In terms of raw percentage, I am not a big comics reader. (We all know what that means.) But I have friends in the industry, follow the blogs, accumulate geek lore on the subject et cetera. Anyway, recently there has been a perk, an upswing of interest in the great American symbolist cartoonist Jack Kirby, now that he's safely dead. I've been an admirer of his art for a long time, and not simply because I look like one of his characters. But let me give you his potted biography first. James Anthony Kirby was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1917, the second of seven children; his family had settled in Harlem by 1924. Although Kirby dropped out of high school during the Depression in order to help support his family (his father died when Kirby was 10), he attended the night classes of the Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Alston, who also sidelined as a commercial illustrator for the leading fashion magazines of the day. Alston quickly recognized Kirby's talent. Through Alston, Kirby was hired as a single-panel cartoonist by the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate at the age of 19. Although the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate soon folded, Kirby picked up work in the new format of comic books, where he began developing his distinctive style. At the same time, he also picked up a new nickname, from the initials with which he signed his work: JAK. It would last him a lifetime. Now let me show you his work.
Kirby was not afraid to mine the memories of his violent teenage years on the streets of Harlem: Like other African-American visionaries of his generation, such as John Coltrane, or his almost exact contemporary Sun Ra, Kirby was not afraid to include intimations of the cosmic in his art: (Yes, he's skiing. He's the personifcation of Death, and Death skis.) Still, it wasn't until 1961, working at Marvel Comics with his editor and collaborator, the Chinese-American cartoonist Stan Lee, that Kirby really hit his stride. But that's a story for another day.