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Kirby: King of Comics

Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2008
By: Jim Beard

Mark Evanier
Jack Kirby
Abrams Books
Kirby: King of Comics is big and rough--like the Man himself.

For instance, one of the pictures of Jack Kirby you’ll take away with you after absorbing this book is that not only was he a larger-than-life character, he was also something of a dirt-encrusted diamond in the rough. Author Mark Evanier finely illustrates the idea that Kirby was an unfinished symphony of a man, a graphite-scored artist who probably would have been truly happy had his art been published un-inked--rough, just like him.

As far as big . . . well, the book is big when it needs to be, hitting you over the head with Kirby’s concepts at sizes that do them justice. The graphics are top-notch, well-presented, and, quite honestly, there are a few treasures I believe I’ve never seen before. In this day of copious volumes of comic book history manuals, that’s a real feat. Many of the pages of penciled art or actual comic pages are filled with signs of Jack--notes, scribbles, smudges. You’ll feel closer to Kirby than you ever have before.

I also greatly appreciated the casual tone Evanier adopts for the text, inviting you in for a seat on the sofa so that he may regale you with a few Kirby anecdotes. There are a lot of actual quotes from Jack--giving you a great sense of how the man talked and thought. To Evanier’s credit, he very plainly states that many of the stories herein may not be 100% true. They’re either legends that have sprung up around Kirby or the recollections of Jack himself. Either way, they’re told charmingly and are as an engaging as the art.

Witness this particular comment from Evanier about when Kirby met Will Eisner in the early days: “There was instant mutual respect. Eisner envied Jack’s feisty determination and thought the man drew like he talked.”

Another credit to Evanier is that Kirby: King of Comics is not completely complimentary to Jack. This isn’t a “tell-all” by any stretch, but Kirby’s faults are discussed as much as are his pluses, and I think it goes a long way towards bringing the Kirby story down to a human level. As it stands, “The King” is just about on the level of the other “King,” Elvis Presley. Frankly, I hope this book gives people the opposite impression. Kirby was just a guy . . . an incredibly talented one, maybe even a genius, but still just a guy.

On many a page, Evanier stresses Jack’s drive to provide for his family--a drive that provided him with decades of nightmares. To wit, the Marvel section of the book is surprisingly hard to read in that light, not as joyful as one might expect. Days of working hard and not being sure where it was all heading are detailed, and Evanier lays it all out for our scrutiny. He asks the reader to decide for himself whether Jack was mistreated at Marvel--and if he was justified for seeking greener pastures at DC. Evanier attempts to be fair with the information provided, and I think he succeeds.

Surrounded by fantastic images, in both color and black-and-white, inked and uninked, and a few pasted together from magazine photos, Kirby: King of Comics is well worth the price of admission. Balanced and bountiful, it paints a picture of an artist who strived for consistency and, though riddled with hardships in life, has come into a much-deserved state of grace. This book will tell you why Kirby matters.

And don’t forget to take off the dust jacket and give the front cover a quick look; there’s a nice little embossed surprise waiting for you there.



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