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Jack "King" Kirby

Old 05-15-22, 01:25 PM
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Jack "King" Kirby

OK, we all know who he was, what his body of work is, and how huge his legacy is.

However, most comic fans have unique feelings about Jack Kirby. Some absolutely love his work, others respect it, while some don't like his art style at all.

Personally, I've always kind of liked his art, but loved his visual storytelling. To me, his blocky art style detracted from how great he was at perspective and detail and motion and just telling a story. Having said, that, I've gone through periods where I warm up to his style, and now is one of those times.

As I've noted before, I do my comic collecting in books, not single issues. Trades and various hardcover collections is how I do my comic collecting now (and for the last 3 years). As part of that collection, as a huge Marvel fan I can't help but have a lot of his work. He is probably best known for his amazing work on The Fantastic Four. That comic set the tone for the entire Marvel comic universe. It set the standard, and Kirby really boomed once inker Joe Sinnott came on board. It was perfect timing. Kirby's work was taking a quantum leap forward, and Sinnott's smooth, bold, but detailed style was ideal for what Kirby was doing. It was a style of visual storytelling that would be emulated until John Byrne took over the title in the early 80's.

But, while the FF was his most well known title, he also did a ton of work on other titles - The Incredible Hulk, The X-Men, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers, etc, all featured art by The King.

He co-created most of the characters he drew. Stan Lee was an idea man who would throw out rough, broad ideas, and Jack would then give those ideas form and detail. He would take those loose, vague descriptions and not only make them work, but he'd make them great. The Fantastic Four could have been OK if another artist co-created it. Not bad. It was a good idea - a team that is basically a dysfunctional family. But it needed Kirby's creativity to take that loose idea and make it great.

When Kirby left Marvel to go to DC he created a lot of REALLY ambitious titles. The New Gods (a new, Sci-Fi take on the type of mythology in Thor), The Forever People (space hippies come to Earth), Mister Miracle (a being of great power, tied in to The New Gods, who is an escape artist of sorts), The Demon (not tied in with the rest, but an ambitious idea with a thousand year backstory). The art wasn't as good as his stuff with Marvel (Vince Colletta and Mike Royer were serviceable inkers, but nowhere near the class of a Joe Sinnott or Frank Giacoia), and his dialogue wasn't quite as good as Stan's, but these were some really good comics that went beyond standard issue superhero stuff.

And when he was asked to do Superman, he chose to do Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen rather than take over one of the other Superman titles and kick a regular artist off that title. He only did Jimmy Olsen because it didn't have a regular creative team. And he used that title to indroduce his Fourth World stuff that would come in to play with The New Gods, Forever People, and Mister Miracle. Brilliant. Give the new ideas exposure in a title for one of DC's best selling characters (even if it was Superman's lowest selling title).

He returned to Marvel in 1976, but the magic was gone. His work on Captain America obliterated the great work that Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema had been doing for the previous 4 years. He just ignored that continuity and did whatever the hell he wanted to do. His art was also not quite as good as it had been in his previous run with Marvel, due, in part, to him using Mike Royer as his inker as often as he could. Royer kept the art as true to Kirby's pencils as possible, but that meant none of the smoothing that Sinnott or Giacoia had done, and none of the corrections they made when Kirby drew something out of proportion or just funky looking.

One title he got right was Machine Man. It started as a running story in the 2001 comic, with the character named Mister Machine. The 2001 comic came to an end, so the character was given his own title and a name change. Sadly, this title only lasted another 9 issues before being canceled. (It was picked up a few months later with none other than Steve Ditko handling the art, but even that only lasted another 9 issues.)

From there Kirby was all over the place. Hollywood, independent comics, back to DC for a little work.

But his legacy was cemented by the time he left DC in 1975. He had an amazing career, and he shaped comic books in terms of art and storytelling - an influence that may last forever.

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Old 05-15-22, 02:03 PM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby




I've always loved that Machine Man cover. I think it's one of Kirby's best.
Old 05-15-22, 02:50 PM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby





Apparently, those are NEAL ADAMS' inks on Kirby's pencils on the cover of Jimmy Olsen there!
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Old 05-16-22, 01:19 PM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby

I did not like his work at all. I remember something coming out in the 90's. I'm not sure if it was just repurposed work or "lost work", Phantom Force. Just wasn't my cup of tea at the time.

Having gotten older and seeing his classic work though I've come to enjoy it. The level of detail in his art was just amazing, especially for that period of time.
Old 05-16-22, 03:05 PM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby

I appreciate and respect him as a legend, his staggering creativity and huge contribution to comics, but admit that I have never really been a fan of his actual art style.
Old 05-16-22, 03:57 PM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby

Nothing but love for The King.

I have a special love for his original Mister Miracle series when he first came over to DC in the early 70s. I think it was easily the best of his Fourth World titles, although all of them were a joy to read.
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Old 05-16-22, 06:27 PM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby

When I was younger and new-ish to comics, I wasn't really a big fan of his work - probably due to my being a DC/Superman reader. Once I was exposed to Marvel, I really began to like how he portrayed ... everything! His early Fantastic Four and Thor became - in my mind - the stuff of legends and I cannot imagine 1960s comic books without his incredible amount of output and influence. There are better artists, sure, but Kirby well deserves the title of King for his massive contributions to comics.
Old 05-16-22, 11:11 PM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby

I'm only now picking up Kirby's Fourth World titles through trades.

I've got these (2 here now, 2 in transit)...





I started the Forever People, and that's really good. Very dated, very different, totally Kirby. The one I want that's going to be the most difficult to get is The Demon, as it's out of print and pretty expensive. (Anyone have one they want to sell for $35? )

It's funny, but for decades I haven't enjoyed Kirby's style and that got in the way of me enjoying his comics, but after reading some of his Thor issues with Colletta inking (yeah, Colletta's inks on Kirby's Fantastic Four looked horrible, but on Thor he did a much better job) I started to get into it a bit, and then something just clicked with his DC work. I don't know why or how, but I'm really digging it. It's a shame he loved Mike Royer's inks so much, because he would have been better served with an inker who could polish up the panels he drew that were less than stellar. Still, I'm enjoying these titles a lot so far.

And I'm just really impressed with his decision to do the cheeseball Superman title - Jimmy Olsen - rather than have DC kick a regular artist off of Superman or Action. That was a very cool thing to do and showed a lot of integrity on his part.
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Old 05-17-22, 08:22 AM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby

I love Kirby. His stories, artwork and the characters. To me, the New Gods saga brought a new life to DC and Superman, as he was finally put against a set of rogue villains that were as powerful or more powerful than him. It feels that Kirby took Superman away from the goofy golden and silver age stories into more serious ones during the bronze age and set some of the characteristics about his Metropolis world that are still seen today in comics, TV and films.

I know that Kirby's art sometimes is not appreciated at first glance, but looking at the pencils through IDW artist editions and other books covering his art throughout the years, you can clearly see that Vince Colletta has a huge part of the blame in some stuff not looking as good as they should have. Colletta's inks on Kirby are rushed, erases details, from faces to backgrounds, and overall mediocre artwork. There are 2 sides to this story. First one, that Colletta got worse throughout the years as he started as a decent artist but then got lazier with age. The second story, which is the one that makes more sense to me due to other similar stories I've heard, is that Colletta was pressured by editorial to change things as well as do things quickly in order to get books out in time. People like Colletta worked on page rates and the faster they worked, the more work they'll get, even if that work was mediocre. Editorial at that time felt that for readers it was better to release mediocre stuff out there on time instead of not releasing anything at all. That's why he was assigned to Kirby, who due to the bulk of work he had at the same time, needed someone to work at an even faster pace to ink and letter.
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Old 05-17-22, 12:57 PM
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Re: Jack "King" Kirby

Originally Posted by Red Hood
I love Kirby. His stories, artwork and the characters. To me, the New Gods saga brought a new life to DC and Superman, as he was finally put against a set of rogue villains that were as powerful or more powerful than him. It feels that Kirby took Superman away from the goofy golden and silver age stories into more serious ones during the bronze age and set some of the characteristics about his Metropolis world that are still seen today in comics, TV and films.

I know that Kirby's art sometimes is not appreciated at first glance, but looking at the pencils through IDW artist editions and other books covering his art throughout the years, you can clearly see that Vince Colletta has a huge part of the blame in some stuff not looking as good as they should have. Colletta's inks on Kirby are rushed, erases details, from faces to backgrounds, and overall mediocre artwork. There are 2 sides to this story. First one, that Colletta got worse throughout the years as he started as a decent artist but then got lazier with age. The second story, which is the one that makes more sense to me due to other similar stories I've heard, is that Colletta was pressured by editorial to change things as well as do things quickly in order to get books out in time. People like Colletta worked on page rates and the faster they worked, the more work they'll get, even if that work was mediocre. Editorial at that time felt that for readers it was better to release mediocre stuff out there on time instead of not releasing anything at all. That's why he was assigned to Kirby, who due to the bulk of work he had at the same time, needed someone to work at an even faster pace to ink and letter.
There's a great book about Vince Colletta called The Thin Black Line, and it covers that. At his best, he was an above average inker with some really good skills. At his worst, he rushed things, erased details that pencil artists drew, and was occasionally a bit rough in his inking.

He told his editors - I can do it fast, or I can do it good, I can't do both. You choose. He said that, of course, when he was given a rush job when a deadline was approaching and he was the only inker that could get the job done on time.

I actually like some of his inking, and on some pencil artists he actually made their work better. Denys Cowan on Black Lightning comes to mind. With Kirby, Colletta did a HORRENDOUS job on the Fantastic Four. Just awful. But on Thor, even though he erased background details and occasionally members of crowds, his inking usually looked pretty darned good. He didn't have the big, bold, smooth style of Sinnott, but when he took the time he could do a really good job. I like a lot of his work - and HATE a lot of his work! (It was particularly bland and rushed on the Amazing Spider-Man Peter marries MJ annual. The art looked like Spidey Super Stories it was so lacking in details.

But he also inked Kirby a fair amount at DC, too.
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