Studying Kirby

By | Tuesday, May 07, 2024 Leave a Comment
I got my contributor copy of Jack Kirby Collector #90 yesterday -- which means it should be available in comic shops soon -- and there's a letter in it suggesting more coverage of Jack's romance comics. He and Joe Simon literally invented the genre in comics after all, and they were pretty successful at it to boot! I've actually heard variations of this comment before; that there's too great a focus on Jack's superhero work and not enough about his other categories. I don't know that I've seen editor John Morrow address it publicly, but I thought I'd drop my perspective on it here as a freelance contributor to the magazine for the past two decades.

Starting with my column specifically, the format that Jack used in many of his non-superhero comics isn't particularly well-suited to coverage. What I try to do with each column is look at how Jack evolved a character's look over time, theoretically, gets to how Jack saw as the most critical elements of a character's design. This is only really relevant for charcters Jack used beyond a single story, so much of what he did in his anthology type books isn't applicable. Most of his romance stories fall in this category, with an entire story being only six or eight pages. Same with many of his monster comics and crime comics and such. While superheroes were not the only characters he drew in a more serialized format, they're certainly the vast majority of them so I probably go more to the superhero well than I might otherwise because of the form his non-superhero stories often took. That said, I do try to come up with ideas beyond that when I can, and I've looked at some of his newspaper strip characters and animation ones as well.

Somewhat more broadly, Jack really did do a LOT of superhero comics. I mean, a lot a lot! While it's certainly a smaller percentage of his overall ouvre than if you remove the non-serialized stories like I noted above, it's still a huge amount. While he hasn't said so explicitly (at least to me) I think John tries to encourage any of us writing to venture beyond the superhero genre with his choice of issue themes. Recent issues have themes like: "Kirby Conspiracies," "About Collectors," and "Kirby: Animated." Obviously, none of those preclude superhero work -- my piece in the "About Collectors" issue was about DC's Klarion the Witch Boy, who was visually based on a fan -- but it does nudge many of us, I think, to push beyond the usual superhero stuff that I expect attracted most of us to Jack's work in the first place.

One other thing to keep in mind, the Kirby work we have the most records for are, not surprisingly, his most recent. We barely have complete published work of the stuff he did in the '30s and '40s just by virtue of their being older. It's therefore harder to study and comment on when we don't even have a complete run of, for example, Socko the Seadog much less any originals or other paperwork that might provide context for how it came about.

I'd be half-curious to see if someone did an analysis of Kirby Collector against Kirby's actual output to see how much coverage gets put into superheroes relative to Kirby's body of work. I suspect the coverage does skew a bit more towards superheroes, but largely because that was even more of his focus in the latter half of his career, where we have the most ancillary material to study. Again, we barely even know what Jack worked on at Lincoln Features in the 1930s!

Anyway, my point is that I think there is an effort to not do all-superheroes-all-the-time in our collective work for Kirby Collector but it does require more effort with fewer resources to examine that material. Speaking for myself, I do what I can to look at more unusual/obscure parts of Jack's career, but keep in mind that Jack did do a LOT of superhero material!
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