The Late Posts
I’ll get to the Jack Kirby of it all in a moment.
Splash panel of The Black Racer from The New Gods #3 © 1971
DC Comics. Script, Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Vince Colletta.
Letters: John Costanza. Colors: Unknown.
Decades before The Late Show was the title of David Letterman’s CBS alternative to
Jay Leno, it was the rather generic name of wee-hours broadcasts of old movies on local TV stations. The phrase also came to be used, with morbid punnery, for the Oscars’ familiar montage of industry folks who’d passed away in the previous year.
I’ve been planning for a while to use a variation of it to introduce, contextualize, and/or apologize for a batch of posts that weren’t up for very long, or never quite went up at all, just a bit too long ago to republish them randomly without explanation. Now seemed like a good idea, when now — the languid end of summer — was still a few weeks in the future. One memorial was already planned for this particular bunch, albeit more out of coincidence than dark humor.
Then I returned home after visiting my father (and [mostly] shunning cyberspace) to the news that Joe Kubert had passed away on Aug. 12th: the anniversary of the day that artist Mike Wieringo had died 5 years earlier and writer/editor Mark Gruenwald had died 11 years before that. It was already officially a date in the comics community to remember gentle, creative souls who made friends wherever they went and fans wherever their words were read or pictures were seen.
And the hits right kept on coming. I learned that essayist David Rakoff had died on
Aug. 9th. Welcome Back, Kotter’s Horshack, Ron Palillo, a staple of my childhood, died on Aug. 14th. Director Tony Scott took his own life on Aug. 19th. Phyllis Diller, a
grande dame of comedy, passed away on Aug. 20th. Muppeteer Jerry Nelson, who performed Sesame Street’s Count von Count and countless more delightful characters, died on Aug. 23rd. Neil Armstrong ceased to be a living legend on Aug. 25th.
I wrote about Armstrong last weekend and hope to have a post about Kubert up soon. They and the others have been fittingly eulogized elsewhere as well, but sometimes I can’t help adding my voice to the multitudes — which is why it’s been so frustrating that the Internet connection at my house slowed to a crawl again recently as I came down with a weird bug to complicate my already sorry state of productivity.
Covers of The New Gods #3 and (Baxter) New Gods #2 © 1971, 1984 DC Comics. Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Vince Colletta; Mike Royer. Letters: Gaspar Saladino. Text, Colors: Unknown.
The past month’s march of mortality in the pop-culture realm culminated almost cathartically in the Aug. 28th observance of the late Jack Kirby’s birthday. Kirby devised, alone or in tandem with Joe Simon and later Stan Lee, plenty of individual characters. Yet what made them sing was the way they interrelated within a larger scope, including the ambitious Fourth World saga — concurrent series full of cosmic concepts that many consider Kirby’s crowning achievement, which is saying something in a career that includes seminal runs on Captain America and The Fantastic Four. Rather than rest on his laurels, the King of Comics showed us what pure, undiluted Kirby truly looked like when he returned to DC following a revolutionary stay at Marvel, and to nearly everyone’s surprise (even those who didn’t give a silver-skinned, surfing spacefarer a second thought) it included an astral avatar of Death on skis.
Kirby wrote and drew, yes, famously, ever a storyteller, but with Simon he also
oversaw a studio of fellow artists, packaging material for various publishers, and with Lee he crafted the foundations of modern-day Marvel, a mutable tapestry of modern mythology that has made the leap from comics to film in wildly successful fashion.
While best known for his sci-fi and superheroes, Kirby contributed mightily to the
war, horror/suspense, romance, and Western genres too. His output was notable for its sheer size as well as for the kinetic genius it contained. Kirby threw everything at the wall, as much just to get it out of his system as to see what stuck — only a relevant matter, really, in that it ultimately dictated what projects drew his focus as a practical matter of employment. The wall in this metaphor was covered many times over. And even though his prodigious output continues to power entire fictional universes, not incidentally filling the coffers of vast media corporations, his greatest legacy is the inspiration that he provides for countless disciples he’s never met to do, do, do.
Folks across the comics sphere spent part of Jack’s birthday sharing memories of the man, galleries of his work, and work of their own inspired by his. It was a lovely way to deal with the sadness of recent passings, recalling that lives inspire well after they’ve been lived.
Related: 4 Fifty • Kirby Talk • The Late Late Posts