Friday, 21 December 2012

Barry Windsor-Smith vs Jack Kirby

Young Gods (2003) and The Freebooters (2005)
By Barry Windsor-Smith 
Available from Fantagraphics Books
(from a letter to Barry Windsor-Smith on 16 March 2004, Dave Sim's Collected Letters Vol 1)
I think the colouring on Storyteller may prove to be one of it's greatest legacies: I have no aptitude and consequently, very little interest but I think it will serve as a textbook of how accomplished on-the-fly water-colouring can be in capturing the mood and tempo of the early Marvel Comics while bringing the look to a more adult level. With that many elements to pull together on a monthly basis, you certainly explored the outer realms of go-GO-GO which I think many people underestimate as a critical element of Kirby's own manifold successes. At one level, of course, it would be described as 'hacking'. But to me, at the deeper and more important level it is an inherent quality of 'this end' of the comic book medium. Kirby didn't really become KIRBY until he was producing eight to ten pages of finished pencils a day. It made him and arguably it broke him as well when he tried to make the transition to DC and to do it without Stan [Lee]. You shouldn't underestimate, I don't think, your own unique composition of being Jack and Stan rolled into one. No one has ever suggested seriously that Barry Smith lost his way when he didn't have Roy Thomas to write his cations and word balloons anymore. This is no small thing, no small advantage that you hold. Kirby was out of his depth almost immediately and what was worse I don't think that he ever understood how out of his depth he was. It must have been maddening to realise that what Stan Lee did effortlessly, Kirby couldn't do in a month of Sundays. As I just wrote to someone recently, Stan Lee was a more deferential collaborator than he's given credit for. He worked around other people's pencils, he tailored his story to the images on the pages in front of him. The story not only flowed, but the captions and word balloons fit comfortably. Contrast that with the many who came after who filled every square inch with verbiage. You have that skill. Your stories read very smoothly. The awkward transition from one balloon to another where you read them out of sequence (which happens to all of us) is very much below the industry average in your work and the reader always works with you in those situations. The narrative flow is sufficiently compelling that it doesn't pull us out of the story. I wish I could find a way to really emphasis this to you (maybe italics?): you have a structural benefit to your work that Jack Kirby completely lacked. A very rare combination. At the same time, I think it must be said, that you and Kirby share a blind spot: the belief  that if your work is profitable for a company that the benefits will accrue to you. And you both experienced very hard lessons in that end of things. How much of Kirby's work was in print when he died? How much was he being compensated for it? How much of his work was tied up in petty legalisms and red tape - or just plain gone because no one knew where the negatives were or who owned the reprint rights to them?

1 comment:

Jason Winter said...

Apart from his own obvious talent as a comic book artist/writer, Mr Sim has always had a wonderful ability to analyse other cartoonists work. He has an artists eye which enables him to see the drawing from the inside out, and a writers gift for articulating what he sees. This piece is a perfect example.