Friday, May 3, 2013

In Praise of Jack Kirby (and we've been given the LIEBSTER AWARD—Huzzah!) (Spraining My Arm Patting Myself on the Back Edition)

LERNER INTERNATIONAL ENTERPRISES is lucky enough to have had the Liebster Award bestowed on it by that absolutely perfect blog, The Girl With the White Parasol, and we here in the LIE control room, say THANK YOU, and send many, many delicious telepathic chocolates her way!!!
More on The Liebster in a moment, but first, the illustrations for this post: you might be asking, What’s with all the Jack Kirby?

Well, The King (Mr. Kirby’s nickname—and shame on you if you didn’t know that) is the answer to one of the Liebster’s questions (see below) because he is one of my favorite artist/writer/storytellers ever.

Kirby’s is a clunky, yet beautiful and psychedelic style that has always stirred my imagination—not only was his art cosmic, so were his tales: supreme super-weirdness from beyond space and time, with storylines that were never mundane. No simple stopping of bank robbers for Kirby! It was routinely gods vs. man vs. demons, with the soul of the universe in the balance!

Let’s not forget Kirby’s influence—and beyond the obvious, like the slew of Marvel motion pictures based on comics he co-created—even George Lucas swiped from The King.

I fell in love with what the incredible The Secret Sun site calls Kirby’s various obsessions, such as UFOs, ancient astronauts, the occult, psychic power and psychotronic warfare, conspiracies, secret societies and armies of alien gods.” 

My stepdad was heavy into mysticism and the occult, and through that, became a Kirby fan. He had a ton of ’em—fact is, he had a lot of Kirby, Zap Comix, and Marvel’s Dr. Strange, Kull the Conqueror and Conan the Barbarian series, too. (I think I knew about R. Crumb before I knew who Neal Adams was.)

But Pop wasn’t indiscriminate, only buying a select handful of titles, or artists/authors—although anything with Kirby or Robert E. Howard’s names on it was scooped up toot sweet.

So I grew up in an apartment filled with comics created by The King, especially his 1970s work for DC, like his youthquake-inspired “Fourth World” series (consisting of: Mister Miracle, the verrrrry groovy The Forever People, The New Gods and, dig this, Jimmy Olsen: Superman’s Pal!), along with monster-of-the-month battle-themed The Demon, OMAC, and Kamandi, which was a fanboy’s dream: Subtitled, “The Last Boy On Earth” (and what kid didn’t want that?), the magazine was a Planet of the Apes rip-off where all the animals are mutated and thinking—or else monstrous—as audience surrogate Kamandi (his name comes from where he was born, the underground bunker of “Command ‘D’”) wanders across a blasted USA, sometimes accompanied by mutant-cyborg-astronaut Ben Boxer (who had a cyclotron for a heart!).

Several other DC titles Kirby worked on were attempts at reviving franchises, like Murder Inc., The Sandman and Atlas—not to mention the one-shot Dingbats of Danger Street!

But they were all the best kinds of genre stories with lots of twists and eyeball kicks. Lordy, Kirby practically invented the eyeball kick, and his psychotically detailed backgrounds have even inspired a term: “Kirbytech.” 

First I swiped my old man’s comics, and then I bought my own.

When Kirby left DC, I followed him to Marvel where he revamped and revived a couple of moribund books (Captain America and Black Panther), and created a couple of new and very weird titles (Devil Dinosaur and very ancient astronauts-themed The Eternals), as well as tackle the oddest movie adaptation ever: turning Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey into a monthly magazine—which fortunately mutated into the very welcome Machine Man, where 2001’s Monolith gives a super-soldier android a soul.

All these books Kirby worked on while at Marvel were overflowing with Jack’s “obsessions,” and they all routinely had moments of mind-expanding maximum bizarreness: Invading space robots at war with giant ants inadvertently create the Garden of Eden for two prehumans (Devil Dinosaur); King Solomon’s brass frog is a time machine, bring back both medieval warriors and a mutant from one million years in the future (Black Panther); royalist billionaires attempt a fascist coup (the “Madbomb” storyline in Captain America); and almost every issue of The Eternals, where Space Gods return to pass judgment on the three species they left behind: the angelic Eternals, us humans, and the mutated, demonic Deviants.

I think it was because Kirby’s style was so “cartoony,” and so unrealistic that his stories could be so “out there,” yet so straightforward—morally complex characters that were never not good or evil—driven through muscular and kinetic art, that was “cool retro,” and very psychedelic because it wasn’t trying to be.

WHEW! Now that I’ve gotten explaining this post’s art direction out of the way; onto

Aubyn Eli (if that is her real name!), the proprietress of The Girl With the White Parasol explains what El Liebsterino is:
“The Liebster Award, for those of you that have never heard of it, is a blogging award… [and] is kind of a mystery to me. It's sort of the grande dame of blogging awards. Every nine months or so, it makes a splashy appearance in the blogosphere, popping up in glamorous locales…”

The rules of the Liebster are as follows:
1. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
2. Answer 11 questions from the blogger that nominated you.
3. Give the award to 11 other bloggers.
4. Give your nominees 11 new questions to answer.”

Like Aubyn says, “I finally have the space and time to tackle this one, so here it goes.”
(Because liebe means “love” in German)

1. Give 11 random facts about yourself.

Facts about me:
1.) If you haven’t noticed already, I love Jack Kirby comics, especially his, well, everything. His stories were a huge part of my growing up, and I reread them multiple times. I still have a bunch, stored carefully in a cabinet. Gonna read some later, too!

2.) It is my belief that “genre” pictures— using the “metaphor” of the horror/western/musical/et al genre—portray sociological, moral, philosophic and psychological issues in a much more nuanced yet direct way (getting to the point, being more blunt and truthful) more often than mainstream dramas and more “realist” and heavy-handed social issue films.
A comparison: Larry Cohen’s B-movie It’s Alive addresses more honestly and memorably the fears of parenthood than Robert Redford’s bland and obvious Ordinary People. Go ahead, try and prove me wrong!

3.) I am an excellent self-taught cook, and even make my own kim-chee. This past weekend I prepared home-made pulled pork (the secret ingredient is apples—shhhh!). Now that I cook so much for myself, I am actually more adventurous when I eat out; I’m looking for recipes to swipe—shhhh!

4.) Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes once threatened me when he was mad at my boss at the time, proving that Hewitt was a petty, small man and a jerk—just like Michael Mann’s The Insider shows.

5.) Once I tried to pick up Andy Richter’s wife in a bar (I didn’t know who she was until he showed up). It all worked out fine; and we’re all still friendly (although haven’t seen one another in years).

6.) As a kid, my family only had an old Zenith B&W TV, so I saved my money over two Christmases and a birthday and bought my own color TV. Mine, all mine!

7.) I don’t like 3-D movies.

8.) Marilyn Manson once set my shoes on fire.

9.) If I see a cockroach, I kill it with my bare hands, just like Christoper Walken in underrated mercenary movie The Dogs of War: it’s the quickest way, and you can always wash your hands afterwards.

10.) When I get enough money, I’m going to get a tattoo of Galactus on one forearm and Fin Fang Foom on the other.

11.) I wish I had Carrie White/Michael Ironside in Scanners-style telepathic powers.

2. Answer 11 questions from the blogger that nominated you.

1. Olivia de Havilland or Joan Fontaine?
I’m not as familiar with the work of these feuding sisters as I should be, but Olivia gets this one because I LOVE The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938; Michael Curtiz and William Keighley), and DAMN, OdH was really foxy back in the day.

2. What are your top 5 favorite movie scores?
Well, today they are:
Lalo Schifrin; The President’s Analyst (1967; Theodore J. Flicker)
Jerry Goldsmith; Damien: Omen II (1978; Don Taylor)
David Shire; The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974; Joseph Sargent)
Bernard Herrmann; Sisters (1973; Brian De Palma)
Akira Ifukube; Gojira (1954; Ishiro Honda)

And a shout-out to Ennio Morricone, just because.

3. What film gets your vote for "most perfect casting?"

[tie] The Taking of Pelham One Two Three/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

4. Do you watch the Oscars?
Used to watch them regularly; made a whole ritual out of it, too, with guests, party favors and intoxicants (and if alone, I often watched the show while doing my taxes—when it used to be broadcast in March). But haven’t watched it in the last couple of years.
I’m increasingly disappointed that only a handful of films get ALL the noms, as if only those movies were the only ones made that year. Very boring. But I tend to like the cheeseball acts and banter: it’s goofy very old-school humor aimed at my grandma’s generation—y’know, I remember Bob Hope and Johnny Carson hosting the Oscars—and they were great!

5. Mother's Day is next month. Name 5 of the most memorable movie mothers (note that I did not specify good or bad).

I really shouldn’t be this honest, but here goes:
Carrie (1976; Brian De Palma) A self-centered and cruel mother whose child is only a prop for the psychodramatic movie in their head.

The Grifters (1990; Stephen Frears; screenplay by Donald E. Westlake, from the novel by Jim Thompson)—Angelica Huston is the closest screen character to my own mother, and I do think she’d kill me to get a suitcase full of money. Really.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962; John Frankenheimer) Another mother using her child for her own gain.

Gorgo (1961; Eugène Lourié)—the epitome of selfless Mother Love, destroying a city to save her kid; gotta have something upbeat on this list.

Mother’s Day (1980; Charles Kaufman)—1980 sleazy gore, courtesy of Lloyd Kaufman’s brother: “Disco sucks!” “Punk sucks!” but slaughtering campers is groovy: Mom approves.

6. What is your favorite "comfort movie" for when you're feeling blue?
George Pal & Byron Haskin’s The War of the Worlds (just watched a bunch of it this past weekend—it’s too bad the Martians never seem to win)
Walter Hill’s The Driver 
(Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain used to be on this list, but I burned out by watching it too often…)

7. What is a movie star/director collaboration that you wish had happened but never did?

John Huston’s 1940s The Man Who Would Be King, with Gable and Bogie (in Connery and Caine’s respective roles).

Jack Nicholson in Kubrick’s unmade Napoleon.

Salvador Dali in Jodorowsky’s aborted Dune.

William Friedkin and Steve McQueen with Sorcerer (1977)—this would be neat to see and experience, but personally I think the casting of Roy Scheider is spot-on for the grimy, nihilistic thriller we have: Roy plays a “loser” better; McQueen would always to have the patina of “success” about him—look at Papillion; you know he is going to escape, no matter what.

This one is only in my head: John Waters and Steve Buscemi both acting in and co-directing The Don Knotts Story: As actors, John and Steve would switch off playing Knotts with no explanation, a la the lead actress(es) in Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire.

8. If you could choose any movie star, past or present, to star in the biopic of your life, who would you choose?

Orson Welles, Warren Oates and Butch Patrick, with Robert Ryan providing narration.

9. Name an author that deserves more film adaptations of their work.
I’m paraphrasing, but William S. Burroughs, using the examples of Marathon Man and The Brothers Karamazov (if memory serves), once said that great books make mediocre movies and mediocre books make great movies.
[Further examples: Jaws (mediocre book; classic flick) and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (excellent book; misbegotten picture).]

There are certain exceptions, but only usually when (as with Trainspotting, L.A. Confidential, Naked Lunch or Kubrick’s The Shining) the film is changed enough from the source material, or else (as with A Clockwork Orange, Point Blank or previously mentioned The Grifters), it’s in the hands of a genius.

That said, I tend to be filled with dread when I hear a favorite novel is being adapted into a film: Lynne Ramsay’s execrable version of We Need to Talk About Kevin (from Lionel Shriver’s book) is a perfect case in point. The film was so bad I couldn’t finish watching it.

And while I’m looking forward to it and will see it no matter what, Alex Cox best not mess up Harry Harrison’s incredible sci-fi spoof Bill, the Galactic Hero

10. Do movie remakes make you cheer, shrug, or shudder?
Shudder usually; there are rare times they succeed (Cronenberg’s The Fly; Huston’s The Maltese Falcon; Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers—which was really a continuation, and that shows the director’s sure hand and thoughtful approach), but hardly these days, although I did like Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead “reimaging.”

11. What is your favorite "so bad, it's good" movie-watching experience?
I am not a fan of the phrase “so bad, it’s good”—I tend to equate cheapness or lack of talent as a particular style, like with Ed Wood’s Plan Nine From Outer Space.
That said, I understand what you’re asking, and my go-to answer for this question is one of my all time favorite movies, Roger Corman’s totally-genius Attack of the Crab Monsters from 1957.

3. Give the award to 11 other bloggers.

These sites deserve money and other fine things, but this is all I can afford…
Nothing Is Written (Groggy Dundee)
NZ Pete’s impossibly well-researched Matte Shot – a Tribute to Golden Era Special Effects
Alternate Brain (not a film blog, but politics—and it’s a site I read every day, and you should too! If anything, I just wanted an excuse to give AB a shout-out!)

4. Give your nominees 11 new questions to answer.

My Questions
(My answers—because you have the right to know!—will be published next week) (Or next next week…)

1.) Who has the oddest screenwriting credits? (The oddest screenwriting career?)

2.) Something that makes you love a flick immediately

3.) Most existential film (please provide your definition of “existential”)?

4.) Fave Agitprop film?

5.) Fave Bleakest film (please provide your definition of “Bleakest”)?

6.) Fave “Man Against Nature” fight for survival? Why?

7.) Fave George Pal film (and the worst George Pal film)—why?

8.) Derek Meddings or John Dykstra? Why? If the names don’t ring a bell, please look them up.

9.) Excellent Film You’ll NEVER watch again: Why?

10.) Segment of a film completely at odds with the rest of the movie—and basically better than the rest of the flick; something that would make a great short if plucked out of the whole—

These iconoclastic directors have all made only a handful of films, all of which can be classified “oddball.” But I really dig their flicks, even ones that come close to snoozeville, because they tend to be so damn different.
Not completely forgotten because they each had made at least one film that remained in heavy rotation back when there were only three channels and a handful of local stations on the tube: Shear’s youthquake exploitation flick Wild in the Streets (1968); Avakian’s last film, the quite droll caper flick 11 Harrowhouse (1974); and Fail-Safe-at-sea The Bedford Incident (1964), the first film directed by former-Kubrick partner James B. Harris—deffo a flawed flick (Y’know, Sidney Poiter’s character is a major part of why everything goes ker-blooey at the end) but still a LERNER INTERNATIONAL favorite, because of the straightforward, very detailed naval sequences, and the uber-bleak ending.

But often these three directors’ ambition was greater than their talent, or else they made pictures for companies that often when into receivership, with some of their movies disappearing for decades—
Case in point: Shear’s incredible The Todd Killings; Avakian’s End of the Road (both of which have only recently been released for home viewing); and Some Kind of Loving from Harris (total limbo). 
Do you have an opinion on these filmmakers, or any of their films? Spill, baby, spill! We want to hear you!

And that’s it, mein lieblings! Once again, I’m striving to get back to a more reasonable publishing schedule for LERNER INTERNATIONAL—accolades like the Liebster Award help keep my confidence up—THANKS!!!



  1. I had no idea you were such a Jack Kirby fan, Ivan, but that was a brilliant tribute.

    It's great to see your Liebster answers, too. Anjelica Huston was terrifying to me in The Grifters, but yes, she's certainly memorable.

    I would love to have Robert Ryan nominate my biopic, too, although the not-so-noir-ish tale of my life probably wouldn't have impressed him.

    I guess for me, when I think of "so-bad-it's-good" I'm thinking of something like The Pride and the Passion which just hits that glorious trifecta of self-importance, miscasting, and ridiculously misjudged moments. I'm less fond of ragging on films for their special effects or bad acting.

    Anyway, great post!

  2. Aubyn, Thanks for dropping by!
    Y'know, I really need to brush up on some of my Hollywood epics; I know I'd heard the title of The Pride and the Passion, but knew nothing of the film itself. Your "trifecta of self-importance, miscasting, and ridiculously misjudged moments" is good criteria for me to keep in mind. I think 55 Days at Peking fits the bill. There's kind of a black hole in my knowledge regarding Hollywood "Blockbusters" from before the 1970s, but I ain't never gonna watch STAR!
    Have a good weekend,