Monday, September 19, 2011


A small part of this past weekend was spent trying to explain to Paul (who does not read comics but will run out to see the latest superhero epic on the big screen) that Stan Lee, despite his jokey cameos in all Marvel Comics movie adaptations, really doesn't deserve sole credit for these characters, and that Jack Kirby's dynamic artwork and character designs really had much more to do with their iconic status.

Which is all well and good, but as a kid in the early seventies, I didn't give a rat's ass about superheroes, and read almost nothing from Marvel.  I was all about DC, and even then, only their war comics, which were presided over by writer/editor Robert Kanigher and a rotating stable of artists, which generally included the unfailingly great Joe Kubert and Russ Heath.  I saw the ads in these books for Kirby's now-legendary New Gods and Kamandi, but since they didn't feature Panzers or Spitfires, I didn't care.

Then, out of nowhere, Kirby was handed one of the books I did read, Our Fighting Forces, featuring the hard-luck squadron known as The Losers.  This was my first real introduction to the work of one of the most influential comic book artists of all time, and holy crap, I became a fan for life.  Though Kirby was a World War II vet, his depictions of the front lines bore no trace of the carefully researched realism Kubert and Heath depicted, resembling nothing so much as clashes between gods and demigods on some abstract Olympus.

The thing that struck me most about Kirby's artwork was his depiction of the cigar-chomping character Sarge, and how that cigar almost always drawn in such a way that it was pointing out towards us, the reader, its tip burning with the black-dotted pattern I would later come to know as "Kirby krackle".  I was so obsessed with how he drew that thing that I soon filled countless Big Chief tablets with characters smoking cigars, just so I could try to get the same effect.

A bit of research tells me that Kirby's run on that title was relatively brief, stretching from late in '74 to the end of '75.  I was nine turning to ten.  And the thing is, when the clear, fully-formed memory of trying to draw my own Kirby krackling cigars popped into my head, I tried in vain to recall anything else from my life in that era.  The best I could come up with was a distinct memory of reading one of these books on a blisteringly hot summer day, siting on one side of the davenport (because back then we called it a davenport, not a couch) absorbing as much of the breeze from the big box fan in front of the screen door as I could.  But who else would have been in the room, what they may have looked like at that time, or even the sound of their voices--no, that seems to have faded, at least for the moment.

As much as I love Jack Kirby's work, part of me wishes my mind had not decided to retain this particular memory, not if it means losing the images and sounds of people I loved much more.