Comics

Friday Mini Book Review: Kirby: King of Comics

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Mini book reviews of days gone by.

Kirby: King of Comics, by Mark Evanier (Abrams, 2008). Man, is this old fan glad he's lived to see the day when comic book artists get this sort of serious, impeccably reproduced and designed, respected artist giant art book treatment. This book is half coffee table art book and half a mini-bio of the most important superhero artist of all time, Jack Kirby, co-creator of everything from Captain America to the Fantastic Four to the Hulk to the X-Men to Darkseid; with that cosmic villanous creation now dominating the D.C. universe, it's fair to say that both major comic companies are now to a large extent still running on Kirby's fumes.

Kirby's story has its tragic aspects; the nature of work-made-for-hire in the comics industry meant that he never reaped the benefits of the enormous wealth his creations have thrown off over the past half-century; his poor treatment from the companies he built, and from his long-time writing partner Stan Lee, turned him into a somewhat bitter man, though one who always had time for his fans. Evanier writes from the inside; he was a personal assistant and then friend to Kirby for most of the last couple of decades of his life, and is working on a monumental pure biography of the man as well.

While the anecdotes and facts about Kirby's career and some of the sad details of his decline in skill and reputation are interesting and sometimes maddening, what makes this book a joy and a treasure and dominates the readers attention are the art reproductions, from pure pencils to inked pages to full color repros of Kirby's scintillating pages and covers--giant pen and ink Galactus heads! Page after page of pure uninked Kirby pencils! Giant lithe Captain America's bashing through walls! Page-sized sea monsters wrecking the Challengers of the Unknown's boat! Larger than life penciled Hulks leaping right in your face! Penciled Karnaks chopping Krazy Kirby machinery! Psychedelic full color Metron collages! Double-page-spread spaceships dominating the skyline! Va-Va-Voom Barda pinups!-- and the "King," as hardworking and dedicated an artist as we've ever known, wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

I'm enough of a fanatic for him to declare, dogmatically, that if you don't dig Kirby, you don't dig LIFE!!, man. As Kirby himself once said of the issue in which he introduced Don Rickles' twin Goody Rickles into Jimmy Olson's war against Darkseid and the anti-life equation, "Don't Ask! Just Buy It!"