Monday, October 3, 2016

The King Of Swords!

Of the many many genres Jack "King" Kirby is associated with (superheroes, romance, war, westerns) he is not so much identified with the signature breakout genre of the 70's - Swords and Sorcery. (With one exception I'll touch on at the bottom of this post.) But there are some few examples as can be seen above in this cover for Comixscene's "Sword and Sorcery" issue in 1973.


Kirby drew Conan very few times, but one time was in his seminal book Heroes and Villains, a collection of Kirby pencil splashes which have been the source of countless inkings and re-inkings over the decades by many talented folks.


He included Conan in this illustration for one of Marvel's myriad subscription ads as the Cimmerian is nestled in with Spidey, The Thing, Howard the Duck and many other Marvel luminaries of the day.


Johnny Romita either heavily inked this piece or re-drew it entirely for the final product.


Kirby produced exactly one Conan cover, for the fifth and final issue of Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian which reprinted Conan's crossover with Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone. This gave the King the chance to draw two S&S icons though Conan's head has been clearly redrawn by the production staff at Marvel.


The evidence is clear in the original artwork seen here. I frankly prefer Conan's somewhat more wistful expression in the Kirby original to his more aggressive mood in the fixed-up version.


Perhaps one of the King's greatest contributions to the genre of Sword and Sorcery was Thundarr the Barbarian, which he designed for Ruby-Spears animation. That cartoon blended the apocalyptic post-holocaust sci-fi genre with the magical S&S  to offer up something which had been never seen on home TV's before.


There is an exception to this though - Tales of Asgard. Though not technically Swords and Sorcery, the series which ran in the back of the Thor comics for years do indeed have many of the same tropes as classic S&S, especially some of the later story lines. Look for much more on Jack Kirby and his work on that series thoughout the month.

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7 comments:

  1. Actually, the characters of Thundarr and his companions were designed by Alex Toth. Kirby's contributions to the show were mostly evil wizards and technomage tech, though he did draw some promotional material featuring the heroes, like the piece shown.

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    1. I appreciate the correction. I knew Toth had some hand in Thundarr, but I thought Kirby was more directly involved. As I understand it, Toth did the main characters and Kirby did the world (for the most part).

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  2. The Atlas story he did for DC certainly looks like S&S to me. I'd also point to the Barbarian hordes in early issues of 2001 as a way to imagine what a Kirby sword and sorcery series might look like. I don't suppose he ever technically did something that strictly falls within the parameters. If he'd been asked to come up with something in the genre I'm sure it would've been as innovative and spectacular as his other work. Look at those Arabian Knights-style sequences in Tales of Asgard or the opening battle in Camelot in the first issue of the Demon. If he hadn't been inventing genres of his own, he might've redefined Sword and Sorcery in comics.

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    1. The 2001 thing is a pretty good catch but Atlas felt more post-Apocalypse than S&S but it's a close deal for sure. I think the later Tales of Asgard stories fit nicely.

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  3. I haven't read up much on Kirby, but what did he think about other artists redrawing parts of his work, like the Conan cover, or the Superman and Jimmy Olson faces, or even Vince Coletta wiping out backgrounds?

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    1. I'm not necessarily a fan, but I understand the impulse of editors to want to keep their brands consistent and Kirby for all his creativity was very distinctive. To the Conan cover above, the redrawn head does show more aggression so maybe the change was necessary, at least from the point of view of getting the image to pop off a spinner rack.

      I'm a huge Vinnie Colletta fan, so I forgive much of what many consider a crime. Sometimes he went too far, but sometime to my eye his simplification helped the composition.

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  4. I did enjoy Colletta's inks on Thor, and I thought he was a pretty good fit on the Fourth World series he was involved with. It wasn't until later that I learned he would remove parts of Kirby's panels and I just remember thinking that would put me through the roof if I were Kirby. It might not have bothered him though.

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