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August 28, 2005


CR Sunday Magazine

Eight Stories For The Rest of 2005

For the eight afternoons August 21-28, I'll attempt to mitigate the late-summer blues by listing and discussing a developing story, which will hopefully spark your interest in the months ahead. This would be the last one.

1. The Publication of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
2. The Gordon Lee Case Goes to Trial
3. The Continuing Weirdness That Is Marvel Vs. DC
4. The Return of Alt-Comix?
5. Books-With-Spines Bonanza
6. Catching Up to Manga
7. Pick Your Poison: Pressures Mount at Home and Abroad for Editorial Cartoonists
8. Webcomics Models Still Up For Grabs?

Jack Kirby Would Have Been 88 Today

I'm an admirer of the comic book artist and writer Jack Kirby (1917-1994). It would have been his 88th birthday today.

Kirby's mid-1960s output with scripting and some unknown level of writing and plotting input by Stan Lee remains to my mind his best sustained work and the key to his bid for "all-time great" status. Kirby had been a sublime action artist since the start of comic books, and supplied many cartoonists of the early American funnybook era with the visual language that came to define such books. But the 1960s Marvel material allowed him to bring into the mix all of his skills with quiet sequences fashioned by so many romance books and the rhythms of spectacle-oriented sci-fi comics. They also tapped an underutilized talent for design. I don't make the claim for greatness with material that is as frequently broad and simplistic as the 1960s Marvels lightly, nor do I extend that claim to every piece of pulp with which I became infatuated while I was a youth. It's that for me, the quality of Kirby's visual imagination in this period seems impossible to deny. I could stare at this stuff for years.

My estimation of its quality or artistic worth aside, this comic book is probably my favorite Kirby.

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It's the story of Kamandi and Ben Boxer (and I think Boxer's friends as well) trapped in an installation by these incredibly furious man-bats. Our heroes negotiate with an unpleasant little creature for a while; eventually a virus is released and they escape. What's wonderful about the issue is how it traffics in kids' concerns: shutting a door before monsters get you, trying to get people to do something for you, finding out why stuff is the way it is, taking on faith one or two unexplainable events and, finally, running away from something that equals pure death. That's like an afternoon playing games at your buddy's house when you're a kid. Not only is the comic conceptually solid, but Kirby draws bad-ass monsters, really disagreeable adults, and incredibly nasty-looking viruses. It's overwhelming but only in a way that challenges our imagination rather than asks us to believe in some subtle ugliness of human interaction. There are even crude parallells that are kind of charming, like the bats as a virus of their own, destroying the vessel around them (the machinery) as they move and aggressively try to spread, or the fact that the adults have the protection of steel while the younger Kamandi is naked and vulnerable. Works like this issue of Kamandi showcase really basic uses of the form in ways that trump its frequent lack of sophistication.

I think those are roughly the same kind of reasons I like this comic, as well:

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I didn't read this until a few years ago, but it works as entertainment because it combines three pretty potent childhood fears that linger long into adulthood -- not having adults believe you, not living up to a specific adult's trust in you, and issues of effectiveness like not being big enough to help or becoming too big to move -- with some terrifyingly odd-looking creatures like that thing with the red helmet-head and rockets on its back. Kirby seemed to grasp that superhero comics were a brilliant stage for basic expressions of movement, color, size and space, extremes that when seen through a younger person's eyes can blow things up until they're understandable. That doesn't by itself mean that superheroes are always a genre for kids, or only so, but rather that they really work well that way, at least when in the hands of a formidable artist.

Anyway, Kirby's comics are all pretty great, and since it's his birthday we should remember that.

Happy 34th Birthday, Joann Sfar!

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Initial Thought For The Day

Since I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who scans the letters page of every pre-1990s comic book he reads looking for names of future comics professionals, I figure I also can't be alone when it comes to scanning art credits when I'm looking at old fanzine/magazine interviews. Here's two Wonder Woman pictures that show up in the general proximity of Roy Thomas Comics Journal interviews (don't ask): a back cover from Frank Miller inked by Terry Austin, and a Jaime Hernandez when Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez were turning out a lot of incidental artwork for that magazine.

The Jaime is all bitmappy because 1) my scanning skills are atrocious and 2) until 1985 comics magazines were printed on rolls of dark gray industrial toilet paper left over from the Korean War.

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By the way, isn't the following a pretty cool cover? I love the way the cover works as the intersection between two lines, and how strong the cat's face is. I think the off-beat coloring is what puts it over the top, though -- you don't see a lot of that particular red or yellows generally on comics racks. I also like the fact there's no cover type other than the logo, even if it's generally bad business not to let potential buyers know what you're covering in a magazine.

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While I'm scanning, my brother sent me the following clipping out of the Chicago Tribune with the scrawled note, "Why is the Hulk wearing Batman's costume?" And you know, he does look pretty huge. I never really understood this particular brand of superhero comics exaggeration. Look at those forearms -- it's like two of Steve McQueen's fused together.

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