The Collected Jack Kirby Collector: Volume One
by John Morrow (editor)
Jack Kirby was the creator or co-creator of almost every Marvel Comics super-hero and villain you ever heard of, including The Fantastic Four, Magneto, the X-Men, and Doctor Doom. And that’s the tip of a mighty big iceberg — I guarantee you, right now, somewhere a Kirby fan is reading this and thinking “That idiot! He’s forgotten…” Through his work there and for a myriad of other companies, he was one of the most — if not the most — influential artists in all of comics. There are few today who did not learn from him, from the biggest star to the rawest newbie.
That said, this book is not the place to start if you always loved Kirby’s work and knew his name but little beyond that. Collecting (as the title implies) the first nine issues of John Morrow’s acclaimed Jack Kirby Collector magazine, this is “fannish” from top to bottom. Not a thorough, “warts and all” look at an undeniably great man in comics or thoughtful writings placing his work in historic context. It is affectionate, devoted overkill for those who cannot get enough of their favorite artist.
None of the preceding is meant as criticism. The book so openly is what it is that to criticize it as I might others would be like shooting a kitten with a crossbow. The only thing I would suggest is that I don’t think it was necessary to reprint the whole contents of each issue, including the dated and redundant news items. Perhaps in future volumes, this could be replaced by a one-page “roundup” of Kirby-related news from the period covered, complete with updates.
This is one of those books where if you’re likely to purchase it, all I have to do is let you know it’s available, and what I think doesn’t come into it at all. But just in case some of you are on the fence, let me lay down a few more strokes of what’s included.
The late Mr. Kirby’s fans, who are quite literally legion, will cherish the rare pencil drawings reprinted in each issue — among them, pages from a never-published comics adaptation of the Prisoner TV series. A two-part talk with inker Mike Royer is my favorite of the interviews with Kirby’s colleagues and friends (who seem to have been, almost without exception, one and the same). Another of these, the writer Mark Evanier, contributed an introduction to this volume and appears several times within. Archival material from Kirby himself includes an expanded transcript of a videotaped interview given in 1987 and a reprinted conversation from 1972, also featuring Jim Steranko, Alex Toth, and Sol Harrison. I was especially taken by Kirby’s comments on what really lay behind Doctor Doom’s mask.
Richard Kyle writes, in a 1967 article reprinted in the special Fantastic Four issue of Jack Kirby Collector — which in turn is reprinted here — that the FF stories Kirby worked on with Stan Lee “would all be destroyed if any of them were taken seriously for a single moment.” He then goes on to argue that in spite of the utter preposterousness of many of the comics if taken at face value — I mean, a bare naked guy riding a surfboard in space? — these stories had somehow produced “something serious and valuable.”
There’s something of the dichotomy of the comics fan in those seemingly contradictory statements; on the one hand, you know the characters and plots are sometimes, maybe more often than not, paper-thin. On the other, it can’t be denied that greatness and beauty can be achieved. It’s within that dichotomy that most comic creators and their fans live; some, like Jack Kirby, thrived.
Kirby’s place in the history of comics is assured, but just in case it wasn’t, people like Morrow are doing their best to make sure. True, a little more perspective might be desired; this is promised in Evanier’s forthcoming, much-anticipated biography. A somewhat more critical look at the artist can also be found in Fantagraphics’ Jack Kirby. However, this book and the magazine it collects are perfectly content to be bricks in the monument to Kirby’s art and life. And it would be hard to say there are many comics creators more deserving.