Posts Tagged ‘Eastman’

Cartoon Kayfabe Reviews Book on the Art of Jack Kirby

July 5, 2021

This is one for all the comics fans. Jack Kirby is one of the truly great figures in American comics. With Stan Lee he created some of Marvel’s best known and most beloved comics characters, like Captain America. Kirby grew up when the immigrant Jewish community in New York was still poor and rough, and like many other similar communities, riddled with gangs. Kirby said he came from the type of background where the best job a man could aspire to was being a mechanic, and I think he was seen as being a bit odd for wanting to be an artist. Nevertheless, he managed to realise his ambition and get away from the gangs, although he also said that part of him enjoyed running with them. 5′ 2” and pugnacious, he wasn’t averse to stepping up to the challenge if someone threatened him. The famous cover of Captain America beating up Hitler was published before America entered the War and upset the American Nazi party. One of the Hitlerites came into the hotel where Kirby was staying at the time, demanding a word with him. To the consternation of his workmates, Kirby got up and went down ready to sort the man. But by the time he got down to the lobby, the Nazi had departed. Probably luckily for the Nazi. Nevertheless, the fear of Nazi reprisal was so strong that Stan Lee and Kirby were both given FBI protection for a time.

One of the book’s editors/producers is Eastman, of Mutant Ninja Turtles fame, and the book is an overview of Kirby’s long artistic career, from when he was just starting out as an aspiring artist to his retirement. I was never a great fan of Kirby, as although he could do cosmic like no one else could, drawing huge, awesome machines and men and women like gods, I didn’t think he could draw the ordinary human form very well. But the book shows that he was actually a very good naturalistic artists with fine sketches of the major figures and celebrities of his time. One of whom was Adolf Hitler.

Kirby seems to have worked at anything and everything to pay the rent. At one time he was an artist on the Disney cartoons, drawing the figures for the moments between the main action. But he was learning all the time and ambitious, looking for new and better jobs and taking with him the skills he learnt. During his comics career he not only worked on superheroes, but also cowboy, commando and romance comics, turning to these parts of the industry when the superhero genre was decimated by the moral panic of the 1950s. He also did his patriotic duty and served in the army during the Second World War, and this fed into the war strips he drew afterwards. The self-portraits Kirby drew of himself before and during his army years show the immense change armed combat had wrought on him. Before he enters the army he’s clean cut, but afterwards he becomes more lined and grizzled. He shows the same effect on soldiers on the cover of one of his war comics. This features a man writing a letter home to his mother, saying that the invasion of Europe was just like a day at the beach. The man’s face betrays otherwise, and Kayfabe and his companion note the 1,000 yard stare. Apparently when the servicemen wrote home, they really did describe the War in those terms as they obviously really didn’t want to cause their families to worry about them.

Kirby’s final years were overshadowed by a quarrel with Stan Lee over who created the Marvel characters, with Kirby claiming that he was the real creator of some. He left Marvel and carried on working long after he should have retired on strips like Devil Dinosaur. Towards the end of his career it looks like this amazing artist was being helped by others in the studio. But in his prime Kirby was extremely prolific. At his height in the 40s-50s he was producing a hundred pages a month. I think that’s why his human forms are so sketchy – he was churning them out and an incredible rate, too fast for very naturalistic art, simply to put food on the table for himself and his family. He also incorporated many of the latest developments in popular art into his comics, like pop art and black light, in order to connect with readers and appeal to their changing tastes.

One of the most remarkable episodes in his career was the use of his concept art for an abandoned film project as cover for a CIA operation to rescue the hostages in Iran. Kirby had been hired to work on a film version of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. Although the film wasn’t made, the CIA used the art as part of the cover for their operation, which was that they were film makers seeking to make an SF film in the country.

Kirby was indeed one of the giants of the comics industry, and Kayfabe’s review of the book, which I think came out in the ’80s or 90s, is an excellent review of his long and amazing productive career. The characters he and Lee created still continue to enthral readers across the world, and, I hope, to inspire future generations of comics artists and creators.