Some comments on “My Take on Kirby Text” from the Museum Facebook page and my responses:
Bill Goodwin: This is exactly how I feel. Thank you for writing it. Jack’s sense of English was as wild as his sense of anatomy, but both were used by him toward a desired effect. He didn’t always hit the mark, but the payback is that his best went into the stratosphere. Look at the page in “The Pact” where Highfather offers young Orion a choice between “The weapon or the hand.” Look at the last pages of “The Glory Boat.” Neither Lee nor anyone else could have written them. Other writers might produce more sensible text, but that very sensibility confines them to the merely good, rather than the often awkward but sometimes transcendent. Jack was dancing with his shoes on fire, and the howl came out of his pencil. Back off, people.
When I was a kid reading the books no comics writer really stood out from the pack to me. All the books kind of blurred together. I don’t read a lot of fiction so I’m not an expert on it, but around 2002 I bought just about Jack’s entire 70s Marvel run at a comic convention in Orlando, and I really, really enjoyed reading it. My jaw didn’t hit the ground like a character in a Tex Avery cartoon, but I loved reading Jack’s text because I had learned the history behind it in John Morrow’s TJKC.
I think Jack’s text is a little weird at times, but that’s Jack – every writer is different. If Hunter S. Thompson had dialogued Jack’s books they’d be different than if someone like Stephen King dialogued them. I like Jack’s 70s stuff because it’s pure Kirby, and I’ve advised people many times over the years to check it out again and try not to be so critical — just have fun and hold on for the ride.
But to me, and no disrespect meant to Jack or any comics writer, I think in the 1970s the artwork carried the stories, so many times the text didn’t reveal an awful lot of new information. Maybe that’s changed since then (I don’t read new comics) but I thought in the 70s Jack’s visuals told the bulk the story and the text was the icing on the cake, mainly because Jack did it himself and I respect his ability to do that. I know people who LOVE Jack’s text, I know people who HATE Jack’s text – I LIKE Jack’s text a lot and LOVE the fact he was able to do his own text and get credited and paid as a writer. I wish Lee had let Jack do the text on his 60s books. So I really like Kirby text even though it’s idiosyncratic and I really almost never read comics. I like the pictures. I don’t “love” it because I don’t like prose fiction in general.
Graziano Donati: Mi piace il parallelismo tra disegno e music.Tra i musicisti aggiungerei Peter Hammill. Jack & Peter. terremoto ! I like the parallelism between drawing and music. Among the musicians I would add Peter Hammill. Jack & Peter earthquake !
I see great comics artists who write and draw the stories as orchestra conductors. There are very few people out there who can do brilliant comics text and brilliant comics art, which is why I assume the division of labor is split up so often. And I guess to take the analogy further — a good comics writer/artist would be like the conductor and the orchestra together, producing the whole symphony on their own. It’s an amazing thing — all you need is a pencil and some paper and you can create whole universes for the cost of your supplies all by yourself.
Patrick Ford: There is so much great dialogue in THE PACT you could just say it’s every single word. On the very first page. IZAYA: “In moments like these, wife, the warrior softens—And sees the land is not a mere logistics map.” AVIA: “Are we made for war, Izaya? You know–I’ve never heard you sing.” What a beautiful phrase, “I’ve never heard you sing.” So much better than something like, “Hey relax Tiger, let your hair down and lets boogie.”
I agree that Jack’s Fourth World dialogue is terrific. It’s a total departure from the “forsooth verily methinks” nonsense in Thor. You have to think if Jack had introduced 4W characters in the Thor books not only would Lee have had them speaking his pseudo-Shakespearean Asgaardian Thor babble, but in addition to that, Lee’s history suggests he would have claimed he created all of those characters alone. So Jack leaving Marvel was a minor miracle for fans of Jack’s work. We may never have known Jack wrote all those 60s stories with visuals if he hadn’t gone to DC and showed what he was capable of doing without missing a beat.
James Romberger: It is absurd to say the words are unimportant. Rob is wrong here, because both art and text are “read” together to make for a complete reading experience. For all its eccentricities, Kirby’s text makes his work complete….at his best it is far more elevated, at the least it is more appropriate for his work than the overwritten blurbs and dialogue by Stan Lee, which can never be more than what they were: impositions and adulterations…they have dated badly while Kirby’s solo work only gains in resonance.
What I meant to say was that as a kid, none of the comics writing really stuck out to me. I didn’t see one comics writer as being superior to another. But I was 10 – 16-years old so not much of and expert on writing. I don’t read a lot of comics now because I’m a visual person and I do so much other reading; I enjoy reading history and biographies, and junk on blogs more than I enjoy reading fiction. So on a personal level the writing isn’t important to me. But if you are doing a serious analysis of a comic book then the writing is incredibly important. The words have a huge impact on the reader.
I remember in the 70s I really didn’t need to read the text in Jack’s Fantastic Four run (reprinted in Marvel’s Greatest Comics), the story was as clear as day; but for some of that late 70s Fantastic Four stuff written/drawn by other teams, sometimes I couldn’t tell what was happening, so I had to read the text. So I think Jack’s 60s work was more effective than much of that late 70s FF stuff because Jack was such a strong visual storyteller, therefore the 60s Lee dialogue was superfluous not because comics text itself is superfluous, but because Jack’s stories were so clear, it made Lee’s text superfluous. But that’s just my 10-year-old mindset. Now I can see the text is important to the overall product, I just don’t read a lot of it. I don’t read Lee’s 60s stuff, but when I read Jack’s 70s stuff I really enjoyed it.
I loved Kirby’s 70s Cap run for example. I enjoyed the way he handled Cap and the Falcon. Nothing seemed forced or fake about their friendship. Jack was great at straightforward no nonsense characaters.
So I think my statement was poorly worded, what I meant to say was that I have the utmost respect for comics writers, and I think the text is incredibly important, it’s just that I don’t personally like reading comics captions – mainly because I can tell what’s happening in the artwork. I think the text is very important, especially if you want to study a comic and discuss the themes and the characterization, I just mainly focus on the art – that’s not me disrespecting comics text or comics writers, that’s me just saying some folks mainly like the pictures. I’m in the minority, of course, to most folks the text is a huge part of their comics reading experience.
David Lawrence: Re-read the 1978 Silver Surfer graphic novel for an example of just how bad Stan’s text can be.
I haven’t read that thing since it came out, but I loved the art in it. If they had put about 20 pages more of pure, explosive action into that book I think it would be a masterpiece. I still love it, but it was pretty conservative for a Kirby action comic. I loved Sinnott’s inking on that and especially remember it being one of the first new comics that had that nice production, where each page was really nicely reproduced and clear.
Michael Hill: It’s a sad ending to the series. Rob threw it all away by saying, “It isn’t just Jack’s, I don’t like any comic dialogue.” After all that he concedes Scott’s main point.
I bounce around a lot, so I do shoot myself in the foot sometimes in terms of my overall arguments. As I mentioned to James, that sentence about not liking Jack’s text because I don’t like any comics text was poorly worded, and quite frankly ignorant because it’s dismissive of all the great comics writers, and it’s ignorant because I haven’t read enough comics to be in a position to pass judgment.
What I meant to say and should have said was this: I don’t read a lot of comics text because I don’t enjoy reading fiction, but when I read Jack’s books in 2002, I absolutely loved the experience. It was awesome. I had only seen maybe 10 or 15 of Jack’s books in the 70s, so to see them all together, and read most of them for the first time in a short timeframe was great. I enjoy Jack’s text because Jack wrote it and he seems like he was a genuinely great man. I just have to qualify that by saying I don’t really like comics text in general because (at least in 70s comics that were on the spinner racks) I think the visuals carried the stories, and those were the comics I liked.
James Romberger: And what the @#$% do the Beatles have to do with it? Did any Beatle get screwed out of their fair share of the profits?
No analogy is perfect. I was comparing me respecting Jack’s stories and text to me respecting Lennon’s solo stuff. You are looking at one man’s vision, so that’s why I enjoy that material. I think it’s silly to say Kirby’s books would be better with Lee text or Lennon’s stuff would be better with McCartney harmonies.
As far as comparing the Beatles to Kirby in terms of finances? Polar opposites. The Beatles made a ton of money. Jack got paid by the page and then apparently was run out of the company by a bunch of associate editors in the 70s. So that analogy only works if you are talking about extremes. Plus Paul and John were honorable men. They were honest about their collaboration. Lee’s version of the history is utterly absurd and insulting unless you view him as a clown-like entertainer. Jack didn’t always get his facts right but when he claims he was involved in the creation and writing process on the 60s stories, I believe him.
Beatles analogies are always kinda’ lame, but I think they’re fun because we all know the history. I used to joke Lee was the Brian Epstein of the Beatles and Jack was everybody else. A lot of people got mad at that but such is the nature of Beatles analogies. They are never perfect but they provide us with a common reference point.
Patrick Ford: Not liking any super hero comic book dialogue seems reasonable to me. In fact not liking anything to do with super heroes including any of the comic books, the dialogue, the art, or the movies seems reasonable. There are people who don’t like any pop music, and people who don’t like jazz. It’s anyone liking Lee’s dialogue which completely befuddles me.
As a kid I liked Lee captions. As an adult I didn’t. I did start reading FF in 2002 and got to around issue 50, and I gave up on it. I didn’t feel like Lee’s captions were really telling me anything that wasn’t in Jack’s art. So I was wasting my time. I did think the early FF books were fun, but I didn’t find myself jotting down any great Lee quotes in my notebook. Stan Lee was great at harmless inoffensive generic comic book word balloons that filled up the blank spaces. That was his gig. So I don’t hate it or like it, I just don’t see the point of reading it when I can look at Jack’s amazing artwork.
Michael Hill: Imagine if Michael Jackson wore a toupee in the ’60s and rewrote all the lyrics, giving him ownership of the songs without having to pay for them later.
Good point. Remember though I was talking about why I liked Jack’s text when I made the solo-Lennon analogy, if you’re talking about Lee screwing Jack over in the 60s, then there really is no Beatles analogy. The Beatles quarreled and had some financial problems, but John or Paul never did anything nearly as disrespectful and unethical as what Lee has been doing by pretending he created all of Jack’s 60s characters alone. It would be like Paul claiming he wrote all Lennon’s songs and getting away with it because sadly, John was murdered and he isn’t here to give his side of the story.
Thanks for the comments, folks.