Monday, April 27, 2009

Jack Kirby's Collages & the Sublime

The above image from Fantastic 4 Annual #6 (1968) was one of a series of photomontages created by the comics genius Jack Kirby (1917-1994). Kirby had a long and fruitful career as a comic artist spanning from the beginning of the comics industry in the 1930's through the 1970's. He is best known for his collaboration with Stan Lee (writer) which spawned many famous Marvel comics characters like the X-Men, The Avengers, The Hulk and The Fantastic Four.

Kirby was an artist that liked to experiment. In the mid-1950's he began making collages out of ads and magazine photos as a hobby. In the mid-1960's he put his collages to use in the comics he was working on. The most notable series of these were published in the Fantastic Four. The F4 had adventures in far-flung locations; the undersea world of Atlantis, labs filled with alien technology and the "negative zone," which existed in the 4th dimension. It's the negative zone collages that I would like to explore further.

I’m hypothesizing that Kirby used the collages because he was trying to find a way to differentiate our 3D reality from the disorienting and scary yet beautiful negative zone/fourth dimension within the limitations of 2D characters and (not so great) printing technology. The collages evoke feelings of the sublime, in Burke’s sense of terror and awe. Also, the idea of the technological sublime; attempting to show the unshowable (advanced alien technology, the vastness of the universe). Later Kirby experimented with the collages in a short-lived (only one issue) publication called Spirit World (this is one of his collages for it on the left). These collages, even more than the ones featured in the F4, suggest feelings of the eerie and the surreal.

At this stage in my research I can't say that I know specifically what art/collages Kirby might have seen that inspired him to create these. It seems logical that one influence might have been the early British pop artist Richard Hamilton's Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? (1956), which prominently features Kirby's cover for Young Romance #26 (October 1950) hung as a painting in the center of the piece. It was widely reproduced, and logically, he must have seen it. My sources, so far, say that he started playing with collage around this time. There are also many surrealist elements, reminiscent of works like Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919) by the German collage artist Hanna Hoch. Kirby may have been especially affected by these surrealist works due to his war time experiences.

I plan to continue research on this topic and write an article about it in the fall.

Here are some interesting links about these collages:


  1. A lot of photo collage work that was contemporaneous with Kirby was done with experimental architecture projects. These guys were pretty explicitly influenced by comic book layout and art at the time:

    This essay is also relevant:

  2. Thanks for the links and info. I will check this out. Happy Holidays to you!