Kirby's Writing

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patrick ford
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The discussion of Kirby's writing got a bit unwieldy for a comments thread attached to a page of artwork from Thor #137.

http://www.whatifkirby.com/gallery/comic-art-listings/mighty-thor-issue-...

In most ways Aaron Nobel and I are on the same page. There have been several occasions in the past where I've had similar discussions with people like Aaron and like myself, who all agree that Kirby was a writer worth paying attention to. Where I differ with Aaron and my prior correspondents breaks down in two ways which are closely related.
It seems to me there are people who appreciate Kirby's writing (and his late period drawing could work in as well), but who feel it is naive. In this instance "naive" is a better word than "primitive" because I, for one, think "primitive art" (cave paintings, etc.) is the farthest thing possible from naive.
Then there are people who feel the widely held perception that Kirby's writing is naive, is so entrenched, that arguing against the established understanding serves only to weaken any positive appraisal of Kirby's writing. So, If a person wants to be taken seriously they must at least use the accepted "code words" when describing Kirby's writing. There have been discussions where people have told me straight out they agree with my observations, but the argument would be made stronger by being less honest, and more attuned to finding some way of bridging the gap.
The idea being it isn't wise strategy to say Kirby's work is sophisticated, even if that's how I see it. It's a better plan to go along with the general consensus that Kirby is interesting because he was a Henry Darger-like "weirdo."
Like most people I haven't been able to study Darger deeply enough (not even close) to know what level of analysis he brought to his work. It may be he drank in information which connected to his unconscious and then disgorged it in unconscious, but digested form.
I certainly don't think that was the case with Kirby. Everything I know about him suggests an intellectual process.
His supposed "weird" use of language is impossible to technically define. What exactly is a "weird" word stress? What is a "weird" choice of words? There is factually no such thing as "weird" bold face stress choices when it comes to comics text. And there is no codex which tells a creative writer which words are appropriate or inappropriate to use. There are no doubt instances in Kirby's writing, and in the writing of many others, where a word choice appears to fall outside the proper dictionary definition. The thing is it isn't uncommon at all for words to begin to be used in new ways over time. There are slang/urban dictionaries. Kirby was an immaginative and creative individual. If he could take a stack of magazines,cut them up, and then arrange the pieces into a well composed piece of artwork, or deconstruct human anatomy, there isn't any reason to assume he was not using a sophisticated intellectual process in his writing. WHY are his choices described as "weird" when they might be described as inventive, or creative? Isn't it a huge positive that his style is so unique both fans and detractors recognize it as being like nothing else? Intellectual is defined as "given to study, reflection, and speculation." An excellent description of Kirby's process. An intellectual quarterback in a football game is reacting in the moment, but his reactions are based on intellect. His live reactions are based on a sophisticated understanding. Sophistication is described as; "highly complicated or developed, having a refined knowledge of the ways of the world cultivated especially through wide experience, finely experienced and aware, not naïve."
As I mentioned in another post, the fact Kirby lavished value added attention on his text should in no way be seen as unschooled. The fact he took the time to add layers of meaning to his text with the tools at his disposal, is an indication of intellectual process i.e. sophistication. The frequent use of word stress, "scare quotes," and other punctuation, shows an connection with the words and a desire on the part of the author to instruct the reader as to how those words are intended to be understood.
It's also unreasonable to remove from the equation that Kirby was in almost every instance writing primarily for a targeted audience. His first focus was to connect with the most likely audience. The fact Kirby was at the same time able to express a personal point of view commenting on issues thematically important to him is another value added. It's really the very thing which makes writing for children or adults great.
I think most adults can appreciate Seuss, or E.B.White, or Roald Dahl. It's because they are dealing in largest part with the same themes as the best writers for adults. The reading level is just a little different. In a way though there is more magic in something which can connect with all ages than there is with something which is understood only by a narrow audience.

Kirby summed it up: "The problem-solving, you do that in your head, but when you put down a line, you've made a decision."

It was an intellectual process. His work was deeply informed. If he never played the same song the same way twice, well that's sophistication.

patrick ford
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Aaron, I see Rand has posted

Aaron, I see Rand has posted a link to your article at the the Kirby Museum page The Kirby Effect.

patrick ford
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Double Post.

Double Post.

DanZee
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Reed Richards and Ben Grimm

I always heard Ben Grimm's voice when the stories were written by Jack Kirby and Reed Richards' voice when the stories were written by Stan Lee. And I think that's a good comparison. Both could tell solid stories, but in different ways. Certainly, Jack's writing was less erudite than Stan's, but no one could compare to the sheer action and excitement portrayed in Jack's artwork!

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Patrick Ford's last reply was strong,

and I had some thoughts, but after all, there is a limited value to critiquing the literary style of an interview quote--! I've been focused on another piece of Kirby-related writing: a blog post comparing two double page spreads: from Boy's Ranch 3 and Mister Miracle 8. I don't go into the prose style, but I do write a lot about some themes that Kirby evolved across time and genre. If anyone is interested it's here: http://www.aaronnoble.net/wordpress/

best
Aaron

drdroom
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Ooops

I seem to have replied in the wrong place. That post should have been #7 or something.

drdroom
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Let's see if this works...

I will attempt to paste in all of the original thread, beginning with my comment on Kirby's margin notes for the Thor 137 splash, featuring Sif. This is mainly Patrick & myself with a couple other contributors toward the end:

How much more natural
and revealing of Thor's warrior character it would be if Thor were simply impressed with her javelin handling as Kirby suggests, than for him to be internally spouting Lee's ridiculous sixth-graders-idea-of-love-poetry Snow White "fairest of them all" sludge. I get that Kirby was an eccentric primitive writer with a lot of weird flats and sharps, but there were ideas and in his writing, where Stan had nothing but corn.

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Posted by: patrick ford | May 31, 2013
Compared to what?
I agree, except for the notion there is something any more primitive about Kirby's writing than there is any comic book writing. The really odd thing is Kirby is most often being compared to Lee. Somehow there is an idea Lee was better educated than Kirby, had more experience as a writer, had a better understanding of grammar, or others aspects of writing craft, wrote in a more natural or realistic style. None of that is true.
So when I see the common complaints saying Kirby's writing is awkward/clumsy; I say, "Compared to what?"
And then when people backpedal and say, "Well, no Stan's writing wasn't any more realistic than Kirby's. It's just that Kirby's was so weird it 'broke the suspension of belief.' "
Then I have to say, "You mean breaks the suspension of belief, more than a writer who is constantly peppering his text with advertisements? Breaking into the middle of a song to blare, 'Ain't this the wildest true believer?' Or plugging the next issue of Iron Man in the middle of a Thor story?"
So much of this stuff I think people have been saying for so long they haven't stopped to think about how little sense it makes.

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Posted by: drdroom | May 31, 2013
Well,
...a lot of what you're answering is not my position. Kirby's writing is different from other writing, including comic writing, in ways that have to do with an odd, untutored freshness, and a completely idiosyncratic emphasis. His voice in the seventies and after is easily distinguishable from any other author. He has faults, and they are very different from Stan's faults. I just think his virtues soar far above Stan's virtues.

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Posted by: patrick ford | May 31, 2013
He could be described as
He could be described as untutored I suppose, but no more so than someone like Alan Moore who came from a similar background. People like Lee had no more training than Kirby, and arguably less.
The incredibly common assertion that Kirby used strange bold face emphasis has never made even the slightest bit of sense to me. Who would know which word in a sentence the author wants stressed, better than the author.
I always like to say Kirby's writing is "square fingered," because it has the exact same qualities as his artwork. Why wouldn't it? It's the same man, he had the same amount of training as a writer as he did as an artist. He was writing his own stories in the '30s and kept on doing it into the mid-'80s.

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Posted by: drdroom | May 31, 2013
Doesn't matter
...whether Kirby or Lee or Moore or William Shakespeare were actually tutored or untutored. Its whether the WRITING feels untutored. Kirby is the only one of that group who does. My point of comparison, before you ask, is the entire continuum of everything I've ever read in my life from cereal boxes to Moby Dick. On that continuum I place Kirby's writing generally in the untutored region. This is not a bad thing, at least, not in my book. The "odd emphasis" assertion may be "incredibly common" because everyone else is a thoughtless fool, or, alternatively, it might just be a reasonable thing to think. You seem to be misinterpreting it though: as an accusation that Kirby was placing stresses at random, and didn't know what he wanted. On the contrary, I agree with you (I think most students of Kirby would) that Kirby stressed what he wanted to stress, and that those choices were elements of a distinctive, outsider-ish style, the style you describe as "square-fingered," which I think is apt. After all, if you agree that he has a literary style, distinct from Stan and other comic writers, well, that style must be composed of something, right?

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Posted by: patrick ford | June 1, 2013
The Comic Book Fan Wisdom
By incredibly common, I mean within a small group of super hero comic book fans. Most of the things said about Kirby's writing falls into line with a whole bunch of other things super hero fans "know" because they have heard them in the past. I don't think for one second a large group of super hero fans all saying the same things mean those things are correct. More likely the opposite. There are large groups of people devoted to religion or politics who all have the same talking points, and I sure don't think those talking points are accurate.
My observation is most all of the current conventional "wisdom" concerning Kirby's writing was fomented back in the '70s by employees of Marvel. A lot of it can be traced straight back to Stan Lee and Jim Shooter. So, you have a whole bunch of Marvel insiders with their Kirby talking points. You have fans who are devoted to Marvel, and as time passes more and more fans of Marvel all begin saying the same exact things. It's like they have a little handbook.
You didn't hear people complaining about Kirby's writing in the '40s and '50s. It was only after Stan Lee convinced his legions of Titanic True Believers that Kirby was a "penciler" that you began seeing the standard Kirby talking points.

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Posted by: patrick ford | June 1, 2013
!!!!!!!!!!
Just as an example here is Shooter on Kirby.

"He used exclamation points in bunches, sometimes a dozen at a time at the end of a sentence!!!!!!!!!!! He misspelled some things -- like everybody else -- and occasionally misused a word. He used tons of bold words."

See the comment about exclamation points? Well the idea Kirby ever ended a sentence with a dozen exclamation points is a gross exaggeration. And yet I've seen Marvel fans repeat that just as often as they repeat the claim Kirby used "weird" bold face choices. Now the idea there are a set of rules for which words in his script an author wants his actors (because that's what the characters are) to stress is flatly ridiculous. There are no rules. There is no discussion.
The exclamation point thing is different, because you can go look at Kirby's pencils, and he never ended a sentence with anything close to a dozen exclamation points. Further, Kirby's use of exclamation points was tied directly to the long time use of the exclamation point in comics being in essence a stand-in for the period. The original idea was a period might get lost in the printing process. Kirby and other writers did not use exclamation points because they were foaming at the mouth hyper.
I do think Kirby was more conscious of his text and the way he wanted his actors to read it than most cartoonists. Kirby admired actors, and as a kid had dreams of being an actor. He went beyond what most writers did because it isn't just words alone which have meaning, it is also the way the words are spoken. Kirby larded his text with bold face stressed words, "scare quotes" to indicate irony or satiric intent, exclamation points, and other punctuation. Kirby made frequent use of ellipsis in order to indicate a pause in his dialogue. It's all pretty sophisticated if you ask me. He's not only writing the dialogue, he's using every tool at his disposal to indicate how it is supposed to be read.

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Posted by: patrick ford | June 1, 2013
Incredibly Common
One more point as to the incredibly common (among Marvel fans) ideas surrounding Kirby's writing.
The number one idea is that Kirby was a horrible writer. Not just someone who was not as good as Roy Thomas or Stan Lee, but literally the worst writer of all time.
The fact is it incredibly common to see super hero fans describe Kirby text is by far the worst in the history of the form, does not make me think for one second I ought to think there must be something to their claim because it is incredibly common.

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Posted by: drdroom | June 1, 2013
I can understand
your annoyance with all of these Shooterist Marvel acolytes, but honestly, I think they lost that argument long ago, and they are not hanging out on this forum either. Every year that passes makes Kirby's greatness more clear. The discussion to have now, in my view, is about the nature of Kirby's artistry, not as a Marvel comicbook writer in the '70s, but fundamentally as a great American storyteller of the 20th Century. His strangeness, or ( as Harold Bloom might say) the uncanny originalness of his work, is an important element of that. Michael Chabon, speaking of OMAC and Devil Dinosaur, commented "There is nothing stranger than strange Kirby."
And there is this from Jonathan Lethem:
"Kirby hadn’t been inactive in the interlude between his classic 1960s work for Marvel and his mid-1970s return. He’d been in exile at DC, Marvel’s older, more august and squarer rival. In his DC work and the return to Marvel, where he unveiled two new venues, The Eternals and 2001, Kirby gradually turned into an autistic primitivist genius, disdained as incompetent by much of his audience, but revered by a cult of aficionados in the manner of an ‘outsider artist’. As his work spun off into abstraction, his human bodies becoming more and more machine-like, his machines more and more molecular and atomic (when they didn’t resemble vast sculptures of mouse-gnawed cheese), Kirby became great/awful, a kind of disastrous genius uncontainable in the form he himself had innovated. It’s as though Picasso had, after 1950, become Adolf Wölfli, or John Ford had ended up as John Cassavetes. Or if Robert Crumb had turned into his obsessive mad-genius brother, Charles Crumb."
I'm not quoting Lethem here because I agree word for word, but more to demonstrate that viewing Kirby as outside-the-norm is not necessarily an indication of a thoughtless fanboy herd mentality.

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Posted by: patrick ford | June 1, 2013
Weird like Lynch
Certainly weird is a word which could be used to describe a great deal of creative work I enjoy. I certainly don't appreciate Kirby being labeled with a "mad-genius" tag as it's not remotely accurate, and playing into a common narrative which depicts Kirby as an idiot savant.
A more accurate way of looking at Kirby's late period artistic development is to see it as sophisticated as opposed to "primitive." Primitive implies either work which is being generated by people who are part of so called "Primitive cultures" or the the work of so called "naive" artists as radically diverse as Bill Traylor, Henri Rousseau, Grandma Moses, or Andre Bauchant.
Some of these artists might be described as "naive" I suppose, it's something very difficult to judge. For example Grandma Moses began painting late in life, but her artistic influences were hardly naive. Her artistic background was grounded in needlepoint embroidery where her work had a highly sophisticated technique. It was only because of her age that she had to put down the needle. It's more than a little presumptuous to judge her oil technique as naive when measured against her artistic background.
It's true a lot (really a lot) of comics fans see Kirby later work (both art and story) as anywhere from degraded to outright embarrassing. On the other hand my wife said something awhile back which impressed me. She doesn't follow comics and has no interest in Kirby, but one afternoon I had a book open which displayed the cover of Silver Star #1, and she remarked off-hand, "Wow, that is really slick. Look at how streamlined those forms are." She's very interested in Deco and Moderne styles; things like fabric, housewares, furniture.
It mainly comes down to the perception by many comics fans that Kirby did things by instinct, that he did not employ an intellectual process, that he was a drawing machine, that his later work does not represent a natural progression but a strict deterioration of ability. This attitude is opposed to the idea that Kirby's creative restlessness meant his style (like a Picasso) was always evolving based on his growing experience, level of craft, and deep well of influences.
I would agree health issues impacted Kirby work after around 1984. The work from the early '80s is often very strong, and on those occasions where it isn't at it's best are almost certainly due to some of the very rough deadlines placed on a man of his age.
And even the very last pages for the second Super Powers stories have tremendous charm in their raw penciled state. Kirby was able to achieve this working under a tight monthly deadline, and while dealing with a bad hand, a tremor which meant he had to steady his hand on a ruler and draw slowly. The results were still often striking.
http://www.whatifkirby.com/sites/default/files/comicpages/SuperPowers_06...

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Posted by: drdroom | June 2, 2013
I think the gist
of this debate (meaning the debate with me, rather than the debate with other common narratives re: idiot savant, mad genius and what not) lies in your comment here: "A more accurate way of looking at Kirby's late period artistic development is to see it as sophisticated as opposed to "primitive."
"Primitive" is such a problematic term (I only used it in reference to his writing,along with "eccentric", and I'm not even happy with those) that I would have to agree-- if we're talking about the whole comic, "sophisticated" is more accurate. But it's not VERY accurate. "Sophisticated" has its own problems, and it implies a kind of deliberate theoretical framework that Kirby never gave any indication of being concerned with. He didn't even make thumbnails. He wrote the story page by page as he drew it. He started out with one idea and ended on something else completely. He was an artist well-built for ridiculous deadlines. To the end of his days he insisted that his aim was to make exciting, commercially successful entertainments. And yet, his work became increasingly abstract, personal, ambitious, alienating, brutal, surreal and delirious. To call him a primitive artist doesn't give anywhere near enough credit to his unparalleled skill --indeed, sophistication-- especially in composition, but also in figuration. But read the text pages he occasionally wrote to expound on the Fourth World or Devil Dinosaur. It is very disorienting to try to discern a point in them. They are disorganized and full of incredibly clunky phrasings. They are still more interesting than Stan's Soapbox, but sophisticated is NOT the word.

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Posted by: patrick ford | June 2, 2013
It's sophisticated
Yeah, I don't even come close to agreeing about his text pages. I've read them and don't see a thing wrong with them. It certainly never crossed my mind they were disorganized. Structure is one of Kirby's strong-suits as a writer. The opening essay in Devil Dinosaur is pretty great in my opinion.
We obviously aren't going to be finding common ground on this, and I have no interest in trying to change anyone's mind. I'm just giving my observations.
The thing is Kirby was analytical. There is ample evidence of it in his work and in his interview comments. Now you are basically correct about Kirby's somewhat "in the moment" creative process, but in my opinion Kirby falls into a category very much like a jazz-man playing live music. When Thelonius Monk recorded or played live he went into a piece backed up with an accumulation of technique, taste, theory, influences, which provided a strong foundation for the music he played live. On the other hand he had only a general plan (chords) of exactly where the music of the moment was going.
A man working under the type of deadlines Kirby was used to, was pretty much drawing live. He didn't have time to fiddle around, but in no way was his work not informed. An intellectual underpinning was the bedrock of his work.
It's very much the same thing as the story of Picasso making a quick 30 second sketch and asking what was viewed as a high price for it. When he was told, "That only took you 30 seconds." Picasso replied, "It took me 30 seconds and a lifetime."

Here are just a few quotes from Kirby:

"I found myself intellectualizing. I was trying to get at the guy, who was trying to get at me.
I began to remember people from my own background, and I began to subtly realize they were important, and that I wasn't ashamed of them. I was no longer afraid of myself, and I began to see them as I should have seen them from the beginning
This was a long way from Long Island. I was still trying to get to Brooklyn. I heard they had a tree there, and the tree was different."

Cartoonist Jack Katz: "Then I said to him, "inking is problem solving." He said, "No drawing and inking are decision making. The problem-solving, you do that in your head, but when you put down a line, you've made a decision."

"Well, I don't know. I'm usually in a room about this size, but I feel I see a lot because I analyze a lot. I see the same things you do but maybe I get more time to analyze it whereas you might not. So I sit and think and it's as simple as that. If you can sit and think for 20 years, you can come up with quite a bit."

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Posted by: John S. | June 2, 2013
Flapology
If I can just interject for a minute here, guys, I'd like to add my two cents to your discussion. In order to fully appreciate Kirby's work, you have to be able to understand it, at least partially, on an INTUITIVE level. Why? Because Jack communicated as much in terms of broad, overarching concepts -- or subtle, subtextual concepts -- as he did in terms of specific, prosaic details. So, unlike some other writers' work, it demands something of the reader. Not everything is spelled out for you like it is in a grade-school primer -- or most other comic books. You need to have the intelligence and the facility to absorb it as a whole, rather than focusing strictly on its individual elements. The people who are capable of doing the former usually end up loving Kirby's stuff, while the dullards who are capable of doing only the latter usually end up becoming Kirby haters.

Posted by: John S. | June 2, 2013
Furthermore...
...that's why so many of Stan Lee's biggest supporters are so down on Kirby's writing: In order to understand the stories, they needed to have all the information spoon-fed to them, like babies. Kirby didn't do that. But Stan did, happily catering to their stupidity.

Posted by: Krackles | June 2, 2013
A Sponge Bomb!
Kirby's was akin to a sponge.
He would absorb concepts, ideas, all kind of influences either from direct experience or, as an avid reader, from his readings but, unlike most of us, he developped a rather special talent to process this material and to channel it almost at an intuitive level. I say, almost, because, obviously, Kirby put a lot of thinking in his work and worked hard to master his craft, you don't get there by accident.
Out of deadlines necessities, Kirby's creation process shortened to a level of abstraction that many are mistaking for just a "natural gift". Kirby was, indeed, probably more gifted than most of his pairs but he honed and refined his storyteller and penciller skills to the point where stories were flowing from his pencil.

An achievement we won't see the like before long.

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Posted by: vonrex7@verizon.net | June 2, 2013
kirby the man
Let's not forget something about Jack. He hard a hard childhood and fought for his rights from day one. He went to war, he fought (for sure) and (I think) had to kill people in hand to hand combat. He was captured and taunted by nazis- and escaped! He saw the horrors of war and death up close and he was in it for real. I'm not saying these are good things but I think a man who saw/lived/survived all that had to be affected- and in Kirby's case (an extraordinary writer/artist) all of his tough life infused him with an honesty and a no-bullshit kind of power! He was a man truly tested by the world. Whereas lucky Stan sat in an office. And hooray for him- I would choose the office any time. No disrespect there. But Jack was a real life hero who went into danger and fought for his country- not because he wanted to but he was called and he answered. He didn't get work through and make his living through nepotism or luck.
So what, you ask? So for me anyway it makes Jack a tough guy who knew something of life and danger and horror and valor and put it all into his work. And it was REAL. A guy like that is hard to measure up to!

Also, as I have said, if you offer me a comic book Jack drew or a comic Stan wrote, I'll take the Kirby every time, no questions asked and no matter who else was involved.

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Posted by: patrick ford | June 2, 2013
Tom.
Ideally Tom would nicely remove this discussion and place it in the forum. It is a topic which merits further discussion.
In most ways Doctor Droom and I are on the same page. There have been several occasions in the past where I've had similar discussions with people like D.D. and like myself, who all agree that Kirby was a writer worth paying attention to. Where is differ with the good doctor and my prior correspondents breaks down in two ways which are closely related.
It seems to me there are people who appreciate Kirby's writing (and his late period drawing could work in as well), but who feel it is naive. In this instance "naive" is a better word than "primitive" because I, for one, think "primitive art" (cave paintings, etc.) is the farthest thing possible from naive.
Then there are people who feel the widely held perception that Kirby's writing is naive, is so entrenched, that arguing against the established understanding serves only to weaken any positive appraisal of Kirby's writing. So, If a person wants to be taken seriously they must at least use the accepted "code words" when describing Kirby's writing. There have been discussions where people have told me straight out they agree with my observations, but the argument would be made stronger by being less honest, and more attuned to finding some way of bridging the gap.
The idea being it isn't wise strategy to say Kirby's work is sophisticated, even if that's how I see it. It's a better plan to go along with the general consensus that Kirby is interesting because he was a Henry Darger-like "weirdo."
Like most people I haven't been able to studt Darger deeply enough (not even close) to know what level of analysis he brought to his work. It may be he drank in information which connected to his unconscious and then disgorged it in unconscious, but digested form.
I certainly don't think that was the case with Kirby. Everything I know about him suggests an intellectual process.
His supposed "weird" use of language is impossible to technically define. What exactly is a "weird" word stress? What is a "weird" choice of words? There is factually no such thing. WHY are his choices described as "weird" when they might be described as inventive, or creative? Isn't it a huge positive that his style is so unique both fans and detractors recognize it as being like nothing else?
As I mentioned in another post, the fact Kirby lavished value added attention on his text should in no way be seen as unschooled. The fact he took the time to add layers of meaning to his text with the tools at his disposal, is an indication of intellectual process i.e. sophistication. The frequent use of word stress, "scare quotes," and other punctuation, shows an connection with the words and a desire on the part of the author to instruct the reader as to how those words are intended to be understood.
It's also unreasonable to remove from the equation that Kirby was in almost every instance writing primarily for a targeted audience. His first focus was to connect with the most likely audience. The fact Kirby was at the same time able to express a personal point of view commenting on issues thematically important to him is another value added. It's really the very thing which makes writing for children or adults great.
I think most adults can appreciate Seuss, or E.B.White, or Roald Dahl. It's because they are dealing in largest part with the same themes as the best writers for adults. The reading level is just a little different. In a way though there is more magic in something which can connect with all ages than there is with something which is understood only by a narrow audience.

Kirby summed it up: "The problem-solving, you do that in your head, but when you put down a line, you've made a decision."

It was an intellectual process. His work was deeply informed. If he never played the same song the same way twice, well that's sophistication.

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good idea

Even Hatfield's book comes up a bit short in addressing the writing specifically, and there is so much to look at: the text pages, film treatments, even an unfinished novel: The Horde.
I was going to copy my last post here but it makes less sense without the whole thread. Should we paste it all in order?

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Tenative

Right, the HAND OF FIRE book did kind of go out of it's way, at times, to cede to what might be called the "official" narrative concerning Kirby's writing. One example I recall off the top of my head is the phrase, "thumpingly earnest." This may be in part an effort by Charles to balance his own earnestness which is undeniably frothy at times, particularly coming form an academic writer. Just the word "thumpingly" is a good example. I may misread him, but my guess is he really digs the stuff, and it's interesting to see him becoming quite ebullient at times, his enthusiasm is palpable and genuine. He'll then turn around and dryly offer up something like Kirby's dialogue being clumsy. My standard reply to that is "Have you looked at the Sean Howe Marvel Comics...FB page recently?"
-https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/p480x480/295082_286672064802156_1318223670_n.jpg

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Of course,

"Thumpingly earnest" sounds plausible to me, without knowing the line he was discussing. Here's the last post I did on the old thread:

Posted by: drdroom | June 3, 2013
Responding to a few of your points
Patrick Ford said: "When Thelonius Monk recorded or played live he went into a piece backed up with an accumulation of technique, taste, theory, influences, which provided a strong foundation for the music he played live. On the other hand he had only a general plan (chords) of exactly where the music of the moment was going."

Yes, I was thinking of jazz myself. Without doubt, Kirby was an extraordinary improvisor. However, your list of elements of a foundation would be the same for any artist undertaking any artwork, whether sophisticated or naive. I don't know enough about jazz to give examples, but I would imagine there are some jazzmen who are educated to a 'T', and play theory-laden jazz in a style viewed as sophisticated, while there might be some others, of equal or greater talent, who came up in the clubs and just cobbled together what theory they needed to express their own distinctive, maybe naive, raw, bluesy? sound. Probably jazz people have the same problem we do in describing the qualities of a brilliant and untutored artist. And when I say untutored, I mean just that. Kirby: "Art school was not for me."

P.F: "A man working under the type of deadlines Kirby was used to, was pretty much drawing live. He didn't have time to fiddle around, but in no way was his work not informed. An intellectual underpinning was the bedrock of his work."

Again, everyone's work is informed. If that makes you sophisticated then all art is sophisticated and the term has no meaning (which I am beginning to suspect might be the case anyway). Intellectual underpinning? Well he had some Shakespeare and some Dickens, obviously (both prolific popular entertainers just like him, incidentally). Hugo, Verne, ERB, Haggard, I assume. Then there was a lot of Gernsbackian sci-fi, Universal horror movies and Warner Bros Gangster movies. Chariots of the Gods, UFO books, Uri Geller and other pseudo-science. Comics of course. Television. Magazines. And of course, Torah. If we're going to call this intellectual, then the term just means "familiar with common cultural currency of one's day".

I've seen your Kirby quotes before, but I draw somewhat different conclusions. These quotes have Kirby TELLING us that he is "intellectualizing" and "analyzing", but what does that mean for him? We can glimpse it right in the quotes:

"I found myself intellectualizing. I was trying to get at the guy, who was trying to get at me."

I forget the context of this, was this a guy Jack was fighting? Anyway the guy reminds him of other people, and he moves sideways to a personal realization, connected by what? Maybe the idea of fear?

"I began to remember people from my own background, and I began to subtly realize they were important, and that I wasn't ashamed of them. I was no longer afraid of myself, and I began to see them as I should have seen them from the beginning."

This seems to be something about being ashamed of his class, and overcoming that. But what does he mean "afraid of myself"? And that enables him to "see them as he should have", that's interesting, how is that? Ooops, too late, we're moving on again:

"This was a long way from Long Island. I was still trying to get to Brooklyn. I heard they had a tree there, and the tree was different."

Ok wait, Jack, is this a literal Long Island/ Brooklyn or figurative? Maybe it will clear things up if the word "Brooklyn" reminds you of an Elia Kazan movie, so you make a ridiculous joke about the tree that grows there, but THEN, before we figure out you're joking, you get an idea for a story about a different kind of tree. This is a perfect example of how Jack's writing goes, the text pages are just like this, and even the comics, the glorious, indisputably great comics, have elements of this unedited stream of consciousness, with Jack's characteristic themes like fear and class emerging in different ways, sometimes to be developed spectacularly, other times being abruptly dropped in favor of a couple of issues featuring Don Rickles and his evil twin.

Finally I wanted to make a small observation about the Katz quote: "Drawing and inking are decision making. The problem-solving, you do that in your head, but when you put down a line, you've made a decision."
Now this is absolutely one of the most, if not THE most lucid Kirby quotes I've ever heard. I don't see that it proves much about his work, other than that he knew something about drawing, but it's great. However, it's not Kirby. It's KATZ remembering, perhaps inadvertently revising, almost certainly editing and condensing a conversation, decades after the fact, for an interview about his revered colleague.

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patrick ford
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The "thumpingly" line used by

The "thumpingly" line used by Charles Hatfield was a characterization of the overall tone of Kirby's work. The implication being Kirby uses a sledge hammer to drive home a message he hasn't thought through in a nuanced way. It's a perception I don't share. The way in which Kirby is earnest is in being earnestly skeptical. The word "thumpingly" might work in a comic book, but looks out of place in academic writing.

It's true everyone's work is informed, but that does not mean every person has absorbed the same amount of information, or that they have processed it in a way which allows them to make use of it. A classical musician has absorbed a great deal of complex information and then rehearses a piece over and over so they can replicate the piece accurately as to note, tempo, and dynamics. They aren't however thinking on their feet in the same way an improvisational musician is. It could certainly be argued a classical player is playing sophisticated written music but the actual playing is arguably not all that intellectual of sophisticated. The classical player is in a sense trying to reproduce the written notes, and anything being added to those notes is emotional expression.
So the fact a classical player has absorbed a great deal of high-brow sophisticated composition does not mean the reproduction of that written music is itself more sophisticated or intellectual than a person like Kirby who has sponged up a tremendous number of influences (even if they are low-brow) and processed them using a sophisticated intellectual process.
You could also look at something like a football quarterback. At a high level they are all prepared with scouting reports, they are all coached, I assume they all watch film. There is a lot of study involved. Some do more than others, and some are able to apply that study as things unfold on the field where as others are described as getting a "deer in the headlights look" meaning they aren't able to intellectually process and apply those things they have studied. The thinking quarterback is seen as the intellectual quarterback.

As far as Kirby's quotes go. Just as you have seen the quotes before, I have many times seen people say that after the fact, Kirby liked to go back and kind of "fake up" some kind of pseudo intellectual context for his work. This strikes me as just one of the many widespread examples of Kirby, for some strange reason, not being judged as an intelligent man. I really don't understand this attitude towards him. I get it coming from fans of Stan Lee who are always looking for any reason to justify their assertion Kirby was not a writer, and should have stuck to penciling. The attitude is a lot more common than that though.
It seems to me there is no artifice in Kirby's interview comments because the things he ascribes to his work are there in his work. There is a symmetry between Kirby's interview comments and the content of his stories. It also isn't a very remarkable thing for not only creative types like artists and writers to have thoughts and ideas which pass as philosophy, but for a lot of "ordinary" people to have lots of opinions and ideas concerning other people, and why they behave the way they do. There are a whole lot of armchair philosophers out there, not all of them are as interesting or as observant as Kirby.

The Kirby quote beginning with,"I found myself intellectualizing. I was trying to get at the guy, who was trying to get at me." Is sort of a mini-autobiographical summery concerning many of the events seen in Street Code and extending into Kirby early professional life.

You asked, "I forget the context of this, was this a guy Jack was fighting? Anyway the guy reminds him of other people, and he moves sideways to a personal realization, connected by what? Maybe the idea of fear?"

The guy Kirby was fighting was himself. Kirby is reflecting back here in an interview and he's covering the same ground you see in the story Street Code where Kirby as a teenager begins to understand he's not going to make it as a gangster. He realizes that he has got to get out.
When he says he was no longer afraid of himself he's indicating a growing confidence as he began to support not only himself, but his own mother and father while he was still a teenager. As he grew older and had early contacts with people from outside his neighborhood Kirby began to see the poor people living on his old block on a basic level were not so much different from other people he met.
The later bit, "This was a long way from Long Island. I was still trying to get to Brooklyn. I heard they had a tree there, and the tree was different." is the young Kirby just having begun working for Eisner still living in a Manhattan tenement apartment with his mother and father on Suffolk Street. The wheels are turning, he's feeling more confident, beginning to figure things out, but he has not yet moved his mom and dad to much nicer place in Brighton Beach Brooklyn. This happened a short time later while he was working with Joe Simon, and that apartment is the same building where Kirby met Roz who had just moved into the same building with her family. The tree that grew in Brooklyn in the Betty Smith book is The Tree of Heaven. I'll quote something concerning the book which I think perfectly explains why the metaphor appealed to Kirby given his ghetto upbringing.

"The main metaphor of the book is the hardy Tree of Heaven, now considered invasive, and common in the vacant lots of New York City.
Although the book addresses many different issues—poverty, alcoholism, lying, etc.--its main theme is the need for tenacity: the determination to rise above difficult circumstances. Although there are naturalistic elements in the book, it is not fundamentally naturalistic. The Nolans are financially restricted by poverty yet find ways to enjoy life and satisfy their needs and wants. For example, Francie can become intoxicated just by looking at flowers. Like the Tree of Heaven, Brooklyn's inhabitants fight for the sun and air necessary to their survival."

Clearly Kirby is relating to this, and has every reason to.

And of course Long Island is where Kirby ended up after the war. Kirby and Joe Simon bought houses across the street from one another in 1947 and that house on Long Island is where Kirby stayed until 1969.
So you see his interview quote makes perfect sense, and is in fact quite a beautiful way of expressing his personal and geographical story.

patrick ford
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All In

It's all here now. Tom might want to remove (or not) everything not related to Thor #137 from the old thread. Maybe leave it, or maybe leave a bit with the message linking to the forum.
There are some thoughts I have on the quotes which I'll get to later.

kirbyfan
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Ridiculous!

I always thought those who criticized Kirby's writing were ridiculous!

Who in the world knows how a superhero from another world, planet, dimension would talk?

Orion, Lightray, Kamandi, The Demon, The Eternals, Darkseid, Omac, etc, who knows how they would talk better than the man who created them?

patrick ford
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Compared to what?

Agreed, and not only are negative comments about Kirby writing and dialogue ridiculous, I wonder what exactly he is being compared to.
A person may like dialogue by someone like Roy Thomas, Stan Lee et al. or not, but no one can make an argument typical or highly praised comic book dialogue is in some way more "realistic" (whatever that means) than Kirby's writing.
My attitude upon seeing such claims is, "Uh, have you by chance read any of this material recently? Or are you just going by a memory of what you thought when you were 12?"
If there are or were mainstream DC and Marvel writers who were better than Kirby (and I obviously don't think there are or were) it is absolutely not because their writing is realistic.
As for Kirby. I can not think of another writer in comic books who wrote more lines of dialogue which stopped me in my tracks the first time I read them, and impress me even more today than when I first read them.