Thursday, March 08, 2007

It stems from the waves of the mind


This has been in the works for a long time, but it's good to have these details come out. Especially the introduction by Grant.

At the very least, I take it as a good sign that DC's using a currently popular writer for the introduction, rather than an artist -- Kirby's visual strengths have never been questioned, unless you're Art Spiegelman, in which case you're a miserable bastard and I don't want to know you -- or someone who'll damn him with faint praise as an "idea man" who needed a collaborator to crush all the life out of his work. You know the drill: great characters, shame about the writing, what we need here is a steady workman like Gerry Conway to hammer it into shape because Orion needs an insignia on his chest to be a proper superhero...

I've been waiting a long time for Jack Kirby to be fully appreciated as a writer by other comics writers -- while watching folks I otherwise respect, such as Steve Englehart or Gail Simone, utterly trash him for not being sufficiently "naturalistic" for their unaccountably narrow tastes -- so far Peter Gillis is one of the few writers to step up to the bat and get what Kirby's writing is all about. But by all indications, Grant gets it too. It'll be interesting to see what he says.


  1. Huh?

    When did I knock the King?

    Here's what I said about him...

    "Jack invented Capepunk. He was perfectly happy doing comics that poked you directly in the eye, brain and heart. It takes courage to write and draw like that, which is why his best stuff cuts so deeply while so many stories of his time barely register at all.

    I like working in his industry."

    I think Jack was an amazing writer.
    His dialogue wasn't always to my taste but NO ONE was a better idea and character factory.


  2. Believe it or not, I jumped from the same Kirby Omnibus article (discovered after curiousity sent me Googling around for the exact release date of volume one; and of course I've had it pre-ordered for over a month now) and I thought, "Here's my next post! Wowzers!"

    Thankfully, for whatever odd reason, I checked you out first. Uh, yeah; gotta stop meeting like this.

    And I'm going to maintain my composure here, since anything I say is going to sound trite after Gail Simone checks in here (!).


  3. I was remembering this, specifically the part where Steve Englehart says "Well, I love Kirby in most things, but I didn't like the 4th world very much, because Kirby can't write." And then more, followed by your comment "I love the Fourth World concepts. I find them freakishly innovative. But some of the comics were hard sloggin'."

    My interpretation may have been a bit faulty there. I do consider Steve's claim that "Kirby couldn't write" and that he could have been the one to "improve" Kirby to be trashing Kirby's reputation as a writer. I remembered you as agreeing with Steve...but your comments weren't strident, and I don't want to mischaracterize your views. I know you weren't hating on Jack.

    (Let me make it clear I'm not bashing Steve! He's a huge inspiration for me and I admire him to pieces. I'm disappointed that Steve doesn't like Kirby's writing as much as I do precisely because I like Englehart's work so much. I'm lamenting this as an unfortunate lapse in taste on his part, not accusing Englehart of any malice. Heck, it's a lapse in taste many outspoken Kirby fans share: this argument has played itself out so many times on the Jack Kirby mailing list that I gave up trying.)

    Make no mistake: Kirby saw himself as a writer. The actual stories and words were the whole point of the venture for him. Some wanted him to play the "idea man" and produce characters for other people to execute...but given the choice, that wasn't what he wanted. And when I say I love Kirby's writing, I actually do mean his dialogue, his captions, his word choices. Some of his lines could cut like a scalpel, and reveal character far more directly than a more naturalistic approach could. For me, this is some of the purest distillation of comics the same way that thirty years of constant work taught Kirby to strip away the excess from his art and pare it down to the most effective pencil lines.

    Of course, it's a matter of taste. For me, something like "Metron -- you ICY mask!!" is a line of pure poetry rather than prose, telling us so much immediately about both the speaker and the subject while obviating any need for pages of exposition to get us to the same point. I find those comics positively dense with that kind of truth to the characters. I can see that this sort of thing might be too rarefied for others, too far removed from the traditions of prose writing. Some people might want it cross-pollinated with more realism. For my tastes, though, it was perfectly readable just as it was, and I wouldn't want it changed one bit.

  4. (WARNING: about to betray my English grad student side here)

    Ah yes, poetry! That is the way to describe Kirby's writing! I think maybe so many people in comics aren't willing to describe it like that because poetry sounds too high-falutin' to them, but truly, there is a rhythm to his lines.

    More than that. Notice what it says on the very first page of New Gods: "An Epic For Our Time." That's not epic in the debased modern sense. We're talking Odyssey and Iliad-type stuff here.

    And what some people forget about the Greek epics things was that there were some great stuff in there. They are action-packed! Odysseys encounter all matter of weirdness on the way home, and Achilles does a great deal of slaying of men.

    Hmm, I wonder if Kirby ever did illustrate Achilles at some point? I get the feeling he would have loved to have drawn out the Trojan War.

  5. maybe i need to get out more, but you're the first person i've ever see say anything negative about art spiegleman, which took me back for a moment.

    while i don't deny the guy is a total genius, i find that every time i've read an interview with him, he goes out of his way to slam superhero comics--even when its not germane to the topic--and i've gotten the impression that, like a lot of artistic geniuses, he may also be a giant a-hole. everytime i had that thought i always wondered if i was the only one.

    on a lighter note, i too love Chris Wisnia's Doris Danger books. i got to interview him for my site,, since he did a DD treasury-sized book, and he was a great interview, generous with his time, and i'm glad i got to meet him in person.

  6. Todd: Oh no you don't, you're not getting off that easy! There's more than enough room for us both to rave about the Omnibus.

    Rob: And let me endorse as well, including that fine interview with Chris!

    I think this interview with Spiegelman is an example of the sort of thing you're talking about. It's not just that he slams superhero comics, which he's entitled to do; I can certainly understand that any artist who doesn't care to work in that genre would resent the way it's taken over the medium in America over the past forty years. But to apply the words "infantile" and especially "fascist" to Kirby was personally offensive. I get what Spiegelman was talking about, even though I utterly disagree...but it's outrageous for him to use that particular emotionally-loaded word in this context.

    I've enjoyed Spiegelman's work more than I have his opinions...but a lot of it shows an inability to use metaphor or symbolism effectively. (If you think about it, the work for which he's best known is based on a crude and simplistic "cat-versus-mouse" metaphor that didn't contribute much to the work other than making it something other than straight reportage.) Kirby's work at its finest was densely symbolic and metaphorical, and informed by his deep humanism. If you can't get past the most concrete and literal surface reading, you're not going to get Kirby at all...

  7. I'm a huge fan of Kirby's writing, and often wonder why people trash his dialogue when - to be honest - I found people like Roy Thomas and Stan himself a lot more wooden.

    (Although Stan's jokes were often genuinely funny. Roy Thomas, though, is mostly pop culture references. I appreciate his love of comics history though ... )

    Oops. I digress. Anyway, Kirby's dialogue to me perfectly fit his art - epic, larger than life and nearly too powerful to fit on the printed page.

    I love Englehart and admire Simone's work as well. But Kirby is King!

  8. >>It's not just that he slams superhero comics, which he's entitled to do<<

    absolutely he is. not to have these comments veer too far from the original topic, but an example of what im thinking is in his intro to the Jack Cole/Plastic Man book, where he says something like "as ashamed as i am to reading a superhero comic..."

    since you have to figure a good 75% of the audience for the book are superhero comic readers, insulting them right off the bat seemed an odd, purposely-"i'm above this" kind of remark.

    it reminds me of a collected edition of Dorothy Parker a friend of mine had from the late 80s. the intro was by some writer who basically said "Parker's work is infantile and tedious; but for those of you who like it, here it is..."

    (thanks for the plug, btw.)

  9. Ahhh... niceness. I'm glad to see this Kirby wave picking up more water and sweeping...

    Forget that. I think Gail's remarks above and her self-quote are truly apt. Courage. Jack was a brave man.

    I'm glad the times have caught up to his writing. I think it's past the time where we've learned to appreciate his art, especially with ultra-stylists like Mike Mignola around and so highly and deservedly praised.

    People forget that insiders at both Marvel and DC HATED what Jack was doing. They hated his art and they hated his writing. Now we know better...

    The man was truly ahead of his time. He was attempting to do something in the 70s that wouldn't become commonplace until fairly recently and even now sometimes gets stepped on in favor of the ultra-realists.

    I do have qualms with his dialogue sometimes, like when characters in "New Gods" constantly introduce themselves by saying things like, "I, [whatever character], may only be a lowly accountant... but I know danger when I see it!" Or stuff like that. I think those are times when he betrays a certain lack of confidence... or maybe just bowing to the simpler demands of a simpler time.

    At other times, it's breathtaking and otherworldy, like in the Glory Boat story. That's the kind of tale that doesn't need naturalistic dialogue. Those aren't necessarily really specific people... they're like archetypes. The old gen versus the young gen versus undersea freaks. Archetypes in a alliterative epic from Old English way, not stereotypes.

    I really want the Fourth World omnibus now. I hope I'll be able to find it here in Japan!

  10. I'm with Gail. Kirby was incredible, but I find some of the stuff he wrote hard work. Doesn't stop it being five kinds of amazing, though.

  11. thanks for making me aware that this is coming out, as well as for the link to the gillis post, which is dead on: he gets what kirby was trying to say and how he said it!

    besides i had to post on the omnibus as well!


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