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opinion

Kirby Remembered...and Defiled

Posted: Saturday, August 12
By: Alan David Doane

In the time since Jack Kirby died, there have been countless tributes paid to his memory in letters columns, articles, online postings, even stories such as the most recent issue of Supreme, written by Alan Moore.

In that story, written some time ago by Moore and finally released by Rob Liefeld's Awesome Comics, Supreme goes on a journey to discover something very much like a God of the Imagination. It will come as no surprise to most comics fans to find out that that God and Jack Kirby share a face (and a cigar, of course).

SBC writer Rob Vollmar recommended this issue to me, and although I have some minor quibbles with its message (Jack Kirby thought of himself as a guy doing a job, I believe, not as some sort of deity of comics), its sincerity and high quality are unquestionable. Alan Moore obviously loved Jack Kirby--and the artform, at least in the U.S., owes its very existence to the man born Jacob Kurtzburg.

It comes as no small irony that I should receive on the same day two items purporting to pay tribute to Kirby: The Jack Kirby Collector magazine #29 and Captain Victory #1 published by Jack Kirby Comics.

Doing Justice to the King

John Morrow and his colleagues at TwoMorrows are to be congratulated for creating some of the most terrific comics magazines ever. While they frequently lack the depth or controversy of the Comics Journal, The Jack Kirby Collector, Comic Book Artist and the other TwoMorrows publications also provide comics fans with invaluable glimpses at never-before-seen pencil art by some of the greatest artists in comics and interviews giving voice to creators with valuable insight into the artform who might not otherwise ever have been heard. You can be certain neither Wizard nor the Journal has any use at all for interviews with Alan Kupperberg or Rich Buckler. Yet, for all that you could say to criticize the output of both these comics mainstays, they were there, and they both have recently shared their memories in the pages of TwoMorrows issues.

I also am very fond of the covers Morrow has chosen for the Jack Kirby collector. The most recent issue has a classic Kirby piece, re-inked by Klaus Janson, featuring a slew of mid-70s Avengers. Given that Kirby's covers for that title during the 70s are among some of my all time favourites, this colourful assemblage of heroes is nothing less than a joy to behold. What I wouldn't give for a full-colour print of this image to frame and hang on my wall. Top notch!

Inside, there are many reasons to recommend this issue, including an unusually large number of Kirby covers in pencil form from his 70's stint at Marvel. The articles on Kirby and his art vary in quality from acceptable to excellent--but the true attraction here is the interview beginning on page 12 with Jack and Roz Kirby. What a treasure.

No, it's not about comics, although the couple does discuss Jack's career. The main focus of the interview is the relationship of the two, especially their early years from the day they met to their early married years. Along with an earlier issue's reminiscences by Kirby of his World War II experiences, TJKC is providing Kirby fans with genuine insight into the personality and life of the man in a way no comics story ever did. Sure, a lot of what we've learned about Kirby in these pieces is not surprising given his comics work. But to hear it in his own words is a real gift. I hope that comics fandom and the creative community realizes what a rare thing it is to be able to learn to much about someone so talented. If you are a comics fan in general or a Kirby fan in particular, if you're not reading the Jack Kirby Collector, you're doing yourself a grave disservice.

Speaking of Grave Disservices

I'm not trying to be cruel or heartless here--but I am not going to pull any punches either. Captain Victory #1 is an absolutely worthless piece of garbage; I can't imagine a greater insult to Jack Kirby's memory.

The cover to this comic looks to be a Kirby panel chosen to be blown up into a cover--but even if it was originally intended as a cover, it's a minor piece by Kirby standards. It also represents the last acceptable piece of Kirby work presented in this issue.

The story behind this issue is fairly sad, given its end result. Jeremy Kirby, Jack's grandson, has taken existing Kirby artwork and reconfigured it in hopes of attracting Kirby fans. Contrary to that intent, this grotesque monstrosity will drive them away in droves.

Run!The main problem, really, is the printing. It's in black and white, and the quality is somewhat below what you would achieve if you copied a colour comic on a Xerox machine after hours at work, without paying any attention at all to whether the copies you were printing were too light or dark. In fact, it looks like third or fourth generation copies; dark, blurry, murky. Jeremy Kirby has achieved what even the incompetent inking of Vince Colletta could never achieve: Kirby's genius is completely cloaked by the ugly printing quality.

The publisher cannot claim, either, that something went wrong at the printer. The captions and word balloons are perfectly clear. Only the artwork is obscured, obscured beyond readability.

Too bad, because the idiotic, poorly edited script might have been forgiven if Kirby's art were presented either in full, clear colour or crisp black and white. At least the book would have an excuse to exist. I pretty much expected, actually, that that scenario was the one that would be seen here before I saw the issue. Instead, the not-unexpectedly sorry script is the "best" thing in this utterly unforgettable slap in the face to Kirby and his fans.

The script appears to have been lettered with the Microsoft comic book font, and is filled with such errors as "It will create life in it's own image" and bad syntax as "He must stop Blackmass and his troops before the universe is once again Blackmass' toy." Yes, those two examples come from the first caption.

The word balloons around the dialogue are badly drawn and the lettering awkwardly placed within them. Not that the words themselves are worth reading. In the final caption, we are told next issue Cap will face "The Lightening Lady!" Perhaps she will "lighten" the dark and unappealing printing on display here--but I'll be quite surprised if this title ever makes it to a second issue. It certainly doesn't deserve to.

It would be nice if the industry had stepped up to the plate and helped Jeremy Kirby out to make this project a more fitting tribute. Mark Evanier and Rob Liefeld are thanked on the inside front cover for helping out--but I can't believe either of them would ever allow their own work to ever be presented in this poor a package.

It should be noted one piece of art receives a fairly clear printing--a conceptual drawing from Liefeld. When that is the best thing you can say about a comic book, you know something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Doubtless this issue will occupy quarter bins for years to come. Should you come across it there, skip it; it's a rip-off and a travesty even at that price.

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