Jack Kirby: Hand of Fire Roundtable (Part 3)

For the first installment of this roundtable, go here, and for the second installment, go here.



OK, I'm going to just spew out a few things as they come to mind. First, here's my initial response to Jeet's first email probe, before I got Hatfield's book:

I consider Kirby a visual artist, and a modern artist, by the same token and on the same playing field as any visual artist or modern artist, from Picasso or Duchamp to Jessica Stockholder or Banksy. And I rank Kirby very highly. I don’t see any need to make apologies or rationalizations for narrative or commercial parameters – Shakespeare and Hiroshige were commercial artists. It’s important to avoid self-ghettoizing the comics medium. Do we need to strain out the narrative intent inherent to virtually any pictorial artwork in order to assess its visual impact? Would we propose that for Picasso’s Guernica or Duchamp’s Large Glass? Personally I consider even the most abstract and conceptual artworks to be engaging the viewer in a narrative of some kind – often a more convoluted, context-dependent and reference-heavy one than that dictated by more patently illustrational figure paintings. For me, Kirby’s work holds its own on the strength of its visual impact, which necessarily includes his mastery of pictographic symbolism and graphic narrative composition. There’s no stronger argument than the work itself, and I’m astounded that anyone would need to read any book other than The Golden Helmet to recognize the genius of Carl Barks! Critics.


I’ve been watching the Kirby lovefest from the sidelines -- not with envy, but with a kind of fascination. Why I can’t I dive in? Why does my son want to? (I see a superhero comics fan in the making and I am horrified but interested too.) There must be a reason. Hatfield’s chapter “How Kirby Changed the Superhero” speaks to the point. And it also seems to explain my physical revulsion for almost all of the Kirby superheroes except, perhaps, the Silver Surfer, a giant phallus on a surfboard.

I like my superheroes smooth. Many of Kirby’s superheroes (and some of his anti-heroes) are encrusted, scaly, ripply. This encrustation strikes me as related to Christian iconography, which I also know nothing about. (See the attached photo of a work by Arthur Lopez at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, titled El Savador del Mundo.) Every layer is meaningful, not merely ornamental. And the layers seem designed to keep people like me out, people who don’t understand what the encrustation is all about. It is literally repulsive.

In his superhero chapter, Hatfield defines the difference between Kirby’s Marvel characters and the pre-Kirby DC superheroes like Batman (who would be my favorite superhero, if I were forced to pick one, which I am almost daily, by my son). The DC superheroes are smooth, streamlined, modernists in tightfitting pajama costumes. They are not so much clothed as depicted “though a haze of color,” Hatfield writes. The costumes, Hatfield continues, quoting Michael Chabon, are meant to show off “the naked human form, unfettered, perfect, and free.” P. 112

If the clothing has any job other than labeling the superhero, it is an ironic job.  Hatfield calls the clothing of DC's superheroes “inherently ironic,” paraphrasing Terry Castle’s Masquerade & Civilization: “the superhero’s disguise … enabled its hero to invert his usual identity.” P. 113 I like that. Ironic clothing.

The Marvel heroes are not ironic. They are dead earnest, in constant deadly battle with Pure Evil. Cap battles the Nazis, not funny anti-heroes like The Joker. Hatfield writes, “the Marvel style was vigorous, even brutal… Marvel favored energy over smoothness.” P. 119 (By the way, this energy, is something I do admire about Kirby’s drawing. I also like that Kirby krackle -- the depiction of energy itself. And I like some of Kirby’s heirs like Gary Panter, who aren’t quite so earnest.)

The most interesting point (at least to me) in Hatfield’s book is that the Marvel superheroes are not only physically layered but semantically layered. They have layers of personal history & mythology, which they carry with them over time. They are encrusted with their own history.

As Hatfield writes, “the Marvel characters remembered -- and so did their readers.” And this historical encrustation, which the Marvel-type superhero carries with him, makes for a certain kind of fan.The Marvel readers are “addicted, soap-opera like, to continuing storylines and unresolved problems.” Captain America is a superhero soap opera. This is why I can’t jump into the discussion. This is why I don’t want to. Those super-encrusted layers of narrative clothing are super-nauseating and super-repulsive.

By contrast, the DC characters (as Umberto Eco has noted) are “blessed” with forgetfulness. They exist in what Neil Gaiman has called “a state of grace.” Each new story is a fresh starting point, naked and free. The characters have personality but they are, narratively, blank slates. As with a comic strip like  Peanuts, anyone can dive in. Even me.

Linus is my idea of a great super-hero.


Sarah, Doug: Two brilliants posts that slam against each other like a Superman-Thing slugfest.

I think I intuitively agree with Doug Harvey's context-demolishing blanket avowal of Kirby's pure value as an artist even more than I agree with anything I might have said myself earlier in this round-table. He's seeing the future: the job of posterity, pretentious term that it is, is precisely to dissolve the circumstantial brackets surrounding the site and occasion of the work's production and the mortal, humble, and often humiliating or awkward facts of the artist's person, and to begin to create a new context of its inevitable imperishable greatness, a contextual feeling suitable to the feeling it arouses in the viewer. Of course nobody but a fool ever wrote for money, everyone rushed their work to the marketplace and left it scarred with evidence of all sorts of local grudges, compromises, rivalries, and marketplace dynamics, including the marketplace of fashions or fads, (i.e. ancient astronauts) or meaninglessly eccentric personal references (i.e. Don Rickles), and while one job of scholarship is to nail down an accurate account of the context of the work's arising, an apparently totally conflictual purpose (or, at least, result) of the scholars rushing in to begin their work is that they are collaborating at building the platform for posterity to do its celebratory enshrinement. Hence some of the strange tensions inherent in a book like Hatfield's. His job, whether he knows it or not (I think he knows it) is to simultaneously speak for the Fiore side of things (Kirby is "like" Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, Gil Kane, etc. in that he consciously worked in tandem with and in reaction to a specific cultural operation, one subject to the restrictions and opportunities and self-definitions typical of that locality) and the Harvey side (Kirby is "like" William Blake and Picasso and Shakespeare in that you need to just forget all of the local context and say "look at what this fucking human did and how its inherent power and strangeness demands attention and needs no excuse or apology whatsoever" -- Behold!, in other words.)

As for Sarah, I'm going to go all baroque on you now and analogize your resistance to the Marvel thematics as being the result of a collision of dynamic models of the human psyche, one I'm supposing grates on your classical Freudianism --for the beautiful catastrophic difficulty with Marvel is that the heroes are subject simultaneously at all times to the pressures of living in an intimate Freudian universe, dominated by "the family romance" (Lee's side of things) and a Jungian one, where individual self-developmental fates are overwhelmed by the apprehension of vast archetypes of power moving through all human history (Kirby's side). "Overdetermined" might be the word. This muddle produces the encrustations which dismay you. Kirby, it seems to me, manifests the tension in his drawings themselves during his "classical period" (i.e. the core of the Fantastic Four run), by bringing romance-comic tenderness to the stances and facial expressions while burdening these same figures with the persistent onrush of his psychedelic techno-gnosticism.

(The reason Steve Ditko had to leave Marvel was that he subscribed to neither the Freudian nor the Jungian views -- his resistance to seeing the Green Goblin as some kind of familiar and shocking -- Lacanian? -- "other" for Spiderman being the defining crisis.) Ditko believes he is Ayn Randian. In my view he is Gurdjieffian.

The DC heroes are not so much even Freudian as they are a super-distilled and popularized Freudianism, akin to Dianetics. Each has one "origin-trauma" to solve, like an Engram: Batman's parent's mugged in that alleyway, Superman's planet exploding. Superman is what Dianetics would call a "Clear" -- his trauma is all manifested and managed in such a coherent and externalized way that he can literally tour you through it -- i.e., the Fortress of Solitude, where through the clear bottle glass he can present to you the restored City of Kandar, reduced to manageable size, and then tour you through the sculptures depicting everyone of importance in his life,  resolved into solidity. Superman has no difficulty loving Clark Kent, but he is waiting for Lois Lane to join him in becoming a Clear, which she will accomplish by seeing his two halves as one person.

Batman's trauma is still murky and concealed in a cave. He is not yet a Clear, but he's trying. He needs to give more of his money to L. Ron Hubbard.


Well, you know, Jack was Jewish.  So is Stan Lee.  Their characters would probably have more to do with the Golem than anything specifically Christian.  Art Spiegelman once suggested that might with justice also be called "The People of the Comic Book."


P.S.  And, now that I think of it, so were Siegel, and Shuster, and Bob Kane, and Julie Schwartz, and Sheldon Mayer . . .

Happy Passover, everyone.


Wow, Jonathan... speaking of brilliant! Geez. I never thought of all this in terms of Freud v. Jung. (And you've definitely got my number here.) Not to go all graphical on you, but I just looked at some online images from the recently published "Red Book," (I've attached one here) and, yes, it turns out that Jung's graphic fantasies are indeed Kirby-esque!


All my scholarship rests on scrupulous study of David Cronenberg's recent movie, of course. That's how we roll, here in academia.


Jonathan Lethem wrote: “(The reason Steve Ditko had to leave Marvel was that he subscribed to neither the Freudian nor the Jungian views -- his resistance to seeing the Green Goblin as some kind of familiar and shocking -- Lacanian? -- 'other' for Spiderman being the defining crisis.) Ditko believes he is Ayn Randian. In my view he is Gurdjieffian.”

Geeks will come at you with plastic forks -- Ditko apparently didn't leave Marvel because of the Goblin.  He left because Stan and Martin Goodman promised him money they didn't pay.   Stan said later it was because of an argument over unmasking Green Goblin, and that's been the refrain ever since.  I'm not sure if Ditko ever said his part in print, but numerous people who talked to him face to face have repeated the story: there was supposed to be money and it didn't happen. I've heard Ditko tried to get Kirby to come with.



Now this:

[Holger Liebs quote:]  Mike Kelly’s synaesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk updates earlier holistic Utopias of harmony and universal communication – from the early-20th-century experiments of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin to the multimedia design environments of the 1960s – by introducing another key 20th-century myth of reconciliation and salvation: Superman. The title of the show, ‘Kandors’, references the eponymous city on Superman’s home planet of Krypton that was saved in miniature form under a bell jar by the superhero and transferred to his ‘Fortress of Solitude’ after an evil alien had shrunk Kandor and its inhabitants to the size of a toy. This transportable city-in-a-bottle is emblematic of Superman’s traumatic childhood and symbolic of the double loss he suffered of both his parents and his homeland.

Since Superman trivia have been subsumed into everyday American life – the motif of the Fortress of Solitude, for example, has been quoted in numerous American television series from The Simpsons to Saturday Night Live – Kandor denotes a kind of Utopia, a purely imaginary place, a possible but never actually realized version of a city (Kelley’s installation Kandor-Con of 2000, a kind of laboratory for a future metropolis, was also shown in Berlin, in an abandoned factory on Ackerstrasse). For Kandor is the phantom of a place in two senses: within the logic of the Superman story it is the miniaturized symbol of a traumatic loss; furthermore, since countless renderings of it exist in numerous comic strips, with each version being slightly different, its original appearance can no longer be accurately recalled.

Kelley subjects Kandor to adaptation and reinterpretation within the context of ‘repressed memory syndrome’, the popular mythology according to which the memory of traumatic events could well be completely blocked from the conscious (an idea originated by Freud in his early writings but later abandoned in preference for the repression of impulses theory).

[from Holger Liebs, frieze magazine, Issue 112 January-February 2008]


I don't mean to portray Kirby as some kind of idiot savant.  He was a culturally aware individual in his working class autodidact way, and with such unsystematic learning there's no saying what he was or wasn't aware of.  In addition, he grew up during the infancy of mass culture and commercial fantastic literature, so classics that touch on the fantastic would be part of his knowledge.


Mike's and Jim Shaw's work are both very informed by Kirby's.


It does seem appropriate to be talking about Kirby's Jewishness on Passover.

With all apologizes to Michael Chabon, Robert Fiore, and others I think the Golem theme can be overstated. The fact is Kirby, Lee. Siegel, Shuster and others lived as Jewish Americans at a time when public displays of Christianity were even more blatant and unapologetic than they are now. Which meant that Kirby, Lee, etc. would have been aware of many aspects of Christian culture and mythology just by going to the movies (Going My Way, King of Kings, etc.) There is a lot of evidence that Kirby in particular as a visual artist internalized many of the the standard visual tropes of Christianity. Take a look at the cover of Thor #127 ("The Hammer and the Holocaust") and compare it to Michelangelo's Pieta. Kirby's Odin is clearly a counterpart to the Virgin while Thor is a Christ-figure. Kirby used Christian images and narratives with the same reckless aplomb that he used in appropriating Norse mythology in Thor or the pseudo-archeology of Erich von Daniken. For the artist, everything is fair game. More than anything else, Kirby's gleeful larceny aligns him with the tradition of modern art.


The recent surge of brilliant comments from Sarah, Robert, Jonathan, and Doug have left me fairly agog, so I'm not sure where even to begin. A few scattered thoughts:

1. I think there is a gender divide on Kirby that we need to be explicit about. Sarah is right to see Kirby through the prism of her son's love of superheros. Spending time with some a young niece and a cousin recently -- a girl aged 4 and a boy aged 5 -- I was struck by how her imagination was totally princess-centric while he was superhero mad. It occurred to me that the dominate Gods or animating spirits of modern childhood, for better or worse, are Jack Kirby (for boys) and Walt Disney (for girls). There sheer pervasiveness of Kirby's cultural impact might be a barrier for appreciating him the way Doug wants, as an remarkable mark-making artist. But any coming to terms with Kirby has to acknowledge not just the historical context that Kirby worked in but also the way his images have circulated through the culture.

2. Kirby's characters -- especially after the mid-1950s -- tend to be variously scaly, encrusted, earthy, leatherly, scarred, shape-shifting, unstable, chipped, masked, marbled or rocky. I think the psychological inquiry as why this is so is fruitful but I would also add there is a visual component to all this -- it made Kirby's pages livelier than more polished and smooth artists -- I'm thinking here of Curt Swain or the other dominate figures at DC. There is something mysteriously alive on Kirby's page, something that is by no means true of most superhero art.

3. I don't know what to say about Jonathan's Jung/Freud/Rand/Hubbard analysis except to acknowledge its brilliance and to add that like other popular artists -- Hitchcock comes to mind -- Kirby was familiar with at least the more popularized versions of therapeutic culture. As I pointed out before, Kirby did have Mister Miracle fight a creature called The Id. (See Mister Miracle #8). In general Kirby was a cultural sponge who managed to rework virtually everything he saw around him into his visual idiolect. I'll also add that it makes perfect sense to see an affinity, as Jonathan does, between the DC classical heroes and the mythos of Dianetics -- both after all came from the same pulp roots.

4. The Fortress of Solitude ... now where have I heard that before?


I feel I should make an aside about my own history with Kirby’s work, because it’s a little peculiar, and I want to avoid generalizing from my own peculiar experiences. I became aware of him at the time of the Fourth World comics – I’d read stuff before that, but wasn’t old enough to be interested in authorship.

I also immediately began cutting up and collaging his comics (fragments of his machinery, explosions, musculature, and sound effects, plus dialogue) into new works, which eventually evolved into a series of collage comic works that continue to this day (in fact I’ll be showing some at Jancar Gallery in Chinatown in LA opening May 19th – any of you in town I’d be happy to meet in the flesh) – so I’m very sympathetic to Hatfield’s emphasis on semiotic analysis, albeit from a formalist practice-based perspective rather than an academic critical one. [For more on Doug Harvey's art see here.]

I became deeply interested in Kirby’s work, and began reading back issues (thanks to a couple of older collector friends) and collecting new stuff as it was released. I was, and remain, a big fan of the reprinted 50’s alien monster stories in Where Monsters Dwell which struck me as very modern in their stripped-down hypnotic repetitiveness. I stuck with him through Kamandi, The Demon, and OMAC, but I rapidly started losing interest with The Eternals and 2001.

This also marked the end of my interest in mainstream comics, more or less, and in the superhero genre – though I’d like to point out that I had finished with the boyhood will to power fantasy phase (or whatever) by the time I was 8 or so. I don’t identify with the embarrassment and defensiveness many comic fans exhibit regarding the genre. But I did feel at the time (and though I haven’t delved much into subsequent iterations, stand by this assessment) that it reached an organic peak with the Fourth World and rapidly devolved into a self-conscious mannerism from which it has never recovered.

So when we talk about Kirby, for me we’re not just talking about an extraordinary artist who shaped and was shaped by commercial comic books for most of their history, but one who presided over (and arguably orchestrated) their death as a valid medium of artistic expression. This is why Kirby remains King and Frank Miller will never be more than an Executive Producer.


A few off-the-cuff thoughts:

1. Kirby's influence on other visual artists is a story worthy of its own book and one that Hatfield only hints at. Within the comics field, this influence has been largely baneful, with epigonic imitators borrowing the surface elements of Kirby to create a synthetic house style (a house style which still undergrids most of the art published by Marvel and DC). Still, there have been creative appropriations and reworkings of Kirby -- notably by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez as well as Gary Panter.

2. I like the thought of the Fourth World work as the "organic peak" of the superhero genre. If, following Hatfield, we see Kirby as having an essentially apocalyptic imagination, then the Fourth World was the moment of revelation. What followed tended to post-apocalyptic in the literal sense (i.e. stories about what happens after the world has ended: Kamandi, Omac).

3. I'd be curious to know if you've ever revisited the 2001 material, which was widely panned when it came out but now has defenders who see it as the most extreme example of Kirby's formalist experimentation (I think Christopher Brayshaw made that argument in The Comics Journal once).



I'd never heard this word before, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  I am SO going to use it in conversations with people who are better than I am.


1. Gary Panter is the MAN!

2. Yes! I'll have to think about that - revelatory ontological
apocalypse transmuting into literal materialist apocalypse. First
there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there's a pile of

3. I haven't. I should. Have they been reprinted? Mom threw them out.


About Kirby's 2001 work, alas it hasn't been reprinted (it's virtually the only Kirby work from the 1960s and 1970s that has not been re-issued in the last decade). This is largely, as I understand it, for copyright reasons. The ownership of those comics -- Sony, Arthur C. Clarke's estate -- is murky.



The interesting question here is not how Jack Kirby is like William Blake but how William Blake is like Jack Kirby.  He is both a poet and a painter.  More to the point, he is a printer, which in the 18th Century is to say a publisher.  While it isn't mass art, he does develop a method of producing illuminated manuscripts in multiples.  Given his revolutionary principles the intent is to create art for an anonymous public rather than to seek patronage among the nobility.  The signal difference here is that he makes no attempt to make his art comprehensible to a general public; they would have to come to him on his terms, and they didn't.  Robert Christgau coined the term semipopular art, meaning that which has every characteristic of popular art except popularity.  William Blake might be said to be the father of semipopular art.

Imagine a William Blake born in Lambeth in 1917.  During the war he's producing graphics for the Ministry of Information.  He's known in bohemian circles as a talented fellow but a bit of a roughneck and not quite the right sort -- his father was in trade, after all.  After the war he picks up a couple of bob here and there drawing and writing for the comic weeklies.  Eventually he lands at The Eagle and then in the 1950s it's Hampson, Bellamy, and Blake, and Blake is the one who writes his own scripts.  He gets talked to about the unorthodox religious ideas that get into his scripts.  Frequently.  You know he's going to be one of the first people on Earth to take LSD.  And then as '60s start to swing, which old stager do you suppose is poised with the means and motive to blow open the doors of perception . . .


I love this.




This really is beautiful.

I just saw a piece by Freeman Dyson in the New York Review of Books (hey, don't worry, I just get it for the cartoons) that references Blake in discussing the difference between physics insiders, those with connections to the academic world, and outsiders -- educated and intelligent people who have theories that are wonderful and not based on science.  Not schizophrenics (though the Museum of Jurassic Technology has a wonderful book on schizophrenics' letters to astronomers), but people whose work relies more on a poetic soul than what's experimentally viable.  The instant response is "crackpots" but Dyson doesn't see it that way.  He keeps coming back to contemporaries' opinions on Blake, and I read the comments below back to back with what he said, which was nice on this Matzo Bunny of a day.


Was he reviewing this?


Yes he was.

I hope these come through. I only realized this comparison 5 minutes ago and I'm sorta gasping.



I guess I won’t have time to get down all the thoughts I’ve had reading Hatfield’s book and the previous emails, but if I’m not already too late, I’ll put in my final two cents. As some one who is not immersed in comics culture, I really appreciate the balance of historical information, critical opinion, and academic contextualization Hatfield manages. I imagine it will go a long way to foster acceptance of the comic book medium in American academic circles, which is probably a good thing. I like that his more theoretical flights are in the realm of semiotics, as it’s the only sub-category of post-'70s critical theory that holds much interest for me, and certainly the most applicable to comics. I think it might have been better to elaborate on Charles Peirce (Chapter 1) even further along the narrative momentum of Kirby’s biography, and I think the Umberto Eco section (pp 126 - 128) could be expanded significantly, particularly to The Fourth World, and Kirby’s inability or unwillingness to wrap things up neatly.

One of the central and most challenging insights of Modernism is the recognition that -- however much our minds and hearts desire it -- life doesn’t happen in static, compartmentalized, narratively resolved units, and that any attempt to represent reality has to take this into account. The disintegration of The Fourth World through the proliferation of potentialities reminds me of the perpetually unraveling plot of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (from 1973), and also of the rapid evolution and disintegration of Free Jazz (Albert Ayler died in Nov 1970, when Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 was on the stands), which took the vernacular conventions of its populist roots and subjected them to fragmentation, repetition, compression, and elongation – toward an infinitely receding horizon of resolution.

I was particularly impressed with the period of Fourth World titles when they were expanded to 48 or 52 pages to include reprints of Golden Age Simon/Kirby stories, and odd episodic sidebar stories like Young Gods from Supertown, which imposed an even more un-wrap-uppable cross-generational simultaneity on what was already an exponentially diverging rhizome of storylines. One of the generally forgotten major preoccupations of the early modernists (including Marcel Duchamp) was the possibility of giving material expression to time as “the fourth dimension” – my sense (and this may be a sign of my own mental problems – I also think that the Don Rickles clone “Goodie” Rickles was a brilliant character) is that Kirby shifted his own interest in this problem from the technological sublime Hatfield describes (“I’m actually witnessing a four-dimensional universe!” – Reed Richards, p 158) to the structure of the medium itself.



Hi All -- If it's not too late...

Before the men’s locker closes up to me forever, I’d like to speak up as the token gal here. I’ve been truly honored to be allowed in as you all discuss manly and boyish stuff like Cap and the Fourth World (even if I have had, at times, to ride on my son’s coattails to do it). But now I have a little confession to make. Ahem.

The only bit of Kirby’s work that I actually even kind of halfway enjoy reading is the romance comics. I know. I know. I’m a hideous stereotype of my fair sex. Well, so be it. From reading Hatfield, I understand that these romances were the bread n butter of Kirby and Simon’s comic book business (before Kirby joined Marvel). So I’m not alone here. Many people who were repelled by other Kirby comics must have gobbled these romances up like candy. Sour candy. Superego candy. I see I’m using a lot of eating metaphors. It’s time for dinner...

Okay, now I'm back.

One appeal of the Simon and Kirby romances is that, as Hatfield observes, Kirby put a lot of his class anger into them. Look at the comic titled “Shame”. The woman who stars in this episode tries to pretend she comes from a high-born family in order to win her high-born man. She ignores her own low-class mother when she collapses in the street. In the end, the girl’s shame at rejecting her own family becomes stronger than her shame of her family. She trades one sort of shame for another. She goes back to her family and gets her man too.

The same message is pounded in over and over in the romances. Shame. Shame. Shame. (Here’s the plot of “The Perfect Cowboy”: Small-town girl falls for a smooth-talking big-time movie-star cowboy. But in the end she goes back to the boyfriend she grew up with. He’s like a comfy shoe. She never should have tried for a fancier shoe.)

These romances are period pieces; they are dated, in a way that Captain America is not. The figures remind me of something out of a Vogue pattern book. Different bodices. Different trim. Different moral high-grounds. They also look just like the kind of comic that Lichtenstein used to use (and maybe mock) in his paintings. (It's hard to imagine Lichtenstein copying Cap or The Hulk.) The only variations are the different settings, different hair colors, different clothes, and the different variations of moral blindness: Why don’t you try on this kind of shame for a change?

I kept thinking of a line from Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with."  Which actually makes no sense. But the moral is clear: Stick to your roots. Don’t strive. If the superheroes are Kirby’s id, these romances are his superego, his mother, his moral roots. (There's something to be written about the mothers of cartoonists, but that's for another day...)

These stories are dreadful in a way but also kind of wonderful. As I’ve noted before, one thing I find literally repellent about the Marvel superhero universe is the nauseating, clanking weight of each character’s history -- the way these stories resemble soap operas. Soap operas for men. So it’s kind of ironic that one thing I particularly like about Kirby and Simon’s romances is that these too resemble soap operas, but in a different way. They aren't heavy like soap operas. They are light like soap operas. The stars of the romances have no history. Without any background whatsoever, you can pop into them and pop out of them. Each woman is any-woman -- spunky but tame, campy but prim, the girl next door with a sense of adventure. And like soap operas, they are trashy, compulsive

That's it. I've weighed in as the token gal. It's been fun hanging out in your locker room.


I [heart] romance comics too!



Before we wrap there's something I'm a little curious about.  Going in my assumption would have been that while Kirby was the more accomplished of the two, Steve Ditko would be considered essentially in the same league.  I would have seen them as rough-hewn talents who produced significant bodies of work in adventure comics in the period when newspaper comics were no longer hospitable to adventure -- not that either was sufficiently genteel for newspaper comics in the best of times.  I assumed it was the consensus that the two were basically comparable.  But I note Jonathan Lethem speaking of "[T]he Fiore side of things (Kirby is "like" Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, Gil Kane, etc. . . ." in such a way as to imply (if I don't misinterpret) that Kirby is on a higher plane.  Anyway, what I was wondering is, would the panel consider Kirby and Ditko to be peers or do you consider Kirby to be on another level altogether?


Kirby's a better visual artist. And while I love Mr. A, I find Ditko's imagination to be somewhat more paranoiac and addicted to rationalization than Kirby's more generous and open-ended vision.


I just wanted to chime in here and thank everyone for such a great roundtable. I'm sorry to have been absent the last couple weeks -- our newborn baby has consumed all my time (surprise!).

But, I can break long enough right now to say that I'd put Kirby above Ditko as an artist and writer. But I'd place Ditko ahead of Kirby as a uniquely observant cartoonist whose ability to imbue his characters with nuanced emotions (well, between 1960 and 1970, say) is hard to top. Also, Ditko's psychedelia was more delicate (and way more influential) than Kirby's, which I appreciate, though this is a minor point. Suffice to say that for scope, vision, and level of achievement, Kirby wins out. Ditko remains a fascinating story, though, and one that is mostly untold.


What Dan said (if I write a book about comics, it's going to be called "what Dan said" except when he disagrees with me).

But also maybe this: I have framed on my office walls about six Jack Kirby pieces (that number keeps changing) and three Ditko Amazing Spider-Man pieces.  When collector folk come around, they react to one or the other of artists from nostalgia or aesthetics or narrative or something else.  My wife, however, hates Ditko.  She has a very good eye for abstract art and photography, and has led me many places I would never have gone.  When I asked her why she preferred Kirby (and she would probably dicker with the word "prefer," as she's more of a Lynda Barry/Edward Gorey type -- she gets my interest in Kirby) she went to this page and told me exactly why it sucked:

She pointed out that unlike Kirby, Ditko doesn't make allowances for how they eye travels from panel to panel.  The motion is chaotic and when you look at the page design as a whole, there's a lot of interruption to the flow.  And even though Jack's anatomy is often crazy, it makes sense emotionally.  She tapped the Goblin's arm in panel 3 and pointed out that it makes no sense, and that unlike Kirby, there's no hyper-realistic reason for it making no sense.  I had her read a few early ASM issues and she tossed the Essentials back with a shrug.  "Dude is frightened of women."  True.  Kirby wasn't.  (He also, unlike every cartoonist I can think of, never drew porn. Even Romita did a nude Medusa.  Some of Kirby's women are erotic, but there's never as far as I can tell been a Kirby nude. Mebbe too big a kettle of fish to open here at the last minute, but I've always been curious about that.)

I think Ditko's plotting, emotional engagement, humor, expressive gestures and overall weirdness make him interesting.  I've wondered how working with Stanton influenced him (I read Blake's book but can't remember that information too well).  I have a Ditko/Stanton piece that's typical of theirs.  For six years, it looks like when Stanton drew his femmes fatales, Ditko drew the men being menaced and overwhelmed and whatnot.  Now there's a division of labor.

BTW, speaking of nothing, I went to the Clowes show at the Oakland Museum last night. Holy smokes!  Has anyone ever noticed that guy is a good artist?  Because he is.


It's funny, because in my general thinking I always rate Ditko so high, but when I glance at pages now I tend to find myself thinking, "This must not be the best work, there must be something more consummate that I was thinking of" -- Ditko's style always seems "too early, he's getting to where he wants to go but he's not there yet" or "too late, he's tightened up and is repeating himself," but never reaching fulfillment. Still a master -- paranoid, baroque, psychedelic, and inimitable, but being asked that question after dwelling for these past weeks on Kirby's breadth and generosity and development and influence -- even despite his identifiable limitations or sloppiness -- it feels a bit like being asked, "Who's the better band, the Rolling Stones or The Buzzcocks?" I mean, nothing against the Buzzcocks, I love 'em. But.


I think the Rolling Stones/Buzzcocks comparison is fair enough. Ditko is one of the most interesting artists ever to work in mainstream comics but Kirby is a universe onto himself. Or to put it another way, Ditko is Harold Lloyd to Kirby's Charlie Chaplin. It's no knock on Lloyd -- whose movies are all worth watching -- to note that he's not as universal and inescapable as Chaplin. Or Ditko is Ben Jonson and Kirby is Shakespeare. Or Ditko is the Three Stooges and Kirby is The Marx Brothers. Or maybe I should stop.


I just realized this: Unlike Ditko (and most of the other comic book artists you can compare to Kirby), when we think of Kirby we eventually say he's like Dick or Blake or Miles Davis or Jimmy Stewart or Henry Darger or his work is like constructivism or futurism or iconography.  Something about Kirby makes us want to find an analogy for him and all the analogues seem to have big holes in them so far.  Could be why we've just don’t 24,000 words on him and I bet we could do 24,000 more.



Glen is of course right that this discussion could go on much longer. Nearly twenty years after Kirby’s death, the cartoonist still looms as large and nearly inexhaustible figure who continues to inspire both passion and resistance. I’m grateful to all the roundtable members. There have been many memorable moments in this discussion – not to pick favorites but I relished how Glen zeroed in on Kirby’s war years as a crucial biographical turning point, Jonathan’s ode to Kamandi #10, Robert’s fantasy about Blake living through Kirby’s era, Sarah’s insight into class shame as the engine of the Simon and Kirby romance comics, Dan’s focus on Boy’s Ranch as Kirby’s first big expansion of his artistic range, and Doug’s insistence on seeing Kirby as a visual artist. I also want to add that I personally found Hatfield’s book a great jumping off point for thinking about Kirby and comics in general. Virtually every page of the book offers a fresh way to think about comics as a visual storytelling form. Throughout the discussion, I’ve tried to play the devil’s advocate and occasionally give voice to the nay-sayers who find Kirby to be too bombastic an artist to be taken seriously. But one measure of an artist’s worth is the amount of intelligent commentary his or her work generates. By that criteria, Kirby’s reputation is in good shape and continues to grow.


233 Responses to Jack Kirby: Hand of Fire Roundtable (Part 3)

  1. patrick ford says:

    Ditko leaving Marvel over a dispute with Lee about the identity of the Green Goblin is just another one of Lee’s “funny stories.”
    Most people aren’t aware but Ditko wrote a whole series of essays about Lee for Robin Snyder’s small press publication THE COMICS. Jeet Heer’s brother Bob Heer gives a brief recap of the Ditko essays here:

    Steve Ditko from his essay “The Ever Unwilling” (The Comics, Mar 2009)

    “Now digest this: I knew from Day One, from the first GG story, who the GG would be. I absolutely knew because I planted him in J. Jonah Jameson’s businessmans club, it was where JJJ and the GG could be seen together. I planted them together in other stories where the GG would not appear in costume, action.”

    “I wanted JJJ’s and the GG’s lives to mix for later story drama involving more than just the two characters”

    “I planted the GG’s son (same distinctive hair style) in the college issues for more dramatic involvement and storyline consequences”

    “So how could there be any doubt, dispute, about who the GG had to turn out to be when unmasked?”

    So as you can see Ditko planned the Green Goblin to be Norman Osborne all along.

    Here are a few of Bob Heer’s comments.

    “Lifting and the Lifter” turns to what appears to be a particular point of irritation for Ditko, Lee’s claiming credit for the famous sequence in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 where Spider-Man struggles to throw off the debris he’s buried under, despite the fact that Ditko was plotting the book with no input from Lee for over 9 issues by that point. What I find most interesting about Ditko’s recollections of that period is that Ditko always stresses the point that “Stan Lee chose not to communicate with me on anything”. It’s an interesting point to stress, especially since most accounts (presumably coloured by Lee’s version of events) seem to imply the opposite.

    Steve Ditko’s letter to Comic Book Marketplace magazine published in issue #63. :

    “In your Comic Book Marketplace #61, July 1998. page 45, Stan Lee talks about “…a very famous scene…” of a trapped Spider-Man lifting heavy machinery over his head. The drama of that sequence was first commented on and popularized by Gil Kane. Stan says “I just mentioned the idea…I hadn’t thought of devoting that many pages to it…” I was publicly credited as the plotter only starting with issue #26. The lifting sequence is in issue #33. The fact is we had no story or idea discussion about Spider-Man books even before issue #26 up to when I left the book. Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories until I took in the penciled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.”

    “Roislecxe”, being “Excelsior” in reverse, takes a look at a few choice quotes from the book Stan Lee co-wrote by that name. I haven’t read the book, since I’ve long since found Lee’s persona to be grating and his statements about history to be at best suspect and self-serving. The quotes that Ditko chooses to deconstruct back that up.”

    “Creative Crediting” is about how Ditko feels that the printed credits on the comics of the early 1960s were misleading, implying to an outside observer that Lee did more than he actually did, since he never got a full script from Lee before drawing a story. Fair enough, although I don’t see his model of a more honest credit, “A co-creation by writer, Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko”, as much of an improvement to how that hypothetical outsider would see the division of labour.

    “He Giveth and He Taketh Away” turns the focus to Lee’s tone in discussing these matters, in particular his joking manner, and how Ditko feels that the Lee uses various tricks to undermine what credit he does sometimes give to the artists he worked with. As I said, I’ve found Lee’s persona an irritant for a long time now, and it’s interesting to see Ditko’s analysis of some aspects of that persona and his interpretation of the reasons for it. Also, a very interesting aside in this section, Ditko states that he drew the first Doctor Strange story on his own (plot and pencils), without any prior discussion with Lee on it.

    “Revealing Styles” is more on Lee’s tone, including Ditko’s famous objection to Lee’s use of the word “considered”. As much sympathy as I have for Ditko’s view, though, I have to say that current news shows that analogies to the Munich Accord and the 9/11 attacks might not be the best way to make a point about comic book history.

    “Martin Goodman/Stan Lee” closes off this series, with a point that Ditko had been building up to for a while. It’s hard to tell with him, but I think this is Ditko’s attempt to make a reductio ad absurdum argument, that if you take Lee’s positions at face value, Marvel publisher Martin Goodman has a more valid claim to “creator” credit than Lee.

  2. Jeet Heer says:

    Pat, as you’ll see above, Glen David Gold already deals with the Green Goblin urban legend in a crisp and succinct manner, although I appreciate the added details.

  3. patrick ford says:

    Jeet, Yes I did see that. I thought it would be interesting for people to see Ditko’s own words describing what happened. In many ways Ditko’s essays for THE COMICS are better statements than any interview comment he might make. Comments in interviews can be said to have been provoked by the interviewer (Groth’s TCJ interview with Kirby). An essay is something which a person has to contemplate, write, and then publish.
    Steve Bissette compiled a list of the Ditko essays published by Robin Snyder.

  4. Jeet Heer says:

    I absolutely agree that Ditko’s essays should be better known to people who care about these things. They are sometimes a slog because they are written in Ditko’s curious idiolect, but they contain a wealth of information and insight into Ditko’s thinking about comics as well as he relationship with Lee.

  5. patrick ford says:

    It’s pretty sad. Ditko had planned to write a lot more on the topic. He was doing what lots of people had always dreamed he would do; writing about Lee and Marvel in great detail. What happened in the moment Ditko began saying things which were critical of Lee, he and Robin Snyder were ferociously attacked by fans of Stan Lee (this mirrors the reaction the the Kirby/Groth TCJ interview).

  6. Cole Moore Odell says:

    I’m not sure if Hatfield touches on it, but the discussion of the Fourth World as the natural end point of superhero development puts me in mind of the subsequent Kamandi #29, “The Legend.” I’ve long seen this issue as Kirby’s own reflection on the symbolism of superheroes and the devolution of their readership (or perhaps their publishers). In the comic Kamandi comes across a tribe/cult of gorillas whose society is centered on worship of Superman, who apparently died or vanished in the mysterious Great Disaster. They keep his empty costume as a Shroud of Turin-like worship icon, and occupy their time trying to re-enact his feats–pushing boulders, taking giant leaps–only in confused, ersatz fashion divorced from context. They fixate on surfaces–his abilities and appearance, which admittedly contain their own joy–but they have no appreciation for their meaning. And Superman, though omnipresent in the narrative, appears only as an empty suit, a legend aggressively kept alive by people who don’t understand it at all. Kirby’s hollow, off-model Superman suit is a haunting image. As well as a pretty good description of DC Comics.

  7. George Bush (not that one) says:

    And the “fans” still attack Kirby and Ditko even though there are many more quotes from people who were there backing up their claims. Thanks for this talk, it reminds me to buy Hatfield’s book. And Patrick Ford, You should write a book or blog, its good stuff.

  8. James says:

    There are some interesting ideas put forth in these comments but gee, folks…a little more editing was maybe called for, it is a little hard to get past some of the unseemly mutual self-congratulatory back-slapping about each others’ brilliance. No?
    A few points: not all of the previous writing about Kirby should be ignored or completely dismissed as fannish…..or even if so, it is still worthy of citation as the phd critics would expect to be cited properly.
    After all, Charles Hatfield was also “just a fan”, until he went and got an education, as some of us also have done. Still, Charles himself manages to diminish the first critical magazine dedicated to Kirby, Chrissie Harper’s Jack Kirby Quarterly, even though it was the only one Jack actually got to see in his lifetime.
    I’d certainly prefer not to see the word illustration applied to Kirby’s work ever, since his art preexisted the text in most cases, if not all. That is, unless one accepts that Kirby actually WAS both a writer and an artist, not simply a cartoonist as if that excluded either distinction. He was most often the initiator of the text, he wrote the bare bones of the text in the panel margins and may well have written the notes before drawing. And often he wrote the stories on his own without any impetus from Joe Simon or Lee: what Lee did was overwriting or what I call blurbing. Whether or not Lee was a “better” blurber is debatable….I tend to agree with Pat that Lee’s blurbs are sickeningly sexist, jingoistic, generally offensive tripe. Kirby’s even for its flaws has aged much better….IMO. In fact Kirby focussed on his writing later in his life, even going so far as to write a novel, which as usual was second-guessed by other writers….Jack was never trusted to follow his vision, no, “real” writers have always felt justified to step on his work. I have yet to see a writer attempt to qualify Kirby’s compositional mastery, how for instance he was able to create massive double page spreads where every figure had weight in deep-space, or maybe it is because writers in lieu of the ability to do so tend to dismiss these skills…Dan acknowledged the problem in Prince Valiant #3 as he tried to describe Hal Foster’s visual mastery: “I know this sounds pedantic and mundane…”
    Nice to see it mentioned that Will Eisner was entirely patronizing to Kirby, his interview with Jack in Shop Talk is pathetic. He clearly does not believe Jack’s claims of authorship and is no more familiar with or interested in Kirby’s real work that he is with Frank Miller’s in the similarly condescending interviews in Miller/Eisner.
    Dan makes a good point about objectivity in one of his responses—not only is it hard for those of us who grew up with this stuff as it came out to separate our child-minds from the work but now for instance it is hard for someone like me to separate my disgust for Stan Lee’s later cruel disenfranchisement of his collaborators to read his words on the comics pages as anything other than lies. I can’t read the comics Lee had his hands all over, but Jack’s hold up just fine. I also take issue with the dismissal of Jack’s excellent and accurate use of Don Rickles and his interest in the idea of “ancient astronauts” as inherently ridiculous. Says who? and in comparison to what in a medium rife with absurdities? And, although I also love his work I fail to see a lot of evivalence with Philip K. Dick.
    Other than that—-I am still working my way through Charles’ book, it deserves a good amount of thought. Still, similarly to Steven Brower I have a little problem with the cover which is not by Kirby but is a fake “Kirbyesque” scene….it seems to indicates a basic flaw in the author’s thinking, that somehow Kirby’s visual tropes are the important thing and that they are tranferrable…this is the rationale of Marvel and the others who exploit Kirby…it somewhat taints the book with disrespect on the face of it, unfortunately.

  9. George Bush (not that one) says:

    I don’t think Mr Hatfield COULD use an actual Kirby drawing because of legal problems . I am saying this based on a comment he made on Amazon.

  10. Jeet Heer says:

    @James. Briefly, it’s unfair to say that Hatfield dismisses earlier fan criticism. He cites it extensively in his considerable bibliographic apparatus and incorporates many ideas from fan critics into his book. Also, I believe the reason Kirby’s art wasn’t used for the cover had to do with copyright issues and perhaps money. Academic presses run on tight budgets and are leery of using expensive images.

  11. James says:

    Jeet, I didn’t say Charles dismissed earlier fan writing other than JKQ, which he did dismiss….I meant you do…unless, that is, you haven’t seen it, in which case you’ve got some homework to do.
    As for the cover, something else should have been used than a weak imitation of Kirby’s art, perhaps a photo of Jack. It couldn’t have been worse than what was used. If it was a book on Degas or Picasso would a feeble copy of their art be appropriate? I think not.

  12. John Farwell says:

    re: smooth vs. crusty

    when one draws musculature like so many connected ballons, definition has to come from somewhere else. even just something to represent the idea of muscle definition. any sort of detail to suggest detail at all, not to mention gross direction.

    ‘smooth’ makes me think of curt swan or jurt schaffenberger or murphy anderson, whose figures could be even less detailed given the muscle definition their outlines alone carefully delineate.

  13. Joe S. Walker says:

    Sarah Boxer’s contribution to this is little more than sneering at men and masculinity.

  14. James says:

    I’ll admit it may be challenging to wade through 50-plus issues of the usually fannish Jack Kirby Collector, plus a good few passionate issues of JKQ, and then you probably missed out on many years of the Kirby-L yahoo group….but suffice to say that, just as I have written on the patterning and other relationships to Gary Panter seen in Jack’s late work whether you know it or not, others of the issues raised here have been discussed over years by the Kirby faithful and so it’s a little sad to see it all seemingly reinvented as if we never existed.

  15. patrick ford says:

    Sarah’s comments shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s hard for me to imagine there is one woman on the face of the Earth with an interest in super heroes. My daughter who is 12 has never shown the slightest interest in super heroes. She’s a huge comics fan, and devours loads of Manga, as well as John Stanley, Carl Barks, Peanuts, Fox Trot, Calvin and Hobbs, Al Jaffee, Don Martin, For Better or for Worse, and almost anything she can lay her hands on except super heroes.
    It was only last month she read her first Jack Kirby. She happened to notice the Gagne’ book YOUNG ROMANCE sitting on the sofa. She began reading and wouldn’t let the thing go for a couple of days. Then she asked me, “Are there any more of these?” I had the old Eclipse collection, so she read that, and wasn’t very pleased when I told her that’s all there was. Presently she is wondering what the hold-up is on the next volume of Thirteen Going on Eighteen. Just last night she surprised me. After five years of her saying she hates Tubby, she said she now likes Tubby, that he’s funny, and smarter than Lulu!!!

  16. James says:

    I can hardly blame her for that, it is pretty sneer-inducing

  17. George Bush (not that one) says:

    I first encountered the ‘Kirby can’t write’ meme in about ’78. I had a new friend over and he told me that. I asked him what was wrong about Devil Dino . He had never read it so we spent the next hour reading all the then current Kirby books. He loved them all. When I asked why he said that he replied “well that’s what my older brother told me.” I can’t think of another artist whose reputation has been hurt by this kind of parroting more than Kirby. When I got back into comics I read about how much of a failure Kirby’s 4th world was and proof of his inability to write. What I found was my favorite work and fuel for my Kirby love.

  18. patrick ford says:

    Actually the whole basis of Kirby’s thematic content is sneering at men and masculinity.
    One great example of this is in Silver Star where Norma Richmond is immediately offended by the macho-patronizing attitude displayed by Morgan. She begins mocking him, calling him “Macho Man” telling him to, “Go find a nice garage, and change a tire or what-ever.” Similarly in Kirby’s romance story “The Girl Who Tempted Me” Kirby sets up the man as the fool operating from a self satisfied position. The free spirited woman he is attracted to is also attracted to him, but makes a mockery of his straight-laced moral superiority.
    “You’ve anointed yourself with perfume.”
    “Like it? It’s supposed to bring out the brute in men.”

  19. Charles Hatfield says:

    @James, re: Hand of Fire:

    I understand that the book’s non-Kirby cover will disappoint many readers. However, I confess myself frustrated by the argument that the cover signals disrespect or a “basic flaw” in my thinking about Kirby’s art, and that my book is therefore suspect from the get-go. I don’t wish to belabor this issue, but for the record:

    1. The book’s understanding of Kirby’s art is set forth in its text. My mantra: read what the text says. In no way does Hand of Fire argue that Kirby is imitable or replaceable.

    2. The book’s cover came about through a complex process, the upshot of which is that no fitting image by Kirby was practically available. Certain legal hurdles proved impossible to overleap graciously. It would be tactless and dishonorable to unpack all the reasons, so I won’t. Suffice to say that I tried hard to secure fitting images by Kirby, because the issue mattered to me a great deal.

    3. As Jeet suggests, the cover of an academic monograph is typically not a matter of free, unconstrained choice or an undiluted expression of authorial POV. This is particularly true in the case of nonprofit publishers, which is what my publisher, the UP of Mississippi, is.

    4. I consider Geoff Grogan’s cover a wonderful solution to several problems, and a great gift. His lovely image, which I commissioned, hangs on my wall alongside shelves of Kirby comics.

    In any case, I hope readers of TCJ will read what the book says.

    Re: my book’s debt to independent scholarship, including zines and other fan-oriented work, I’ve been upfront: Hand of Fire absolutely would not exist but for the foundational work of fans. I did not mean to dismiss The Jack Kirby Quarterly entirely, but it is true that I discuss it only briefly, in the book’s appendix, and then in standoffish terms (p. 258). I did so because I wanted the appendix to be a guide to academic generalists and other uninitiated readers, and wanted to acknowledge frankly the worshipful attitude in much Kirby fan scholarship, an attitude that unfortunately may blind many uninitiated readers to the importance of such scholarship. That was a tough judgment call that required me to say something hard-nosed about a magazine I have enjoyed and to which I once contributed. But I still think it was a good call. By the same token, I felt it necessary to make critical remarks about works by Mark Evanier and Ronin Ro, both of whom I consider vital sources. This is not because I am ungrateful to them, far from it, but because Hand of Fire is an academic monograph that aims to put Kirby fandom in perspective and serve as a sourcebook for a more diverse readership. No disrespect intended.

    Let this not be construed as (to paraphrase Patrick) a claim to objectivity. I would never claim complete objectivity. I only claim a degree of rigor that I felt necessary to justify the project. That quest for rigor, BTW, is not a matter of craven deference to an academic readership; it is my pride and pleasure. If anything, writing Hand of Fire liberated me from some bad habits as an academic writer, so that I felt freer, less deferential, less constrained, as the project went on. I loved writing this book!

    I now see, BTW, that a more sustained encounter with Kirby’s 1980s work was called for. I would love to continue in that direction!

    THANKS to all for devoting such thought to Kirby and to my book! I hope to respond more deeply in future.

  20. James says:

    Charles. I hope I made it clear that I respect the amount of effort and thought you have invested and that I wasn’t yet addressing the text of your book because I have not finished it. I should not have picked on Grogan, really… I dislike the cover because I would dislike a cover by ANY ARTIST that was not by the subject of the book. No image, or simply a photo of the artist, or a picture of Jack’s pencil….anything would have been better than what was used…the faux Kirby art seems to buttress the copying and exploitations by the ilk of John Byrne and a host of other artists that have made their names from crawling on Jack’s back while his family is ridiculed by the face fronters that defend Marvel’s heartless greed and Stan Lee’s historical revisionism.
    The sole critique I make of the interior of the book at this time is that I take exception to your dismissal of JKQ, because it is and was NO MORE FANNISH than the Kirby Collector which you were also a former fan writer for but which is not treated so badly. In fact I prefer the writing of Fabio Barbieri in JKQ, though florid, to much of the writing in JKC including your earlier work; it was he who made me look at some books I had previously dismissed myself and it was the editor Chrissie who jumpstarted the currently invigorated scholarship on Kirby through her magazine and her founding of the first weblist about him.

  21. Michael Hill says:

    Looking forward to the sequel, Charles.

  22. Jeet Heer says:

    @James. I thought you were saying that both Hatfield and the roundtable participants dismissed previous fan writings. In any case, could you point out a sentence where I dismiss fan writing in this roundtable? While I can’t swear that I’ve read every article in every issue of the Jack Kirby Quarterly or Jack Kirby Collector, I have actually read much of what appears in those magazines with great interest and profit. Both Glen David Gold and I directly referred to the Jack Kirby Collector. And I’ll add that I share Fabio Barbieri’s often florid but also insightful writing. It’s true that I didn’t see your Kirby/Panter piece (which I liked and would have linked to if I had seen it). I’m a rather spotty reader of the Hooded Utilitarian, only looking at the site when someone (usually a writer or editor of the HU) calls my attention to a piece appearing there. Mea Culpa! Still, I’m not sure if the roundtable would have been better if it were weighed down with a discussion of the massive fan literature on Kirby. The topic under discussion was Kirby on the occasion of Hatfield’s book. I’ve already been criticized (by you among other people) for allowing the discussion to wander too far away from Hatfield’s book — imagine if I also included a discussion of the fan literature?

  23. Jeet Heer says:

    I agree with Patrick that many of Kirby’s stronger stories — especially from the 1970s and 1980s — can be read as critiques of hyper-masculinity or attempts to weigh the cost of belligerent machismo on men. It’s also noticeable that while many of the scripts Stan Lee and other Marvel writers of the 1960s put upon Kirby’s stories are sexist, the stories that Kirby wrote and drew himself rarely if ever are sexist (I can’t think of a single case).

  24. patrick ford says:

    Charles, Correct me if I’m wrong. There were images by Kirby available to you, but you chose not to use one? Actually I can answer that, because there were since some of Kirby’s work is PD.

    You must be aware you are once again saying your personal understanding of Kirby’s writing and art are correct, and people who don’t share your view are shall we say “cultists?” You say you aren’t objective, but you are able to put aside your own prejudice concerning Kirby, and apply “rigor” which I suppose others are unable to do? So you are fair and ballanced despite your prejudice. You are able to put aside your prejudice, while others are not?
    So do you agree then that Dan’s reviews of Love Bunglers and the IDW Wally Wood Artist’s Edition were worshipful? Are fans of Jaime Hernandez deluded cultists wrapped up in a haze of nostalgia which colours their perception? Fans of Wood’s artwork fail to see it can look stiff, with slightly askew perspective and proportions. They fail to notice in their worshipful way that Wood could be said to have over rendered his images. That’s more or less how some have characterized them? What about reviews of The Watchmen or assertions that it is a masterpiece? How about the very high opinions some people have of the ’60s Marvel comic books which I see as so deeply flawed they aren’t worth considering except in terms of something approaching archeology?
    What about your saying the cover of your book which you commissioned is a “lovely image?” Is it really a lovely image? You think it’s superior to the artwork Kirby penciled for Super Powers?
    I would think any academic writing in the field of the Humanities should be very careful when setting their opinion up as unbiased. It’s art and writing which are being discussed not Rocket Science.

  25. Charles Hatfield says:

    @ James:

    You’re right that JKQ and TJKC are equally fannish. I believe that the passage in question from my book says about as much. I recall some of the writing from JKQ fondly, and of course Barbieri’s writing in particular stands out vividly in my mind. However, I have to admit that the partisan tone of those articles (“A Monarch Abused,” and so on) is one I wanted to avoid, not because I don’t have partisan feelings on Kirby’s behalf but because too often those articles, in my view, are based on argument-by-assertion, i.e., on ideological percepts asserted as blunt fact. There’s a blurring of criticism and partisan advocacy in some of those articles that I find self-defeating, though I can hardly fault their passion for Kirby.

    I understand that you don’t share my POV, I respect your different POV, and I thank you for speaking up on behalf of JKQ. The point I was trying to make about the Collector, in contrast to JKQ, is that its longevity is a tribute to its diplomatic walking of several tightropes. The Quarterly, for better and for worse IMO, was a more contentious magazine. I would say that each magazine has the defects of its virtues, so to speak.

    I don’t think of myself as a “former” writer for either magazine. If they continue, I’d love to keep writing for them! Goodness knows they have been very important.

  26. (Replying to Jeet): It’s striking in those early-ish Fantastic Fours how often Lee’s dialogue goes out of its way to downplay Invisible Girl’s (sic) agency, when that’s not supported by the visuals. Like, she does something clever to foil Dr Doom or whatever, but there’ll be a speech balloon from Mister Fantastic off-panel telling her what to do, or saying “good girl, you followed my instructions exactly”. It’s pretty gross.

    Also: kudos to everyone and particularly Jeet for the roundtable. Don’t listen to the haters, man.

  27. Michael Hill says:

    Each new issue of JKQ is a treasure; you buy it for the articles. Each issue of JKC was an opportunity to see some tabloid-sized Kirby pencils.

  28. Jeet Heer says:

    @Patrick Ford. Are there any public domain Kirby images for the years covered in the book — the 1960s and 1970s? It would also have to be a public domain image that covers the type of comics Hatfield deals with in the book — the superhero/s.f. genre. I suspect that any Kirby art that fits that parameter isn’t in the public domain.
    About the tone of Hatfield’s book versus the tone of Nadel and Santoro on “The Love Bungers” or Nadel on the IDW Wally Wood book. Surely a writer has to take a different approach when composing a nearly 300 page monograph dealing with two decades of a prolific artists career than when writing a review or notice of a new story or book. The type of un-modulated enthusiasm that might be appropriate in a review would become awfully tiresome in a long monograph, where readers would rightly expect more analysis and judgements as to where the artist succeeded or failed, as well as some attempt to trace the trajectory of the artist’s evolution.
    Hatfield’s book has a clear rise-and-fall narrative — Kirby took over the stagnant superhero genre in the 1960s, revitalized it, reached his peak with the Fourth World books, but became thwarted by commercial pressures, a partially hostile fan culture, and — eventually –his own physical impairments which started to effect his art in the late 1970s. Now, its possible to disagree with this rise-and-fall narrative. I personally find Kirby’s 1980s work more interesting than Hatfield does, although I also see it a falling off from the Fourth World stuff. Still, Hatfield makes his case for this narrative not by a simple assertion of opinion but by offering a detailed close reading of Kirby’s comics over a two decade period. He tests this close reading by bringing in an interpretive community that includes a wide range of other readers — including fans writing both in the fan press and in the letters column of Kirby’s comics. That’s what it means to offer a rigorous reading — it’s not a question of false objectivity but rather making a case that is grounded in examples, consistent theories, and engagement with the views of other readers. This sort of exercise might not be to your taste, but it actually pays Kirby the high tribute of assuming that he’s worthy of the same type of analysis that other scholars apply to Blake, Henry James, Piccaso, or Joyce.

  29. Charles Hatfield says:

    Again, Patrick, I don’t claim objectivity. I wish only to claim that my book presents a coherent POV and backs it up in such a way that readers can account for my biases and if needed bring their own counter-arguments to the table. I don’t claim to be beyond prejudice, only to factor in my prejudices, to make them overt, and defend them as best I can.

    I am way too much of an epistemological skeptic to believe that I am unbiased. That’s not the rub here, I think. If I may, I believe the gist of our disagreement is that I don’t rate certain works by Kirby as highly as you do, and that my book briefly makes a distinction between works likely to appeal mainly to Kirby devotees (of which I am emphatically one) and works that better make the case for Kirby with a larger audience. You are of course free to disagree with my assessment, or to bring a different set of values to the table, but this isn’t about me claiming pure objectivity. It’s about me making a distinction and an exclusion for the purposes of my project. That my choices can (should!) be argued with is well demonstrated by the above roundtable, which I consider very productive.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think of my book as the last word on Kirby, nor my last word on him, and I’m perfectly willing to grant that the book may have short-shrifted important aspects of his work. The introduction to the book says as much. I just hope the book telegraphs my passion for Kirby’s work and helps broaden the discussion of comics and cartooning in general.

    BTW, I hope I’ve never used the word “cultist” to describe Kirby fans. Yeesh. I also hope that my book clearly, and good-naturedly, acknowledges that I’m a fan.

    Finally, I’m not sure we can get anywhere by wrangling about my choice of cover image. If you insist that anything, any image by Kirby, no matter how old, would be preferable to my choice, or that a photo of Kirby himself would be preferable, I cannot argue you out of that. I sought an image with particular qualities, indeed I sought very specific images by Kirby, and when I could not get permission for those I chose another option that would, I hoped, evoke, not replace, the mature Kirby that my book focuses on. The key word is evoke. Accept or reject my decision as you see fit. Sadly, Kirby’s legacy is captive to legal considerations that render free and easy decisions about cover images impossible.

    Fundamentally, the problem is ideological: Kirby’s legacy has been so contested and exploited that having a Kirby homage on the book’s cover, rather than an image by Kirby himself, will inevitably be taken by some as a sign of inauthenticity–as if that one compromise renders my entire perspective on Kirby suspect. James’ words make the underlying problem clear: if every Kirby pastiche is seen as “buttress[ing] the copying and exploitations by the ilk of John Byrne and a host of other artists that have made their names from crawling on Jack’s back,” then I’m damned. I can’t possibly mount a convincing counterargument to that. But I have to say that I’m disheartened to have my book judged with such a blunt instrument.

  30. patrick ford says:

    Jeet, The way you describe it you make Charles sound like a politician whose aim is to appeal to the largest common denominator.
    You have said you respect the writings of Noam Chomsky. Do you think Chomsky considers popular opinion, and conventional wisdom when he writes about American foreign policy?

  31. patrick ford says:

    Charles I think everyone who has commented negatively on the cover image has been consistent in saying it is a mistake to place an image by one artist on the cover of a book about a different artist. If you were doing a book on Grogan it would be a mistake to place an image by Kirby on the cover.
    My thought is when discussing many things related to Kirby it is often better to take Kirby out of the discussion.
    I never like the idea of one artist inking another artists work. So when I say I don’t like Vince Colletta inking Kirby, it has nothing to specific to do with Kirby. I don’t want to see Colletta ink Robert Crumb or Chester Brown either, and you know I don’t want to see Wally Wood ink Robert Crumb or Chester Brown either.

  32. James says:

    I didn’t set out to stomp on your feelings Charles et al. My complaints are minimal really. I realize that what is being put forth here is said from love, unlike the Jack-hating that Pat and I saw done by unnamed Stan-boosters in the old days on Kirby-L.
    This conversation is fortunately mostly free of the usual “Jack can’t write” crap. Now, I don’t think that everything Jack did was brilliant, in fact I think a lot of the work is, um, hacked out, especially at times when he was being crushed by his publishers. This can be clearly seen when just as he reached high points of creativity at both DC and at Marvel in his second tenure those scumbags crushed him and the work certainly suffered. But I do really like some books like Devil Dinosaur and Captain Victory that are usually held up as evidence of Kirby’s decline. I think Charles has made a great start in the serious examination of Kirby and some of these other late works will be assessed more carefully as time goes by.
    I agree with where it was noted here that Jack would diminish his own efforts in interviews, he most often failed to articulate his own importance and when pressed would often simply fall back on the pretty tired myth/gods routine that so many use to describe the appeal of his comics.
    And, a big point in his favor is that as Pat says, Jack was refreshingly free of sexism. I believe that his comics show what he learned from Milton Caniff about writing strong female characters, except when that was deliberately subverted by Stan Lee.

  33. Jeet Heer says:

    Patrick: I think there is a fundamental difference between the type of foreign policy issues Chomsky deals with — which often turn on empirical issues and shared moral precepts and are therefore objective questions — and the interpretation of art, which involves a mixture of subjective and objective factors. When we’re responding to a work of art, we’re shaped both by our quirky personal taste but also by our prior experiences, which are inevitably social. To borrow a phrase from Stanley Fish, we all belong to interpretive communities which are the sites where our response to art is formed and honed.
    In the case of Hatfield’s book, he’s addressing several interpretative communities including Kirby fans but also the small but growing number of comics scholars (and also, I think, people interested in questions of visual narrative, and other groups). As Fish suggests, it’s impossible to write a work of criticism not shaped by and addressing an interpretive community. For example, when you write your comments on this site, you’re not putting messages in a bottle but addressing an audience that already has some familiarity with Kirby.
    Belonging to an interpretive community (or a set of overlapping interpretive communities) doesn’t mean bowing to public pressure. A critic often aims to overturn the existing consensus — as Kenner did with his book on Pound or Bloom with his book on Wallace Stevens or Leavis with his book on DH Lawrence. Still, these critics aren’t writing in a vacuum but very much engaging with a pre-exisiting literature or set of common responses. To try and write criticism without engaging in other points of views or taking into account what others have said — even if, or especially if, you want to overturn existing opinions — is a recipe for creating a one-dimensional and solipsistic analysis.

  34. Glen David Gold says:

    Hey, Charles! Your book is really good. Sometimes all the talk around that fact gets circular (like a donut) and the basic compliment falls into the hole.


    Anyway, I enjoyed it. It made my head spin and it made me want to be smarter than I actually am.

    And I find it intriguing that people are sincerely, passionately arguing that you should judge your book by its cover. That’s probably some new field of criticism I’m not schooled in.

  35. patrick ford says:

    Jeet, Yes but Charles is substituting categorical imperatives for personal opinion when describing things which are interpretive.
    One example, on page 13 Charles asserts from “1977 to early 1978” Kirby style is in (quote) “obvious decline.” That may be Charles’ opinion, but it certainly isn’t mine. I could easily point out as many examples as a person would care to see of what ever faults Charles is seeing as “obvious” in Kirby’s work from the ’40s- the mid ’70s. Here are examples of Kirby’s pencils on Captain Victory. If there is any obvious decline here I’m not seeing it.
    Kirby comments on “my kind of woman.”

  36. Thanks, Glen! Your encouraging words are much appreciated.

  37. patrick ford says:

    No one is judging the book by it’s cover. Who would be so foolish as to step into that.
    “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.”
    The comments about it reprise comments on the Seth covers for the D&Q John Stanley books.
    Despite the fact I think Seth can do no wrong, he was…wrong about that in my opinion. It didn’t bother me though because I thought it was a good move commercially and I wanted the series to be successful. As I saw it a certain percentage of Seth fans would buy the books because of Seth, and that would boost the sales, meaning the series would have better odds of more and more volumes. An even more interesting case was the Seth designed Doug Wright book where Seth created a whole sequence of images as a pathway leading into the book.
    I am suddenly imagining Seth inked by Murphy Anderson.

  38. Tony Puryear says:

    I agree with James’s remark above “..Jack would diminish his own efforts in interviews, he most often failed to articulate his own importance and when pressed would often simply fall back on the pretty tired myth/gods routine that so many use to describe the appeal of his comics.” Like a lot of artists I’ve known, Kirby was way more, was staggeringly more articulate in and through his work than in conversation. In the times I met him at early cons in the 70s and in the times I heard him speak on panels, he would do precisely what James describes, “Well, ya know, it’s like a modern mythology..” “I’m just a guy who grew up in a rough environment..” For a teenage kid like me, looking for a guru, it was actually a bit of a letdown. But while these oft-repeated tropes and talking-points were “tired” even then, Jack was at that moment doing the most subtle, lively, nuanced, passionate and articulate work of his career. I’m sure we all wish he’d been half the self-promoter Stan was and is, but we have the work, and those flicking, fleeting marks of his hand’s passing over a piece of bristol board speak so much louder than words.

  39. Glen–your wife is wrong, wrong, WRONG! That is one of the most extraordinary Ditko pages, and beautifully organized. The organization is not necessarily that of visual flow, but of overall design, of dynamic symmetries across the surface of the page. I analyzed that page at length in my recent article on Ditko in “Critical Approaches to Comics”–and I’ve already told you it’s my second favorite Ditko page ever, right after the one that comes after it! If you don’t have a copy of the book, I can send you a pdf of the article.

  40. Derik Badman says:

    Let me also recommend Andrei’s article. I don’t even like Ditko, but I found Andrei’s essay much worth the time. The best chapter in that collection.

  41. Derik Badman says:

    Patrick: The Fanta collection of St John’s romance comics “Romance Without Tears” is worth getting. The stories aren’t as clichéd as most romance comics and a lot of the art (many stories by Matt Baker) is better than Kirby’s romance work.

  42. Jeet Heer says:

    Andrei: write a book on Dikto! If you do, I’ll organize a 25,000 word round-table on it with an all-star cast, including the ghost of Ayn Rand.

  43. James says:

    Charles: I believe that with your book you have passed out of the fan phase of your writing career. Making the effort to get a higher education should give one some advancement, note that is why I myself am on a similar journey, recently getting a degree from Columbia and now working on my masters. So. Your book. As I say it is an obviously serious effort, deserving of serious consideration. I DON’T like the cover and I hope that I have explained why. I understand your reasoning, but because the “Kirbyesque” waters have been poisoned by the exploitation and lies of Jack’s former employers and by artists who have built careers using his tropes without appreciating the source, it still feels wrong to me. ..I overspoke, it does not countermand the value of your book but I wish you understood why I find it offensive with having your feelings hurt. I am not the only one to articulate this, Steven Brower expressed similar feeling recently. The problem really goes to the skewed rationale of Marvel, who give some of their founding artists credit on the movies and publish endless copied variations of the art of people like Kirby and Steranko, but who give not a penny for reprints or the use of their ideas in multibillion dollar movies. Credit isn’t enough and homage doesn’t cut it.
    As we were having that exchange, my pal Calvin Reid came to visit and said he didn’t see the cover as a problem since your book was about Kirby’s influence…but that isn’t what your book is about, is it? It’s about Jack’s own work, not about his copiable tropes. At any rate the Grogan image seems to have nearly as much Ditko influence visible, so…..
    Likewise I felt the need to mention the many years of prior debate among Kirby fans like Pat, Mike Hill, Chrissie Harper, Rand Hoppe, John Morrow, Kenn Thomas, Mike Gartland etc. because they did hash out a lot of issues in the face of ridicule by Marvel’s many vocal paid and unpaid agents, and their efforts do deserve citation no less than that do high-end critics. I know you did cite some of that work but you also did sort of slag the JKQ— and also, I wanted to emphasize the point of citing previous scholarship to the participants in this roundtable. Obviously it is hard to read such a mountain of material, but hey, we Kirby admirers have—-anyway, I do appreciate that Jeet took the trouble to read my HU piece that I put the link up for.

  44. patrick ford says:

    Derik, I like Baker and have the book, there is also the Toth book published by Fantagraphics which collects his work done for Standard. The scripts in both those are really hard to take, my daughter likes any kind of Romance comic book though so she read those. She only read the Romance stories in the Toth book, she’s not big on war comics or crime comics.
    Baker is a polished artist with a nice line style. Kirby’s art from 1950-1953 is my favorite period of his work for both art and story until the ’70s and later.
    Kirby’s work from the ’40s is not all that interesting. It’s often poorly inked, and the stories are in general shop work with pages by Joe Simon cropping up in most stories. Something like the Timely Captain America is a complete hash. There are inklings interest in the DC stories of the ’40s. Many of the Newsboy Legion stories begin well. The focus is on the boys living in a slum, and dealing with day to day problems. What kills them is the super hero element which kneecaps every story. Just as things start to get interesting the super hero has to show up, a fight ensues and the story peters out. The artwork from the ’50s is often inked by Kirby, and has a very unique look. Although I enjoy artwork by people like Matt Baker and Jack Kamen (I have the Russ Cochran E.C. Romance books as well) , what I really prefer is artwork which many people would describe as cartoony looking. Things like Kirby, Kurtzman, Cole, and Grandenetti are more appealing to me than Stan Drake or even Alex Toth, but I like a lot more art in all different styles than I do comic book writing, which is almost always very boring.

  45. Jason Michelitch says:

    James – in terms of pedantic precision, I could see an argument where a photo of Jack is a more appropriate cover, but the “Kirby-esque” art, while obviously not of the quality of an actual Kirby image, does serve to evoke a certain sense of the art, and prime the reader for what the book is really about. It isn’t a biography, it’s an exploration of an artist’s work within a particular idiom, and the cover serves well to reference both the artist and the idiom within Hatfield’s legal restrictions.

  46. Jason Michelitch says:

    “It’s hard for me to imagine there is one woman on the face of the Earth with an interest in super heroes.”

    Patrick, have you ever heard of The Beat or Comics Alliance? The editors-in-chief of those sites might take issue with your sentiment.

  47. patrick ford says:

    Heard of Heidi, never heard of Comics Alliance.
    Sorry for the slight hyperbole. Since I don’t know any women who are interested in super heroes it’s hard for me to imagine.

  48. patrick ford says:

    An interesting aspect of Kirby’s male/female relationships in his romance stories (and as late as Silver Star) is the role sexual attraction plays. The woman is often offended by what she sees as a lack of respect from a man. This could be anything from the man coming on too strong, to the man being overly protective, not giving the woman enough credit to handle things in her own way. In many of the Romance stories the man is caricatured as such an obvious beast it’s hard to imagine the relationship working out in the end, but being a Romance story that convention is part of the formula. In real life women often do find themselves attracted to men their friends and family can’t stand, so in a way even the “happy endings” aren’t so far off. Kirby in the ’70s had an idea for a book which took those “what is she thinking!??” “happy endings” a few years down the road. Produced at the same time as SPIRIT WORLD the magazine was to be called TRUE DIVORCE CASES. A complete issue was finished, but DC never published it.

    As for Lee, even John Romita complained he turned Gwen and Mary Jane into “Betty and Veronica, the same girl with different hair colour.”
    Romita also mentioned Lee often had him redraw the faces of Kirby’s women to show them looking fearful in the face of danger.

  49. Hey folks,

    I really enjoyed the series and the discussion. There are a hundred things to comment on, but I’ve posted a lot of my thoughts on Jack Kirby here already, so I hope some of you will check it out:


    I wanted to throw a few things in there. First of all, I think Charles did a terrific job on Hand of Fire. He could’ve written about any subject, but I’m glad he chose to examine the career of Jack Kirby, and because of that now we have a solid, serious quality academic analysis of Jack’s work on the bookshelves. Hand of Fire will be part of just about any serious bibliography in the future if a student wants to write a legitimate literary analysis of Jack Kirby’s work (or the whole history of comics in general). You could argue Kirby was the Shakespeare of comics, so if comics scholarship – which I guess is a kind of hybrid form of analysis combining literary theory and film theory — is really going to flourish, there had to be a book like Hand of Fire in the libraries. For myself as a Kirby fan who would like to see Jack’s work given the respect it deserves, I personally thank Charles for the hard work he put into this project.

    Charles is also a wonderful Kirby ambassador; he’s out there promoting Jack and answering questions about Jack always with grace and insight. To top it off I think his book is exceptional. It gives future Kirby historians a springboard to jump into their own theories and interpretations of Jack’s wok and its impact on the culture. Will there maybe one day be a better book than Hand of Fire on Kirby’s work? Sure, probably. But as you all know that’s the point of the process — Charles’ book is a great first step (you could argue a giant leap) in Kirby scholarship, and Hand of Fire will have to be in the works cited section of pretty much any serious future dissertation on the literary merits of Kirby’s oeuvre. Let’s not forget there are still plenty of people out there who see Kirby’s work as nothing more than disposable garbage for children, so let’s not tale Charles’ work for granted just because there are inevitable criticisms of the book, such as something like complaints about the cover.

    I also found the cover disappointing, but let me throw in a few of my own experiences dealing with this topic. About 10 years ago, I thought about trying to put together a fairly simple documentary film about Jack, but I discovered it would be tremendously risky to use Jack’s 60s Marvel artwork in a film because clearly they own that material, and they could derail a motion picture with Jack’s work prominently displayed in it (especially if the film was critical of Marvel Comics) with even the threat of any kind of legal action. No one is going to invest serious money in a project like that.

    A few years ago, I was working on my Master’s Degree in English Education at the University of Central Florida, and I thought about doing my thesis on the visual rhetoric of Jack Kirby. UCF has an incredibly strict policy when it comes to getting permission to use every single image in a thesis for publication, so because I was not 100% certain I would be able to use every single Simon/Kirby, DC, Marvel, and Kirby Estate owned image I wanted to use in that project, I decided to focus on something else.

    Recently I considered doing a book called “Kirby Dynamics” or “Kirby Storyteller” or something fun like “Kirby Rocks” that would have been a fun all-ages book that featured a single large panel of artwork from every month in Jack’s career with some text on the opposing page discussing what Jack had been doing that month. Again, the problem is that you have to have permission from all of the owners of all of that material to use it, and that’s not easy to get, especially from all the parties involved if you want to comprehensively cover Jack’s entire life.

    That’s why I do Kirby Dynamics. It’s the only way I can use all of Jack’s art. The day may come where for some reason that site gets shut down. But it was a fun ride while it lasted.

    The point I wanted to make is that Charles is lucky he was able to use any Kirby art at all in his book. I suspect Charles would have loved to use a Jack Kirby image for the book cover, but he couldn’t, or at least he couldn’t use one that reflected his vision for the project. So I do hope people will (I hate to use the cliché) not judge the book by the cover.

    If anything, the Hand of Fire cover is a reflection of the climate Charles wrote the book in. We are in a transitional phase where what constitutes fair use is still being debated, and the work of an artist like Kirby is worth billions of dollars so the copyright to that material is going to be ferociously protected by its owners, so I have tremendous respect for Charles for forging ahead on a Jack Kirby project despite roadblocks set up by the owners of Jack’s art. People like me simply gave up on doing a Kirby book and chose other avenues.

    I believe John Morrow’s Jack Kirby Collector is not-for-profit specifically so he can use a couple pages form a Kirby story under fair use; if his publication was for-profit he might face legal obstacles; the Kirby Museum is also not-for-profit. I talked to Ronin Ro about his book Tales to Astonish a few years ago, and he suggested he decided not to have images in his book because of legal issues. I heard the cover-decision for Mark Evanier’s King of Comics was also based on legal deliberations. So even if you don’t like the cover of Charles’ book, just consider that it was one of many obstacles Charles had to overcome to get this project off the ground.

    The final decision in the Kirby court case may result in a legal precedent or a change in company policy at Marvel that will impact the very future of published comics’ scholarship. Who knows what images (if any) a future Kirby historian will be able to use if they want to comprehensively discuss the life and work of Jack Kirby in a published book. Because of the legal issues swirling around Kirby, and the slow demise of paper publications, in many respects, anyone who can get a book on Kirby out to the public is a pioneer.

    So despite the non-Kirby cover, I think we are all pretty fortunate Charles Hatfield put together Hand of Fire, I think it’s a book we’ll be discussing for years, and it’s great to see so many eloquent experts and historians chiming in here on the subject. Great job to everybody involved in the roundtable and thanks for sharing your thoughts on Jack’s work with all of us.

    Robert Steibel

  50. Jason Michelitch says:

    Just thought it was amusing since Heidi had already posted her own response to Boxer’s comments: http://www.comicsbeat.com/2012/05/03/kirby-girls-avengers-one-womans-guide/

    Comics Alliance is run by Laura Hudson, who has written quite eloquently on the state of being a female super-hero/geek-comics fan. (Full disclosure: I write for her a fair bit, and she’s also a good friend.)

  51. Michael Hill says:

    James, I like that: Marvel’s many vocal paid and unpaid agents.

  52. patrick ford says:

    I take it back. What I should have said is I can’t imagine anyone being interested in super heroes. That is to say interested in super heroes as opposed to Alan Moore, or Miller, or whoever. I like to imagine when a fan reads The Watchmen it’s because they like Moore, not because they have some fascination with super heroes. If Alan Moore quit writing super heroes and began writing Western’s I would hope people would read those Westerns.

  53. Eric Reynolds says:

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this roundtable. Thank you all for participating.

  54. I am.

  55. Thanks, Derik!

  56. patrick ford says:

    Wow! Breaking News: Andrei Molotiu to write book on Ditko.

  57. On Spider-Man, specifically.

  58. patrick ford says:

    You will be looking mainly the artwork? Have you seen the whole issues worth of layouts which Marvel reprinted in one of their “Masterworks” books? Marie Severin apparently saved the stats.
    What about rights issues?

  59. Thanks Charles for the book which I am enjoying immensely as I slowly make my way through it with my pea brain. Thanks to everyone else here for the round table and the comments!
    I just wanted to share a link to the video of a recent appearance Charles made to promote the book at my local funnybook store that I was lucky enough to get to attend so that you could hear him discuss the book himself.

  60. Glen David Gold says:

    oooh! webs!

  61. Scott Grammel says:

    All in all, I still would’ve liked far more attention paid to Hatfield’s actual book. Or, I guess, at least more than was given to Dick’s religious experiences, anyway. Seems fair to me.

    Best line (from Glen David Gold): “They’re WEIRD, which strikes me as being the first place to look for artistic intent — weirdness.” Amen, brother! (And if that didn’t in and of itself go a long way toward keeping people from downgrading Ditko’s importance quite as much as they did, it should have.)

    Think I can safely live without Sarah Boxer’s viewpoint from now on.

    As too often happens in these discussions, specific issues, stories, and works were almost never discussed, certainly not in any detail or in any depth. Considering the length and breadth of Kirby’s career, this is both astonishing and, I fear, somewhat telling. Was Kirby a great artist who didn’t ever create great art? Was he a great creator without ever becoming a great artist?

    For my part, I’m a particular fan of his Fighting American stories, a large handful of the romance tales, the Marvel monster stories, the core Royer-inked Fourth World stories, and assorted late DC stories (a couple Demon issues, many of the Loser stories). I do wonder how highly we’d regard most of Kirby’s Golden Age output if, around the time Lou Fine left comics for advertising, Kirby had done something similar. Would we occasionally nod towards the energy and excitement of those works with something of the halfhearted enthusiasm with which we regard Fine’s efforts today? I think maybe yes. Certainly, in making the case for Kirby’s boundless creativity and imaginative force, we tend to exaggerate the importance of many of those earlier creations, the only truly long-lasting one largely a Simon creation, it seems, and even then nurtured to it’s present vitality within the much-maligned Marvel comics factory.

    I’ve been ever-so-slowly catching up on some of the later Kirby in recent years, and I for one have no problem saying that (based on the first four issues I’ve read) Silver Star is certainly the work of a Kirby in decline. There are moments, and pages, and ideas, and drawings that are still pleasurable and memorable, but also much that is awkward, rushed, odd, unfortunate. Same with the 2001 issues I’ve read (and I read one last night, too). Worth reading, mostly enjoyable, the work of a talented man, but definitely lackluster in all areas when compared to the prime Marvel and DC years.

    I think there’s Kirby before DC killed his Fourth World dream, and Kirby after, and that event was the great rupture to his artistic soul, not Lee rewriting his stories, not Marvel keeping his art, not anything else he might’ve legitimately and honest decried in the years that followed.

    I think in a way, working at Marvel and, yes, with Lee, brought out something both grandiose and grand in Kirby that might never have otherwise been fully born, and the Fourth World stories should’ve been the full realization of that revitalized creative wellspring. I think he mourned that artistic miscarriage the rest of his life, and rarely if ever again let himself love one of his creations quite as fully and deeply, and never with the same level of complete artistic commitment and passion.

    They were jobs. He was a craftsman of honor and integrity. He couldn’t help but bring some of himself into all he did. But never again quite so much, or so freely, or with such absolute joy.

  62. Tony says:

    But that’s exactly what happened, except that in your preposterous fantasy scenario Moore went to write Westerns, whereas in reality Moore quit writing super heroes and began writing more ambitious stuff like Big Numbers and Lost Girls only to painfully discover that the audience he had at DC hadn’t followed him. After that, he had to spend a number of years in the desert till he could sneak back through the back door that Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee gave him (Supreme and WildC.A.T.s revamps).

    You could substitute the last two words in the phrase “I can’t imagine anyone being interested in super heroes”, for an infinite number of things, like “Wrestling”, “Jersey Shore”, “Nascar”, or even HARDCORE PORN and yet millions of human beings are hopelessly addicted to those things.

  63. patrick ford says:

    “Exactly what happened” and “preposterous fantasy” are mutually exclusive.
    Everything else you said I agree with.

  64. James says:

    I think Scott Grammell is onto something there

  65. patrick ford says:

    Scott if you want to see some of Kirby’s better stories discussed at length then you should read Charles’ book. It’s the strongest part of the book in my view.
    You mention Kirby’s ruptured soul. I think he was more like a movie monster who keeps rising from the dead. Kirby was knocked down several times as I see it. Beginning around late 1965, after KIrby had secured a better page rate, he was able to devote more time to his art and stories. Between 1966 and 1968 Kirby stories became far more ambitious than the kind of basic science fiction riffs he was unspooling under deadline pressures of around a hundred pages a month. What happened though is Kirby saw story arcs he had planned undermined by Lee’s rewrites, and aside from that Goodman was unwilling to negotiate a firm contract with Kirby. As a result you can see a drop off in scope during the years 1969 and 1970. The level of detail in Kirby’s art also dropped back a bit during those years.
    At DC Kirby was invigorated. He not only had a backlog of ideas rejected by Marvel, he had renewed enthusiasm. It’s pretty evident Kirby’s artwork again took on the kind of precision seen at Marvel 1966-68. This maintained up until the time DC cancelled the Fourth World books. Because Kirby had dropped the monthly Jimmy Olsen to work on Kamandi and The Demon the first two issues of both those titles were part of Kirby’s high.
    Once the Fourth World books were cancelled it’s as if Kirby had been poleaxed. This is particularly evident on the later issues of Mister Miracle. This isn’t to say there are not good and even excellent stories after the Fourth World was canned, but they are smaller in scale, and the artwork does not have the same energy as earlier. This pattern of highs and relative lows repeated itself again at Marvel in the mid-’70s. Kirby’s art did retain the streamlined abstractions which came to the fore more prominently at DC after the Fourth World was cancelled, but the artwork again had a noticeably higher level of consistent detail than Kirby’s post Fourth World artwork at DC. At least I think it did.
    I share Charles opinion of The Eternals, and think the Mad-Bomb story was as good as anything Kirby ever wrote. Once more though Kirby was subjected to editorial tampering. The forced introduction of The Hulk in the Eternals was a clear turning point. I’d have to guess Kirby making the Hulk in his story a robot was something of a middle finger on Kirby’s part.

    As for Kirby’s later work. No one I’ve seen ever spoke about it with greater passion than Jeff Lester.
    The interesting thing about Lester’s review is he went into THE HUNGER DOGS never having read it. He read the story in the fourth volume of the DC FW Omnibus. It followed 250 pages of Mister Miracle stories (1973-74 the tail end of it’s run) which Lester described as:

    “… like watching the weakening death throes of a formerly-powerful animal: it’s awesome in a truly depressing way.”

    Lester was also primed by a forward by Paul Levitz and an afterward by Mark Evanier which described THE HUNGER DOGS as a let down, not something up to the level expected of Kirby.
    So after all that, and saying:

    “” I would rank those final six issues of Mister Miracle as among some of the worst things Kirby’s done.”

    Lester had this to say about THE HUNGER DOGS:

    ” I found those final hundred-plus pages to be absolutely brilliant, some of the most stunning stuff Kirby’s ever done. I’ve had The Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 4 for maybe three weeks now, and every night for the first two I’d read those last 100-plus pages again and again.”

    Lester’s full review:

    Another review by a Canadian fellow named Pillock who writes the A TROUT IN MILK blog:

  66. Michael Hill says:

    Jack’s bang-on assessment: Stan and women = Funky and Barda.

  67. Jeet Heer says:

    @Scott Grammel. As Patrick indicated, Hatfield’s book does have a close reading of Kirby’s stories — chapter 6 in particularly offers a detailed analysis of what he regards as Kirby’s peak work “The Pact” and “Himon.” If you re-read the roundtable, you’ll see that virtually all the contributors point to individual stories they like — although there’s not the depth of analysis that you find in Hatfield’s book. That was partially my doing, since I wanted to focus on the major themes found in Hatfield’s book and Kirby’s career.
    I’m puzzled by your dismissal of Boxer’s contribution since she wrote some of my favorite postings in this roundtable. People who admire Jack Kirby need to realize that he’s not a universal favorite and vast swaths of the population find his work alien and alienating. Here’s a trick you might want to try: show some Kirby stories to the women in your life and see if they receive universal admiration. While I myself am very fond of Kirby’s work, I think that it’s worth articulating why his work is so off-putting to so many people. I thought Boxer’s posts did that, and were funny and stylishly written to boot.

  68. patrick ford says:

    Yeah, I liked Boxer’s comments because she is not a fan of super heroes, and I thought that was important to the discussion.
    I want to urge anyone with even a passing interest to read those close reading of THE HUNGER DOGS by Jeff Lester and Pillock.
    Here is a good bit on Kirby from the piece by Pillock.

    “so easy for us to gloss over Kirby’s topical ambitions while we’re looking at his timeless “myth-making”

    “Disappointing, HAH! It’s so disappointing it makes your skin crawl, it’s so disappointing you worry how it will all come out! It seems I’m always banging on about happy accidents, serendipitous collapses, and the like…but this one was a challenge even for me, and for just one simple reason, which was that it totally worked. I believe in the evolution of the artist, you see. I believe in “old men’s stories”. I believe in making it more personal and less easy for much of your old audience to follow you as you go along. I believe in complexity and idiosyncracy, and even metatextualism-gone-mad, for that matter. But Hunger Dogs makes it all far, far too real not to feel it: not to feel the real moment taking over, and the truth being laid bare, and the heart-cry going out willyou-nillyou to be heard. It’s usually so easy for us to gloss over Kirby’s topical ambitions while we’re looking at his timeless “myth-making”, just as we always gloss over his subtlety while we’re absorbed in his taste for action…”

  69. Jeet Heer says:

    @Patrick Ford. The phrase “obvious decline” can’t be looked at in isolation but has to be seen as part of Hatfield’s larger argument that the Fourth World books represent Kirby at apogee. In the chapter on The Eternals Hatfield explains in detail why he sees the art as faltering and the story as being uneven — arguments that apply to Kirby’s subsequent work. In order to dispute the argument for “obvious decline” it isn’t sufficient just to post some pages of 1980s Kirby work and say the art is good — the question is, how does the art stack up to the work Hatfield sees as peak — “The Pact” and “Himon”. While I find more of interest in Silver Star and Captain Victory than Hatfield does, I don’t find them anywhere as rich as narratives or as works of visual art as the early 1970s Fourth World books.

  70. Pillock’s take on The Hunger Dogs as an old man’s story makes good sense to me. There’s a vital heartbeat of interest at the core of that, to me, awkwardly cobbled-together book. Particularly telling to me is the way the story upends Kirby’s trademark preoccupation with gigantism in favor of contemplating miniaturization and automation: “micro-mark,” a pervasive element in the story that has even Darkseid worried and wistful. When you start feeling sympathy for Darkseid, you know you’re in trouble… and trouble is what The Hunger Dogs is about.

    There are some pretty awkward lunges in the book, but the micro-mark theme haunts me. And of course the germ of the book, the shorter story about Esak around which the rest of the book is wrapped, is a wonder.

    FWIW, I liked Sarah Boxer’s comments, particularly about the class themes in the S&K romance comics and about the semantic layering of the Marvel characters. I’ll be referencing these remarks in future, for sure.

    Finally, I like Patrick’s remark about Kirby repeatedly “rising from the dead.” While I agree that the axing of the Fourth World wounded Kirby deeply, that that disappointment stayed with him from then on, I believe he kept rising to the occasion. I can’t regard OMAC #1 or Eternals #1-12 or 2001 #5-6 or Kamandi #11-16, etc., as mere aftershocks.

    Clearly it’s time for me to reread Silver Star closely…

  71. patrick ford says:

    It’s perfectly fine to feel that way. It’s an opinion shared by almost all super hero comic book fans. My only objection was the lack of a qualifier, and reinforcing the opinion with the comment that only loyalists defended the work.

    The Jeff Lester and Pillock articles are both written by people who came to the work years after it had been first published, and had an expectation they were going to dislike it.
    There are many times in Kirby’s career where the quality of his pencils fluctuates based on either speed of production or lack of real enthusiasm. I think many people relate to the 1966-1968, 1970-1972 periods because during those years Kirby came the closest he ever came to what people might see as a kind of realism. The Sinnott inks 1966-1968 helped in that direction as well, if that’s to a persons taste.
    I’m a big fan of the pencils from those periods myself, but what is interesting to me is how Kirby’s artwork was often pushed to another level by periods where he was either rushed or not fully engaged. The first example of this occurred at Timely in 1941. Kirby’s earliest comic book work (say The Lone Rider) is really polished looking. At Timely Kirby for the first time was in a situation where he was turning out pages in great haste. His proportions became more exaggerated and I suspect this was not a conscious decision but a by product of Kirby working really fast, not having time to reference much, erase much, or fiddle much with the drawings. The focus was on production. Distortion crept into the work, and a lot of it is at least as extreme as anything you could find from the 1980s.


    Kirby incorporated the distortions into his style and even in the early ’50s when Kirby was often writing penciling and inking only around 20-25 pages a month his artwork continued to move increasingly towards abstraction. This carried over to Kirby’s mark making when he was inking his own pencils. Compare the abstracted light and shade in Kirby’s inking to pencils from the same era he would have turned over to an inker.



    Kirby continued to ink his own pencils quite often until he began producing a very large number of pages for Atlas/Marvel in 1958. During the years 1958-1964 Kirby’s pencils are rushed looking and the elongated distortions which stretched his early figures began to give way to what some people see as a blocker look. The very early Reed Richards is a pencil neck geek almost sickly looking, by the late ’60s Richards looks like thick and imposing. Here is an early ’60s Avengers cover with proportions as “funky” as anything from the ’80s.


    Personally I like Kirby’s increasingly abstracted work from the ’70s and ’80s. Did age play a role? I would assume so age played a role in the transition from this:


    to this:


  72. James says:

    Frankly I don’t think we “need to realize” that a lot of people dislike Kirby….why should we? The disrespect for his efforts by the corporations that profit from his work and Stan Lee and his many bootlicks is all over the culture, including, unfortunately, even some of the small ranks of high-end comics scholars, whose weblist I felt the need to leave because of the preponderance of annoying “experts” on the brilliance of Marvel and Lee, despite their amorality that flies in the face of their heroes’ stated values. And why should someone who actually dislikes and worse, isn’t familiar with Kirby’s work be accorded a preferred read simply because she is included as a token female, a status Ms. Boxer herself acknowledges? By no means is Jack’s work a male taste or if it is in the Marvel work , it is only so because Lee imposed so much sexism onto it. I know plenty of women who appreciate Kirby, who not only wrote female characters of agency but also did not draw them from standardized templates as most other male cartoonists do.
    Perhaps in order to truly do justice to comics, a medium that blends text and art, the analysis will take people who are not just writers but also artists…but I doubt that will be a popular viewpoint amongst critics. Few artists have undertaken to train themselves in the tools of textual discourse so it’s going to be a while in coming. In the end it seems as if the intrinsically text oriented critics stick with what they understand best: the words, and some critics do not appreciate being critiqued themselves…dissenters or those deemed to be of insufficient pedigree are either ignored, if possible, or in extremis, labelled “hysterical”, “cultists” and the “worst sort of internet complainers.” Wow, I guess my old pal Seth Tobocman, who introduced me to Jack at that 1982 NY Con, was right: “You will never succeed in joining their club.”

  73. patrick ford says:

    Let me just say this. Not long ago I was exchanging e-mail with Jon Cooke and he said something about Captain Victory being a mess. When I wrote him back asking if he’s read it he told me he was so discouraged at the time he had barely scanned it. When he wrote me back a couple of days later he said he’d completely missed the mark. He had gone years never giving it a thought, and was thrilled to find something that interesting which he had overlooked for years.

    At some point I’d like to see someone give more careful consideration to narrative structure in Kirby’s work. Many of the problems are the result of editorial edict.
    That was a huge problem at Marvel. You have two men at cross purposes with one another. Kirby’s version of the Surfer could not be more different from Lee’s it’s a B&W contrast of intent.
    The same is true of The story about what Kirby called The Cocoon Man. And this even showed up on minor stories like FF #108 where Lee totally rewrites the story. I think those things were the norm, not the exception and the reason why close readings of the Marvel comics show loads of ambiguities. I know when I read those stories as a 13 year old kid in 1970 I figured I was missing something, but today it’s obvious Lee was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
    As I pointed out earlier Kirby did not have complete freedom at DC. Forever People #1 was reordered and placed after three issues of Jimmy Olsen which were all produced after Forever People #1. As a result you have Olsen and Kent at the Daily Planet. Olsen is in his old style bow tie (never seen again in a Kirby story), and there is no mention of the Newsboy Legion, the DNA Factory, or any of the plot elements introduced in the first three Olsens. Kirby was asked to work with Superman. He incorporated the character into Forever People #1. DC liked what he had done and assigned him to Olsen where KIrby was allowed to make some pretty major changes to the character. Later Kirby was pressured to introduce Deadman into The Forever People against his will. While I love the Black Racer story the fact is The Black Racer was another book Kirby had planned to introduce at DC, and was not intended to be part of The Fourth World. According to Mark Evanier the character was introduced because Kirby had shown Marvel his Fourth World characters. Marvel had either rejected them (that’s what Stan Lee told Roy Thomas) or Kirby offered them with conditions based on Goodman giving him a secure and well defined contract.
    Carmine Infantino was aware of this and asked Kirby to find a way to introduce the character into the Fourth World rather than bringing out a separate title. Other new characters (Lonar, etc.) showed up in those short back up stories.
    THE HUNGER DOGS in my opinion is a testament to Kirby’s narrative skills. How he was able to stitch together something which holds together as well as it does under pressure of a very tight deadline is very impressive. He had the 23 page ROAD TO ARMAGETTO finished prepared on a reasonable deadline. It was slotted for publication in the last issue of The Baxter reprint of The New Gods. All of a sudden Kirby was expected to change the ending so that licensed characters weren’t killed, and expand the story by close to 50 pages. On top of that DC still needed to fill the second half of the Baxter reprint and Kirby created EVEN GODS MUST DIE to fill that space.

  74. George Bush (not that one) says:

    My wife loves Kirby and especially Thor (but hates Stan the Sham’s dialogue) so I feel that Sarah’s problems are self inflicted.Her own beliefs about gender and superheroes have tainted her ability to perceive . “Free your ass and your mind will follow” As far as The Hunger Dogs, it clicked for me when I read it after watching that Kirby Storyteller docu and putting it to perspective with his whole life. An old man’s tale indeed.

  75. patrick ford says:

    Here is a good example of how Lee changed Kirby intent and depiction of female characters.
    I thought these border notes were interesting. Especially the way Kirby depicts Sif as opposed to Stan’s version.
    In Stan’s version Sif is irritated with Odin. Lee has the heroic Thor saying, ” Stand aside female.”
    In Kirby’s border notes Sif is angered by Thor’s “self pity” she has to pull his ass out of trouble, because he’s so worked up about the loss of his hammer (or penis as Barbara would rightly describe it) he can’t get it together to save himself.
    Thor # 139
    Page two
    Panel one.
    She’s never been to Earth, but growing sound makes her uneasy.
    Thor senses Odin needs him, but is powerless to get to him.
    Panel two.
    Besides Thor is to ashamed to face him anyhow.
    Subway train is coming into sight. He makes up mind to.
    Panel three.
    Thor says, “Odin will get you back to Asgard, as for me.
    Panel four.
    He faces onrushing train.
    He says, “I can never get back, not without my hammer.
    Panel five.
    Sif gestures.
    She’s still a goddess.
    goddess angry goddess who doesn’t stand for self pity.
    Panel six.
    She has (enchanti-force) and uses it.
    She says, “The thing to do is get your hammer back.

    Not sure this image will come through, but it’s page two of Thor #139.


  76. George Bush (not that one) says:

    YES !!! Perfect examples of how Stan fucked up Kirby’s stories. Reading 4th world or Silver Star and then going to silver age Marvel is a shock of Sexist Stan’s B.S. (tm.) And people wonder why some people don’t need Stan ? LOL . Kirby was so full of love and respect for women. He treated them equal enough to make them great villains.

  77. patrick ford says:

    Jeff Lester has a nice comment on the Micro-Mark. He let’s Kirby explain most of it by highlighting the dialogue.

    Jeff Lester: Like “Even Gods Must Die!”, The Hunger Dogs is a victory stolen from the jaws of defeat and loss, and the irony is this victory is accomplished by open acknowledging defeat and loss. In The Hunger Dogs, Darkseid sees his coming obsolescence in the face of The Micro-Mark, the digitized destroyer that is the brutal male successor to the kindly Mother Box. In a staggering page, Darkseid listens to the Micro-Mark’s inventor crow about the passing of Himon and wordlessly realizes that his own time has also passed. “His day is over, great Darkseid!” the collaborator boasts. “Regard him as a pitiful, harmless object! This is Micro-Mark’s hour! There’s no need for intrigue or great strivings–the cosmos lies open to button-pushing babes!”

  78. James says:

    I mean that I agree with Grammel only that DC’s cancellation of the New Gods books was one of the worst things that ever happened to Kirby. It was a foolish and destructive act by Infantino that shows the same lack of taste and courage that DC continues to display to this day. That does not in any way mitigate Stan Lee and Marvel’s horrible treatment of Kirby though.

  79. James says:

    Unfortunately, that passage is a holdover from “On the Road to Armagetto”, Kirby’s cryptically excellent original, hugely underestimated because it is still largely unseen short ending that, true to form, DC could not allow to pass without stomping all over the thing. What was eventually released as Hunger Dogs is a mess that ran through a bunch of editors who had no respect for Kirby including Dick Giordano and Andy Helfer, who finally gave the lot to Greg Theakston to reink and cobble together. The crime was somewhat leavened by the fact that DC heads Kahn and Levitz made it so Jack got a piece of the “Superpowers” action via his redesign of his characters, but the HD book is still a terrible mess:

  80. Michael Hill says:

    Jeet, Charles seems to lose sight of the narrative art angle by dismissing the writing.

  81. Glen David Gold says:

    About later Kirby: I have long wondered what we could have seen if anyone else had been as smart as Richard Kyle and actually paid Jack to draw one of the stories he usually told over dinner. “Street Code,” though it has that weird fish-eye thing, and the pencils look like chalk, is drawn with the same energy and joy as his early ’70s work. That double spread of 1920s New York — http://www.tomhart.net/teaching/ComicArt/kirby/streetCode/pages/page05-06_gif.htm — is as happy-making as anything we discussed in the round table. (Yes, the cop’s face is cartoony.) And the narrative behind the story is just as clean as a 1950s Romance tale. When I used to think about time travelling back to 1983 with a couple grand in cash to get him to draw a few more autobiographical stories, it was just to see his imagination going after his own life again. But having read Charles’s book, I think that if we had any more than this single story to go on, there might be an argument for Kirby never really being a goner, just bored sometimes.

  82. patrick ford says:

    When I look at the majority of the covers Kirby did for comic books he wasn’t otherwise involved with for Marvel in the mid to late ’70s the ennui is palpable. Those things are almost painful to look at; yet at the same time he was doing fabulous looking stuff on things he was interested in.
    There are times when you can see boredom even in stories Kirby is committed to. One of the most striking examples is the very last panel of the final issue of Silver Star. Not only is the drawing completely off, it is oddly a complete chip shot as a drawing. It’s the easiest drawing in the whole book. There is no perspective, no foreshortening, it’s just a very basic drawing. Somehow the drawing is botched. Yet page back through the whole issue and there are great drawings and the best drawings are what many artists would see as the ones which would be most challenging. Pages 2-4 are excellent pages 10-16 are sensational as are pages 18 and 19. That last page (page 20) it almost seems like the drawings called for by the story
    were so boring Kirby just dashed them off.

  83. R. Fiore says:

    I was just struck by a bolt of kitchen logic about my own writing. I suddenly realized that one point of similarity between William Blake and Jack Kirby I completely forgot about is that Blake developed an intricate personal mythology filled with supernatural beings with names like Urizen, Urthona, Enitharmon, Theotormon, Palamabron . . .

    He called them the Eternals.

  84. J.T. Dockery says:

    First of all, I haven’t enjoyed myself reading a roundtable style discussion this much on comics in a long time, if ever, as I have this one. Right balance of people, and I thoroughly enjoyed the free-wheeling character of the conversational flow. Even the comments section has been spirited and insightful as opposed to just lapsing into frustrated people yelling at each other in a virtual fashion.

    Speaking of balance of people/personalities, the one foul note to me in the whole program was the contribution of Ms. Boxer, so I was glad to see that this was mentioned, and don’t find it surprising at all that Heidi did a bit of a rebuttal to her at “The Beat.” It seems to me that if there was a discussion of Lynda Barry’s work and someone came to the discussion saying, “Why are all the drawings ugly? I like adventure comics with action in them. I don’t understand what anybody would get out of reading about weird kids babbling on about their pointless lives?” It would serve about the same amount of respect for Barry’s work that Boxer does Kirby’s. I just don’t see the point outside of allowing in a voice that typifies that stock footage response of someone who sees no value in Kirby. But to me that’s already implicit without bringing Boxer’s voice in to make it explicit. I’d have edited her out.

    Also, I don’t buy the gender thing, from Boxer, or even this notion that Kirby fandom/superhero fandom. Let’s face it, if R. Crumb as a part of this roundtable would have said, in essence, the same things, except most likely even less kind. And I’m sure would express serious concern if any of his children, male or female, enjoyed superheroes.

    PS…Mr. Fiore, your lightning bolt on Blake is FANTASTIC!

  85. J.T. Dockery says:

    Who can say that there isn’t some kind of Blake/Kirby genetic connection:

  86. patrick ford says:

    Bill Everett IS related to Willam Blake.
    Like Kirby Blake was an object of intense ridicule during his life. Time will tell if Kirby ever escapes being a laughingstock. but I would say the odds are against him. It’s that damn Robert Hall birthday suit.

  87. Uh, where?

  88. For the record, Sarah Boxer is a smart cartoonist and I’m glad she contributed here. I surely disagree with many of her comments, but some are gold.

  89. patrick ford says:

    Is Sarah Boxer a cartoonist? I know her work from the NYT were she writes reviews and other articles.

  90. Michael Hill says:

    Hi Charles, “Kirby in decline” is a dismissal of the writing with the art. Jack’s writing only got better, incorporating his experiences in the years since his “prime”. If you meant the art was in decline, it would be better to specify. Take a look at those links Pat posted for some insight into Hunger Dogs… Mark Evanier’s apology for the work in the Fourth World Omnibus just tells me something about Mark.

  91. Michael Hill says:

    I’m really enjoying the book, by the way. I read the ending some time ago… I got annoyed part-way through Chapter 2 and skipped ahead to the Fourth World, then doubled back. I’m a few pages from finishing my last chapter, Kirby’s Technological Sublime.

  92. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Reading Sarah B’s “token gal” posts, I found myself wondering what Wendy Pini might have to say about Kirby. She’s always pointed to Kirby as an important influence.

  93. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Er, in the context of this discussion I mean.

  94. Ken Viola says:

    Kirby and Ditko are Great, I met both of them. Read my first comic book in ’56, age 4. Comics have always been unfinished glimpses beyond the veil, due to commercial deadlines, company ownership and editorial interference. Storytelling is all, when the perfect combination comes together(not most of the time in comics history), Magic happens, and a New Language exists for all time.

    As a teenager in the sixties, I visited and corresponded with the offices of DC & Marvel numerous times, only to be confronted by failed, doomed editors. Talentless tools for the publishers. And not much has changed in the last 70 years.

    Steve Ditko and I talked on the phone and wrote to each other for several years. I recall Steve telling me at the time why he was leaving marvel, having to do with the green goblin. Not speaking for them, I don’t think Steve nor Jack ever cared for money except to make a living doing what they did, but wanted and expected equitable compensation for their work.

    Jack told me he first became self aware of what he really did(after decades of incredible processing) when he received a paper from a female college student on the Black Racer.

    Inneresting comments about Gurdjieff, who influenced the 13th Floor Elevators, creators of Psychedelic music and
    A E Van Vogt, who influenced P K Dick and L Ron Hubbard.

    When one looks at the work of an Artist, one should consider All.

    We are blessed to see the Work of Jack Kirby.

    Ken Viola
    Producer/Director: The Masters of Comic Book Art (1987)

  95. patrick ford says:

    Looks like this is an example of Sarah’s cartooning. Reminds me a little bit of R.O. Blechman.

  96. Allen Smith says:

    Wasn’t Bill Everett related in some way to William Blake? Seems like I read that somewhere.

  97. Allen Smith says:

    Sorry Pat, I posted above and then read your message. Yes, Everett was related to Blake in some way.

  98. patrick ford says:

    No need to be sorry, it’s not my information. First time I read about the connection was in Jon Cooke’s COMIC BOOK ARTIST #2.
    BTW Bill Everett’s full name is William Blake Everett.

  99. Rintrah says:

    Just Imagine… Stan Lee exploiting William Blake to create a comic book company.

  100. Just wanted to say this was a really interesting series to read through. If nothing else it has helped me take some new things into consideration with my own work!

    A true master is one who you will continue to learn from long after they’ve stopped producing!

  101. RegularSyzedMike says:

    Her opinions about Kirby make more sense seeing how her art is geared. I’m not insulting it but it is definitely the opposite of Kirby in most measurable ways!

    In regards to her comments about the Marvel characters vs. DC in texture and character I think Marvel’s layered and textured approach is why Marvel characters seem to make for better movies while DC’s characters make for better cartoons.

    I think it’s harder to buy into a guy in space pajamas fighting crime than a conflicted character trying to do what’s right in spite of themselves when it’s live action.

  102. I might have missed it in the discussion, and I’m sure it’s been discussed before, but this is in all liklihood the Blake image that influenced the Kirby image above you were discussing.


  103. Michael Hill says:

    Sorry, Charles, I see further down that you’d already commented on the Pillock blog.

  104. @ Michael, I think the writing in Captain Victory and Silver Star is uneven, though suffused with the feelings and insights of Kirby’s mature years. I don’t mean that to be a dismissal, but it’s true that my book doesn’t devote time to engaging that work critically.

    Engaging it critically is clearly warranted, though I couldn’t do it in Hand of Fire. Someday we’ll do a roundtable on late Kirby, eh?

  105. Michael Hill says:

    That would be terrific, Charles. I finished the book and will re-read the Fourth World parts. I enjoyed your deconstruction of the Wells theory.

  106. Allen Smith says:

    It would also be great for John Morrow to devote an issue of TJKC to late Kirby. Recent issues show Kirby being a mere costar in his own magazine. Defect of its virtues indeed.

    Allen Smith

  107. Michael Hill says:

    Allen, you’re referring to the recent abundance of Stan Lee content by the likes of Alexander and Comtois that doesn’t hesitate to slag Kirby for committing treason against the House of Ideas. That’s the tightrope of which Charles writes: John Morrow knows his bread is buttered by Marvel and its fans, and is trying to make amends for letting his true colours show in earlier issues. I suspect we’ve seen the last of A Failure to Communicate.

  108. Allen Smith says:

    I’ve followed The Jack Kirby Collector for a long time, but at the moment I’m wavering. When I buy something for Kirby content, I want it to be Kirby content, as a matter of truth in advertising.

  109. Allen Smith says:

    Thanks for articulating what I’ve often thought about Jack Kirby, Tony. He needed to self promote himself more, although not at the cost of producing more of that outstanding art and far out concepts.

  110. patrick ford says:

    It’s odd magazines, yahoo groups, and Facebook pages devoted to Lee are often identified as being “Kirby” groups. Lee is vastly more well known and popular than Kirby. Even among the small group of people who identify themselves as “Jack’s greatest fan” it’s really a pile of Kirby’s ’60s era toenail clipping which are enjoyed.

  111. Kim Thompson says:

    I would pay a LOT to see a page of Crumb or Brown inked by Wally Wood, actually!

  112. patrick ford says:

    Or even three or four. There is something interesting about weird penciler inker combinations, but they are a curiosity.
    It’s kind of interesting that Neal Adams an artist whose attraction is mainly the surface of his work, the Johnstone and Cushing house style via Stan Drake, was once inked at DC by Vince Colletta, Joe Orlando, and George Roussos.
    There is a Warren story where Alex Toth inked Leo Duranona.

  113. James says:

    There is a large degree of ageism in our society that justifies some to write people off when they get older. The variation seen in the Degas images Pat posted somewhere above may well be a result of age, in that Degas eventually lost his eyesight. I personally prefer some of De Kooning’s late work what many will tell is the result of Alzhiemers. In Kirby’s case there may have been some problems as he got older, for instance in the Street Code pencils can be seen a similar quaveriness in the wiggly lines as Charles Schulz, perhaps the result of a stroke—-but also I believe Kirby later concentrated on his writing much more, to make the point that he WAS a writer, while his art became deliberately more patterned and stylized to a perhaps almost self-parodic level….or, he may well have taken inspiration from the emphasis of mark making in Gary Panter and the self-aware surfaces of Art and Francoise’s Raw. As well, do not forget that the most refined drawing on the 60s Marvel work was drawn on boards that were much larger than those of his later work….his work suffered when the boards got smaller…he found it easier to get refined detail when drawing larger, as most artists would. One can see the same problem in every other artist when the companies switched to smaller art boards at the cusp of the seventies. And who expects their work to remain static…priorities change as one grows older. At any rate, one can look at Captain Victory and find panels as good as peak Thor next to rushed-off ones…though, it is hard to tell sometimes because so much of the inking wasn’t really good enough. Still, writing him off because of these problems is pretty shitty. And I have to say that the best Kirby writing, and there are plenty of instances throughout his career, is far and away light-years in quality beyond the best writing of blurbs that a Stan Lee was capable of.

  114. Pingback: Carnival of souls: Jack Kirby, Andrew White, Mad Men, more « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins

  115. Scott Grammel says:

    Ken Viola: “I recall Steve [Ditko] telling me at the time why he was leaving marvel, having to do with the green goblin.”

    I love the silence these kinds of controversial comments create in fan circles. In interviews, when Jack Adler dissed Kirby as an egotist, or Guardineer said that Eisner and Iger were the dirtiest names in comics — comments that any red-blooded reporter should’ve naturally jumped on for further clarification, elucidation, elaboration — there were no follow-up questions. None. (For the record, the Eisner one was only really surprising because he said it, but the Kirby one I wish he’d been pressed to defend. Either way, of course, the missed opportunities in each situation bug the hell out of me.)

    So, is Ken’s memory right or wrong? (And do keep in mind the scrupulous honesty S.D. has always shown when asked about his obvious contributions to Eric Stanton’s comics.)

  116. Michael Hill says:

    Seems to have shut down the entire discussion. I vote for Steve’s published version.

  117. Allen Smith says:

    Hush, Joe. Sarah was just giving us the feminine point of view. Sit back and take it like a man.

  118. Allen Smith says:

    Charles, I look forward to your book on Steve Ditko.

  119. Allen Smith says:

    I think Kirby did have a decline in his art after 1980, and possibly before. I attribute the decline to medical/physical problems, the kind of things associated with aging. I mean, the Kirby DC Super Powers book was bad, no two ways about it. But the same era brought us Silver Star, a flawed masterpiece, but still a masterpiece. His storytelling ability was still there, and that’s what always seemed to matter to Kirby.

  120. R. Maheras says:

    Hot damn!

  121. R. Maheras says:

    I was no Kirby novice when Fourth World exploded onto the scene, and I simply did not like Kirby’s dialogue. I STILL don’t. It’s weird, it’s stilted, it makes odd jumps, and it’s uneven. A page or two will read fine, and then suddenly Kirby would throw in something like “Jumping jars of jellied jaguars” (an actual Jimmy Olsen quote from Fourth World.

    That said, I love Kirby’s art. I love his visual pacing; I love his panel composition; I love the way he “moves the camera” from panel to panel; I love his design chops; and I love his visual plotting style.

    He just was not great at writing dialogue. And his “writing” fans can argue all day long how I’m wrong, or I’m some misguided boob, but the fact of the matter is, nothing Kirby edited, wrote and drew enjoyed any long-term commercial success — except, arguably, “Kamandi.”

    Like Kirby, Lee never had another commercial success after he and Kirby “broke up the band.”

    And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why.

    The two men needed each other to offset their individual weaknesses, and thus the sum of the two was far greater than the individual parts all by themselves. In that regards, they were exactly like the Beatles. As a team, they could catch that elusive lightning in a bottle. Separately, they enjoyed some successes, but nothing even close to equaling what they could do as a team.

    And that’s a damn shame.

  122. Michael Hill says:

    Hi Russ, I won’t say you’re a boob, but Kirby’s solo dialogue is my favourite. For a music analogy, I like Kirby as Springsteen and Lee as the Pointer Sisters recording “Fire”; but nothing tops Pat’s golf analogy.

  123. Ken Viola says:

    Hey Man, my memory is sharp and fine, Thank You.

  124. George Bush (not that one) says:

    “long-term commercial success ” See right there is a problem for me. I can’t base art off of units sold. Its silly. Have you ever met anyone? They were most likely stupid as fuck.

  125. R. Maheras says:

    Commercial success isn’t silly. If something does not sell well to an established audience in an established market, it’s often a general indicator that the product is less desirable than other versions of the product.

    I don’t think Kirby’s art had anything to do with his failure to find a commercial success after he left Marvel for DC — especially for the terrific stuff he drew in the 1970s. Nor do I think the failure was because of the concepts or subject matter — many of which were interesting and loaded with long-term possibilities.

    That leaves the dialogue as the big turn-off to most readers.

  126. Allen Smith says:

    Unfortunately, not being most readers I can’t speak for them, my own reaction is that while Kirby’s dialogue was eccentric, it was just as fun if not more than that of other comics at the time. Which isn’t to say that with all the young artists coming up, that Kirby might not have been overshadowed. Again, IMHO, time hasn’t hurt my opinion that Kirby’s seventies output was solid, if not spectacular, while time has hurt my opinion of what other writers came up with. What is of lasting quality can’t be determined by the public reaction of the moment.

  127. George Bush (not that one) says:

    Stravinsky’s The rite of spring did not “sell well” when it was first performed. So does the marketplace really tell us much?

  128. George Bush (not that one) says:

    So because Stravinsky’s The rite of spring did not “sell well” its no good? Silly.

  129. Michael Hill says:

    Russ, like Allen and the other George, I don’t care if anyone else liked Kirby’s writing. I liked it as a teenager, and I like it even more as an adult, after many readings. Stan’s “writing” turns my stomach and I won’t read it ever again. There’s a fellow who says he tries reading the Fourth World every few years “just to see what all the fuss is about”, and still dislikes it. If I devoted that much time to reading stuff I dislike, I wouldn’t have time left to re-read Kirby’s dialogue, so I suspect this fellow hasn’t really read any Lee dialogue since he was a kid.

  130. Scott Grammel says:

    I’m sure it is, Ken. But very inconvenient, too, I think.

  131. Allen Smith says:

    Russ is correct in one respect: commercial success is important if an artist wants to keep getting his work out in front of the public, so it does play a part. However, as we see with today’s comics, selling a fraction of what they sold even in the seventies, success is relative. Kirby, alone or in collaboration, had enough commercial successes behind him to have companies using his art and/or writing for a very long time. So he is an example of both commercial and artistic success. Not the only example, but as he is the subject of this discussion, the one I’m citing.

  132. R. Maheras says:

    Exactly — As much as many folks criticize the publishers, without them, none of this — including this forum — would exist.

    They underwrote everything, and gave Kirby, Lee and everyone else, a vast audience with which to perform in front of. No audience? No fan base. No fan base? No arguments about who did what when, who deserves this or that credit, and no historical contributions with which to marvel at.

    And that’s something I can’t stress enough: Widespread exposure is everything.

    In a thread somewhere else, I mentioned the many thousands of characters (some very interesting and promising) created by comics fans during the 1960s and 1970s that are almost totally unknown today — simply because their audience size was a few hundred or less. If Kirby did free work for the Texas Trio in the 1960s rather than paid work for Goodman at Marvel, would anyone but the most scholarly of comics scholars know who he is today?

    Absolutely not.

  133. George Bush (not that one) says:

    Kirby’s 4th world is often called a failure because it was cancelled. Yet it sold as good as the other comics,better than some and when Jenette Kahn later saw the numbers,she said she would not have cancelled it. No one is saying publishers don’t take a risk,that would be silly.

  134. Michael Hill says:

    Hardly a failure when DC has used it as the foundation for their universe for the past three decades. If the Fourth World is a failure compared to Marvel, Marvel’s a failure compared to Kirby’s comics from the ’40s and ’50s.

  135. George Bush (not that one) says:

    And don’t forget the 4th worlds recent HC reprints that sold out , and now softcover versions. That sounds like a commercial success to me.

  136. Doug Harvey says:

    One of my favorite contemporary abstract painters, steve roden, has been thinking about Kirby’s foundational influence on his work: http://inbetweennoise.blogspot.com/search?q=neal+adams

  137. Kim Thompson says:

    THE HULK and THE X-MEN were failures initially too. Legitimate “we’re not selling enough of these, let’s cancel them” type failures, not “Carmine Infantino fucked ’em over” type failures.

    Things fail because they’re no good, because they’re good but poorly marketed or packaged, because it’s just the wrong time, or for random reasons of pure chance. Conservative populists tend to lean toward arguing that commercial success is an indicator of quality (and failure the absence thereof), and liberal élitists argue the opposite. Any attempt to prove or disprove quality by invoking commercial success or failure can be safely ignored, I’ve found.

  138. Nate says:

    I don’t think anybody denies the need for publishers. What’s at issue is whether the publishers do right by their creators, either while they’re working for them or after. Kirby is a flash-point because he exemplifies the many ways a publisher can blow it on both ends.
    Besides, do publishers really need defenders? A cursory scan of the Internet suggests that Marvel and DC get loads of coverage from the major sites, and that interviews with editors and promotional shots from series derived from creators who aren’t seeing a dime get circulated without so much as the raise of an eyebrow.

  139. Michael Hill says:

    Kim, I think the failure of Hulk and X-Men was because Kirby was scripting them at the beginning. He brought them to Stan on spec, and Stan hadn’t perfected the rewriting process. People hated the raw Kirby dialogue.

  140. Michael Hill says:

    Nate, the same question goes for Stan Lee… people who attempt to credit Kirby as more than the artist directed by Stan are accused of tearing one down to build up the other. If we did a serious job of moving the plotting credit from Stan to Jack, would anyone even notice? Does Stan Lee need defending?

  141. Allen Smith says:

    To answer you, Michael, Stan Lee does need defending. As the one who wrote the credits, he’s made enough questionable statements and sly underhanded comments about who created what to have his honesty called into question. As he’s such a great self promoter, he can defend himself, I ain’t gonna do it.

  142. Jeet Heer says:

    As the old adage goes, what is asserted without evidence can be denied without evidence. Michael: do you have any proof that the early X-Men and Hulk had more “raw Kirby dialogue” than other Kirby-drawn comics (like the Fantastic Four, Thor, etc.) which were more successful? Or is this pure speculation?

  143. R. Fiore says:

    Things also get cancelled (shall we leave the loaded word fail out of this?) because they don’t meet expectations raised by sales the artist pulled at the place he was hired away from. This I suspect may be what happened with the Fourth World; he was hired to repeat the magic (in terms of sales) and when the magic wasn’t repeated they said “this didn’t work, let’s pull the plug”, even though sales might have justified continuing if not judged objectively rather than against expectations.

  144. Jeet Heer says:

    Yeah, there’s reason to think that’s what happened. It’s interesting that after Carmine Infantino was booted out and new management took over, they briefly revived the New Gods. And as others — including Hatfield in Hand of Fire — have noted, the characters and concepts Kirby created have become increasingly central to DC comics, providing a kind of foundation stone for subsequent world-building efforts.

    Also worth noting is that the New Gods came at a difficult, inflationary point in comics history and DC radically increased the price and page content of the series (from 15 cents to 25 cents) — which hurt sales. In general the early 1970s wasn’t a good time to launch an ambitious comic book series.

  145. Michael Hill says:

    Hi Jeet, I was taking RM’s idea (Kirby dialogue is a sales-killer), combined with Kim’s observation, to their logical conclusion. For evidence I submit to you Stan Lee’s deposition, at least the part Disney allows us to see. Stan says it never happened, therefore like payment for rejected pages and the known examples that contradict his unequivocal declaration (Spiderman, character designs for New Gods), we must consider the possibility. Remember Blake’s first book signing, Jeet? It was a more innocent time then, when a True Believer could earnestly put down a Kirby fan by saying, you’re wrong, that man always gives credit to his collaborators. Mostly my comment was intended as a playful response to RM’s sincerely-held dialogue beliefs, one of those jokes with a kernel of truth at the centre, with only one man alive knowing just how big the kernel is.

  146. Jeet Heer says:

    Hi Michael — sorry, I missed the irony of your remarks!

  147. Allen Smith says:

    Er, Pat, that’s “lowest common denominator”. As in those people who as adults still admire Stan Lee’s writing.

  148. Allen Smith says:

    It’s not those interviews with Ditko and Eisner, et al that make me think of lost opportunities. It’s all the times that Stan Lee has been interviewed and has never been asked a serious question. It’s a result of the comics press being fans, and taking whatever scraps the companies, and their flunkies, dish out.
    Without a whimper. There has never been a serious comics press (with the possible exception of certain people here, at this site) asking any tough questions.

  149. Michael Hill says:

    And Jeet, when the evidence is uncovered, let’s talk about it here.

  150. R. Maheras says:

    Here’s the problem, though: Kirby’s commercial failures after leaving Marvel in 1969 and insisting, for the remainder of his life, on editing, writing and drawing almost everything else he did wasn’t just a onesy or twosy occurrence. It happened over and over and over again.

    I understand perfectly his rationale. He had been short-shrifted one too many times on plotting credit and apparently made a vow that it would never happen again. I get that. As an idea man, he was a genius. But the problem is, for his work to appeal to a wide audience, Kirby needed an editor and someone to write more conventional, populist dialogue.

    There’s no shame in a person admitting his or her weaknesses, but by the same token, no person likes someone else to get all, or a lion’s share, of the credit for something that was, in fact, mostly that person’s baby.

    As I pointed out above, Kirby created a number of characters who had the potential for long-term success, but not with Kirby doing the editing and the writing.

    Kirby needed Lee (or someone like Lee) as much as Lee needed Kirby, and it’s a shame Kirby didn’t get the plotting recognition when he was at Marvel during the 1960s. He should have. As far as bonuses and other additional compensation goes, we’ll never know what discussions Lee had with Goodman regarding such things for the artists. To be honest, I wonder if Goodman even had any idea the “Marvel Method” existed, and the fact that some of the Bullpen artists (like Ditko and Kirby) were doing the lion’s share of the creating and plotting on Marvel’s most successful books. Because I would have to think that if he had, he’d have been a bit more careful about their treatment and value to the company.

  151. Jeet Heer says:

    Russ: the problem is that constantly conflating commercial success with artistic achievement. And you’re not doing that in a consistent way either. The best-selling comics that Kirby ever did were not the collaborations with Lee but rather the early Captain America (with Simon) and the romance comics of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Those were comics that sold in the millions — as against the Marvel comics of the 1960s which sold in the hundreds of thousands.
    Also, it took a long while for Marvel comics to catch on — much longer than the time that was given the Fourth World books.

    Here’s a list of the top ten selling comics of 1964:
    1) Action Comics DC 518,026
    2) Archie Archie 484,704
    3) Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories Gold Key 456,425
    4) Treasure Chest Catholic Guild 405,087
    5) Flintstones Gold Key 379,792
    6) Tarzan Gold Key 353,237
    7) Uncle Scrooge Gold Key 336,380
    8) Betty and Veronica Archie 333,833
    9) The Three Stooges Gold Key 322,860
    10) Bugs Bunny Gold Key 322,317

    You’ll notice that none of the comics of Kirby/Ditko/Lee make the list. So would you argue that Bugs Bunny comics, Flintstone comics or Action comics were much better than the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, etc.?

  152. Michael Hill says:

    Russ, I won’t dispute the fact that if Stan and Jack hadn’t split up in 1970, you may have gotten more of the comics you like, and they may have bucked the industry trend and sold well. My points: (a) I prefer Jack’s work unmangled by Stan because Jack was a better writer/cartoonist and actually knew what the heck was going on in the story and didn’t have to ruin it to shape it into something he understood. (b) Jack was somewhat happier producing work where he had all the creative input and got all the credit. (c) I like Jack’s dialogue.

    If you want to play this game, Kirby should’ve left Marvel when Ditko did… that way we’d have five more years of Kirby comics that weren’t wrecked by Lee’s “input”.

  153. Michael Hill says:

    Jeet, just imagine the numbers on that list if Stan had dialogued some of those books.

  154. Allen Smith says:

    Yes, Mike. Just think of that snazzy Stan Lee dialogue over that great Carl Barks artwork. And Barks could do the plotting, too!

  155. Allen Smith says:

    Or, Smilin’ Stan on the New Gods. Excelsior, Darkseid baby!

  156. R. Maheras says:

    C’mon, Jeet. Kirby’s forte during the 1960s through the end of his career was superheroes, and to a lesser extent, science fiction. Yeah, there was “Spirit World” and “In the Days of the Mob” — but both were (unplanned) one-shots.

    So when you talk audiences, you need to talk the demographic group that read and bought predominately superheroes and science fiction comics. By 1969, when Kirby left the books for DC, the two titles he left, “Fantastic Four” and “Thor,” were number 9 and 10 of the top 10 best-selling superhero comics. But his success in the superhero genre at Marvel did not duplicate itself over at DC, and the only different variable besides the characters was the dialogue. The Fourth World characters have shown over succeeding decades that they have commercial staying power, so the only variable left is Kirby’s dialogue. Yes, some people liked it (including some of my comics fan buddies circa 1971), but the fact of the matter is, most superhero fans found the dialogue, well, odd.

    The Golden Age material — including the romance stuff — was generally scripted, but not by Kirby (at least according to Joe Simon). In addition, while Golden Age books did sell well compared to many of their 1960s counterparts, it was generally not “in the millions” as is oft reported — at least not for the superhero stuff. And while it’s reported that some of the romance titles in the late 1940s had print runs of over a million copies, knowing what the actual sell-through would be helpful. If the sell-through was 60 percent, that would equate to about 600,000 copies.

    I went through the microfilm library of the Audit Bureau of Circulations and found that even the Superman and Batman titles in the early 1940s did not, with a rare exception, reach the million-copy sales mark. For example, many of the DC books were selling in the 350,000 to 400,000 range — which is what the best-sellers of the 1960s were selling.

    For example, in 1942, the BEST monthly sales for Detective Comics Group, which consisted of five titles (“Action Comics,” “Adventure Comics,” “Detective Comics,” “More Fun Comics,” and “Star-Spangled Comics”) was a shade over 2 million copies — or an average of about 400,000 copies per title. That’s a far cry from “millions” per title.

  157. Jeet Heer says:

    Russ: I’m not sure why we have to restrict ourselves to only considering superhero comics. As we discussed in the roundtable Kirby worked in all sorts of genres and in fact mixed up genres. Even during the 1960s he was still doing romance comics and war comics. For nearly a quarter of his working life — from the late 1940s to the late 1950s — he did more romance comics than any other genre. and those romance comics sold more than the vast majority of superhero comics — so if sales are the measure of quality you’d have to say that Kirby/Lee was inferior to Kirby/Simon (and in point of fact, Kirby seems to have written many of those 1940s and 1950s comics himself). In fact, if sales are the measure of quality and success then the best superhero comics of 1969 — the year you yourself pointed to — were Superman, Superboy and Lois Lane. Would we say that Kirby/Lee were inferior in dialogue and art to Superman, Jimmy Olson or Lois Lane?

    Here are the sales for 1969:

    1) Archie Archie 515,356
    2) Superman DC 511,984
    3) Superboy DC 465,462
    4) Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane DC 397,346
    5) Betty and Veronica Archie 384,789
    6) Action Comics DC 377,535
    7) Amazing Spider-Man Marvel 372,352
    8) World’s Finest Comics DC 366,618
    9) Batman DC 355,782
    10) Adventure Comics DC 354,123

    Notice that Kirby/Lee don’t register on the top 10 — which doesn’t mean their work was inferior from the top selling books of that period — far from it. This is the sort of confusion you get when you conflate commercial successful with aesthetic achievement.

  158. Michael Hill says:

    Russ, actually not much of what Kirby did from 1970 onward needs to be called superheroes. And Jeet’s correct, you need to do a bit of research before crediting Joe Simon in broad terms, like “the writer” or “the inker”. On many stories, Jack was the writer, penciler and inker. There’s a disturbing quote on the Titan S&K website, Stan Lee stating that he learned everything he needed to know about working in comics from Joe Simon. The truth is they both knew Jack was bad at self-promotion, and knew how to ride the Kirby Gravy Train.

  159. Debates about the relative commercial failure (?) of Kirby’s post-60s, post-Lee work ought to be placed in the context of changes in the overall comic book market. IMO it’s a mistake to assume that the conditions that enabled the rise of Marvel in the 60s continued unchanged post-1968.

    In other words, I don’t think Kirby’s changing fortunes between the sixties and later can be explained solely in terms of one creative factor, such as Kirby’s scripting versus Lee’s.

    I’m perplexed by the idea that Lee’s scripting represents ease or naturalness and that Kirby’s scripting was a departure from that standard. Neither writes dialogue in what I would consider “natural” cadences. Both IMO are acquired tastes—though I grant that more readers acquired the taste for Lee and faux-Lee in the sixties than acquired the taste for solo Kirby in the seventies. Marvel became a phenomenon that generated its own momentum, and solo Kirby was judged by its departure from those terms, not by its realism.

    I’m willing to grant that many Kirby-scripted comics boast awkward or hobbled dialogue and odd scripting. But I also think that some Kirby-scripted comics, image and word, are haunting and powerful. And I think that plenty of Lee-scripted comics from Marvel’s vaunted Silver Age are in fact incoherent, and burdened by Lee’s nudge-wink ironic self-awareness and wearying self-promotional hoopla. Not all of them, of course—I don’t share the disdain for Lee’s scripting that some of our commenters here have expressed—but some of them.

    I think several of the solo Kirby (i.e. Kirby-scripted and -edited) comics discussed in my book are better-scripted than anything in the sixties Marvel canon. But of course this kind of arguments can go on forever. Suffice to say that I don’t think that Kirby’s scripting alone accounts for how his post-60s work was received.

  160. Jeet Heer says:

    As per usual, I agree with Charles’ take on all this. I would also add that Kirby/Lee/Ditko and the other Marvel writers and artists were working in a commercial context that required a very high — almost insane — pace of production. At some points Kirby was doing 100 pages a month. This means that the work they did was inevitably wildly uneven. In fairness, we need to consider their best work. And in the case of Lee in particular, I think his best scripting (or post facto dialogue and caption adding) came when Kirby and Ditko drew stories that excited Lee’s imagination — i.e. Spider-Man 33 or the Galactus trilogy. And even these comics are — to me at least — less interesting than the best Kirby work of the 1970s — i.e. “The Pact” and “Himon” which Charles so well analyzes.
    There is also the fact that at their best comics involve an integration of text and images — which is what all of Kirby’s solo written-and-drawn stories provide, even when the dialogue is at its wonkiest and hardest to decipher. In all too many of the Kirby/Lee collaborations, Lee’s scripting is tugging the story in a very different direction than the images, which makes for a wobbly reading experience. The sexism of Lee’s scripts is a good example, since it clearly goes against the forceful, independent female characters Kirby had in his work in the 1950s (pre-Lee) and 1970s (post-Lee). Reading those Kirby/Lee books I often find myself trying to unearth the genuine story buried underneath Lee’s verbiage — it’s a form of archeological reading.

  161. Allen Smith says:

    Perceptive commentary, Charles. Kirby and Lee didn’t write realistic dialogue, it was only in comparison with the writing then extant in commercial comics by the likes of Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Gardner Fox, etc. that Lee’s dialogue could be considered remotely realistic. Which is okay, I don’t think superhero comics’ primary aim was to be realistic. It was fantasy. Kirby fared just as well in his writing as anyone else.

  162. Allen Smith says:

    Not that anyone cares, to clarify: some of Kirby’s New Gods, Fourth World writing was great, not merely solid. The second Marvel stint writing was solid, some very very good. And entertaining, if echoing the themes started in the Fourth World ( the Eternals). The DC work in the seventies was just a bit wilder and more imaginative than the Marvel work that followed it. Although, has anyone seen those trading cards of wild Kirby concepts? Very imaginative.

  163. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet wrote: “Russ: I’m not sure why we have to restrict ourselves to only considering superhero comics.”

    Simple, after 1961, Kirby’s big focus was primarily on superheroes (and to a lesser extent, science fiction. Even his war comics and western comics had superhero cross-overs, “super” villains, or science fictionesque elements to them. And by 1964, Kirby’s focus was almost entirely superheroes/science fiction. And look at his output from that point throughout the rest of his career. It was primarily superhero-/science fiction-oriented. So, logically, why would that NOT be the accepted context of his work after the early 1960s?

  164. Michael Hill says:

    Russ, perhaps you can find someone else whose life revolves around superheroes with whom to have this discussion. The rest of us don’t want to abide by the restrictions you need to apply to get the argument to go your way. You conveniently ignore commenters from earlier in the week who didn’t accept Charles’ classification of the Fourth World as a superhero series, and now you try to add science fiction to the category to help it encompass the rest of Kirby’s career. My view is that superheroes were an unfortunate detour for Jack without which he’d have had a lot less aggravation.

  165. R. Maheras says:

    Michael — I was there during the original unveiling of Fourth World, and I find the arguments today that it was not a superhero series — simply because superheroes are presently viewed with derision by some — to be a silly argument.

    Kirby mixed science fiction elements into almost everything he did from the late 1950s on — especially in his superhero work. I’ve been one of Kirby’s biggest fans for about 45 years now, and after analyzing his work for so long, I am absolutely positive he knew, as do I, that superheroes and science fiction are joined at the hip.

    So, if one accepts that Fantastic Four is a superhero comic book, and that Galactus is a super villain; or that Thor is a superhero and that Ego, the Living Planet, is a super villain; than how can one argue that the Forever People are not superheroes, or that Darkseid is not a super villain?

  166. @ Michael:

    My view is that superheroes were an unfortunate detour for Jack without which he’d have had a lot less aggravation.

    Oh, no, I don’t think so at all. Kirby took superheroes as he found them and left them something else. Of course the Fourth World is superhero comics; of course it isn’t. But there’s no way that the superhero was a detour on the way to the Fourth World.

    The problem here is assuming that the superhero genre is a sitting rather than a moving target. It became a moving target because Kirby infused it with a hell of a lot more than costume books had in them back in the 40s.

    I would agree that the best Kirby comics were never only superhero comics, but I can hardly agree that they were a detour for Kirby. He simply picked them up and transformed them radically—without which I very much doubt many of us would be reading superhero comics at all these days.

  167. Michael Hill says:

    Of course, Charles… I was engaging in hyperbole — I would be delighted not to have to argue from a position where Lee-Kirby superhero comics are the pinnacle of comics history. Stan had the one, but Jack had many pinnacles in his career; that’s not acknowledged in a discussion where Lee is considered to be the greatest thing ever to happen to comics. I value Jack’s experience at Marvel because it made him determined to do things the right way as soon as he got the chance, and despite some ups and downs he did it right for another fifteen years.

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  169. Michael Hill says:

    Russ, my last comment was a little harsh — I don’t pretend to speak for others here. Having said that, one of my favourite speakers is a triathlete… he was asked once by a member of the audience why everyone didn’t do yoga to reduce stress, and he pointed out that people who don’t like yoga might find the yoga stressful. If it’s your belief that Lee-Kirby superhero comics are the greatest, it’s easy to convince yourself that nothing else was up to par. For someone like me who believes Kirby built on that experience and went on to do it better without Stan, your argument doesn’t hold water.

  170. Allen Smith says:

    Stan’s writing doesn’t turn my stomach. It does bore the hell out of me, now. And the crown jewel of the Marvel line, Spider-Man, where I did enjoy the writing, I can’t even say with any certainty that Stan wrote most of it, as Ditko has stated that even prior to issue 26 or thereabouts, Stan and he weren’t speaking to one another. That he, Ditko,would drop off the art and scripts for Spider-Man with Sol Brodsky or whoever and that he and Stan didn’t discuss the stories.

  171. R. Fiore says:

    It seems to me that Kirby had two agendas at work in the Fourth World comics, one of which was to show that he could be recreate the success on his own and the other was to do things his own way. I don’t see how the failure to match the earlier success could have been anything but bitter gall, but recreating the success with a different collaborator would not have fulfilled the first agenda either. Failing at the former agenda didn’t preclude succeeding in the latter, and I think it’s pretty obvious that if he couldn’t have both the second was the one he’d choose. By the time Kirby returned to Marvel, it seems as though the assumption was that he’d become old-fashioned but the name Kirby would always sell a certain amount of comics, so they let him do whatever he wanted.

    My impression of the captions and dialog in at least the early Fourth World was that Kirby was trying to emulate Lee’s style, perhaps in the spirit of “Anybody could write that crap.” The trouble with Russ Maheras’ counterfactual is that by that time Lee was winding down his personal involvement in the writing of Marvel comics. It should be noted that since those days Lee has made any number of attempts to prove that he was the great creator of ideas on his own, and they haven’t been great successes either.

  172. Scott Grammel says:

    Michael, when do you not engage in hyperbole? Yes, it may be necessary to win the title of Greatest Kirby Booster, which so many of the posters recently seem to have been energetically vying for (both, I’d add, by praising JK’s every creation short of his phone-pad doodles and grocery lists, and by their ever-escalating vehemence toward Stan the Bad Man). I mean, who here has said that “Lee-Kirby Superhero comics are THE pinnacle of comics history?” Or that Lee is “the greatest thing ever to happen to comics?”

    Besides you, that is.

    I know the internet is all about finding a well-fitting echo chamber, but even I found the ganging up on Russ to be obnoxious. My copy of Advertisements for Myself is boxed up somewhere, but he memorably discusses the added value accorded those creators who combine popular with critical success. In America, in the last century, that would include such diverse figures as Hemingway, Ford, Hitchcock, Sinatra, Dylan, Gould, Barks, and Schulz — hardly a dullard’s pantheon. To say that their respective commercial successes were in no way meaningful may sound and feel high-minded and comforting, but I think it also leaves some interesting truths then permanently out of reach.

    Actually, I think the problem with Kirby’s solo DC books went far deeper than the dialogue, though that certainly struck me and many others as problematic. Sometimes the concepts themselves didn’t seem well thought-out, whether it was the over-the-top goofiness of almost everything about Jimmy Olsen, the incredible non-thrill of Mister Miracle’s every escape, the sorta-hippies-sorta-against-whatever purposelessness of the Forever People, or the aimless non-narrative of Etrigan the Demon facing almost-Universal Pictures monsters each month.

    Some of the problems, it can be said, especially in regards to the more core Fourth World titles of New Gods and Mister Miracle, seemed to be resolving themselves, visually with the key addition of Royer and conceptually as Kirby clarified and contained his focus. Whatever the actual facts of the titles’ sales numbers toward the end (and there are longstanding questions about distribution there, too), I think it is finally astonishing that those in charge, reading and seeing the intelligence and vitality and strength of those later issues, didn’t give Kirby at least some significant time to turn the numbers around. Fact is, the earlier issues weren’t great. The later ones, on the other hand, Kirby was absolutely bringing the heat, and, more significantly, almost every issue was better than the one before.

    Editorially, an unforgivable decision, I think.

    Oh, about later Kirby: when an artist is declining (and I think Kirby was in some ways from about 1966 or ’67), those who’ve followed his work are not then mollified by the fact that even later works will eventually be even worse. I was looking at one of the better Forever People issues last night, and I tried to look at it with my eyes from those years, comparing him to his peak work. Doing this, I immediately noticed an awkward position here, an unhappy expression there, an ugly drawing there. All, I should add, in the first couple pages of the story.

    Compared to still later work, which I unconsciously do now, it looks close to peak. And it is. Close to. But not peak.

  173. Jeet Heer says:

    “My copy of Advertisements for Myself is boxed up somewhere, but he memorably discusses the added value accorded those creators who combine popular with critical success. In America, in the last century, that would include such diverse figures as Hemingway, Ford, Hitchcock, Sinatra, Dylan, Gould, Barks, and Schulz — hardly a dullard’s pantheon. To say that their respective commercial successes were in no way meaningful may sound and feel high-minded and comforting, but I think it also leaves some interesting truths then permanently out of reach.” I don’t think I ever said that a great work of art couldn’t be commercially successful but commercial success alone doesn’t mean a work of art is great — otherwise Jacqueline Susan and Tom Clancy would be among the great novelists of our time, and Blondie would be a much greater comic strip than Krazy Kat. As against your list of the rare works that are both commercial and critical successes one could compile a much longer lists of artists that enjoyed little or only middling commercial success but did work that posterity has judged to be valuable: Blake, van Gogh, Herriman, the John Stanley of the 1960s (i.e. Dunc’n’Loo or 13 Going on 18). In fact Dan Nadel has edited two whole books largely consisting of cartoonists who weren’t for the most part huge commercial successes but who still did compelling art.
    As I noted before, if sales are the criterion for aesthetic achievement than the Lois Lane comics of 1969 were superior to anything Lee/Kirby did — which doesn’t seem right.
    As for ganging up on Russ — he’s a smart guy and more than able to defend himself. I don’t think any of the arguments that I or others have made was unfair or nastily personal We happen to disagree with Russ and expressed our disagreements forcefully but politely. What’s wrong with that?

  174. Jeet Heer says:

    @R. Maheras. “Simple, after 1961, Kirby’s big focus was primarily on superheroes (and to a lesser extent, science fiction. Even his war comics and western comics had superhero cross-overs, “super” villains, or science fictionesque elements to them.”But why should we use 1961 as a jumping off point? Kirby’s career started in the mid-1930s. He was involved with superheroes from the start of the genre but he was never exclusively a superhero artist. It’s true that the westerns and war comics he did had a superhero inflection. But it’s also true that the superhero comics he did had romance comics inflection — if he hadn’t done romance comics in the 1940s and 1950s, would he have created the love triangle between Reed Richards, Sue Storm and the Submariner? The superhero comics were also inflected with genre tropes borrowed from westerns, war stories, and space opera. As I said in the roundtable, Kirby should be seen as a genre mixer more than a superhero artist — he’s standard gambit was to mix and match genre tropes.
    So instead of starting in 1961, why don’t we try and look at Kirby’s career as a whole?

  175. Michael Hill says:

    Scott, the very existence of Kirby Boosters proves that there are others who are objective who can show Kirby Boosters their folly. Sadly, when a Kirby Booster becomes self-aware, he realizes the importance of categorizing the participants in a discussion, and that those who call themselves objective are actually Kirby Haters.

  176. Jeet Heer says:

    Scott — on the critical points you make I agree that the Fourth World books got off to a shaky start — in the early books Kirby was throwing so many ideas fast and thick it was hard to see where here was going. But within a year into the series he found his pitch and produced what are arguably the best stories of his career (not to bore everyone with this but “Himon” and “The Pact” and also “The Deathwish of Terrible Turpin” among others). And they just as he hit this stride DC cancelled the series. I think if DC had been smart they would have just let Kirby act as an ideas factory and continue with the Fourth World for as long as he wanted — that would have given DC enough characters and ideas to last several decades.
    About when Kirby’s art started to decline — I don’t see 1966 as a peak. I prefer the earl y 1970s art myself. In part that’s because I agree with Hatfield that Kirby’s art was narrative drawing — so it’s not just a matter of doing drawings that have a stand-alone quality — they also have to be in the service of a story or integrated with a narrative.

  177. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet wrote: “So instead of starting in 1961, why don’t we try and look at Kirby’s career as a whole?”

    When the Fourth World was published, and thereafter, Kirby made certain he received full credit for his contributions. Prior to that, the vast majority of Kirby plotting and writing attribution was anecdotal, so for the first 30 years he was in the business it’s very hard to tell when Kirby wrote dialogue and when he didn’t. For example, to hear Joe Simon tell it, Simon wrote scripts for Kirby and was creative force behind major characters like Captain America. Lee early on gave Kirby plotting credit on several occasions, but backed off on that during the 1970s. And to my knowledge, Lee never gave Kirby “writing” credit.

    So one can’t really positively examine much of Kirby’s dialogue ability until about 1970 — a point in his career after which he worked on primarily superheroes/science fiction.

    That’s why.

  178. Jeet Heer says:

    Russ: it seems like you’re moving the goal post around for arbitrary reasons. Even if the point is to compare the sales of Kirby-drawn-and-dialogued material with Kirby-drawn-and-Lee written material, then we should use the late 1950s as the starting point (when Kirby/Lee collaborated on monster-and-alien comics, which fall under the catch-all superhero-and-science-fiction category you’ve created). If the point is to look at the sales of Kirby’s work in the superhero-and-science-fiction genre (a weird category which I’ve never seen discussed before prior to this conversation) then we have to start at the beginning of Kirby’s career, since he was doing both superhero and science fiction from the very beginning of his career. And in any case, for the sake of this discussion, it doesn’t matter who wrote the Simon and Kirby stories (I tend to think it was a collaboration, with Kirby doing the plotting and first draft dialogue and Simon polishing it off). If Kirby/Simon outsold Kirby/Lee (as was the case), then that calls into doubt the role of Lee’s dialogue in selling comics. All the evidence shows that Kirby/Simon did outsell Kirby/Lee. Also that Kirby/Lee were regularly outsold by other comic books in the 1960s (even if we accept Russ’ arbitrary decision to look only at superhero-and-science-fiction titles). Who wrote and drew Superboy and Lois Lane in the 1960s? Were they really better than Kirby/Lee? That’s what we’d have to think if we accept Russ’ argument that sales are the final arbiter of aesthetic quality.

  179. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet — Kirby didn’t write and draw Archie in the 1960s, and he didn’t write and draw Superboy then either, so that’s a red herring argument. Yes, both sold better than Kirby’s Fantastic Four and Thor, but so what? The focus of the discussion is books Kirby drew and plotted/wrote.

    My argument is that we cannot measure with any certainty the success of books Kirby wrote and drew until the Fourth World was published. We can assume from anecdotal evidence from both Kirby, Lee and other sources regarding plotting that Kirby was strongly involved in the creation of the Marvel Universe in the early 1960s, but there is no evidence he wrote the complete dialogue for any of those books. Ditto for any books published prior to that — including the Marvel monster books, Challengers of the Unknown, etc. Yes, he may have had a heavy hand with some of the plotting, but there’s no evidence I’ve seen that he did any scripting. And even if a few examples emerge, I’ll wager such scripting was a rarity.

    I know Kirby was a genius at ideas and visual communication, but that does not automatically translate to the ability to successfully communicate with and entertain an intended audience via the writing process.

    And the only way we can truly measure Kirby’s success at writing dialogue is after 1970. Anything before is just guesswork.

  180. Michael Hill says:

    @Russ: “And the only way we can truly measure Kirby’s success at writing dialogue is after 1970. Anything before is just guesswork.”

    This is just plain laziness on your part, Russ. It doesn’t benefit your argument to do the research, so you don’t bother.

  181. Jeet Heer says:

    Russ: “Kirby didn’t write and draw Archie in the 1960s, and he didn’t write and draw Superboy then either, so that’s a red herring argument. Yes, both sold better than Kirby’s Fantastic Four and Thor, but so what? The focus of the discussion is books Kirby drew and plotted/wrote.” True, Kirby didn’t work on Archie or Superboy, but your whole argument is premised on the idea that the prime determinant of sales is writing and drawing, so if they sold better than Kirby’s comics of the 1960s they should have been better written and better drawn. I’d argue that writing and drawing are only one criterion of sales and many other factors are at work, like distribution, popular fads (which is why, say, superheroes briefly enjoyed better sales while the Batman show was on), price point (i.e. comics sold best when they were really cheap). Also the size of the company matters: Marvel in the early 1960s was a really small company, so for them Fantastic Four might have been a big hit even if sales were low by the standards of DC. Conversely, DC might have had huge sales expectations for the New Gods, and were disappointed when it was only a middling success (despite having sales that in a few years DC would look back on with envy).
    If it’s a red herring to compare sales of Superboy to The New Gods because Kirby only worked on The New Gods, then it’s a red herring to compare sales of The Fantastic Four in 1970 (when Kirby had been working on the book for a decade) with The New Gods in 1971 (which was then a new book). The Fantastic Four built up its sales over a decade, a luxury it was allowed to do because it was published by a smaller company that had modest ideas of what constituted success. The New Gods didn’t enjoy that luxury.

  182. Jeet Heer says:

    Russ: In any case, I think we’re losing the thread of the argument by getting trapped in the weeds of what comparisons are appropriate. The problem is your starting premise that commercial success is proof of aesthetic achievement. By your logic, if the Fourth World books didn’t sell well, that’s because they weren’t as well written as the 1960s Kirby/Lee books. But in point of fact, commercial success is not directly related to aesthetic achievement. In 1964, the Three Stooges comics sold far better than the Fantastic Four or anything done by Kirby/Lee or Ditko/Lee. Does that mean the Three Stooges comics was better written and drawn? This is the central question you’re consistently evading.

  183. Michael Hill says:

    Jeet: simple, Kirby did not wrote The Three Stooges; nor did Stan. Hence sales data is irrelevant. See? I’m getting the hang of this.

    Russ: there’s ample evidence for Kirby dialogue pre-Stan Lee… here’s a dissertation on the subject:


    My favourite quote, by Jack Katz: Katz: “Jack would work at his own desk there and Joe would come in during the morning and subtly stare at us. Jack would go for lunch, and when he came back Joe would leave for the day. Jack would get in early, he was always there before I came in. He left late. Jack wrote as he drew, he also worked from scripts, but he would use them as a template.”

    Russ, Kirby’s MO with or without Simon involved filling in the balloons himself before turning in the penciled pages. At the very least anything you see in DC’s Kirby Omnibus with a Kirby writing credit had Kirby dialogue. On Challengers, Jack worked from (or chose to disregard) Wood brothers’ scripts when they existed, and presumably did his own writing when they were AWOL. Who is it that you think wrote the dialogue then? Before Stan there were piecework studios, but there was no Marvel method, no one waiting in the office to correct Kirby’s speech patterns.

  184. R. Maheras says:

    Michael wrote: “This is just plain laziness on your part, Russ. It doesn’t benefit your argument to do the research, so you don’t bother.”

    Research WHAT? I’ve been following this stuff for decades and all there is are contradictory anecdotes in interviews regarding Kirby’s plotting. And there is almost nothing discussing Kirby’s scripting/writing. The folks who have access to Kirby’s personal papers have certainly not been any help. Are there Kirby scripts? Personal notes? Pay stubs? Copies of company pay ledgers? Anything that would shed light on the extent of his writing prior to 1970? If there are, no one is sharing.

    Don’t shoot the messenger here.

  185. Michael Hill says:

    Russ, you’ve been following it for decades, but if you’re quoting Joe Simon on what dialoguing Kirby did before Stan, your research is decades old. (Since you didn’t respond to my last post, I’m glad of an opportunity to reformat it.)

    There’s ample evidence for Kirby dialogue pre-Stan Lee… here’s a dissertation on the subject:


    My favourite quote, by Jack Katz: “Jack would work at his own desk there and Joe would come in during the morning and subtly stare at us. Jack would go for lunch, and when he came back Joe would leave for the day. Jack would get in early, he was always there before I came in. He left late. Jack wrote as he drew, he also worked from scripts, but he would use them as a template.”

    Russ, Kirby’s MO with or without Simon involved filling in the balloons himself before turning in the penciled pages. At the very least anything you see in DC’s Kirby Omnibus with a Kirby writing credit had Kirby dialogue (or else who did?). On Challengers, Jack worked from (or chose to disregard) Wood brothers’ scripts when they existed, and presumably did his own writing when they were AWOL. Who is it that you think wrote the dialogue then? Before Stan there were piecework studios, but there was no Marvel method, no one waiting in the office to correct Kirby’s speech patterns.

    I can’t help noticing your disregard of Harry Mendryk’s or Greg Theakston’s takes on the subject.

  186. R. Fiore says:

    A factor that is perhaps being overlooked in this now circular discussion is that Kirby was getting paid more at DC than he was at Marvel, so while the sales might not have been as high, it was a better deal for him. Part of the reason he was paid more was no doubt the fact that he was doing the writing, and you could be sure if he requested a writer to polish his captions and dialog at least part of it would have come out of his end.

    I am on record as agreeing with Russ Maheras that Kirby’s writing tends to be flat and clumsy. I wouldn’t agree that this was the prime reason his work at DC wasn’t as popular as his work at Marvel. I think it’s fairly obvious that writing aside the characters he created for DC didn’t have the broad appeal his Marvel characters did. Part of this I think is the phenomenon of the person who gives his million dollar ideas away and then when older and wised up doesn’t have any million dollar ideas left. While his DC work could have been improved by a writing assistant, the train of thought that would expected of him — my stuff isn’t making as much money for the company as it should, maybe I should take a cut to get a writer in on this — seems unlikely under the circumstances. Particularly since Kirby himself would be unlikely to see his writing as a problem.

  187. R. Fiore says:

    And I meant to add, the fact that he was being paid a premium probably had something to do with DC’s decision to fire him.

  188. Michael Hill says:

    I want to agree with part of your comment, R, but according to an earlier post by Eddie Campbell, I have to disagree with all of it. Are you saying that if Kirby had seen his dialogue as a problem, and taken action, then all the people who complain about Kirby’s dialogue would be happy instead of complaining? I guess that’s like me saying Stan shouldn’t have tampered with Jack’s work, because he destroyed the vision.

    Most of the “Kirby can’t write” people wouldn’t be happy regardless; the underlying issue for them is that Jack single-handedly dismantled the happy Bullpen, one of the pillars of their childhood. Steve had done the same years earlier, but he didn’t try to prove his dialogue was as good as Stan’s.

  189. Tim says:

    Well spotted, Cole – that that issue is a comment regarding comics fandom had completely escaped me until now!

  190. Allen Smith says:

    I dunno, Russ may be on to something. After all, a superbly drawn Silver Surfer book failed, guess that had to have been due to Stan’s poor writing and dialogue if we are to use Russ’s logic.

  191. Michael Hill says:

    Allen, if you take the Fourth World titles individually, the Silver Surfer book equalled or lasted 50% more issues than any single one of them. It wouldn’t be fair to compare it to the Fourth World as a whole, because Kirby was capable of doing four books in the same timeframe.

  192. Scott Grammel says:

    I think Russ made a reasonable enough point that, after a decade of ever-increasing commercial success in tandem with Lee at Marvel, Kirby insisted on writing as well as illustrating his stories, and that pattern of commercial success seemed to largely end. Nowhere did Russ make the ridiculous blanket statement that “sales are the final arbiter of aesthetic quality,” as Jeet caricatured his position (as he did over and over). As certainly, Russ would never suggest that overall and individual comics sales in the Forties weren’t often significantly higher than would be found in the Seventies and Eighties — making direct comparisons fairly useless.

    Oh, and this was classic timid-crit speak from Jeet (after agreeing with me that even the New Gods and Mister Miracle took some time to gel happily): “In the early books Kirby was throwing so many ideas fast and thick it was hard to see where he was going.” See, it wasn’t a failure to coherently conceptual, say, the New Gods, which Kirby loaded down in the earlier issues with a forgettable group of supposedly reader-identifiable human characters and the similarly familiar-so-unthreatening-to-readers (I guess) criminal organization Intergang, to name just two obvious initial missteps, the problem was that Kirby was just too imaginative, too creative — and even the confusion the readers might’ve experienced seems to be their own damned fault, by the time Jeet is done.

    It must be exhausting being a critic if you can’t ever actually criticize.

    Yes, Michael, you’ve unmasked me as the Hater. Curse you.

  193. Jeet Heer says:

    @Scott Grammel. I think my gloss on Russ’ argument was fair enough especially in light of the fact that he repeatedly dismisses Kirby’s 1970s work but the only argument he makes against it is that that the work wasn’t a commercial success. I don’t think looking at commercial success is the best way to gauge the artistic merit of a work of art — there are plenty of very rewarding works of art that don’t, for any number of reasons, find a mass audience. I’ll be frank here and say that Kirby’s 1970s work, although uneven, seems to me a very rich and rewarding body of work. It’s especially interesting because its challenging reading — something that is quite rare in commercial comic books. You have to make an effort when you’re reading those comics to figure out what Kirby is doing — I think that’s a good thing. By contrast, I find virtually all other mainstream comics that I’ve ever read — including highly praised works written by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Alan Moore, etc. — to be badly written in ways that make it painful for me to read. (I do make an exception for the occasional story where Lee was inspired or had a good day — like the Galactus trilogy). Does that make me a timid-critic? Why so, since I’m going against the consensus on these maters?
    Those early New Gods that you criticize by the way are a good example — I agree that they make for tough reading. But I also find them — like the Fourth World books as a whole — rewarding in the fertility of their world-building and conceptual energy — Kirby really is throwing off ideas at a very fast pace there — too fast for his own good as a storyteller perhaps but still very mind-expanding reading. To not appreciate this fact isn’t criticism, it’s blindness.

  194. Jeet Heer says:

    To clarify the remark about the disconnect between commercial success and aesthetic achievement: I don’t see either Russ or Scott admitting that something like Krazy Kat exists, a work that really didn’t enjoy more than a brief purchase in the commercial realm but was still a wonderful work of art. What are we to make of Krazy Kat?

  195. Michael Hill says:

    I wouldn’t call them “initial missteps”, either, but how many initial missteps do you allow your objects of comparison, Fantastic Four and Thor? How often do you reread any of the first twenty issues of each, never mind the first three or four?

  196. R. Maheras says:

    Keep in mind that despite my general dislike of Kirby’s post-1969 Marvel scripting, there wasn’t a one-shot or series he worked on after 1969 up to his passing that I did not buy. And when I divested myself of much of my comics during the 1980s and 1990s, there were certain things I did not touch. That included every Kirby comic book I had that was publishing during that stretch of time.

    There’s a reason for that. Even though I believe the sweet spot of Kirby’s career was from about 1960-1967, his other work — regardless of who actually wrote the dialogue — is still an artistic clinic for even the best comic book artists or aficionados.

    In short, it’s like we’re arguing why 18-Karat gold is inferior to 24-Karat gold. The bottom line is it’s still frickin’ gold.

    And for those of you who think I’m some sort of superhero-only junkie (I won’t name names here, MH), my considerable collection of original/reprinted Kirby war, monster, western, supernatural, crime, science fiction and romance comics blasts a big fat hole in that theory. The fact is, I have more Kirby material — by far — than I do of any other comics artist. My next two favorites, Wally Wood and Steve Ditko, are a distant second and third.

    That said, just because I think the guy’s an artistic genius does not mean I’m going to ignore or candy-coat his weaknesses.

    I did the same thing on another thread regarding obvious composition and foreshortening errors in a Rembrandt drawing (“The Blinding of Samson,” in case you’re wondering), and some folks almost became apoplectic because, after all, it’s REMBRANDT.

    Well, lah-de-frickin’-dah. Even Rembrandt or Kirby went through bad stretches. That said, I also think every artist should be measured primarily by his/her best work. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree about exactly what Kirby’s best work is.

  197. R. Maheras says:

    There are occasions when a publisher keeps publishing a commercial failure simply because they personally like it. “Krazy Kat” probably falls into that category, as does EC’s science fiction comic books.

    That’s why, while I think long-term commercial success is a strong indicator that something may have value (as opposed to short-term commercial success for things like Hula Hoops, Pet Rocks and Cabbage Patch Kids), it is not an absolute indicator. There will always be exceptions, ala Van Gogh.

  198. James says:

    I’m so not impressed with your finding fault with Rembrandt, Russ. Dream on that you are qualified.

  199. Michael Hill says:

    Russ, I believe you that you’re a well-rounded Kirby reader, covering all the genres, good dialogue and bad. Why then is it necessary to say that after Stan, Jack did nothing but superheroes? Why do you consider science fiction and war to be superheroes just because Kirby did them? Why aren’t you interested in the abundant evidence that Jack dialogued much of his work before Stan? Your argument relies on an artificially narrow focus and your pronouncement that Kirby dialogue is bad, which some people don’t accept.

  200. R. Maheras says:

    James — Any graduate of Anatomy 101 is qualified to make the same observation.

  201. James says:

    It just seems like almost everyone here values things that I simply don’t find interesting. Writers who don’t or can’t draw aren’t able to or disdain to discuss the art, rather they find fault with the way Kirby organized the words on the page…I liked Kirby’s writing fine. I like it still. They prefer Lee’s so-called writing, really derivative overwriting and copywriting, which as an adult I find absurdly ridiculous and even offensive. I don’t have any interest in the work of any of the people who insist on rewriting Jack’s stories. Then there are people who draw on weekends or as a hobby, who find fault with the art, who can find fault with even the art of great masters. Jumping jiminy. For all the effort he put in, and there are some ideas of interest in Charles’s book, but I diverge from it in that I couldn’t care less about superheroes and who made them new and exciting…or what was done with any of the books Kirby worked on after he was done with them. And, I have read enough opinions by people who didn’t appreciate the way Jack wrote. I am interested in Kirby, his art, his voice. That’s why I didn’t like it that the book had a cover by someone who wasn’t Kirby and have had a bellyful of people copying Kirby’s art. And that’s why I think the more valuable assessment of Kirby is going to have to wait until some people who are trained to look at art as well as literature have a go at it. That hasn’t happened yet.

  202. Eddie campbell says:

    “It just seems like almost everyone here values things that I simply don’t find interesting”

    Therefore one wonders why you keep turning up.

  203. Michael Hill says:

    @”Therefore one wonders why you keep turning up.” I disagree with all of that, Eddie. With that kind of welcoming attitude, soon Jeet will be alone in the fight against the Mighty Misinformation of Marveldom. He’ll have your help, of course, but no one will be able to tell the difference.

    James’s account of the dialogue dichotomy is “the most acceptable I have read (and there is a mountain of baloney on the subject)”:

    “Writers who don’t or can’t draw aren’t able to or disdain to discuss the art, rather they find fault with the way Kirby organized the words on the page…I liked Kirby’s writing fine. I like it still. They prefer Lee’s so-called writing, really derivative overwriting and copywriting, which as an adult I find absurdly ridiculous and even offensive.”

  204. James says:

    Honestly? I had hoped that there would be something of value in this roundtable. I was greatly disappointed with what it turned out to be. The stated goal as I recall was to give an accounting of why Kirby mattered, in a way that would make Gary Groth’s heart beat faster. This didn’t happen, I don’t think. That was better accomplished when Glen Gold wrote an excellent appreciation of Kirby for one of DC’s Fourth World collections and Dan Nadel wrote a piece that was pretty good in, I think, Vice. I haven’t yet seen Jeet Heer do anything significant about Kirby, although perhaps I missed it? The others involved may or may not have written more compellingly on Kirby elsewhere…or why were they included? Not sure. They don’t really talk about the art, just the literary aspects, as usual. There there were just too many digressions like those about Phil Dick….then, the book that may or may not have been under discussion has some problems that never got examined because everyone was too busy doing all that self congratulatory crap. I of course get all bothered and am asked by Dan to desist but then another week of comments goes by, Russ, Eddie, some guy who writes under a pseudonym, back and forth. Jack can’t write, the books aren’t popular enough, blah blah, woof woof. More of the same old shit by all concerned is what it is…really not productive. Kirby deserves better.

  205. James says:

    Though, I should ask….well, were you convinced of Kirby’s genius by the discussion, Gary?

  206. Frank Santoro says:

    As someone out in the world, on the road, talking to “the kids” – the kids don’t care about Kirby, in part, because of all this baggage. Try as I might – Kirby back issues do not sell – and that is a barometer of what the new generation is into or not into. Who cares, you ask? Well, for what it is worth, Ditko sells. The kids like Ditko. Kirby? Not so much.

  207. Jeet Heer says:

    @James Romberger. I’m sorry you were disappointed in the roundtable and want to clarify a few editorial decisions. Jonatham Lethem was invited to the roundtable because 1) he wrote an essay I loved about reading Kirby in the 1970s (originally published in the London Review of Books and the Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers! anthology and collected in his recent collection along with his other superb essays on comics and culture at large) 2) Kirby figures in Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude and 3) his experience writing Omega the Unknown would give him some insight into the collaborative process whereby comics are made. I’m a bit surprised by your comments “writers who don’t or can’t draw aren’t able to or disdain to discuss the art.” It’s already been pointed out that Sarah Boxer is an accomplished cartoonist. You should read her book In the Floyd Archives — it’s a very funny graphic novella in the tradition of Feiffer and Steinberg. I invited Boxer because I wanted to have a working cartoonist in the mix. Also, almost everyone who writes about Kirby is someone (usually a guy) who grows up reading Kirby — certainly that’s true of everyone else on the roundtable (even I read a handful of Kirby comics as a kid). But as Kirby makes some headway into museums, he’s going to be increasingly looked at by people who didn’t grow up on him and bring a fresher set of eyes. I wanted that perspective. Finally, Boxer is an excellent critic — you can find her writings on comics and other visual art forms all over the web. I invited Doug Harvey because of he was an artist as well as being a fine critic and also he’s written well on Kirby (see the citation in Hatfield’s book for a source). I invited Fiore because he’s one of the best writers the Comics Journal has ever published and he knows the comic book world that Kirby worked in very well. The digression about Dick was included because 1) there is actually a new book which I mentioned in the roundtable that sees Kirby and Dick as allied spirits and fellow mystics 2) it shows how wide-ranging a discussion about Kirby can be and 3) it’s great to read Lethem writing at length about Dick.

  208. Allen Smith says:

    The fast pace of Kirby’s writing does cut against it. One has to read it slowly to appreciate it, ironically. That’s why reading it now, I like it better than when those Fourth World books came out in the early seventies. The opposite it true of the writing of the man everyone compares Kirby’s writing to, Stan Lee.
    If you read his writing slowly, you realize how obvious, shallow, and platitudinous his writing is, leavened with his “humor”. There’s a surface appeal, but examine it really and there’s nothing there. At least in the dialogue. The concepts beneath the dialogue, some of those are solid, but who knows if those concepts are Stan’s or the artists’, given the Marvel method? That’s why there’s no reason to praise Stan’s writing, only the dialogue can be shown to be truly his, and it’s shallow.

  209. James says:

    Jeet: Okay. The whole roundtable and the damn comments are so diffused and difficult to navigate at this point that it is impossible to make a rational response. I’m not arguing with Boxer’s credentials as a writer and artist but if you wanted a “working cartoonist” you could hardly have found one who was farther away from Kirby. It is as if you flipped a coin and really, used her only because she is a woman.
    Personally as I recall I didn’t relate to either Lethem’s piece in the Atomsmashers book or his Marvel comic when I read them, but that was your call…..still, plenty of people have worked “collaboratively” in comics and I dispute the entire idea of false collaboration of Marvel, who profit so greatly by Kirby’s exploitation. And perhaps individuals of Lethem’s stature should consider before they give of their talents to a company of such low standards of conduct, just as Kirby should have extricated himself long before he did, when he realized what they were about.

  210. Jeet Heer says:

    @James. “if you wanted a ‘working cartoonist’ you could hardly have found one who was farther away from Kirby.” Which is one reason I invited Boxer! Some of the best conversations I’ve had about Kirby were with cartoonists who are very much in the art comics or literary comics tradition. (And I’ll repeat that Boxer’s comments about Kirby’s rough textures and her observations about the class rage of the Simon & Kirby romance comics were high points in the roundtable for me).

    The big picture here is that the context for looking at Kirby is changing. For many decades, Kirby was pretty much the exclusive property of the superhero subculture. Within that subculture, Kirby was “the king of comics” but outside that subculture Kirby was virtually unknown. But in recent years, Kirby’s legacy is increasingly be appropriated by literary writers (Lethem, Chabon, Diaz), by museums and galleries (the Masters of American comics show, Fumetto), and by fine artists (Doug Harvey). This development is almost inevitable: as the years go by there will be fewer and fewer people who grew up reading Kirby’s superhero comics but more and more people who encounter Kirby in museum or coffee table books or reprints. So Kirby’s status will change from being “the king of comics” to being an important American artist. Period. Or maybe an important American artist and visual storyteller. Period. The roundtable was organized in part to record this shifting moment so it included participants who are fairly embedded in the superhero comics context but also participants who come at Kirby from different angles. I think Kirby is interesting enough of an artist that he can be looked at from a variety of different perspectives, not all of which will be necessarily flattering. That’s the treatment that major artists receive and Kirby is more than worthy of it.

  211. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    “I invited Boxer because I wanted to have a working cartoonist in the mix.”

    Again I ask, did you think about asking Wendy Pini? I found Sarah Boxer’s “only girl at the sausage party” perspective sort of annoying and I would have preferred to hear from a cartoonist (who happens to be a woman) who sees Kirby as an important influence and can speak intelligently about it.

  212. Jeet Heer says:

    Wendy Pini is not high on my list of people (men or women) whose views on Kirby or comics I’m eager to solicit. I like Boxer’s In the Floyd Archives quite a bit and also Boxer’s critical essays. Alas, I can’t say the same for Elfquest. To be frank, I haven’t actually ever thought about Wendy Pini for thirty years until Daniel C. Parmenter brought up her name. Mea culpa!

  213. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet — Last night I randomly pulled out about a dozen different Kirby books from the 1970s. They included series like The Eternals, Jimmy Olsen, Machine Man, Losers, Black Panther, Devil Dinosaur and 2001: A Space Odyssey. In every case, I selected books I had not re-read in decades.

    My finding? With the exception of The Eternals #1, the dialogue was even worse than I remembered (even in a later issue of The Eternals also grabbed). Almost no character speaks in a vernacular that I would classify as “normal conversational.” Most of the characters speak in brusque, odd pigeon English or, in the case of some of the heroes or villains, a sort of Stan Lee-channeled, pseudo-Shakespearian dialect. The deal breaker? Peppered into almost every book are weird exclamations that come right out of left field, such as “Jumping jars of jellied jaguars,” or, “I’ll blow out his batteries.”

    I defy anyone to pull out a random issue of, say, Machine Man and explain exactly why the dialogue is superior to any random issue of the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four or Thor.

    And James, this time, instead of attacking the critic, try addressing the criticisms themselves.

  214. Rob Clough says:

    This is interesting to me, Frank. Which of the pre-1970 cartoonists do you try to push on the kids, and how does that go over? Also, which Ditko and which Kirby comics do you try to sell? I’m curious if kids are buying Ditko’s independent work, or if you’re selling stuff like his Micronauts annuals, Rom (especially with Craig Russell inking), Marvel Spotlight, Marvel Preview (he did a Shroud story in black and white which made a big impression on me as a kid)? With Kirby, is it all fourth world stuff/later Marvel stuff, or is anything from the 60s in there.

    Are you trying to sell things like Frank Robbins’ Marvel work, or Gene Colan’s indy stuff? Just curious, because I see some VERY unlikely influences in some of the younger, bolder artists these days. (Chuck Forsman’s figures have a Dik Browne thing going on, for example.)

  215. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Maybe it’s time for you to take another look at EQ Jeet!

    But fair enough. It wouldn’t have made any sense for you to invite someone whose work you don’t like. I’ll freely admit to being a pretty big fan of the original EQ series. Maybe I’ve just been reading the Comics Journal for too long, dating back to the days when Wendy got a lot of good coverage within its pages. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Fantagraphics even considered publishing EQ at one point. She and certain others of that particular generation of indie cartoonists have been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve recently been engaged in a complete and careful re-reading of the entire Love and Rockets series and I am constantly marvelling at how the Hernandez brothers effortlessly incorporated classic Kirby and Ditko influences into their own work well beyond the level of mere “swipes”. I feel that Wendy Pini accomplished the same thing, incorporating the Kirby influence without simply copying its surface forms and producing idiosyncratic and personal work in the process (again, very much like the Hernandez brothers).

  216. Jeet Heer says:

    Russ, briefly: your critique of Rembrandt and your critique of Kirby suffer from the same problems. You think Rembrandt was trying to do a photo-realistic style art, so if he played fast and loose with the anatomy that’s a failure on his part. But Rembrandt wasn’t doing photo-realistic art and he was far more interested in the structuring the painting so that are eyes are focused on one figure, which led him to deliberately diminish the other figures. With Kirby, you think he was trying to write “normal conversational” vernacular speech and failing badly. But that’s bringing the wrong set of expectations to Kirby. If I want to read a comic book with “normal conversational” vernacular speech I pick up books by Harvey Pekar, Jaime Hernandez, Dan Clowes, or Lynda Barry (all of whom have excellent ears for everyday speech). If I’m reading a comic book about space gods or boys who ride dinosaurs or robots with human feelings, I don’t actually expect (or want!) realistic dialogue. Kirby’s dialogue conveys the same stylized intensity of emotions as his art (which isn’t realistic either — see Hatfield). I recently read the first few issues of Machine Man and enjoyed them immensely. But, as the say goings, different strokes for different folks.

  217. Stevie B says:

    I found Sarah Boxer’s thoughts entertaining and worth taking on. I am somewhat puzzled as to why she was the only female invited. Would have been interesting to have had more female voices, maybe Jessica Abel, Ann Nocenti, Trina Robbins, Hayley Campbell and I can but dream Marie Severin to balance out, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable conversation. I do feel perhaps Sarah Boxer’s insightful thoughts jarred a little by dint of being the only female voice on offer.

  218. Michael Hill says:

    @`Almost no character speaks in a vernacular that I would classify as “normal conversational.”’ This is in comparison with that Master of Naturalistic and Realistic Dialogue, Stan Lee? It’s worse than I thought, Russ… you think comics are real.

  219. Jeet Heer says:

    Okay, time for me to take out those old issues of Elfquest.

  220. Jeet Heer says:

    @Stevie B. It’s fair enough that I should have had more female participants, and any of the ones you suggested would have been great, although if we’re dreaming of getting Marie Severin we could also fantasize about Ditko weighing in.

  221. James says:

    I should not have personalized my comments to Russ as I did, nor those to the other participants here. I guess I felt Russ left himself open early on in this “maelstrom” of commentary by comparing the characters he and other fan artists created for fanzines to those done by highly competent professional artists like Kirby and subsequently unfairly exploited by companies, but that doesn’t excuse my rudeness.

    I don’t rate ANY of Stan Lee’s writing; as far as I can tell he actually invented very little and basically put a gloss of overwriting on other peoples’ work…his main claim to fame (and competence) is as an editor and
    promotor. Any lingering affection I had for him was washed away by what he said under oath in the Kirby family’s trial. Now, I am of the opinion that not everything done by Kirby is genius. When I refer to Kirby’s writing I mean his best stories, which are widely interspersed through the titles he did. His very prolixity meant that he was under such constant constraints of deadlines that the stuff was flying off his board, he rarely had time to put in the effort to create masterworks. It is incredible that he did as much significant work as he did.

    Kirby was in the midst of creating the greatest comics that had been done to date when DC cancelled his New Gods titles. We hear that it was about low sales or disappointed expectations or that people didn’t like the dialogue. I call bullshit on all of that; I was a kid reading these books and I liked them just fine. Comics are supposed to be fun and crazy….what is with all this perfectionism? I tend to think that the destruction of the Fourth World was about professional jealousy and DC office politics. The old school boy’s club up there hated Jack for a variety of reasons. Neal Adams has suggested that Jack’s works were of such quality at that moment in time that if he had continued, he would have ended up running DC, and so he was brought to heel. I believe that is totally possible.

    The problem with some of Kirby’s later 2nd tenure Marvel work manifested clearly at a point in the Eternals run when he brought on the Huilk clone in an effort to please his overseers—-suddenly, there was the equivalent of the “hammer-blow” that occured at DC with the cancellation of The New Gods. The work
    dropped in quality suddenly. Still, I believe Devil Dinosaur was done after this point; as at DC, he tried to
    recover and I find DD to be charming. It is written for children, rather than the college-age audience that Lee claimed to write for. It is just fine in that…I love moments in the series very much: the alien abduction storyline, the reworking of the myth of Adam and Eve, the exposition of the bond of friendship between Moonboy and Devil.

    Russ, you ask to pick an issue of Machine Man….um, that is not a title I would choose to represent Kirby at
    his best. An excellent advocate for Kirby, Richard Kyle, has made a case for the importance of the issues of
    Machine Man, but to my mind that title was much more significant when it was 2001 and based on
    Clarke/Kubrick’s concepts, of which issues #s 2-7 contain some of Kirby’s best-ever actual writing and form a Kirbyesque truncated history of humankind. 2001 #2 has a decidedly feminist bent, wherein Vira becomes the first human to engage in performative religion. #s 3-4 describe the rapid advance of mankind via the invention of the wheel. #s 5 and 6 contain the brilliant and very well wordsmithed tale of fanboy Harvey Norton, which leads to the white-hot transcendence of Intergalactica. #7 is the exquisitely written and profoundly moving The New Seed. This magnificent piece tells a universal story of violence and the persistence and value of life. I don’t know what others want with writing, but what I value, the human voice, is very present and accounted for here and I cannot say that I have seen a comic that I think is better and more pure of a statement than this.

  222. Jeet Heer says:

    Well, if we agree that “long-term commercial success is a strong indicator that something may have value” then we have to consider the fact that virtually everything Kirby did in the 1970s has been reprinted in recent years. The Fourth World books in particular have been reprinted multiple times in ever more lavish formats. Kirby’s 1970s work has a better record of staying in print than virtually any other mainstream comic book work from that era, including books that have had stronger sales than Kirby’s work at the time. And the characters and concepts Kirby created in the 1970s continue to be revisited and recycled by DC and Marvel. So by your own criteria, the 1970s work has to be regarded as some kind of success, although still less successful than the 1960s work.

  223. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    Thanks Jeet! Also take a look at some of the Journal’s EQ coverage from the time.

    One problem is that in the years since the original series, the property has lost a lot of the personal touches that I loved. In the nineties in particular, it seemed like the goal was to just churn out as much stuff as possible under the EQ name, including a lot of work by cartoonists who simply weren’t (IMO) in Wendy’s league.

    The first time I visited Amsterdam I was surprised to see how prominently EQ was featured in some of the comics shops I visited. I had the impression that in the Netherlands (and perhaps other parts of Europe?) EQ enjoys a kind of “Twillight”/teen fantasy-type popularity among younger female readers.

    Re: Marie Severin, is she really as inaccessible as Ditko? I recall that Comic Book Artist had a short, but very informative and interesting interview with her at one point not too long ago.

  224. Frank Santoro says:

    Kirby monster books do not sell. Ditko Charlton work does. Recent Ditko sells. Kirby Silver Star does not. Old Marvel stuff does not sell. Old Frank Robbins does not sell. Basically only the wacky indy stuff sells anymore. DC and Marvel back issues, even valuable ones, are very hard to sell unless it is like Trevor Von Eeden or something.

  225. Jeet Heer says:

    This jibes with my sense of things among “the kids.” Any thoughts on why the drop of interest in Kirby?

  226. Frank Santoro says:

    Kirby is like Picasso. Too many expert opinions. The kids want to form their own opinions and have new heroes.

  227. Scott Grammel says:

    Jeet, the other day I read one of J.S.’s more recent posts on another thread, and then your response, and the exchange, with all of J.S.’s careful distinctions and qualifications completely ignored in that heated response, mirrored our dialogue to a revealing degree. Revealing, that is, that the common denominator in both sets of exchanges might be the problem.

    Krazy Kat. There. I said it.

    Next time Sarah Boxer is again suggested for a discussion like we had here, maybe people should just ask her son to participate instead. I’m sure he could find moronic statements on the web to contribute just as easily, too.

  228. Jeet Heer says:

    @Scott Grammel. People who complain about “heated response[s]” and a failure to respect “careful distinctions and qualifications” should not, I think, go around accusing Sarah Boxer of making “moronic statements” — especially if they can’t specify in any detail what exactly they find objectionable about Boxer’s contribution to the roundtable. To give some context, Boxer has written art criticism and comics criticism for such publications like The New York Times, the New York Review of Books, Slate.com, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Artforum. I realize that the world of comics is sometimes a provincial place so you may not have heard of all these publications and websites, but trust me they are not in the habit of regularly publishing someone who makes “moronic statements” (well, I suppose we could make an exception for Thomas Friedman in the New York Times — but the point remains that these are quite serious publications).

    To be clear on this: I’d be interested in any criticism you and anyone else has in Boxer’s contribution if you actually offered some arguments and evidence. For example, she made the interesting observation that class shame is a major theme in the Simon and Kirby romance comics. Do you disagree, and if so, why? (I’ve recently re-read those comics and I have to say class shame fairly leaps from the page). Simply to dismiss her for making “moronic statements” seems like knee-jerk defensiveness.

    The assertion that J.S.’s (or Robert Stanley Martin’s) posts are characterized by “careful distinctions and qualifications” doesn’t match my reading of them. I’ll let others decide if those posts have the merit you find in them.

    Mentioning Krazy Kat is not the same as grappling with the fact that it runs counter to any easy theory that would find a connection between aesthetic quality and commercial success. That’s the issue I feel you and Russ are evading. Citing Mailer doesn’t do the trick since Mailer’s career as a novelist was damaged, I’d argue, by his repeated attempts to replicate the critical and commercial success of The Naked and the Dead. The continued hunt for best-seller status made Mailer into a literary clown. Mailer would have been better off if he had followed the footsteps of someone like Bellow, who was happy enough when his books sold well but always concentrated first and foremost on writing well rather than constantly hitting the best-seller gong.

  229. Stevie B says:

    @Jeet Ditko would have been amazing, but I would think having Ditko and Severin would have left you open to a lot of flaming for not inviting Stan Lee. Although, Ditko, Severin and Lee alongside Fiore? If we’re in dreamland we might as well dream big. It was a really enjoyable round table though, thank you.

  230. George Bush (not that one) says:

    As far as Kirby and the kids, I’ve lurked on 4chan’s /co/ board for the past 2 years and there has been a number of Kirby ‘storytimes’. That’s where they post scans to read. Omac of all things being the most popular of the Kirby books. I never saw Ditko stuff..Maybe people buy the reprints more than the old comics?

  231. Jordan Smith says:

    Hello, all.

    This may not be the exact article to say any of this, but I’ve been visiting this site each day since discovering it (and since also discovering Fantagraphics’ amazing reprints of classic comics and great books period too, of course) but have refrained from making comments on Dan Nadel and Joe McCulloch’s great daily and weekly posts. Having read all this (huge number of comments in this third part aside, mind you), however, I did just want to say that this has to be one of the best sites I’ve ever come across and certainly the best site about comics. As well as all your own insightful articles like this round table, I couldn’t be more appreciative of Nadel and McCulloch for introducing me to more criticism and analysis, news, websites and interesting pieces of work that I would never have found otherwise.

    Just my little note of gratitude for such consistently fantastic work from all contributors.


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