Kirby Krackle

Fantastic Four #57
Fantastic Four #57 (December 1966) “Enter, Dr. Doom” page 5 panel 4, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Sinnott (from the Marvel Omnibus)

There is a virtual cottage industry around identifying some aspect of Jack Kirby’s artistry and naming it with a word starting with the letter ‘K’ (better yet if the chosen word actually starts with a ‘C’). I find such terms annoyingly cute and even worse some have rather vacuous foundations (see Kirby Kolor, A Kirby Myth and Kirby Kolors, Revisited). There is one such term, Kirby Krackle, which is so entrenched in comic literature that I feel that it must be accepted. No matter how grating the name, Kirby Krackle really does describe an important aspect found in much of Jack’s later work.

Kirby’s art for Marvel Comics in the 60’s began to show clusters of round dots depicting enormous but not necessarily directed energy, often of a cosmic nature. Shane Foley wrote an excellent article on Kirby Krackle (Kracklin’ Kirby, Jack Kirby Collector #33) were he traces the appearance of this device. Because of the manner that the work was created, many experts have claimed that Kirby’s inker Joe Sinnott actually came up with the device and Kirby liked what he saw and adopted it.

Of course there are Kirby fans that were unwilling to accept any of Jack’s techniques as originating anywhere other than from the King himself. And so the race was on to find Kirby Krackle precursors in earlier work by Jack to prove that the idea came from him and not Sinnott. Frankly I find the the examples I have seen of the supposed Kirby Krackle prototypes to be less then convincing. Most are inking techniques that were used to depict smoke. These prototypes have four strikes against them. They do not take the shape of round dots, they do not form clusters, they are not used to depict high energy, and there are no intermediate examples that show they evolved into true Kirby Krackle. With so many points against them these so called prototypes can be discarded from serious consideration.

Captain 3-D #1
Captain 3-D #1 (December 1953) “The Man from the World of D”, page 3 panel 6, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

I would like to suggest yet another Kirby Krackle prototype. One found in the work that Kirby drew for Captain 3-D (December 1953). Besides the panel shown above, another example can be found from page 2 of the same story used in an earlier post (Captain 3D). Now I am not claiming these are true Kirby Krackle. Here dashes rather then dots are used and the dashes do not quite cluster as closely as in true Kirby Krackle, but it would not take much to make the change from the prototype to the real thing. Further the prototype is used to depict true energy; in fact there is a cosmic connection in that the weapon is called a gamma ray gun.

Unfortunately there is a problem for those Kirby fans who would like to use Captain 3-D Kirby Krackle prototype as proof that the idea came from Jack himself. These pages were not inked by Kirby. Worse yet, during the Simon and Kirby collaboration Jack did not indicate spotting in his pencils. Kirby drawings were line drawings only and it was up to the inker to determine the spotting. Joe Simon was the inker for page 3. Page 2 was inked by Steve Ditko but with touch-ups by Simon. I really cannot say for certain who inked the Kirby Krackle prototype on page 2 but since it is done in the same manner as page 3 I credit it to Joe as well. But somehow I do not think comic fans are going to begin calling this technique Simon Snackle.

3 thoughts on “Kirby Krackle

  1. Ger Apeldoorn

    Actually, I don’t think the Captain 3D sample is not in the ‘krackle’ genre. As I see it the krackle evolved from Kirby’s way of drawing fire, the black (or grey, as he pencils it) representing the darker holes in the flames (as you can see from the sample you show as well). Another early sample of this effect you should really show here, is the ‘burning man’ from one of those late fifties DC horror books. I am one who believes that Kirby at firs never intended these dots to be seen, they were just a way to draw the flame effect more quickly, after he found out that the curves of flames could be represented by black circles. When Joe Sinnott started inking those dots as visible dots, Kirb started using them more consciously. Maybe someone can find some samples of this effect in the work Dick Ayers inked and ask him why he inked them as he did.

    I wrote about another Kirby Effekt (to give these things a ‘kute’ name) in a later issue of TJKC and I hope that you will immortalize it here as well and adopt my naming of it; the FHP’s or Floating Head Panels. They were a frequent stylistic trick in his work, a unique way for comic artists to represent a ‘montage’. Kirby was not the only one using this trick, or even the first, but they do appear in a lot of his work for Marvel in his early period.

    Another Kirby Effekt I haven’t written about yet is the ‘talking planet’, where Kirby would cut the monotany of his page by giving us an extreme longshot of the scene where people are talking… by showning the planet against a dark sky with one or two balloons. I haven’t written about them yet, because I want to have a look when they start disappearing. I have ahunch that he would use them more in stories he had to draw from a script (such as the early monster stories that were written full script according to Larry Lieber). If that theory is correct, they would disappear when Kirby started writing his own stories and could even be used as an indicator of the fact a writer was involved (working on the theory that they were a subconsious reaction agains having too much dialogue in a story, something he would be less inclinded to do when he wrote the story himself).

  2. Harry Post author

    Sorry Ger, I cannot disagree with you more about the source of Kirby Krackle. I know baseball only has three strikes, but with four things going against it as far as I am concerned the idea that Kirby Krackle was derived from smoke is out. But hey I can be wrong, all it takes is for someone to show me an intermediate step. I have no idea about what DC story you are referring to but if you or someone else can come up with another Kirby Krackle prototype I’ll be glad to include it in a post.

  3. Ger Apeldoorn

    Harry, I couldn’t find a more educated man to disagree with. I will look for the DC story and send you scans. I don’t know what three strikes you’re referring to, but I wasn’t proposing smoke as the origin of the krackle, but flames. Wildly dancing flames have more curved openings in between them and were very abtly drawn by Kirby in that DC story I mentioned about a ‘burning man’. The effect was rather like the flames shooting out of the sun during a eclipse and given their date and place in Kriby’s work they may been seen as an precursor rather than an intermediate. Still, maybe I am wrong. Too much satring into the flames of the sun does affect the eyes.

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