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Kirby: King of Comicsby Mark Evanier
Synopses & Reviews
Jack Kirby created or co-created some of comic books' most popular characters including Captain America, The X-Men, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor, Darkseid, and The New Gods. More significantly, he created much of the visual language for fantasy and adventure comics. There were comics before Kirby, but for the most part their page layout, graphics, and visual dynamic aped what was being done in syndicated newspaper strips. Almost everything that was different about comic books began in the forties on the drawing table of Jack Kirby. This is his story by one who knew him well — the authorized celebration of the one and only "King of Comics" and his groundbreaking work.
Original pull-out poster art by Alex Ross.
In July 2007, the U.S. Post Office will unveil 20 Marvel Comics postage stamps, 8 of which will feature Jack Kirby artwork.
"As a teenager, future television and comics writer Evanier became an assistant to Jack Kirby, one of the foremost artists in the history of American comics. Kirby played a major role in shaping the superhero genre, not only through his innovative, dynamic artwork but through collaborating with Stan Lee to create classic Marvel characters like the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and the X-Men. Evanier has now written this magnificently illustrated biography of his mentor. Rather than employing the academic prose that one might expect from an art book, Evanier, a talented raconteur, tells Kirby's life story in an informal, entertaining manner. Although Evanier does not delve into psychological analysis, he brings Kirby's personality vividly alive: a child of the Great Depression, a creative visionary who struggled most of his life to support his family. The book recounts how Kirby was insufficiently appreciated by clueless corporate executives and close-minded comics professionals. But the stunning artwork in this book, taken from private collections, makes the case for Kirby's genius. A landmark work, this is essential reading for comics fans and those who want to better understand the history of the comics medium — or those who just want to enjoy Kirby's incredible artwork." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Jack Kirby, possibly the greatest of American comic book artists, battled his whole life, first in a kid gang, then as an infantryman in World War II. Then he fought against the shortsighted corporations who ran his medium of expression — funny books — as if his contributions hardly mattered. With the rising academic interest in comics, new battles have erupted over whether he had artistic intent... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) or just a perpetual adolescent worldview. 'Kirby,' a stunning new collection of his art, will settle some — but not all — of those scores. Kirby's output is overwhelming: He co-created the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Thor, the Sandman and an entire universe, the Fourth World, which you might not have heard of, but George Lucas surely did when distilling the Star Wars mythos. And Kirby's influence extends beyond popular film into contemporary literature. Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Walter Mosley, Colson Whitehead and Junot Diaz have all acknowledged their debts to him. Me too, for that matter. I own a collage, reproduced in 'Kirby,' of Mister Fantastic exclaiming: 'I've done it!! I'm drifting into a world of limitless dimensions!!' — which is how I wish I felt when writing. In December 1940, Kirby catapulted comics into World War II — a year before America itself — by drawing Captain America punching Hitler. He made perspective scream; characters' swinging fists were larger than their heads and harder than adamantium. Emotions flared from each panel: anger, nobility, lust. 'Splashes' — single panels taking up the whole page — weren't enough for him; he created the 'double splash,' commemorating actions of such limitless dimensions that they filled two pages. And, holy smokes, does this book show that stuff off. A revelation to me was the obscure 1950s 'Foxhole' comic — in which a D-Day GI, whose flat-bandaged face indicates his nose has been shot off, is writing a letter: 'Dear Mom — The war is like a picnic! — Today we spent A DAY AT THE BEACH!' Almost every page presents a jaw-dropper of an image: Doctor Doom leading a robot army, the Avengers wrestling the Hulk, The Thing slumped morosely in the rain, the Silver Surfer conquering outer space. So what did Kirby get out of the industry he so influenced? According to Mark Evanier's history, the answer is bupkis. Kirby entered the game in the mid-'30s with the naive view that 'You make your boss rich and he'll take care of you.' The puzzle is why by the late '70s he hadn't figured out his mistakes, as he continued to see his creations make a lot of money for a lot of other people. Stan Lee, who wrote the dialogue for or co-wrote many of his greatest stories, ended up with all the credit. Setting the record straight after years of distortions, lies and bad memories is one of Evanier's fortes. Another is to explain how Kirby went from simple adventure tales to tangling, in the '70s, with theology and social upheavals. Evanier's style is informal and informative, and, as befits his career in television writing, he's quick with the story twists and turns (even as the fanboy inside me notes that The Demon ran for 16, not 18, issues). But it is an odd experience to read this back-to-back with David Michaelis' biography 'Schulz and Peanuts,' which has been castigated for its seeming fixation on Schulz's poor qualities. Evanier, in contrast, presents Kirby as a decent and generous soul with some understandable fits of frustration. Contemporary accounts agree with that assessment, but a reader hungers for something deeper to explain his violent and angry imagery. For instance, Kirby seems to have had post-traumatic stress disorder after World War II, and I suspect that certain recurrent figures in his artwork came from his unconscious attempt to work out the horrors of the battlefield. Evanier treads lightly on Kirby's dark side, perhaps out of respect for a man who got so little of it during his lifetime (he died in 1994). But examining the alchemy by which human experience becomes art would explain why Kirby matters. At the same time, Evanier's attempt to document the history of comics and Kirby's place in them is probably impossible in just 35,000 words. According to his blog, he's working on a 'fans-only' biography, already 250,000 words and growing, that might capture the subject. It's extraordinary that Abrams, a publisher of art books — rather than a fanzine or specialty press — has produced a volume about a comic book artist. But the result is an exuberant celebration of a pop-art cornucopia. Like Mister Fantastic, Jack Kirby really did throw us into a world of limitless dimensions. It's a fun trip. Glen David Gold is the author of the novels 'Carter Beats the Devil' and the forthcoming 'Sunnyside.'" Reviewed by Glen David Gold, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"I don't think it's any accident that...the entire Marvel universe and the entire DC universe are all pinned or rooted on Kirby's concepts." Michael Chabon
"Evanier successfully evokes the proper mystique and respect for this creative giant while revealing his human side. Since his death, a handful of books has attempted to showcase or grant insight into Jack Kirby, but none has succeeded quite like Kirby: King of Comics, the perfect tribute to both the artist and the man." Austin Chronicle
"[A] lavish celebration....Evanier, who knew Kirby for twenty-five years and worked as his assistant, treats him as a superhero in his own right..." J. Hoberman, BookForum
"Mark Evanier's superbly designed, suitably giant Kirby: King of Comics tells how this workhorse genius (191794) created most of the Marvel Comics "universe" almost single-handedly....This book's king is heroic, tragic, and visionary." Entertainment Weekly
"Lavishly infused with Kirby's art, Mark Evanier's heartfelt biography/homage successfully invokes the proper awe and respect for this creative giant while revealing his human side." SFSite.com
Jack Kirby created or co-created some of comic books most popular characters, including Captain America, the X-Men, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. More significantly, he created much of the visual language for fantasy and adventure comics. Official Kirby biographer Mark Evanier delivers this authorized celebration of the one and only King of Comics and his groundbreaking work.
About the Author
Mark Evanier met Jack Kirby in 1969, worked as his assistant, and later became his official biographer. A writer and historian, Evanier has written more than 500 comics for Gold Key, DC Comics, and Marvel Comics, several hundred hours of television (including Garfield) and is the author of several books including Mad Art (2002). He has three Emmy Award nominations, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award for animation from the Writers Guild of America.
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