Category Archives: Responses

Popdose/Kirkus Review by Jack Feerick

Popdose: pop culture news, reviews, and discussion

Wow, I’m just catching up! A ways back, on April 30, critic Jack Feerick posted a very encouraging review of Hand of Fire to the Popdose blog, part of the Kirkus Book Blogger Network.

Kirkus Reviews: The World's Toughest Book Critics

Interested readers can find the first part of the review at Popdose or go directly to the entire review at Kirkus Reviews online.

Some highlights (to me) from Feerick’s review:

Hatfield is that rare creature—an academic who writes plainly and with panache. Too much academic writing on art dissolves into a hail of buzzwords, forcing an artist into a particular theoretical framework—not so much pinning the butterfly as breaking it on the wheel. Hatfield treads lightly around the jargon. When he does evoke semiotic theory, he does so playfully [...]. In the main, though, he confronts Kirby in the context of his themes and their intersection with his biography.

[...]

Hatfield lays out the history—of the shady publishing practices, of the fraught collaborations with Joe Simon and Stan Lee, of the feints toward autonomy and the simmering bitterness—about as well as anyone can, given that the accounts of the persons involved vary widely and are inevitably self-serving. But his finest work comes in delving deep into the themes that both haunted and sustained Kirby: the totalitarian mind-set, the horrors of war, the promise of youth and friendship.

Heartening words. So glad that these themes and concerns come through—and glad that Feerick finds the book’s prose clear and full of verve!

The Comics Journal Roundtable!

Wow! The Comics Journal has just posted the first chapter of what is to be a three-part roundtable on Kirby and Hand of Fire!

Hand of Fire Roundtable @ TCJ

Assembled by Jeet Heer, this roundtable also includes Sarah Boxer, Robert Fiore, Glen David Gold, Doug Harvey, Jonathan Lethem, and Dan Nadel. That’s a great lineup!

The first chapter deals with Kirby from several different angles, prompted by Jeet’s opening remarks. The later chapters will engage Hand of Fire in particular. Already I’ve found much food for thought here—and of course I’m looking forward anxiously for what comes next!

Jason Tondro Blogs on Hand of Fire

Professor and comics scholar Jason Tondro, author of the recently published Superheroes of the Round Table: Comics Connections to Medieval and Renaissance Literature—which itself has much to say about Kirby, along with Arthurian legend, Shakespeare, Grant Morrison, and many other topics—has posted a first response to Hand of Fire on his blog. Some highlights:

Hand of Fire is a big sloppy wet kiss to all of us who think that the author is still relevant. One of Charles’s arguments—and there are several—is that Kirby’s life experience, the shape of his career and the conditions under which he worked, had a huge influence over the art and stories he produced. Charles spends plenty of time doing textual analysis of Kirby’s pages, looking at how they work and what they say, but he always does it in the context of the argument that these pages are expressions of Kirby’s values, values shaped by very real forces which can be traced and outlined. I’m a historicist by training and this kind of argument goes a very long way with me.

Big sloppy wet kiss? Ha. I like that!

Charles shows a keen awareness of his reading audience when he walks us through semiotic theory, and an awareness of the audience is no less refreshing in a scholar’s second book than it is in a freshman essay. Most of my academic life is spent teaching, and when Charles walks us through some of his classroom experiments teaching semiotics to his students, this is nourishing food to a starving man. It makes the book useful beyond its title. If Charles had “only” written an informed, articulate, and thorough examination of Kirby’s art, that would still have been damn impressive. But it is also a practical handbook on how to teach semiotics theory in the classroom and how to put it into practice on the page.

I’m delighted to know that the book’s treatment of semiotics is proving so useful, and that Jason finds its practical emphasis on application helpful. The theory-speak in Chapter 1 presented a real challenge rhetorically, so these comments cut right to something that concerned me greatly. Good to know!

Harry Mendryk on Hand of Fire

Harry Mendryk on Hand of Fire

Simon & Kirby expert and blogger extraordinaire Harry Mendryk recently commented on Hand of Fire in encouraging and properly critical terms, noting some of its strengths and fencing with some of its claims. I’m delighted to hear from Mendryk, one of the most expert and dedicated readers of Kirby’s early work and an important source of information about Simon & Kirby in particular. His Simon and Kirby blog is essential reading! (Note that Mendryk performed the art restoration on Titan’s recent and splendid Simon & Kirby Library.)

I’m encouraged to know that Harry finds the book’s discussion of the origins of the Marvel Universe balanced and credible, and that he considers its take on the Fourth World “the best that I have ever read.” I also find his comments about Kirby’s art, which take exception with one of my claims or at least my phrasing, very important. Here’s his conclusion:

[Hand of Fire] is a great book if you want to enter into a discussion about Jack Kirby and his art. You may not agree with everything Hatfield writes, but you will understand why he takes the positions that he does and you may [find] his ideas challenging.

Heartening words indeed! Thanks, Harry, for extending the conversation.

Review and Interview @ Ler BD

LerBD, um blog de Pedro Moura

I’m delighted to see the international interest in Jack Kirby and Hand of Fire. Portuguese comics scholar Pedro Moura has reviewed the book and also interviewed me at his blog Ler BD!

Both the review and the interview are in Portuguese, so, given my unfortunate lack of Portuguese, I’m having to rely on Net-based translation engines—yet I’m able to tell that the review is substantial, wide-ranging, and minutely attentive to the book’s text. Moura has delved deep. Here is the review’s opening, which sets the scene, describing the book’s methodology and range:

O propósito de Hand of Fire não é providenciar nem uma biografia nem uma bibliografia, como Charles Hatfield explica, ambos discursos que existem sobejamente em circulação sobre Jack Kirby. É antes a apresentação de “um ponto crítico de acesso e escrutínio, algo que ajudará quer leitores não iniciados quer fãs de Kirby a apreciar e contextualizar os seus trabalhos mais celebrados” (pg. 14). Este volume deve ser entendido, portanto, como um volume académico no seu sentido mais vincado sobre um dos mais celebrados, conhecidos e importantes autores da banda desenhada moderna norte-americana mainstream, sobretudo no género dos super-heróis, género para o qual Kirby contribuiu de uma forma decisiva em várias das suas fases de desenvolvimento. Como se depreende daquela citação do autor – “os seus trabalhos mais celebrados” -, Hand of Fire não dedica a sua atenção analítica de um modo equilibrado e contínuo a toda a obra de Kirby, mas concentra-se numa meia-dúzia de trabalhos que se podem considerar como os mais significativos, não só na produção do próprio Kirby como também no papel que assumiriam na complexa rede de referências que comporiam, numa primeira instância, os chamados “universos ficcionais” das duas grandes companhias dos super-heróis mainstream, a Marvel e a DC, mas também toda a economia e mecanismos narrativos que estariam associados a esse género. Dessa forma, é possível eleger uns quantos casos de estudo que se tornam palco de manipulação dos vários instrumentos analíticos de que Hatfield dispõem. O académico confessa, no fim, que o seu método é algo “vagabundo” (252), mas esse é o único processo possível quando se analisa uma obra de arte que tanto bebe do visual como do literário/narrativo, como ainda da história e da indústria do livro, da cultura popular, dos seus encontros com matérias de outros quadrantes criativos, da história local, da experiência de uma vida pessoal… Por isso os capítulos de Hand of Fire atravessam os registo histórico, teórico, social, sobre os processos criativos, sobre o género, etc., antes de entrar propriamente em casos de estudo (a saga chamada de “Fourth World” para a DC e o papel de The Eternals na continuidade da Marvel).

Note the link to Moura’s own article on The Eternals!

Throughout his review, Moura engages with key concepts in the book, particularly that of narrative drawing (“desenho narrativo”). Clearly he has read Hand of Fire with particular care—so I look forward to fully translating the results. The few passages I’ve roughly “translated” so far are very impressive, and encouraging!

Look for a link to the downloadable PDF interview at the very end of the review, where the text says:

Como de costume na nossa abordagem a livros desta natureza, temos de agradecer a Charles Hatfield, por ter dedicado parte do seu tempo a responder a um conjunto de perguntas, numa entrevista que podem ler, em português, aqui.

(Clicking on the word aqui—meaning “here”—will take you to the interview.)

Moura and I conducted the interview in English, and then he translated it into Portuguese. I hope the full English version too can eventually be made available!

You can also download the PDF by clicking here.

Thanks to Pedro Moura for spreading the word and enlarging the scope of the conversation!