Kirby 100: 100 Top Creators Celebrate Jack Kirby’s Greatest Work (book review)

To celebrate the centennial of Jack Kirby’s birth in 1917, TwoMorrows Publishing asked one hundred stars of comics and animation to praise and critique their favourite piece of Kirby art. The result is this fine, big, colourful book, ‘Kirby 100’. The essays are arranged with the art in chronological order so the early pages feature Jack’s 1940s art and the later ones his last work.

As individual reviews of over one hundred essays would be silly, I’ve picked out those creators with whose work I am familiar and checked what they had to say. I imagine this is what most readers will do before perusing the other pages. Another route is to scan it for interesting art, see who picked it and read their comments. Essentially, this is a coffee table book, not one to sit and read cover to cover so there are several approaches.

The one hundred contributors are numbered. Number 11 is Rich Buckler, Sr. who tells us how he sent art samples to Kirby just after Jack had left Marvel. Jack liked them and told him, ‘Go see Stan Lee and tell him I said to give you a job.’ Stan did. Buckler’s chosen work is a cover he hired Kirby to do that features Lancelot Strong. Buckler was famous and infamous in the Kirby household I think for his pastiche of Jack’s work when he drew Thor and the Fantastic Four, frequently copying Kirby layouts if not the style. More homage than theft, surely, as he was a big fan.

Number 13 is Dave ‘Watchmen’ Gibbons, once known, long ago, as Dave Gibbons. He picked an obscure five-page story from Alarming Tales # 5 that Simon and Kirby did for Harvey Comics. Dave theorises that this kind of five-page adventure may have inspired Erik Von Daniken. In any case, they inspired him.

Number 22, Sal Buscema, tells how he got into comics through his brother John and was familiar with Kirby’s Marvel work. He started out trying to imitate ‘The King’ but John said, ‘Don’t do that. This guy is in a class by himself’.’ He advised Sal to emulate the power and energy but do it in his own way. Sal picked an Incredible Hulk pin-up from Fantastic Four Annual # 1.

The comments of Walter Simonson, number 32, are surprisingly brief given the number of Kirby characters he’s drawn. If I had to pick an artist who best gets the guts of Kirby’s style it would be Simonson but he doesn’t have a lot to say. His chosen art is the opening battle scene from Journey Into Mystery # 113.

Meanwhile, at number 34, is P. Craig Russell who doesn’t draw at all like Kirby but is full of admiration and analysis. He loved Jack’s work but never tried to copy it. Russell reckons that our hero went from a fluid style in the 40s to a blocky style in the 80s and the high point in this evolution, combining grace and power, was the 60s. Most people would agree with that. He picked Fantastic Four # 40-70 as his favourite, a broad swathe of Kirby that must be in most fans’ top ten.

Number 37 is John Romita, Sr. of Spider-Man fame. He picks Tales Of Suspense # 77 featuring Captain America against the Red Skull but also tells how Captain America # 1 impressed him when he was a kid. Modestly, Romita didn’t rate himself highly as an artist when he was younger but he learned dynamic storytelling by going over Kirby’s layouts, basic though they were. Turning the page, number 38 caught my eye. I don’t know Paul Smith’s work but his favourite Kirby inker was Vince Colletta. He also states that Dick Ayers was Kirby’s best inker. Controversial.

Fellow Brit, Barry Windsor-Smith fills the 44th slot. Smith said he was on the verge of giving up comics when he came across Kirby. Older fans will remember Barry’s early work on ‘Daredevil’ and ‘The Avengers’, clearly inspired by Kirby and Steranko. I still love that stuff. Barry thinks someone should make a docu-drama about the early days of Marvel, with actors playing Lee and Kirby. Well, it’s an idea.

Unsurprisingly, Jim Starlin liked Kirby’s cosmic stuff and he chose a picture of Metron to fill his slot at number 65. Surprisingly, he says it was Metron that inspired the appearance of Thanos and not Darkseid as so many think.

On to 67, 68 and 69. Veteran Kirby inker Mike Royer’s choice is a splash page that embodies heroism, honour, courage, valour and struggle. It’s page 25 of New Gods # 6 featuring the Glory Boat. That issue was definitely one of Kirby’s best for both story and art. New Gods # 7 was even better and it was picked by both Tom Scioli and Giorgio Comolo. I admire their taste.

And so on. At the back there are thirteen pages of ‘One Hundred Years Of Kirby: A Chronology Of The King’s Reign.’ Jack passed away on 6 February 1994 but there have been developments concerning his work to this day. Kings never really die. Ask Elvis fans.

TwoMorrows Publishing has been clever here. They could have simply done a bigger, splashier issue of ‘Jack Kirby Collector’ but getting a hundred artists to give an opinion has more weight. It’s like the Nebula awards in Science Fiction. Winning a Hugo is nice because the fans like you. Winning a Nebula is class because your fellow professionals like you. ‘Kirby 100’ is probably a must-have for Kirby fans.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2017

(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 223 page illustrated softcover. Price: $34.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60549-078-6. Direct from them, you can get it for $29.71 (US))

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