I think when I was very young and first getting into comics, I didn’t know what Jack Kirby was about. Moving from the plain vanilla of Superman and Batman and into the depths of things like the 4th World of Jack Kirby, was if nothing else eye-opening. The stories seemed to suddenly go psychedelic in a way I didn’t understand, but also in a way I have found lingered a lot longer in my mind then most other comics.
Kirby’s drawing was so unique, so squared off and full of movement, that it seemed so different to me from other artists I encountered. I don’t think I immediately took to it, but slowly it came to be the peak of comic art to me – and in many ways that is still true.
And the stories in the 4th world always seemed so wildly full of action, they were feverish in their pace, and also in the kinds of characters that would appear and inhabit them. The images surrounding the action and characters were an all encompassing dreamscape all told in the language of Kirby.
And most of all Kirby’s characters delighted me and still do. The characters I remember most fondly are not the bottled patriots like Captain America, or prototypical Fantastic Four characters, but the totally bizarre seemingly spontaneous creations of the 4th World and other lesser known works.
Characters like Granny Goodness, a truly scary reversed grandmother, who fashions murderers through brainwashing and a bizarre reverse childcare. Or Gorgeous Godfrey, a propagandist who spreads ‘Anti-Life’ and is obviously (even to 10 year old me) a play on Billy Graham like televangelists.
And there are many more characters he created, from Mister Miracle to Fin Fang Foom, that are just different enough, subversive enough, and weird enough to have disrupted my reading of comics and my world in the best of ways. Most of these characters skirted the well-known binaries of good and evil, as well as did more than just visualize emotions. They are phantasms of a conscious mind exploring possibilities of every possible existence.
It’s fairly ridiculous to say that perhaps the most famous of all comic artists is also the first artist who introduced me to the possibilities of a wider and more subversive view of the world. But for the 10 year old mind that encountered his work, and the 10 year old world I inhabited, I think it was quite definitely true.
What most intrigues me now is the disruption I remember having with Kirby’s 4th World. This work was just so weird that it forced my mind to stretch, change and grow. It moved me from a kid’s world to something larger. I don’t look back at it now and think of it as being wildly subversive, but sometimes a cracked open door, with a little light peeking out is just enough to help open everything in one’s mind.
This idea of disruption has become very important to me of late. It’s about breaking apart a sense of complacency, satisfaction, and security in a particular place or state of mind in order to move to a higher or more expanded reference point/way of thinking. I don’t want to be stuck thinking one way, lacking curiosity, believing the world to be best understood in one way or the other. I want what I felt happened to comics when I encountered Kirby’s 4th World.
That is the blowing up of the regular and routine for an endless stretch of possibility and experiment.