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Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby (Great Comics Artists Series) Paperback – December 12, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

The first critical exploration of the work of a great comics creator

About the Author

Charles Hatfield, Northridge, California, is associate professor of English at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature. Follow his blog at http://handoffire.wordpress.com/.
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Product Details

  • Series: Great Comics Artists Series
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi (December 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161703178X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1617031786
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,098,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joseph Pedoto on February 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Unlike some other reviewers I'm opting to review the text of the book, not the selection of cover art.

Inside there are numerous examples of Jack Kirby's work (including a center color section) chosen specifically to illustrate the points raised by the author. If you want Kirby artwork, there are plenty of options here on Amazon; this is an analysis of his prodigious output, not a collection.

Two small quibbles: Hatfield has not been well served by his editor(s). A surer hand would have guided him away from such sentence-stoppers as "conflictual." And references could have been simplified by standard numerical superscript instead of clogging the narrative with titles and page numbers. (Also, the book itself is printed on paper and will burn if placed in proximity of fire).

The two great ideas Hatfield contributes to Kirby scholarship are, in my view, the concepts of "narrative drawing" and what he calls Kirby's "technological sublime." I can't imagine any new writing on Kirby's work that does not process and include the insights that Hatfield discusses here. Chapter 6, Kirby at Apogee is a deep exploration of two classic New Gods stories, "The Pact" and "Himon."

This chapter alone is worth the price of the book, in my opinion. And you can believe me, because I'm not a fictitious shill for the author. I'm just a lonely, aging comic book fan who was bribed with candy and temporary tattoos (Thanks, Chuck!).

If you want serious, challenging scholarship about one of the defining figures of comic art in the 20th Century, you will appreciate this book. It's deep. It's thought-provoking. It should be rapturously reviewed in a future issue of The Comics Journal, if there's any justice.
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By Ian Gordon on December 21, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is the best book on comic books I have read in a long time. Hatfield argues for the importance of Kirby by showing us what he did and why it mattered. He does not shy away from some of Kirby's lesser moments but helps us understand how and why these occurred. I read this book with a growing awe for Hatfield's scholarship and as someone who also writes on comics I was humbled by this work. Buy it, Buy it now even if you do not like Kirby. If Hatfield does not change your mind (he did mine) then I think you will at least garner a respect for Kirby.

In addition to situating the work of Jack Kirby in a broad context of the history of comics and carefully dissecting his lasting impact Hatfield discusses a range of issues, from the formal properties of comics to the mythological dimensions of superheroes, with authority. Hand of Fire is the single most important scholarly book on superhero comics hands down. It is one of the best books I have read on comics period. It surpasses his Alternative Comics, which is no mean feat.

This is a scholarly work but accessible to all.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Do not expect any light reading. This is a serious scholarly work that approaches Kirby's art through the lenses of artistic and literary analysis, and examines Kirby's contributions to the comics industry. Dividing his work in eight chapters, Hatfield takes pains in revealing Kirby, the artist, to readers. It is important for him to point out that Kirby created his narrative from his artwork, and not vice versa. This is because it is often said that Lee was the brainchild behind the stories they wrote, when in essence, it was Kirby who provided the imagination through his artwork. Secondly, and most importantly, Hatfield, through a well-balanced narrative of Marvel in the sixties, shows readers Kirby's rightful contributions to that company. Admitting that Kirby did not have the entrepreneurial spirit to create the mega-company that Marvel is today, Hatfield does point out that he "generated the raw material of Marvel. His contributions effectively re-formed and revitalized the company, which without him would not have become the Marvel we know." Later on, Hatfield contends that "Kirby warrants recognition as Marvel's signature artist and founding conceptualist... Kirby stands as Marvel's co-founder." He also elaborates on how Kirby changed the superhero genre, first, by making the superhero the predominant genre in the comics industry; secondly, by creating a pantheon of superheroes and super villains; and thirdly (although without planning), he suffuses the superhero story with soap opera elements.

Hatfield pursues Kirby's authenticity as an auteur in comics by exploring Kirby's fascination with the mix of technology and magic, something that is always signature Kirby.
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Hatfield is one of the best comics' historians out there so I encourage you all to pick up a copy of Hand of Fire. There are several books out there giving a chronological history of Jack's life, and there have been many magazine and fanzine articles written about Jack's life and work, but it's about time someone put out an entire book approaching Jack's work from an academic perspective. I've seen many comics fans dismiss Jack's work as nothing more than "men in tights colliding," so my hat is off to Charles for giving Jack's work the more serious and scholarly approach it deserves.

If published comics scholarship is ever going to have any really serious relevance at the university or cultural level, I think this book will be a first step in that direction. Kirby was such a pivotal figure in the comics industry, there has to be a book like this on the book shelves; imagine a literary theorist studying the history of literature with no books on the writings of William Shakespeare in their library? Thanks to Charles, I think now comics historians have a book with some serious analysis of Kirby's work that they can use as a first step if they want to simply reflect on Jack's work for themselves, or Charles's book can help springboard future comics scholars into their own analysis of Jack's work.

I'm not sure what the future of comics scholarship is going to be, but I do think that if, say, 100 years from now you have students writing about Jack Kirby and his work, Charles' book is going to have to be a part of their bibliography. If you are a Kirby fan, this book must be a part of your collection; if you are a comics fan or new to the comics medium, prepare to learn a lot about arguably the most important comics artist of all time.
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