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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...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

KIRBY'S CHOICE

"Losing the suit [against Jack Schiff] also dashed any hopes Kirby might have had of getting back in at DC.  Which meant he really had one and only one place to get work.  'Shipwrecked at Marvel' was how he'd put it. There'd be a few miscellaneous other jobs-- a story for CRACKED, a few poor-paying jobs for the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED people-- but for years to come and all through the sixties, Jack Kirby was stuck working for Martin Goodman's company"-- Mark Evanier, KIRBY: KING OF COMICS.

Before moving on to part 4 of the LET FREEDOM RIDE series, I feel a need to give a concrete example of the principle of free will as I expounded on it in Part 1:


What I believe Kauffman means to say is that the "free will" expressed by a subject's given choice of his actions is not ENTIRELY caused by contingent factors.  This would be the attitude expressed by psuedo-scientists like Mickey Marx (the subject's will to choose is a manifestation of his society) and Ziggy Freud (the subject's will to choose is a manifestation of his familial upbringing).  This attempt to reduce the will of the subject to an epiphenomenon spawned by a greater phenomenon would not have been possible until the birth of Western science, which as noted here took on greater cultural significance than ever before once science began to deliver to humankind an increasing control over the physical world.
The picture Evanier paints of Jack Kirby's circumstances toward the end of the 1950s decade  is certainly one dominated by what I called "contingent factors."  A few of these factors were brought about by Kirby's direct choices, as when he decided to sue Jack Schiff.  But the shrinkage of the market at the time-- which limited the number of employers who could pay Kirby a living wage-- was certainly no fault of his.  It was also not his fault that all comic book publishers of the time assumed that anything an artist created for them was their property outright, unless a contract specified otherwise.

I've seen a handful of fans speculate on other courses Kirby might have taken in that era, rather than working for Marvel.  To my knowledge no fan has suggested that any other company would have treated Kirby any differently with regard to the matter of owning his creative work, which was the matter that most tormented him in later years.  Some fans have suggested that Kirby should have gone to work for Charlton, whose payment-rates might have been roughly comparable to Marvel's.  Steve Ditko worked for Charlton for many years because they did not interfere in the work he submitted; however, Ditko was not a man supporting a family as was Kirby.  Though these fans could not promise that Kirby would have been any richer, they have suggested that at Charlton Kirby's work would have been "pure:" i.e., not compromised by any interaction with the Boss Everyfan Loves to Hate, Stan Lee.

It's interesting that Kirby chose the simile of the "shipwreck" to describe his restricted circumstances.  When one is shipwrecked, one is unable to leave a given environment.  The word does not connote the nature of the place to which one is confined.  It may be a barren island without sustenance, where the shipwreckee can only perish.  However, in stories of shipwreck-survival, such as Defoe's ROBINSON CRUSOE and Verne's MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, the thrust of these stories is the ways the shipwreckee finds to wring sustenance from the environment, and in some cases, to remold the environment in the image of his own needs.

In the early 1960s-- long before Kirby could have dreamed that his work could help spawn a multi-million-dollar empire-- one could assume that Kirby would be concerned with nothing beyond the survival of himself and his family.  One would certainly not expect him to have any sentimental attachment to "Martin Goodman's company," since during the Golden Age Kirby and his then-partner Joe Simon had left Goodman over non-payment of revenues owed.  In theory, feeling himself constrained by contingent circumstances and forced to work under the aegis of a new editor-- albeit one Kirby had known when Lee was an office-boy in the 1940s-- Kirby should have produced only basic hackwork, enough to keep him in good with the boss, no more.



And yet, if anything looks like hackwork, it's the work Kirby produced, with very minimal writer-collaboration, for the higher-paying company DC in the 1950s.  These Kirby works-- Green Arrow, the Challengers of the Unknown, various "mystery" stories-- have their fans, and indeed nothing produced by Jack Kirby is ever totally a "hack job."  But in my opinion none of these works display a level of creativity commensurate with even the early Kirby-Lee collaborations.  Even a mediocre story like "The Menace of the Miracle Man" from FANTASTIC FOUR #3 shows the artist's inventiveness with the many imagined miracles the title villain conjures up.  There are similar fantasy-tropes in Kirby's work on CHALLENGERS-- where he had almost total control of the material-- but these tropes remain rather flat, perhaps in part because the heroes of the latter feature lacked the deeper emotional resonance of the Fantastic Four.




In this essay I put forth "the possibility that on some level Stan Lee had "challenged" Kirby, perhaps not so much in terms of providing Kirby with raw ideas --of which the artist never seemed to run short-- but in terms of shaping them for maximum dramatic impact."  I say now, as I said then, that I know no one can prove that Lee had such a shaping influence on Kirby's work-habits.  By the same token, no one can prove that "Kirby did it all" and that Stan Lee did nothing or, even worse, vitiated the original Kirby vision.

However, even if, as I believe, Kirby was in part striving to please the tastes of his boss-- perhaps at times following plot-lines that did not interest him-- I would say that his continued inventiveness signifies a Kantian act of free will.  He could have gotten away with far less, and Stan Lee probably would not have fired him for sluffing off, given Kirby's phenomenal productivity as well as the way Lee continued to give work to artists who *could* be called hacks.

But even though Kirby may have been shipwrecked by contingencies, he did remake his island into a paradise.  He did so, at least in the earliest years, with no expectation of special recompense, though it's possible that in later years Lee and Goodman made Kirby promises of remuneration that proved hollow.  But Kirby, in doing what his inner nature bade him, rather than simply adjusting himself to fit the contingent circumstances, showed a "will to freedom" that remains exemplary for its time.



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