Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kirby Enthusiasm: The Murphy Slap!

My last piece for the KIRBY ENTHUSIASM show at Maxwell's is a "tribute" to Jack Kirby's tenure on SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN, a title he took over when he temporarily migrated from Marvel to DC Comics in 1970. Kirby's wild imagination brought some crazy concepts to the DC Universe (even if his writing skills never quite matched his artistic ones), most of all the so-called "Fourth World" of the New Gods and Darkseid.

According to Mark Evanier's excellent tome on Kirby, DC gave Jack carte blanche, allowing him to create new books (although some of them never saw print) as well as choose whatever assignment he liked from their current roster. Jack picked the tame JIMMY OLSEN not because he saw any potential, but because at the time, it was the only book that was lacking a regular creative team (he didn't want to take work from anyone).

The result was a metaphor for Bronze Age Comics... an exciting, yet frequently bizarre and confusing confluence of experimentation and creativity in a very traditional context. The supporting cast may have included hippies and otherworldly despots and DNAliens, the backgrounds may have featured Kirby's trademark cosmic crackle and collage splashes, but DC drew the line at the delineation of the Man of Steel himself...

Feeling that Kirby's depiction of Superman (and his trademarked "S" shield) didn't fit DC's house style, they had longtime DC artist (and frequent inker on the last son of Krypton's other books) Murphy Anderson redraw Kal-El's face and S-emblem in every issue of JIMMY OLSEN. The jarring juxtaposition was (ironically) softened by the inks of Vince Colletta, whose tame style (considered by many scholars an ill fit for the dynamism of Kirby's style) served as a bridge between the two artists.

Still, "The Murphy Slap" (my term) is considered one of many great indignities suffered upon one of comics' most important creators. In tribute, I drew the piece with the Kirby-style Superman face and S before covering them with actual Murphy Anderson artwork from an issue of JIMMY OLSEN. I made the added elements off-size and placed them off kilter to emphasize the mismatch of the artwork (and to indicate to the lay person that it's supposed to look like that).

Here are both pieces, the final version and the pre-Murphyized artwork.

For more on this topic, check out Mark Evanier's post on his site.

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