Posts Tagged ‘comics’

The unsung heroes responsible for Roy Lichtenstein’s art

July 13, 2008

  Yesterday I was talking about classic comic book artist Russ Heath with a friend. (Heath will be at the San Diego Comic Con this year. Most famous for his war comics, I’ll always have a soft spot for Heath’s Robin Hood art in The Brave and the Bold comics of the 1950s.) Anyway, I mentioned that some of his art was … borrowed … by Roy Lichtenstein, and I thought I’d do a quick rant about that.

  First, thanks to the efforts of David Barsalou, an art teacher … here’s a comparison of some comic panels by Russ Heath that fetched Heath only a subsistance wage and the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein that has fetched millions. (Lichtenstein’s work is in the corner.)

  And here is Barsalou’s side-by-side comparison of several other Lichtenstein works — borrowed from numerous comic book artists.

  I’ve always admired the large pop-art versions of these images. And I won’t deny Lichtenstein a share of the credit. But it annoys me to no end that he did not share credit or cash with the people whose art he borrowed. It’s one thing to repurpose comic art — that I doesn’t bother me. But to claim it as solely your own … that pisses me off.

 And as some other blogs have mentioned, it’s just plain ironic that the Lichtenstein Foundation uses a “Lichtenstein” image borrowed from Joe Kubert — another comic book legend — to warn against copyright violation. Hypocrisy incarnate.

  Also, I often think the original art has more expression in the faces.


Who’s Jack Kirby?

July 4, 2008

  Some years ago, in connection with the X-Men films, I made a reference to Jack Kirby. My friend – a big fan of both X-Men films and comics – asked me “Who’s Jack Kirby?”

  Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) was the co-creator of the X-Men.

  He also created or co-created such heroes as Captain America, the Hulk, the Mighty Thor, the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer. He also had some involvement in Iron Man’s creation and was lurking about the genesis of Spider-Man too.

  In other words, Marvel Comics would not have existed if not for Jack Kirby.

  And how much money has the Kirby Estate got from these creations? Peanuts! In his lifetime, Jack Kirby saw more money from a few minor appearances of his villain Darkseid in the Super Friends cartoon and action figures in the Super Powers toyline than he did from creating all these big Marvel heroes.

  So, it’s not that surprising while movie audiences can spot Stan Lee’s cameos in films like 2008’s Incredible Hulk – the average person, even the average superhero fan has never heard of Jack Kirby.

 Captain America, for example, was created by Jack Kirby and his 1940s partner Joe Simon. And yet I’ve seen article after article claim that Stan Lee (who joined Captain America comics during its early run as an assistant to Simon and Kirby) was the sole creator of Captain America. For years, the title pages of Marvel Comics could proclaim “Stan Lee presents…”. So, it’s not surprising that most people don’t remember the other people who created these comic book icons.

  The Marvel style of writing was for Lee to give a few plot ideas, and then the artist would go away and do his own thing, and Lee would dialogue the comic. Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko managed to get a co-plotting credit in his later issues. I don’t think Kirby ever did, although important characters like the Silver Surfer never appeared in Lee’s brief to the artist.

  And that’s his superhero stuff. Kirby also worked on westerns, war comics and pretty much created the once-popular romance comic genre. Most comic creators with even a tenth of Kirby’s output and influence would rightly be considered masters of the medium.

  Today I just finished reading Mark Evanier’s new coffee table biography/artbook “Kirby: King of Comics”. Admittedly, Evanier was too close to Kirby and his family for a wholly unbiased account and I gather this is only a tiny bit of larger work on Kirby that Evanier has planned. But still Kirby’s life and work deserves to be celebrated, and it’s wonderful to see Kirby artwork blown up to coffee table size.

  Kirby’s art was dynamic. Heroes were bursting out of the pages. All superhero artists either imitate or consciously distance themselves from Kirby. And as for his work ethic, not only was Kirby’s art gorgeous, but he could produce four times as much as the comic book artists of today. In the 1960s, he carried Marvel Comics – drawing most of the important books and often being assigned to coach the other artists.

 Here’s classic science fiction writer Harlan Ellison waxing poetic on Kirby and an interview with comics’ grandmaster. It features images of much classic Kirby art. No, it’s not realistic. But it bursts off the page with energy that few comic book artists even come close to.

 If you’re not familiar with Darkseid (who has since become a major bad guy in DC Comics) and the New Gods, well Darkseid is a helmet-wearing villain who controls a planet with a giant hole in it. He, and his antagonists on New Genesis, are powered by something called “The Source”. And his main enemy is his heroic son, Orion – who was fostered by the good guys. In case this mythology sounds at all similar to a certain movie franchise. Darkseid and the New Gods characters first appeared in 1970-1, and Star Wars came out in 1977.

 I love comics. I love the artform, the medium. I think it is more interactive than film and TV, and I doubt its true potential has been reached yet. Even if most comics are admittedly crap, that does not mean the medium is stupid, silly and childish.

 And so it infuriates me that the average person has no idea who Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or Will Eisner or Bill Finger or Curt Swan or Carmine Infantino or dozens of other names I could mention are. It bothers me that when Stanley Kubrick died, there were pages of tributes to his life and films. But when Eisner and Kirby died, they just got a few token articles.

 So, that’s the reason for this entry. The foolish hope that maybe a few more people will know and care that a man named Jack Kirby once existed, and that he spent his life giving pleasure to millions of people who will never know his name.

  Now I’m hoping to find the new book on Steve Ditko – original artist and co-creator of Spider-Man. Ditko’s a very different artist from Kirby but also deserves to be revered (well, for his art. Not so much for his Ayn Rand-inspired politics, although that certainly helped fuel some extremely well-drawn comics.)



June 30, 2008

If you’re not up to speed with the most recent UK episodes of Doctor Who, you might want to skip this post now. Spoilers are likely to follow.

Or you could just visit YouTube:

And follow this link for the rest of “The Stolen Earth”:









So, at this point, if you don’t know that “The Stolen Earth” features a crossover between Doctor Who and its spinoffs Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures, it’s your own fault.

I’m sure on measured, considered reflection, this wasn’t the best Doctor Who episode ever. It’s not quite the well-plotted gem of a Steven Moffat episode. Nor does it have the emotional depth of some. A lot of it is just big set pieces.

And yet – the Doctor, Donna, Rose, Martha, Sarah Jane, Luke Smith, Mr. Smith, Capt. Jack, Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Harriet Jones, Daleks, Davros, UNIT, the Judoon and Richard “Darwin’s Rottweiler and I’m married to a Time Lord” Dawkins …. all in one episode! How fun is that? It’s big old smiley fun to see Captain Jack hit on Sarah Jane Smith! Or Ianto’s jealousy over Jack’s encounter with a UNIT soldier? Or the big “Facebook” chat between everyone! And Davros in all his glory.

There is something just fun about diverse characters meeting up. That’s the charm of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic book, of course — crossover charm couldn’t save the movie version) and Lost Girls. And of course, there’s the big superhero comic book crossovers. The most recent being Secret Invasion (from Marvel) and Final Crisis from DC.

All the company’s great heroes in one epic battle. They should be as fun as Doctor Who’s “The Stolen Earth” was. And yet, they usually aren’t. Not anymore. Each issue of both Secret Invasion and Final Crisis has fractured little scenes that have some enjoyment, but the big “Wow — look at all the heroes!” factor isn’t making the story fun and its not masking the corporate hollowness of the stories.

That’s because familiarity does breed contempt.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was fun. So was Secret Wars. That was back in the 1980s when big company-wide crossovers were new and strange. Even guest appearances were a big event. Nowadays, it’s like every mainstream comic book is guest-starring another hero. And not some fleeting glimpse like what linked the early Marvel Comics together. I mean that folks like Batman and Wolverine are everywhere. It’s not special nor rare anymore.

Even the big “and the kitchen sink” stories aren’t rarities in superhero comics. Every year seems to bring a new universe-spanning event. We expect to see the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four team-up. It’s not a treat these days.

There’s something really dangerous in thinking that “how can I top this” means “how many more characters and explosions and kisses to the past can I throw in?” It’s time for comics to think “how can I tell a story that’s emotionally relevant”. Something perhaps with character and theme. Something that’s mythic without Gotterdammerung happening every issue.

I hope Doctor Who doesn’t fall into this trap. Until “The Stolen Earth”, most crossover references or guest appearances were small, subtle and often sly. (Like Jack on Torchwood saying “the right kind of Doctor” instead of “The Doctor”.) And that’s what makes “The Stolen Earth” so special and fun.

But if they were to do this every week, it would be both boring and inaccessible. TV shows and comics can get hung up on their own mythology. It makes Smallville and late-X-Files just unwatchable to the casual viewer. Not because there’s a history. I think casual viewers can appreciate shows with a past. It’s that once a show becomes solely dependent on its mythology, there’s no emotional resonance except in reference to previous stories. It’s not that casual viewers are incapable of following the plot. They are just not given any incentive to actually care about what happens — because “big stuff happens” is assumed to be enough. That’s what I felt when I caught an episode of Lost for the first time in ages — completely apathetic.

But those ruminations aside … Daleks invade the Torchwood Hub! (Probably Davros just summoned the ones hanging out at the Doctor Who exhibition also in Cardiff Bay.) Cool!