Sunday, June 23, 2013

JACK KIRBY - The Irony of ARGO

The other night I finally had a chance to watch the movie Argo. While most of the films I see on the Middle East are so biased as to make them laughable, Argo was actually an engrossing watch. What was particularly impressive was the opening historical exposition explaining the American and British coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mosaddegh and replaced him with Shah Pavlavi's authoritative regime. And Ben Afleck, once the whipping boy of Hollywood, has emerged as not only a talented actor, but an excellent director.

One of the incidental characters mentioned in the cast list is Jack Kirby (played by Michael Parks of Then Came Bronson fame) as the artist who creates all the storyboards and production art for the ersatz film that is going to be shot in Iran. Don't blink or you'll miss both Parks and his credit line.

Of course, all of us who know and love comics realize that Jack Kirby was arguably the greatest talent that the medium has ever seen. He wasn't the best in the business at drawing exotic women, so  as a kid I was much more a fan of Kubert and Williamson and Wood and Leonard Starr. Jack still influenced me as much as anyone over the course of my career. His frames were always alive with energy, the storytelling impeccable, and like Eisner and Jack Davis, the work was just FUN. His comics were always entertaining.

At Marvel/Atlas Kirby wound up doing all the science fiction/outer space stories which usually featured any assortment of creatures. I was always more a fan of mood and mystery, so Steve Ditko was the grabber for me. But while I never really tried to emulator Ditko, I was always looking at KIrby's work for new solutions in both the art and storytelling. Unfortunately one of the realities at the comic companies, was that if a penciller was paid a high rate, he was then assigned an inker with a low rate. And the economics of the business often lead to pencillers asking for less qualified inkers to increase their own page rate. Consequently, we didn't always see the best in the business finishing Jack's work, often by his own choice.

Oddly enough, I was never much attracted to the Marvel superhero work that Jack did. The long lean athletic look of the action characters that he did for both National Periodicals (Sandman and the Guardian) in the forties, and the satirical Stuntman and Fighting American features were much more to my liking. The epic stories of the New Gods, particularly Mr. Miracle,  were also what I considered some of his best work. And Mike Royer did a great job inking the pages of the latter.

Of course, my favorite Kirby inker was Wally Wood, who teamed with Jack to do the art chores on the syndicated strip, Sky Masters which ran for a short time in the late 50's. And my personal favorite Kirby/Wood project was Challengers of the Unknown. While I will admit that Wood's style stiffened up Jack's action-oriented figures, he brought a wonderful sensitivity and artistic verisimilitude to the faces. And the women suddenly were knockouts.

At the end of Argo, when the explanation is given how this story was classified for a number of years, we learn what  happened to the characters over time and how they were eventually given credit for their parts in this incredible event. But one is missing:

Jack Kirby: Creator of Captain America and the majority of characters in the Marvel Universe, for which he has never been acknowledged. While most of the artists working in the industry had there artwork returned to them starting the the l970's, Jack work, now worth millions, was never returned because he refused to sign off on his part in creating the material.  Here's a man who has had as much impact on American culture as Walt Disney, and virtually no one outside of comics knows his name. Meanwhile, the other half of the creative team has made millions and has his name plastered virtually everywhere.

At the academy awards there was even a chorus line of the actors who played many of the characters created by Jack. Kafka would have loved this. The KGB would have been jealous of the thoroughness of our ability to rewrite history. For me, that was the irony of Argo. There still is a great American hero who has yet to receive the honors due him and to take his place in the history of entertainment.
(While the version of New Gods that I did was never well received, it still was a lot of fun to do. But then Jack Kirby is a tough act to follow.)

On a pleasant note, yesterday afternoon I had lunch with two good friends, Steve Rude and Tim Burgard, and afterwards they came by and we spent the afternoon doodling, looking at art and talking. Tim, one of the best and most prolific storyboard artists in the business (his latest is White House Down), was at Ruby-Spears Animation while both Jack Kirby and Gil Kane worked there; he had great stories to tell. Steve was in town for the opening of a film on Bruce Lee. He is also legendary for his admiration for Mr. Kirby. It was great seeing these guys, both of whom I have great admiration for, and a lot of fun getting together and being art geeks.

('s Steve, Tim and myself in my studio. )

(As soon as I mange to figure out how to download the photos I took of them from my Furshlugginer Samsung tablet I'll post them here.)

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