KIRBYOLOGY!: Ed Piskor on Jack Kirby, His Inkers, and Things You Can Only Do in Comics

One of the highlights of Ed Piskor’s X-Men: Grand Design is a vibranium-fueled panel featuring Jack Kirby’s most famous creation:

Art by Ed Piskor

In my Kirby-centric conversation with Piskor — Part 1 is here — I expressed admiration for this Nazi-bashing scene. To me, this action-packed panel is like a window into an alternate universe where Piskor did Captain America: Grand Design.

He appreciated the compliment and shared some insight into his philosophy.

“That panel is comics: it’s not movies on paper. You can’t translate that. Like, you can have a scene where a shield is flying and hitting a bunch of Nazis, sure. But that image is unique to comics. You can’t really get that in a medium that has motion.

“And that’s how I think. I’m not trying to make movies on paper—and that’s also Kirby. He had no idea that this stuff would transcend the printed page. He thought in comic terms. So that’s another important thing that he brought to the game. He created the language of superhero comics, for all intents and purposes.

“If you look at X-Men #1, you see, on every page, there’s stuff you could not put on the screen. It just wouldn’t work. It would look idiotic. Some of the stuff would be flat-out impossible.”

Speaking of impossible, I asked Piskor a question that’s tough to answer these days. We’re living in a world where Jack Kirby gets more credit than ever. So what does he not get proper props for?

Of course, Piskor — who also said, “I’m always down to talk about Jack the King, man. I think about that guy every day, dude. That’s absolutely no exaggeration” — had an answer: Kirby’s creation of romance comics with Joe Simon in 1947.

While most Kirbyites spend lots of time talking about the Fourth World or Marvel Universe, Kirby’s romance comics were also ahead of their time in broadening the comics audience beyond the realm of white dudes, as Piskor has done with Hip-Hop Family Tree and many other creators do in terms of gender, race, sexuality, religion, and other identities. Kirby wanted to make comics for everyone and did so in very contemporary ways.

Piskor said, “I think that was a remarkable move on Kirby’s part to create a wider readership of citizens of the planet, basically, like ‘Oh, there are no comics for girls? Let’s make some.’ What a revolutionary idea. They did that, and those were the best-selling comics of the day. So I think that’s something that is often overlooked when it comes to Kirby’s career.”

When asked his favorite Kirby comic or period, Piskor picked the seventies, a period that includes the Fourth World, Kamandi, The Demon, The Eternals, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Devil Dinosaur, and a return to his creations Black Panther and Captain America.

Art by Jack Kirby

On Kirby’s 70s work, Piskor said, “He started to slow down a little bit and put more energy per page… Every page is a well-balanced set of illustrations on top of the already existing, amazing Jack Kirby storytelling sensibility.

“At that point, every single panel is a perfectly composed, balanced illustration unto itself. And each of those panels works as a complete unit, a complete page. And I think [inker Mike] Royer has everything to do with that, because we don’t know what Vince Colletta left out in some of that early stuff to make pages a little less balanced feeling.”

This led to a discussion of Kirby’s inkers that was like an issue of Jack Kirby Collector come to life. Piskor called Chic Stone one of his favorite Kirby inkers. I mentioned my love for Royer but also praised Joe Sinnott, who inked much of Kirby’s Fantastic Four run, plus the 1978 Silver Surfer graphic novel.

Art by Jack Kirby

On the Sinnott and Kirby partnership, Piskor said, “If we want to use the Malcolm Gladwell rubric of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, Sinnott had his 10,000 hours of working with Kirby pencils at that point. So they were able to bring the noise with that thing for sure.”

Mike Thibodeaux isn’t usually considered one of Kirby’s best inkers, but he sure doesn’t suck on Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, a comic soon to be featured in this column that contains insanity such as Paranex the Fighting Fetus.

Art by Jack KIrby

Piskor agreed it was a cool comic and said, “There’s absolutely no Kirby that I dislike. I love Captain Victory. Everybody talks shit on Mike Thibodeaux’s inks and stuff, and I actually don’t mind it. I think it’s just fine. It’s not as sharp as Royer but I can live with it, no problem. And Steve Oliff did the colors on it, and he’s one of the best colorists in the business.”

Still, the differences in Kirby’s inkers don’t begin to explain the variety in Kirby’s work over the decades. While geeking out with Piskor about the many phases of Kirby’s long career, I said, “It’s hard to believe it’s all the same guy!”

Piskor then applied a scientific comparison that neither of us can verify (but who cares, this isn’t a scholarly journal): “The human body regenerates its cells completely every seven years. So basically, every seven years you’re a completely new person of a fashion.

“In Kirby terms, he sloughed off his Max Fleischer stuff, and then became the [Joe] Simon Jack Kirby. Then he and Simon created the romance thing, and then he sloughed off all his dead cells and created Challengers of the Unknown after that. It’s like he was a different person.”

And those were all before the Marvel Universe, so Kirby had about a dozen phases to go.

Cover art by Jack Kirby

“If you’re doing it right,” Piskor said, “your career should be all over the place. It would be kind of corny to just settle… That’s like the fine art thing. Artists will do that where they find a niche and they exist in that space forever. But we’re storytellers, and you just accumulate more information as you go along. The stories should become richer, should change and morph over time if you’re doing it properly.”

He then mentioned a moment that occurred while teaching a workshop in Denmark on Kirby’s birthday: “One of the students, at a big class dinner, just silenced everybody and toasted Jack Kirby. And I’m thinking, ‘I’m in a country that has no more than 6 million people, and they’re praising Jack Kirby…. That was a clear example of how he has a worldwide influence. If I wasn’t such a cold bastard, I could almost see myself tearing up a little bit, but that’s reserved for people who have emotions.”

Thankfully, this cold bastard still has some work to do on his refreshing, dense, and high-energy version of the X-Men. The first treasury edition is available now, and there will be four more single issues to be collected in two more treasuries.

Art by Ed Piskor

Piskor is on a mission to restore the X-Men to their proper place in the superhero pantheon: “I’m not trying to live in a world where people think the Avengers are cooler than the X-Men.”

“The Avengers have always been like the Navy, and the X-Men are like pirates, and pirates are always cooler than seamen.”


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