"His Name Was KANE !"

GONE TOO SOON: 1926 - 2000

by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando

His Name is Kane!

Ladies and gentlemen:
A few words, re:  Gil Kane

You never forget your first time.

It was (oh, dear God) 1965; and I was but a scant and beardless seven years of age, all told.

I was seven years old and:  I had my eyes gouged out by one Gil Kane, Esq.

Didn't hurt none, neither.  ;-))

GL #56    I have been asked by the estimable (and Eagle Award-nominated) Master Hutchison to "explain the allure and/or significance of Gil Kane," for the benefit of those benighted few out there who -- for whatever reason(s) -- never quite "got" it, really.

I feel rather like a stunned and disbelieving Gustav Mahler; appointed to the task of "explaining" the concept of the arpeggio to a patiently waiting Helen Keller.  ;-))


I suppose we might best begin, ultimately, by breaking down the manifest primacy of the late (and -- already -- sorely missed) Gil Kane's artwork into the three most significant of its component parts, overall:
1.)  Anatomy
2.)  Storytelling
3.)  Power



Simply put:  it was in the work of Gil Kane -- more so than in the oeuvre of any other comics artist; past or present -- that the inherent dynamism of the human form found its most potent and enduring expression; refining and redefining the storytelling vocabulary and grammar of the medium, entire.

The Atom #23

No other comics artist, to date, has yet managed to achieve such startlingly visceral storytelling effect via the dual agencies of musculature and form; pose and posture.

Kane's human figures were so intelligently conceptualized and unfailingly well-crafted -- the dramatic arching of a back, here; the pivot of an ankle, there -- he was frequently able to imbue a given scene with more naked, unrelenting power and drama than most other artists might with the (nowadays) standard plethora of extraneous "speed lines" and fussy cross-hatching.

The overall effect, therefore, was as tasteful and (no other word so readily applies, really) elegant as it was restrained; a stunning demonstration of the "Less-Is-More" theory, in working artistic application.

Atom #34

No Silver Age DC artist of the day -- save, perhaps (perhaps) for the consistently underrated Nick Cardy -- was capable of subtly wringing more pathos out of a given character with the resolute tilt of an upraised jaw; or a more pronounced sense of purpose, from a sculpted and idealized stance.

He possessed every last bit of Curt Swan's lush naturalism; Ross Andru's flair for panel-to-panel composition; Bruno Premiani's genius for the nuances of facial expression; and the aforementioned Cardy's knowing and assured sense of costume design

and, yet:  he remained -- right until the very end -- uniquely his own man, in studied synthesis.


Captain Action #3With the (possible) exception of Silver Age penciling contemporary Carmine Infantino -- who set the standards for lyricism and grace in page composition, back during his storytelling day -- Gil Kane was the prototypical DC Comics artist, then; his "quieter," more meticulous approach standing in stark and measurable contrast to those of (say) Marvel Comics craftsmen Jack "King" Kirby and Steve Ditko, with their more hyperbolic and overheated figures and layouts.

Kane's more studiedly "naturalistic" approach, in especial, all but defined two of the iconic DC figures of the period:  the rational and diminutive Atom, and -- even more tellingly, perhaps -- the fast-paced and "cosmic" Green Lantern.



GL #154

However:  all the photo-naturalistic rendering in the world can't (and wouldn't) amount to much, overall, within the vocabulary of the mainstream super-hero genre

unless, that is, it were yoked in willing, clear-eyed tandem with an equally coherent commitment and approach to Telling the Bloody Story.

Fortunately -- for both Mr. Kane, and the wide-eyed and appreciative reader -- Telling the Bloody Story was one skill at which the former was a past master; plain and simple.



Simply by breaking the unstated (then-)"rule" of the standard DC comic of the day -- i.e., Each and Every Panel a "Straight Ahead" POV Shot; Middle Distance -- the innovative Mister Kane stood out from the rank and file of his artistic contemporaries; a stylistic Kurosawa (if you like), flanked by row after complacent row of Penny Marshalls.  ;-))

Hawk and Dove #4

This little "gimmick" was particularly notable (and noteworthy) during Kane's virtually monopoly on the cover assignments for the Marvel Comics line, during the early 1970s; when the Goal Ultimate was to catch the casual reader's eye, knowing that one's bestest efforts would be surrounded by those of eighteen ot twenty gazillion other cover artists, all similarly shrilling and clamoring for attention.

(With the good Mister Hutchison's kind permission, then -- I realize this is primarily a DC-oriented site, after all <g> -- two of the more interesting of these will be accompanying the text, at this juncture.)


Marvel Spotlight On #19

Kane's work on the covers of the "western" comics of the Marvel line, during this period, was particularly fine and evocative stuff; full of "worm's-eye" POVs and tilted, slightly askew backgrounds.

Terming Kane's approach a "cinematic" one is no hasty or ill-considered conjecture, certainly.  The gentleman was a lifelong and devoted cinemaphile; eminently capable of conversing -- intelligently, and at length -- on the stylistic procedures and effects of filmmakers as diverse as Alfred Hitchcock; Howard Hawks; James Whale; and Zhang Yimou.

Gil Kane applied a restless and painstaking analysis to these, and half a hundred others, in turn; and seamlessly wedded the best of their numerous storytelling "tricks" to his own ever-burgeoning bag of same.


Red Wolf #5

When held alongside the increasingly more incestuous and self-referential approach of the standard comics artist of today -- with American artists swiping shamelessly either from their own fellows, or else hopping aboard the rickety, second-hand "Manga-Or-Bust" storytelling bus -- these covers remain as fresh and revelatory today as they were a quarter of a century ago.

In short:  they still retain every last scintilla of their undeniable artistic power.



Casting one's thoughts back over the amassed totality of Gil Kane's half century-plus of work, however

one is inevitably reminded -- first and foremost -- of the memory of blazing, panel-shattering power.

GA Atom

A Kane-crafted fight scene was -- simply; inevitably -- too gleefully ambitious to be decently restrained by comics storytelling convention; spilling and sprawling from one panel to the next with an exuberant, nigh-drunken joie de vivre which was as infectious as it was efficacious; and which has been (over the years) shamelessly co-opted by pretty much every other comics artist capable of wielding a decently sharpened pencil, since.



Green Lantern Fight

All of this, mind, was accompanied by a sly, wicked sense of humor with which the inexhaustible Mister Kane suitably leavened even the direst of storytelling proceedings; with the end result being as idiosyncratically cheery and accessible as it was eye-catching and engaging.

The urge to catalogue on, and further on, is an all but irresistible one

Kane Kills Joe Orlando

but:  what more, ultimately, need be said, in hushed and awed summation, than this:


    His name was Kane.

His matchless contributions to this (frequently) pale and ahistorical industry-slash-art form are a part of our collective memory, now.


His name was Kane.

He will be missed.

"Will be," hell:


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This column is © 2000 by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando.
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