I’d loved to have seen this on the stands in 1968. This is by far the most awesome comic I own, and not just for what it is in itself — which is thirty-two pages of incarnated beauty held together by two staples — but also what it signifies about art. It says everything I love about comics and Art and everything I hate about people who try to belittle or mock those who create and love it.
I got FF 72 for £6 last year in London. It’s not in great shape, but it is an original printing Jack Kirby FF featuring the Silver Surfer. It needs no other qualification of coolness to anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with geekdom, but the cover has merits even to those who don’t know who Uatu the Watcher is (he’s the big bald guy in the background).
I could write all day about the technical mastery of the cover, but you’ll get more for it yourself if you take the time out to just look at it for thirty seconds. Go ahead, take half a minute out of your day, and just look at the image. If you’re pressed for time, I’ll let you off reading the rest of this blog, only just look at the thing. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Only three colours, four including black, and yet what a picture it paints. The high mix of stylization, dynamism, and form which sets Jack Kirby in a category of his own. The very unclassical composition is handled so deftly, I would have loved to see it alongside the other comics and magazines of the day. It would have flown into my hands as swiftly as the Silver Surfer is flying through the cosmos.
Which brings us to Roy Lichtenstein, I suppose. Kirby was unabashedly Sci-Fi. I haven’t read much about him, so I don’t know if he regretted becoming further and further nestled into the genre as his career progressed, but I would guess not. His work smacks to me of someone who just loved the craft, and had no other impulse than just to share his passion with anyone willing to enter into the dream with him. That’s Kirby.
This is Lichtenstein. Admittedly, I’ve done less reading about him than I have about Kirby, but I am familiar with the Pop Art movement and its context in art history. To me, there was a lot of cynicism and snide attitude in it, typified by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Whether or not they were cynics themselves is no matter — their art is cynical, dress it up how you like. They weren’t glorifying Art, they were using Art to make fun of the artistic class, which may well have been a fun little incestuous game for them to play, but it isn’t something that should be celebrated. Here’s what the Tate Modern’s website (which houses ‘Whaam’) has to say about Lichtenstein:
‘Whaam!’ (1963) is based on an image from ‘All American Men of War’ published by DC comics in 1962. Throughout the 1960s, Lichtenstein frequently drew on commercial art sources such as comic images or advertisements, attracted by the way highly emotional subject matter could be depicted using detached techniques. Transferring this to a painting context, Lichtenstein could present powerfully charged scenes in an impersonal manner, leaving the viewer to decipher meanings for themselves. Although he was careful to retain the character of his source, Lichtenstein also explored the formal qualities of commercial imagery and techniques. In these works as in ‘Whaam!’, he adapted and developed the original composition to produce an intensely stylised painting.
Hardly. Something I find very striking is that the work is concurrent to the original source material — the guy basically walked down the street and picked something up at the newsagent’s. Take a look at the following comparison of the painting to the original, which was created by artist Jerry Garendetti and ask what Lichtenstein added, in terms of meaning or technical ability. If you have a little more time, check out this link (I am certain there is some Kirby in there, for a while in the 50s, he was very popular in the Romance Comic scene).
What is incredible is how Lichtenstein fails, in my opinion, to capture the emotion, technique, or stylisation (all qualities that the Tate exhorts in the piece), and instead creates just a cold, dispassionate mess. He can’t even foreshorten properly.
Here’s what comic writer and historian Matt Evanier has to say about the artist of the original image (source here):
Like most artists who departed from the conventional, his work was loved by many but disliked by some. … The result was some of the most visually-arresting and controversial comic art of the period. In fact, by the early seventies, Grandenetti was working so far outside even the relaxed conventions of DC Comics that he no longer quite fit in.
Bearing this in mind, who is the real artist here? The guy who’s tracing images in comics in order to thumb his nose at the artistic establishment, or the guy who’s creating dozens of these images a day in order to make just enough money to scrape by as an artist — a hell he puts himself through because he loves his craft? Go back to the top of the page and look at the comic cover. While Kirby was drawing this, Lichtenstein was touring Europe, giving interviews to chic art criticism magazines while (at least in my imagination) sipping martinis.
Give me Kirby and the rest of the page-wagers any day.