Recent Dorkiness

Might I Please Direct Your Attention to the Fine Cosmic Artworkings of Mister Jack Kirby?

"Self-Portait," from Wally Wood's witzend

See? I can be polite and still talk about the King of Comics. I can be as fucking polite as you please, and--

Aw, horseshit! Last night, I promised all the Kirby Virgins in the audience that they'd have their minds blown, and I'm afraid I may not have delivered. Sure, I gave you some great craggy-faced Gods of Evil, and some beautiful (if strange and/or distressed) women. I have you a man with a T-Rex on his damn head. I even gave you a picture of God Himself. But I didn't really deliver on Kirby Cosmic, Kirby Rising, Kirby Transcendent. This is the sort of material that defined Kirby in the 1970s, as he came to grips both with his own artistic enlightenment and with the strange new generation of turned-on, tuned-in young people he found as his readership. Kirby always liked the young people, it seems, and though he wasn't entirely at home among them (as the above "Self Portrait" of a perplexed-looking Thing in a Beatle wig shows), he certainly spoke to them in ways they understood and appreciated. I mean, he found himself invited backstage to meet Paul McCartney, for god's sake! And then, of course, there's this:

Yes, Frank Zappa was a Kirby fan. Because, of course he was!

At any rate. In the 70s, Kirby was all about the Transcendent Moment, the moment of revelation when a normal human’s mind becomes connected to something bigger. It’s no wonder he was tapped to do the funnybook adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, then, and it’s no wonder that film’s climactic moment looked like this when he did:

Kirby did a rare coloring job on this page and a few of the other “trip-out” scenes from that adaptation, so here you’re seeing his real intent for his trademark cosmic mind-fucks (or at least as close as the vagaries of scanners and rotting pulp paper will allow). That he followed this up with an entire on-going (if brief-lived) 2001 series makes me deliriously happy. It’s some of my favorite Kirby work, each issue an all-new story about some insanely bizarre character having a transcendence-through-death experience after encountering one of the mysterious monoliths, including this guy:

That’s X-51, better-known as Machine Man, who debuted in the final issue of 2001, which launched him off into his own follow-up series shortly thereafter. There’s nothing cosmic or transcendental about him, really, but my god he looks cool in that panel!

But getting back to that trademark Kirby energy, or Kirby Krackle, as it’s come to be known… It’s everywhere in Kirby’s work. From the cosmic…

…to the bizarre…

…to the abstract.

He even worked a similar dynamic into his action scenes, often representing great impacts…

…or even just sucker punches…

…as little more than speed lines rendered with such great force that they knock the color right out of the picture!

I’ll close tonight with two pieces I discovered only just recently. They’re portfolio pieces, things that Kirby drew for his own amusement, or as an exercise in being a funnybook illustrating god or something, I don’t know. They’re both abstracts, in which Kirby gives free reign to his design aesthetics and just goes wild. There’s little or no Krackle here, but they’re so batshit unto themselves that I think they belong with those shots. Out of thousands of Jack Kirby drawings, these may very well be my favorites. So, enjoy…

click to embiggen

cick to embiggen

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About Mark Brett (431 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

9 Comments on Might I Please Direct Your Attention to the Fine Cosmic Artworkings of Mister Jack Kirby?

  1. Well, if Zappa was a fan everyone should be!

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  2. These last two drawings are blowing my mind! Are they ink and watercolor? Where did you get them!?

    Kirby in the 1970s developed an entirely original artistic style, and these are excellent examples. What you see in 2001 and Captain Victory should be taught in art history class.

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  3. I am embarrassed to admit that I just stumbled across those last two pieces on-line, and don’t remember where. Maybe the Grantbridgestreet blog? I’ve been doing lots of reading on Kirby in the last month, and it’s all running together in my head now.

    At any rate. There was no explanation given for the drawings; they were just labeled as I describe them here: “portfolio pieces,” with no further information. The colors certainly look like watercolor to me, but lord knows. There are pieces with a similar look in that actual published Kirby Portfolio from the early 70s (which I think I had the pleasure of looking at on your site today), and I’ve run across a couple more here and there. But nothing to match these two for sheer… Kirbyness.

    Thanks for all the Captain Victory scans, too, by the way. I’ve never had the pleasure of reading it, but those pages make me really hope that the reprint collection is actually going to come out this summer as rumored.

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  4. Whoa! How did I miss that they connect?! Thanks for that link. The complete piece, on-easel, is pretty overwhelming. Think how good that would look in a museum!

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  5. From the photo of him working on them, It looks to me like those bottles are Dr. Ph. Martin’s inks he is working with.

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  6. Jack Kirby was incredibly prolific. I would really love to know how he achieved these colours. Did he ink on top of the colours? Was he limited in his choice of colours by Marvel and the restrictions imposed by the printers? He was a real genius indeed. There is a book written about his 2001 comic and the rational behind why he was chosen. If he think about it, it must have seemed a crazy idea at the time. To chose a comic artist who produced very detailed, very busy, very quick moving action scenes, usually showing fighting and a lot of dialog, for a comic adaptation of a movie with hardly any dialog, with very little action, and no fight sequences. But as you have said, there are some beautifully pencilled, inked and coloured panels indeed from his 2001 comic. I stand in awe. There is almost something spiritual about his work.

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