• Michael Dooley

Design Influence & Inspiration in Jack Kirby’s Comic Art

Print’s Steven Brower covered Los Angeles’s apocalypse from the safety of the East Coast, but I experienced it firsthand. The opening of Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby at Cal State Northridge Art Galleries was duly noted in Brower’s column last month, the latest in his cottage industry of Kirby features; also see here, here, and here. As for us Southern Californians who’ve lived through the 1994 quake as well as the jam-packed opening reception — photos below — I’m delighted to see fewer acts of God in Northridge these days and more acts of the show’s curator, CSUN Professor Charles Hatfield.

Devil Dinosaur #4, 1978. Jack Kirby: pencils, Mike Royer: inks and letters.

Comic Book Apocalypse has more than 100 original art boards on display, from Kirby’s early Captain America and Young Romance through his Silver Age covers and pages for X-Men, Fantastic Four, and so on, to the Silver Surfer and Kamandi from after relocating from New York to the San Fernando Valley, not far from the gallery. Interactive displays and vitrines of comic books are also part of the visual experience.

The show is free and open until October 10th. However, the smartest strategy is to show up this coming Saturday, September 26th at 1pm. That’s when you’ll also hear a Kirby panel discussion with art critic Doug Harvey, painter Steve Roden, scholar Ben Saunders, and cultural theorist Scott Bukatman. Hatfield also tells me there might be a surprise speaker or two. In any event, after their talk they’ll be available to sign the hot-off-the-press Comic Book Apocalypse book to which they contributed.

It’s part full-color catalog, part compilation of essays, and all handsomely designed. Brower mentioned it in his piece as “sure to become a collector’s item,” although he hadn’t yet seen it. Anyway, forget that poly-bagging nonsense: with more than 100 generously-sized art images and twenty smart, diverse, and enlightening texts, it’s really meant to be savored and shared at comics conventions and on coffee tables by all enthusiasts of work by the hyperbolically monikered “King of Comics.”

Demon #6, 1973. Jack Kirby: pencils, Mike Royer: inks and letters.

Published by IDW, the book will debut at Saturday’s gallery talk, then be available online, and in bookstores and comics shops after that. But as an exclusive to Print readers — and through Professor Hatfield’s benevolence — I’m sharing excerpts and images from the writings that focus on creative artistic influences and inspirations. In two of the essays Saunders — who co-authored the volume with Hatfield — and veteran comics editor Diana Schutz explore aspects of Kirby’s graphic evolution over the course of his lengthy and prolific career. Artist-scholar Andrei Molotiu’s contribution compares Kirby’s work to famed 18th Century architectural fantasist Piranesi, as well as Picasso and other artists. Howard Chaykin, a 40-year veteran of the comic book wars and masterful graphic stylist who I’ve interviewed here, critically discusses the developmental pas de deux between Kirby’s and Harvey Kurtzman’s 1950s war stories. Cartoonist-illustrator Carla Speed McNeil tracks Kirby’s impact on Jaime Hernandez back to his earliest work, while writer-filmmaker Ann Nocenti notes where artists Trevor McCarthy and Tradd Moore reference Kirby in their resurrection of Klarion the Witch Boy from Kirby’s Demon. And superhero artist Mark Badger credits Kirby with providing him a whole lifetime of incentive and education. So enjoy this special sampler.

And if you’re interested in more, here’s my recent feature on Marvel’s Daredevil that notes Kirby’s involvement in the character’s development. Oh, and my write-up on an earlier CSUN show, Valley Vista: Art in the San Fernando Valley ca. 1970–1990. And of course, let’s not forget “Brower, Steven.”


Young Romance #1, 1947. Simon and Kirby Studio.

Fantastic Four #51, 1966. Jack Kirby: pencils, Artie Simek: inks.

Diana Schutz ~

“Though Kirby was already known for the symbolic splash pages that opened many of his early ‘40s stories… it was in the romance genre that he would take the splash page a step further, into a territory we might call emotionally apocalyptic.” … “These titles… visually evince all the Sturm und Drang possible in an otherwise lighthearted post-War era, and are clear forerunners to Kirby’s better-known soliloquy splash pages of the ‘60s, such as Fantastic Four #51’s “This Man, This Monster!”

Captain America Comics #1, 1941. Jack Kirby: pencils, Joe Simon: inks.

Rawhide Kid #32, 1963. Jack Kirby: pencils, Dick Ayers: inks and letters.

Ben Saunders ~

“Kirby’s page layouts of the early 1940s… employed complex quadrilaterals to convey dynamic energy — trapezoids and rhomboids that rarely managed to contain the drama within their bounds.”… “[A] page from the Rawhide Kid catches Kirby at the apex of what we might… call his ‘middle style’… [T]he basic grid is mathematically perfect in its simplicity… [and] The decision to leave the third and sixth panels borderless… is judicious – particularly in the third panel, where the heightened sensation of openness aligns perfectly with the Kid’s sudden realization that he is vulnerable…”

Fantastic Cityscape, 1966. Jack Kirby: pencil drawing.

Prisons, plate VII, 1760. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: etching.

Andrei Molotiu ~

[on Futuristic Cityscape:] “Of course it doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t need to. This is a drawing. It’s a science-fictional cityscape rendered in graphite on paper…” … “[T]he sublime vision of his work is [close] to that of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. … Piranesi’s vast interior spaces, constructed of bridges, arches, columns, staircases, and instruments of torture seem to arise as much from a graphic impulse, from the rhythms of black and white, as does Kirby’s drawing.”

Foxhole #2, 1954. Jack Kirby: pencils and inks.

Frontline Combat #7, 1952. Harvey Kurtzman: pencils and inks.

Howard Chaykin ~

“…Gil [Kane] pointed to Kirby, in particular his approach to rendering, as an influence on [Harvey] Kurtzman. I took this very seriously, and saw precisely what he was talking about. Of course, what we have here with these pages from Foxhole is a perfect place to see these confluences, the back-and-forth inspiration between Kirby and Kurtzman…”

Love and Rockets #4, 1983. Jaime Hernandez.

OMAC #3, 1975. Jack Kirby, pencils. D. Bruce Berry, inks and letters.

Carla Speed McNeil ~

“Jaime Hernandez has most of his fun when he’s closest to his Kirby roots. In his early work, when Love and Rockets’s Maggie was a mechanic, Jaime never worried about throwing huge, chunky flying machines and craggy planets and mysterious bits of tech into his work – nor square-jawed superheroes and space queens.”

Demon #7, 1973. Jack Kirby: pencils, Mike Royer: inks and letters.

Klarion #1, 2014. Trevor McCarthy: pencils and inks.

Klarion #4, 2015. Tradd Moore: pencils and inks.

Ann Nocenti ~

“Last year, artist Trevor McCarthy and I were given the assignment to revive Klarion in a six-issue DC Comics series. We wanted to pay homage to Kirby in the opening sequence of issue #1 – a splash page followed by two double-page spreads… On the cover of Klarion #4, artist Tradd Moore, as if in homage (intended or not) to our very page here [see above], revisits Klarion as trussed and hung upside-down, smiling his snide grin.”

Mister Miracle #6, 1972. Jack Kirby: pencils, Mike Royer: inks and letters.

Mark Badger: “Daily Kirby” study of Mister Miracle #6, life drawing study, Kirby-inspired Julius Caesar.

Mark Badger ~

“No artist has been a more inspiring model to me, or maintained my interest as long, as Jack Kirby. When I was eight, his Captain America was the most exciting comic ever, and I copied it. At fifty-six, I still puzzle over those damn black dots he draws and how exciting the shimmer of positive and negative tension is within them.”

The following photos of Comic Book Apocalypse‘s August 29th opening reception are by M. Dooley.

Pre-Photoshop splash page process: inking, whiting out, typesetting, gluing, etc. in 1954.

New Genesis: one of the gallery’s vinyl wall hangings.

Romance under glass: 1947 comics in a vitrine.

Drifting into infinity: in 1966 the X-Acto was Kirby’s drug of choice.

Joe Simon busts Kirby: photo of the artist as a 1949 comic book cover boy.

Nope, nothing Freudian here: Nick Fury had his hands full in 1966.

Mr. President, death on line two: some perspective on the Spirit World in 1971.

Ghosts at an exhibition: reflections on a 1976 Space Odyssey.

“A hostile race in a nightmare world!” or gallery geeks in a Valley university: you be the judge.

Silver Surfer #18, 1970. Jack Kirby: pencils, Herb Trimpe: inks, Sam Rosen: letters.

If you’re interested in comic books, chances are you’ve heard the names Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. After all, their partnership paved the way for the Golden Age of comics beginning in the 1940s. With The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio by Mark Evanier, learn more about the duo who invented noteworthy characters like Captain America and Sandman, conceived the idea of romance comics, and created a new standard for the genres of crime, western, and horror comic books. Take a look inside the various aspects of their career, and see some of the works that defined them.

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About Michael Dooley

Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.

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