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Jack Kirby: Hand of Fire Roundtable (Part 2)


R. FIORE:

Part of what the “Dick-had-a-stroke” theory (which can be no more than speculation) means is that he didn’t go nuts or become delusional; something actually did happen to him.  People with an intuitive belief in the invisible world look for objective confirmation and don’t always have the highest standards of proof when they think they’ve found it.  The thing about Dick’s story I’ve always found fishy (God forgive me) is the shocking “revelation” of the fish symbol in Christian iconography.  I’ve been seeing that all my life, haven’t you?

JONATHAN LETHEM:

Well, this is definitely getting to be quite a lot about this, but I’ll just say that the fish-symbol was complete news to me when I encountered it in VALIS — but that is only to say, it was complete news to a 14-year-old secular-Jew kid living in ’70s New York — no great test of your assertion that it would have been widely known, Bob.

SEVEN: UNSATISFYING EPICS AND SINGLE ISSUE MASTERPIECES


GLEN DAVID GOLD:

I just finished the book and am trying to figure out what I think of it.  One problem is that I don’t have an academic mind.  And I already accept Kirby’s importance.  So I just tended to nod my head a lot — I think Hatfield makes excellent points throughout (though he needed to find more synonyms for ‘bemused’) and as I gear my brain up I’ll have better things to say.  I’m happy that he gets into the emotional interplay of characters in The Pact, and I’m sad that image clearances seem to have been such a bear.  (Also I found myself wondering why Izaya writes “The Source” with his left hand.)

But: serendipity.  I really liked the chapter on The Eternals, and upon closing the book I happened to see this:

I’m guessing Ridley Scott didn’t name any of these characters Ike Harris, but…geez.

I’ll have something more concrete when it’s set a bit.

JONATHAN LETHEM:

Well-refocused, Glen. I too have finished the book, and I suspect — fear? — I do have an academic mind, because this is the kind of thing I really like to see written about work I care for, and I actually read — or own and skim, and sometimes plunge deep into — loads of secondary sources much like this one on the cultural stuff I love that invites this kind of book. Call it advocacy-analysis salted with theoretical frameworks to about the medium-rare level. If there are very many books on comics of this type I haven’t found them — most of the stuff I love that attracts writing like this is film — dozens of volumes about Hitchcock’s or Fritz Lang’s or Nicholas Ray’s films hit me at around this level, and I find myself always open to another. That said, my happy response isn’t always so different from that you describe in your value-neutral way: nodding my head a lot. But it’s good to be talking about a book we’ve finally read, rather than guessing about it. A couple of scattershot observations: he seems to defend his isolation of the 1962-1978 framework perfectly well, as well as to make a few efficient and sufficient nods to what lies outside that framework — and with an artist as proliferate as Kirby there’s every good reason to want to carve out an ‘area of inquiry’. My one reservation *within* his area of inquiry is that it seems to me he somewhat overvalues — at least in principle — the work lying inside the the Grand Projects — i.e. Fourth World and The Eternals — at the expense of individual issues of rare intensity and chaotic grace from runs of Captain America, Kamandi, 2001 or even distaff items like Sandman during that same period. Some individual issues of which I stared at for hours at a time, discovering rabbitholes of Kirbyesque non-sequitur intensity. I think he overrates the “overarching mythos” stuff for several understandable reasons: it was, in a way, a conscious prediction of the future direction of comics (or “graphic novels”); Kirby himself proclaimed his grand intentions and you take your cues from the artist’s proclamations; the implication of a vast and intricate masterwork sprawling over many dozens if not hundreds of comics is wildly seductive. But: those promises were never remotely delivered. And: Kirby’s actual canvas seems by every piece of evidence to have been the individual issue (even if driven by vague and thrilling echoes and premonitions of its place in some vast tapestry). So much so that in attempting to credit the greatness of the Fourth World, Hatfield turns to… individual issues (Himon and The Pact).

Well, I’m here to say that Kamandi #10, in which The Misfit (a weaselly giant orange brain on a dwarfish blue body) maliciously frees up the greatest Killer Germ of all the cosmos, a personified disease named Morticoccus, all against a backdrop of a war against giant humanoid bats, all inside a giant space globe called Tracking City, is pretty fucking great, even if it played no part in any giant scheme whatsoever. It played a major part in the giant scheme of wrecking my brain.



R. FIORE:

In this you may be on the track of the similarities between Kirby and Philip K. Dick.

A thought that comes to my mind when looking at Kirby’s collages is that Ditko did this sort of thing much better, without resorting to found objects.  Ditko was the one for taking a peek behind the doors of perception; Kirby on the other hand was a world builder.  His most effective phantasmagorias are constructed.

GLEN DAVID GOLD:

[Doug Harvey wrote:] “Unless he dropped acid!”

I’m told the most potent thing Kirby ever dropped was the cigar.  He did however have teenage kids in the 1960s, and paid attention (at least when at the drawing table) to what they seemed to want.

Some reactions to reactions and so forth:

[Dan Nadel wrote:] “That need [meaning collages], I would speculate, might’ve arisen from wanting to articulate the awe he must’ve often felt. That thing that can’t be articulated that, to my mind, he gets closest to in narrative terms in projects like Silver Star, where he’s grasping at ways of speaking, ways of feeling.”

I very much like that idea of his awe exceeding the boundaries of the form.  It sounds right to me.  It also hints at Kirby’s emotional content being difficult to dissect, in that its inarticulate nature bypasses much of the rational brain.

Jeet brought up the concentration camp that Jack was led to by locals, and wondered if it might have impacted his art.  I have counted four instances at Marvel where Jack drew groups of huddled alien creatures being herded through walkways that somehow ring a bell for me (if for no one else).  Fantastic Four #92, Fantastic Four Annual #6, Thor #162, and Eternals #8 all have strikingly similar images, and the creatures at hand are sometimes the final survivors of a holocaust (Galactus ate the planets of the Wanderers in Thor #162, for instance) and sometimes eliminated by villains during the story (FF Annual #6).   He also put a double splash of Jews being machine gunned into the 1978 Silver Surfer Graphic Novel but it was redrawn to be less graphic.

Like Dan, I responded well to the discussion of the Technological Sublime.  One paragraph I read aloud to my dog was on p. 148, about how the sublime “initiates a crisis” by “threatening our habitual ways of thinking and our presumed mastery.”  As Hatfield says, this isn’t exactly what Kirby does, but if the beautiful relates to tenderness, the sublime “stirs up fear.”  In Kirby, delight and terror are companions, and I really appreciate that explication of something I’ve felt.  To spin off of that, I think that things that are critically praised soon after their publication tend to be conservative, in the sense that even if elements appear to be new, ultimately they affirm what we already believe and feel comfortable with.  It’s the stuff that is radical, in the sense of upsetting the order, that takes time to find its place.  The Marvel work, sculpted in part by Stan, was more beautiful and more conservative, ultimately (maybe echoing Hatfield’s survey of who the architect of that universe was versus who “made things happen”).  I think the most Kirby-like work of Kirby wasn’t accepted for exactly the reason that it incorporates the feeling of the sublime.  It’s uncomfortable and brings us not beauty but awe, with all its fear-based potency intact.  I think it’s taken 30 years and more to really handle it.

I like Hatfield’s point that the Marvel Universe wasn’t planned.  That the crossovers seemed to accrete, that continuity was a trial-and-error, shotgun sort of approach.  The irony that he doesn’t point out (I think) is that neither Stan nor Jack was very good at continuity.  Hatfield mentions Kirby’s aversion to continuity upon his return in the 1970s, but the fact is, even from the beginning, neither Stan nor Jack could remember anything.  The Hulk might appear in six different storylines, and Bruce Banner’s name might be Bob in one of them and David in another.  (My current favorite continuity problem is that in Thor #160, Jack has Galactus attacking Ego the living planet.  Which is a relief, as Jack had started that attack in issue #134, two years beforehand.  Not only had he forgotten about that, when he had Galactus appear in the FF in the intervening months, there was no reference to the suspended Ego battle, and when he got back to Thor the next year, there was no mention of the FF adventures, either.  It’s especially funny that Stan forgot, too.)  That these two guys with terrible memories created the tapestry they did is inadvertently hilarious.

The change that Kirby underwent around 1966 is as mysterious as Krishnamurti’s 1922 transformation, and I think Hatfield takes it apart piece by piece very well.  This is an area I really wish he’d been able to illustrate — the average issue of the Jack Kirby Collector can provide panel after panel for us to see what Asgard or Mr. Fantastic’s laboratory looked like in 1964 versus 1968.  The mythopoesis he describes resulting from “improvisatory graphism” strikes me as right on.  First hand accounts of his process indicate that he might know what the page he was drawing would look like, but the next page was a mystery until he got there and started in on it.  Kirby starts to lift out of “normal” storytelling with comics featuring a March 1965 cover date (that would be Fantastic Four #36 and Journey into Mystery #114, with the tentative but insistent start of continuous storylines).  He really ramps it up by the end of the year, when both of his major books are positively rocking with subplots and new worlds to explore.   If Hatfield emphasizes this, I missed it (and apologies to him for my inadequate read) but I’ve wondered if those worlds started to get built in part because this was the first time Kirby had been allowed to draw a continuous character for more than about twelve issues.  Like: if he’d done Boys Ranch for 100 issues, would he have gone to every Western state and explored all of Native American mythology while building whole new states we’d never heard about before?   Wow, when I make my universe, I’m going to find room for Kirby to have done exactly that.

As far as the critique of superheroes — it being a disreputable genre with fascistic overtones (to paraphrase) — well, sure, sometimes.  But not when Kirby does it.  It’s sort of like country music being conservative and being about trucks.  Yeah, that’s often true.  And then there’s Johnny Cash.  So I don’t really give that argument much thought, but I will admit to not understanding why a given argument is or isn’t important for most people.  I’m going to follow what Hatfield says about his own limits — that we’ll all have things we wish he’d brought up, and that maybe we can write our own books about that.  Kirby is a pretty huge topic.  To put it another way, as that Lethem guy said:

“Kirby himself proclaimed his grand intentions and you take your cues from the artist’s proclamations; the implication of a vast and intricate masterwork sprawling over many dozens if not hundreds of comics is wildly seductive. But: those promises were never remotely delivered.”

Boy howdy.  This is something I don’t want to cop to, as I’d love Kirby to be universally praised, but the guy couldn’t end a multi-issue storyline for all the oysters in heaven.  I mean, seriously, single issues?  Those were incredible.  The PactThis Man This MonsterWhat Was X The Thing that Lived!  And the set ups for multiissues were often jaw-dropping.  FF #57?  Thor #154?  That Norton of New York issue of 2001?  But then…eek.  Doom is knocked off his Surfboard by a deus ex machina ex deus?  Mangog is eliminated by Odin waking up (only interesting in that so many bad stories end with someone waking up)?  2001 ending with…uh…how did that end anyway?

Kirby was a great set up guy.  And if he had to finish a story in one issue he knew how to O Henry or Paul Bowles his way to an ending.  Otherwise, it got kind of hairy.

Kirby’s narrative often stopped making sense.  Hatfield’s book made me wonder if that mattered.  Does anyone say that parts of the Vivian Girls didn’t really cohere narratively and thus it’s not that great?  And then, as I was asking that I noticed Hatfield seeming to quote J. Lethem as if the latter had compared him to Darger already, but that Hatfield felt that Kirby wasn’t just an outsider artist.  So let’s say he intended to be a narrative cartoonist, and sometimes what he intended (to draw us into the story) failed him but we managed to treasure the effort and the personality and the ideas instead, so Bravo.

There’s always more, but I (for instance) channeled much of it into a letter to the Kirby Collector about my theory that Jack intended Galactus to eat Asgard.

GLEN DAVID GOLD:

Death Wagons. Purity Time.


JONATHAN LETHEM:

Tremendous.

GLEN DAVID GOLD:

There are more images like this, but I know it’s a tangent, so I won’t bombard you with them.  However this one has always fascinated me — it was omitted from the Silver Surfer graphic novel, possibly because it was too, well, graphic.

The inks are credited to Sinnott, but Mike Royer apparently did those duties.

JEET HEER:

I want to take up a point that both Jonathan and Glen raised, about the fact that Kirby’s epics are always ultimately patchy and unsatisfying as a whole. If you look at all the epics – the various Fantastic Four cycles, the Thor cycles, the New Gods, the Eternals – what you find are strong issues surrounded by dross or wayward improvisation. So in that sense, to peg Kirby as a maker of sagas and epics is to do his work a disservice. Part of the satisfaction of a work like Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns is that they have a coherent wholeness, a gratifying sense that you can read them in one sitting and get a discrete aesthetic experience. “One and done” as the kids say these days. Kirby, coming out of the pulps and periodical publishing world where characters can always return from the dead, never provided that sort of self-reading experience.

Having said all that, there are a number ways of explaining or justifying Kirby’s open-endedness. I very much like the quote Hatfield highlights, where Kirby says that life “a series of very interesting questions, and very poor answers.” (page 149) Works like the Eternals and the New Gods cycle do raise great questions, but also unanswerable ones so they tend just keep offering new concepts and ideas without a sense of going anywhere (leaving aside the commercial exigencies that also throttled these works).

Hatfield himself offers a clue as to Kirby’s inability to do a complete an epic. There’s a long section paragraph on page 205 which I’ll quote at length. One of the virtues of this paragraph is that Hatfield quotes Doug Harvey, who might have further thoughts about this.

Here’s Hatfield:

Like much of Kirby’s work, the Fourth World suggests a fiercely active mind – untutored but intellectually engaged, even supercharged – always searching for ways to personify grant ideas. This synthetic mythos represents his boldest attempt to give life to abstractions, to turn a battle of concepts into rip-roaring adventure. It was a project in which, inevitably, the grand ideas spiraled beyond even Kirby’s original aims, so that the premises became humanly messy and unpredictable. Kirby was engaged heart and soul in this effort, the most complex creative undertaking of his career. One can hardly blame fans for saying, as they often do, that it’s a shame he did not get the opportunity to see this dream through to a proper end while still at the height of his powers. (The ill-regarded Hunger Dogs sought to ring the curtain down, but by then Kirby was in decline.) That said, it is difficult to imagine how the saga could have ended in such a way as to do justice to its sprawling, inexhaustible, endlessly explorable worlds. How could Kirby has satisfactorily brought the Fourth World to an end? It was too rich, too exploitable. As Doug Harvey observes, its fragmentary, incomplete, yet endlessly suggestive nature is the essence of its powers; its “every character, event, and detail is saturated with potential meanings,” and the sheer proliferation of its ideas suggest an infinitely receding horizon.

Or to put it another way, perhaps Kirby is one of those artists whose suggestiveness is more potent than his substance, who implies much more than he ever explicitly articulates.

DAN NADEL:

This is a good point, which I’ll respond to briefly. I agree that Kirby is more suggestive than he is, say, expository. That’s partly why my favorite bits of Kirby tend to be things like OMAC or Kamandi, in which he’s just going from issue to issue hinting at or exploring scenarios without getting mired down in any continuing soap operas. I’ve always enjoyed these comics more than the Marvel and even the Fourth World stuff because it’s just a quick, forceful nod and then he’s on to the next. A micro aspect of his quality was nicely explored in this series of Kirby images at HiLobrow.

It also reflects the improvisatory process he used — he wasn’t structuring things like a novel, so saddling him with those expectations doesn’t really pay much. I thought Hatfield occasionally got mired down in the plot descriptions, which, in his defense, are necessary to make sense of his conclusions, but there’s something so ludicrous about reading descriptions of such absurd plots, y’know? Kirby resists linear interpretation. I’m not sure what the ideal approach would be. Hatfield is as good as we’ve gotten, that’s for sure… someone else will have to do some kind of Geoff Dyer-esque riff on the work to bring out the full oddity of it.

Anyone else want to take on the book itself?

R. FIORE:

I don’t think there’s any better-or-worse about Kirby and superhero comics.  It’s not as if the superhero were some commercial misfortune that kept Kirby from the truly great art he might have created.  Superhero comics are what you get from Jack Kirby in the same sense that peaches are what you get from a peach tree.  None of the of the other forms of comics he was employed in are any less disreputable than the superhero, and no other form would have allowed him to realize the potential of his particular gift any better than the superhero.  The impediment it might present to appreciation by certain readers is not that it’s fascistic but that it’s childish.  There’s a passage I’ve quoted before from a book by J.C. Holt about Robin Hood that gets to the heart of the matter:

Robin also foreshadows the world of Superman and the comic strip.  He has no practical scheme for improving the human condition. There is no sense at any stage of the legend’s history that man’s lot might be improved by the sweat of his brow.  Robin simply intervenes.  He succeeds because he is a superlative archer, a consummate swordsman and a master of disguise and stratagem . . . He is invulnerable except to treachery.  Robin belongs to that world of heroes and villains in which the heroes are so supreme, so magical in their mastery that they will always win.  Many of the stories, far from embodying social protest, turn on this and nothing else.  The sheriff hunts the outlaws; Robin turns the tables; the outlaws win.  In such simple adventures lies the legend’s continuing juvenile appeal.

Reading superhero comics after you’ve grown up is like reading Winnie the Pooh after you’ve grown up, which is to say something a grown up very well might do.  Children’s literature is literature a child can understand and relate to, and though it won’t fully satisfy an adult sensibility it’s still literature.  In reality superhero comics had an adult readership almost from the beginning, though at the beginning it was a habit they were no more eager to reveal than a taste for pornography.  As Jeet rightly points out, thanks to the movies the superhero is far more common coin in the culture that it would have been fifty years ago.  And Jack Kirby’s art is on an altogether higher plane than what you see on the screen.

Kirby’s comics aren’t literature in the sense that Lewis Carroll or A.A. Milne is, but they are Warholic.  By Warholic I mean that which is not art in any normative sense but has the effect of art nevertheless.  It’s a species of counter-kitsch, something that has the content of art without the appearance.  Andy Warhol paints a picture of a commonplace piece of commercial design that looks like nothing so much as the comprehensive layout a designer would produce to show a potential client, and when you hang this picture up in a museum it holds its place on the wall about as well as anything around it.  Go to a museum displaying a Warhol soup can and you see this for yourself.  This means either (a) Andy Warhol magically transformed this commonplace article into a work of art by laying on of hands, or (b) the design had characteristics of art to begin with.  The obvious answer it seems to me is (b).  And each and every element is purely functional:  The horizontal red and white stripes and the lettering across the top are there to tell you that this is a product of the Campbell Soup Company, the medallion is there to suggest that this is a quality product, and the lettering on the bottom is there to tell you what kind of soup it is.

Jack Kirby’s comics are not merely functional; they have a point of view.  The grand theme of the Marvel comics, which may have been more Lee’s agenda than Kirby’s, is that when terrible things happen to people some retain their goodness and others become all the more wicked.  (The hero’s powers in Marvel comics are almost always treated either as an affliction or the result of an affliction.)  The theme of the later comics, which is surely Kirby’s, is that it is we moderns who were mistaken and the ancients who were correct, that the ordinary life we live is merely veil over a struggle between spectacular beings over our fate.  Comic book notwithstanding, this theme reads on one of the central concerns of 20th Century avant garde literature, the lament that we no longer live in a heroic age about which truly great art can be made.  James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot composed mock epics intended to expose the degraded state of the modern world.  Kirby on the other hand is in a business whose stock in trade is wish fulfillment.

Grand as these themes are they do have a significant dimension that is primarily functional, and that is to provide the adventure characters with another adventure every month so that the cartoonist can make a living creating comics.  That is why they continue long after any point they might have has been made without ever being completed, which would defeat their purpose.  This is the flaw with what is justifiably called the new Golden Age of Television.  From The Sopranos to Mad Men, and going back to Twin Peaks for that matter, what the most highly lauded and laudable modern television series will do is load most of their vital narrative material into their first season in order to ensure that there will be a second, and then when their survival is assured spin things out endlessly without resolving themselves.  While this phenomenon tends to limit the scope of Kirby’s artistic achievement, it also provides you with a lot of comics to read, if you want to read a lot of comics.

For the third installment of this roundtable, go here.

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44 Responses to Jack Kirby: Hand of Fire Roundtable (Part 2)

  1. patrick ford says:

    Dan, makes a good point when he talks about fitting Kirby to genre. The genre is simply not relevant to my appreciation of Kirby. Just as a Samurai film could be reimagined as a Western or Science Fiction, what is most interesting about Kirby’s work, works just as well in a War comic book or a Romance comic.
    That said Kirby’s best known ’60s and later work is far better defined as science fiction than super heroics. If some producer had the idea of basing a film on Silver Star the thing to do would be to dispense with the super suits all together. There is no reason Mister Machine, Silver Star, or Orion has to be wearing what looks like a super suit aside from perceived market considerations.
    I’m not even sure Kirby had much of an influence on super hero comics. To the best of my knowledge his work is seen with undisguised contempt by a very high percentage of super hero fans. His artwork is often described as crude and primitive (in fact it is sophisticated and refined). IT seems to me what happened in the ’60s was yet another example of comic book publishers reaching out to a slightly older readership. This had happened once before after WWll where publishers noticed a good chunk of their readers had gotten older and were more prone to read Romance and Horror (Sex and Violence) than super hero comic books.
    As I see it Kirby had little to do with any broadening of scope in super hero comics it was more a function of the times. Other media were following the same trends, comics, if anything, were lagging behind restrained by the comics code. By the ’70s Kirby was out of fashion among mainstream super hero fans and that attitude became increasingly common until the end of Kirby’s career. Silver Star, Captain Victory, Even Gods Must Die, and The Hunger Dogs are widely dismissed as “sad” or viewed with contemptuous hilarity by people who were wrapped up in ’80s Batman and X-Men comic books.
    Not having followed super hero comic books since a brief period in the early ’70s I can’t say for certain but my vague impression is Kirby is not a big influence on today’s super hero comic books.

  2. patrick ford says:

    BTW as Dan says I not only found it strange the book does not cover Captain Victory and Silver Star, but Charles seems to want and distance himself from them, and goes so far as to say they have their charms but can only be appreciated by a “loyalist.” And a person who does like them lacks the objectivity Charles has. These comments are right up front in the book. It’s one thing for an author to dislike something. People not liking, or actively hating Kirby’s work is something I see all the time, but when someone gets a bit condescending and tells me that something I like isn’t very good, and only a loyalist would claim otherwise. Charles expanded on this up in his interview with Tom Spurgeon:

    “Of course a lot of Kirby fans don’t think so, and so maybe they’ll howl at those parts of the book where I dismiss that period. Sure, I get a kick out of those comics — I lost anything like objectivity a long time ago — but it does seem clear to me that Kirby’s powers were failing then, and that he wasn’t well served editorially by the environment he was in, though surely he felt much freer. I think the years over the drawing board wrung a lot out of Kirby: when his work started to fall off, he fell hard, and the results could be pretty distressing.”

    Well that stuff is some of my favorite Kirby material, but to defend it paints me as a Kirby Kultist?
    See, objectively, if you aren’t seeing the material as a loyalist, well it’s factually distressing.

    • Michael Hill says:

      Charles uses the word “decline.” If you see Kirby as the storyteller/cartoonist, even if the case can be made that his art was in decline (it was in a different phase of its evolution based on his growing physical limitations), how can it be said that his *writing* had declined? My other issue with the way the book ended was all space dedicated to the perpetrators of the letter column attack, without actually drawing conclusions or assigning responsibility.

      • patrick ford says:

        I have no problem with Charles seeing a decline, if he sees one he should report that observation. It’s an insight into his attitudes towards art which helps explain where his aesthetics are.
        Saying the work is obviously inferior and that any objective person would see that is not a comment which encourages fair handed debate. I see this type off thing all the time recently and it might be an indication of the pernicious influence of the FOX NEWS slogan “fair and balanced.” It very difficult to discuss something with a person whose opening statement declares they are free from bias, and anyone who challengers their purely objective observations is a loyalist, a person whose opinions are shaped by bias.
        I saw this just recently when Dan gave a very positive review to the Jaime Hernandez story THE LOVE BUNGLERS. People who didn’t agree with Dan said he was reading the book through a haze of nostalgia, he was a loyalist. He was so close to the material he couldn’t see it objectively, he couldn’t see it’s evident flaws, he was reading things into it which weren’t there.
        Of course I’d say the same thing about anyone who thinks Silver Age super hero comic books are great comic books (any of them). They aren’t, are they? They are all the same aren’t they. Are Peter Parker’s problems with class mates and girls really any different from the late ’50s Superboy? Clark Kent was the nerd wearing glasses who had a curious girl friend, or was that Parker? Dan Clowes and Drew Friedman like the Weisinger Superman family of titles because they are almost neurotic. Are Clowes and Friedman out of touch because they don’t see the amazing list of things Stan Lee did at Marvel which had never been done before? Like a group with a loud mouth, a tough guy, and an intellectual, who bicker among themselves all the time. The FF right? Or…say isn’t that the ’40s Newsboy Legion?

      • Michael Hill says:

        Let me know if you get any takers to re-read the Marvel comics of their childhood. *That* will be newsworthy.

      • patrick ford says:

        Dez Skinn (“The Stan Lee of Britain”) tried that recently. He said he hadn’t read one in ages, and thought it might be fun to dip into an old Marvel and the bathtub at the same time. After reading his FB comment was “Oh my. We used to like these things?”
        People say “But they were popular.” What that means I don’t know, but even on that point Spider-Man never outsold Lois Lane until after Lee had quit writing the book.
        One thing everyone agrees on his Kirby’s work was very different from everything else in the field at the time. Fan reaction would have been the same if Spain Rodriguez had taken over the Black Panther in 1975 rather than Kirby. The art and dialogue would have been seen as weird.

      • R. Fiore says:

        There’s no accounting for my taste, but my impressions were based on re-reading the work. I find that I’m more impressed with Kirby’s work today than I was when I was in my teens and 20s.

      • Jeet Heer says:

        Lee’s writing talent requires a separate post in and of itself. But, briefly, I only read a handful of Lee-scripted comics when I was a kid (some Fantastic Four and Dr. Strange reprints). I’ve only read 1960s Marvel in depth in the last few years. Stan’s writing during the 1960s varied wildly in quality — partially because — like Kirby — he was very prolific. Sometimes Lee’s dialogues and captions were wretched — Avengers #1, for example, is a profoundly dumb comic, almost pathological in its stupidity. On other occasions Lee hit the low to mediocre level of DC writers like Gardner Fox or John Broome (I’m not sure if that’s the proper spelling). But there are a few occasions — largely I think when he was particularly inspired by the art & storylines Ditko and Kirby handed in — when Lee achieved something more and produced comics that are actually fun to read (and not just to look at the art). I’m thinking here of the middle-and-late Spider-man stories with Ditko and the first Galactus story.
        One thing Lee did try to do is give each character a different speech pattern. Alas, his ear for slang and hip-talk was no better than Milton Caniff’s. But in the better Lee written comics, the characters do sound distinct and he does manage to convey something of their personality through dialogue.

      • Glen David Gold says:

        I have been waiting in vain my entire life for anyone to ever say to me something as horripilatingly cool as “Face it, Tiger…You just hit the jackpot!”

      • patrick ford says:

        I prefer:

        ” Are we made for war Izaya? You know—I’ve never heard you sing. Sing, Izaya. Let me hear your voice when it’s not a battle cry.”

      • patrick ford says:

        Lee’s characters do have separate personalities. There’s Archie, Jughead, Moose, Betty, Veronica, and Mr. Dithers.

    • Allen Smith says:

      I don’t think one has to be any kind of cultist to like a comic like Silver Star. In some ways, it’s a hard book to descibe as it’s a bit like the X-Men only stripped of the typical soap opera elements and other elements that Stan Lee provided in his writing. SS is all violence and wild apolocalypic imagery, and makes me wonder what was going through Kirby’s head as he was writing and drawing it. It’s all matter of fact violence, the only redemption comes because the hero wins.

  3. R. Maheras says:

    R. Fiore wrote: “People of Gary’s and my vintage are willing to openly discuss our enthusiasm among those we know will share it but less so among the general population.”

    I shed that aversion about 25 years ago and have never looked back.

    Regarding Kirby’s work, if you distill it down to its essence, Kirby=Power.

    If you are the type of person who recoils when friends, associates, family members, public officials, military officials, or anyone else exudes too much power, you may inherently be unable to mentally embrace Kirby’s work. Instead, you may prefer the more sublime.

    Just thinking out loud…

  4. Danny Ceballos says:

    So far, this whole round table conversation has been worth it, if only to get to that golden phrase “like a butterfly dragging a lead sinker”

  5. patrick ford says:

    The funny thing is a good sized slice of the general population (although mysteriously no one I know) is going to super hero movies, which on their face look to be repulsive in every way. I hear people say some of these things are “good” and I can’t even imagine it. Thankfully I’ve gotten a pass on seeing any of them. My kids like comics, but are not interested in super heroes so they don’t ask me to take them to those kinds of movies.
    To my eye live action super heroes are about 10X more cringe inducing than an old copy of Superman, so I can’t see where there would be any embarassment associated with super heroes when people are going to super hero movies in large numbers.

    • Allen Smith says:

      For some reason I’ve yet to analyze, superhero movies by and large are a bit clunky when on the big screen. It’s the whole setup of the obligatory origin sequence, the secret identity, and the costume. For some reason those things don’t seem quite so odd in the context of comics, on the big screen, where human being have to act out those things and wear the costumes, it seems more ridiculous. Not in every single superhero movie, mind you, but most of them. For the animated cartoons, it’s just different, I’ve enjoyed them all my life and accept them on the small and big screen more than superheroes, which I accept on the comics page.

  6. George Bush (not that one) says:

    I find it a bit weird that so many Kirby fans think so much of his work is crap. I see a lot of excuses( “well of course this is crap ,but look at this!”) in most of the writing about Kirby. And personally I have come to love the later day Kirby.

    • James says:

      Well, George, the answer to that is that those folks are not actually Kirby fans.

      • Dan Nadel says:

        I’m actually a bit the opposite. It’s good and healthy to be skeptical of the subjects you study or obsess over. Kirby wasn’t flawless and Charles does a great job of grappling with that. Kirby is also an immense subject — impossible to address it all with the level of analysis and research Charles brought to the project. So I think it’s to his credit that he is forthright about what he is and isn’t interested in. That kind of honesty, which I think is rather brave, runs through his entire book.

      • patrick ford says:

        Kirby produced a lot of rushed, and or dispirited work. Almost everything at Marvel 1958-1964 is rushed and recycled. The work 1969-1970 is dispirited. Kirby is invigorated at DC during the Fourth World run, but contrast that to Kirby again dispirited on the later issues of Mister Miracle. Kirby’s return to Marvel shows him once more fully engaged with work like THE MAD BOMB story in Captain America, The Eternals, 2001, but again Kirby’s work tapers off as he is subjected to editorial tampering. Beyond that his monthly work load of around 50 to 60 pages a month all through the ’60s ’70s meant there were lots of times when he was on autopilot. Still you never knew when something would bubble up even during the valleys.
        To me though the early ’80s stuff is basically the top of the mountain.

      • James says:

        I agree that Charles has made a serious effort, whether or not I agree with everything he wrote. But I also agree with Mr. Bush that there is a tendency to dismiss his later work and a lot of times this is done by people who have haven’t actually read it. What many respond to is the mitigated Kirby, the overwritten-by-others Kirby, but I vastly prefer Jack’s own voice, even with the flaws seen in his solo efforts.

  7. George Bush (not that one) says:

    Is Image still going to put out Captain Victory this year???

  8. Paul Slade says:

    On Mr Fiore’s point about Barks v Kirby in the general public’s mind, I guess many adults find talking ducks more respectable than superheroes because the ducks have fond associations with the genteel children’s books of their youth, while the superheroes are associated only with cheap, vulgar, trashy pamphlets.

    For them, funny animals signify innocence and charm, but superheroes suggest only crude exploitation, violence and sub-literacy. I suspect that would apply no matter how good or bad each particular book’s creators might be.

  9. patrick ford says:

    This comment by Glen David Gold left me with a couple comments:

    “neither Stan nor Jack was very good at continuity. Hatfield mentions Kirby’s aversion to continuity upon his return in the 1970s, but the fact is, even from the beginning, neither Stan nor Jack could remember anything. The Hulk might appear in six different storylines, and Bruce Banner’s name might be Bob in one of them and David in another. (My current favorite continuity problem is that in Thor #160, Jack has Galactus attacking Ego the living planet. Which is a relief, as Jack had started that attack in issue #134, two years beforehand. Not only had he forgotten about that, when he had Galactus appear in the FF in the intervening months, there was no reference to the suspended Ego battle, and when he got back to Thor the next year, there was no mention of the FF adventures, either. It’s especially funny that Stan forgot, too.) That these two guys with terrible memories created the tapestry they did is inadvertently hilarious.”

    The problem with the disjointed narratives in the Marvel books is a result of the working method. Kirby could not reasonably be said to have collaborated with Lee. Both Kirby and Lee say they did not collaborate in plotting the stories. Kirby said (Mark Herbert interview) as early as 1969 he was creating all the characters and the plots. Kirby has said he did not care to speak to Lee and was in and out of the office as quickly as possible. Marie Severin commented “Jack was not one to hang around the office.” The reason the Marvel era plots are such a mess is not because Kirby lost track of what the story he was telling, it was because of the tremendous amount of rewriting Lee did over-top of Kirby’s already complete story. The two men did not bounce ideas back and forth and settle on one story. Instead Kirby gave Lee a story, and then Lee wrote a different story based on the story Kirby gave him. Martin Goodman was rarely quoted but turned up in a 1970 NYT story quoted as saying, “I’ve tried reading some of our stories. I can’t understand them.” One thing Lee did invent was the “no-rize” a way he developed of llaughing off the many gaping plot holes and continuity errors resulting from Lee’s “method.” My own view is Lee ‘collaborated with Lee in the same way Britsh Petroleum collaborated with the Gulf of Mexico. Oil and water don’t mix.
    Mike Gartland, Mark Evanier, and Kirby himself have all documented what went on. It isn’t that Lee would tweak the stories he would turn them upside down. The relationship between The Watcher, Galactus, and the Silver Surfer is one of the best and most complex examples of how Kirby’s intent was completely destroyed. There are several issues of the FF and Thor involving those charters which were so heavily rewritten by Lee that Kirby had to redraw or rework whole issues of both those titles.
    Kirby’s narrative structure on The Fourth World pretty seamless as far as I’m aware. If there are any lapses I’ve missed them in my readings. One example is in Mister Miracle #1 Thadeus Brown mentions his son was killed in Vietnam. Much later the son shows up and becomes a regular character, but by those issues of Mister Miracle it may as well have been a different comic book, the connection to the Fourth World was dampened by editorial edict from NY. I do think it’s necessary to read the Fourth World books in original publication order to get a full grip on the interwoven narrative structure. Even there editorial pressures sometimes affected the published comic books. The very first comic book story Kirby produced for DC was Forever People #1. The reason Frank Giacoia inked the cover is because he was going to be the regular inker. In the first story Jimmy Olsen appears in his “cub-reporter” bow-tie and sweater vest, something we never see again. There is no mention of Morgan Edge, and Olsen and Kent are working at the Daily Planet rather that as television reporters working for Edge. What happened is DC decided they liked what Kirby had done with the Superman character based on the first issue of Forever People. Forever People #1 was put on the shelf until and didn’t show up until after Kirby was assigned to Jimmy Olsen and produced the first three issues of that title. So right there is an awkward fit not because Kirby forgot what he’d done in Jimmy Olsen 133-135, but because Forever People #1 was printed out of sequence, and there was really no way to make it fit the continuity without tearing it up. And of course while Forever People #1 was waiting it’s turn Vince Colletta offered DC a package price they couldn’t refuse, and Giacoia never got to ink Forever People #1.
    There are some narrative issues with EVEN GODS MUST DIE and THE HUNGER DOGS, but once again that is mainly because Kirby produced as masterful 22 page story called THE ROAD TO ARMAGETTO where in characters DC wanted to market ended up dead.
    DC had Kirby rework the pages into a graphic novel and then decided they wanted Kirby to create a prequel to THE HUNGER DOGS which is how EVEN DOGS MUST DIE came about. Although the whole is not seamless it’s actually a masterful example of how Kirby was able to make something largely cohesive (and there are no major snafus I know of) while having to do a major rewrite on what was also a tight deadline. If people will recall the News Gods was being reprinted in a Baxter format. Two issue of the original comic book were collected in each issue of the Baxter edition. Since there were nine issues of the original comic book DC needed extra material to fill issue #5 of the Baxter edition, and Kirby created THE ROAD TO ARMAGETTO to fill out issue #5. When it was rejected Kirby transformed it into the HUNGER DOGS graphic novel and created EVEN GODS MUST DIE to fill out issue #5. And unless I’m mistaken Kirby was able to do all that with issue #5 shipping on time.
    One last thing on this. The reason Captain Victory was going along nicely with tightly plotted stories and then ended up with the very compressed final issue is Kirby got the offer from DC and dropped Captain Victory, but wanted to finish the origin of Captain Victory (He’s clearly Orion’s son) story he’d been telling over the past couple of issues of that title. Since he wanted to complete the story Kirby compressed two or three issues worth of plot into the final issue, and it would probably be incomprehensible to most people if they hadn’t been following along.

    • Michael Hill says:

      This is where I’d take issue with Jeet’s division of solo work/collaborative work. Jack did a lot of solo work *before* Stan, even under the S&K byline; he also did a lot of solo work *with* Stan, we just never got to see it as Kirby intended.

    • Michael Grabowski says:

      So what’s up with What If? vol. 1 #11 where Jack writes & draws Stan, himself, Sol Brodsky, & Flo Steinberg as the Fantastic Four? It presents a rather different picture of office life at the bullpen, one somewhat in keeping with Stan’s mythology of the place, and in the tradition of the self-referential strips and Stan-Jack & Stan-Steve cameos in the 60′s comics. It’s hard to imagine that 1977 comic coming from the heart, mind, and hand of the late-period disgruntled Kirby, yet there it is, and edited by Houseroy. Is this comic addressed at all in Hatfield’s book?

      • patrick ford says:

        Roy Thomas conceived the idea and wanted to write the story himself . He approached Kirby with the idea and Kirby said he’d only be involved if he was allowed to write it.
        BTW in the Chapter Charles wrote on Kirby’s work at Marvel in the ’70s he says Kirby’s work from the period is now an object of “nostalgic veneration.” That is flat out wrong. Kirby’s work from the period is an object of undisguised loathing and contempt with no parallel in mainstream comics. There are people who like it but their number is small and to describe their appreciation of the work as “nostalgic veneration” is as questionable, as describing the reviews Frank, Jeet, Tom Spurgeon, and Dan wrote for THE LOVE BUNGLERS as “nostalgic veneration.”
        http://hoodedutilitarian.com/2012/03/when-you-and-i-were-young-maggie/
        There is an elephant in the room example of comics connected to Kirby which are the object of “nostalgic veneration.” Those would be the Marvel comics of the ’60s. Not the ones Kirby created and then handed over to Stan Lee, but the published comic books where Stan Lee Presents his mutilation.

      • Allen Smith says:

        Also, “nostalgic veneration” covers the attitude of Stan Lee’s fans toward his entire career. Given that as editor he wrote all the credits, it might be correct indeed that fans are engaging in “nostalgic veneration” re: Jack Kirby when they wax nostalgic about sixties Marvel.

      • BTW in the Chapter Charles wrote on Kirby’s work at Marvel in the ’70s he says Kirby’s work from the period is now an object of “nostalgic veneration.” That is flat out wrong.

        Patrick, first off, no pejorative is intended by the phrase “nostalgic veneration.” That line was not intended as a jab at Kirby fans, or at anyone. It’s not a dismissive remark. You seem to be reading the line as a dismissal, but it wasn’t meant to be. The context in which that line appears is not critical of Kirby’s fans and not critical of the work either. Nor is any contrast to the 1960s work implied by that line. I did not intend that passage to be critical, but reflective of changing tastes.

        Secondly, Kirby’s work at Marvel in the ’70s has been rather lavishly reprinted by Marvel, which suggests that someone is buying it. Outsized omnibus editions of works that were once deemed silly or irrelevant show that, yes, there is keen interest in those works. The revival of concepts that Kirby introduced in those comics suggests as much. The fact that many fans respond warmly to the invocation of Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur is a case in point: that series was once generally derided as childish and crude. Today the work holds an undeniable fascination for many fans–not all fans, of course, but a significant number, who have been courted by Marvel with its high-priced editions. My observation was meant simply to register that fact.

        The loathing and contempt you refer to is certainly addressed in the context of mid-70s Marvel fandom; in fact that context is addressed at length in the book’s last chapter. But contexts change. My larger point is that what was once derided has now been revived, colonized, claimed by Marvel (and DC), and has proven, guess what? Incredibly vital and generative in the long run. So my comments are meant to contest the way those comics were initially criticized in the 70s. No dismissal of “nostalgia” is implied.

      • patrick ford says:

        Charles thanks for the clarification. In my case I came to Kirby as a 12-13 year old in 1970. By 1975 I was leaving for college, and didn’t begin looking at comics again until the early ’80s when I began buying old clipped strips and placing a monthly order with Last Gasp. It was seeing Captain Victory #1 in a used book store with a small new comics section which caused me to look into all those late ’70s Marvel comics which I’d missed the first time around.
        From my point of view the tone of Kirby’s work has more in common with WHITEMAN MEETS BIGFOOT than it does any mainstream super hero comic book I’ve ever seen. Many of the typical ways Kirby’s work is described are ambiguous. It’s very common to see his stories described as “weird” or “crazy” and terms like that serve ought to be put aside because of their ambiguity.
        In the first place we are talking about comic books here. If you place his work in the context of mainstream super hero comic books the first question which occurs to me is: “Are there super hero comic books which aren’t weird or crazy?” There is also the matter of intent. Descriptions like “bizzarely inflected” “thumping earnestness” imply that Kirby’s intent was something other than what it is. It’s like looking at Joan Miro and saying the artwork isn’t very realistic, or pointing out that PETE THE PLUMBER would never have fit down a sewage line and it absurd Crumb shows a whole group of feces covered “shitheads” living in a depository built into the sewage system.
        Like Sendak, or Seuss, or Barks, or Crumb Kirby deals with human behavior, but he deals with it in a square fingered world.
        A very wide swath of cartooning is three fingered or square fingered. Cartoons are often at their best when they take advantage of exaggeration.

      • Michael Grabowski says:

        Thanks, Patrick, for the info on What If? #11′s background. I haven’t read the comic in decades, but my recollection/nostalgic veneration is that it seemed to be done with a sense of affection for the work environment. On the other hand, I recall it had the familiar Thing-Reed and Thing-Torch friction that was always present in the FF comic. Which makes me wonder if much of that original friction was Kirby expressing aggression towards Lee & Brodsky through his comics.

      • patrick ford says:

        Michael, Thomas mentions the story in an interview published in TJKC #18.
        In looking for that bit I ran across something interesting.
        Is asked about Lee’s Origins of Marvel Comics books. At the time (1974) Kirby was so annoyed by Lee’s commentary in the book he took his copy and cut out large portions of the text which he felt were not accurate.
        When Jim Amash mentions to Thomas many people felt the book downplayed Kirby’s role. Thomas answers.

        “The problem there may have been the legalities. Back in the ’60s both Joe Simon and Carl Burgos initiated lawsuits…It lead to Bill Everett being given a loan by Martin Goodman that wasn’t going to have to be paid back, so he (Everett) wouldn’t sue…”

        I’d completely forgotten this story of Everett getting what sounds like a non-legal settlement from Goodman in the form of a loan. Goodman had made a similar sounding “loan” to Kirby around the same time. In Kirby’s case Goodman called in the loan in 1972.

        As Joe Simon pointed out in TCJ.

        “This is a very complicated story…And it turns out some dirty little angles that Marvel pulled…On Kirby, not on me. They got him on their side… You know how to copyright works if there are two authors? One author renews, the other author is entitled to complete 50 percent of all negotiations, profits, sales, that type of thing… I told them the truth. I told them what they did to Kirby on that Captain America thing. It was disgusting. Disgusting.”

        As pointed out by Joe Simon Kirby was entitled to the the same settlement received by Simon.
        Mark Evanier has said there was another reason Kirby signed the document. Because Evanier is a witness in the Kirby vs Disney suit he is no longer commenting on any issues surrounding the case.

        EVANIER: Basically, Jack signed it under duress and you’ll have to wait for my full-scale biography to understand what that duress amounted to. It’s a very complicated story…

        Simon filed to reclaim the Captain America copyright shortly after Martin Goodman had sold Marvel to Perfect Film and Chemical Corporation.
        Kirby had been trying without success to work out a freelance contract with Martin Goodman (still the publisher; no longer the owner) since early 1968.
        Frustrated in his attempts to negotiate with Goodman Kirby had his attorney contact Perfect Film executives, and traveled to New York from California in an attempt to reach agreement.

        MARK EVANIER: Jack went to New York in December of 1969 to try and work out a deal with Marvel. He didn’t succeed at that but while there, he agreed to write and draw two issues of a proposed INHUMANS comic and draw the first issue of a planned KA-ZAR comic. He went home and did them. In late January, he was asked to revise them into ten-pagers and he did whatever was necessary to make that happen. He did SILVER SURFER #18 around the middle of February. In between these, of course, he did issues of THOR and FANTASTIC FOUR. The last three stories Jack did for Marvel were — in this order — the “Janus” story that ran later in F.F., then THOR #179 and then, in early March, F.F. #102. After he mailed in F.F. #102, he phoned Stan and told him it would be his last.

        Based on this we can see that Kirby made a concerted effort to work things out by going to New York in Dec. 1969, but was repaid only a couple of weeks later in Jan. 1970 by Perfect Film insisting that if he wished to remain at Marvel it would be only on their terms. According to Evanier even after receiving an “onerous contract” proposal in early January Kirby continued working through March, and had his attorney contact Perfect Film in one last attempt to work out a contract.

        EVANIER: Jack absolutely attempted to negotiate after being offered the contract he didn’t like. He sent his lawyer to do that and Marvel refused to talk to his lawyer. Instead, they told Jack the offer was “take it or leave it.”

        It was in June 1970 over three months after Kirby had left Marvel when he signed “under duress” the agreement with Marvel which offered him the same settlement given to Joe Simon.
        As reported in TJKC #24.

        Kirby was unaware Marvel had arranged to pay most of Simon’s settlement to his attorney. The sum was then passed on to Simon confidentially. In this way Marvel was obligated to pay Kirby only a fraction of Simon’s settlement, the portion which had been paid directly to him rather than the larger amount laundered through his attorney. Two years later in 1972 Simon and Kirby met, and Kirby told Simon Marvel had still not paid him.
        A bit later Perfect Film decided to make Marvel a separate corporation.
        Clearly concerned about Kirby’s role in the creation of the companies characters, and the fact Kirby had worked from late 1958 through the early 60′s without a contract of any kind, Perfect Film wanted Kirby to waive his rights to reclaim copyright on any characters he created while at Marvel.
        Perfect Film claimed Kirby was paid for signing the waiver. Kirby said he was paid only the money owed him since 1970 for the Captain America settlement (an amount far less than what Simon was paid through his lawyer).
        If Perfect Film was confident Kirby had waived his copyright on the characters in 1972, a person might wonder why in Aug. 1984 they sent Kirby a four page contract full of legal clauses aimed at any claim Kirby
        might make on copyright. The contract concerned the return of 88 pages of Kirby’s Silver Age original art, and was unlike the contract sent to every other artist. The contract was so restrictive that while waiving all rights to copyright, Kirby according to the terms of the contract was placed in the position of storing the art for Marvel until such time as they chose to reclaim it.

        It’s my opinion that Perfect Film had become concerned about Kirby from the moment they became aware of his role at Marvel.
        Martin Goodman had sold Marvel to Perfect Film with the understanding that Stan Lee (a salaried employee; clearly work for hire) was the sole creator of the characters. Once Perfect Film became aware of Kirby’s role, and found he had worked without even the simplest kind of freelance contract they saw Kirby as a threat. As seen with the recent purchase of Marvel by Disney companies tend to value the creations of creators far more than they do the creators.
        Martin Goodman had shown this trait as early as 1941 when he valued Captain America far more than he did the services of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Having started out in the Pulp Magazine industry Goodman knew owning the Shadow was a bonanza for Street and Smith, while All-Story got nothing from having serialized Tarzan because Edgar Rice Burroughs had sold only first publication rights. Goodman failed to pay S&K the percentage of sales he had agreed to, and S&K went to work at DC.

  10. Eddie campbell says:

    Fiore’s account of the lee-Kirby relationship is the most acceptable I have read (and there is a mountain of baloney on the subject)

    “This doesn’t render Lee’s contribution insignificant. The bane of the comic book had always been lousy writing, against which not even an Alex Toth could prevail. As editor Lee broke this age-old curse by writing all the captions and dialog himself, or nearly so. Having Kirby and Ditko to cook up the stories allowed him to do more captions and dialog in the same way that having someone else do the inking allowed Kirby and Ditko to draw more pages. Lee could keep things light while laying it on thick, and if he spent much of his time telling you how much fun you were having, he never forgot that fun is what it was supposed to be. If you watch recordings of Johnny Carson on the old Tonight Show you see that the key to his success was his knack for communicating enthusiasm, of signaling by his reactions that the spectacle before you was the wildest thing you’d seen in your life. Stan Lee brought a similar quality to comic book writing, and I don’t know if anyone else in the business had the brass to pull it off in the same way. More to the point, he was better at it than Kirby, whose captions and dialog, while serviceable, were flat and clumsy by comparison.”

  11. patrick ford says:

    I’d agree with most of that except the idea Lee’s dialogue is anything but among the absolute worst junk to ever see print. When ever I see anything good said about his drivel I have to assume the people saying it haven’t read one of the comics in decades. It’s William Shatner singing is what it is.
    I also think Kirby’s text, his word choices and style, are exceptional, particularly in a comic book context. It’s true most people hate it, and I’m not interested in trying to convince. The idea Lee could write at all, even a little bit is flat out laughable. Go read one and report back.

    • Eddie campbell says:

      “I’d agree with most of that ”

      then you disagreed with all of it.

      • patrick ford says:

        Here’s what I agree with:

        “…This doesn’t render Lee’s contribution insignificant. The bane of the comic book had always been lousy writing, against which not even an Alex Toth could prevail….Lee could keep things light while laying it on thick, and if he spent much of his time telling you how much fun you were having, he never forgot that fun is what it was supposed to be. If you watch recordings of Johnny Carson on the old Tonight Show you see that the key to his success was his knack for communicating enthusiasm, of signaling by his reactions that the spectacle before you was the wildest thing you’d seen in your life. Stan Lee brought a similar quality to comic book writing, and I don’t know if anyone else in the business had the brass to pull it off in the same way.”

        I do think Lee was a lot closer to Pat Robertson than Johnny Carson. I never understood what people see in his writing. The jokes were stale back in the “40s, his humor is mean spirited and incredibly sexist. Out of curiosity I’ve made an effort to go back and read some of his material from the ’40s and ’50s , and the ’60s is just his old dumb blond jokes and teen humor stuff grafted onto super heroes. I don’t know, maybe you had to be there at the time to enjoy it? Maybe being part of the whole experience, part of the club, was the biggest part of it? I read Lee’s material in the ’70s, and at the time it was mildly entertaining, but it’s the writing parallel to orange marshmallow circus peanuts. I used to kind of like those too when I was 12-14.
        I absolutely think Marvel and it’s popularity was 99% Lee. After all it was the Lee/Romita Spider-Man which was Marvel’s best selling book by far, and it’s said the Lee/Romita issues of the FF sold better than the previous Lee/Kirby issues. To me Lee is just a very below average to average comic book writer along with all those other guys who are being mentioned as “The bane of the comic book had always been lousy writing…”

    • Allen Smith says:

      The thing is, the Marvel method does make me wonder what Stan would have written absent the art to bounce off of. Had he just written a full script, dialogue and all, and then just given it to the artists, would it have had that same energy, or “invigorizating” quality that someone earlier credited Stan with giviing it?
      So, even that aspect of the appeal of Lee’s writing is suspect. Not in questioning the idea that he wrote what was in the dialogue balloons, but in questioning whether seeing the images first with the story laid out already made him write better than he really could if left to his own devices.

  12. patrick ford says:

    I do like the Golf idea but in my version Lee isn’t Kirby’s caddy. Lee had the final say, he controlled the outcome, the published comic books. We never got to read Kirby’s story. So in my golf game Kirby and Lee are playing a par three course. Hole after hole Kirby drives the ball to within fifteen feet of the hole, often times much closer. Then a blind man with palsy, putting with a cane comes out to putt.

  13. George Bush (not that one) says:

    OK THAT deserves a LOL.

  14. R. Fiore:

    The reason why Warhol’s Campbell soup repros are art works is not because the original soup cans are works of art. The real reason is the change of context. I. e.: real life vs. art gallery or museum. Wharol’s art must be seen as a continuation of Marcel Duchamp’s creation of the ready-made. While soup cans are part of life, Wharol’s repros and repetitions are a philosophical reflection on massification. (It’s the difference between living and thinking.) I will go even further back in art history to compare Warhol’s soup cans with William Turner’s _Rain, Steam and Speed_. While the French Naturalists painted bucolic landscapes, Turner painted a landscape changed by the Industrial Revolution.

    Glen David Gold:

    Kirby’s art owes a lot to Fascist aesthetics. The whole concept of the Technological Sublime is a Futuristic aesthetic idea. Art Spiegelman was absolutely right re. Kirby’s art.

    • R. Fiore says:

      That’s as may be, and it certainly seems to be a broadly held interpretation, though it makes it seem more like an editorial cartoon than a work of art. I would not even call myself so much as an informed observer of gallery art, and God knows I haven’t a clue what was going on under that wig. I have to wonder, though, if people aren’t reading their own ideology into this. I’ve always thought Warhol had a large element of Chauncey Gardiner in him, assuming he wasn’t actually a model for the character. My working hypothesis is that what he wrote and said was not some cagey mask over all manner of deep thinking but an accurate reflection of what was going on inside.

      In any case, my coining is made for my purposes, and is based on my perceptions of the art.

      My favorite Warhol looks like a small color field painting of three horizontal stripes, blue, black and blue again. As you get closer to it you see it’s the side of a box of matches.

  15. patrick ford says:

    A collection of Kirby quotes, with a bit of context.

    Dr. Pretorious: “To a new world of gods and monsters!”

    New Gods #9:

    Eve: “Your friend is positively Earthly. And I was so intrigued by the incredible rumors. The bulletins are still flashing about last night. Stories of super-beings, and monsters.”

    Orion (turning to show his true face): “Oh yes Madame. There were monsters.”

    Later while Orion sleeps.

    Eve (gently touching Orion’s cheek): “There is something in that fierce and mangled face
    beyond anything I’ve ever written about. The sleeping monster. The raging heart. A vessel of fire—which consumes—even love.” (Eve starts as Orion’s eye opens, focused on her hand) OH!”

    Orion: “You’ve withdrawn your soothing touch madam. A pity—all that flowery crud ripped off—by untimely fright.

    Stan Lee: “He did his most important writing with his drawing.”

    Jack Kirby caustically summed up his own opinion of Stan Lee the wordsmith in TCJ:
    “I mean, he could barely spell.”

    Nat Freedland in New York magazine, 1966 described Kirby this way:

    “The King is a middle-aged man with baggy eyes and a baggy Robert Hall-ish suit. He is sucking a huge green cigar and if you stood next to him on the subway you would peg him for the assistant foreman in a girdle factory.”

    Jack Kirby:

    “I think that is part of life. It’s instinctive in the cop, as well as the crook. In time we become our own monster. There will be things you will be ashamed of, and yet you’ve done it. And it’s on you like a scab.
    You suffer a little, you get humiliated a little, you see people die, and I’ve seen plenty of people die. In seeing them die, you see yourself die. It’s a strange experience, seeing it, and participating in it is very strange.
    There were times when I felt just great. It was almost like having sex. You feel about ten feet tall, if you can live through it.”

    Examine the work of an artist and you will see the ideas which are foremost in their thoughts. Jack Kirby was interested in the suits of skin we all wear, and what is under that surface layer. .
    Kirby explored the Janus-like duality of psychological and physiological identity. The skin of a monster, which might hide a gentle heart. And the potential or realized monster, which lurks under the handsome human skin.

    Kirby’s was born, and grew up in a ghetto on New York’s lower East side. Kirby was a short man, didn’t have a formal education (he never graduated from high school), spoke with a street accent, was Jewish, and as a comic book creator wasn’t respected by publishers or the public. In short Kirby was in position to see he was often judged, not based on the man he was, but because of his “Robert Hall birthday suit.”
    In an interview with Will Eisner Kirby recalled a shift in his work, which began to slowly emerge while he was still living in a lower East side tenement building on Suffolk Street:

    “I found myself intellectualizing. I was trying to get at the guy, who was trying to get at me.
    I began to remember people from my own background, and I began to subtly realize they were important, and that I wasn’t ashamed of them. I was no longer afraid of myself, and I began to see them as I should have seen them from the beginning
    This was a long way from Long Island. I was still trying to get to Brooklyn. I heard they had a tree there, and the tree was different.”

    In Kirby’s eyes the “soul” of man is that a man can be reflective, and self-aware. He should be able to recognize the instinctive urges that can overwhelm his rational judgment.
    Kirby described his own inner battle in “Street Code.” In the story the neighborhood boys engage in a primitive ritual (rubbing the hump of a Hunchback) to bring good luck in a street fight, it’s only part of a larger street code which the young Kirby is disgusted by, and wants badly to leave behind.

    “It was my turn. I stared at the terrible thing nature had done to Georgie’s back.
    Something inside me was spilling…Something the Street Code couldn’t touch…Something only god and my parents knew about.
    I bobbed and weaved among the backyard gravestones…But I was hurting–Hurting for Georgie and me–And the lousy things we had to do for the Street Code.”

    Bob Dylan:
    “All except for Cain and Abel
    And the hunchback of Notre Dame”
    Jack KIrby:
    “Well, we’ve made quite a jump.
    From Madison Avenue to Desolation Row.”

    Kirby mentioned Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in several interviews. The Quasimodo theme (a misunderstood suit of skin) is found going back to even Kirby’s earliest work already populated by grotesque or impaired characters with exceptional intellect or other abilities.

    Kirby identified Frankenstein, a film about a misunderstood monster, as his favorite movie.
    Kirby: I created the Hulk, and saw him as a handsome Frankenstein.

    Mark Herbert: That’s the first impression I got, but most people saw him as a monster.

    Kirby: I never felt the Hulk was a monster. Because I felt the Hulk was me. Being a monster is just a surface thing.

    An article on Kirby’s unpublished novel THE HORDE was featured in The Jack Kirby Collector #50. A major player in the novel is a black man, Hardy Jackson. In Kirby’s synopsis Kirby describes Jackson as having such a degree of self-loathing that he describes his own skin as a “Gorilla suit.” Jackson’s expressed desire is for a suit of “shining golden armor,”

    A self-described “student of science fiction,” Kirby was also a student of human nature.
    There are any number of stories by Kirby where he explores the theme of A.I. a common theme in science fiction since Karl Capek’s R.U.R introduced the term Robot.
    Capek’s play explores what it is that makes a man. As the play develops Capek’s robots learn to become more human.

    Damon: To be like people, it is necessary to kill and to dominate. Read the history books. Read the books written by people. To be like people it is necessary to dominate and to murder.
    Alquist: Ah, Domin, there’s nothing less like mankind than his image.

    In Machine Man Kirby uses X-51 to again explore his fascination with the suit of skin we all wear which has such an influence on how we are perceived.
    At one point X-51 has a nervous breakdown when his artificial “human” face is taken from him.

    Kirby (Silver Star #5):

    “Two personalities in the same body. By creating the illusion of Drumm’s face on the crowd below I stopped the “Angel of Death” who carried the truth inside him.”

    STANLEY KUBRICK: “…the question must be considered whether Rousseau’s view of man as a fallen angel is not really the most pessimistic and hopeless of philosophies. It leaves man a monster who has gone steadily away from his nobility. It is, I am convinced, more optimistic to accept Ardrey’s view that ‘…we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels…”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watcher_(angel)#Slavonic_Enoch

    Jack Kirby (1969 interview with Mark Herbert):

    “I felt wouldn’t it be great if I could show a kind of Fallen Angel which the Silver Surfer is.”

    Kirby felt that violence was the foundation of a predatory architecture; to recognize and suppress that impulsive infrastructure required a conscious, contemplative effort.
    That instinctive nature is rooted in man being descended from as author Jared Diamond puts it, “The Third Chimpanzee,” or as Kirby put it “Killer Baboons. Film director Stanley Kubrick listed the five common explanations for man’s predisposition towards violence. Notice #5, which Kubrick identified as his prime suspect. Kubrick felt the computer HAL in 2001 had developed a protective/predatory nature by way of being programmed by humans.

    1. Original sin: the religious view.
    2. Unjust economic exploitation: the Marxist view.
    3. Emotional and psychological frustration: the psychological view.
    4. Genetic factors based on the ‘Y’ chromosome theory: the biological view.
    5. Man, the killer ape: the evolutionary view.

    Kirby observed it was in a predator’s instinctual programming to mark territory, protect it, and if possible to expand it’s domination. He wrote of the “road-map” to our galactic doorstep included on the Pioneer Plaque:

    “I would have included no information other than a rough image of the Earth and its Moon. I see no wisdom in the eagerness to be found and approached by any intelligence with the ability to accomplish it from any sector of space. In the meetings between “discoverers” and “discoverees” history has always given the advantage to the finders. In the case of the Jupiter plaque, I feel that a tremendous issue was thoughtlessly taken out of the world forum by a few individuals who have marked a clear path to our door. My point is: who will come knocking — the trader or the tiger?”

    Kirby also spoke of blood rituals on a grand scale.
    Kirby:

    “I quoted Hitler in the Forever People. Glorious Godfrey’s looking at a crowd and says,’ the entire crowd while I was talking to them had the same expression, it never wavered.
    If you watch baboons you’ll find the leader jumping up and down pounding on a rock shrieking, and the tribe gathers around him, they won’t move a muscle, like Hitler at the Nuremberg rallies, at his signal they will go out and kill.”

    It wasn’t only primitive human ritual where Kirby saw man’s instinct for violence, he saw violence as such an elemental component of man’s nature that it was equally present in places of supposed sophistication, like the world of business,
    TJKC #52:

    “I wouldn’t want to be in a position of leadership where I could hurt somebody, because I feel that I’m capable of it. A lot of people in my generation are capable of it. It’s done all the time in business… That’s what competition means: One man symbolically killing another.”

    In issue number three of The Forever People Kirby’s creation Darkseid says:

    “I am the revelation. The tiger-force at the core of all things.”

    KIRBY:

    “Orion is a hunter. A hunter, and a killer. He’s trapped in an environment he never made. Can you imagine a guy with that kind of frustration? A guy who’s his own monster. He can’t go against his environment, but inside him is something basic and primitive. Orion was so ashamed he used a mother box to build a good face.
    We always try to fix our faces. Don’t we look great today? Do we look like the people who built Dachau? No we look as if it never happened. Do we look like the people who committed atrocities in WWII and all the wars before that? No we don’t look like those kinds of people.
    I think we are living in medieval times. It’s only 40 years ago we cooked people in ovens. How sophisticated is that? We can pat ourselves on the back, and say we’re living in a high tech age, but I think we’re still medieval.”\

    KIRBY:

    Well, I don’t know. I’m usually in a room about this size, but I feel I see a lot because I analyze a lot. I see the same things you do but maybe I get more time to analyze it whereas you might not. So I sit and think and it’s as simple as that. If you can sit and think for 20 years, you can come up with quite a bit.

  16. Dave Hyde says:

    An enjoyable discussion, thank you. For Philip K. Dick fans please check out our upcoming full-color bibliography of USA and UK editions, 1955-2012. Coming in June! http://pkdickbooks.com/precious_artifacts.html

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