I got a bunch of emails addressing a recent post where I talked about my opinion that Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott’s artwork marked a high point in the history of comics. Some people agreed with me, others did not. Thanks for sending those comments in. I don’t want to get into the billionth “who is the best comics artist of all time” debate here, so I’ll continue that conversation in private email. That dialogue did help me decide to do something different here at Kirby Dynamics for the next couple months.
First, a prologue. Obviously these types of “who is the best” conversations can be silly at times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people argue passionately about who the best basketball player of all time is, or who the best singer is of all time. Those arguments can be reeeeeeeeeally annoying. Plus, it’s all subjective. For example, who is the best film director of all time? I’d probably say John Ford, or maybe Kubrick. Howard Hawks? It’s a tough choice to pick just one.
But I do think that there are times where one individual or one team of individuals transcend the medium they work in. For example, who is the best playwright of all time? Clearly the answer is Shakespeare. Right? I guess you could argue one of the Greek playwrights was the best ever, or you could argue that some modern playwright produced more important work because that work dealt with more contemporary issues, but when the dust settles — I would say that William Shakespeare unquestionably is going to be # 1 on any list of all-time great playwrights. Shakespeare is an example of an individual who transcended the medium he worked in. He stands on a totally different plateau than any other playwright.
I think you can say the same thing about Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby transcended the comics medium — in my opinion he is on a totally different level than any other comics artist in terms of the quantity, quality and creative content of the comics stories and art he produced in the course of an entire a lifetime. Yeah, you could argue maybe that Will Eisner was better than Jack; I knew a guy who said John Byrne was the best comics artist ever; I don’t really follow comics close enough to know if there are any new artists who are producing transcendent work today; and the debate can go on and on; but again, it’s all subjective so I don’t really want to get into that sort of debate here, there’s a zillion other places for that conversation.
What I do want to do is this: let’s say for the sake of argument that Jack Kirby is the best comics artist of all time. So what was his best work? His 40s material? The romance stuff in the 50s? His 60s stuff? 4W at DC in the 70s? How about his late 70s Marvel work or later Captain Victory and Silver Star in the 1980s?
Again, I’ve seen a wide variety of opinions on this one. There is no real answer. I’d say Jack’s entire body of work should be looked upon as one large whole. Imagine having a set of “The Complete Jack Kirby” sitting on your shelf where you could read every comic page Jack ever produced in his life in order — to me that one long narrative is Jack’s masterpiece. Jack did about 40,000 pages of art in his lifetime — a set of books that contained 40,000 pages sure would fill up a lot of shelf space, wouldn’t it?
Althought opinions will vary, I do think there was a high point in Jack’s career where Jack took things to a new level. I think this moment occurred in the late 60s when Joe Sinnott started inking his FF work. In my opinion, Jack’s work with Joe Sinnott set a new gold standard in comics art. It was a perfect pairing of the best artist in comics and the best inker in comics. Because of that perfect union and the wonderful inventiveness and dynamism of that material, I think the Kirby/Sinnott artwork was possibly the most transcendent art ever produced in the comics medium.
Now obviously, many will disagree with me, and that’s fine. No need to deluge me with hate emails defending your favorite comics artist. And many Kirby fans disagree with me on this too. They feel that Jack’s work with inkers like Joe Simon, Wallace Wood, Mike Royer — and especially Jack’s work where he inked his own material — was his best work. And I can’t really argue with that. I actually agree — I think it was all great. But in my opinion, based on the historical context of Jack’s 60s work, and the revolutionary impact that 60s material had on the comics medium and on pop culture, I suggest the Kirby/Sinnott FF books contain some of the best (if not the best) artwork produced in the history of comics.
So what I decided to do for the next couple months is this: I’m going to go through all the late 60s Kirby/Sinnott FF books in chronological order, and pull what I think are 4 of the best pages in each book. I’m apprehensive about doing something like this because I don’t want to bore you if you’ve seen all this stuff a million times — and Jack did so much other great work (for example, all of his FF books are filled with great stories and art) so I hate to focus on one thing for a few months — but I was thinking I have over 1000 posts under my belt here, so it might be fun to try something different.
Plus this seems like a nice opportunity to pay tribute not only to Jack’s visionary FF work, but also to his terrific collaborator: the great Joe Sinnott who many believe is the best inker ever to work in the comics medium. This might be a nice way to take a moment to say thanks to Joe Sinnott for all his hard work on Jack’s artwork over the years. I think Joe Sinnott’s remarkable craftsmanship, his discipline, his tremendous work ethic, his passion for perfection, and really just his huge heart helped Joe transform Jack’s 60s pencils into something truly special. Something transcendent.
Granted, comics aren’t that big a deal anymore — there are a gazillion other things out there to entertain and inspire us — but in the late 1960s, comics were still a relevant medium, and I think the Kirby/Sinnott FF work was miles and miles ahead of any other superhero comics art being produced in that era, and the material still resonates with readers today. So starting tomorrow, I’m going to post 4 Great Kirby/Sinnott pages a day from all the Kirby/Sinnott FF books. For those of you who’ve read the books, I hope you enjoy the stroll down memory lane. For those of you who might not have seen the material before, I hope you find Jack and Joe’s art as fun, freewheeling, and inspiring as I do.