Kirb Your Enthusiasm (17)
March 3, 2011
Seventeenth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single panel from a Jack Kirby-drawn comic book.
I recently revisited a couple of issues of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen “edited, written and drawn by Jack Kirby” that I first (and last) read in 1971, at the age of 12. I’m not sure how important that is for you to know, but I just don’t quite know how else to talk about Kirby except as an ex-adolescent.
As I dimly recalled, the story involves Jimmy Olsen and The Newsboy Legion on assignment in Scotland. As I failed to recall “The New” Jimmy Olsen‘s boy reporter testicles appear to have finally descended, here he is all muscles, sideburns and square-jawed swagger. And those “newsboys” bear a passing resemblance to the haggard old men of abbreviated stature who dispensed news (and comic books) at the Staten Island ferry terminal of my youth.
Amid the many predictable panels of giant monsters, inky explosions and fantasy chrome (all awash in an embarrassingly studied grooviness) what I remembered most naggingly and accurately remains as ineffable to me now as it was on first encounter.
Ex-Keystone Kop James Finlayson (1887-1953) is best remembered as a recurring recipient of Laurel and Hardy’s negative attention — and best forgotten for bequeathing Homer Simpson (and the world) his sputtering trademark: “D’Ohhh!”.
Though I gathered that Jack Kirby was no hippy I well understood why the psychedelia was being juiced in these comic books. Kids invariably discern when they are being marketed to. And the monsters and explosions just seemed to go with the territory. But Finlayson? This was the kind of historical figure my personal perverse 12-year-old radar was keenly tuned toward but he was certainly no marketing strategy in 1971, nor in his lifetime, nor today. And in my compartmentalized worldview Finlayson had about as little to do with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen as Vegas insult comic Don Rickles (whose leering headshot had graced the cover a few issues previously). But evidently not to Jack Kirby.
I was consuming numerous superhero comic books around this time and badly wanting to like (or simply understand) any of them. That was sadly never to be. However those “Kirby is Back!” titles that DC hawked in the early 1970s were easily more tantalizing than the rest — if ultimately more inaccessible. Aside from trying to figure out why everything kept exploding, what all those shiny machines were actually supposed to do and why the word “doom” appeared on nearly every page I had encounters like this — from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #144 (December 1971) — to contend with.
Here is our face-to-face with the assassin MacFinney who has just been grazed by the protagonist’s “Whiz Wagon.” The exasperated one-eyed grimace was the comedian’s squinty signature turn and seems to be the only expression that the cartoonist possessed reference material for — it is used again and again throughout the story until the villain is eventually offed by a Loch monster from central casting.
I still don’t quite understand what Kirby was up to by recontextualizing beloved comedians as comic book bad guys. I know these cameos weren’t funny and I know they weren’t exactly serious either. And as far as I know this was the end of the line for that particular gambit of his. But whatever his motivation (or lack thereof) Jack Kirby, the absurdist, got me this time: this panel stopped me dead in my tracks with a “D’Ohhh!” moment that has been lodged in my memory for 40 years.
2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker
ALSO ON HILOBROW: Joe Alterio’s Cablegate Comix | HiLobrow posts about comics and cartoonists | HiLobrow posts about science fiction | The New Gods generation
2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.
2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.
2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins
What do you think?
Did the ‘Doh’ migrate from Finlayson to William Bendix on ‘Life of Riley’? I know that Matt G got ‘Doh’ from Byron ‘space-age bachelor pad’ Werner saying it all the time and assumed it was from Bendix, but likely you and Byron have greater knowledge of the history of ‘Doh’.
Gary- Yup, Bendix follows Finlayson by way of Spanky and Charlie McCarthy et al. Good to hear that Byron Werner is a key man in the meme chain.
Really, Byron Werner was a link in the chain? That is amazing intel.
Mark, I think the genesis of both the Finlayson and Rickles appearances can be traced back to Jack’s assistants at the time, Steve Sherman and Mark Evanier. Essentially assistants with not much to do, due to Jack’s single-minded creativity, they prepared letter columns, some mostly ignored or changed plots for stories and such. But, one thing Jack, Steve and Mark shared was a love for classic comedy and comedians and i believe it was with their influence and encouragement that these weird but ultimately unforgettable cameos came to be.
Fascinating! Thanks, Bruce.
This was really interesting, Mark. I bought those Kirby DC’s too, trying to discover what the fuss was about, having never read Kirby’s Marvel Comics. Am I crazy, or didn’t Edgar “Slow Burn” Kennedy, another Hal Roach regular, also say “D’oh!” I could be so wrong; in my defense, I have had three brain surgeries.
Andy: “D’oh!” became a Roach studio trademark but my money is on Finalyson as the first to use it (on film anyway).
Bruce: Any idea why this particular weirdness ended so suddenly?
Well, these hijinks were toward the end of Jack’s run on Jimmy Olsen, a book he regarded much more lightly than his own ‘Fourth World’ books. I think he was more inclined to be lighter and just throw things against the wall and see if they stuck on Olsen than on his more ‘serious’ books. After all, look at what he was working with here, characters not his own like Superman and Jimmy Olsen, with redrawn faces, yet. He never liked working with other people’s characters if he could avoid it and the revived Newsboy Legion staffed with the likes of Scrapper Jr. and Flippa Dippa was no prize. Jack would never slap a slogan like ‘Kirby says: “Don’t Ask, Just Buy It!” on The New Gods, you could be sure of that.
So –belatedly — a few thoughts:
I think Bruce is on the money when he talks about the influence of Evanier. There’s a period, running roughly from 1964 to 1972, where Silent and 30s Comedy were considered particularly hip, thanks to re-packaged Harold Lloyd shorts (the most accessible of the Big Three) and re-runs of Laurel and Hardy, and others. I remember having a poster in my bedroom of Stan and Ollie smiling down benignly upon me (long before I even understood the possibility that they were not alive in an eternal present.) Around this time, L+H had their own comic book and cartoon show (based on Larry Harmon’s characters.) The Marx Brothers has also been rediscovered, thanks to the elderly Groucho’s chat show appearances, whose irreverence chimed with the late 60s zeitgeist.
I also dimly recall a Batman comic where the Joker was making people die laughing with poor puns or something. Batman countered this effect by recalling the funniest scenes from the Marx Brothers movies — which he said were authentically funny, as opposed to the Joker’s banal comedy.
But I really need say no more than the fact that Laurel and Hardy are featured on the cover of Sgt Pepper.
However this is all entirely irrelevant. Kirby was not concerned with being hip. He had Paul McCartney worshipping at his feet in 1972, and was, it seemed bemused and mildly embarrassed.
Meanwhile, the Kirby imagery that can be read as psychedelic is, I think, more of a logical aesthetic response to the concepts he wished to convey, rather than anything to do with what was happening in contemporary graphics. Indeed, we can safely argue that Ditko was ‘trippy’ before Jack — and pretty much everyone else. (Though Kirby had teenage kids at the time, so would have been vaguely aware, through a haze of cigar, rather than marijuana smoke, that he could spread his wings in that direction.)
Finlayson? Rickles? RIckles wasn’t hip. Finlayson was, in that way that George Harrison was sort of hipper than John or Paul. That was probably the appeal to Mark Evanier. (We should ask him, I think he’d like this series.) His range (Finn, not Evanier) was far less extensive, but he played that pop-eyed angry baldie with great effect. They should CGI him into Curb Your Enthusiasm some day.
A couple of other points: Most of us know that Superman’s face was often re-drawn by Curt Swan in the Kirby books. Perhaps Jack was strutting his stuff here. It’s often overlooked that he was a superb realist caricaturist. If you look at the gangsters portrayed in FF 91 – 92, for example, you see that they’re given an intriguing and grotesque depth of facial detail. Kirby does this for fishermen, and other blue collar types too. Indeed, if you came from Mars and were presented with these head shots compared to a more generic face (such as Reed Richards) you might be tempted to say that Kirby was technically ‘better’ at drawing character faces. I’ll settle on the basis that he employed a different aesthetic sensibility for appropriate roles, like a 1930s casting director. It’s another fascinating part of the Kirby Universe.
Finally, Finlayson had an interesting face. He was a living cartoon. His resemblance to Popeye is rather striking. Now I am pretty sure that Kirby would have enjoyed and admired Popeye. But I think he would have liked the second Segar in Thimble Theatre feature a lot more: the wild and nutty Science Fiction presented in Sappo.
Have a look:
It’s perhaps where influences on Kirby and Crumb collide with force, and provides a neat consulsion to this rambling and overlong comment (which reminds me of one of one Kirby’s text pieces in terms of coherence…)
PS. I’ve always heard Groening attribute Homer’s ‘D’oh’ directly to Finalyson. I have no truck with this revisionist version of events alluded to above.
Just a slight correction to Greg’s cogent comment above. The Superman and Jimmy faces were redrawn at different times by Al Plastino
and Murphy Anderson not Swan.
Evanier responds: http://www.newsfromme.com/archives/2011_03_05.html#020320
Holy cow, that is so gratifying, to read Evanier’s account of the Finlayson cameo in Jimmy Olsen. Wow. “I’m pretty sure it was Steve who came up with the idea of doing something around the Loch Ness Monster, just as I’m sure it was my idea to use Jimmy Finlayson as a character. ‘Fin,’ of course, was the foil in many a Laurel and Hardy film and I was a huge fan of Stan and Ollie. Steve and I worked out a plot and when we took it to Jack one Saturday, I took along a still from my collection. It was from one of the best Laurel and Hardy silent movies, Big Business, and it was the best shot I had of Finlayson.” Etc. Everyone, go read that post!
Bruce — thank-you for the correction.
Mark Evanier is so impressive. Either he wrote down or recorded every moment he was with Jack, or he has genuine total recall. He’s done more than anyone to keep the Kirby flame burning. I’m so glad he’s engaged with this.
Evanier hath spoken, and his words ring true.
And two last things on The FIn: one character reference photo was entirely sufficient, as this was pretty much the only face that he used on camera. You got one pop-eyed squint, you got yourself a Jimmy FInn.
Jimmy has been merchandised, at least once: http://www.laurelandhardy.org/FinNC.html
But I am not sure that this bust has outsold any Toy Story 3 merchandise.
Overall. I just want to say what an amazing piece, and series of posts, this has been.
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