Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jack Kirby

Today marks the 93rd anniversary of Jack Kirby's birth. Since his passing in '94, interest in his life and work continues to grow. Hardcover collections of his work are available not just in comic book shops, but bookstores everywhere -- likewise books about Kirby (see Mark Evanier's wonderful volume). The gorgeous tabloid-sized periodical, The Jack Kirby Collector continues its long run. And Kirby's comic book creations are lighting up movie screens all over the world.

Of all the cartoonists whose work I adore, I have to say Kirby had the biggest impact on me. His 1960's collaborations with Stan Lee at Marvel had me reading at a 6th grade level in 1st grade (hey -- you had to learn those big words just to keep up!) -- and inspired me to want to become a cartoonist. As a kid, my bedroom walls were covered with manilla paper pencil and crayon copies of images from Kirby comics.

As a pro cartoonist, with three decades in the business, I still enjoy emulating my comic art hero by occasionally inking a "blueline" copy of his art. And when commissioned to do sketches by fans, it's often a Kirby character requested. In fact -- and I'm totally weirded out by this -- upon doing a Google search for "Jack Kirby" -- the seventh image that showed up was not Jack's art -- but a color sketch by me of his "Fourth World" character, Big Barda! That's just not right.

But it wasn't only an artistic influence that Kirby had on me -- the stories that he wrote or plotted influenced the way I think -- the way I see the world. I know my notions of justice and fair play -- of tolerance -- of standing up for what's right -- were all born in the pages of Fantastic Four, Captain America and Thor. The heroes in Kirby's comics were heroes. Even when faced with impossible odds, they kept fighting -- and that made an impression on me that stuck. From Jack Kirby's work, I learned to look forward, to think beyond the boundaries of my small town upbringing -- and not fear the new, the different or the unknown.

I only met Jack a few times -- at comic book conventions -- and never really got to know the man personally. I was touched by how humble he seemed. This man who had created entire worlds on paper always insisted that those of us coming up in the business would do things he never even thought of. Yeah, right -- Jack thought of everything. And did it all first. And best.

But he poured so much of himself into his art and his stories that it seems like I did know him. Except for my parents, no one else had a bigger influence on me in my formative years. When he passed, it hit me hard. When my son was born last year there was no question in my mind what he should be named: Kirby.

So happy birthday, Jack -- I hope somehow you know what an impact you had on all of us kids who tagged along on your four color adventures in Asgard, the Negative Zone and New Genesis.

Here are some Kirby images, snagged of the web and from my files. I don't recall where half of these came from, and I hope I'm not stepping on anyone's toes by re-posting their scans. Enjoy them -- as Jack would say, they're all "Grabbers!"


More Forbidden Worlds goodness -- another entry by Emil Gershwin -- Lair of the Vampire is from #3, also the source of the Williamson/Wood story I posted last night.

Again, I did a certain amount of clean-up to the scans to make it more presentable. My apologies for the inner spine roll that shows up on some of the pages -- but that's there in the original scans. The color registration was particularly awful on a few of these pages -- I fixed what I could under the circumstances -- but there's only so much I can do when the color is that off.

I'm loving Gerswin's compositions and linework here. His drawing style has more in common with some of the newspaper story strips of the day than most comic book artists of that period. The bold, crisp lines remind me of another favorite of mine, Ray Gotto (Ozark Ike). But I must admit, Gerswin's drawing is superior to Gotto's. It also makes me think of Edgar P. Jacobs, the Belgian cartoonist who drew the Blake & Mortimer albums (La Marque Jaune) -- Gershwin's art being right in line with the European "ligne claire" school of cartooning.

Most of the scans I'm working with come from the amazing Digital Comics Museum, where hundreds of public domain titles are available for download. Check it out and find some gems yourself!

Since this is "Read a Comic in Public Day," I suggest those of you viewing this on your laptop, iPad or other electronic device at your local coffee shop (or other public place) -- make sure to point out to those around you what a nifty comic you're reading. Then after embarrassing yourself, take solace in knowing that those other folks are the ones missing out....

Friday, August 27, 2010

Williamson and Wood: SKULL of the SORCERER

Al Williamson (pencils) and Wally Wood (inks) collaborated on this story from Forbidden Worlds #3. What else do you need to know? Enjoy.

Forgotten cartoonists: King Ward

Here's another entry from ACG's Forbidden Worlds (#12, Dec. 1952). This is one of several stories from that title drawn by King Ward, a cartoonist about whom I know next to nothing. A look around the web doesn't turn up very much info, either. The Grand Comics Database lists 26 stories drawn by him -- most of them for ACG. I wouldn't exactly call him a great artist -- and what I've seen of his stories have a bit of a rushed quality to them - but there's certainly plenty to like in his work. This is the oddest of his work I've seen (so far) -- and at times it reminds me of EC's Graham Ingels. There's a Caniff influence here as well. It's this sort of oddball material that makes the early issues of Forbidden Worlds such a treat. Ladies and gents: Were-Spider's Doom!

Comic scans before and after

For those who have wondered why I'm tweaking these vintage comic book scans before posting them on my blog, here's a before and after from one of the Jack Cole comics. As you can see, the blacks are very washed out in the original. This is no doubt what the comic book actually looks like -- but I'm more interested in presenting the artwork in a more flattering way, and less interested in recreating the look of the original printing. Vintage comics had notoriously bad printing with terrible color registration -- and the tanning of the cheap newsprint over the years doesn't help things any.

With Photoshop, I'm boosting the blacks, brightening the overall image and knocking down the tan of the paper -- and sometimes dropping white into the "gutters." I'm also touching up the blacks in some case where they've seriously faded. So the end result is less authentic to the printed book, but I hope you'll agree it makes for a better visual presentation of the artists' work.

Yup -- this is what I do on those days when my son Kirby is up and playing, but still wants enough of my attention that I can't get much actual drawing of my own done! So if you enjoy these posts, thank my kid for keeping me away from my own work!

Jack Cole: The Vengeful Curse

Well, while I'm at it, I may as well post the other Jack Cole tale from Web of Evil #5 -- here's The Vengeful Curse!

Jack Cole: The Man Who Died Twice

From Web of Evil #5 (1953), this is The Man Who Died Twice by Jack Cole. Scans have been cleaned up a bit for the web. Some of the color registration os so bad, that there's nothing I could do about it -- barring spending far too much time fiddling with this -- and I have comics to draw -- so this is as cleaned up as this is going to get. Anyhow -- enjoy this odd tale of terror and suspense from the one and only Jack Cole!