Wednesday, April 9, 2008
It was amazing how much I enjoyed Countdown Special: Kamandi, which reprints issues 1, 10, & 29 from the original Kamandi run in the 1970s. These post–apocalyptic classics were written and drawn by Jack “King” Kirby. I had never read Kamandi: That Last Boy on Earth before (although I wanted to) so it was a real treat. The premise of the story is that some undefined “Great Disaster” has remade the earth. Most Humans have devolved into animals while conversely animals (like tigers, apes and dogs) are intelligent, walk upright, and rule their own empires. The title character is the teenager Kamandi, who adventures across a shattered landscape with his mentor Dr. Canus, and the mutant Ben Boxer. It’s easy to see that Kamandi was heavily influenced by Planet of the Apes, and that it, in turn, informed both Gamma World and Thundarr (which Jack worked on BTW).
Being a post–apocalyptic enthusiast, it makes sense that I would find this enjoyable. I’m even tempted to pick up the new hardcover collections that DC is putting out, and I’ve never been tempted to do that previously. This title really works for me and I like Jack Kirby’s art and storytelling here much more so than his New Gods work. It’s nice to see DC embracing Kamandi again through republishing and by reintegrating him into new storylines. In fact, Kamandi and OMAC (his grandfather) are the only reasons that I’m even remotely interested in the Final Crisis event at all.
When I was reading my copy of Countdown Special: Kamandi, a question struck me: how would Japanese folks respond to the quintessential/classic art style of Jack Kirby? Their experience with comics and their aesthetic tastes are so different I just couldn’t imagine what they might think. Would they like his art? Would they hate it? Could they even relate to it? So I showed some pages to my SO. The exchange went something like this:
Me: “Hey, what do you think of that art in this comic?”
Her: “Hmmm… It’s very busy.”
I thought: “ah, Jack’s dynamic action is too much for her”
Me: “Yeah, this artist is known for his incredible action and powerful figure drawing.”
Her: “the Color is too much, it’s too busy. The background color changes in each panel. It’s distracting”
I thought: “Huh?”
Me: “Ah well, the artist didn’t have anything to do with the color. See, these are comics that originally came out in the ‘70s and…”
But she had lost interest in what I was talking about and went back to reading her book.
That did get me thinking. The bold use of color, which is so common in older comics, was just too visually overpowering for her. She really couldn’t focus on Jack’s art at all. I was kinda stunned but then I remembered that Japanese manga is a black and white medium. The "in-your-face" color had a strong negative impact on her. When for me, it was nearly incidental, particularly because it appeared in a reprint of Kamandi. I recognize that the colorist’s job is much more integrated into the artistic creation of comic books nowadays (computer technology has completely revolutionized the nature of color), but back when Kamandi was first published; it almost seems like an afterthought position. The intent of the coloring process in the days of yore must have been to keep the eyes interested by flashy uses of 4-color shades… whether they matched from panel to panel or not. Looking at the Kamadi pages was such a disharmonious experience for my SO; that the art style didn’t matter at all. For her, the application of color didn’t seem to be thoughtfully considered nor carefully applied. Very interesting. I easily separate Jack’s art from the hues that someone else decided upon, but my SO sees them as one thing. I often have to remind her that American comics are largely a collaborative medium. In the past, my SO has expressed that American comics are too wordy, and bogged down with unnecessary exposition that redundantly describes what’s already visually depicted, but this is the first time she has said anything about color. I guess I gotta’ show her something of Jack’s in black and white to really get her opinion on the his art style. That's sorta' weird for me...