Crackle Comment

Here’s a piece of email I just received.

Rob, I don’t see how you can say Sinnott influenced Kirby Krackle. Jack said in many interviews he never looked at printed comics.

Thanks for the comment. Here’s my take on this. I think it’s important not to always take Jack (or any human being) literally all of the time. For example, if I say “I never listen to Rush Limbaugh,” am I telling the truth? Yeah. I never listen to his show; it doesn’t interest me. But have I heard him before? Sure. I’ve heard clips. I’ve had conservative friends play me some of his rants. I see clips of his show on other talk shows. So when I say I never listen to Limbaugh, figuratively I’m telling the truth — I don’t listen to his show. But literally that comment isn’t true — I do hear him sometimes. We all make comments like that all the time.

So did Jack Kirby never, ever look at a published comic book in the 1960s? I doubt Jack Kirby had time to obsess over the published comics, I bet it would have been heartbreaking for him to read the captions Lee added to his work (for all the reasons I’ve been discussing this week), and Jack really didn’t need to look at the published comics since he was going full speed ahead. But I suspect somewhere along the line Jack did see a Sinnott-inked Fantastic Four book.

And if he did, I would not be at all surprised if Jack did the same thing just about every kid reading those books in the 1960s did when they started seeing the crackling energy pouring off a Kirby/Sinnott page — Jack probably loved it. He must have been impressed with the effectiveness of how Joe was handling the black dots or black splotches he was putting on the page in the pencil phase. The pages “crackled” with energy, hence the obvious term “crackle.”

And I suspect that’s why it almost seems that Jack started smoking a bong filled with crackle in the 1960s, and the crackle started pouring out of his ears and eyeballs making it into just about every book he ever did afterwards. Jack got high on crackle in the same way the kids reading his comics did (I’ve actually seen people suggest Jack started getting stoned in the 60s and that might have been the influence for the crackle).

Harry Mendryk’s article is great, and there is no doubt Jack used polka dots in the 1940s and 1950s, but we could ask the same question about the squiggles. When was the first time Jack drew a squiggle? Would that technically be the first prototype “Kirby squiggle?” Would the first wavy lines Jack drew be prototypical Kirby squiggles?

I think you can ask the same question of the Kirby crackle. Are the first polka dots drawn by Jack prototypical Kirby crackle? Or are they just polka dots? Sure, I think you could call the early 40s and 50s crackle “prototype crackle” if you want to, but I think the real archetypal crackle, the classic crackle, starts when Sinnott begins inking FF. In fact, I think the Kirby/Sinnott crackle is what has become the standard prototypical crackle — the Kirby/Sinnott crackle style influenced all the artists today who use Kirby crackle.

I remember when I was a kid reading comics, a lot of the artists used Jack and Joe’s crackle effect. Here’s an example by Geroge Perez from 1978 inked by Terry Austin.

Here’s a more recent image by Tom Scioli with quite a bit of Kirby/Sinnott crackle in it:

I’m not saying Sinnott created Kirby crackle; or that Sinnott inspired Kirby crackle; what I’m saying is that, yeah, here-and-there in the 40s and 50s Jack drew polka dots, but that approach wasn’t a specific conscious stylistic motif in Jack’s work until the 1960s. On the Kirby/Sinnott FF books, that’s when I think at some point Jack made a conscious decision to use the crackle effect a lot more and a lot more often, because it was visually stunning when inked by Sinnott — call it Kirby/Sinnott symbiosis or Kirby/Sinnott synergy.

Fan mail and positive fan reaction may also have influenced the decision to use more crackle; Lee might have even liked the effect and asked for more of it; hell, Roz may have seen a book and told Jack she liked it. Here’s one of the famous Kirby black light posters (Third Eye 1971) inked by Frank Giacoia, with a massive dose of crackle — even the person who colored this poster got into the spirit of crackle adding hundreds of additional dots.

Without Sinnott on inks, I don’t think the famous Kirby crackle would have ever become a visual motif Jack would end up using so frequently and I doubt that it would have ever really caught on. In fact, I’ve seen multiple examples of Colletta totally obscuring Jack’s crackle in late-60s Thor books so you could even argue that if Jack was using crackle, without a master cratsman like Sinnott carefull delineating each circle, that element of Jack’s style may have been lost in the inking phase — without Sinnott, crackle may never have become a motif hundreds of comics artists would end up using over the last several decades.

Recently I tried to come up with a character influenced by Jack’s crackle. But nobody does crackle as good as Kirby.