Monday, October 17, 2011

Kirby: King of Comics - Mark Evanier

Chances are I first saw Jack Kirby's artwork in some of the monster/science fiction comic books Marvel published in the late Fifties and early Sixties, but back then I wouldn't have been aware of who the artists were, even one whose style was so distinctive.  I really became aware of his work when I started reading FANTASTIC FOUR and the other Marvel superhero books in December of 1963 and January of 1964.  He quickly became my favorite artist, although I was awfully fond of Steve Ditko's Spider-Man work, of course.  And I was really bummed out when Kirby left Marvel six or seven years later.  It just didn't seem like the same company without him, although the Seventies saw some excellent work come out from Marvel.

Then there were the Fourth World books Kirby produced at DC, which I've written about before on this blog, most notably JIMMY OLSEN, surely one of the oddest but most entertaining runs in comics history.

KIRBY: KING OF COMICS is a big biography/retrospective/coffee table book about Kirby and his work by longtime associate Mark Evanier.  As you might expect, part of this book's appeal is the large amount of vintage Kirby art reproduced in its pages, but Evanier's well-written prose conveys a lot of information in an informal, very readable style.  It's clear that Evanier is a guy who really loves comics, especially comics produced by Jack Kirby.  He doesn't shy away from talking about Kirby's flaws, though, and he takes a very even-handed approach to the long-standing controversy involving Kirby and Stan Lee and how much each contributed to the creation of their iconic characters.

(For what it's worth, my feeling on that controversy is that Stan got too much credit at first, then when the pendulum swung the other way, for a long time he didn't get enough credit.  Rereading those classic stories now, I'd divide it pretty much right down the middle.  Yes, Kirby's art and the concepts he came up with are great, but I don't think the books would have been nearly as successful without Lee's dialogue that brought the characters to life and his work in the captions that tried to compensate for and explain away the plot holes and logical inconsistencies that Kirby built into the stories.)

To get back to the issue at hand, Evanier has produced a book with a lot of nostalgic value for readers like me and a great introduction for people who might not be as familiar with Kirby's work.  Kirby probably is my all-time favorite comic book artist, and if you're a fan as well, you really need to read KIRBY: KING OF COMICS.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Jack Kirby's artwork adorns a majority of my comic-book collection. I would love to read his autobiography (if he hasn't written one already), especially about his golden years at Marvel and DC. He has been a truly pioneering comic-book artist. I am glad you mentioned the controversy about Stan Lee getting too much credit — I've often felt the same way. Kirby never used to be in the picture, if you know what I mean. Then again, maybe he liked it that way.

Troy D. Smith said...

I'm going to have to look for this one. I know Evanier has long been a major guardian of the Kirby legend. I read the Ronin Ro bio of Jack, Tales to Astonish, a few months ago and really enjoyed it. I agree with your assessment of Lee and Kirby's respective contributions.