Tuesday, 15 May 2012
On Kirby & Simon's "Boys' Ranch"
There's a sense in which Boys' Ranch is the comic book equivalent of the Antikythera Mechanism. At first glance, Kirby and Simon's tales of the Native American-raised Clay Duncan and his youthful, feisty charges seem to be nothing more remarkable than a superior Western comic from the turn of the Fifties. Yet it quickly becomes obvious that there's a great deal more of substance and significance going on between the covers' of Boys Ranch than at first appears possible. Indeed, in many ways, the first 3 issues of the title don't belong to the period at all. Cloaked in the form of a kids gang comic, Kirby and Simon were producing fundamentally complex and mature stories which were in several key ways as literate and moving as any frontier movie epic of the period by the likes of Ford and Hawks. As such, there's a sense of cognitive dissonance generated by looking at pages which appear to be perfectly of their age while clearly expressing qualities which the American monthly comic would rarely again equal, let alone exceed. This week's piece in The Year In Comics series over at Sequart - find it here - is my attempt to touch upon just a few of the issues which make Boys' Ranch such a fascinating and even somewhat shocking read.
Those who still choose to believe that Jack Kirby was never a comics writer of the first rank, or who somehow manage to avoid considering how important social justice was to his work throughout his career, really do owe it to themselves to track down the collection of the series issued by Marvel in 1991.
Put simply, any list of the finest dozen or so American comic-books ever which doesn't include Boys' Ranch probably isn't worth paying attention to, while any such ranking which doesn't have the justly famous Mother Delilah - from #3 - in one of its first few places can be safely ignored. Of course, you already knew that, but we do live in a culture in which most everything from the past is easily accessed and yet also so strangely ignored. It can't hurt to add even the faintest and most redundant of voices to the chorus which celebrates the preeminent virtues of Boys' Ranch. And so I have.
Tomorrow, and I say this with a nervous heart, the third of the Reader's Roulette nominations has arrived this morning through the letterbox, meaning that - no, really - Scooby-Doo #21 is to be the TooBusyThinking review for Wednesday 15th May.