Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jack Kirby Makes Me Stupid by Dean Haspiel

When Seth Kushner asked me to write about my hero, Jack Kirby, I broke into a cold sweat. 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, and Mike Royer. ‘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.

[Click to enlarge]
[OMAC #2, page 7. Published by DC Comics]

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 a galactic bong hit.

[FOREVER PEOPLE #9, pages 10 and 11. Published by DC Comics]

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.

[DEVIL DINOSAUR #4, page 19. Published by Marvel Comics].

I only own one original piece of Jack Kirby art and it’s this page from DEVIL DINOSAUR, a short-lived 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 page, he couldn’t help himself.

[THE FANTASTIC FOUR #95, page 8. Published by Marvel Comics]

Despite some of his outlandish yet oft times super prescient concepts [Ego - the living planet, The Negative Zone, 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.

--Dean Haspiel

[MARVEL PREMIERE #31. Published by Marvel Comics.]

In the mid-1970s, Marvel Comics launched, MARVEL PREMIERE, an umbrella title that served as a creative mind dump for creators and editors to explore new heroes while keeping freelancers employed. When issue #31 hit newsstands, Bill Mantlo [of Micronauts and Hulk fame] and a young Keith Giffen, co-created WOODGOD – the Man Brute. Dubbed “the most bizarre hero of all,” Woodgod was a genetically engineered satyr that cried and stomped his hoofs throughout his entire origin. An emo-inspired pain in the ass, Woodgod was quickly abandoned, albeit dusted off a few times before being quarantined into the bad character idea drawer, never to be seen again. 

A few months ago, I was hired to contribute to the upcoming sequel of Marvel Comics’ recent STRANGE TALES revamp, which hosts non-continuity versions of Marvel characters written and drawn by indie/alternative cartoonists. A couple of weeks ago, I performed a creative séance and summoned the spirit of Jack Kirby, whose only association to Woodgod was his cover contribution to the origin issue. Perhaps foolishly, I decided to attempt the impossible and make Woodgod honorable. My personal challenge was to banish Woodgod from the bad character idea drawer, pay homage to my favorite Marvel anthology, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE [which featured my favorite Marvel character, The Thing], and high-five Jack Kirby. Sometime this year, Marvel will publish the results and fans will decide if I prevailed.