SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN #141 
by Russell Payne
Mr Jack Kirby produced more single pieces of art in his lifetime than the entire populations of some countries produce in a generation. So finding just one panel, one page, one issue, even one title that sums him up is like trying to find just one fish that adequately represents and sums up all the other fish in all the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers of the earth, it’s impossible, and you’ll get very wet trying.
What I can do is write about a Kirby comic cover that I recently re-discovered. It was a favourite of mine as a kid, before I really knew who Kirby was; I just knew I liked it. It came out September 1971, the year I was born, so the battered copy I stored in a shoebox under my bed was probably my older brothers originally. Someone gave me a copy again just last week and I fell in love just as hard the second time round with Superman’s Pal (the new) Jimmy Olsen issue 141.
Edited, written and pencilled by Jack Kirby, cover Inked by Neal Adams, interior inks by Vince Coletta and Joe Simon. It was a great issue, packed to the brim with ideas. It had a mad, wild story about comedian Don Rickles and Goody Rickels, his twin. It had Superman, Guardian, Para-Demons, the Newsboy Legion reprint, a splash page of Kirby himself sat at his drawing board, there was even a bit of Jimmy Olsen in there.
Forget the inside though, look at that cover. It’s just mad. Superman and the Guardian are running towards you, inexplicably holding a giant photo of Don Rickles with Jimmy Olsen and Goody Rickels chasing behind them. Where are they going? The cover tells you – “Rushing towards the greatest climax ever seen in comics”. Ok then.
There’s no mention on the cover of who the guy in the photo is, an interesting marketing ploy if ever there was one, but it worked for me, I imagined as a kid this Don Rickles character must be incredibly famous in America, which he was to some lesser extent, he was a stand up comic and actor, known for humorous insults, but as a kid in seventies Britain he was a total unknown to me except for his appearance in this comic book. I didn’t know then that he’d appeared a couple of months earlier in SPJO#139. When I found out years later he didn’t really have a twin brother called Goody, my world was rocked.
Don voiced the character of Mr Potato Head in Toy Story 1 and 2, so he’s still funny and he’s still around, but I’ll always picture him being carried aloft by Supes and the Guardian. I’ve no idea why Kirby chose Rickles, or if the real Rickles had any idea who Intergang are, but even in the photo he looks a bit like Kirby drew him so it fit, it fit in that magical way that some juxtapositions just, inexplicably, do. Kirby was good at that, consistently good at it.
There’s a lot to love about Jack Kirby’s work, and about Jack. He was there at the start, he created so many of the characters that still fill cinemas all around the world, he was a master storyteller, he was a good guy, he loved his wife, he worked 48 hours a day but still had time to invite fans into his home, he had a dynamic style of drawing that was all his own, leaping out of the page right at you.
It’s Jimmy Olsen #141 that shows what I love most about Jack though, he could surprise you with something totally original and off-the-wall, even once you were a fan and knew his tricks, he still came at you with a photo montage, or a lost civilization, or a cosmic concept or a real life comedian and his imaginary twin that made you stop and think. He didn’t just keep churning out what was popular; he always seemed to have 20 new ideas pushing in from the boundaries, fighting for space on the page.
This issue made me smile in the late seventies, and re-reading it twenty plus years later as a jaded adult, a grown-up with a mortgage, a family and all the associated complications, problems and joys, it still does make me smile.
And for all that, it did exactly what a cover should do, it made you want to see what on earth was going on inside the comic.
Never afraid of hyperbole, Fantastic Four claimed to be “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”, this one breaks it down to the basics and just has emblazoned across the top –
KIRBY SAYS “DON’T ASK! JUST BUY IT!”
Possibly the finest, most direct, marketing ploy in the history of the written word.
If you see this issue, anywhere, for any price, in any condition. Don’t Ask…
Russell Payne is a writer, musician and artist. The author of “Morris Telford – A Salopian Odyssey” and the BBC weblog of the same name. See http://www.rabid.oneuk.com for more info.
DC Comic Book Marketing never ceases to amaze me.
In the 70’s, it was silly, and now it is just plain all flash and no substance.