Sunday, December 09, 2007

Toying with Kirby

With Christmas shopping in full swing, and inspired by a discussion with Jon K over at Jon’s Random Acts of Geekery, here are some pictures from the Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. line of toys featuring box art by none other than Jack Kirby!

And another shot showing the fourth figure in the series visible inside the box:

Ah yes, those were the days...back when Mattel made high-quality merchandise and didn’t expose children to high quantities of lead from Chinese factories. Or if they did, we were none the worse for it. I played with Mattel toys like Big Jim all through my childhood and it did me no harm whatsoever, other than an uncontrollable urge to eat paint chips.

Obviously these boxes have no art credits, and other artists did the packaging for later additions to the line, so precise attribution is a matter of opinion. However, looking at these I feel pretty confident in asserting these four boxes are the ones Kirby drew. Compare them to his published comics work of the same period (say, his last few issues of Kamandi) and you’ll see the same techniques and even the same drawing errors!

Kirby did a few other art jobs for Mattel prior to this, and about a decade later produced some designs for the Kenner Super Powers toy line. In all likelihood Kirby could have made better money doing this kind of work full-time than he did in comics, but Kirby saw himself as a storyteller -- essentially, a writer who just happened to draw the stories he wrote -- rather than a commercial artist.

Looking at comics from 1975 or 1976 you may come across this ad for the toy line, sometimes mistakenly attributed to Kirby but actually the work of illustrator William Stout, who rendered it in a Kirby-derived style after asking the King’s permission.

Images found at


  1. Insane. I stopped to talk to a neighbour just yesterday, and somehow -- SOMEHOW -- this topic came up. "Did you ever see...?"

    And I found myself saying: "It was called Big Jim's P.A.C.K. Like P-A-C-K, you know, an acronym."

    "What did it stand for?"

    "I...don't remember."

    "Was that the one with the Steve Austin guy?"

    "Oh, mean Mike Power."

    Briefly, I flashed on a nightmare scenario which involved me starting to talk about Bulletman the Human Bullet...

    And then I ran off down the hall.

    And now you bring it up too!

    All I can say is, this better not mean anything. You know how this pop synchronicity works, RAB; next thing you know we've got Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, and commercials for Michael Bay movies with Bob Hoskins and Ben Affleck meeting over a stream like Robin Hood and Little John...

    [shudders once, then lapses into uneasy slumber]

  2. Cool stuff, RAB. I think these guys have a future in the multiverse, on an earth populated entirely by groups like The Challengers of the Unknown, the Blackhawks, the Sea Devils, and so on. Of course, they would have to be "darker" and "more realistic," right?


    But what's up with that Whip guy? A bullwhip, a bolo, boomerangs AND a bamboo practice sword? I think he's got some issues...

  3. plok: Remember, there are three ways to do things -- the right way, the wrong way, and the Mike Power way. Which is the same as the wrong way, but faster. Because he has an atomic leg, see.

    (Honestly, how was one atomic leg supposed to make him run faster? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to just hop?)

    And, like you, I’ll stop myself before I start wittering on about Big Jim’s Professional Agents/Crime Killers in all-out crossover combat against Mike Power, Bulletman, and Eagle Eye. My heart was already broken once when my Captain Action pitch was rejected; how can I put myself through that ordeal again?

    Walaka: I’m sure the Howard Chaykin miniseries could present the Whip as a BDSM fetishist, Dr. Steel as a rapist, Warpath as an alcoholic, and Big Jim as a misogynist anti-Semite. I’m just tossing out ideas here. No, but really, the characters as presented all strike me as plenty dark and menacing already, and adding more would be overkill. The “reformed hoodlums band together to stop a bigger bad guy” premise never goes out of style, and that’s what these characters make me think of. If Darwyn Cooke drew it we’d have a real winner...

  4. If you amped it up, though, you'd have the villains from HTD Treasury #1, wouldn't you? Exactly those guys.

    Me, I always imagined the Whip with a French-Canadian accent, like Beeg Jacques in Strange Sports:

    "Oh, Marie, sometime you make me so mad, eh?"

    Somebody get Steve on the phone...

  5. I remember the ads and the products but never bought the toy. Also, at that time Kirby wasn't doing much comic work (this would be before his big return to Marvel) and his style had "gone out of favor" with much of the comic buying public by then.

    In a similar vein, while working on the C.O.P.S. toys at Hasbro though I designed the packages for the first year of products we farmed out the illustrations to Neal Adams' Continuity Studios.

    Now I'm SURE that Mr. Adams had his minions do all the artwork, they of course were very good at aping his style. These two were by his studio:

    Luckiy I got to illustrate all of the second year products. :)

  6. Jesus god, I haven't thought about those in years and years and years...

  7. i had/have no interest in the toys, but those boxes ROCK.

  8. Merry Christmas RAB :D I miss seeing you around xD

  9. Jack Kirby is the KING! I totally forgot about him doing the artwork for this line of classic toys, thanks for posting it.

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