Happy New Year to all my readers, with thanks for your continued interest and support! I have the feeling that 2016 may be a banner year for the study of Jack Kirby. In that spirit, here are three items of Kirby-related news, one truly new, the other two somewhat-egotistical reminders:
1. The latest (Jan. 2016) issue of Art in America, the venerable art-critical magazine, has a comics theme, with several articles related to the medium. To me, the one that leaps out (besides of course another smart article by the great Ryan Holmberg) is Alexi Worth’s on Kirby, titled “Genius in a Box,” a welcome and indeed long-overdue appraisal of Kirby from a fine arts perspective. From my vantagepoint, this is an insightful piece of work, sharp, forcefully expressed, and only occasionally marked by the inevitable boundary issues (comics world vs. arts world). While the essay says a few things I would dispute, in the main I found it thoughtful, invigorating reading, and I’m grateful for it. I’m also grateful to have been cited in it: the Comic Book Apocalypse exhibition figures in the article, along with Dan Nadel’s important curatorial work. (My one complaint would be that Ben Saunders, co-editor of the Apocalypse catalog, should also be cited.)
Worth of course compares Kirby to a number of fine art masters, but also acknowledges that such comparisons don’t quite work, because
[Kirby’s] pictures were conceived as sequences. Continuity was their aim. And that continuity was built around the panel architecture of each page. When a furious Thor swings back his hammer, preparing to destroy a wall, he seems to be aiming his blow at the narrow white border that contains him—the very same border that, in the adjacent panel, frames the satisfying impact of his blow. When the Human Torch flies across the skies of Europe, zooming left, then right, then looping playfully around a quartet of missiles, his progress models the reader’s own zigzagging progress through the page’s quadrants. These are exhilarating sequences, not overpowering single images. That’s their point. For better or worse, much of the beauty of Kirby’s art is bodiless, suspended in the eager forward motion of the reader’s experience: a flight path, not an icon.
Exactly right, I think — and with that Worth has put his finger on what was so challenging about arranging a Kirby gallery exhibition.
Responses to Worth’s essay have begun to crop up online. Over at The Comics Journal, Nadel has posted a response praising it. Kirby biographer Mark Evanier has also weighed in, on his blog. Nadel has responded to Evanier, in turn. I’ll be interested to see further responses spin out, over time.
Make no mistake: the Art in America article signals an important shift in the way art critics can talk about Kirby. A turning point?
2. The Comic Book Apocalypse catalog makes it to comic book shops this month, on Wednesday, Jan. 27. I hope your local shop will stock it! For more about this, see my post of October 30.
3. The Apocalypse catalog can also be ordered online, via the CSU Northridge Art Galleries website. For those whose local shop cannot get the book, that may be your best option. Further info can be found in my post of December 5.
I’m delighted to be part of what seems to be a groundswell in Kirby criticism and appreciation within academia and the art world. In the spirit of the New Year, let’s resolve and hope for more! I’m planning on it…