Kirb Your Enthusiasm (17)
By: Mark Newgarden | Categories: Popular, Read-outs

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

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James Finlayson??

I recently revisited a couple of issues of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen “edited, written and drawn by Jack Kirby” that I first (and last) read in 1971, at the age of 12. I’m not sure how important that is for you to know, but I just don’t quite know how else to talk about Kirby except as an ex-adolescent.

As I dimly recalled, the story involves Jimmy Olsen and The Newsboy Legion on assignment in Scotland. As I failed to recall “The New” Jimmy Olsen‘s boy reporter testicles appear to have finally descended, here he is all muscles, sideburns and square-jawed swagger. And those “newsboys” bear a passing resemblance to the haggard old men of abbreviated stature who dispensed news (and comic books) at the Staten Island ferry terminal of my youth.

Amid the many predictable panels of giant monsters, inky explosions and fantasy chrome (all awash in an embarrassingly studied grooviness) what I remembered most naggingly and accurately remains as ineffable to me now as it was on first encounter.

Ex-Keystone Kop James Finlayson (1887-1953) is best remembered as a recurring recipient of Laurel and Hardy’s negative attention — and best forgotten for bequeathing Homer Simpson (and the world) his sputtering trademark: “D’Ohhh!”.

Though I gathered that Jack Kirby was no hippy I well understood why the psychedelia was being juiced in these comic books. Kids invariably discern when they are being marketed to. And the monsters and explosions just seemed to go with the territory. But Finlayson? This was the kind of historical figure my personal perverse 12-year-old radar was keenly tuned toward but he was certainly no marketing strategy in 1971, nor in his lifetime, nor today. And in my compartmentalized worldview Finlayson had about as little to do with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen as Vegas insult comic Don Rickles (whose leering headshot had graced the cover a few issues previously). But evidently not to Jack Kirby.

I was consuming numerous superhero comic books around this time and badly wanting to like (or simply understand) any of them. That was sadly never to be. However those “Kirby is Back!” titles that DC hawked in the early 1970s were easily more tantalizing than the rest — if ultimately more inaccessible. Aside from trying to figure out why everything kept exploding, what all those shiny machines were actually supposed to do and why the word “doom” appeared on nearly every page I had encounters like this — from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #144 (December 1971) — to contend with.

Here is our face-to-face with the assassin MacFinney who has just been grazed by the protagonist’s “Whiz Wagon.” The exasperated one-eyed grimace was the comedian’s squinty signature turn and seems to be the only expression that the cartoonist possessed reference material for — it is used again and again throughout the story until the villain is eventually offed by a Loch monster from central casting.

I still don’t quite understand what Kirby was up to by recontextualizing beloved comedians as comic book bad guys. I know these cameos weren’t funny and I know they weren’t exactly serious either. And as far as I know this was the end of the line for that particular gambit of his. But whatever his motivation (or lack thereof) Jack Kirby, the absurdist, got me this time: this panel stopped me dead in my tracks with a “D’Ohhh!” moment that has been lodged in my memory for 40 years.

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CHECK OUT “Cosmic Debris: Kirby in the ’70s,” a series running in tandem with “Kirb Your Enthusiasm” at the 4CP gallery of comic book details | Kirby cutaways and diagrams collected at the Comic Book Cartography gallery | Joe Alterio’s Cablegate Comix and HiLobrow posts about comics and cartoonists, and science fiction | The Jack Kirby Chronology | scans of rare 1940-50s Kirby comics at the Digital Comic Museum | Joshua Glenn on the New Gods generation

POSTS IN THIS SERIES: 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 |

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Books by cartoonist Mark Newgarden include Cheap Laffs, a picture history of the novelty item; and We All Die Alone, a collection of his comics and humor. Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug (with Megan Montague Cash) has won numerous awards and spawned an ongoing series. The eagerly anticipated How to Read Nancy (with Paul Karasik), an expansion of a 1988 essay on Ernie Bushmiller and the syntax of comics, is due from Fantagraphics in 2012.