Drawing Jack Kirby

Who’s Stronger Toth or Kirby?

New Gods copies pg 1 and 2

There’s been some very nice analytical articles on Alex Toth lately , by Jesse Hamm and Paul Fricke occasioned by some great reprint books and the bio of him, and it’s been making me wonder about focusing on Jack Kirby’s work, Toth is such a more elegant artist then Kirby, every line is literally a precise controlled thought out line. He’s a much finer craftsman then Jack meticulously telling his stories and relentlessly experimenting with the comics form and being an artist. But in the end Kirby’s work is more emotionally satisfying and powerful to me then Toth’s. I don’t look at a Toth page and shake my head in disbelief that someone can make a drawing like this. Intellectually I understand what makes Toth good, I actually can’t say that I understand why Kirby’s pages work so well.

Jack took basic shapes and decorated them. Pattern and form, he didn’t give into the ease of Peter Max and do flat designs which is the tendency for people who do pattern work, it’s one of the things that makes his work visually weird. He was a narrative artist so abstraction isn’t the point but the work has some visual connection to the power of abstraction. Light source is never an organizing principle for Jack’s work. The shading just seems a way to generate shapes that decorate the form and make the surface exist as three-d but it doesn’t even feel like he is drawing things. That’s one of the things that takes him out of normal drawing in the Caniff tradition. Toth never ever broke with that history. Kirby in some sense was responding to the times with design and weird things going on in his work.

And then there is the collage to think about in all of this, the brain continues to be boggled

4 replies on “Who’s Stronger Toth or Kirby?”

I like your analysis. Kirby is a very emotionally satisfying artist, as you write. Toth’s work seemed to depend on his mood regarding the scripts. The one thing that both delivered was just spot on storytelling. I’m glad you brought up the point about light source in Kirby’s work. How does he make it (or lack of it) work? The more one digs into Kirby the more questions one gets, it seems.

Toth, at least to me, is all there. There are no surprises. No mysteries. The joy is seeing a master craftsman at work. It’s like Caniff. Although Caniff’s work had more of an abstract feel at times, it’s very solid. I love the fact that he and Kirby could take the basic grid and create an exciting story. You could sink into their work.

Hi Oscar,
The idea that the one more digs into Kirby the more questions you get is really hitting me hard. Tha’s a great phrase. Some of it is how we understand the speed he worked at compared to Toth in just looking at the work, yes their both master storytellers but Kirby’s work thought isn’t the same as what’s going on in Toth’s.


Kirby’s speed. Definitely a great point there. I’ve often wondered if Kirby’s dynamics came from his speed. His whole thing was to get the story he had down on paper. Like he’s chomping at the bit to get to the finish line. I don’t know if Kirby ever analyzed his own work methods. If he did I’d love to see it. I think the fact that he kept his panel layouts simple greatly aided his ability to just concentrate on the images themselves, as if he decided at some point that one was more important than the other.

I was also thinking that one major difference may be that Kirby generally worked from a simple plot idea and went from there, whereas Toth tended to work from scripts. Kirby wasn’t held back by a pre-approved story. Toth art still had to pass mustard with Kanigher, Kubert, Schwartz, Mayer, etc., no matter how much of a genius he was.

More questions…

I’ve often thought that it might be a good experiment to just try drawing a story in the Kirby manner. Not in his style or even dynamics (unless that was what was needed). Just go straight through as if turbo charged. Even if the end result is not that great the experiment might be worth it.

Good analysis, Mark and Oscar. I know from reading about Kirby and his priorities that putting a meal on the table of his family was the top motivation for cranking out and inventing all the amazing work that he did. I myself became aware of the value of speed in one’s work when a co-worker on a comic book told me that the drawings that I did when I rushed were preferable to the one’s that I did when I had more time. It all comes down to eliminating unnecessary items. To killing the sometimes creativity dampening act of deliberation.

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