The Hidden S in Phone Booth

Welcome to "The Hidden S in Phone Booth." Your writer is Mark Rhodes, a man known within many magazine circles including The Christian Science Monitor, Opera and Wizard. He runs a site called the European Film Report that looks at the art of filmmaking, and will tackle whatever he feels like writing about (similar to Tedd in Hank McCoy (Before the Fur) except with less love of Dazzler). Hank McCoy (Before the Fur) has been moved to Fridays now, so be sure to check back in then if you want to see what else Tedd has to say about comics. The King gets his due- If any art form has risen to the level of a near fine art it is comics. The reasons for this are numerous including museum retrospectives of great and prolific comic masters like Will Eisner who created The Spirit and Blackhwawk among other immortal comic creations. Other artists like Mac Raboy, the Glanzman Brothers, Alex Raymond, Bill Everett and Steve Ditko have seen their artistic stock rise and there value to collectors skyrocket. The recently Published Kirby: King Of Comics (ABRAMS) is a grand tribute to arguably the most prolific and influential comic artist in US comics history. Only Eisner is much of a rival for this title, but his output was considerably less than Kirby's and his legacy is not that of an artist working exclusively in the superhero genre. Eisner was a much more political and even religious artist as well known to intellectuals for works like The Contact with God Trilogy which touched on philosophical issues that were far more complex than most superhero comic artists. Kirby: King of Comics makes a good case for Kirby being the most influential comic artist of all time-if not the greatest comic book artist period. The work is by Mark Evanier who is an accomplished comic writer with credits at DC, Marvel and Dark Horse. Most importantly, Mr. Evanier was Kirby's assistant and his love for his mentor and friend comes through in his analysis and anecdotes. Mr. Evanier's work helps put Kirby's work in context by making note of some of the comics and artists who had come before and how Kirby's work was influenced by this earlier period in comics (Kirby actually worked under Eisner's wing at his studios very early in his career). Kirby's first great success was Captain America who he created and developed with his colleague Joe Simon. It was here that Kirby's signature style is to be found in the early stages of development. Before Kirby, Most comics imitated the traditional panels of Newspaper comic strips. Even noteworthy artists like Hal foster who brought da Vinci-like anatomical details to pulpy strips like Tarzan were mostly conventional when it came to storytelling and layouts in their work. Kirby's work with captain America exploded off the pages and his first issue with Captain America had Cap laying a vicious right cross on Hitler. This kind of acknowledgment that comics were aware of the political realities of the world was also a novel idea (this has been a trademark of Marvel that sets it apart from the world of DC comics). Kirby was no snob and even though he was creator or co-creator of such comic immortals as The Hulk, Fantastic four, Thor, The X-Men, and the New Gods he also was not above lending his considerable expertise to such forgettable titles as Young Romance, Boy Explorers, Black Magic, Captain 3-D and Fighting American (a kind of second rate reboot of Captain America). Kirby's work hit another peak in the late 50's and early 60's (when he and Simon parted ways). He had a minor hit with the Challengers of the Unknown (an early super-team that prefaced the Fantastic Four) and he also did some strong work in genre comics like the The Rawhide Kid and Tales to Astonish. 1962 saw Kirby begin to create the comics on which his reputation mainly rests: In this year he had a hand in creating the Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor and The Amazing Spider-Man. 1963 was nearly as big a year with the introduction of the X-Men and Iron Man. If Kirby didn't work another day after 1964 his legacy would have been as solid as it is now. Of course Kirby did work for many years after-well into the 80's and occasionally into the 90's. Nothing would top his work for Marvel in the early 60's, but his work for DC was fruitful (even though DC never seemed to fully appreciate his talent or creativity). The New Gods series was very influential (there were some similarities to the Star Wars films) and his characters of Mister Miracle and Big Barda remain interesting creations as did Kamandi (a character inspired by the 70's Planet of the Apes craze). The Demon, however, remains Kirby's masterwork at 70's era DC. The character was rooted in Arthurian mythology and though it was a flop at the time, the Demon has remained a strong character in his afterlife appearing as a colorful character in comics and even some of the animated Warner Brothers series as well. Kirby's legacy is well-represented in Mr. Evanier's book and he doesn't minimize some of the professional struggles Kirby endured at a couple of different points in his career (more than once did Kirby consider making his living in a different and more "respectable" manner). The author also hints that Kirby's work has inspired some of the overblown tendencies in modern comics (like unrealistic physiognomy, overly-busy visuals and an overreliance on mysticism and convoluted mythology). Nonetheless, this work establishes a consistent sense of Kirby's greatness makes a case for his greatness not only as a comic artist, but as a great American stylist.