Jun 8, 2010

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Artists #4: Jack Kirby

Welcome to another installment of the top 10 most influential artists of all time! Click here for the archive!

Today's influential artist is Jack Kirby!

 Image from Supreme: The Return, by Alan Moore and Rick Veitch

Why Is He Influential?

Jack Kirby is called "The King of Comics." Do you need an explanation beyond that?

Very well. In the 1950s, superhero comics - either the lifeblood or the choker of the industry -had fallen into a pattern. Most comics looked like this one of Superman fighting the Parasite (Action Comics 340), as drawn by Curt Swan:

Full, clean, diagrammatic layouts, with fluid linework was the standard. At the time, hampered by the Comics Code Authority, it seemed that superhero comics were neutered, incapable of truly cutting loose. In other words, it was getting boring.

Enter Jack Kirby, whose drawings could all be summed up in one word: power. This was evident even back in 1941, with the cover of Captain America 1:

But it was in the 60s, starting with his work on Fantastic Four with Stan "The Man" Lee, that Kirby did his best work. Foremost among his peers, Kirby - who was so prolific that he had spent the 50s working on and inventing various genres such as westerns, romance, and crime - broke all the conventions of what was then the superhero genre and spearheaded the superhero as we know it today. He really emphasized depth. Things like Thor's hammer could come right at you.

Or you could really feel the pain Reed Richards and the Thing are feeling as Galactus's Punisher beats on them:

Or you could sit there and be awed by the sheer design and detail of a Kirby machine:

Or you could feel the intensity of a fight as Kirby tightened the camera's view to increase the tension!

Kirby's stuff was so good, that he proved that fight scenes didn't need exposition!

No matter what he did, Kirby's work exuded power. He wasn't a stickler for anatomy - technical excellence was not the name of the game in Kirby's book, but it never mattered. He was the number one artist in the 60s, and he spearheaded the movement to revitalize superheroes and their visuals. If you've read a superhero comic in the last 50 years, it has Kirby's mark on it, proving that a lack of technical excellence can always be more than made up for if people can see the passion and energy in your work.

Also notably, Jack Kirby created around 90% of the icons of the Marvel Universe (Spider-Man and Wolverine being the most notable exceptions), and drew about four pages a day, compared with modern artists who could barely do four a week.

Will Eisner once said that the adventure comic was made for Jack Kirby. More than that, the adventure comic bows to Jack Kirby. He is, was, and will forever be the King.

What Works of His Should I Read?

Well, let's see, creating the Marvel Universe isn't enough of a start? It's widely agreed upon that Jack Kirby's best work is with Stan Lee on Fantastic Four, available on Marvel Masterworks, so I'd start there.

I'm very partial to his run on Thor, though, also available in Marvel Masterworks editions, but that's because I really like Thor.

And for those who want to see Kirby draw something he himself wrote, there's the original Fourth World/New Gods saga for DC, which is available in Omnibus editions.

Where Can I See His Influence?

I want you to take your Star Wars DVD, plug it in, and then watch it. That entire thing is inspired by Jack Kirby. Darth Vader was inspired by Dr. Doom, right down to the banquet scene. The story of a good son fighting against his father, who had been subdued by the Dark Side of the Force takes its cue from The New Gods, where Orion battles his father Darkseid, who is trying to control the Source.

Now back to comics. Kirby's influence can be seen in any modern superhero comic.

From Jim Steranko:

To Neal Adams:

To George Perez:

Who themselves are on this list! So that should emphasize Kirby's influence!

Where Can I Officially Find Him Online?

You can go to the Kirby Museum online here, and subscribe to the Jack Kirby Collector right here!


ike said...

Just want to mention na sold na yung mga Thor ko na Kirby except for one - #146 - First appearance and origin issue of the Inhumans. :P

Duy Tano said...

Nice work, sir. Enjoy the bank.

Darrell D. said...

Very nice. Short and to the point.
I think the influence Kirby had on comics can be a little understated at times, mainly because it has been a part of American comics for so long. He was Marvel's house Style. Romita, Colan and Buscema, all contemporaries of Kirby, were told to 'do it like Kirby'. Of course, that didn't mean ape his style; it meant be bombastic, widescreen, wide action. Colan and Romita got it right off, but Buscema, by his own account, took a little longer to catch on. Ironically, it would be John Buscema who would write 'How to draw comics the Marvel way.'
The newer artists took 'do it like Kirby' literally, and basically cloned his style. Guys like Byrne and Perez's early work is just pure Kirby.
In other words, Kirby is King, now and always.

Duy Tano said...

Thanks, Darrell. What do you think of Kirby's placement on this list? You'll notice that he's the highest-ranked superhero artist on this list (I don't count Eisner as one).

If I were to take a wild, wild stab at explaining why Buscema was chosen for HOW TO DRAW (it should have been Romita, since he was the art director, so he literally WAS "The Marvel Way"), it's because of his figure drawing. That was the superficial style that was famous and hot at the time, because he and Neal Adams were just tearing it up.

Perez's early work tried way too hard to be bombastic. He got much, much better the moment he incorporated some Eisner elements into his art.

Darrell D. said...

Well, for a list of top ten Superhero artist's, mine would have Kirby at the top. Personal preference to be sure, but the influence he had on the genre was pretty much total.
As for Buscema over Romita for the book, I think that Buscema was the perfect choice. Romita's figure and action scenes always seemed very weak to me, and Buscema's figures had a incredible flow to them.
Of course, the best book to by would be the one by Burne Hogarth.

Duy Tano said...

I would certainly agree with Kirby being the most influential superhero artist. I was more wondering what you thought of his placement on this list of most influential comics artists.

Darrell D. said...

I have no problem with that. 4 is damn good placing among the ones you have listed. I will admit to being pretty much ignorant of Osamu Tezuka and Manga in general, but I certainly can't dispute his influence.
If there was a list of 15, I would definitely add guys like Howard Chaykin for his impact on the US graphic novel, and the way he would use pages and lettering to become almost part of the art itself.

Duy Tano said...

I have never read a Tezuka book, ever. I have never read a manga, ever. But the more and more I researched this feature, I just had to put him at number one. I couldn't justify it in my head otherwise. I also went back and forth for days until the very day I posted this between McCay and Kirby. In the end, I had to go with McCay.

If I went through 15, I think my biggest omissions were Alex Toth, Milton Caniff, and Alex Raymond. I might have to put in Jim Lee too, just because of the SHEER number of artists I see right now who are citing Jim as an influence. But you make a good case for Chaykin.

Darrell D. said...

Yeah, Caniff and Raymond and Toth were amazingly influential. Jim Lee I am somewhat iffy on, as he really is just doing an updated version of Neal Adams.
Chaykin has been quoted as saying he is an artist's artist, in that his fellow artist can appreciate the craft and influence he has, even if the fans don't. The most recent book I can think as being influenced by Chaykin's work would be Transmetropolitan, especially the early issues. It has very much an American Flagg! vibe going, in terms of tone.

Duy Tano said...

About Jim Lee, that's one of the big problems about doing a feature like this. I'm not a fan of his (at all, really), and I do consider him to be a poor man's Neal Adams/George Perez, since he tried doing the same amount of detail but couldn't really make pages move, BUT at the same time, people do cite him quite often as an influence (here alone, just about every Filipino artist today from Leinil Yu to Philip Tan have cited him as an influence). Do I put him in because of that? Do I disregard it because Adams and Perez are already on the list anyway? At the end of the day, that call is subjective.

Another name I missed from the list and who would have made a longer list is definitely Walt Kelly. I don't think any funny animal strips would have been the same without him, and he was omitted just because there's barely any funny animal strips out right now.

Darrell D. said...

Walt Kelly is a good choice, but Harvey Kurtzman may be a better one, in terms of sheer influence on the independent scene.

Duy Tano said...

Kurtzman loses points for me on the artist list, just because he mostly did layouts and didn't really do finishes, especially for MAD, his best known work.

NOW, in a list of the most influential writers or editors, well... let's just say, stay tuned to the Cube for a couple of weeks

00Gonzo said...

I would put Arthur Adams before Jim Lee. It can be argued that Lee and the other Image artists aped their style from Adams' 80's work including his X-Men annuals and Longshot mini-series. In fact, now that I think about it, Adams deserves to be in the top 10 just for that.

Duy Tano said...

Lee's gone on record saying that it was Perez he was emulating.

I can't deny the influence of Art Adams, but I have a hard time seeing how he would possibly dislodge anyone from this list, and even beat out Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Walt Kelly, Alex Toth, and Burne Hogarth.

MetropolisQuartet said...

Just now seeing this. Nice job, but the page you attributed to Curt Swan was actually Al Plastino. If you look at the cover of Action Comics #340 (the issue the page is from) you'll see that Swan did the cover, but not the interior work. Al Plastino was not a super-hero artist, but a cartoonist, hence the rather static portrayal of the action, there.

Brian Chidester said...

The '80s saw quite a few comics and characters influenced by Kirby. I'd point out, especially, Voltron and the Transformers, both of whose blocky, geometric anatomies and extreme uses of perspective are almost directly stolen from Kirby's renderings of Galactus, Orion, and the Celestials. There's also the case of He-Man and the "Masters of the Universe" toys, comics, and TV series. It's just my opinion, but I don't think any character came as close to employing all the best elements of the Kirby style, from the square-jawed hero, to the chiascurro of the musculature, to the use of medieval motifs in a wonky context. I believe the director of the live-action "Masters" film spoke openly about the influence of Kirby on his film, though the characters did not originate there.

keythd23 said...

The usual mistake is made here of crediting Kirby as the creator of 90% of the Marvel Universe, instead of co-creator (with Stan Lee).

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