Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Guest Post: Jack Kirby's 1970s Series

Doug: Thomas F. drives this train today, and he's got the King on his mind.

Thomas F.: Jack “King” Kirby is best-known for his Silver Age contributions to the comic world. He was the co-creator and illustrator of the Fantastic Four, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Avengers, X-Men, and of course, Captain America. Not Spider-Man, though. For a look at Jack Kirby’s rendition of Spider-Man from as far back as January 1964, check out The Amazing Spider-Man #8 (or a reprint such as Marvel Tales #145), where Kirby penciled the backup story, inked by Steve Ditko, “Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!”

It is no exaggeration to claim that Jack Kirby was one of the most influential contributors to the comics genre to ever live. Few can deny that Kirby was an unparalleled expert at drawing eye-popping monsters, aliens, sci-fi weaponry, and futuristic technology. And most of it looked fully functional.


My own favorite Kirby creation is Darkseid (with the possible exception of the Silver Surfer). Gotta love those cosmic tales, rivaled only by Jim Starlin’s Warlock.

And what do you all think of Kirby’s version of Superman? It sure was different. Many people hated it—no one more so, apparently, then the DC bigwigs, who ordered that Al Plastino’s version of Superman’s face be plastered over most of those drawn by Kirby—behind his back.

It was Kirby’s Seventies stint, however—a period when he insisted on total creative control, and when he was able to produce Kirbyesque works as he saw fit—that he really shone. Granted, Kirby enthusiasts have long held widely-differing views on his Seventies creations. As for myself, I personally regard Kirby’s Seventies output to be the peak of his inventive skill and a time where he was able to showcase the full range of his genius—especially at DC.

Kirby fans are all aware that he left Marvel in the autumn of 1970 to work for the “Distinguished Competition,” which is how Marvel dryly referred to the opposition. This abrupt departure sent shockwaves throughout the comic book industry—just imagine it! Kirby jumping ship! And it wasn’t long before DC began a marketing campaign advertising Kirby’s upcoming works—major titles that the “King” himself would write, draw, and more often than not, edit.

*For this post, I’ve specifically chosen works that Jack Kirby both scripted and penciled (not just one or the other). Note: Kirby’s run on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen lasted from #133-139, 141-148; his run on Our Fighting Forces lasted from #151-162; his run on Amazing Adventures lasted from #1-4; and his run on Captain America lasted from #193-214 plus Annuals #3 and #4.

DC COVER SELECTIONS: 1st Issue Special #1 feat. Atlas; 1st Issue Special #5 feat. Manhunter; 1st Issue Special #6 feat. Dingbats of Danger Street; Demon #1; Forever People #1; Kamandi #1; Mister Miracle #1; New Gods #1; OMAC #1; Our Fighting Forces #152 feat. Losers; Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133.

MARVEL COVER SELECTIONS: 2001: A Space Odyssey #1; Amazing Adventures #1 feat. Inhumans and Black Widow; Black Panther #1; Captain America #200; Devil Dinosaur #1; Eternals #1; Machine Man #1.


Redartz said...

Good subject today, Thomas F; and a nice selection of covers! The "King" always makes a good topic...

Kirby's art is justifiably legendary, and his imagination was boundless. I can't count how many of my favorite comics he helped bring to existence. I am one of those, though, who feels his talents as a scripter were somewhat less stellar. I really liked the "Eternals", found many of the ideas he worked with in Captain America intriguing, but winced at some of the dialogue.

Among those covers, that New Gods image is a beaut. The Manhunter cover is pretty cool, and the 2001 cover is very handsome and effectively showcases the themes of both the comic and the film. The Eternals and Kamandi covers are classics...

Anonymous said...

I'd put the cover of The Eternals #1 in my Top 20 favourite covers ever..."Look to the stars. The gods are coming back !!"

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm. There’s a lot to love about Kirby in the 60’s, less so in the 70’s, I think. He kind of reminds me of David Lynch in one regard: he is a brilliant originator, but he needs someone else holding the reigns.

The real problem with his return to Marvel in the mid 70’s was that the characters he drew, wrote & edited – Cap & the Panther – both of whom he created, had dramatically moved on and, respectively, the Englehart period on Cap and Jungle Action Panther made Kirby’s tenure look like a massive throwback, in writing and art.

He is, I think, significantly underrated as a storyteller and visual artist, because, as we know, Stan would give him a single sentence or two and he would run off with it, so it’s not just the obvious stuff, like the creation of the Surfer, but actually the entire narrative that is his. The 70’s artists, like Kane, had the likes of Gerry Conway & Roy Thomas giving them far more detailed plot synopses – indeed Kane’s pacing went way wrong unless Conway gave the plot page by page – but Kirby would pace out an entire issue based on a single paragraph from Stan.

I never enjoyed his figure drawing – characters are too blocky, everyone is an endomorph, shadows snake off at angles across body parts, presumably to give some depth, but actually just make everything look weirdly lit or even metallic, fingers look like empty gloves.

However, I loved the way he drew action & objects. No one drew wood splitting (doors, trees, tables) like him. There’s a way of drawing thin black lines around frames that I identify with Romita, but actually Kirby originated it. You can really feel the weight of stone. Machines – giant and yet intricate at the same time – you can almost feel a narrative flow in his giant computer-scapes, like if you switched it on there would be flow to how it came to life and purpose in what it then did. Space ships and bug-eyed monsters, he was your man. And the way he drew energy, as anti-globules suspended in mid air, is still around today – no one has betted it – in fact I think it has actually entered the public consciousness as ‘what energy looks like’.

But how much of that brilliance and innovation relates to the Bronze age?


Garett said...

I disliked Kirby as a kid, and now he's my #1 favorite comic creator. He has a powerful structure to his art, and combines it with emotional content to give it that explosive power. Kirby fires me up!

The first comics I liked by Kirby were from the '70s-- Kamandi, Omac, The Demon. I also didn't like his scripting at first, but grew to appreciate it over time. I like Kirby's panel-to-panel action. It's often surprising, like Kirby is thinking one step ahead of what a normal comic would do. From his '70s stuff I branched out to the '60s and '40s stuff-- Thor, FF, Newsboy Legion and Crime comics. The Kirby power is always there. For Captain America, his '60s stories are my favorite. Black Panther is my favorite '70s Kirby at Marvel.

Nice to see this Spider-Man page and Superman drawing Thomas!

Overall for the '70s, I think Kirby was way better at DC than Marvel, and Kamandi is my #1. Love the inventiveness, and spunky hero, and Planet of the Apes type world. Kirby's FF is my current favorite for his whole career.

Nobody can draw like Kirby, although many have mimicked him or sprouted from him. Romita said that even more than drawing like him, nobody can think like Kirby.

Garett said...

Here's a great inspirational cartoon by Zen Pencils, with words from Kirby:
Just popped up on my Facebook today!

Garett said...

I'm sure many here have seen it, but if you haven't-- here's a Kirby documentary:
Interviews with Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Alex Ross, Walt Simonson, Barry Smith, etc.

Martinex1 said...

For Kirby's 70s output, I definitely prefer the new and original concepts like Eternals, Machine Man, and 2001 when compared to established characters like Cap and Panther. I think Richard covers that well. I also like his Mr Miracle. Scott Free and the new gods were interesting.

I look at Lee and Kirby like Lennon and McCartney. Great individually but not quite the same as when they were together. Stan's crazy dialogue and exposition added some clarity to it all. I think Kirby was a great plotter but lost a lot of impact in the scripting. He did not have the same ear for it. I really wonder what the Madbomb story could have been if the scripting was handled by somebody else. It's like the enthusiasm of Stans words matched the bombast of Kirby's pencils; separate they never synched up as well.

Also I think Kirby was hurt in the 70s, particularly at Marvel, because he was being compared to the up and comers like Byrne and Perez and those figure styles are really quite different.

Anonymous said...

There was "one thing" that always "annoyed" me about Darkseid's "dialogue" -- I wonder if you can "guess" what it was!


Unknown said...

Redartz and Garrett,

It's a good point to make; Kirby's scripts are certainly an acquired taste. Some may even find it initially unreadable. But I find that over time, if one has the patience, one warms up to it.
I've noticed that almost every single sentence was emphatic declaration and ended with an exclamation point or two, or even three.

TIGRA: What have you done with our son, Darkseid!?? I know he was taken from his quarters!! Where is he!?
DARKSEID: Where he can at last serve me usefully!!--A tool for peace!! Haven't you heard, Tigra?--There is to be an age of peace!!!

That New Gods #1 cover is one of my favorites---a simple yet striking iconic image. Against a starry background it looks especially cosmic.


It's true that Kirby's fingers look too broad and flat, like spatulas. And that little squiggle Kirby gives costumes a distinctly metallic look, as you say. It's fine for armored heroes like Iron Man, but not for other heroes whose costumes are presumably cloth.

But like you, I really like Kirby's action sequences; their stark dynamism and the forceful, sheer raw power that is conveyed is stunning, especially when a hero bursts through a door or a wall, shattering it to smithereens.

And those pinpricks that Kirby adds to cosmic explosions and other scientific phenomena are known to this day as "Kirby dots," and have been used and imitated by countless artists since the Sixties.


It's definitely true that by the Seventies, Kirby's artwork was considered by many to be "old school." A plethora of artists---Neal Adams, Rich Buckler, Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Mike Ploog, Bernie Wrightson, just to list a few---were producing artwork that had evolved into a far more "modern" and "realistic" style, suitable for the next generation of comic book aficionados. For the most part, gone were the Fifties and Sixties style of cartoonish and campy artwork. Personally, I generally prefer Bronze Age to Silver Age artwork, although some of the older material has its charm, even if it does sometimes appear childish.

Dr. Oyola said...

Put me in the camp that finds Kirby's 70s output underrated. Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man, Eternaks, New Gods, etc. . . I love it all.

I love his style. I love his motions and figures, because it was his own. Yes, his dialog was stilted and odd, but the man could plot a comic book like few others.

I just got a nearly full run of Eternals at a warehouse sale (75 cents each!) and the 10 year old me that only ever got my hands on #1 and #2 is so happy!

pfgavigan said...


I have an appreciation for Kirby's solo work in the Seventies and Eighties, that is not to say that I am a fan of it in the sense that I seek it out or have collected it.

My problem is that Jack Kirby's later years in the industry is, what I consider to be, proof positive that even the best need help. One of Kirby's solo pieces before his departure from Marvel was a suspense/horror story produced for ( I believe ) the Tower of Shadows book. I own and enjoy the story as published, I have seen what Kirby originally intended . . and would have put it back upon the rack. Lee, in his role as editor helped Kirby produce a very good little story.

I wonder how much Kirby resented that?

I understand and acknowledge that many of us enjoy his Eternals, Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur and such. I do not. I find the stories meandering and the characterizations tissue thin. The artwork, when inked by detailists such as Royer, flat against the page due to the consistence of line that Kirby used through out his work.

I regretted Kirby's final departure from Marvel, but not, I think, as much as I would have come to regret his staying.

Two final points. Kirby wasn't the only artist to have Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson redue Superman's features. Werner Roth, the ex X-Men artist who seemed much happier at the helm of Lois Lane, endured a similar cut and paste job as well.

Second, Stan Lee deeply valued Jack Kirby's contributions to the Marvel age of comics. So much so that he had no reservations about Kirby writing and approved a compensation package worth more than three hundred thousand dollars a year in today's coin.



Anonymous said...

Kirby was the Man! Yes, his dialogue was not the best but he was unparalleled in terms of conveying action, especially on a cosmic scale like the Galactus/FF and Omac stories.

- Mike 'still trying to draw blocky fingers like Kirby' from Trinidad & Tobago.

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