Category Archives: Events

Kirby at 99: Chasing the Mystery


Please continue to support Jillian Kirby and the Hero Initiative’s wonderful Kirby4Heroes campaign: a splendid way to honor Jack’s legacy and that of other veteran comic book creators. For more information about Kirby4Heroes, check out its Facebook page and website. And don’t forget #WakeUpAndDraw, the drawing challenge to benefit the Hero Initiative, which you can follow on Twitter.

Today would have been the 99th birthday of Jack Kirby, an artist and a man we know a lot about and yet who remains, to me, a mystery and a challenge. I expect he always will.

I wrote an academic book about Kirby. I curated an exhibition of his art, and co-edited the catalog which came out of that. I’ve written a handful of articles for The Jack Kirby Collector. In one way or another, I’ve been following Kirby and his work for most of my life, starting I don’t know when–sometime before I turned ten, which is about when he became my favorite comic book artist–and intensifying in my twenties, when I discovered comic shops and began to chase down Kirby books I had not seen as a kid. I’ve thought about and grappled with Kirby in waves, and can mark off certain phases of my life on the basis of how my view of Kirby changed. Sometimes he has been the very center of my interest in comics, and at other times a persistent background; the terms of my attention keep changing. Over the past ten years, though, as thinking about Kirby has turned into a program of academic work, my interest has been constant and especially intense.

You could say that I have Kirbymania. After all, a big part of my thinking and reading life orbits around the idea of Jack Kirby, and I don’t see that changing. Despite the rigors of working on the exhibition and catalog these past few years–a dream, a blur, a happy madness–I can’t help but feel that I’m not done with Kirby, and never will be. The truth is, he is still a mystery to me. There is so much to take in: the crushing hardships of his life, which he refused to be crushed by; his rare and intense gift for comics storytelling; the push and pull of contrary feelings and the gear-grinding clash of ideas in his work; his galloping imagination and yen for Big Things; above all, the great, unstinting generosity of his talent and temperament, which transformed deadline-crazy freelancing into an amazing outpouring of art that was, always, surplus to requirements. How can someone do that? How can that be possible, to wring, from a life steeped in the memory of poverty and violence, work so generous and vivid, so free of cynicism even when it ventured into the darkest places?

Kirby still has me baffled. I don’t think I’ll ever get him all figured out. Lord knows I’ve tried. It was Kirby who lured me into trying to figure out, in Hand of Fire, the whole strange business of cartooning: a mix of figuration, pictographic symbolism, and ecstatic handiwork, all driven toward to simplification and typification by narrative intent–but never merely reducible to a paraphrasable intent. It was Kirby who got me past analytical formalism, back to the wild sweep of the whole comics page. It was he who got me over my adolescent embarrassment at, hell disavowal of, things I really enjoyed and still enjoy: outrageous cartooning, grandstanding images, superhero yarns, space opera, Pop sublimity, plain reckless joy. It was Kirby who kicked me in the slats at age ten, and then again at age forty-plus, when I needed to take a post-tenure plunge into rediscovered pleasures, and needed to own them on a bigger stage. It was always Kirby. And I kept, keep, trying to figure him out. Talk about a glorious fool’s errand.

I keep coming back to the generosity of the work. Anyone who has studied Kirby has read stories about the generosity of the man, and knows that Jack Kirby was loved by many because he himself had love (not just fury) inside him. He was a good man from hard origins who worked in a pitiless, exploitive business, who endured and did hard things, but he was nonetheless a good man. What I’m thinking of, though, is the graphic generosity of the work. Kirby almost always looked at his art from a storyteller’s point of view–which is fair, because he was, as he said, a writer with pictures–but his refusal to stint on the drawing made his pages livelier and more beguiling than almost anyone else’s in the business, and made his head-spinning stories habitable, believable, and authentic somehow, in spite of the wild premises. That he gave so much of himself to drawing those stories helps explain the feeling of aliveness that they give off: a feeling of commitment.

Over the decades, Jack Kirby set an impossible standard for comic books, showing how far a creator could go even without what should be the minimal assurances of creative ownership, editorial control, and financial security. And Jack wasn’t a martyr; often he was a great success,though he learned repeatedly what could happen to a success when the rug was pulled out from under him. He was a survivor, but more than a survivor, he was the very model of what it took to succeed against long odds. That he did succeed in shaping the lives and imaginations of so many–again, there’s the mystery.

Sometimes I think about how very different Kirby is from me: in upbringing, ethos, personality. After all, I’m an academic; I like theory, and live by analysis. Kirby, on the other hand, lived by storytelling. I’m aware that my life has been very different from his, that the intersection of his work and mine is a miraculous fluke. I wonder, how can something be so familiar to me and yet retain its power to surprise? His work does that: it manages to be lovable and uncanny at the same time. As I said, I can’t figure it out. But I am certain that the academic and the writer in me owe their opportunities to the electrifying example of Kirby and what he showed me.

Chasing the mystery of Kirby, of his genius for comics, is a lifelong pursuit. I’m so grateful to be doing it.

So: Happy 99th and profoundest thanks to Jack Kirby! And Happy KIRBY DAY to us all. How odd to think that I’m celebrating his birthday by celebrating the gift he gave to me–but what else is new, eh? May this coming year, between Jack’s 99th and his 100th, be a time of more and better and more widely-read work in Kirby studies. There is a depth and strangeness to Kirby’s work that will never give out–and will continue to be a goad and inspiration to our own work, in his orbit.

PS. I think my first exposure to Kirby’s Kamandi, certainly the first arc of Kamandi that I read, came with issues 22 to 24, inked and lettered by D. Bruce Berry, and published by DC in late-mid 1974. I didn’t buy these; they came in a box of comics gifted to me by a schoolmate whose family was getting ready to move (a short time later, I started buying Kamandi off the newsstand, with issue 32, published in mid-75). Those three issues made quite an impression on me:

Courtesy of Derek Langille’s Flickr photostream


Courtesy of Derek Langille’s Flickr photostream


Just Draw! Mark Badger Brings Kirby Studies and More to SVCC  

Going to the Silicon Valley Comic Con this weekend? Look out for Kirby stuff, Kirby studies, and ace cartoonist Mark Badger!

Tomorrow through Sunday, March 18-20, Mark, wearer of many hats–artist, teacher, Comic Book Apocalypse essayist, and Kirby expert among them–will be appearing at the inaugural SVCC at the San Jose Convention Center, where he’ll be doing a lot of great things:

  • Manning a booth on behalf of the Kirby Museum (that would be booth AA2 H) in collaboration with underground comix artist Bruce Simon. They’ll be selling the Four Faces of Evil poster for the Museum, plus Museum T-shirts and sundries, plus examples of their own work–and copies of our Comic Book Apocalypse catalog, as a Museum fundraiser!
  • Co-presenting, with Bruce Simon and puppeteer, writer, and longtime Kirby associate Steve Sherman, the Kirby panel A Graphic Apocalypse, on Sunday at 2:00pm. (You can consult the SVCC schedule here.)
  • Presenting his own interactive workshop, Just Draw, a session on “drawing, mindfulness, comics, and storytelling,” on Friday night from 8 to 9pm. This is based on Mark’s new publication, Just Draw, which he describes as a manual for “stressed out” artists who want to stop worrying and “get their work done.”

Did I mention Mark’s own work? How about his amazing, multipart Abstract Kirby project? How about his now complete Kirby-inspired opus, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, collected for the first time anywhere, just in time for SVCC? Great stuff.

If you don’t know Mark’s comics, you’re missing out on some wonderful cartooning. I learned to recognize his work back in 1988, when his pencils, inks, and colors on a Martian Manhunter miniseries (scripted by J.M. DeMatteis) hipped me to his distinctive style: swooping, slashing, and bold, abstracted into modernistic pattern and pure vectors of force, taking lessons from Kirby and Picasso alike and wreaking havoc with superhero conventions. I followed him to later projects such as Batman: Run, Riddler, Run (1992, scripted by Gerard Jones) and Animal Rights Comics (1996, scripted by Joyce Brabner). His resume since then has been strange and awesome.

Mark is not only a terrific comics artist, but also a teacher and activist. His current projects, such as Just Draw, pull these threads together. His “Daily Kirby” exercises (a 3-year-long series of devotional studies to the King) have to be seen to be believed. Read more about Mark’s career here, and if you’re going to SVCC, look up Mark and tell him I said hello and thanks! Mark’s been one of the voices reminding me of just how important it is to keep up the dialogue between critics and artists–and his own recent work amounts to an amazing creative and critical encounter with Kirby’s work.

Kirby Panel Discussion This Saturday, Sept. 26, plus other news

Norton of New York, from 2001: A Space Odyssey #5

This is a busy time for comics and Kirby studies here at my school, CSU Northridge!

Last night I joined Prof. Jon Stahl, Chair of the Department of Cinema and Television Arts, for an on-stage conversation with Jeph Loeb, Head of Marvel Television and longtime screenwriter, producer, and comic book writer. This lively, well-attended event kicked off the annual Commerce of Creativity series at CSUN.

Tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 26, at 1:00 p.m., I join panelists Scott Bukatman, Doug Harvey, Adam McGovern, Andrei Molotiu, Steve Roden, and Ben Saunders for an intense discussion of the art of Jack Kirby, tied to the Comic Book Apocalypse exhibition. We’ll talk at the Noski Auditorium, right across the street from the Gallery, then troop over to the Gallery afterward to visit (or revisit) the exhibition itself! Many catalog contributors will be on hand for this, the last big public event tied to the show. Hope you can make it! More information is available at the brand-new Comics@CSUN website, here:

Finally, this coming Monday, Sept. 28, Comics@CSUN launches its Comics on Screen film series with a screening and discussion of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), adapted from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s generation-defining graphic novel series. More details here:

All of these events are FREE and open to the public. Again, hope you can join us!

Talking Kirby at Rose City!


I’m delighted to announce that tomorrow, Sept. 19, I’ll be talking Kirby at the Rose City Comic Con! That means I’ll be joining the thousands thronging at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland this weekend.

Thanks to my friend and colleague (and Comic Book Apocalypse catalog co-editor) Ben Saunders, of the University of Oregon, I’ll be taking part in a jam-packed panel on Kirby, as follows:

Jack Kirby’s Greatest Comics: An All-Star Tribute to The King

Room: Panel Room 7
Time: 3:00PM – 3:50PM

Captain America. The Fantastic Four. The Incredible Hulk. The Mighty Thor. The Avengers. The Silver Surfer. The Inhumans. Mr. Miracle. The New Gods. The Eternals. All these iconic creations and titles — and many more besides — were first brought to life on the comic book page by Jack Kirby. But although he is without doubt one of the greatest American comic book artists in the history of the medium, the full range of Kirby’s achievement is less than fully understood by many fans today. In a forty-year career, he drew every genre of comics — Romance, Western, War, Horror, and Crime titles as well as superheroes — and his powerful, kinetic style would pass through three distinct phases, from the 1940s through the Silver Age and into the 1970s. Join a panel of creators and academic experts for a gallop through some career highlights from this master of the form, and find out why Kirby is still the King!

Among the stars gathered for this panel (besides moderator Ben) are Mike Allred, Kurt Busiek, Glen David Gold, Joe Keatinge, Gary Phillips, and Diana Schutz—good company! (Ben, Glen, Diana, and I all contributed essays to the soon-to-be-released CBA catalog.)

Rose Citygoers, I hope you can make it! Talking Kirby with a room full of smart and creative people is my favorite kind of gig.

Apocalypse in the Media!

Splash from Silver Surfer #18 (Kirby/Trimpe), adapted by Louis Solis

Reminder: Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby runs until Saturday, Oct. 10, at the CSU Northridge Art Galleries! Come see if you can!

NEWS! The show has been getting some terrific coverage. On Sept. 1, Tom Kraft and Rand Hoppe of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center filmed a video walk-through of the exhibition with me: a half-hour curator’s talk, or ramble, through the Gallery. You can see this walk-through at the Museum’s online journal, The Kirby Effect, right here. Thanks, Tom and Rand! This is the best way to experience the show if you cannot visit in person.

Also, back on Aug. 25, Gabriel Valentin and Dan Brozo of the Digital Lizards of Doom webcast (sponsored by Meltdown Comics) interviewed me in the Gallery. Watch it right here, or via Meltdown’s site. Our conversation starts about six minutes into the webcast and lasts about an hour. Thanks for a great experience, Gabriel and Dan!

AND: This past Monday, Sept. 7, Labor Day, Ted Coe of radio station KCSB at UC Santa Barbara (91.9 FM, kcsb,org) interviewed me about Kirby and the exhibit for a marvelous edition of his show The Freak Power Ticket. An edited podcast of that live interview is now available for streaming or download through the KCSB website, right here. Our conversation starts about 11 minutes in, and goes for about an hour and a half. Ted, thanks for a delightful talk, and for the chance to reconnect with my alma mater, UCSB!

Finally, thanks to Artillery magazine for the nice shout-out.🙂

Come to our panel discussion on Saturday, Sept. 26, at 1pm! It’s going to be a doozy. Details TBA!