By Dean Haspiel
What can be said about the “king of comics” that hasn’t already been said by fans, academics, and much better artists and writers than I will ever be? What can be discussed that isn’t already empirically evident in his work? Jack Kirby was, simply put, the best American cartoonist that ever lived. And, he had the best collaborators in Joe Simon, Stan Lee, Joe Sinnott, Chic Stone, Mike Royer, and dozens of others. ‘Nuff said.
So, rather than prove how great his characters were and how awesome his page layouts are and how incredible his action is and how mind-blowing his imagination was [just pick up a Kirby comic or collection or just Google his name and you’ll see what I mean], I’d prefer to take a very brief look at quiet Kirby. The stuff that stuck with me long after Kirby’s infamous knock down, drag-out, fisticuffs between gods and monsters burned their cosmic brawls into my mind’s eye.
OMAC – One Man Army Corps, was Kirby’s re-imagined answer to a future Captain America done at DC Comics. I think I must have read those first two panels over-and-over again until I felt drool slide down my chest. I still can’t get over how brilliant this idea was. It made me feel dumb and happy, all at the same time, like huffing a galactic bong hit.
Who knew Jack had it in him to write so eloquently about the fashion faux pas of a super dame named Beautiful Dreamer of The Forever People while exploring new ideas and bringing the drama. Two perfect pages that brandishes fun narrative sans sucker punch.
I only own one original piece of Jack Kirby art [inked by Mike Royer] and it is page 19 from Devil Dinosaur #4 (July 1978), a short-lived Marvel Comic series about the first human boy and his pet dinosaur. Alas, neither of the lead characters are featured on this page but, even when Kirby was writing a transitional scene, he couldn’t help but flex hyperbole.
The last panel, in particular, engrosses me. I dig the way Kirby graphically presents the clash of transition. The organisms of the old in conflict with the technology of the new while commenting on the state of the future. A world wide war. Kirby was fascinated with the twilight of the future while honoring the wisdom, heartbreaks, and history of the past. My favorite comic book authors are masters who write with their art; creating a unique and personal storytelling calligraphy.
Despite some of his outlandish yet oft times super prescient concepts [Ego – the living planet, The Silver Surfer, Galactus, The Negative Zone, The Power of Him, OMAC, Mother Box, and “The Source,” anyone?], Jack Kirby knew it was a priority to entertain while delivering emotional truths. He didn’t seem so concerned with the wiring of plausibility but more with the nuts and bolts of what makes us tick. And, with that in mind, Kirby cleaned our clocks with his big ideas and made them attainable for young boys and girls to grasp and mull over. Kirby made people think in ways that could ignite the atoms of genius and melt lesser minds. For a long time, some jaded folks declared, “comics are just for kids.” Maybe so. But, comics keep us young. And, if Jack Kirby makes me stupid, I don’t want to be smart.
[a version of this essay was originally published at Graphic NYC]