and laziness, HS. A cobbler can spend 8 hours a day mending shoes, but it doesn't mean that he isn't taking shortcuts with each pair. And a painter can spend all day painting a picture, but it doesn't necessarily mean that he's giving it his all in regard to quality.

As an artist, Jack was surely capable of looking at how Ditko and Swan drew Spidey and Supes and been able to replicate the costumes and faces of each character - yet he didn't. I don't think it's the case that he couldn't draw them properly (had he wanted to), just that he couldn't be bothered to take the time to do so. And when one can't be bothered doing something properly, that's laziness.

So he wasn't lazy when it came to the amount of pages he was producing, but he WAS (sometimes) when it came to how much work he put into each one (and the time he could afford to spend on each page would've been a factor as well). That's why some of his DC (and later) work suffered from a drop in quality.

Hackney Steve said...

My point is, whether it's pages of comic art (or even cobblers), this stuff isn't fine art - it's just supplying a product to a deadline for an insatiable market. WE fans put these 'artistic' criteria on them. The main thing is, was the editor satisfied? How the Hell could Vince Colleta and Don Heck have ever made a living otherwise? It was a production line...
If you've got to produce 20 of anything per day, but you could confidently guarantee that you could produce 10 per day that are perfect, then it's not the creator's fault - rather the demands of the employer, or the creator's economic situation.
I recently went to look at a new job in my company to see if I fancied a transfer...the first thing my would-be new manager said (before even explaining what the job entails) was "We expect you to do 30 of these a day". You're expected to be totally accurate in the work, but that figure of 30 a day was the overriding demand. If I was skint I'd have had to begrudgingly try to do it, but as I'm not I could afford to say "Nah!". If Kirby had to produce umpteen pages to feed the family, I guess his personal criteria became, "What's acceptable?" rather than, "Is this really my best?"...

Kid said...

I got your point, HS, but it doesn't really impact on mine. I think Kirby's page quota was 15 pages a week at DC, and he probably sometimes did more. And nobody's disputing that Kirby wasn't lazy when it came to putting time in at the drawing board; that's not what I'm saying. However, there are different kinds of laziness. It wouldn't have required hours of study to see how Curt Swan drew Superman's hair, so we're not talking any effort that would seriously have curtailed his page quota. And his 'S' symbol bore absolutely no relation to the accepted version. Kirby later came to resent any changes to his art, and that could all have been avoided by him taking a few minutes to note how Supes' hair and 'S' sybmol should look and drawing them that way. The fact that he didn't wasn't down to pressures of time, but merely because he couldn't be bothered - hence 'laziness'.

Anonymous said...

Re Supe's face: Kirby drew Supes younger than DC's house look. As a youngster, Superman turned me off because he looked so...middle aged. And now I am middle-aged, the DC look of the early 70s still looks middle-aged. Kirby may have been lacking in consistency ( with himself at times, let alone with others), but his overall take, at least in the case of Supes, was the correct one..... in my humble opinion.
Spirit of 64

Kid said...

That's an interesting view, S64, though I can't say that I ever thought of Kirby's Superman as looking any younger than Swan's (and Jack's even given him more wrinkles in his forehead than the amended version). Maybe it was because Supes 'official' age for many years was supposed to be 29, and he always spoke like an older guy, not a youth like Jimmy Olsen. When Wayne Boring was drawing Superman though, I thought he looked like he was in his 40s.

Anonymous said...

Most definitely kid. Never knew about the official age....for someone of 29 Supes seemed to have lots of middle-age spread!!!
Spirit of 64

Kid said...

Ah, but every adult male character that Wayne Boring drew seemed to have middle-age spread, S64. It was part of his style. To me, though, the Swanderson Supes of the early '70s is the definitive one, although I liked Kirby's version almost just as much. If only he'd mastered that hairstyle and 'S' emblem.

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