Thursday, December 16, 2010

Face-Off: The 1970's Marvel Cover Art of Jack Kirby and Gil Kane

NOTE: This post was updated on June 5 2020. Some of the images chosen in the remastering may not jibe with comments made regarding the original images. My apologies... -Doug

Doug: OK, so go ahead and accuse me of being an Avengers-zombie. I don't mind. One look at the art samples in this post, and you'll say "here we go again". But there's a method to my madness -- today I want to look at some of the cover work of Gil Kane and Jack Kirby in the mid-1970's, and I thought the best way to do it was to look at their work in a relatively close period of time and on the same characters. What better place to do that than on the covers of the Avengers?

Doug: Using my childhood first impressions (so we're talking 1972-75, give or take; I would have been 6-9 years old then), I'll say now that both men's art has been an acquired taste. In my youth Kane was the guy with the weird body contortions and nose upshots, and Kirby was the guy who drew blocky fingers. It was only much later that I became privy to such issues as pacing, story lay-out, camera angles, etc. After my epiphany, I've become an admirer of each man (although I'll continue to maintain that there were many draftsmen in the Bronze Age era who were better).

Doug: I think if you look at the composition of each of our six samples you'll see the frenetic energy for which both artists were renowned. On the first three covers (above), all of Kirby's trademarks are there -- the power and energy, and all-out action.

Doug: On the Kane examples (below), the samples all seem to evoke more fluidity.There are the
odd (shoot -- uncomfortable!) twisting of the bodies, the illusion that movement has just/is about to happen, and accurate anatomy (although stylized).

Doug: So what do you think? What are your memories of these guys' work, especially when the interior art was by someone else? Do you have a fave or least-fave cover from this era? If you comment, include a link for us!


david_b said...

Wow.. Looks like I'm first off today.. Gil Kane's work..? I personally never thought to much of his figures. He provides typically great setup of attention and focus, but Doug, as you mention, the twisting of muscles (esp with Thor and Ironman) never looked polished enough.. Obviously I loved his '60s DC work with Batman and Flash (to only mention a few..), and his Spidey work was good, but as a cover artist, I preferred others.

As for the King, his stint with Cap was anti-climatic, heavy-handedly throwing Cap back to his TOS days, which to me, erased so much of the endearing growth seen with Sal and Steve Englehart, making Cap one of the biggest sellers in the 70s. I look at Kirby's '70s Marvel covers as more of a anachronistic 'anomaly' than a regular (or preferred) Marvel cover artist. A nice change of artistic style, but nowhere near the exciting covers from ish 114-129 I grew up with and adored..

J.A. Morris said...

I'll go with Kane on this one. I agree with Karen that Kirby's work was on the decline during his second stint at Marvel. Doesn't negate any of his past triumphs though.

J.A. Morris said...

Re:Avengers #134 cover:
Slightly off topic, but is there a dumber "classic" recurring Marvel villain than The Mad Thinker?

Anonymous said...

I may be in the minority here, because I liked their covers, and loved seeing something by either artist, even if the work inside was completely different.

Gil Kane is an acquired taste, but I always appreciated his Spidey work. Just about the only thing I never liked from him was the Hulk, and we are still suffering from his Abomination character design. I think he's a great cover artist and Avengers #134 and #139 are great examples of why, even though, as Karen pointed out 139 seems to be heavily Romita-ized.

I've always been a bit of a Kirby fan-boy, so recognizing a Kirby pose or face was always a treat. I will say that the "greek chorus" design for #154 gets old - even though a similar design for 139 really pops.

I really like #156! The Vision pose is just pure Kirby.

Edo Bosnar said...

Wow, that cover to Avengers 156 brings back memories. One of the first, if not the first, issue of that mag I ever pulled off the spinner rack.
Even so, I definitely have to go with Kane. First, because I liked his art the first time I saw it, so it was never an 'acquired taste' for me like Kirby's was. Second, he just drew so many outstanding covers for so many titles at Marvel in the 70s. There's really no comparison.

Anonymous said...

I forgot here's the Kirby cover I remember the best.

Dougie said...

I love this blog! Just discovered it last month.
Avengers 154 is enormously nostalgic for me since it was the first US issue I was able to buy in nearly four years. The UK reprint title kept the US version out of our shops for most of that time.
However, you can't beat that Stranger cover for energy and vibrancy.

Horace said...

Those Kirby covers resonate with me. They're the first Avengers comics I bought off the newsstand. Another Kirby cover that made a strong impression was Iron Man 92, I think. The one where Iron Man is being melted by the Melter. George Tuska penciled the interiors.

Fred W. Hill said...

I'd never seen that Manhunter cover (posted by Eric) before, but, yeah, that's a great one, similar in concept to Kirby's cover for FF #12, their first encounter with the Hulk. Weird, tho', I loved Kirby's art in the FF & Thor and other reprints I was reading in the mid-70s, but I wasn't too keen on his newer work for Marvel. As for Kane, initially I thought his art looked weird, just as the few bits of early Ditko work I saw then struck me as odd. Perhaps it was because I had gotten used to the best of Kirby's Silver Age work, especially as inked by Joe Sinnott, not to mention the work of Romita and the Buscemas. Eventually I did grow to enjoy Kane's work, particularly on Spider-Man. The only late Kirby I ever really got into, however, was Destroyer Duck, and that was mainly due to Gerber's writing. Kirby's own writing tended to grate on me.
As for the covers Doug selected, they're not bad but certainly not among the best of either artist, although at least they do the job of portraying key points of the stories in those issues. Other Avengers covers from the same era that stood out a bit by each were, for Kane, the first half of that Assassin fill-in; and for Kirby the stone Black Knight stalking the mansion. The stories within weren't all that great, but the covers were relatively unique and interesting. But neither holds up as well as the many iconic covers Kirby conjured up in the mid-60s, particularly on the FF and Thor.

Inkstained Wretch said...

It's a tough call for me since I like both artists, but I have to give Kirby the edge here.

Kane's work during this period was solid, but fairly conventional in a sense. The art is smooth and subtle in that it focuses on the characters and actions depicted and doesn't call attention to itself. You don't look at a Gil Kane cover of that period and think "Oh, Gil Kane." No, you think, "How's Spidey going to get out of this?"

There's something to be said for that kind of restraint. I can certainly see why the top people at Marvel made him their go-to guy. But for the same reason those covers don't linger in my mind.

(Ironically, in just a few years Kane's style would radically evolve while at DC in a way that did call attention to itself.)

Kirby's art during this period had evolved quite a bit from his silver-age heyday and not always in ways that were good. He became less interested in anatomy, his faces grew less detailed and everything got blockier and more angular. All of the characters he drew began to look like caricature. But oddly enough that is part of what makes it interesting to me: It was a bold, eye-catching and unlike anything else on the newsstands. Long before I really knew who Kirby was, I could recognize his stuff with a glance.

Kirby's insistence on being his own writer during this period hurt him badly, as his stories just weren't as good as his art. Which is a pity, because as the covers show he could still create some exciting drawings.

In retrospect it was his last hurrah too. After Destroyer Duck, he really started to lose it and his 80s stuff is kind of sad.

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