Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In Review Of - Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier

I'm so happy to see Jack Kirby finally being enshrined as the true pop culture icon that he deserves to be, that I feel rather ungrateful to be critical of Mark Evanier's book, Kirby: King of Comics.

After all, first things first, this is a beautiful, clean volume that gives us excellent reproduction, nay, gorgeous reproduction from original art that we are likely never to see in person (the original full page of Thor from the first issue of Journey into Mystery is simply magnificent, and the head shot of Galactus that is, I believe, from an issue of Thor, is so well produced that we can actually see the variation in india ink on Galactus' face). With clean layouts, and high quality paper, we get the moire pattern from the four color dots with a clarity that we've never had before. The power with which Jack composed his panels shines through with unmatched clarity.

The part that bothers me is the writing. There is simply too little of it. This is a coffee table book sits directly in the middle of the two things that it needs to be: it should either be a Little Nemo size to reproduce the twice-up art properly (and I can imagine a 120 page book, simply of full size reproductions of Kirby originals, selling rather well), or it needs to be similar to Milt Caniff phone book and say hell with the artwork, lets really tell the man's story. And it is neither.

There are countless stories about Jack out there, and he was around so long, that he deserves a book written with the level of detail and critical assessment that Meanwhile... as written with. After all, Caniff's heyday was honestly no more than about 10 or 12 years long, and Jack hadn't even hit his best period that far into his career. For as much as Evanier complained that the Tales to Astonish biography released two years ago was riddled with inaccuracies, that book even contains stories that didn't make it into this one.

Simply put, Jack deserves a real biography, and likely Evanier is the one person that could actually write it. The question is whether he will ever get around to it. In my opinion, the very best parts of this book are where Mark veers off of the beaten path, reciting the same facts surrounding the myriad problems with Marvel's returning his artwork, and moving on to the more interesting behind the scenes of actually working with Jack at his house, or working at the ill-fated Marvelmania offices. I'm sure that Mark wanted to get this one volume out there, to supplant the production challenged Art of Jack Kirby that Kevin Eastman put money behind a decade ago, or the aforementioned Tales to Astonish as the go-to volume for those just their feet wet on one of the most inventive brains of 20th Century Pop Culture, but now we need the real book.

We need the one with all the meat behind it, the one that compiles all the detective work from the Jack Kirby Collector comparing Jack's liner notes to the ones that Stan actually dialogued, the one that hunts down those damn interns who actually went to the warehouse in '68 to see what artwork still survived after the flood, the one that marries Captain America and Adolph Hitler and the the Iger studios and Mort Meskin into one beautifully comprehensive package.

I worked my way through the Caniff volume more because I loved hearing about the working conditions of the artists of that time, loved reading about the business and the models and the chalk talks more so than Milt Caniff. I was never that big a Terry fan honestly.

And I still worked my way through a 1000 pages of Caniff biography.

Perhaps we will get the same for Jacob from the lower east side. He deserves it, and it is a fascinating story from just about every angle. And in the meantime, go buy Mark's book. It may not be the all-encompassing volume that I had hoped for, but that is more my fault that it is his, and this is still a beautiful book. And if we want more of this, more books that cater to us, then we need to support them. So yes, go buy the thing from a local bookseller!


Nat G said...

Evanier not only would do such a huge book, he has been working on it for years and has huge amounts of it complete. Rather than rein that one in, they decided to do a shorter biography as an art book for now, and let that one continue to grow. Evanier discusses it here: http://www.newsfromme.com/archives/2007_02_06.html#012889

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

Nat - thanks for the link. not sure how I missed that post, but it pretty much asnwered my questions, and rendered my review a moot point.

Cool. I'll be buying that one in a few years hopefully.

Dan McFan said...

Disappointing. No mention of Vinnie Colletta. Can't be called thorough, can it?

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

the inkers in kirby's life were rather minimized here, to focus the attention more on jack. Not a lot on sinnott or colletta or royer here really. Soemthing that has come through loud and clear was that jack finished pencilling a book and moved the hell on to the next piece. He was clearly NOT the artist who pores over every page in print and then called to berate the inker.