Lessons From Jack Kirby

By | Saturday, March 24, 2012 Leave a Comment
Jack Kirby had an undeniably large impact on comics. Much of Marvel's success is directly attributable to him, and he had more than a little impact on DC. Not to mention all the other publishers and creators who he inspired.

A lot of people, though, look at Kirby's work and try to emulate it in some direct way. Some are more obvious than others, but they try to take notes from his layouts or his sense of storytelling or his energy or what-have-you.

I recall hearing a story about a kid (a teenager, I think) who met Kirby at a convention sometime in the 1980s. They praised his work and said they tried to learn as much as they could from it. And then he asked Kirby what he thought was the most important aspect of his work to study and emulate. Should he be focusing on character designs or illustration style or what? Kirby answered that the ONLY thing he hoped anyone would take away from his stories as inspiration was the notion of doing your own thing. Don't copy what he was doing, but go out and do something new and different. What Kirby thought was most important was the ideas being put down, not the particulars of how they were executed.

That's one reason why he didn't care much who inked his work. Almost regardless of who it was inking over him, they would have to go far out of their way to really butcher things so badly that the ideas he was trying to get across became unclear. Kirby had no problems with Vinnie Colletta's inks because Colletta still let Kirby's story come through, even if he did erase figures and take sweeping shortcuts. Colletta was just doing his job under the pressure of deadlines, and it wasn't at the expense of the ideas Kirby laid down.

I try to look at my blog in much the same way. For the most part, I don't follow the broad discussions about comics online. Many of the topics du jour pass by unheeded. I didn't have anything meaningful to add to the discussion about Jean Giraud immediately following his death, so I wrote a review about an Alan Moore documentary. Many of the reviews I wind up doing here are for books that don't get much attention. Because what I learned from Kirby was that you need to go out to do your own thing, irrespective of what other people think. If you do it well and do it with integrity, you'll be rewarded. Perhaps not financially, but intellectually and emotionally. If that's not satisfactory for you, that's fine, too, but I'll not be joining you in seeing yet another relaunch of the Spider-Man property.
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