Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Fantastic Photo World of Jack Kirby

Marvel Legacy 1960sIt's the mid-sixties! (Well, not now it isn't, but bear with me here; I'm tryin' to make a point!) It's a time of change and turmoil. Malcolm X is assassinated; the Vietnam War rages on despite protests, the Beatles claim to be more popular than Jesus, Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde is released, the first man to walk in space...uh, walks in space, the Warner Brothers cartoon division is closed, Winston Churchill passes away, Star Trek premieres, Hurricane Betsy devastates New Orleans, Cassius Clay wallops Sonny Liston. And, perhaps most shocking and earth-shattering in this world of tumult and transformation...the motion picture The Sound of Music debuts.

Meanwhile, comic books are 12¢. Whatta bargain! 'Specially if you're zipping down to Pop's Sodium Shop to finger through the spinner rack and tug out copies of Marvel's flagship title, Fantastic Four. This is the period where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stretched the boundaries of superhero comics just like Mister Fantastic stuck in a taffy pull—even more so than when they reinvented the whole genre back in the early sixties. Stan's scripts became more frantic, funny and frenzied; Jack's artwork became bigger, bolder, more energetic and powerful than every before: a perfect storm of widescreen entertainment that could be rolled up and stuck in yours back pocket. Each and every month in the pages of FF, Messrs. K. and L. assured the public their production would be second to none. We got such huger-than-life characters like The Silver Surfer and Galactus, Psycho-Man, Black Panther, and the Uncanny Inhumans (featuring Kirby's most gorgeous creation to date, the lovely Lockjaw Crystal). Also, Wyatt Wingfoot.

As Jack experimented with larger panels, huge multi-spread splash pages, dynamic fight scenes and introspective character portraits, he also brought a radical new technique for the first time to Fantastic Four: his famous (some might say infamous) photomontages. In these innovative panels and pages, Kirby would Photostat his artwork over a photograph (sometimes in black and white, sometimes colorized or tinted) to create a collage unlike anything else seen in Marvel comics. At their best the photomontages approached a realistic 3D; even when they visually failed (usually due to the relatively poor printing processes of the period) they were still bold visual experiments. Let's hop in Doctor Doom's Time Machine (just kick those Arby's wrappers out onto the floor...Victor kinda lives outta his Time Machine), set the controls for 1964 and beyond, and tune into wonders of the fourth-dimensional mind of The King, Jack Kirby:


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #29 (August 1964)
Fantastic Four #29 (August 1964)
Click on any image to King-size



Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #32 (November 1964)
Fantastic Four #32 (November 1964)


Jack Kirby photomontage cover from Fantastic Four #33 (December 1964)
Fantastic Four #33 cover (December 1964)


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #33 (December 1964)
Fantastic Four #33 (December 1964)


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #37 (April 1965)
Fantastic Four #37 (April 1965)

My favorite part of that last one? Stan's earnest explanation of why the photo might seem a little muddy in reproduction:
FF #37 caption

Give yourself a No-Prize, Mister Lee!


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #39 (June 1965)
Fantastic Four #39 (June 1965)


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965)
Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965; takes place chronologically between issues #43-44)


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966)
Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966)


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #51 (June 1966)
Fantastic Four #51 (June 1966)


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #55 (October 1966)
Fantastic Four #55 (October 1966)


That last one is a bit murky, perhaps showing off the limitations of the comic book printing and range of colors at the time. But the experiment isn't over, not by a long shot. Maybe it's no coincidence that my two favorite Kirby photomontages are these later two which brought the technique into the double-page spread widescreen format at the same time it more fully integrated the FF characters into the surroundings than ever before:
Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four #62 (May 1967)
Fantastic Four #62 (May 1967)


Jack Kirby photomontage from Fantastic Four Annual #6 (1968)
Fantastic Four Annual #6 (1968)


Whoa. That last one shoulda come in a black light version.

New Gods #3Kirby would continue the visual photomontages in his later work, most notably in various issues of his Fourth World books over at DC. It's a pity he did his work before the age of Photoshop, before the dawn of much-improved printing procedures, wider ranges of printed color, and deluxe paper—but then again, knowing how innovative the man was, he'd probably now be amazing us with a technique light-years beyond anything we'd seen. If Stan's scripts filled us with a sense of action and adventure, then Jack's artwork gave us its energy and power...and in his photomontages, awe and wonder over the vastness of unexplored space, undersea, or the Negative Zone.

So, in short? Jack Kirby: Genius. But, you knew that already, right?

Also, see Rick Veitch's homage to the Kirby photocollages here!


3 comments:

Bill D. said...

Well, technically Warner Brothers was still making stuff like Cool Cat and Bunny & Claude in the mid-60s, but by then, their cartoon unit sure shoulda been closed down!

The Inkwell Bookstore said...

I, too, have a real fondness for Kirby photograph stuff. Thanks for posting so many of them in one place!

Sleestak said...

Always been a fan of the "Galactus probes" page from Fantastic Four #48