Hand of Fire: Here’s the Skinny

Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was an American cartoonist and writer embedded in comics, a field he entered while still in his teens.

For more than forty years, Kirby worked steadily at comics, including both newspaper comic strips and periodical comic books, but he spent most of his time on the latter: the roughly half-tabloid-size, newsstand-ready comic book, or magazine, as it developed from the mid-thirties. That format, the “comic book” so beloved of collectors, still represents for many the kernel identity of American comics, and it was in said format that Jack Kirby excelled. With his dynamic, eccentric style, Kirby left a deep and unmistakable handprint on both the comic book and the industry that grew up around it.

That his work has been so widely imitated, to the point of becoming an industry standard in the nineteen-sixties, does not lessen its eccentricity – its peculiar charm and energy – but has made it more difficult to appreciate his genuine impact. Influence, when widespread enough, camouflages itself. “Kirby” became, over forty-plus years of almost uninterrupted comic book production, part of the very atmosphere breathed by comic artists and fans, indeed an enveloping constant of comics culture. “Kirbyesque” is a familiar adjective to comic book enthusiasts, and “doing Kirby” is something many, many comic artists have attempted, some repeatedly and even obsessively.

In short, Jack Kirby is one of the premier visual stylists and storytellers, for some readers the premier artist, in American comic book history.

Hand of Fire: The Narrative Art of Jack Kirby is a book about what Kirby did and why it matters: a critical study of cartooning as narrative drawing, of superheroes and science fiction in comics, and of Kirby’s technological sublime. It is the first academic monograph in English about Kirby’s work, and part of the University Press of Mississippi’s “Great Comics Artists” series.

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