REVIEW: Simon and Kirby Library

There are three big-bang moments in the history of American comic books. One: the publication of the first pulp magazines devoted solely to comic strips. Two: the first appearance of Superman, the invention that cannily repackaged and updated several widely loved popular characters into the first superhero. And finally, the major artistic advances that came as a result of the work of Jack “King” Kirby.

Kirby’s influence in comics is so great that even a casual comic fan can look at the work that came out before his stint at Marvel and the work that came out immediately after it and know that they are seeing two different artistic eras. Given the monumental change Kirby brought to comics, it is difficult to remember that Kirby had been working in comics for decades before his incredible, game-changing run at Marvel Comics.

Kirby began working as a freelancer in the pulps in the late 1930s. His output at the time set a trend that would continue throughout his career: Kirby was a machine. Kirby’s tireless work-ethic not only paid the bills (which was difficult in the pennies-for-pages days of the freelance system) it also gave him plenty of time to hone his talents. He worked on everything: westerns, romances, horror-comics, funnies, actioners, sci-fi stories. During this time Kirby met the man who became his first partner, Joe Simon.

This is the time period covered in Titan Books’ Simon and Kirby Library. Each book looks at an individual genre of Simon and Kirby’s collaborations. The Simon and Kirby Library: Science Fiction collection (released June 4th 2013) looks at, as you might guess, their sci-fi efforts.

This volume is amazing on several levels, beginning with the scope of the collection itself. It collects work from a 20 year span beginning in the early days of Simon and Kirby’s partnership. This breadth shows Kirby’s development into the artist he became in his vaunted golden era. At the same time, this book shows Kirby and Simon’s growth as story tellers.

The earlier pulp stories are artistically and narratively primitive. But even they have their own kind of charm. They’re a devil’s brew of cheap thrills, scant plots, non-sense, and grandeur. The later stories, however, actively embrace the Twilight Zone irony and grand space operatics that Kirby would eventually make his own.

I don’t want to make it seem as if this book is only enjoyable as a piece of history. It’s more fun than that. Most of the work in the book is hilarious, exciting, and inventive. The Blue Bolt series in particular is a thick slice of brilliance and charm, shellacked with a thick layer of pulp goofiness that is so kitchy that it is impossible to not be thrizzled by it.

In terms of production this book is similarly top notch. The reproduction of the colors is truly gorgeous and, frankly, much more appealing than the digital paint in use today. Something about the softness of the colors and the crispness of the lines is less tiring to look at than what’s going on in the majors today. If I have a complaint here it is with the cover jacket, which comes off too “A Boys Library of Space Ships!” and not enough “KIRBY AND SIMON ARE BADASS BALLERS.” Oddly, the cover beneath the jacket is truly stunning—a minimalist take on Kirby’s artwork that, by rights, should have been on the jacket.

The pulps were a wild time, and that anyone was able to make any work of any quality in that insane system is a miracle. This series lovingly captures not only the spirit of that era and that alone makes it essential reading for fans of this era. But this book, and this series, also captures the early period of the artists that would create modern comics, that makes this essential reading FULL STOP.

S#!T Talking Central

  • Jay

    funny you completely took Lee out of the three big bang moments.