For a few weeks, I've been running a series of guest posts from my friends over at That Comic Smell podcast. The pieces have been any length, style, whatever. The only brief I gave was to write something about comics. This time around, it's Fernando Pons.
Happy 100th birthday Jack!
I didn’t like Jack Kirby’s art. There you have it, I said it. It’s out for everyone to read it. So you’re probably thinking that’s fair enough, I have my own opinion, but... probably you don’t agree.
How could I dislike Jack Kirby? The creator/co-creator of Captain America, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, the Avengers, the X-Men, the Inhumans, Galactus, Doctor Doom, Silver Surfer, Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos, the New Gods, Mister Miracle, Forever People, Darkseid, Kamandi, OMAC, The Demon, The Eternals, Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur...
Well, if you have few minutes and you aren’t bored so far, I’ll explain why.
Let’s go back in time, Spain 1980. Not much going on in entertainment for a 6 year old: There were only 2 TV channels, no computers, no videogames and I lived in a small town in an island in the Mediterranean Sea.
As one of many modest working family households, we didn’t have much money, but comics and magazines were cheap are ready available at any newsagent.
T.B.O. , Tio Vivo, Mortadelo, Zipi Zape, Hazañas Bélicas, Capitán Trueno, Don Miki..., all of them created in Spain by Spanish artists and writers, with the exception of Don Miki (the Spanish equivalent to the Italian magazine Topolino), a magazine reproducing the Disney comics by Carl Barks, Floyd Gottfredson, Romano Scarpa and Giorgio Cavazzano, amongst others.
Like many other kids of my generation, I learnt to read with comics. My parents encouraged me to read more, and one of my aunties, another comic reader, used to lend me many of her magazines, in particular Hazañas Bélicas, a black and white war comic by Boixcar.
Tintin and Asterix followed fairly soon. Many birthday and Christmas presents were hardback editions of these 2 European comic giants.
So there you are, no superheroes, no American comics (with the exception of the stories from Don Miki), no Kirby.
Let’s move forward to 1985: La Patrulla-X #8 (Containing Uncanny X-Men 146 & 147), my first superhero comic.
I had heard of Superman, Spider-man, la Masa (Hulk)...thanks to the TV series and the cinema, but not Patrulla-X. Heroes born with special abilities, mutants hated by the people they are trying to protect. It absolutely blew my mind. The art was by Dave Cockrum and Josef Rubinstein. The writer was Chris Claremont. That was the first series I started to collect.
John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, Romita JR and Layton’s Iron Man, Mike Zeck’s Captain America and Walter Simonson’s Mighty Thor followed my favourite mutants. Then I discovered Arthur Adams in the X-family annuals and Longshot, and eventually, I managed to read Frank Miller’s Daredevil. I also tried some DC superheroes: The Teen Titans by Wolfman and Perez, Batman and the Outsiders by Mike W. Barr, Jim Aparo and Alan Davis.
The art of all these comics was amazing. I was mesmerised. I started to follow the artists. John Byrne was my favourite. I started to collect his Alpha Flight too. Then I managed to get Byrne’s stint in Captain America and his Uncanny X-men comics, when Classic X-Men was eventually published. He was, and still is, one of my favourite artists.
The more superhero comics I read, the more I wanted to know about them. So I started to find out about the origins of all these series. Stan Lee was introducing all the Marvel titles in Spain (“Stan Lee presenta: “), so his name was familiar. The magazines said that Stan Lee created practically all the Marvel comics, with the help of someone called Jack Kirby and another guy called Steve Ditko, but their names were not introducing any titles on any magazines.
Very occasionally, the Marvel magazines would publish an article about Kirby. If you were lucky, you would get 1 or 2 illustrations, or perhaps a cover and that would be all the art you would see. I was used to the fine art of the likes of John Byrne, Alan Davis, George Perez, Arthur Adams, Walter Simonson, Frank Miller...I didn’t like the defiant-gravity bodies, the massive fists, the big rectangular fingers or the box-like faces of this Kirby guy. His art wasn’t refined and his figures weren’t svelte.
“Okay, he was the first artist to draw them, but things are different now and the artists I like are better”, I was telling to myself.
Eventually, Comics Forum (publisher of Marvel Comics in Spain at that time), started to publish classics Marvel stories, which had been edited or mutilated by previous publishers, or never seen before in Spain. The Kree-Skrull war (Thomas & Neal Adams) or the Death of Gwen Stacy (Conway, Kane and Romita) were some of these stories.
Then, one day in one of these magazines (Marvel Héroes #35) I found this story written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. The tale was from Super Villain Classics #1, which in turn, it was reprinted material from Fantastic Four #49, Thor # 160, 162, 167 and 169. The story told the origin of Galactus. This was the comic that made me realise how good Kirby was. The energy effects (later I found out it was called Kirby Krackle, in honour to his creator), the shinning armours, the outlandish machinery, the mythologically influenced aesthetics, the larger than live characters, the fantastic locations...
With time, my appreciation for Kirby and his work has been growing exponentially. I realised how much John Byrne’s Fantastic Four was inspired by Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Looking at Walter Simonson's art, I realised how much influence Kirby had in his art. I also appreciated how much Miller’s heavy and older Dark Knight had inherited from Kirby. Jim Steranko was heavily influenced by Kirby’s art, so was Keith Giffen too, at his stint in The Defenders during the late 70's. More modern artists have been influenced by Kirby too, for example: Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon), Jose Ladronn (Hip Flask and Elephantmen), Tom Scioli (G0dland) or Fabian Rangel (Space Riders).
And many more, but we don’t have time to go over all of them.
Kirby was a force of nature, a unique artist, a comic-book genius. The quality of his workload was outstanding. The volume of work he produced is incredible; even now we still find some unused cover, poster, pages... He wasn’t a realist, but his figures exuded energy and drama. He knew how to project the emotion from the page to the reader. He was the master of the splash page. He knew how to draw the reader’s eyes to the character. His big scenes did not lack detail, not even on the backgrounds.
As a writer, Kirby brought a mix of slang, science fiction, myth and biblical references to the reader. Perhaps at the time, this cultural cocktail was too heavy for the readers, but his vision has lasted. Writers like Jim Starlin (Dreadstar) and Grant Morrison, amongst others, have been influenced by Jack Kirby’s storytelling.
All these feats didn’t make Kirby a prima donna. Fellow artists who knew him say he was an honest hard working guy, very down to earth, very respectful to others artists and very respected by fellow artists.
So, if you are interested in comics, especially superhero comics, regardless of your age, go and check this Kirby guy, believe me when I say, you won’t be disappointed.
Happy 100th Birthday Jack Kirby!