Jack Kirby's birthday was Sunday, but I was flying back from Toronto that day and once I got home, I was too tired to write anything of substance about anything, let alone one of the most important men to ever put pencil to paper in the name of comic books. I thought about Jack Kirby, that day, though, because to a large extent, he created the world I live in.
The comics he created, first with Joe Simon, then with Stan Lee and then later on his own, speak for themselves:
The Boy Commandos
Challengers of the Unknown
The Fantastic Four
The Incredible Hulk
The Mighty Thor
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Forever People
The Black Panther
Some were hits, some were misses, and I'm likely leaving many out. I'm also not counting up the number of characters he created or co-created that never headlined their own series. Nobody has generated the sheer number of series and ideas that Jack Kirby developed whilst working in comics. You can say you don't care for his artwork. You can say you don't care for the comics themselves. But there's no denying the amount of work he generated or the impact that work had on the business of making comics.
And nowhere was that impact more greatly felt than Marvel Comics.
Between 1961 and 1970, Jack Kirby, working alongside writer and editor Stan Lee, literally saved Marvel Comics from going out of business. What's more, he and Lee created the framework for a gigantic entertainment company with a library of characters so great it was bought by the entertainment company to end all entertainment companies, Disney. Yes, there were other artists working at Marvel during that period, and Steve Ditko most certainly had a hand in the creation and success of Spider-Man, but it was Fantastic Four that launched the Marvel Age of Comics. People say "and the rest is history" a lot. In the case of what Stan & Jack started with the F.F., that's 100% true.
Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics in 1970, though, by all accounts frustrated by the amount of credit Stan Lee got for work they did together. Sure, he was Jack "King" Kirby, but Jack could see the writing on the wall at the House of Ideas and it said "Stan Lee Presents."
At this point, it's a decades-old dispute pitting Stan vs. Jack. There was even a court case recently, decided in Marvel's favor, and no matter what your position, it all ignores the very simple fact that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created those characters together. It's mind-boggling that so many people have trouble acknowledging that fact, or that Stan Lee has brazenly laid claim to an entire backlog of characters and concepts that were the result of a partnership. But just to the left of the desk I'm typing this at, there's a shelf filled with vintage Marvel paperback collections from the '70s and the revisionism is as plain as day:
Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee
Son of Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee
Bring on the Bad Guys by Stan Lee
The Superhero Women by Stan Lee
Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles by Stan Lee
The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee
The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee
Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts by Stan Lee
Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty by Stan Lee
The Incredible Hulk by Stan Lee
When I first started reading comics, Jack Kirby's artwork stood out. I loved Fantastic Four and when I discovered Jack's work on the book through the reprints of his issues in Marvel's Greatest Comics, I somehow knew those stories were better than the current series. If Jack did the cover on something, I bought it. I remember being disappointed by issue after issue of Invaders because there were all these great Jack Kirby covers, but he never drew a page of the interiors. And it didn't take me long to figure out how important he was to Marvel Comics.
I grew up wondering why it never said "Stan Lee & Jack Kirby Presents" on the books, or simply "created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby." And when I was older and began hearing about Jack's struggles to have his artwork returned to him from Marvel, I couldn't help but be amazed at how shoddily he was being treated by the very company he'd helped save from almost certain doom at the beginning of the '60s.
Marvel Comics would not exist as it is today, if at all, without Jack Kirby. There would be no Fantastic Four to celebrate it's 50th anniversary. There would be no Thor movies, no Captain America movies, no X-Men: First Class. There would be no Avengers to be disassembled and then re-assembled and then thrown into a Civil War or pitted against a Secret Invasion. No Human Torch to die in the Negative Zone. No Iron Man, no Ultimates, no Ant Man, no Hulk. No Nick Fury for Samuel L. Jackson to reinvent onscreen.
And yes, a hundred timesyes, Stan Lee was part of all that, too, but if you can't see the incredible injustice that has been done by essentially reducing Jack Kirby's roll in the development of the Marvel Universe to that of a guy who drew a bunch of cool comics, then you don't have a soul.
I know I wouldn't be working in comics if not for the impact Jack Kirby's work had on my life.
If you work at Marvel Entertainment in any capacity, multiply that impact by something like a million.
Has it really been 20 years since Michael Allred invited readers to tag along as Frank Einstein embarked on one psyhedelic adventure after another in the pages of his various Madman series? Judging from the fact that I'm looking at the cover for this December's Madman 20th Anniversary Monster, I suppose the safe answer is "yes." As fans of not only his Madman, Atomics and X-Force/X-Statix work, but his current run on Vertigo's awesome iZombie, will attest, nobody else does comics like Mike. He doesn't just make comics. He makes experiences.
And hey: How many of the all-star guests Mike has lined up for this ginormous (by which I mean 11" x 17" and over 200 pages long) anniversary special can you pick out in the above image?
If you'd told me back in the mid-'90s that the guy from ER would become not only one of the biggest actors in Hollywood, but a great director, I would have laughed in your face. But here we are in 2011 and George Clooney has starred in and directed some of my all-time favorite films. Good Night, and Good Luck is probably my favorite of the bunch, but when you toss in films like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The American, Up in the Air, Syriana and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, it's hard to deny the man's impact on American cinema. At this point, I'll go see just about anything he's in, especially if he is directing, which is the case with his latest, The Ides of March. Nice posters, too.
Full disclosure: The Clash were never my favorite band. I liked them, for sure, but I never found enough to like on their albums (The Clash and London Calling excepted) to lavish the kind of attention on them I reserved for bands like The Jam. There were lots of great Clash songs, though, and I remember playing the cassette(s) of The Story of The Clash, Vol. 1 to death in my car when it first came out, because it was so great to finally have all the songs I liked in one place.
For a long time, I didn't like Joe Strummer. I'm not sure why exactly, but I think it had something to do with how The Clash dissolved. Combat Rock was a bit of a mess, there was all this controversy surrounding Strummer's "disapperance" while "Rock the Casbah" was in th charts. Strummer publicly fired Mick Jones, but then Jones came out with Big Audio Dynamite and the sublime "E=MC²." Strummer put together a fake Clash and gave us Cut the Crap. I remember seeing a photo of Strummer with Paul Weller, then of The Style Council, in the New Musical Express, probably in 1985, and he just looked like a joke by comparison: a greasy quiff and leather jacket alongside Weller's Continental cool. I was a teenager and it was easy to render everything in black and white, so I suppose I viewed him as the "anti-Weller."
Thankfully, I got older.
Strummer got older, too, and I suppose it was at some point during the '90s that I realized he was one of the good guys. I've always liked music that had something to say, and while I may not have liked all of Strummer's songs, I liked where he was coming from. In these cynical days, it's easy to mock the po-faced stance of musicians mixing pop and politics, but Strummer did it better than most. Without him and The Clash, there would be no Billy Bragg, no Manic Street Preachers. Some would argue that might have been a good thing, but I'll take a rock star with an opinion over Coldplay any day.
My top 10 favorite songs by The Clash:
1. "Janie Jones," (The Clash, 1977)
2. "The Right Profile," (London Calling, 1979)
3. "The Magnificent Seven," (Sandinista!, 1980)
4. "What's My Name," (The Clash, 1977)
5. "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," (single a-side, 1977)
6. "Spanish Bombs," (London Calling, 1979)
7. "Police on My Back," (Sandinista!, 1980)
8."Clampdown," (London Calling, 1979)
9. "Jail Guitar Doors," (single b-side, "Clash City Rockers," 1977)
10. "Safe European Home," (Give 'Em Enough Rope, 1978)
And here's The Clash 30 years ago, on the Tom Snyder Show:
There are a lot of people in the country who like to comfort themselves by blindly declaring "America is number one." I just read this article at thesolutions.com, and you know what? It looks like those folks are right. Among the 20 major advanced countries in the world, the United States of America is tops. Unfortunately, it's in the following areas:
- the highest poverty rate
- the highest public and private expenditure on health care as part of our GDP
- the highest number of people going without health care due to cost
- the highest infant mortality rate
- the highest prevalence of mental health problems
- the highest obesity rate
- the highest consumption of antidepressants per capita
- the highest carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption per capita
- the highest homicide rate
- the largest prison population per capita
- the largest international arms sales
- the highest rate of failing to ratify international agreements
- the highest military spending as part of our GDP
- the greatest inequality of incomes
Our "friends" on the Right will tell you that's because "big government" is so busy mucking everything up, but as it turns out, we're big losers when it comes to that kind of stuff, as we actually have the lowest government spending on social programs for the needy as part of our GDP.
There's a nice little article about the two comic book shops that rose phoenix-like from the ashes of Berkeley's beloved Comic Relief at insidebayarea.com. I work near Fantastic Comics, which is in the old Comic Relief space in Downtown Berkeley, so that's the one I frequent, but I think it says something about the enduring appeal of print comics that there are presently two new comic book stores in Berkeley where there was once one. Not only that, but they're both doing well.
I get a bit exhausted by the print vs. digital argument. It doesn't have to be either/or. The bottom line in this whole discussion is that we, as consumers, should determine how we consume the things we like to read, watch and listen to – not the media. There are things I prefer in the digital format, there are things I prefer in the print format, and I don't think I'm completely detached from the general public in that respect. People go to the movies, people watch TV, people watch DVDs, people stream movies and television shows online. People listen to music on their iPods, people listen to CDs, people listen to vinyl, people listen to cassette tapes. Books, magazines, Kindles, iPads. There is absolutely no reason we can't have our entertainment in as many formats as we want.
For comics, I've found that more and more, what I really want are things I grew up. That may just be me getting a case of the old mans, but honestly, I think it's more because it's a unique format that still does things that aren't easily or exactly replicated in the digital format, or even in trade paperback collections. Are there things both formats can do that single issue comic books can't? Sure, there are pluses and minuses galore, and I think there are things singles need to do better if they're going to survive. But right now, the comic book material on my nightstand at home are honest to gosh comic books, a whole stack of them, from the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and now.
And some of them were purchased at Fantastic Comics, so if you're in the Berkeley area and you like comics, they're located at 2026 Shattuck Ave., right next door to Half Price Books. Berkeley's other comic book shop, The Escapist, is located at 3090 Claremont Ave.
Someone sent me a link to this today – an old interview from 2010 with a blog called Kitty Play Records. I vaguely remember doing it, but I don't think I ever saw the finished piece before this morning. It also looks like I did not follow through on the interviewer's request to send a photo...
I searched for less frightening images of Governor Rick Perry, but unfortunately, that's the best I could do for the Creature Feature candidate from Texas.
According to Fox News, he's going to Washington to "save this country from this monumental debt." What he apparently doesn't want to acknowledge, though, is that Republican policies actually created that monumental debt. Or that his "Texas miracle" of job growth means there are more people working at Wal-Mart and McDonald's than ever, not that you can actually move to Texas and earn a living wage.
Something else to chew on: President Clinton raised taxes, balanced the budget and created over 20 million jobs. President Bush lowered taxes, turned a budget surplus into a growing deficit and created a mere one million jobs before handing that mess over to President Obama. By all means, though, let's continue talking about the Republicans and candidates like Perry as though they're going to steer the country in the right direction.
If you haven't had a chance to check out Viktor Kalvachev's Blue Estate, the first four issues are getting the trade paperback treatment this month. Tell your local comics shop you want one.
Some inside baseball on this: Often when a trade paperback is solicited in Diamond's Previews catalogue, a cover from a previous issue is used instead of new artwork so that the artist can stay focused on getting the latest issue done. We did that with Blue Estate, but since then, Viktor did finish a new cover, and it really couldn't have turned out better.
Marvel's Fantastic Four is 50 years old this week. I'm 43, and I discovered Fantastic Four with issue #172 way back in April 1976. As luck would have it, the FF also appeared in Marvel's Greatest Comics, so I started getting that, too, as well as Marvel Two-in-One, starring The Thing. And that particular month, The Thing was guest-starring in Marvel Team-Up with Spider-Man. It was like the universe was begging me to become a fan.
I stopped reading comics when I was 12, but it didn't stick. I was buying comics again within a couple years, and it was because I happened across the latest issues of Fantastic Four at a roadside market during a family trip. I stopped reading comics again when I was 17, and had more success kicking the habit that time. Something like four years passed before I was lured back by the promise of Fantastic Four comics written and drawn by the inimitable Walter Simonson.
I take a peek at what Jonathan Hickman's doing with the current incarnation of the book, FF, every now and again, but I haven't been a regular reader in some time. Did Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch come right before Hickman? If so, I think I bought and read most of those. As much as I adore Jonathan's work, I think the end of Mark's run just seemed like a good place to stop, more or less for good. I'd been following the book since 1976, after all. That's a lot of Fantastic Four, spread across more than 30 years. It remains my favorite comic book, though, and Reed Richards, Susan and Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm remains my favorite comic book characters. I love them as much as family.
I have a particular fondness for the covers, too. I love the original Fantastic Four logo, just the simplicity of the design, and the corner boxes that adorned so the issues published during the late '60s and very early '70s always looked so cool. When Marvel started using an updated version of that design in the '80s and John Byrne tailored the corner box to each cover, I was in comic book heaven.
So here are some of my favorite Fantastic Four covers. It's not a definitive list by any stretch and it's not in any order at all, but these are the ones that immediately came to mind...
Spawn #210 is out next week and if you've caught a glimpse of the cover online, you already know that its cover is by a genuine comics legend, Michael Golden. I was thrilled when Todd McFarlane told me he'd commissioned a cover from Golden, and even more so when I saw what a great image it is.
Michael Golden has long been a favorite artist of mine, and I still lament the fact he didn't spend more time working on Doctor Strange. He did covers for a handful of issues, a short story in #46 and then the amazing issue #55, and then that was it for the title he seemed born to draw.
He did a fondly remembered run on Micronauts, though, and an absolutely stunning array of covers. I've selected my 10 favorites below...