Jack Kirby didn’t get to be an intellectual. That’s a label others stick on you. When Jack told Will Eisner, as recorded in Eisner’s book SHOP TALK, of the time in his career when he “began to intellectualise,” you can almost literally hear Eisner’s condescension come off the page. Art Spiegelman, struggling to say anything of import about Kirby in a conversation with Gary Groth, calls his work “dimwitted.”
When Jack Kirby’s army superiors, during his World War II service, discovered he was an artist, they put Private Kirby to drawing maps on scrap paper while in the field of combat. Will Eisner was illustrating manuals from his Pentagon posting as Chief Warrant Officer.
In 1997, Eisner tells an interviewer that when someone showed Kirby Eisner’s THE DREAMER, a book about the early comics industry and therefore depicting a young Jack Kirby, Kirby’s comment was “I didn’t think Will liked me that much.”
Kirby’s background was cinema. Eisner’s background was theatre. We’ll return to this. The head of Jack Kirby on my desk is restive. He wants to talk about the days of the Eisner & Iger studio in New York, back when he was still Jacob Kurtzberg, but from somewhere he can still hear Eisner talking about him, talking down to him: “Jack was a little fellow. He thought he was John Garfield, the actor! Very tough, very tough. But he was a very little fellow; a very good fellow, but very tough…”
Somewhere in the back of Jack Kirby’s severed robotic head, the old Philip K Dick subroutines assert themselves for a moment, and the thing’s misty eyes project a Phildickian alternate world where Jack Kirby became the progenitor of a two-fisted Jewish intellectual line. This altered timewave surfs me to late 2008, where Douglas Rushkoff, having now taken boxing lessons and been blooded in streetfights, beats the shit out of two muggers on a Brooklyn street corner and writes about the experience in his next book LIFE INC., a long and involved consideration of the social contract and the pleasing efficacy of stamping on someone’s balls. On his wall is a picture of Jack Kirby in a fine suit with an expensive and most importantly elegant cigar in his hand, a cigar like a Fifties rocketship, lounging like (in place of) Raymond Loewy against a gleaming car with tailfins and a Willy Ley prow. That’s medal-encrusted Captain Raymond Loewy of the Armée de l’Air, the French industrial designer who moved to America and made the future for them. He designed cars, trains, boats, fridges, the classic Coke can, the Lucky Strike package and the interior of the fucking Skylab.
Can you imagine a Jack Kirby-designed Skylab? Even a Jack Kirby-designed car? Would he see that stories can be told through the design of things? That there is fiction in architecture, and narrative in design?
The future caught up with Jack Kirby. While Druillet was co-founding Les Humanoides Associes, designing films for Willian Friedkin, collaborating on productions at the Opera de Paris, being given national medals, redesigning subway stations (Druillet actually involved in architecture!: an echo behind me of Francois Roche saying “strategies of sickness”: plantlike structures evoked: French comics anthology L’Echo Des Savanes, which briefly published Druillet in 1975, translates literally as The Echo Of The Savannahs) and exhibiting his photography and glass sculpture… Jack Kirby was adapting 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for comics.
Mark Evanier, assistant, longtime friend and biographer to Jack Kirby: “…(it was) hard to realize that he was a brilliant man and a much deeper thinker than you had to be to draw super-heroes and super-villains punching each other across the page… I increasingly find myself wishing Jack had been granted a venue where he could have done more than Marvel Comics, regardless of what company published him.”
Raymond Loewy is currently orbiting my house in a Studebaker Atom Space Shuttle. Let the bastard have his laughs. We’ll fix his shit later.
Recent releases from the Norwegian label Miasmah have been spectacularly miserable and beautifully atmospheric examples of what’s sometimes called “dark ambient” or “oh my god this is the sound of being trapped in the Arctic Circle with no food and there’s ice on everything and I can feel the cold grip of death closing around my very fucking bones” music. The creaking of frozen ropes. The sound of boots on sodden, rotting timbers. It is the experience of hearing your own funeral music from the future. And very often astonishingly lovely. Obviously, this is essential to your life. You’re looking especially for the recent albums by Elegi and Svarte Greiner, which share thematic and tonal roots. I understand the new Kreng is very good, too. Their fine website is easily found through the Google.
I can be sent things via Avatar Press at Avatar Press, 515 N. Century Blvd., Rantoul, IL 61866, USA, but I cannot promise a response or a review. Although, let’s be honest, it’s fairly likely, as eventually the ANYTHING section will need to be about comics. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but I warn you, it’s a dump address, not my regular email address, so it can take me a few days to check it.
DO ANYTHING is © Warren Ellis 2009, all rights reserved.