Kirb Your Enthusiasm (8)
By: Ben Greenman | Categories: Read-outs

Eighth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single panel from a Jack Kirby-drawn comic book.

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While in matters of music, say, or literature, or even film, I know enough about people’s bodies of work to develop overarching theories, when it comes to Kirby, I know him mostly through the superheroes he created or co-created: the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men. I know less about the other comics — the mysteries, the dreamscapes, the tales of suspense. But I have a friend who is a Kirbyite, in the same way that other people are David Lynch devotees or Catholics. I should say I had a friend who was a Kirbyite. We had a falling-out. Back when we were close, he told me about Kirby’s upbringing, and the way the world was then for a talented young artist who wasn’t formally trained. He warned against oversimplifying Kirby’s concerns, given the fact that he did both more commercial and more personal work, and lots of it, over the span of decades. Still, he said, he believed that it was fair to say that Kirby’s work was largely about the surfacing of the unthinkable and incomprehensible. Sometimes, he said, it came from within, as in the dream comics. Sometimes, he said, it came from without, as in The Eternals or the Silver Surfer. He yoked several names to Kirby’s, including Otto Rank and Tzvetan Todorov, and said that Kirby was an important figure when it came to exploring the inability of the modern mind to conceive of the inconceivable. It was a heady theory, and I probably wasn’t listening as closely as I should have. I filed it away. About a year after that, we had an argument over his sister, and that was the end of that. It wasn’t the end of seeing each other. We had friends in common. But when we were in the same group, we wouldn’t speak to each other. It was awkward, at least, and you’d think that one or both of us would have just capitulated, but we were young and proud and we remained silent. Slowly, the absence of any conversation became a malign, self-perpetuating presence: it was something I didn’t and couldn’t understand. Eventually he moved out of town and I stopped thinking so much about it.

When I saw this panel, though, which is from Sandman #1 (Winter 1974), it all came back to me. First, my friend’s theory came back to me, because it seems apropos. The dog at the left appears unusually intelligent, at least for a dog, and he’s watching as a creature of some kind — a not-so-distant relative of The Thing, from the looks of it — emerges from the swamp. Is there a more literal way to illustrate the surfacing of the unthinkable? But how does the dog know immediately that the creature is a threat? Fear and hope are two sides of the same coin, both emotions of the unknown. In a way, this panel appeals to me so much because it both summarizes and contradicts what happened in my friendship. Something unthinkable surfaced, but there was neither hope nor fear, only an increasingly resigned acceptance. There’s much more Kirby, more than I’ll ever be able to explore, but to honor my former friend, I’m going to keep this panel in my mind — in part, because it is, like our friendship came to be, wordless.

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2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker

ALSO ON HILOBROW: Joe Alterio’s Cablegate Comix | HiLobrow posts about comics and cartoonists | HiLobrow posts about science fiction | The New Gods generation

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2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.

2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2″ | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.

2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins

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Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several acclaimed books of fiction, including Superbad, Please Step Back, and What He's Poised To Do. His most recent book is Celebrity Chekhov.