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. 


  1. Nice choice to essentially cast the spotlight on Kirby the writer as opposed to his more familiar role of artist. People say that Grant Morrison is the king of throwing out brilliant random ideas but he's got nothing on Jack.

    And at the risk of sounding too highbrow, that's a surprisingly hot Neautiful Dreamer in panel 3 of the Forever People sample.

  2. Dean,
    Excellent reporting. I believe Jack Kirby was the "Picasso of the Comic Book"! Living in California, I had the privilege of meeting Jack many times at Comic Con in the 70's and 80's, (before Hollywood ruined it!), and also at an Orange County shopping mall! Despite being called the "King", an inside industry joke, Jack Kirby was always a humble and gracious man, and always took time to talk to his fans, look at their drawings and offer them encouragement. For me, Comic Con lost a lot of it's charm after Kirby's death, much the way that "Beatle Fest" lost my interest after Lennon's assasination. If Jack were alive today, I doubt if he would approve of Con "security" ushering him in and out, and keeping him from his fans. And I don't think he would approve of his ex-partner Stan Lee (who was much better credited and compensated for his efforts)charging up to $45 bucks a pop for his autograph!
    Will the Marvel/Disney Corp. do the right thing, and compensate the Kirby Estate? Hope so, but did Disney ever compensate Ub Iwerks?

  3. So wait...is that Thing splash page an answer to the famous Ditko/Spider-Man sewer splash from ASM #33?

  4. You picked a macho, emotionally fragile character who marches around with his bare, hairy chest on display? I can't imagine what you, of all people, would see in that.

    Nice tribute to Kirby, though. A+


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