Fitting tribute A must for any fan of classic superhero comics, this tribute to Jack Kirby fizzles with energy, passion and amazing art
We’ve all been influenced by Jack Kirby, whether we know it or not. Known in the industry as the King of Comics, the New York artist was responsible for creating or cocreating some of the best-known characters of the 20th century, including Captain America, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor. And to those who followed he was basically a god.
Reading his strips as a youngster, author Mark Evanier was typically hooked, describing the experience as “like sticking needles into an electric socket”. In a perfect world, he says, we’d all be able to walk around a huge museum of Jack’s art, but instead “you will have to settle for this book.” Thankfully, as consolation prizes go, it’s a pretty darned fine one.
A revised edition of the 2008 original, part of the reason this book works so well is Mark’s unadulterated joy for his subject. “Jack Kirby made comics move, he made them buzz and crash and explode,” he writes, in an excitable tone that continues throughout. And his curation of Jack’s art is similarly inspired. We’ve seen many compilations of comic art in book form before, but we can’t recall one quite so packed and full of varied and superlative work.
We can’t recall a comic art compilation quite so packed and full of superlative work
There’s a staggering amount of classic strips and cover art on show, and most pieces are awarded the fullpage treatment that they deserve. The selection never gets repetitive either. We get a host of rare treats, including Jack’s caricatures of contemporary celebrities, from Joan Crawford to Henry Ford; a social-realist strip called Street Code, about the ugliness of city life; early newspaper cartoons; and comic strips about cowboys, Indians and romantic love.
But what we’re most interested in, of course, are the superheroes, and there’s plenty of that to go round too, from well-known titles to rarer stuff like the wartime Fighting American and early 70s creation The New Gods. There’s both finished work and behind-the-scenes art. Included in the latter are rough sketches and cover mockups, plastered in original, scribbled notes for improvement.
The new edition is rounded off with a short chapter dealing with events since the publication of the first book, notably Jack’s death and court battles over unpaid royalties. It’s a bit of a downer to end on, but it won’t last for long, because this is a book you’ll find yourself dipping into again and again.
Author Mark Evanier was a friend of Jack, and so had access to original artwork, such as this panel from The Fighting American.
In 1968/69 Jack drew up new Asgard character designs. Thor gained a similar outlandish treatment.