After I wrote a post about my disappointment with Jack Kirby’s run on Jimmy Olsen comics, Chris K wrote a lovely defense of Kirby, which is reprinted below.
I would pretty unhesitatingly call Kirby my favorite comic artist of all time, but I freely admit his limited-to-nil appeal to anybody who hasn’t been completely marinated in his approach.
A lot of the writing on Kirby has a “drunk the Kool Aid” quality about it, and, to some degree, I think that’s kind of unavoidable. If you haven’t already internalized all of the style and eccentricities of Kirby, if you haven’t attuned yourself to his rhythms early and often, if you haven’t adjusted to the fact that his ADD is a feature, not a bug… well, you probably just aren’t going to. If I sat down and really tried hard to articulate what it is I love about Kirby’s work, I could probably come up with something that sounded reasonably convincing on paper to a neophyte, but I strongly doubt it could convince one to actually like Kirby upon reading it.
I don’t disagree with anything you say about the Jimmy Olsen comics; I’m just more forgiving than you, but I’m inclined to be.
You’re absolutely right about the flaws. I was actually just thinking about this the other day, having read the Team Cul-de-Sac “Favorites” zine (hey, I love that Brave and the Bold, too!) and Matt Brady’s review of Mister Miracle #9, which is my favorite Kirby comic,(and one of my favorite comics period) starring my favorite Kirby character… yet paradoxically, Mister Miracle is probably my least favorite Kirby series overall. (Which is to say, it’s pretty good…) It’s mostly because the same syndrome you describe in the Olsens is also present in the MM series, and while I find it charming in Olsen, I think it hurts MM. The premise of the series – “Super Escape Artist” – really needs to have some perfunctory tethering to reality to work, and the flights into Cloudcuckooland undermine it. As a result, I always found myself wanting to like Mr. Miracle’s comic as much as I liked him.
But, that’s the price of admission for Kirby. Pretty much all of his comics really are unsatisfying on a fundamental level – unfinished, poorly sketched out, compromised… I know, I’m making a great case, right? But that’s the appeal for me, seeing Kirby strain against the constraints of the industry, the medium, his own talents — and fail as often as not. His work’s a little capsule of comics at the time when he was working: the personality of the artist pushing back against the formulaic patterns of the artform, win or lose. That’s a big part of why Mr. Miracle is such a resonant character to me. But I get that it’s a lot to buy into for someone wanting to, you know, get a story and shit. But for me, there just aren’t a lot of experiences like this in comics, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.