Kirby’s Technological Sublime Part 2

Yesterday, I was discussing the Hatfield interview, and I showed you one of my favorite single Kirby pages specifically because it captures what Charles Hatfield calls “a spiritual feeling, one in which sublime fear renders us slack-jawed, overborne,” we have Kirby using “story and art to strive together toward the inexpressible.” The page expresses Kirby’s awe (or the character’s awe) of the universe in four simple panels.

I think the 2001 page is also a technical masterpiece of comics art because visually all the panels work so well together in concert to express this pivotal moment in the story where the protagonist, Decker, goes through the initial and critical phase of his cosmic journey. There is a yin-yang quality to this page as a whole you don’t necessarily get on every comic page because the story doesn’t call for it, or allow it. The contrast of the entire page is almost 50/50 — perfect balance.

Also, notice how Jack uses the direction of the character’s movement to lead the reader’s eye.

In panel one, the character’s movement follows the eye’s natural tendency to read from left-to-right. Then in panel two, the character switches directions, creating the effect of a collision. Then Decker follows the reader’s natural tendency to go downwards towards panel three. Finally, you have the zoom-in to panel four, where the character is moving off the page to the right. Jack’s placement of the caption box in the bottom of this panel is an interesting choice. We normally expect a caption box at the top of the panel, but in this final panel, the main character is upside down, so you could argue that placing the caption box at the bottom of the frame increases the impact of that upside-down effect — almost as if the panel was literally taken off the page and turned over.

Because the entire 10 issue (specifically the first 8 issues) of the 2001 comic was not a standard “men in tights colliding” comics’ superhero story, Jack had to work within the constraints of the Arthur C. Clarke/Kubrick 2001 mythos. This served as a springboard for Jack’s visual and conceptual exploration into what the ultimate cosmic journey might look like and feel like; Jack may never have given us imagery like this if he hadn’t been forced to use the 2001 continuity and concepts. Despite the limitations of that storyline, we still got to see some spectacular Kirby imagery, perhaps some of the best of his career.

When Jack wrote and illustrated this page, was he just going through the motions, simply cranking out another comic page, or was this page a moment where Jack had an excuse to use every weapon in his artistic arsenal to try and capture the ultimate metaphysical journey — do we see, here, Jack reaching for transcendence? For the brief moment (the 2 to 3 hours it took Jack to pencil this page) you have to wonder if Jack imagined himself as Decker being propelled on a life-changing journey through the cosmos, stretching his hand forward into the unknown.

If  you see Jack’s entire body of work as one entire whole, I’m pretty thankful Jack got the 2001 assignment because this gave him an excuse to do some of his best cosmic imagery. I think showing a regular human being as opposed to a superhero like Silver Surfer or Captain America going on this journey gives the story an added element of believability. It humanizes the story. It changes the story from superhero science-fiction to straight science-fiction. As a reader, I know I relate more to Decker than I do to someone like Thor. As a reader, I also feel that with this single page, Jack has indeed captured a glimpse of what the penultimate cosmic journey might look like — certainly as it would look refracted through the prism of Jack’s own unique style. In comics for 1976, this was pretty exceptional stuff, and I think much of the 2001 art still holds up very well today.