Sunday, 18 June 2017

Kirby and Fandom

Unlike many areas of academic study, comic books have a rich culture of independent researchers. Sometimes characterised as a 'fandom', these researchers exist outside of the academic mainstream and it is here that Kirby's claims to genius are most eagerly presented.

The Abstract Comics blog serves as an example of how this fandom attempts to command legitimacy: original research appeals to established art-forms - in this case, a series of comparisons between Kirby's art and familiar artists, insisting on clear parallels. The analysis is simple: images are placed side by side, without detailed commentary, as if the statement itself becomes a self-evident argument. 

Slides 5 -7

These examples do imply that Kirby's aesthetic was informed by art history and the avant-garde of the early twentieth century: Picasso's cubism finds an echo in Kirby's dynamic perspectives (slides 8 - 9) or Otto Dix's caricatured portraits are reflected in single Kirby panels (slides 10 - 11) - which also recall Diderot's advocacy of the theatrical tableaux to represent not only individual characters but also their relationships. The distortions of the human face appear in both Picasso and Kirby, evoking a distinctive twentieth century terror and fear (slides 12 - 14).

However, it is the integration of the avant-garde
aesthetic into the commercial demands of the comic book industry that makes Kirby more than a mere imitator: the styles he evokes had been well-established by the time he began professional work, and he uses them more as a reference point rather than furthering their aesthetic concerns.

Furthermore, Kirby does draw influences from other sources: his vision of Asgard, the Norse mythological realm, follows cues from Aztec art (slides 15- 17) - perhaps hinting at another avant-garde strategy, a form of 'primitivism'. While all of these influences can be detected, fandom tends not to convince but signifies the genius of Kirby, falling short of defining the nature of his genius.

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