We begin our first weekend of The 2020 PopCult Gift Guide with a collection of offbeat comics by Jack Kirby that makes a great gift for any fan of the true architect of Marvel Comics, and any fan of non-superhero comics. We first recommended this back in January.
Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love
by Jack Kirby and others
compiled by John Morrow
$43.95 (discounted at Amazon)
This strangely, yet aptly, named book is a must-have for the Jack Kirby completist. It collects over 100 pages of stories written and drawn by Kirby that have never been compiled, or in most cases even published, before. Kirby’s DC-era work has been reprinted in multiple editions over the years, and almost everything he did for the company is in print. This book collects all the remaining work Kirby did for DC Comics in the 1970s, save for three missing pages from one story.
These are examples of Kirby stretching beyond the superhero genre in the early 1970s, when he was under contract with DC Comics. The text features in this collection (by John Morrow, Jerry Boyd, Steve Sherman and Mark Evanier) provide the context and set the stage for these comic book stories.
We get stories from two aborted romance titles, True Life Divorce and Soul Love, and two issues of Kirby’s Dingbats of Danger Street, which remained unpublished after the first issue ran in DC’s tryout title, First Issue Special. A special treat is a short story newly-inked by longtime Kirby collaborater, Mike Royer, over Kirby’s Xeroxed pencils.The two Dingbats of Danger Street stories included here were part of the legendary Cancelled Comics Cavalcade Xeroxed publication that DC issued in 1978 to protect the copyright of dozens of unpublished works, but they appear here newly-colored and look great.Kirby, with his 1940s partner Joe Simon, had created the romance and kid gang comics genres in the Golden Age, and it’s wild to see him returning to those forms twenty-five years later. Even though True Life Divorce never got beyond the pencil stage, the stories show a maturity that was not typical of comics of the day. These were definitely aimed at an adult audience.
With Soul Love we get to see a full-color, slick paper insert facsimile of what the first issue of Soul Love would have looked like, had it been published in the format that Kirby intended–complete with articles and mock-period advertisements. It even sports an Alex Ross painted cover, based on Kirby’s rough layout.
Dingbat Love is a very well-done presentation of this work. Some of the pages are presented in both pencilled and inked form (allowing us to see how badly inker Vince Colleta butchered Kirby’s work), and the new coloring, courtesy of Tom Zuiko and Glenn Whitmore, works perfectly with Kirby’s art. Aside from the slick magazine-style insert, the paper is thick, archival white, non-glossy stock, and looks terrific.
There are some stylistic choics in presentation that might confuse a newer comics reader. With the Dingbats material, some of the pages are presented in pencil form alternating with the same page fully-inked and in color. While this is great for comparing Kirby’s pencils to the finished art, it can keep the stories from flowing perfectly. That’s a minor quibble, and it’s worth noting that the reason for alternating the pages may have been to allow fold-out pages for the two-page spreads, which often don’t look right when the pages are bound into a hardcover book. They look fantastic here.
The essays build a pretty good “what if” scenario of what might have happened had DC had enough faith in Kirby’s ideas to fully finance the publication of True Life Divorce, along with Kirby’s other magazine titles Spirit World and In The Days of the Mob (both of which had their sole published issues previously reprinted by DC Comics along with previously unpublished material intended for their second issues) the way Kirby originally pitched them, as full-color slick magazines.
It’s another example of how Kirby was years ahead of his time. When he created the Marvel Universe (with some help from Stan Lee), Kirby knew that, someday, those concepts would be turned into major motion pictures. He knew that comics, as an artform, deserved a better presentation than being spit out on cheap newsprint, intended as disposable entertainment for kids.
Jack Kirby’s Dingbat Love showcases Kirby’s reach, and shows how he had to battle to try to realize his dreams.
This is not a great book for the Jack Kirby novice. It’s not his most mainstream comic book work, but it might just hook non-comics fans into exploring more of his work. Most of all, it’s important from an historical standpoint.
Plus the comics are by Jack Kirby. What more do you need to know? If you know a fan of Kirby, widely considered the most important comics creator that every wasy, they need this.