Year of the Artist, Day 186: Jack Kirby, Part 10 – DC Graphic Novel #4
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jack Kirby, and the issue is DC Graphic Novel #4 (more commonly known as “The Hunger Dogs”), which was published by DC and is cover dated March 1985. These scans are from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus volume 4, which came out in 2008. Enjoy! (Hey, can you name all SEVEN of the DC Graphic Novels from the 1980s without looking it up? I certainly can’t!)
“The Hunger Dogs,” in which DC allowed Kirby to wrap up his Fourth World saga, was, according to everyone who knows such things, far too short for Kirby, who had a sprawling, George R.R. Martin kind of epic in mind (with presumably less incest and pregnant-women-stabbing) and couldn’t resolve things in the short amount of space provided. I still haven’t read “The Hunger Dogs,” so I can’t comment on that, but I can take a look at the art, can’t I? I will point out that I don’t have the original, so I have no idea if this has been recolored or not – it looks a bit too fancy for 1985 in the Fourth World Omnibus, so I’m inclined to think it was touched up. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is, I guess. I also need to note that since the original graphic novel was different dimensions than a standard comic, this reproduction tends to fall into the spine more than has been evident in the past few days, when the collected editions matched the dimensions of the original issues. I tried to open my Omnibus as wide as it could go, but it’s hard when the art is so far down in the spine like it is here. As you can see below, I can’t even get all of the panels that are aligned toward the spine into the scans. Sorry!
I mentioned the other day that Kirby never did too much with layouts, but he does some interesting things in this book, and I’m not sure why now after years of being fairly standard. Maybe he was just bored. This is a nice layout, actually – Darkseid and the major are discussing the weapons they’re going to use to defeat New Genesis, and Kirby shapes the page like a missile. The layout isn’t confusing – despite the large X on the page, the diamond, and the triangles, we read it like a three-row page – but it does create a sense of war dominating everything on Darkseid’s world, including the structure of society itself (which, of course, is true). Kirby once again shows that he knows a thing or two about designing a comic book.
Once again, I had to go to the Internet to find a Kirby double-page splash (I found this one here). And as usual, Kirby doesn’t disappoint. Darkseid is the focal point of the scene, but around him swirl a mélange of images. The Nazi-like salute of the soldiers as he passes and the ornate standard over his left shoulder speak to his totalitarianism, and Kirby has no problem linking him to dictators of history. In the foreground, we see two soldiers looming over two peons who are unrolling the carpet on which Darkseid walks. Kirby makes that chore look arduous, as the peons have looks of great anguish on their faces, mainly because they know what will happen if they disappoint Darkseid in the smallest way. Apokolips is a volcanic world, and I imagine Kirby put the giant venting flame in this panel to reflect that, as it shows what a violent place the slaves of Darkseid inhabit. Kirby, as usual, gives us wonderful details, from the armor Darkseid’s soldiers wear to the pattern on the carpet – it’s not just a regular red carpet, it’s a beautifully woven red carpet, damn it!
This page is one of the ones that makes me wonder if the color has been retouched, because the replica planet looks a bit too painted, and while it wouldn’t be surprising for a DC graphic novel to be fully painted in 1985, I’m not sure if this one was. Either way, it’s again a nice layout by Kirby so he can get both views of the replica planet onto the page, and of course we have the marvelous Kirby machinery, from the base on which the replica planet rests to the crane that targets the “infected areas.” Kirby certainly never phoned a page in.
Kirby loved his big fight scenes, and he loved packing the fight scenes with a ton of characters. Orion fights at least nine dudes here, but thanks to the Inverse Ninja rule, he doesn’t seem to be having too difficult a time with it. As usual, we get the wonderful Kirby machinery and weaponry and armor, but notice that Kirby, unlike many artists, isn’t too concerned with making sure his anatomy works. Orion’s left arm looks far longer than usual and his hand is much bigger than it should be, but Kirby ain’t care, damn it! Kirby understood that sometimes you have a cool image and “reality” doesn’t mean much, so while some other artists might hesitate to go so nuts with Orion’s arm and hand, Kirby decided the overall image took precedence, and the vision of Orion firing a blaster with his right hand while crushing some dude’s skull with his left while three bad dudes hang all over him is more important than anatomy. Who are we to say he was wrong?!?!?
Kirby didn’t use negative space that often, so when he did, it’s interesting to see. The “phenomenal brightness” of the “fury” doesn’t light up the night sky, it turns the people into negative silhouettes, while the sky roils around them. This allows him to keep the Kirby Krackle in the sky, which makes it nightmarish, while still showing how powerful the light is. Plus, it gets across the people’s reaction to the fury without showing them in detail, as Kirby’s poses are never terribly subtle, so everyone is cringing and pointing and generally acting terrified. Had he drawn the details into the people, he would have needed to put clothing on them and the colorist (three colorists are credited on this issue – Greg Theakston, Bill Wray, and Tony Dispoto, so I don’t know who did what) would have had to color them, robbing the dramatic sky of some of its impact. So this is a good choice by Kirby.
This double-page spread (which I ganked from here) really needs to be clicked on so you can appreciate the grandeur. Go ahead – you know you want to!
Kirby was using multimedia at least as far back as Fantastic Four #29, and like most of his art, he always pushed himself to get better at it. This mishmash is bizarre and unreal, not really showing the “destruction” of New Genesis as much as giving us what it feels like for something to be destroyed. So Kirby gives us an explosion, but it doesn’t look too horrible yet it rips the planet apart. We get scattered rocks, crystals, and a bunch of skulls that are far too large for the scene but convey the idea of death well. Kirby also drops in some spaceships, including what appears to be an Imperial Star Destroyer on the left side (George Lucas on Line One!). Even the city in the upper right is a photo dropped into the collage, despite Kirby drawing it later in the book (as we’ll see below). This kind of collage has a huge impact when it’s used judiciously, and I wonder if it’s just too time-consuming for artists to do it, because we rarely see it anymore except on covers occasionally (Dave McKean loved doing these kinds of things on his Sandman covers, but that was 20 years ago). The chaos on the page isn’t “realistic” even within the context of a space opera between gods, but it does create a discordant tone of destruction that fits what’s happening as well as or better than a simple drawing of an explosion. The New Gods are losing their entire home, and Kirby gets this utter loss across very well.
Kirby never did quieter emotions all that well, so instead of showing Darkseid’s despair at Orion’s escape – he’s not sad because Orion escaped, he’s sad because there’s “nothing worth tormenting on Apokolips” anymore – he simply pulls away from him and shrinks the panel around him, which is a cool effect. He slowly isolates and shrinks Darkseid, which shows him as the small man he really is – throughout this comic, he’s bigger than everyone around him, but Kirby finally explodes that myth, leaving him with nothing but his “own thirsty ego.” It’s really nicely done, as it bypasses a possibly Kirby problem – showing Darkseid’s facial expression as Orion escapes – and turns it into a strength.
For the final Kirby image this year (well, maybe), I thought I’d show the penultimate page of “The Hunger Dogs,” mainly because it combines Kirby’s love of detailed machinery – as Highfather’s fancy city zips through the cosmos – and Kirby Krackle. Who doesn’t love cool-ass machinery and Kirby Krackle? If you said “I don’t,” I’m afraid you might be a Communist. Seek help!
So that’s a taste of Jack Kirby’s later career, after a taste of his early career that we saw earlier. Could I do an entire year on Kirby’s art? Yes, yes I could. The dude was prolific!
Tomorrow I’ll revisit Ditko, even though he hasn’t changed too, too much over the past 40 years (well, I haven’t seen his totally underground recent stuff, but I’m going to assume it hasn’t changed too much) – it’s still fun to check out how he drew a bunch of odd characters as his sensibilities got even odder. I don’t have any Mr. A comics, so I’ll skip that, but I have some other weird Ditko stuff, so I hope you’ll come on back. As always, feel free to range around the archives – they won’t hurt you!