Deciphering Kirby

By | Thursday, January 29, 2009 1 comment
Several years back, I read something from Mark Evanier stating that Jack Kirby had told him that he had used an extended Watcher sequence he had originally done for Fantastic Four over in Thor. That led me to start doing some research, looking for those "missing" FF pages and I uncovered a larger mystery in the process. That led me to write "The Legend of the Origin of Galactus" for Jack Kirby Collector #44, trying to piece together some of what Jack had originally done for Thor #168-169. For those of you who don't know, there have been 8 pages of completed artwork that have surfaced that were clearly intended for Thor #169 but were not used in the 20 page story. I think I've uncovered two more pages that were intended for the issue, but not used as well. Which means that Jack had to literally draw at least half the issue twice, using two radically different plots. It was some of my earliest Kirby research (I had actually written the article a few years before it was eventually published) and, looking back on it, I have to admit that I missed the mark on some (but by no means all!) of my ideas there.

I've been revisiting the issue the past few days at the request of my editor, who's trying to actually put together Thor #169 as Jack originally drew it. He's enlisted the aid of myself and Shane Foley (who wrote in a thoughtful response to my article) as well as tried to tap the memories of then-art-director John Romita and Stan-Lee's-then-right-hand-man Roy Thomas.

My editor, Shane and I have been kicking around different ideas the past few days via email. "Is this a rushed Kirby edit or just a poorly executed Bullpen edit?" "What is that squiggle seen on panel one in the pencil art?" "Does the change in inkers suggest anything significant?"

When I first became interested in comics, I was really interested in learning all about the characters. And that largely involved reading as many comics as I could which featured those characters. At some point, certainly by my late 20s, I had read maybe 95% of the comic stories featuring the characters I liked and I found that I was learning less and less. In economic terms, I was getting diminishing returns (less substantive information) on my investment (the time and energy and cash to buy and read comics).

It occurred to me that there was, ultimately, a finite amount I could learn about them anyway. What, for example, did the Human Torch have for breakfast last week? No one knows because that story hasn't been written. The Human Torch didn't even exist to have breakfast last week; he only existed long enough to fight the Trapster (or whoever the villain du jour was). So there was only so much I could learn about him. Or Spider-Man. Or Green Arrow. Or any other fictional character.

And that's when I really started looking into what the creators were doing. What was actually going on between Stan and Jack in the 1960s? I can't just read everything they did like it was a comic book story; I have to do research and study their work and talk to their co-workers. I have to make inferences and speculations based on what I know about them.

And digging through old files and trying to guesstimate what was going on in their heads while they were working and trying to figure out why they did this or that... I find that just as exciting as when I was trying to first learn about the Marvel Universe, but I've got the added bonus of essentially an infinite number of answers that can be pursued. I will probably never know what Jack Kirby had for breakfast on June 21, 1975, but the point is that there IS an answer to that question. And every other question you have about them.

For those interested in what we ultimately found out about Thor #169, keep your eyes out for Jack Kirby Collector #52. It's due out February 25.
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Richard said...

Obviously I'm keenly looking forward to seeing what you guys have come up with!

Shame it won't be out in time for NYCC...but at least that'll give me something to look forward to after the con is over.