Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Kirby Character Meme

I’ve been tagged by Plok of A Trout in the Milk with a simple meme from Sean Kleefeld.

Here’s the original challenge from Kleefeld:
The past few years, I've been writing a column for Jack Kirby Collector that looks at Kirby's visual design of characters. It's been infinitely fascinating for me, and I almost always find some surprises in my research on Kirby's design processes for the characters I write about.

I thought I'd bring other people into the fold by my first attempt at starting a blogosphere meme. Here's the premise:

Forget Jack's overall storytelling, forget his characterization, just look at the visual representation of his characters -- the actual drawings themselves. Now tell us what YOU think is the best character design Jack Kirby ever created and why. The challenge, it seems to me, isn't so much finding a good (or even great) character design; it's narrowing the field down to just one!

What is my favorite Kirby character design? Before I give my answer, I’ll start by saying that I love Captain America, and Kirby did a tremendous job with him. But the costume is more than a little goofy.

The basic idea is great: a modern-day knight, with chain mail, gauntlets, and a shield. The flourishes, though, are strange. Wings on the head? The striped midriff? Ah, well.

Much as I love the guy, he looks a little like a dork.

Who is Kirby’s best design?

Who else?


Doctor Doom is the counterpoint to Mr. Fantastic. He is the Dark Side of Genius. Where Richards lives in a bright white tower, open to the public, Doom lives in an ancient fortress in a police state. Richards wears a bright blue jumpsuit and creates inventions to push back the boundaries of human knowledge. Doom wears armor and a mask, and his work is purely for the Greater Glory of Dooooooom!

Richards represents intelligence for the good of all and looking to the future. He is the American Space Age. Doom represents intelligence for personal gain and anchored to the nightmares of the past. He is the Gothic Villain.

Doom’s design has a few great touches. The basic form of his costume is the armor. The armor looks medieval, hinting at Doom’s preoccupation with the occult, as well as Doom’s status as an old-tymey genius, the sort who was feared by the populace and kidnapped local maidens for purposes too horrible to contemplate. Over the armor he wears a green tunic, a little reminiscent of Greece and Rome, and a hooded cloak, which reinforces Doom’s sorcerous flavor.

The true genius of Doom’s design is in the mask. Doom’s look is, for the most part, simple: smooth armored limbs, circles at his joints and clasps, the simple green clothes, and the holster. Nothing notable. Doom’s mask is entirely different, without betraying the basic thrust of the design. It draws attention to Victor’s face though it does not disrupt the harmony of the design while doing so.

Nooks and crannies give the mask a sinister look, and draw attention to Doom’s crazy, crazy eyes. The mask’s mouth is full of techno-gadgetry, hinting that Victor’s true insides are not man, but machine. Moreover, the ugliness of the mask hints at the horrible, scarred face beneath it. Doom’s mask is as ugly and frightening as the man who wears it.

(That’s my pet theory as to why cartoon versions of Doom fail—without the details in the mask, the strengths of his design are lost.)

Kirby’s Doom was the greatest ranting, larger-than-life villain the comics have ever produced. It’s a hell of a look.

Of course it is!


Who do I tag?

Oh, let's see if the Big Dawgs of the Blogosphere are paying attention.

Dave Campbell, paging Dave Campbell. Chris Sims, paging Chris Sims. Bully the little stuffed bull, paging Bully the little stuffed bull. Devon Sanders, paging Devon Sanders.

Kirby meme on the line.

(Devon doesn't much like Kirby, as I recall. That'll make it fun.)


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