Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jack "The King of Comics" Kirby's costume designs

Thanks to Cambone on www.poe-news.com for pointing this out...

If you're reading a blog called "Culture High, Culture Low" (and let's be honest, you probably aren't), you hopefully share some of my interest in a wide range of artistic output.  I don't really think there's a hard line dividing "high" and "low," and even if there is, I think it's really limiting to focus on one or the other.  I'm a fan of ultra-cerebral modern and contemporary art as well as visceral pop culture like pop music, pro wrestling and, of course, comic books

I'm also a big fan of artists working across the traditional lines of "high/low" culture and/or combining more than one form of art.  A great example of this would be these costume designs for a 1969 production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, created by Jack Kirby, who is widely considered to be the most important and influential comic-book illustrator of the past 50 years at least.

The designs are classic Kirby, and are really only missing extreme foreshortening and some "Kirby Crackle" to complete the effect.

 Caesar in military garb, looking a lot like one of Kirby's "New Gods"

Roman field soldier - dig that stylized camouflage pattern!

Various Roman citizenry, including a fantastic Soothsayer

A very, VERY Kirby-looking Calpurnia

Calpurnia and the Maid give you a sense of how the designs translated into actual costumes.

Like a lot of comic fans of my generation (I first started reading them in the late 70s and it wasn't til the mid-80s that I became a full-on Comic Geek), my appreciation of Kirby was slow to build.  I respected his contributions to comic history, but didn't see the majesty in his artwork until I was in my 20s.  At that point, though, I completely fell in love with his costume designs, his dynamic page compositions, and the over-the-top mannerisms of his characters.  

It's not for nothing that the easiest way for any contemporary comic artist to make a comic look like it was published in the sixties is to ape Kirby.  Heck, it's still common for Marvel and DC to create blatantly Kirby-styled costumes for new massively-powered characters from deep space, or from godly realms like Asgard or Olympus.  Essentially, the Jack Kirby costume aesthetic is shorthand for "major player" in comics, sixteen years after his death.

Much more information on this project (including many more drawings, several photos and the play's program) and many other aspects of Kirby's incredible contributions to popular culture can be found at The Kirby Museum...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fantastic diagram of Crayola color history

There's a symposium that I either just missed or am about to miss (I just can't afford the ticket or time this semester) hosted by Edward R. Tufte, the author of the classic design book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.  I'm a big fan of the book, and once I've got a bit more free time (read: once I'm certified and have a teaching gig), I fully intend to get the follow-up books.

Here's an example of the sort of thing Tufte talks about:

This diagram of the history of available colors in Crayola crayons just sets my left brain a-hummin'!

It's particularly interesting to look at the increased range of "skintone" colors in the late 50s...and also worth noting that the color "flesh" was renamed to "peach" in 1962.  Nowadays, you can get a pack of various pinks, beiges and browns that can be used as skintones, but thankfully none of them is called "flesh," as that would pretty blatantly tell kids that that one color was the "right" color for skin.