Following the work of the King over his nearly half century reign brings us fascinating insights about the development of his style and of the art form itself. No artist can develop in a vacuum, and when one discovers influences along the way it is always a thrill. Kirby often mentions newspaper strip artists like Alex Raymond as inspiration, but as beautiful as Raymond’s work is, it has a studio staged, posed and slightly static look about it. Kirby’s best work is more cinematic and one longs to see examples of prior comic art that had his sort of kinetics.
Jack Kirby began to hit his stride when he and Joe Simon began working for Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics, and Captain America was the team’s first smash hit. Befitting the hero’s athletic skill, Kirby drew him as a sleek, muscular contortionist. Cap’s body moved in ways that defied gravity and conventional anatomy. If one looks at this page from Captain America #2, one sees something quite different from the thicker, blockier figures that the artist drew later in his career. Look at the red, white and blue figure arching over the telephone wires or at his long legged stride, running in the lower left panel.
I’ve chosen this particular sequence not only for its expression of dynamic physicality but also for its inking style, the delicate precision brush work of Reed Crandall, whose work shows the influence of another artist that also had a profound impact on Jack Kirby.
The following page is that of artist Lou Fine, who came to prominence working in the Eisner-Iger studio in 1938. This sample is from the 1940 series, the Ray. If one compares the two pages, it seems clear that Kirby and Crandall are taking pains give their Captain America story a distinctly Lou Fine-esque feeling.