Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kirby - always the king

Today is Jack Kirby's 91'st birthday. He died in 1994, but still lives as only true artists do.

I didn't realize, back in the the late '70s, how privileged I was to have met him. I was almost 14, and the San Diego Comic-Con (not yet "International) had a "Celebrity Brunch" every year, where fans could pay an incredibly high price (I think it was *gasp* $20!) to have a brunch with their favorite comics creators artists.

There were a number of great artists on the brunch list - I think Jim Starlin was there, and maybe even Steranko - but my first choice was Jack Kirby. And, thanks to an amazingly indulgent mother who took me to San Diego AND paid for admission and brunch, I was able to attend. But I was utterly stunned when I was given the news that I had actually gotten my application in early enough to sit with the KING himself!

Needless to say, I was awestruck. He was a very small man (as the picture of us together will show) but he had a HUGE personality. And he absolutely loved talking to us kids (and kids we were for the most part - no aging fanboys yet). I was one of the youngest at the table, yet he spoke to me with the same respect and interest he showed the other, older kids there. (High schoolers!) He told interesting war stories from WWII, stories about the Marvel days, his New Gods saga, all sorts of stuff.

I personally asked him about why Vince Colletta was no longer inking for him. Vince had been Kirby's inker on Thor at Marvel, and had followed him to DC to do the Fourth World saga, but within a half a year he was gone, replaced by Mike Royer and others. Now, at the time there was very little "fan press", and I didn't know about how reviled Colletta was amongst the Illuminati of the comics world, nor how he had a tendency to leave out parts of the pencils at random, and add shading where it wasn't indicated. I just knew I liked the soft, almost etched quality he gave Kirby's pencils.

And rather than rip into Vince (which, I've read, he did privately when he finally found out how much Colletta was changing his work) he simply said "Well, Vince is a great guy. But he was leaving some stuff out. So we though we'd try someone else". It was a few years before I understood that Kirby was teaching me about the concept of "class".

As an artist? Unparalleled. Literally - look up the definition. I would argue, without hyperbole, that he's in a class of 20th century artists along with Picasso, Wyeth and Du Champ. He did not re-define comics art - he defined it, in a way that no other artist before or since has had the guts or talent to do. Others have been great, there have been many geniuses, but only Kirby allowed himself to be the form in the way no others have dared.

And besides, I have this great picture of us together at the con!

(And yes, when my house burns to the ground, as all houses inevitably must, this is the first thing I'm taking out with me).

For more on Kirby, check out these links:
The Comics Reporter
Mark Evanier
The Kirby Museum


Fat Boy said...

Kirby and Colletta on the Thor comics were the best thing I have seen artistically. You wrote a nice article.

Patrick said...

Thank you sir, and thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

Lately I have read that the furor over Colletta's erasing things was mostly made up by the guys who convinced Kirby to change inkers because angry fans were writing to DC Comics saying they preferred Colletta.

Patrick said...

That's the first I've heard of that, but judging by the out-of-proportion anger even 40 years later, it's possible...

Though the Kirby Collector has shown many instances where it demonstrably DID happen, so it's based on fact. However I've never been all that convinced that it was that bad a thing, overall. Sometimes it made for a punchier panel to get rid of extraneous stuff. Sometimes.

Anonymous said...

What Vinnie Colletta did was temper Kirby's excesses. The same can be said for Joe Sinnott. I'm sure that other inkers erased things they saw as unneccessary but for some reason Colletta got singled out by the Kirbyphiles.

I loved Colletta's inking.

Patrick said...

That's a good point. No one ever complains that Sinnott virtually redrew all of Kirby's faces - because the result was great: the best of both artists. It seems to me that the meshing of Kirby and Colletta did the same thing, as together they looked like a third artist entirely.

Perhaps the most "pure" Kirby inker was Royer, who just took Kirby's pencils to their most logical conclusion in inks. And it looked great on such books as New Gods, Mr. Miracle, OMAC, Kamandi, etc. But traditionally that's not always the job of an inker. The importance of the synthesis of the two artists can't be underestimated.

Bottom line: you're right. If you don't like Colletta for "changing" Kirby, then really you have to dislike Sinnott (and Wood, and Simon, and many others) for the same thing. And that's silly!

Georgie Roussell said...

Good piece. Just one comment about Colletta erasing and/or simplifying Kirby's pencils. Out of maybe a thousand pages they collaborated on there are less than ten where Vince changed or omitted anything. That's a very small percentage but look how some people have pumped it into a piece of comic book lore. Too bad, the guy deserved better....