Hand of Fire

Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Hand of Fire
    Book Description:

    Jack Kirby (1917-1994) is one of the most influential and popular artists in comics history. With Stan Lee, he created the Fantastic Four and defined the drawing and narrative style of Marvel Comics from the 1960s to the present day. Kirby is credited with creating or cocreating a number of Marvel's mainstay properties, among them the X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, and the Silver Surfer. His earlier work with Joe Simon led to the creation of Captain America, the popular kid gang and romance comic genres, and one of the most successful comics studios of the 1940s and 1950s. Kirby's distinctive narrative drawing, use of bold abstraction, and creation of angst-ridden and morally flawed heroes mark him as one of the most influential mainstream creators in comics.In this book, Charles Hatfield examines the artistic legacy of one of America's true comic book giants. He analyzes the development of Kirby's cartooning technique, his use of dynamic composition, the recurring themes and moral ambiguities in his work, his eventual split from Lee, and his later work as a solo artist. Against the backdrop of Kirby's earlier work in various genres, Hand of Fire examines the peak of Kirby's career, when he introduced a new sense of scope and sublimity to comic book fantasy.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-179-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-1)
    (pp. 3-19)

    A wall of white stone stands alone in a barren, wind-whipped field. Rugged yet ageless—unadorned, enigmatic, and still—the wall is a slab higher than any man is tall. A silent sentinel, this slab stands as if waiting. For what?

    A man approaches, in the aspect of a pilgrim: frayed, war-weary, staff in hand, and stripped to the waist. He stops before the wall. Inside himself this man is bearing a heavy weight.

    The wall stands as if in expectation, as if waiting for the man to reach out, to speak out. The man suddenly shouts, shaking his staff...

    (pp. 20-35)

    Jack Kirby’s career succeeded by accidents both happy and unhappy, and was scarred here and there by unfortunate or ill-timed decisions and plain hard luck. Biographical accounts paint him—despite his commercial successes, artistic clout, and widespread influence—as a man little used to taking care of his own business dealings. One has a sense of Kirby being shepherded through the business by colleagues and family, and often in particular by his wife Rosalind, or Roz. In any case, though Kirby’s was a name to conjure with among comic book fans, his relative fame did not translate dependably, much less...

    (pp. 36-77)

    BAAAAAM!! Kirby’s graphic ferocity, the sheer, brawling kineticism of his style, calls to mind combat: the slugfest, the siege, the riot, in sum the carnal indulgence of raw physicality and untamed rage. Take for example the opening two-page spread, pages 2 and 3, from the first issue ofThe Demon(DC Comics, Aug.–Sept. 1972), written and penciled by Kirby and inked and lettered by the redoubtable Mike Royer (see plate 1). In this scene, prologue to a tale of demonic possession and warring supernatural powers, the army of the sorceress Morgaine le Fey storms the walls of Camelot. This...

    (pp. 78-107)

    In 1985 one of the beloved, sustaining myths of comic book culture came hurtling down: that of the Marvel Bullpen. According to this long-savored myth, the Marvel Comics of the sixties—in the eddies of which the comic book industry still spun, and still spins to this day—was a bastion of collegiality and capering fraternal humor, a “bullpen” of close, like-minded eccentrics who turned Marvel’s editorial offices into a friendly, comfortable, freewheeling shambles. At the center of this happy madness were the comically self-aggrandizing figures of Marvel’s editor-in-chief Stan Lee—more familiarly, Smilin’ Stan or Stan the Man—and...

    (pp. 108-143)

    Thus far I’ve tried to untangle Kirby’s relationship with Marvel, the publisher with which he is most closely linked. Much of the lore and conversation of American comic book fans has to do with that relationship, because the Marvel of the 1960s was pivotal to comic book history and Kirby was pivotal to Marvel. By now it is obvious that Marvel did something important to comic books, particularly to superheroes—and the previous chapter uncovered the gradual process ofhowMarvel did it, making the case that Kirby was Marvel’s essential co-author. But, content-wise, what exactly is it that Kirby...

    (pp. 144-171)

    Kirby and Lee’sThe Fantastic Four, on which they worked in tandem from 1961 to 1970, was Marvel’s flagship and, along with Ditko and Lee’sThe Amazing Spider-Man, one of the signature superhero comics of its era. It led the sudden surge in creativity which, as we’ve seen, overtook and transformed Marvel between 1961 and about 1963 and that laid the foundation for the since much-elaborated Marvel Universe. Understandably, a great deal has been written aboutThe Fantastic Four, mostly in the fan press, and many comic book creators have weighed in on its significance and on what it is...

    (pp. 172-205)

    Two worlds: the one green and flourishing, overlaid with forests and clean waters, a free-breathing, fertile world orbited by a floating city crystalline in its beauty, where the inhabitants rejoice in an unending dream of peace; the other a metallic husk, its surface scabbed by hideous machines and cratered by huge, seething fire pits that choke the very life’s-breath of the place, its atmosphere smoke-clotted and its inhabitants shadowed always by misery and fear. These are, respectively, New Genesis and Apokolips, sister worlds. The first is governed by Highfather, the unquestioned yet benevolent elder whose “wonder-staff” enables him to commune...

    (pp. 206-227)

    Both “The Pact” (New Gods#7, Feb.–Mar. 1972) and its counterpart “Himon” (Mister Miracle#9, July–Aug. 1972) are flashbacks, detours from the forward-thrusting narrative of the Fourth World. Kirby described them as “supplement[s]” and begged his readers’ indulgence. In fact, these stories are the core of the Fourth World, and among the most deeply personal comics Kirby ever made. As such they demand a closer look.

    “The Pact” is a war story, full stop. It is a Vietnam-era myth-fiction about the moral ambiguity and terrifying costs of war. The tale deals with the way war distorts the warrior...

  12. 7 “UNEXPECTED CONSTANTS”: Kirby’s Eternals versus the Marvel Universe
    (pp. 228-252)

    Consider the following comments culled from the letter column of Marvel’sBlack Pantherduring Jack Kirby’s 1977–78 tenure on that series:

    [Don] McGregor’s storylines were as complex as the real world, and his characters were genuine human beings. After [McGregor’s] “The Panther’s Rage” and “The Panther vs. the Klan,” there is only one word to describe [Kirby’s first issue]: obscene.

    … The Panther as originally depicted in theAvengerswas deeply concerned with the position of blacks in America, and again [McGregor’s] storyline … developed this original background in an adult fashion. Please, please don’t abandon this real world...

  13. APPENDIX Kirby and Kirbyana in Print and in Fandom
    (pp. 253-261)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 262-271)
    (pp. 272-283)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 284-298)
  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)