I recently came across Kirb Your Enthusiasm in my roamings on the internets, where a bunch of different writers are looking hard at single panels of artwork from the great Jack Kirby. He was my favorite comic artist growing up, and I remember consciously imitating his style for lengths of time (the weird, longish muscles; the metallic squiggles, the thick fingers, the complex machines, the crackles of cosmic energy); at least I imitated it as best as I could understand it. I remember instantly recognizing his work whenever I saw it, whether it was current work like Kamandi or Captain America, or reprinted work like the Fantastic Four, Thor, or old fantasy/horror pieces.
Kirby’s work was wild and big and really exciting to me. And although I was also nuts about the work of my favorite Spider-Man artist, John Romita, whose work was tighter and cleaner and more conventional and realistic in a lot of ways, Kirby was always King to me. And I had healthy respect, but not love for Steve Ditko, mostly born out of the fact that he created Spider-Man. I have more respect for his rubber-limbed figure work and monstrously grinning faces now than I did as a kid. Those are my Big Three, then and now, and when I see comics today, I unconsciously fit the style I’m looking at as closely as I can to one of them.
But Kirby, he’s someone I need to go back to, and look at some more. I need to admit that he’s as big an influence on my own work as my biggest painting heroes, Matisse and deKooning (to name the first two painters who always come to mind).
A few years ago, when I was looking at and drawing old comic book ads, I also had an uncontrollable urge to draw a couple images from Kirby – a striking little panel from a fantasy mag with two figures in the distance and the Italianate scroll of an old fashioned streetlight in the foreground, and a curvaceous figure from a Thor comic, the Enchantress. I did them for myself, the first because I loved the composition, the second because I loved the lines.
As a kid, I didn’t really fully understand the work he was doing in Kamandi or Captain America, but the pictures were enough. I know I bought my first Kamandi just because of the cover, and not because of the post-apocalyptic, Planet of the Apes-like story. And maybe because I liked the subtitle of “Last Boy on Earth.”
So I’m going to spend some time looking at Kirby’s stuff again. I have a few stacks of old comics in my studio, and the next time I’m in Toledo, I’m going to see if I can find some old issues of Kamandi in the crate of my old comics in the hall closet. And we’ll see what I bring back from all those crackling old universes.