For Real #1 Review

By | Monday, December 16, 2019 1 comment
For Real #1 Cover
For Real #1 has a biographical story about Jack Kirby by James Romberger. I'm a big Kirby fan, as you may know, so I was quick to put this on my pull list when I first saw it solicited.

The story is two-fold. First, there's a framing device set in the later days of Kirby's life, where his wife Roz takes him to get a CAT scan. While in the scanner, we see flashbacks to his days in World War II where he narrowly escaped being captured by Nazis by hiding in a kiln. The analogy of being in a confined space with little/no movement possible should be obvious. Neither story is particularly well-known, even among Kirby fans, I think.

One thing that strikes me as interesting is the choice of telling these stories. The reason why they're not particularly well-known is that, unlike the stories Kirby frequently drew and even the stories of his own life, they're both relatively quiet moments. The CAT scan part has three pages of Jack and Roz in the waiting room with several more pages of the scan itself, and the WWII part is mostly Jack sitting quietly in the kiln watching some Nazi soldiers look around and investigate. There are a couple of panels showing part of an earlier battle, but that's hardly the focus.

It's easy to think of Jack as this heroic figure, as dynamic as Captain America or Nick Fury. He spent over a half century making a living by telling stories like that, after all. But one of the lesser-celebrated aspects of his personality was patience. His ability to be so prolific in making comics was only in part because of his speed; it was also in large part because he could plunk himself down at his drawing board and remain working there for hours on end with his only breaks coming when Roz would interrupt him with food because he forgot to get up for dinner. I really like that Romberger has chosen a couple of quieter moments in Kirby's life to highlight so that people see these other aspects of his character.

Romberger's work here is well executed. There's a clear delineation between the framing story and the flashbacks, even when it switches back and forth between the two every couple panels. And the use of dialogue that might be spoken in the present but is still applicable to the past works well too. The best praise I think I can give Romberger's work here is that it's an engaging story, despite the fact that it's almost entirely about Jack sitting around not doing anything.

The issue also has a text piece by Romberger talking about his brief interactions with Jack, and how Jack depicted war and violence in comics versus how he felt about them in real life. It's a good piece and has some good analysis of his work, using Jack's own words pulled from various interviews to reinforce the points Romberger is making. This, and the accompanying bibliography, also serve to validate the comic story itself, showing the research Romberger put into it. Although he does admit to taking some liberties with things (certainly the dialogue, and the likely many of the specifics around the hospital visit in particular) the story he presents is basically true. Which I've found is the best approach to biographical pieces -- too often, creators try to adhere so closely to what actually happened that the storytelling becomes flat and uninteresting. They're more interested in factual accuracy than emotional resonance. Romberger shows that, despite his research, he doesn't fall victim to that here.

Even setting aside the fact that it's about Jack Kirby, For Real #1 is a great comic. One that I'd have been thrilled to stumble across at a convention or something. But that it also happens to be about Kirby is a brilliant bonus, and puts it into a must-have category as far as I'm concerned. I've been saying for years that I'd love to see more of Kirby's life biographied in comics form, and this is a great addition to that. I haven't yet seen any solicitations for an issue #2, but I'd love to see this book continue. Even moreso if it focuses on the lives of comic creators in particular -- there are any number of great biographies waiting there to be told!

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Matt K said...

This is really cool. I need to get this.