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Long Week

This morning, we bring you a new installment of Sean T. Collins’s column on up-and-coming cartoonists, this time featuring L. Nichols.

We also plan to continue adding new remembrances to our collection of tributes to Dylan Williams as they come in.

Elsewhere:

Alan Gardner comes out in favor of the newspapers who have pulled Garry Trudeau’s recent Doonesbury strips previewing material from the new Sarah Palin biography, but I have a hard time understanding why, based on the strips published so far. This is pretty tame stuff.

Rich Baez writes a long post about the often overlooked Glenn Dakin. (via Eddie Campbell.)

Finally, you might have seen the photo comic made by a very young Kim Thompson that is currently making the rounds online. Or maybe you’ve been reading his most recent dream journals. What I want to know is if this is the same Kim Thompson whose heretical letter was published in Captain America 194 in 1976?

(Thanks, Sean Howe.)


17 Responses to Long Week

  1. I guess it’s the same (and still heretical) Kim Thompson who wrote this a couple of years later:

    http://www.tcj.com/archive-viewer-issue-39/?pid=5

    It’s kind of funny how the rest of Marvel’s 1970′s output has dated pretty badly in many ways, but Kirby’s work from that period now seems fresh and original. I don’t mean to point fingers at Kim Thompson and the other reviewers from that period, I’d probably have shared many of Thompson’s sentiments back when I was becoming a Marvel comics fanatic a few decades ago.

  2. patrick ford says:

    That comment is hardly heretical, it was the standard zombie speak of the time, and remains so among the MMMS to this day. Since Kirby’s writing is far superior to the hackwork which is the industry saddle stitch, it’s no wonder it sticks out like a square thumb in the eyes of mainstream super hero fans.
    As to his writing remaining fresh, isn’t that Rick Perry?
    http://www.the-isb.com/images/FreedomFreakBig.jpg
    One of the Kotch brothers?
    http://media.photobucket.com/image/Kirby%20Madbomb%20elites%20taurey/volksjager/DC-260-79F21A527-1.jpg
    It’s true, there wasn’t anything in mainstream books remotely like Kirby, and that’s to Kirby’s credit.

  3. patrick ford says:

    Kirby himself commented on the zombie “hive mind” parrot squawking in Mister Miracle #12.

    “This involves cultism. A cult that flourished in the dim past. Think of thousands of converts to the cult—Passing before an idol. It speaks to them. They listen, and forever remain to serve the cult. Listen to the voice which swayed and held vast multitudes within it’s influence—because that was the purpose of the idol.”

  4. Kim Thompson says:

    Hey, in 1976 I also thought Don McGregor was a great writer and Neal Adams was one of the finest cartoonists in the history of the world. Give a 19-year-old Marvel fan a break. On the other hand, Kirby’s work of that time (and later on) was so wildly goofy that while I respect the revisionist view that this makes it charming and distinctive — and yes, I too would probably re-read that over most of the Marvel or DC stuff I actually liked back then — I think it’s also possible to zigzag over into the other ditch and proclaim all of Kirby’s work masterful and brilliant all the way down to SILVER STAR (and DEVIL DINOSAUR), and anyone who disagrees is a Marvel Zombie. There are hives on both sides of the road.

    During the “What did Stan Lee bring to Kirby’s work in the 1960s” debate hereabouts I looked in vain for the middle ground between Team Lee and Team Kirby for something that resembled my own opinion that while Lee didn’t really create much if anything and his writing was facile and sometimes at odds with Kirby’s intention, the “compromised” results actually turned out to be one of the peaks of American comics and Lee deserved a considerable amount of credit for having the editorial smarts to achieve that.

    • Tom Spurgeon says:

      Kim, I have a book for you.

    • R. Fiore says:

      Hell, I remember when that Fiore guy called McGregor “the best writer qua writer in comics.”

      I think what Stan Lee did for both Kirby and Ditko was to humanize them, or perhaps it would be better to say made them more accessible by smoothing out the crank/eccentric aspects of their personalities. On the other hand, a lot of the time he was telling you what Kirby or Ditko had just shown you. I remember when the “Marvel style” was described to me at a time when I was still fairly deeply invested in the Stan Lee version of history I couldn’t help the sneaking feeling that it sounded an awful lot like the artist was the one writing the story.

  5. patrick ford says:

    Lee created plenty, but it’s his contribution which bastardized Kirby’s plots that make the Marvel comics of that era some of the worst written comics of that or any era, and people really. really should go and reread a few if they have any doubts.

    I don’t find Kirby’s post Marvel work any more goofy than “The Rough-Tough Cream-Puff.”

    Silver Star is an absolutely brilliant work dealing in a mature way with the end result of mixing the science of genetics with human nature. People really should go and reread that as well.

    There is a good reason there is no middle ground between Kirby and Lee. Lee was a talentless hack. His dialogue is the comic book equivalent of William Shatner’s singing.

  6. Kim Thompson says:

    I think the implied “SILVER STAR is a greater comic than FANTASTIC FOUR” is an amusingly contrarian viewpoint, which I always encourage. But if you’re trafficking in amusingly contrarian viewpoints, maybe the puffed-up “…and anyone who can’t see that is an IDIOT” (or Marvel Zombie) attitude could be dialed back slightly. Just sayin’.

    I admit I haven’t re-read any Kirby comics for many, many years. I don’t feel strongly enough about this discussion to do so right now, although I seem to remember that the last time I fell for the “OMAC” (or DEVIL DINOSAUR or SILVER STAR or 2001 or final-CAPTAIN-AMERICA run or whatever) “is one of Kirby’s most brilliant peaks” argument I got about five pages in and my head melted. I’ve always re-read the Lee-scripted FANTASTIC FOUR or SPIDER-MAN with genuine pleasure, on the other hand, as I suspect most people who like super-hero comics still do.

    But then again, I’m not particularly invested in Kirby per se. I’m sure there are cartoonists who obsess me enough that I could be coaxed into arguing vehemently for later, more eccentric, less-popular work.

    You do realize there are all these degrees between “transcendent infallible genius” and “talentless hack,” right?

  7. Dominick Grace says:

    I’ve beenr eading some of Kirby’s 1970s output lately–some of his Jimmy Olsen stuff, his run on The Losers, and his Black Panther. Honestly, none of it is great. The Jimmy Olsen is perhaps the most interesting, the Black Panther least, but the plots are generally silly and the dialogue, well . . . I’m sorry, but I’m baffled by anybody who thinks Kirby’s ear is anything but tin.

  8. patrick ford says:

    Personally I’d strongly discourage anyone from being contrarian. A person who would say something simply for the sake of being provocative shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    I’ll dispense with the words you dialed up, “transcendent infallible genius” and say simply that Silver Star is a very well written comic book. where as Lee’s Fantastic Four is just another disposable bit of hacked out filler, which puts it along side the large majority of other super hero comic books.

    One thing I find interesting is how often Kirby’s work is described as “goofy,” which causes me to wonder, “compared to what?” He’s working in a fantasy medium, is there an assumption he was attempting to create something which could pass for reality?

    I read Kirby in just the same way I read “Whiteman Meets Bigfoot,” Justin Green’s “The Kiss-Off.”

    Reading Lee doesn’t cause my head to melt, it’s more a case of heavy eyelid droop. It’s turgid 10th rate Milton Caniff snappy patter, mixed with maudlin platitudes, and pidgin-Shakespeare.

    So putting aside your choice of words, “transcendent infallible genius” I’d say Kirby’s work is the distinctive committed voice of a cartoonist working with the medium’s greatest strengths, the use of caricature in word and picture.

    • Kim Thompson says:

      Fair enough. I don’t even disagree with your summary of Lee’s writing style except I’d probably promote it up to SECOND-rate Caniff patter, partly because I think Caniff’s patter turns pretty grating after a while — by which I mean both after one’s been reading it for a while, and progressively more so as Caniff was using it over the years.

      It’s also interesting that on Kirby’s two big ongoing Marvel series of the 1960s, FANTASTIC FOUR and THOR, Lee deliberately employed overpowering inkers (Sinnott and Colletta) who smoothed out Kirby’s work considerably — the former surely for good, the latter arguably for evil (although I’m one of the apparent minority who’s actually fond of Colletta’s inking on THOR). This turned out to be a shrewd move in FF’s case, since Marvel was able to replace Kirby with other pencillers and maintain a very consistent look for the book for years thereafter by simply keeping Sinnott on it. I do wonder if FF would’ve been as popular if inked by, say, Frank Giacioia.

      Part of being a contrarian is strenuously denying (even to yourself) that you’re a contrarian. I’m sure Ted Rall feels completely un-contrarian every time he says KRAZY KAT is shit.

      • patrick ford says:

        Kim, I actually agree on Caniff. He’s so damn good, so clever with his “everyone is a comedian all the time” dialogue that it’s like a goose fat banana split.

  9. Tom Scioli says:

    It’s no surprise that Fantastic Four is viewed by many as Kirby’s best work because it’s such a large, influential body of work with a sustained level of creative excellence. Whether you or I think of it as Kirby’s best is a matter of opinion. I prefer the 70′s stuff. It’s interesting to analyze the differences between Kirby’s works, what makes them tick, but “I prefer this one better than this one” is given far more importance than it warrants.

    I can’t think of anything from Kirby’s body of work that isn’t worth re-reading multiple times.

    • patrick ford says:

      Tom, There were periods of time where Kirby was kind of floundering for a variety of reasons.

      I see this as two-fold. In some instances he was under financial or scheduling pressure to produce a huge number of pages (even by mainstream comics standards) on a monthly basis. The early years at Marvel are a good indication of this. The plots for the most part are science fiction chestnuts, and the art is rushed looking.

      By the mid-60′s Kirby was able to cut (still around 60 pages a month) his production of art and story, and he artwork became remarkably tight, he was basically “inking” with his pencil, but it’s the plots which, while still based on science fiction standards, became nuanced in ways which were often unfortunately turned upside down by Lee. The most well know instance is Kirby plans for the Surfer. Kirby had envisioned the Surfer as an emotional blank slate whose actions were unquestioning obedience dictated by his duties. Kirby described the character as a “fallen angel.” Lee utterly subverted this idea, making the Surfer a man with a lost love on another world. This happened time and again during Kirby’s peak period of creative engagement at Marvel; which leads us to the second factor resulting in Kirby’s lesser work.

      Kirby went through periods where his art and stories are clearly disheartened. The last couple of years at Marvel in the 60′s, the period of time at DC after the cancellation of the Fourth World books. And Kirby’s work at Marvel in the mid 70′s after Marvel editors began pressuring him to bring his work into the Marvel fold. And there is still interesting work even during those down times, it just isn’t up to a consistently high level.

      There is a lot of Kirby’s lesser known late period work which I have a really high opinion of. His 70′s Captain America story “The Mad Bomb” reads like something you might get if you asked Spain to create a Captain America story based on the rise of the Tea-Party. To me nothing looks stupider than men in panty hose trying to fit into something like a network television version of reality. I’m not a fan of super heroes period, but they work best for me when they are existing in an a kind of Deitch Waldo World.

      I like to compare Kirby to Tezuka. If you read Astro Boy and then skip all the way ahead to Tezuka’s great late work Ode to Kirihito you’ll see that while Astro Boy is child friendly, and Ode to Kirihito is clearly not for children, both works are exploring many of the same themes. If an artist has things to say about humanity based on his personal observations he can express his observations in a variety of ways. Adult content is not an visa stamp to the land of mature expression.

  10. Jeet Heer says:

    I think arguments about Lee versus Kirby as a writer really hinge on readerly expectations. If what you want is superior genre material – entertaining, inventive, glib, and self-aware of its own absurdity but also with the odd touch of pathos – then the Lee/Kirby and Lee/Ditko collaborations of the 1960s give you that, in spades. The comics Kirby started producing in the 1970s aren’t superior genre material or even normal genre material. Rather, they are comparable to what Philip K. Dick was doing in the 1960s in science fiction: taking the tropes and raw material of genre but refashioning into a deeply personal and deeply weird satirical portrait of the contemporary world. There are some points of convergence between Dick and Kirby: both started in the pulps and mastered the language of pulp storytelling but they refashioned the standard material in startlingly fresh ways. Dick is not what is normally considered to be a “good writer” – his sentences are often awkward or humdrum. In order to appreciate him you have to meet him half-way there by making yourself receptive to his particular airwave. But if you do so, he’s deeply rewarding. Mind you, I haven’t read Silver Star yet. But Kirby’s Fourth World comics are, to my mind, among the best commercial comics ever, up there with the works of Barks and John Stanley.

    Caniff was an excellent writer in the early days of Terry – say the late 1930s and early 1940s. It’s when he got into doing air pilot lingo that things went downhill. By the 1950s, Steve Canyon is virtually unreadable.

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