Saturday, 17 April 2021

THE TWO FACES OF JACK KIRBY'S SUPERMAN - WHO'S TO BLAME?


Copyright DC COMICS

One of the things that disappointed (if not infuriated) a great many Jack Kirby fans was when DC Comics had Al Plastino redraw most of Kirby's versions of Superman and Clark Kent in Forever People #1.  Why hire Jack to draw Supes and then make him look nothing like a JK drawing?  It was certainly a step too far in that instance, but I think they made the right call when they got Murphy Anderson to ink the Man of Steel's (and Clark's and Jimmy Olsen's) head and face in subsequent issues of Jack's Fourth World series.  The figures were as Jack pencilled them, but the characters faces looked as how they appeared in other DC mags, which was okay in my book.

Jack's main failing was in the way he drew Kent's/Supes' hair; it was seldom consistent from panel-to-panel and sometimes looked like a bad combover - or even a toupee!  Also, he tended to draw character's eyes on an uneven level, though this could've been rectified at the inking stage, and I bet Mike Royer fixed that quite a few times when he took on the task of rendering Jack's pencils in indelible black, just as he did with the the hair and the 'S' emblem on Superman's costume.  (Jack drew the 'S' in an 'abstract' way, which Alex Ross repeated a few years down the line.)

Apparently, Jack wasn't exactly happy with the way his drawings were being altered (when alerted by assistants Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman), but didn't complain to DC about it, preferring to keep schtum on the matter.  Anyway, the matter wasn't an issue once Royer came on board, as he made whatever fixes were necessary to keep characters 'on-model' while retaining the distinctive Kirby style.  However, to all those who resent Murphy Anderson's 'fixes', I feel bound to say that it was Jack's own fault that they were considered necessary.

Was it really beyond his abilities as an artist to take note of how Curt Swan drew Superman's hair and replicate it?  (The same might be said when it came to drawing Spider-Man - just look at what Ditko's doing, for crying out loud.)  He was capable of rendering good likenesses of TV and movie stars, as witnessed by the several cameo appearances at SM Studios in FF #9, so all he had to do was observe how Superman's hair and shield were meant to look and draw them like that.  So then why didn't he, instead of inwardly resenting the changes that DC instituted?  Give them what they want, Jack, and then they wouldn't have to change things.  It's not as if he didn't know what DC wanted, as they asked Evanier and Sherman more than once to remind him.

Was Jack perversely refusing to draw on-model in order to inconvenience DC, who had to take extra time and effort to make things 'right' before publication?  Frankly, I doubt it, because then he wouldn't have felt justified in resenting such changes to begin with.  So, as big a fan of Jack that I am, the blame for any alterations that many of his fans objected to lay at Jack's own door, not DC's.  And let's not forget that Jack often made changes or corrections to other artists' work at Marvel, so he was hardly being singled out at DC, who only altered Jack's pencils when he continually failed to give them what they were paying him to give them - they weren't doing it out of spite.

So if you're one of the fans who'd have preferred to see Jack's DC work untouched, just remember that the reason you didn't was mainly down to Jack, not his employers.  Agree or disagree?  The comments section awaits your worthy input.    

14 comments:

lord mikolaj said...

You know, when this old chestnut was first aired in fandom some years back, I had absolutely NO IDEA Superman even had a curl. The more I look at it now, the stupider it is! Now, this might have been cutting news 10 or more years ago, its a moot point now. A few years ago Superman had a mullet, for the love of christ. I dont remember the tv series Superman having a curl, or even fighting Super villians, so maybe this version of Supes was from that universe...

Kid said...

Wasn't just about the kiss-curl though; Jack couldn't even keep Supes' parting on the same side from one panel to the next. And when did George Reeves' Superman (or Dean Cain's) look like he was combing his hair to hide a bald spot?

Rip Jagger said...

I'd have to disagree on this one. The nature of the business was that DC could do as they pleased, and it was their decision that despite hiring Jack Kirby to draw a Superman book they preferred Superman's appearance to cleave closer to the Curt Swan-Murphy Anderson standard model of the time. They were free to do that, but whether it was Anderson or Al Plastino, the jarring effect of the changes does make the overall appearance of the comics look a tad goofy at the time and even more so today. But that was their call to make, and the responsibility for it is on the editors who made it and not Kirby who was not consulted about it. (It's a peculiar situation in one way since Kirby was the editor of record and these changes were made over his head.) He drew what he drew and they changed what they changed. Just as they picked Vince Colletta to ink the work at first (a choice I approved of by the way as much as I like Mike Royer), the results of the overall package are the company's call and company's responsibility ultimately.

Kid said...

I hear what you're saying, RJ, but had Jack given them the Superman they were looking for and had asked for, they wouldn't have been placed in the situation of having to make that call. Your take on it is a bit like saying that a criminal up in front of a judge for committing a crime is not responsible for the sentence he ultimately receives. All Jack had to do was two things: draw Superman's hair and symbol as required by his employers. Was that really beyond his ability? Obviously it would have been a better situation had Murphy Anderson inked the complete package, but I don't find the 'effect' of his just inking the faces as jarring as others seems to. After all, that's how I expected them to look.

McSCOTTY said...

It took me a while at the time to realise that Kirby's faces had been redrawn, I assumed he had just drawn them that way. Personally I liked the art of Jimmy Olsen but didn't like Kirby's version as of Dead man in Forever People so for me based on his rendition of Deadman here I coukd see why DC changed the faces on Superman etc. The main question for me is as you say, why didn't Kirby himself just draw them on character he was after all a brilliant artist.

Kid said...

Yup, that's the nub of it, McS. Had he done what he was being paid to do (draw Superman, not a wonky facsimile), both he and his fans would've been spared a whole load of disappointment.

lord mikolaj said...

I think the way DC treated Kirby, they mainly wanted him away from Marvel. They really cared very little for his ideas or innovations. He would have been better off renegotiating a better contract at Marvel.

Kid said...

I suspect DC believed the rumours (false, as they turned out) that Jack was the source of everything good at Marvel, and that without him, it would collapse. They soon saw that they were wrong, as not only did Marvel survive without Jack, it thrived. Unfortunately, the then-new owners of Marvel showed absolutely no interest in giving Jack a better contract, because they thought that Stan was the source of everything good at Marvel. They weren't quite correct in that belief of course, but they were less wrong than DC.

lord mikolaj said...

True. Stan made Spider-Man better after Ditko, and I REALLY liked Big John's art on the Fantastic Four and Thor. Ah, the good old days.

Kid said...

Which I relive every time I read my original back issues or Marvel Masterworks and Epic Collections.

Dave S said...

Apparently the kiss curl was supposed to represent the letter S.

Can't remember where I read that, but it was the same place that pointed out that Clark Kent tended to wear the same colours as Superman- a blue suit and red tie in many of his older appearances.

Kid said...

Thing is, DS, Supes' parting was once on the other side of his napper in earlier stories, so his curl would've curled the other way and not looked like an 'S'. Of course, maybe they changed his parting so that his curl WOULD look like an 'S'.

Phil S said...

I can’t stand it . I love Kirby and I love Anderson. But the combination is off putting. Kirby is highly stylized and Anderson is realistic . It’s almost like a Frankenstein monster. But to your point why did Kirby draw Supes without the curl? Because that was Kirby. He would constantly draw Spider- man without the spider on his back, he would draw Cap without the star on his chest or no stripes on his back. He would draw two left hands .

Kid said...

And he would draw two left feet as well, PS. However, all those mistakes only proves that he wasn't paying proper attention. He must've been capable of drawing Superman's hair the way it was meant to be, and he must've been able to draw Spider-Man's spider emblem, to say nothing of drawing the webbing the correct way. The fact that he didn't simply demonstrates that he wasn't trying or didn't care. That was HIS fault, nobody else's. If he drew something the wrong way, then he's the one responsible for it having to be corrected.



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