Steven Bower writes about the inspirations and context of Jack Kirby’s use of collage for DC and Marvel comics. (Imprint/Salon)
Jack Kirby (with Stan Lee) is basically responsible for most of Marvel’s contribution to the Silver Age of Comic Books. From The Avengers, to The X-Men, to The Fantastic Four, Kirby’s artwork defined characters whose struggles, triumphs, and family squabbles reshaped the mainstream of American comics.
When Kirby was left to his own devices, however, his work, as exemplified by DC’s New Gods and Marvel’s Inhumans, is cosmic in scope, classical in the shape of its conflicts, and more than a bit weird in all the best ways. Fantastic Four comes closest, but only touches on the glorious Kirby outlandishness. Only in comics could a vision like this ever have been part of the mainstream.
As Bower observes, in different hands, collage could have been a shortcut for an artist on a deadline, but considering the speed at which Kirby worked in pen and ink, and the care he took in assembling his collages (as well as his non-comic collage work), Kirby’s collages have to be evaluated on their own merits.
And what better way to convey the kind of shift in perception a man like Reed Richards would experience when encountering cosmic forces like Galactus, the Celestials, and the Negative Zone than by introducing photographic and geometric design elements into Reed’s two-dimensional, hand-drawn world. Kirby is literally combining different realities.
They didn’t call him the King for nothing.