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My Two Cents, Giving Jack Kirby His Due

With the release of the blockbuster movie “The Avengers” there has been a renewed focus on Jack Kirby and Marvel. It is not surprising that fans of Jack Kirby would continue to complain about how little he received for his part in the creation of the Marvel universe compared to how much the company benefited. The discussion has even made it into the more popular media. This is a good thing because you do not have to be a Kirby Cultists to believe an injustice has been done. And it is not just about the money. Yes the various movies have included mentioning Kirby but always towards the end of the closing credits. Open any Marvel comic today and you will only see credit for Kirby as a creator in Captain America (and that thanks to Joe’s Simon’s last legal battle with Marvel).

While I am pleased that there is renewed attention to how Kirby was treated (and how his estate continues to be treated) I am always a little perplexed about some of the response. Perplexed but not surprised. Logically one might think that the opposite of the Kirby Cultists would be Lee Cultists but such is not the case. I do not think I have ever come across a fan of Stan Lee who was not a fan of Kirby as well. No the other extreme is occupied by comic book fans with rather puzzling motivations. I never truly understood their position because none of them seem to be able to provide an explanation that is remotely logical. For example take the recent posting by Scott Kurtz (Where Credit is Due). I will not provide a rebuttal of Kurtz’s arguments. One valiant attempt to refute Kurtz has appeared (Scott Kurtz is still Scott Kurtz) but I think even that writer would agree that he did not cover all of Kurtz’s points. Not because of the soundness of Kurtz’s arguments but rather of the over abundance of inaccurate, inconsistent and illogical claims. I have no idea were the vitriol from Kurtz and the ilk comes from but it certainly is not supported by their writings. Which leaves me to believe that their anger comes from some other source that they either do not recognize or want to publicly acknowledge.

Spirit World

I got a pleasant surprise when I visited my comic book store last night, DC’s reprint of Spirit World. What a marvelous time this is for Kirby fans as more and more of his work is being reprinted. Had someone told me a decade ago that DC would reprint Spirit World I would not have believed them, actually I would have thought they had lost their grip on reality. Spirit World was by no means a Kirby classic. It received remarkably poor distribution. Mark Evanier describes not being able to locate any copies at newsstands but finding bundles of them at a distributor’s warehouse that had never been delivered. DC’s confidence in it was so low that it was cancelled after a single issue, much too soon to be based on any sales figures. It is not even a cult classic, it rarely comes up in discussions about Jack Kirby’s art. But everything Jack did he did well so it is great to see this work back in print.

“Amazing Predictions” page 3 (from the reprint)

Kirby wanted Spirit World to be a high quality magazine printed in color but that is not the way DC would publish it. Instead a wash was applied to the line art and the results were printed using a dark cyan ink. Frankly it was not the best approach. But that is the approach that was originally made and was repeated for the reprint. Although I wish DC had initially followed Kirby’s wishes I believe their decision for the reprint to reproduced the effect of the original publication was the correct one. The quality of the reproduction in the reprint is exceptional. There are times when the original magazine was a little clearer but others where the reprint did a better job of presenting the art. But these differences are minor variations unnoticeable unless the two are compared side by side. One important improvement made for the reprint was the paper. I have never been a fan of using a yellowish paper in an attempt to match the current look of comic books. That look is due to aging and was not the look the books had when they first appeared. Using a yellowish paper for the Spirit World reprint would have darkened the cyan inked and ruined the effect. Instead DC has wisely used a flat white paper for this reprint.

“Amazing Predictions” page 3 (with Photoshop adjustment)

One of the special treats of Spirit World was all the collages that Kirby created for it. Kirby’s collages have been receiving more and more attention in recent years. Recently Steven Brower has devoted an article on the subject (Jack Kirby’s Collages in Context). I must admit that as a young reader I was not overly impressed with Jack’s collages but as an adult I greatly admire them. Part of the problem with the collages was the rather poor printing they originally received. I could not resist using Photoshop to convert one of the Spirit World collage to a better quality black and white. In my opinion it is a distinct improvement. However remember that Kirby originally meant Spirit World to be printed in color and take a look at the original art of the same collage that is included in Brower’s article. What a difference and what a lost opportunity that DC did not follow Kirby’s wishes.

“Witch Queen of Ancient Sumeria?” page 2 (from the reprint)

Spirit World was cancelled after a single issue but Kirby had already completed the art for the second issue. The Spirit World reprint includes the work that had been meant for Spirit World #2. I understand that these stories had been used in some of DC’s horror and mystery comics but the reprint only uses the line art. What a contrast between the two sections of the current book. While Spirit World #1 was inked by Vince Colletta and issue #2 by Mike Royer that is not the real reason for the difference in the appeal of the two sections. What is really shown is the rather detrimental affects of the wash and cyan ink had on the initial issue art. Kirby was at the top of his artistic form and it really shows in this last section.

There is a small essay in this latest book by Mark Evanier. Evanier’s writings have appeared in a number of books on Jack Kirby (including Titan’s The Best of Simon and Kirby). With good reason as there probably is no one more knowledgeable on Kirby (if only he would finally publish his full biography on Jack). But what Evanier has to say is particularly important concerning the Spirit World as he was present and involved in its creation.

“The Burners” page 6 (from the reprint)

Colleges played a small part in the second issue of Spirit World. But I could not resist including the sole exception. I hope to someday to discuss the Spirit World more fully, this has been more a review of the reprint book. I will not try to predict how successful the Spirit World reprint will be but I do believe it is a worthy addition to the collection of any Kirby fan.

Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby by Charles Hatfield

Hatfield devotes a chapter to discussing Kirby’s art and in particular his style. This section was of particular interest to me because it is by using aspects of an artist’s style, particularly seemingly insignificant ones, that an artist’s work can be identified. Much of the books’ discussion concerns applying, or rather attempting to apply, the theories of Charles Sander Peirce to Kirby’s work. I believe that Hatfield does a good job of describing Peirce’s theories, but then again since I was completely unfamiliar with them I cannot say how accurately they are presented. By his own admission applying Peirce’s theories on Kirby’s art is a difficult match but Hatfield feels that there is much to be learned from the attempt. It certainly provided me with an alternate way of looking at things which is the chief value in a book like “Hand of Fire”.

Hatfield also makes use of a definition of Will Eisner that “style results from the failure and frustration, from grappling with one’s own weaknesses as an artist and turning them to advantage”. While there is some truth in this, I feel it is only partial explanation of how an artist’s style is accomplished. Some aspects of an artist’s style may originate from his deficiencies, particularly earlier in a career. Kirby’s penchant for big ears during his first DC period comes to mind. But an artist style usually evolves over time and this generally is not due to any deterioration of his capabilities. Rather artist often go through a process of refining their work by filtering out what they consider unimportant aspects and emphasizing those of greater personal significance. Kirby’s style while working on the Fourth World books was, in my opinion, his best graphical efforts and this certainly not due to his failure to grapple with his weaknesses.

There is a chapter on the history and authorship of the Marvel Universe. It is a balance view which while emphasizing Kirby’s importance does not diminish or discredit Stan Lee’s contributions. I suspect Kirby Cultists will not be pleased but I was. Hatfield’s discussion of two common misapprehensions (that Marvel made superhero stories realistic and that the comics were created with a pre-planned continuity).

Included in the book is a lengthy analysis of Kirby’s work for DC, that what is commonly called the Fourth World. Hatfield obviously feels that this was the most important point of Kirby’s career. I admit that is an opinion that I do not share. But I still find his discussion about this work to be insightful and interesting. In fact the best that I have ever read.

“Hand of Fire” is not the type of book one would pick up to see great art. There is a small color section and some black and white illustrations scattered through the text. All the work shown was selected to match discussions in the text. So this is not a book to pick up just to see great Kirby art. But it is a great book if you want to enter into a discussion about Jack Kirby and his art. You may not agree with everything Hatfield writes, but you will understand why he takes the positions that he does and you may his ideas challenging.

My Two Cents: The Auteur Theory of Comics

I recently posted on a review of Jack Kirby as Auteur by Barry Pearl. In the comments section of that post Arlen Schumer placed text “adapted from the visual presentation at the New York Comic Con panel, Saturday, October 15th, 2011”. I felt that Schumer’s text was much too important to leave in the relative obscurity of a comment section, so with his permission I have posted it below. I believe this is the first time I have ever had a guest posting in my blog.

I would like to add my two cents. Frankly when I first heard of the idea I already hated the term used. I rather dislike it when foreign words are wrapped around a simple concept. After all auteur is just the French word for author. However the term is relatively unimportant, at least compared to the underlying concept. I attended Schumer’s panel and found the presentation quite convincing. I do, however, have a couple of quibbles.

One has to do with the panel’s and text’s discussion of the legal issues between the Jack Kirby estate and Disney, Marvel’s recent owner. While the court battles concerning these issues might have been the instigation for the developing of the Auteur Theory of Comics, the legalities have no bearing on the theory and the theory has no bearing on the legal issues. As long as the work by Kirby is legally considered work for hire it does not matter if he is considered the author of the work, his estate cannot claim the copyrights.

The other quibble is not so much a disagreement with Schumer but rather an uncertainty on my part about how far the term author can be applied. While is seems eminently suitable for artists that work under the Marvel Method, should it be applied to artists who worked from a script? Such artists could be described as illustrators but I feel they have much more impact to the finished work than a typical book illustrator. However to me there still seems a great difference between artists who worked the Marvel Method and those who worked from scripts.

I believe ideas such as the Auteur Theory of Comics have great importance. We may not be able to correct past financial injustices, but we can correct failures to provide proper credits. While working with Stan Lee, the most credit Kirby (or Ditko) ever received beyond providing pencils was for supplying the plot. However artists who worked the Marvel Method did much more than plotting. While we normally think of authors as writers the definition includes creators. Therefore I think it is quite appropriate to describe Lee/Kirby (or Lee/Ditko, etc.) as the authors of the comics that they collaborated on.

“The Auteur Theory of Comics” by Arlen Schumer

Text adapted from the visual presentation at the New York Comic Con panel, Saturday, October 15th, 2011.

The recent court loss for the Jack Kirby estate in its battle with Disney, Marvel’s corporate owner, over copyright/ownership of the Marvel characters, revealed Stan Lee’s testimony as being the usual lynchpin in deciding the case in his, and Marvel’s, favor, that testimony essentially promulgating the same misconception that he, not Kirby, was the true author of the Marvel Universe by dint of his salaried role as editor and writer, and Kirby’s professional status as a work-for-hire employee. This misconception ignores the actual role Kirby played in the actual creation of those seminal comic books, as the auteur—author in French—of their stories. “Auteur” in the way Franco-cinemaphiles in the 1950s—first Francois Truffaut in the journal Cahiers du Cinema, and then American counterparts like The Village Voice’s film critic Andrew Harris—postulated their Auteur Theory of Film, that a film’s director, and not the screenwriter, as was previously thought, was a film’s true author.

So too can the Auteur Theory of Film be accurately applied to the “Marvel Method” of comic book authorship, innovated by Lee, who gave his artists (originally and primarily Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) anything from a typed synopsis of a story to a verbal springboard of an idea—the equivalent of the screenplay in film—and the artists drew out/plotted/staged/paced the story visually to fill the page count given, using two-dimensional versions of the same tools and devices a movie director uses to craft a film: casting, editing, lighting, sound, choreography—after which Lee would add the dialogue and captions to the artists’ work.

Stan’s interviews from the ‘60s, which stand in contrast, and somewhat of a contradiction, to his testimony in this case, were submitted in documents—eventually thrown out by the judge—during the testimony of Kirby experts John Morrow (publisher of The Jack Kirby Collector) and Mark Evanier (Kirby’s biographer); here’s an example:

“I would tell Jack the main idea that I wanted, and then we would talk about it, and we’d come up with something. I would give him the outline for the story. As we went on, and we had been working together for years, the outlines I gave him were skimpier and skimpier. I might say something like: ‘In this story let’s have Dr. Doom kidnap Sue Storm, and the Fantastic Four has to go out and rescue them. And in the end, Dr. Doom does this and that.’ And that might have been all I would tell him for a 20-page story. If the book was 20 pages long, I’d receive back 20 beautifully drawn pages in pencil which told a story. Jack would just put in all the details and everything. And then it was—I enjoyed that. It was like doing a crossword puzzle. I get the panels back, and I have to put in the dialogue and make it all tie together. So we worked well together that way for years.”

Ergo it was the artists who were the actual storytellers, not “just” the artists, with Lee, of Marvel Comics, like the directors of films have been considered the true authors of their films for over 50 years now, entitled to the benefits of credit and copyright protection of their films.
At the same time, this is not to deny Lee’s co-authorship and creatorship of Marvel Comics—he deserves exactly 50% of the credit, for his absolutely crucial contributions as editor/writer/art director/salesman and spokesman—but not a percent more or percent less. The sad fact of the matter is that Lee has successfully campaigned throughout his post-working relationships with Kirby and Ditko to create the perception—and therefore the “reality”—that he was the 100%, primary, sole creator of the Marvel Universe, relegating Kirby, specifically, to the historically demeaning role of the artist as merely a “pair of hands,” a “wrist” who robotically drew up Lee’s scripts, the only “theory”/process of comic book creation the judge was presented with.

(Comic creators like Will Eisner and Jim Steranko, who both write and draw their own work, are not germane to this discussion; they’re already 100% creators of their works. The Auteur Theory in both film and comics, as I’m applying it, pertains to those directors and comic artists who did/do not write their movies or comics, but collaborate with screenplay writers or comic writers; by dint of the act of directing a film, and drawing a comic book story, the director and the artist are the true authors/auteurs of their respective final product. The comic book works of writers like Alan Moore and Harvey Kurtzman are trickier to evaluate; for who is the auteur of Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen? Who is the auteur of Two Fisted Tales/Frontline/Mad? Because both Moore and Kurtzman functioned as much as art directors as writers—Moore verbally with his notorious panel descriptions and Kurtzman visually with his layouts—they’re legitimate exceptions. The overarching concept of the Auteur Theory of Comics is that it applies to any artist who does the visualizing of a comic book story, because the act of illustrating a comic book script—whether old-school full-script “DC style,” “Marvel style,” or whatever style—makes that artist a de facto auteur of the final “product” and therefore a de facto 50/50 co-creator of the work.)

The Marvel Method comic-creation working relationship of Lee & Kirby operated, in actuality, more like the Beatles’ Lennon & McCartney songwriting team; just as the early Lee/Kirby Fantastic Fours were closer to true 50/50 collaborations (see Lee’s 1960’s interview recollections and typed script/synopsis for FF #1), so too were Lennon/McCartney’s initial songs together. But as the years went on, Beatles songs became more often de facto solo projects, like McCartney’s “Yesterday,” or his “Hey Jude,” in which Lennon’s lyric, “The movement you need is on your shoulder,” is his sole contribution—essentially no different than Lee suggesting to Kirby in ’65 to have the FF fight a really big villain, and Kirby coming up with the entire Galactus/Silver Surfer trilogy (as in penciling the entire story out, and writing dialogue bits and notes in the margins). Since every Beatle song could never be perfectly quantified as to who did what, John and Paul decided early on to credit their Beatles songs to an across-the-board 50/50 split, “Lennon & McCartney,” making it easier to share in the real world of publishing credit and royalties. That’s how Lee should’ve worked with Kirby, who did the heavy lifting of actually “telling” the stories so that Lee could “write” multiple comics—the practical, economic imperative behind perhaps the greatest storytelling breakthrough in comic book history.

“That whole thing that he and Jack started was strictly for expediency because he didn’t have the scripts ready. That’s the reason. It was not done out of any stroke of genius, it was done out of expedience. Jack would call up and say, ‘Stan, I didn’t get the story yet, or the script” and Stan would say, “Ok, what I’m going to do is describe the first five or six pages in action for you, do them without words and when you send them in I’ll put the words in.’ That’s how it grew into the Marvel method of art first and script second. It was like sunlight had come into the room because this was a visual medium that had become a verbal medium for fifty ears, and suddenly it was the visual medium that it had intended to be in the first place. I think that the biggest thing Stan and Jack contributed to the industry was that. Visual first was a huge step forward; it was like a quantum leap.”
—John Romita

Yet despite this grand recollection, Stan always took full writer’s pay, while artists like Romita were never remunerated for their co-plotting and de facto writing. The most egregious example of this practice taken to an absurd degree is the famous Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1 (June ’68) opening sequence written and illustrated by Jim Steranko, whom Stan didn’t want to pay as a writer because, according to Steranko, “…there were no words on the pages”! This myopia of Lee speaks not only to the primacy of word over image in both the lay public’s and the average comic reader’s—and creator’s—minds, but to the misunderstanding of the entire process of visual storytelling in comics, where the artist has control over sound as well as lighting and staging of a writer’s words; If he feels a sequence in the story can best be told silently, as in film or television, he has that paint in his palette. Theoretically, if Stan himself had written that SHIELD story—even traditionally, in full-script, with the dialogue he would’ve preferred—the auteurship of that sequence would still be Steranko’s!

Because the artist in comics has always been the auteur of the comic book reading experience, due primarily to the primacy of the visuals themselves; or, as artist Gil Kane put it once: “The only thing that makes comics worth reading is the art.” And Gene Colan said: “Every story I ever drew was like being the director of a film.” These simple statements are part and parcel of the Auteur Theory of Comics, the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge: that in the verbal/visual medium known as comic books, the visual creation of a story is a de facto act of co-creation (and therefore morally and ethically entitled to all the legal benefits of co-creatorship).

Take the origin story, probably the most important component establishing the legal provenance of a comic character. Lee has always maintained, in court and out, that he created the character concepts first, and thus “created” them fully. But there was a little-known “character concept” bandied about for 15 years, called “Spiderman,” that didn’t become a copyrightable/trademarkable/successful character until artist Steve Ditko put pencil to paper and created the “Spider-Man” we know of, of stage, screen, comics, merchandise and de facto logo of Marvel, as the mouse ears are to Disney. As Ditko’s iconic Spider-Man “self-portrait” implies, a comic book “creation” isn’t fully “created” until an artist visualizes his own or a writer’s idea/synopsis/script. Which begs the question: was Stan Lee’s verbal origin story of Spider-Man more “important” in the overall/eventual success of the character than the greatest costume design in the history of comic book superheroes by Steve Ditko?

Are Gaines’ and Feldstein’s overwritten captions and word balloons to those classic EC Comics more “important” to their renown than the golden-age-of-illustration artwork that conformed to their prepared panels?

Are Bob Haney’s great 1968-69 Brave & Bold stories more “important” than the auteurism of Neal Adams’ artwork/storytelling, in which he changed all of Haney’s daytime scenes to night, just as a director of a film might alter the screenplay to more effectively work on the screen, not the printed page as the screenwriter wrote it?

Are Marv Wolman’s Tomb of Dracula concepts/writing/dialoguing more “important” to that ‘70s success story than the auteurist, atmospheric artwork/storytelling of Colan/Palmer?

When I was reading those Batman reprints from the ‘50s in those eighty-page annuals during the ‘60s, I was entertained by a raft of reprints, all uncredited, as was the DC policy then. So why did the stories illustrated by (we later found out) the great Dick Sprang stand out from the surrounding hackwork of Bob Kane ghosts? Because, despite working from complete scripts and tight editorial control (just like that of the Hollywood movie studios) Sprang’s confident, direct, exaggerated qualities that we came to love about Sprang made every story he illustrated a “Dick Sprang story,” no matter whether Edmond Hamilton or Bill Finger or whomever wrote them, because Sprang was the auteur of those Batman stories—just as the great film directors Hitchcock, Hawks and Ford, who worked from others’ screenplays within an extremely collaborative/edited/oft-censored medium, with producer control no better or worse than comic book artists had to deal with (and are still dealing with), were later declared auteurs of their films by the French film theorists.

Like film, comics are a synchronistic collaboration of words and pictures, ergo any form of a verbal script is only half of the art form known as the “comic book”—whether it’s as brief as Lee’s capsule directives to Kirby, or as extensively detailed as Alan Moore’s panel exegeses for Gibbons to follow in Watchmen.

To those who still damn Gibbons with faint praise for Watchmen’s success because, to one online poster, “a raccoon could have drawn that story and it would have been awesome,” Watchmen is, indeed, a 50/50 collaboration no matter how you parse Moore’s and Gibbons’ individual contributions, and good luck to you if you’re going to try—it’ll always be purely subjective. Moore’s Watchmen script is only worth what someone’s willing to pay to read it in its original form, just like screenplays to films are available to those who want to read them—but neither are complete artistic entities on their own. Moore himself would be the first one to admit that all of his comic book collaborations, with a who’s who of artistic greats like Eddie Campbell, Brian Bolland and Bill Sienkiewicz are equivalent in their contributions of words and pictures (hence Moore’s equitable sharing of both the legal and financials of each property). And to further diminish the line of “reasoning” that Gibbons’ “contribution” to Watchmen was somehow minimized by Moore’s gargantuan talent, imagine what a less-cerebral 2000 AD artist than Gibbons would’ve done with Moore’s Watchmen scripts—or what an average Marvel artist like Don Heck would have done with Lee’s “Have the FF fight a really big villain” idea, or what kind of costume artist Larry Lieber would’ve designed for Spider-Man!

There is a reason that Alan Moore gets more credit from the general public for Watchmen than Gibbons does; it’s why Stan also gets more credit than Jack. Literary criticism far outweighs visual/art criticism in terms of both column inches and overall impact and ubiquity, with far more literature courses taught in universities than art history. And because the graphic novel and serious criticism of comics as a visual/literary hybrid are still relatively recent—and even then, because most comics fans are not visually literate enough to actually discuss the artistic merits (and faults) of comic book art to the same degree that they discuss story/character, comics criticism pretty much follows the standard story/characters discussion, with a backhanded compliment of the “art chores” usually falling to the penultimate paragraph of most comics reviews. Combined with the fact that both the lay and comic audiences know far more about traditional “art”—painting and sculpture, and now computer graphics—than they know about how comic book art is actually produced, and you have the current situation, in which Stan Lee is thought of as both the writer/creator and the artist of Marvel Comics! Want proof? From a recent issue of Comic Shop News (#1259), by Cliff Biggers & Ward Batty in cooperation with

“Comics icon Stan Lee, creator of the Mighty Marvel Universe and characters such as Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, X-Men, and Iron Man…”

Think of this Auteur Theory of Comics being the testimony in defense of Kirby that could have/should have followed Lee’s entirely self-serving testimony, enlightening the court, the media covering the trial, comic book readers and the general public to truly understand, maybe for the first time, the role of the artist in the de facto co-creation of a comic book work, and to the truth of the Marvel Method in actual practice, asserting an artist of the magnitude of Jack “King” Kirby his morally and ethically rightful place as the auteur of the Marvel Comics Universe.

My Sixth Anniversary

With this month my blog has reached its sixth anniversary. That the previous year was eventful for me would be an gross understatement. The release of Joe Simon’s autobiography and the Captain America movie were key events. But on a more personal note was the publication of Titan’s “Simon and Kirby Library: Crime”. Joe and Jack’s work in that genre are among my favorites. While I have hopes that a second volume of Simon and Kirby crime might eventually see print it appears that my dream of working on my other favorite Simon and Kirby genre will not be fulfilled. Of course the most significant event of the past year was the passing of my friend, Joe Simon. Joe played a large roll in my life of the past decade or so and I miss him greatly. I realize that events arising from Joe’s passing has had a negative impact on my posting on this blog but I hope that has begun to change. There is so much more that I want to write about Simon and Kirby.

My Two Cents: Jack Kirby as Auteur

Barry Pearl has recently posted an article Jack Kirby Takes an Auteur Detour. Pearl is a fine comic book scholar which makes this particular post so surprising. Surprising because he gets so many things wrong. In the comments section to his post Barry says that

The first time I had heard the term “Auteur” applied to Jack Kirby was at the NY Comic Con in 2011 when there was a seminar on that subject.

Actually that was my first time as well. It was a great presentation by Arlen Schumer along with panelists Rand Hoppe, John Morrow, J. David Spurlock and Michael Bonestell. There is a summary of what would be presented here. It is too bad that Barry Pearl did not review this summary.

Perhaps he would not have stated that they were advocating Kirby as the actual and sole creator. No, Schumer and all the panelists that I can remember gave credit to Stan Lee as well. By no means was there a claim that Kirby did it all by himself.

Or perhaps then he would not have stated that the Jack Kirby as Auteur concept takes credit away from other creators. No it was explicitly stated that the term auteur could also be applied to Steve Ditko and any of the other artists who worked under the Marvel Method.

I could go on and on about the various inaccuracies in Pearl’s post. He has presented a straw man version of the theory of Jack Kirby as Auteur. He then uses this straw man to try to make the case that a movie director was not the proper analogy for what artist like Jack Kirby were doing. But with all the distortions about the auteur theory and what happens in movies it is small wonder that Pearl gets it all wrong and ends with:

In collaborative media, auteurs need not apply

But the idea of a film director as auteur is based on movies that are very much a collaborative effort.

I have a lot of respect for Barry so I wonder at what prompted such an inaccurate post. Perhaps Pearl’s post was not a response to Schumer’s theory but a distorted version of it by someone else. I no longer follow any Kirby list as they all seem to attract Kirby Cultists. It is not the extremes of their positions that bothers me so much as their lack of manners in their avocation (name calling and disrespect for alternate views). I can easily envision the use Kirby Cultists would make with a distorted version of Kirby as Auteur. But it would be unfortunate if Barry’s post was a response to a distorted version of the Auteur Theory because the true version is worthy of much thoughtful discussion.

Jack Kirby’s Trips to the Fourth Dimension

Fantastic Four #51 (June 1966) “This Man, This Monster” page 13, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Sinnott, letters by Artie Simek, image from “Hands of Fire”

I am currently reading Charles Hatfield’s “Hands of Fire”. I am sure I will write something about the book in the near future but I thought I would discuss one of the many items Hatfield touches upon. Fantastic Four #51 (June 1966) has the story “This Man, This Monster” in which Mr. Fantastic, Richard Reed, visits the Negative Zone. I do not have the original comic but I use instead a plate from Hatfield’s book which looks to me like it was scanned from the actual comic book. Note panel 3 where Reed exclaims:


But who needs words when we have Jack Kirby to provide an illustration. Off course even Kirby found it difficult to translate four dimensions into just two. The task might be theoretically impossible but the scene that Jack provides is clearly unlike any the reader has ever seen. In the next panel anything remotely naturalistic is replaced with abstract colors.

Fantastic Four #51 (June 1966) “This Man, This Monster” page 14, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Sinnott, letters by Artie Simek, image from “Hands of Fire”

As “otherworldly” as the images from page 13, on the next page Kirby presents ultimate in non-reality. Here on the figure of Mr. Fantastic is drawn while the rest is a collage. Kirby was not the first to use photographs from magazines and newspapers in a comic book. However previous uses were rather mundane shortcuts to creating an image and nothing like the innovative collages that Kirby created. The image Jack constructed for page 14 is particularly effective. Photographs gain an acceptance as “truth” that a drawing does not provide. Sure our logical minds know that photographs really are not necessarily true, particularly today with software like Photoshop. However our emotional reaction still accepts photographs as depicting truth. Kirby plays off the photographic “truth” against an scenery that is obviously unreal. That tension is something that a drawing could never quite create.

Blue Bolt #5 (October 1940) page 5, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Joe Simon

Mr. Fantastic’s visit to the Negative Zone was not Kirby’s first depiction of the Fourth Dimension, not by a long shot. His earliest occurred in collaboration with Joe Simon in Blue Bolt #5 (October 1940). Blue Bolt enters the Fourth Dimension through a cylinder surrounded by the earliest example of Kirby Krackle (Evolution of Kirby Krackle). On entry the hero is presented with an “odd looking landscape” reminiscent of the effect found in Fantastic Four #51. Blue Bolt then finds he can see through objects and requires special goggles to see in three dimensions.

Alarming Tales #1 (September 1957) “The Fourth Dimension is a Many Splattered Thing”, pencils and inks by Jack Kirby

Kirby would return to the Fourth Dimension theme in an appropriately titled story “The Fourth Dimension is a Many Splattered Thing”. This work was done in collaboration with Joe Simon but after the breakup of their studio. Here Jack’s attempt to draw the indescribable result in some of the most unique images from his career.

Kirby had a long career as a comic book artist. It is surprising how certain themes show up repeated at different points in his career. The Fourth Dimension and Kirby Krackle are just two examples of this phenomenon. If it was just one or two incidences like this it would be easy to write it off as of not great significance. But actually there are many more examples that can be found (and I am sure I will post others from time to time). This signifies to me that Kirby was much more than an illustrator to the stories that he worked on. This is not to denigrate individuals like Joe Simon or Stan Lee for their contributions were also important.

Fan Letter

Fan letters did not play a part in Simon and Kirby productions. That is not to say that fans did not write letters just that Simon and Kirby comic books did not include a letters section. I have never seen a fan letter to Simon and Kirby but obviously there were some because there does exist a letter that Joe wrote in response to one fan, Ronald. This letter was issued at a critical time. After the failure of Simon and Kirby’s work for Harvey (Stuntman and Boy Explorers Comics), Joe and Jack were forced to find whatever work they could. They ended up simultaneously working for two companies; Hillman (Clue, Real Clue, as well as some other titles) and Prize (Headline). This letter was written at the time that they stopped working for Hillman in order to devote themselves to Prize. Apparently the original fan letter was misplaced and only recovered Simon and Kirby were vacating Hillman.

American Boys’ Comics Inc. was one of the names used by Prize Comics; Crestwood Publications and Feature Publications were two others. The name American Boys’ Comics was used mostly during mid-forties but its use seems to have been discontinued not too long after Joe’s letter. However there was no change of address to accompany the name change.

Ronald must have been very pleased to receive this reply to his fan letter from Joe as he kept very good care of it. The paper has yellowed but the preservation is otherwise very good except for the remains of tape on the four corners. Ronald probably had taped into a scrapbook.

A Joe Simon Video

Helping the Simon family has put my work on the next Titan addition to the Simon and Kirby library behind schedule. When there just does not seem enough time life seems to have a way of just making matters even more difficult. Most of my writing for this blog is done during my lunch hour at work but recently I have had to put extra time on my job as well. I hope things will settle down to a more reasonable pace in the near future which will allow me to return to my more regular posting.

In the mean time above is a video of Joe Simon taken by Desert Wind Comics. Joe did signings for Desert Winds. I believe this video was made about a year before his passing.