Some More Thoughts on Kirby and Fumetto
by Dan Nadel
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Since I’m procrastinating a bit here on another rainy day in Lucerne, getting ready to pack up and head out to Toronto tomorrow, I thought I’d add a few more thoughts on Fumetto and the festival.
Ben Jones opened a very fine exhibition last week, consisting of large cardboard sculptures, some paintings, and a couple of wall drawings. It’s a good way to see what Jones is up to these days. We did a talk together on Saturday afternoon, walking through the show and tossing around arguments about form and hierarchies. I’ll post it when I’m back. Ben took off for Athens yesterday for yet another art show. Busy boy.
What has struck me about the current show is how much can be told even without displaying some of his “iconic” pieces, as has been noted elsewhere. For this, and for any audience really, it’s almost more important to see the work as work, rather than as propping up iconic properties. It’s easier to take in as comics qua comics, or in the case of his collage and pencil drawings: as highly personal mark-making.
But really as I walk through the show the best part is watching Kirby’s vision expand. With Joe Simon he worked in every genre possible by the mid-1950s. Then he simply began inventing languages. That’s why the 1970s work is so compelling to me: A man past middle age in complete control of his medium, inventing worlds and visual languages at a rapid pace. With Mike Royer inking him he left any notions of realism behind and, like someone akin to George Herriman (as opposed to his actual idols, Hal Foster and Milton Caniff) everything on the page became Kirby-fied.
It’s been gratifying to see the response from the audience — even the most skeptical superhero antagonist is swayed by the visceral force of the work on display. After all, it’s one thing to see the comic books but it’s a whole other experience to be able to enter into these drawings on a large scale and see them at 100%. Kirby truly worked to the whole page, and I’m now forever spoiled.
I want to once again thank my co-curator, Paul Gravett (who has a fine report on the show here), as well as Rand Hoppe for his help and collectors/lenders Tom Morehouse and Tom Kraft, both of whom joined us for the weekend, which was awfully fun and highly educational — it’s great to walk through a show with guys who have been looking at the stuff for so many years. As well as Scott Eder, Bernard Mahe and Jonathan Ross, not to mention Fumetto itself, for taking a risk and giving us so much space and time.
I’ll leave off with a couple things: Here’s a link to a report on Fumetto on German TV. I show up about halfway through.
Finally, one of my favorite interviews with Kirby is Mark Herbert’s 1969 piece, which saw print in the Nostalgia Journal 30-31, 1976 and later in Fantagraphics’ Kirby interview collection.
Here are two very moving passages. And remember, this is 1969 — early days still.
“Whatever you work on should have something of you in it. The most you can really do in life is leave a little bit of yourself behind. You come, you contribute a little, leave a little. … I try to do it in comics. I give the most I can because I feel people won’t take any less. It’s like combat, really: If you stop, you’re dead, so you have to keep moving. That’s the way I approach comics. If it ain’t with action, it’s with something else. My job is to make people watch …
“I feel I’m God because these things are living or moving to my concepts. Good or bad, that’s how they come out. I can even punish them by erasing them but I’m not that mad yet. I like to make them as perfect as I can, and I feel now that’s what God is doing with us.”
See you in Toronto.
UPDATE: You can view a video discussion on Kirby at Fumetto with Paul and Rand and myself at The Jack Kirby Museum. I was inexplicably on edge and/or tired so I made a couple embarrassing gaffes. Otherwise it’s fairly watchable.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Many have asked for yet more photos of the show. Below is an incomplete set of photos of the installation, and here is a video tour of every piece in the exhibition from Tom Kraft.
Was there a catalog? No — too complicated, and there are plenty of great Kirby visual books.
Will the show travel? No plans just yet, but that would be nice.
How did the Swiss react? They loved it!