Review by Woodrow Phoenix
IDW Publishing’s Artist’s Edition series of books had been around for awhile before they got around to a collection of original art from arguably the single most significant creator in American superhero comics. They made up for the wait with 168 pages from the biggest and most crucial of Jack Kirby’s visionary projects after leaving Marvel comics: New Gods.
The Jack Kirby New Gods: Artist’s Edition is a large hardcover book at the now familiar dimensions of 430 x 304 mm – the standard size of a page of original art produced for DC and Marvel comics – which presents six of the first eight issues of New Gods, written and drawn by Jack Kirby, with inks by Vince Colletta and Mike Royer. All the pages produced for issues 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8 have been photographically scanned in colour at very high resolution and reproduced actual size, on heavyweight paper. This process produces the sensation of looking at original drawings exactly as created by Kirby and his inkers with all the pencil marks, corrections, different pens and inks and other artefacts visible. These handmade traces are not visible when printed at reduced size, so it’s a very different and thrilling experience to look at Kirby’s comics art in its raw state.
The first 45 pages–issues one and two–are inked by Vince Colletta, smoothing Kirby’s transition from Marvel to DC with pages that feel exactly like The Mighty Thor with plenty of feathering and delicate, if sometimes vague, linework. The tone shifts quite viscerally when Mike Royer takes over the inking duties with a much more faithful rendering of exactly what is in Kirby’s pencils with no embellishments, interpretations or alterations of any kind. Royer’s pages show noticeably less white-out and corrections than Colletta’s and no traces of any reworking, which probably says all that needs to be said.
Extras in this volume are considerable, including two huge fold-outs featuring watercoloured character designs of Lightray and Metron, promo poster art for the 1984 New Gods reprint series, inked covers for issues 2, 3, 5 and 7 with unused pencil art for the cover of issue 1, a double-sized pencil cover featuring Orion against Darkseid, and a single page from New Gods issue 4. There are an additional ten pages of art from Jimmy Olsen 138, 141 and 142 including three versions of the cover to 142 showing how Kirby’s Superman drawing was re-inked by Neal Adams to keep it in DC’s house style (most of Kirby’s Superman drawings across the Fourth World titles were re-inked by Adams, Al Plastino or Murphy Anderson). Finally, there is a wonderful afterword by Mike Royer describing his relationship with Jack and Roz Kirby and the fan reactions to the big change in the appearance of Kirby’s art.
The Jack Kirby New Gods: Artist’s Edition is a fascinating and thrilling collection of hugely impressive comics art from one of the medium’s true masters. Kirby’s vivid, exaggerated styles and physiques are not to everyone’s taste, but if you enjoy seeing his art in its printed form, these originals will astound you.