Some More Thoughts on Kirby and Fumetto


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Silkscreen, edition of 100. Available online soon from The Kirby Museum. All proceeds benefit the Museum.

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.

Anyhow, Kirby:

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!

Detail from Mister Miracle spread

Third floor: The Fourth World room

1960s Room

1960s room

Inks by Wally Wood.

Comic book samples

2nd floor: Kamandi 6: The entire issue. Also some 1950s work, including Skymasters presentation art

2nd floor: All but two pages of Fantastic Four 54.

First floor: Intro room and True Life Divorce partially-inked page.

First floor: Western Tales cover (inked by Kirby as well)

First floor: Stuntman 2 Cover

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9 Responses to “Some More Thoughts on Kirby and Fumetto”
  1. I despair that we’ll ever get a good book on Kirby. The author would have to be a comics historian, an art historian, a political historian, a sociologist, a psychologist, a literary critic and an art critic. Where are we going to find all those skills in a single person?

    Kirby’s work continues to fascinate me without the need for explanations, but I sense that the work is the manifestation of something very big. I think if anyone could put the pieces together, Kirby’s place in 20th century art and culture would be larger than any of us anticipate.

    • I came across your website and this comment:

      mark mayerson wrote:

      “Kirby’s work continues to fascinate me without the need for explanations, but I sense that the work is the manifestation of something very big. I think if anyone could put the pieces together, Kirby’s place in 20th century art and culture would be larger than any of us anticipate.”

      That, my freinds, sums up the Kirby situation better than anything I ever read!!

  2. I think our man Dan could do it… write the book on Kirby, I mean.

  3. patrick ford says:

    The “iconic” characters associated with Kirby are a distraction, and a negative one in my opinion.
    The close association between Kirby and Marvel comics might explain Art Spiegelman’s attitude towards Kirby.
    Art Spiegelman: “I must confess I can’t look at Kirby purely, because of the effect he’s had elsewhere.”
    If you notice in TCJ interview Spiegelman has some generally positive and insightful things to say about Kirby earlier work.
    AS: “I remember kind of liking The Fly when it first came out. There was some kind of Dickens-like depictions of poverty in The Fly — people wandering around in rags. I actually found that genuinely disturbing compared to the bland advertising-art world Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino’s character’s lived in around 1960. I liked the fact that Kirby’s stuff was cruder, it looked like it was drawn by hand.
    I find myself more interested in Kirby’s love comics than in his superhero comics.
    I certainly have less trouble with his non-superhero genre work.”

    Kirby’s association with 60’s Marvel is a barrier, a curse in a way which causes some people like Speigleman to associate the intimate deeply personal nature of Kirby’s work with the fun loving flamboyant personality stuccoed over Kirby’s work by Stan Lee.

    AS: “Marvel came just about the time I was giving up on reading comic books. Marvel age begins what, 1963? I’m about 15 years old, and I’m just about finished with the pre-pubescent comics, and most of my energy and attentions were devoted to satire magazines. Since Marvel put a new wrinkle into the stuff I had been reading, I sort of followed the first year or so of Spider-Man and Fantastic Fourand liked the neurotic characterizations well enough. But at that time it already seemed kind of puerile to me.”
    Speigleman’s comments make sense in the context of the 60’s “Marvel Age”
    being that Kirby’s voice was missing from the printed comics.
    “the optimism of it that just puts me off.”
    ” its overinflatedness, and simple-mindedness don’t move me.”
    “Kirby just seems dimwitted to me.”
    “It’s just that what Kirby wanted and was interested in, is really what these people are interested in. When you talk about infantile, what you’re really talking about is not really — yeah, to a degree it’s infantile — but it’s mostly pre-adolescent power fantasies. He expressed those very well and obviously did them with conviction, and for those people to whom this is an unresolved issue — it is expressed with conviction; he is a little boy in that sense.”
    The opposite side of the coin is a very large number of comic book fans are totally hung up on the icons Kirby created, and not really interested in Kirby precisely because his later solo work is the exact opposite of the dim, infantile, stuff bemoaned by Spiegelman, and yet ironically many of those super hero fans use a similar snickering mocking to the describe Kirby’s post 60’s work.
    Yet Kirby’s post 60’s work is commonly described by many people as something they couldn’t appreciate as a kid, and only understood when they revisited it later as an adult, while hardcore silver age super hero fans continue to view Kirby’s post 60’s work as almost an embarrasment compared to the 60’s Marvel comics.
    Kirby’s work in my opinion is almost word for word the exact opposite of the way Spiegelman descibed it. It is intelligent, thoughtful, message oriented, emotionaly realistic, and above all the work of a mature thinking man.
    Kirby: I can think things out, do them my way. At Marvel I couldn’t say anything or; it would be taken away from me, and put in another context, and all my connection with it would be lost.
    Skelly: That sounds like a problem.
    Kirby: You get to feel like a ghost. You’re writing commercials for somebody, I didn’t like it much.
    Skelly: Things were bad as far as recognition goes?

  4. Matt Seneca says:

    I have no idea whether the idea of writing a book, let alone a good one, on Kirby would appeal to either of these authors — but Greg Sadowski’s (perhaps permanently?) unfinished Krigstein biography is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to a top-notch work about a comic artist. And Blake Bell’s Ditko book was defiantly un-hagiographic: I thought it was very well done and its only problem was that it should have been longer. Either of those guys could write Kirby books worth reading, I think. (Of course, Frank’s suggestion isn’t a bad one either.)

  5. bryanocki C says:

    Hope Ben Jones has fun in Athens. Sounds like they’re having a real serious wild street party there. Good times.

  6. RAB says:

    Not for the first time, Pat Ford says exactly what I would have wanted to say about Kirby, so there’s no point in me saying it again!

  7. patrick ford says:

    How did Kirby see his time at Marvel? Was it a merry time for him, the best years of his life?
    The close to 100 pages a month Kirby maintained for around two years at Marvel were
    way over the top for Kirby.
    Consider that from the time Kirby joined DC until he entered the service he averaged “only” around 35 pages a month.
    Even at Timely Kirby was producing on average between Captain America and the Vision about 60 pages with a few exceptions as when he drew Captain Marvel Special Edition.
    All through the 1950’s Kirby rarely did more than 50 pages in a month.
    From 1951-1955 Kirby often did no more than 25 pages a month one reason (the most obvious reason is the very high quality of the stories he did do) I think the lead stories he did during that time were often his alone; writing, pencils, and inks.
    Penciling pages wasn’t the only work Kirby was doing during the early 50’s. He and Simon were packaging books for publishers, and Kirby was repenciling, doing ink touch-ups, writing plots for other writers, and on occasion interviewing artists.
    As heads of their own studio Simon and Kirby were well paid, and Kirby didn’t have to crank out tons of pages every month.
    As pointed out by Neal Adams the page rate for comic book artists stagnated and even fell between the mid 50’s and the late 60’s.
    Marvel was paying some of the worst rates in the business in the early 60’s. As late as 1965 Stan Lee was only able to offer John Romita $25 a page about half what he was making at DC. Lee was only able to lure Romita back by placing him on staff where Romita earned a set salary.
    Goodman had been paying as much as $50 a page in 1955.
    The facts show Kirby had never approached the number of pages he was doing (for very, very poor pay) at Marvel in the 60’s on a consistent basis.
    From late 1961 until he began doing numerous layouts in 1965 (which didn’t at all lighten his work load only his pay, and makes it more difficult to quantify “penciled” pages) Kirby averaged close to 100 penciled pages a month. For most of 1963 and 1964 Kirby drew four complete books every month (Avengers, Fantastic Four, Sgt. Fury, X-Men) plus covers, fill in issues on other titles, the two Fantastic Four Annuals, and the Strange Tales Annual.

    Kirby described those days.
    “I had to make a living. I was a married man. I had a home. I had children. I had to make a living. That is the common pursuit of every man. It just happened that my living collided with the times. Circumstances forced me to do it. They forced me.
    There wasn’t a sense of excitement. It was a horrible, morbid atmosphere. If you can find excitement in that kind of atmosphere the excitement was fear.”

  8. david says:

    these comments are epic in scope / just like the man / super hero / dead pan

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