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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Two Kings

I'm going to admit this right up front--the connection between Aquaman and Jack Kirby is (newsprint)paper-thin. To my knowledge, Kirby only drew Aquaman on one extended occasion, during the first Super Powers mini-series in 1984, work that even the most die-hard Kirby fans will admit was far from his best(although I absolutely love this Aqua-centric cover).

But Mark Evanier has a new book out, the long-gestating Kirby: King of Comics hardcover, and last night I bought it. I had every intention of reading a few pages from the book before going to bed, but I found myself unable to put it down. Around 3am, bleary-eyed, I had finished Mark's tour of the Life of Kirby, having felt like, as Neil Gaiman puts it in his introduction, that you took a stroll through an imagined Jack Kirby Museum with Mark as your tour guide.

I'm not going to bother going through the details of "King" Kirby's life, since most of you reading this already know them. But Mark regales the reader with lots of backstage details, that help flesh out the story what was going on while Kirby was smashing everything everyone knew about how comics could be done.

In so many ways, Mark is the perfect person to tell this story, because not only was he Kirby's close friend for decades, but his perspective--admiring yet clear-eyed on its subject--is crucial for presenting a balanced view of the man. No one would want to read a book about Jack Kirby by someone who didn't like his work, and at the same time a everything-Kirby-did-was-a-masterpiece-yes-even-Devil-Dinosaur tone would be tedious to read. Mark takes the middle road, and its the perfect route to take when examining the man's staggering artistic achievements.

sgAnd on top of the writing, the book is equally pitch-perfect in its presentation. Anyone who has spent even a few minutes perusing my approximately fifty-seven comic-book related blogs, you know that Presentation is an all-important part of the appeal of comics to me.

The book is a whopping 9 1/2 x 12 1/2", and many of Kirby's covers and inside pages are reproduced at that full page size, which of course suits his work perfectly (even the paper stock is nicely chosen--clean and white, but not that eye-gouging shiny that I find makes a lot of Marvel's TPBs nearly unreadable). There's tons of covers, sketches, pages, and more. For a book conveying so much information via text, it's still manages to be a visual fiesta.

Seeing the entire universes Jack Kirby created for his characters to exist in(like in the "Fourth World" books, Kamandi, The Demon, OMAC, Machine Man, The Eternals...), all by himself in a tiny little windowless studio sitting in a stiff hardbacked chair, I can only imagine what an Aquaman comic--with his attendant built-in fantasy world setting of Atlantis--written and drawn by Kirby might have looked like. My guess is that we'd have a few volumes of Jack Kirby's Aquaman Omnibus out by now.

The book can be
bought here, and I strongly suggest anyone interested in the history of comics, Jack Kirby, or just comics art pick up a copy. It's a fascinating read, and a fitting tribute to a man who simply was comics.

sg(I knew that I wanted to write a piece about this book for one of my blogs, but couldn't really decide which one to put it up on. I finally decided to put it here, to give it the widest possible audience. And since all my blogs are comics-centric, and we're talking Jack Kirby, it really could've gone up on any of them)


Anonymous said...

A worthy piece about what sure sounds like a worthy book, Rob!

I grew up with the Curt Swan School of Norman Rockwell-ish Silver Age DC artists, so Jack's charm eluded me back in the day.

But YOW.

When you meet him as an adult, with a fair familiarity with the field he labored in, you just can't miss his chops, and his sheer storytelling power.

Like Robert DeNiro, Shakespeare, and Elvis, he's one of those very rare Giants who really ARE all they're cracked up to be.

-Craig W.

Adama said...

Man, that book sounds awesome. as I mentioned over at the Arrowcave, I just recently found out that Kirby had a run on Green Arrow back in the 50's (I'm sure everyone knew this but me). Do you know if any of that material made it into the book? I'd love to see them in color!

rob! said...

Kirby's GA run is mentioned, but not shown. any book on Kirby that's around 250 pages has to leave some stuff out. :)

from what i understand, Mark is planning some expanded deluxe edition of the book that'll be like 1000 pages and cost approximately one million dollars. after reading this book, i just might buy that one, too!


yep, like you, i didn't like kirby's stuff as a kid, it seemed so...odd to me. now of course i see the brilliance that was always there!

Richard said...

The other Kirby book Mark is planning is precisely that: another book, not an expanded version of this one but a separate entity that will complement this one. I emphasize this only because I've now seen half a dozen blogs complaining that Mark didn't deliver a good enough Kirby biography...when Mark's been very clear everywhere you look that this one isn't the biography.

Kirby's GA was collected into a TPB a while back; see a review here. You can well afford it, since I imagine you won't be buying my own scholarly volume Devil Dinosaur: The Unsung Masterpiece of Western Literature...

rob! said...

thanks for the (minor) correction, RAB.

for a subject so massive, Mark gets A LOT in this book. the price tag of $40 is about right for those interested but not obsessive; the other book will undoubtedly satisfy the latter.

Anonymous said...

I have the old "Art of Jack Kirby" book, but this one has me sorely tempted. Evanier seems to be THE leading authority on Kirby. Perfect match of subject and author. But man, is it just me or is that cover extremely drab? Of all the awesome work Kirby did, it just seems like a waste of a killer image opportunity.