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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

SON OF THE LEE-KIRBY DEBATE PT. 2

Another rejoinder from the listserve mentioned in Part 1
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I'll amend my earlier statement to say that though there might be some unaltered Kirby scripts that saw print during the Golden Age, I can't agree that the majority of Kirby works didn't get some refinement from other hands.  The DC works particularly seem to have had a lot of the rough edges from the Timely days smoothed out. 

I believe Jack Kirby was an extremely intelligent man whose means of expression was influenced by the down-to-earth rhythms of the Lower East Side and the pulp magazines he loved growing up.  In Evanier's KIRBY-- and I admit I'm quoting from memory, though I can find the quote if necessary-- Evanier remarked that fans were sometimes taken aback not just by Kirby's Brooklyn-esque accent (I know that I was when I first heard him in public) but also by the way he expressed himself, in which his ideas fairly tumbled over one another in his rush to get them out.  I won't say that Kirby *always* scripted comic books that way; he was capable of attempting more formal, restrained dialogue, particularly in SKY MASTERS, which was his shot at the Big Time in those days.  But I don't think that mode of speech and dialogue ever came natural to him.  In contrast, you and others might consider Stan Lee to be "glib" (and I would agree in some specific instances, though not as a rule), but once he honed his style, it remained constant.  He could be snappy, as in his comedy titles like NELLIE THE NURSE and MY FRIEND IRMA, or he could be grim, as in his 1950s monster stories and westerns like BLACK RIDER.  But Stan was like a lot of the better Golden Age writers; once he formulated his  basic style, he kept it.  There was no backsliding into weird grammar-choices, not for him, or for Bill Finger, William Woolfolk, etc.  Stan was an editor first and a writer second, but as he was not an artist writing was one of the main ways Stan made his bread.  That wasn't the case with Kirby, who was always selling his art first.

I don't invalidate your POV, that you say that you see "word choices" and other narrative tics that have stayed constant in Kirby's work.  If my supposition is correct-- that Kirby almost always wrote his dialogue directly on the artboards, rather than writing a separate script first-- then any "fixup" writer who came later would be working from Kirby's original dialogue.  I fully admit that no one like Joe Simon has ever said outright that he had Kirby's dialogue corrected, though Simon did utter a slightly snarky pronouncement to the effect that "we'd never let Kirby write."  Again, it's just my supposition that he may've been thinking not about plotting, but about the headaches of smoothing out some of Kirby's helter-skelter dialoguing.  But it's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

I agree that Kirby was an "original voice," but his mode of expression varied between many truly powerful moments and a goodly number of wonky, awkward malapropisms.  You and others have mentioned that my opinion alone doesn't define the matter, and you're right.  But an awful lot of comics fans have had problems with Kirby's scripting, even when they may love the narrative power of even his most offbeat concepts, like DEVIL DINOSAUR.  That social verdict isn't something that can be blissfully disregarded.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to an online source, here's what Simon said about Kirby's writing in a COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE interview:

"The standard way that Simon & Kirby worked was that I would write the
story out on the page in longhand. Make little sketches and roughs. And
Jack would take over. Finish the penciling. Then, if we had time, I would
ink….I wouldn't let Kirby write anything. His work was very fragmentary."

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