jack kirby

Kirby Art Inside Amazing Fantasy #15

Of course, everyone knows that Jack Kirby designed the original version of Spider-Man, which never got used. We know, also, that Kirby pencilled the cover to Spidey’s first appearance, in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962)—because the original cover Ditko drew was rejected by Stan Lee.

But how about Kirby artwork inside this landmark comic? Well, surely, the iconic origin story is fully-pencilled & inked by Mr Ditko. But there’s one aspect I never paid much attention to before—the teeny-tiny Spidey figure at the top right of the opening splash page…

AF15 pg1

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Comics: The Dying Craft Of Lettering

I no longer mind being called a Luddite. It might’ve bothered me once. Now, it’s become a lazy catchall slur meant to target anyone who has any kind of reservation about technological ‘progress’—because, after all, progress is an unalloyed good which everyone must believe in like obedient cult members.

(The concept of progress, and/or something being progressive, is not, semantically or in actuality, a good of any kind—or a bad of any kind. It’s a neutral idea that can/should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. For instance, in the negative, pretty much every terminal disease is ‘progressive’.)

Anyhow. I was all for digital tech and online stuff back in the day. And by that, I mean 15+ years ago. Maybe you have to be immersed in something for a while to start seeing the dangers properly. Digital has an insidious tendency to slowly, creepingly replace everything it touches with a digital facsimile. Often as not, the craft or physical actuality it replaces gets killed off completely… or, in cases like, for instance, film being made on film, a few stubborn holdouts will keep the organic original alive (Tarantino, Nolan, etc).

In comics there are a number of aspects you could mention, but let’s focus on LETTERING. To be blunt, digital lettering requires no craft. It’s a form of typsetting. And to any digital letterers out there, SORRY—BUT NOT SORRY. I accept that there’s skill in it—but there’s no craft.

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Comics: The Ring Of The Nibelung

Written by Roy Thomas. Drawn by Gil Kane (w/assist by Alfredo Alcala). Lettered by John Costanza. Coloured by Jim Woodring. Edited by Andrew Helfer. Published in 1989-90 by DC Comics.

Summary: A squarebound, four-issue mini-series adapting Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Wagner’s epic musical drama, aka the Ring Cycle, based on Norse Legend and the German epic poem Nibelungenlied.

Read more about Der Ring des Nibelungen on Wikipedia. (Saves me writing a synopsis!)

The Ring has also notably been adapted in comics form, at much greater length and more faithfully to the Wagner source, by P Craig Russell in 2000; and of course, there is the two-part 1924 silent movie by the great Fritz Lang, Die Nibelungen. The Thomas & Kane version is perhaps not so different from their work on various Conan projects—it has an old school adventure comics feel. If you like those books as much as I do, you won’t see that as a drawback.

The Ring Book 1
Epic Kane art from THE RING Book One.

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Soul Love Fantasy Cover

Amongst Jack Kirby‘s unrealised early 1970s concepts for DC Comics was the romance magazine True-Life Divorce. One of the stories therein was entitled “The Model” and featured black characters (surprisingly, not so common back in 1971). Although the mag was canned, Kirby figured an all-black romance book might be the way to go and developed a title called Soul Love.

(Oddly enough, David Bowie was working on a song with the same title around this time, for his seminal Ziggy Stardust LP; there’s no connection whatsoever.)

This project was likewise put on ice; and neither have even been published in full. Too bad.

Anyhow… looking at Jack’s original, black and white cover concept the other day, I thought it might be fun to mock-up a complete, full-colour fantasy cover. And the result is below, alongside Kirby’s conceptual layout.

Soul Love

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Rambling Spider-Man Review

So I saw the new Amazing Spider-Man movie last Monday (the 9th). Given the shoddy treatment of some major creatives involved in developing the 1960s Marvel line (one or two in particular), it’s hard not to have mixed feelings. Part of me says a boycott on principle is honourable; another part says it’s futile. So between the two extremes I just throw up my hands. I was already in town to see something else anyway (The Casebook of Eddie Brewer—more on that in another post, maybe).

Spider-Man 2012

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Lee vs Kirby ad infinitum

I try to keep out of online squabbles on the subject (though I don’t always succeed), and sometimes I feel like a detached observer when I’m not ignoring them altogether. But really. This Stan Lee vs Jack Kirby ‘debate’ will never end. I actually resent the way it’s framed often as not; if you like Kirby’s work you’re a ‘Kirby Advocate’ or, more insultingly, a ‘Kirby Zealot’. This, because there seems to be a de facto assumption that liking Kirby inherently means being crazy about 1960s Marvel Comics and thinking Stan Lee was a creative & writing genius. If you don’t fit that description you’re some kind of freak.

God by Kirby 3

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Jack Kirby

It’s Jack Kirby‘s 94th birthday. Quite a lot of people will be remembering him, but arguably fewer than his long career might suggest. His major involvement in the development of the 1960s Marvel Comics line—a period that resulted in characters that have become multi-million dollar franchises—has still not received full recognition. Marvel’s then-editor Stan Lee took all the creative credit, and continues to do so.

The 1960s were a significant period of artistic growth for Kirby… but, the development/success of the line did a few (negative) things to him: (1) it forever typecast him as the “King” of superheroes and POW! BAM! action; (2) it cemented perceptions of Kirby as an “artist” more than a creative writer-artist (cartoonist), thanks to Stan’s most creative work—the credits on the books; (3) it put him in a straightjacket for ten years, where his ideas were restrained by mannerisms of a genre he was to some degree pulling away from.

Street Code pg2

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