Well, It’s been a while since I posted last and I had to give some thought to what I would focus on this time. The thing about Kirby that always stands out is … Composition. When I was a lad, attending the High School of Music & Art in NYC, my teacher would always use that word, and being young and full of myself and thinking that I already knew everything, I would be dismissive. “What are these fools going on about?” I thought. “You just do it! You don’t sit down and plan a composition. That’s phony.”
But looking at the work that I did even back then, I realized that I must have intuitively absorbed the best aspects of artists that I had admired. Artists like Kirby, N.C. Wyeth, Tiepolo and Frank Frazetta. My best stuff had good composition, without my even realizing that I had internalized those concepts that allowed me to compose well.
This page, from Captain America #112 is a perfect example of Kirby using composition about as effectively as it is possible to do. Nearly every aspect and detail on this page brings the viewers eye from point to point and exactly where Kirby wants it to go.
What is most notable about this page is that it consists of two very strong tableau panels on top of one another and yet they work together as a single strong composition as well as individual pieces. Each has the big O circular composition and yet there is a larger O made by the two panels together.
Notice that the eye enters the page with the man in blue whipping a white sash on the left of panel one. The swirl of his sash emphasizes the rightward momentum toward the man in the wheelchair and travels around the green suited man and then to the naked torso of the wrestler who reaches for Cap’s shield. This motion brings the eye directly to Captain America. The man with the steel fist and the Asian pointing his gun reinforce Cap’s centrality in the composition. The eye must fall finally on him.
However, those lower two figures also function to bring the eye into the lower panel. The diagonal gesture of the steel armored fist in the upper panel emphasizes the sweep of Cap’s fist slamming into the wrestler in the lower. Of course, the sweep of Cap’s blow, among other gestures and objects creates the circularity of the entire page’s composition.
Kirby had been excelling at this sort of thing for decades. Here’s a double splash panel spread from Captain America #7 below, showing the use of a profusion of circles and general circular movement throughout. At the center of the page is a sort of circus wheel with heads attached to it. This central shape sets the tone of the page and keeps the reader’s eye moving.
The eye sweeps from the violinist towards the lower right and around the circular panels composed of musical notes, up and around Bucky’s bound figure and over to the leaping Captain America. His torqued angle keeps the circle going back to the left. This is the use of composition at its finest.