Monday, June 2, 2014

Jack Kirby and Comic Book Mysticism -Disinformation

 Originally published June 2, 2014 via disinfo.com

You may not recognize the name Jack Kirby, but if you’ve ever argued with your friends over who gets to be Cyclops when you were playing X-Men in your backyard, then you’ve been touched by his creations.

Jack “King” Kirby was a comic book artist/writer/creator between the 30s and the 70s, whose work is arguably the most influential in the medium.  He created and co-created some of the most recognizable superheroes: Captain America, Thor, the Silver Surfer, the Hulk, the X-men, the Fantastic Four, the New Gods, and on and on.

His era of the comic industry is marred by poor pay-rates and draconian business models, where more often than not, artists were handing over their creations for pennies, and were happy just to get their name in the credits.  To make any money at it, Kirby would sit at his drawing board for twelve to fourteen hours a day, pushing out four or five comics a month.  And we’re not talking about hack junkers.  His books were vital, exciting, and changed the face of comic books.

He introduced the dramatic forced perspective that has become the norm, as well as the epically-proportioned cosmic stories that we’ve all come to expect from the medium.  His more realistic characterization of superheroes in The Fantastic Four (1961) would single-handedly establish the tone of Marvel Comics for the following decade; challenging the portrayal of superheroes as clean-cut boy scouts with square jaws, and replacing them with psychologically flawed neurotics and monsters.

The lasting effect of his work on the medium can still be felt today, but there may be more to this story than just a talented artist and prolific creator.  Author Christopher Knowles (Our Gods Wear Spandex) has toyed with the idea that Kirby’s creations may have been the result of a mystical experience, making him a twentieth-century version of a shaman.

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