Kirby Tableau

by

Black Panther spreadKirby tableau

Kirby’s most exciting full panel or double page spreads can best be described as tableaux. A tableau is defined as a picturesque grouping of persons or objects or a striking scene. This definition may sound rather tame when applied to Jack Kirby, but let us think about precisely what it means. Composition, or the arrangement of persons or objects is essentially what makes a picture a work of art. Kirby, as I continually stress understood the process instinctively and intuitively, but also worked very hard to perfect the art/science of composition.
Usually in comic art, the central image is heroic and dynamic as well as positive and propulsive. In the case of this Black Panther page above, it is the left to right leaping form of the Panther. It is interesting to note that although this figure is obviously leaping down from above, it is tilted at a diagonally upward angle. It is the direction of the Panther’s thigh and the powerful wedge of the kneecap that give the body weight and downward momentum.
Then, we have the central log structure that zooms diagonally upward also from the left side, supporting and accentuating the Panther’s momentum forward.
The  shape of the circular arch above his butt gives the Panther a swooping trajectory. The tumbling red loin clothed figure below him also gives the illusion that the Panther will drop to the ground. The ladders and smaller log structure to the left that brings the eye to the lower speaking figure also serve the same purpose.

The second example below is one of Kirby’s best-known two page spreads, from Boy’s Ranch #3 dated February 1951. In this swirling melee, figures are punching, leaping and climbing around in Kirby’s classic Big O composition. Some sort of bold-faced title type often starts the motion on a splash page, and in this case, the words. “Social Night in Town” bring the eye to the window on the left and then down to the figure swinging a bottle. Strikingly, the reader’s eye can either travel to the gray ten gallon hat-wearing figure of “Wabash” wrapped around a pillar in the center. Then the eye will move to the blonde “Angel” figure and will continue to move downward rightward and around and back again to the left. The lower central figure in blue that is swinging his fists acts as an anchor for the bottom of the panel regardless which direction the eye travels. Alternatively, the eye can still start with the bottle swinging geezer and then it can move down to the piano player and rightward to that blue figure and then up and around again, following the motion of the green-shirted man lifting his adversary above his head. Or conversely, the eye can follow the bearded geezer’s bottle and then follow the upward flying blue figure towards Wabash as first suggested. Either way, the anchor of the lower punching blue suited figure will keep the flow going.
Objects and details such as the midair chair and the precise position of the gray hat at bottom left also serve the keep the circular motion going. This page is one of the most potent examples of Kirby’s compositional genius because it is chock full of detail, and there are no randomly placed objects. Every thing here serves a visual purpose. Because Kirby is master of the Tableau, he knows that all the elements that make up the composition should be part of a greater design.

Boys Ranch spread

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *