COMIC BOOK HERESY

I’m a comic book geek from way back, and although it goes against the “conventional wisdom” of geek culture, I’ve gotta say it:

I think Jack Kirby SUCKED.

Jack Kirby created (or co-created with Stan Lee) The Hulk, Fantastic Four, the “modern” incarnation of Captain America, the Silver Surfer, the X-Men… long-running characters with lasting, dramatic impacts on American culture. No one can take those accomplishments away from him, and I’m a big fan of what those characters became. He is one of the legends in the industry. But I look at the actual work that Kirby created and I go… eew.

Aficionados praise Kirby’s artwork for its boldness and imagination. To me, his characters look awkward, misshapen, amateurish… full of anatomically-puzzling lumps, misguided poses, poor foreshortening. Characters are expressionless, and all tend to look alike. And on the occasions when Kirby wrote dialogue, it was unbelievably verbose, juvenile and corny. (When he took over the art and writing of my favorite, “Captain America,” way back in 1982, I quit in frustration. Ick.)
You can’t argue that the concepts he created or helped to create have lasting power. But to an extent, he was simply in the right place at the right time, and was a product of his Silver Age times. He blazed a trail, but benefitted from a shallow talent pool among his superhero-drawing peers. (Curt Swan? Blurgh. Steve Ditko? Better, but still Blurgh. In my opinion, the earliest “modern” artist whose work still stands up is Neal Adams.)

True, styles change: if Kirby were trying to get work in today’s marketplace (or even the marketplace of 30 years ago), he would have been shown the door. I just can’t share the enthusiasm or adulation of clunky Jack Kirby.

Now Kirby’s estate is suing Marvel to try to win some of the copyrights back for the work he did, and testing whether the characters he created were covered under work-for-hire provisions. (Superman’s creators’ heirs challenged DC in a similar suit not long ago, and won a pile of money.) Personally, I don’t like the idea of heirs suing to win rights that the artist himself didn’t pursue vigorously when he was alive… but either way the case goes, this will be in the news, and we will have to listen to old fanboys gush about Jack Kirby a whole lot more.

—Brad, 09/09