Jun 1, 2010

Kalibak vs. Orion: Anatomy of a Brawl

A terrific example of a classic Kirby brawl from New Gods # 11 (1972), pg. 19. Inks by Mike Royer.A scan of the original art.
Close-ups of two explosive impacts.

I'm apprehensive about drawing lines on Kirby artwork, because obviously I'm ruining it, but I want to experiment here, so today I'm going to take this page and talk about it in terms of the composition and the direction of the action.

In my opinion, Kirby has one simple goal for this page: he wants to make it very clear that Kalibak gives Orion a good ol' fashioned beat down. The first thing Jack does is take advantage of the Western convention of reading left to right. The action begins with Kalibak in the left corner of the page. We can see immediately he is the one initiating the action.

Green Line: Looking at the page as a whole, Kalibak leads your eye towards panel 3, then across panel 4 and 5 -- from left, to right. Kalibak is the aggressor, he is the active element of this page. Notice all of the impacts take place on the left side of the page, and the repercussions are to the right.

Red Line: In panel, 1 Orion is on the right side of the page, and blasted across the frame. In panel 2 he is on the right side of the panel, then smashed by energy -- ending up with his back up against the wall on the right side of the page in panel 3.
In panel 4 notice Orion's face is completely obscured by the impact of Kalibak's blow, and because Orion does not appear in panel 5, this gives the impression he has been knocked right off of the page.

Let's look at how Jack uses body language to lead the eye around, and down the page.

Red Line: In panel 1, Orion is struck so hard he does a somersault and ends up on his feet in panel 2. Notice how the sound effect creates an arc as your eye moves across the image, then down to panel 2.

Blue Line: In panel 3, Kalibak's left fist, ready to deliver the killing blow, leads your eye past Orion's face, then down towards panel 4, where the impact takes place.

Yellow Line: As you go across the bottom of the page, Kalibak's right hand leads your eye back through the impact in panel 4, so you can see it again and appreciate the power (notice the sharp-edged Kirby debris flying off of Orion, like pieces of shattered armor), and the page ends with panel 5 -- Kalibak's right hand beginning the process of tearing down a building.

Obviously this is not rocket science. This is simple, standard, straightforward comic book storytelling, and everything Jack did here may have been unconscious (the result of over 40 years of experience drawing comics) or just plain common sense. But I think it's worth breaking a page like this down because Jack is considered a master at portraying a comic book fistfight, so if you're interested in comics storytelling, looking at how Kirby handled an action sequence can be rewarding.

In a film, the sequence above may not have been as dramatic (it's only a series of medium shots, with no cutting), but in a comic book, especially with visual elements like Jack's trademark Kirby percussion (fierce impacts that look like bomb blasts), Jack takes advantage of the constraints of a comic book page, and within those parameters, works to make this page a terrific example of a brilliantly choreographed comic book fight scene.

Here is the next page (pg. 18) and a close-up of Kalibak bringing the front of the building down on top of Orion.

Notice Jack gives the reader a birds-eye-view, you can see Kalibak's strength, while Orion is on his stomach, totally vulnerable and defeated -- also the fact that both characters' backs are to us, focuses the eye on the massive tumbling wall.