“Man, that cover scared the shit out of me when I was a kid!”
You have no idea how many times I’ve heard or read various iterations of that same statement made in regards to the image depicted above, which greeted kids all over America at newsstands (remember them?) back in 1974. Consider the words of noted Kirby scholar Charles Hatfield, who states that “ this frankly disturbing cover introduces a comic that is chilling, dystopic, and just plain flat-out bizarre,” or cartoonist Scott Shaw, who calls it “one of the most disturbing sexual images in the history of funnybooks,” or prolific YouTube comics commentator (and major Kirby fan) Howlermouse, who says it more or less verbatim – “this cover scared the shit out of me when I was a kid.”
So, like, what exactly is it about this cover, anyway? Even without the benefit of the context surrounding it – which has to be gleaned by, ya’ know, actually reading the book – it’s clear that Jack Kirby struck a chord with this image alone that continues to resonate for many people even all these years later. One could argue that said context, once understood, actually makes this thing even more shocking – that’s a “build-a-friend” named Lila in the box, essentially a mechanical sex toy, and one of “her” exact duplicates is the closest thing our ostensible “hero” has to a “girlfriend” in his civilian identity as Buddy Blank – but let’s leave all that out for the time being and just focus on the picture and words right there in front of us, shall we?
For one thing, those words and that image definitely play off one another in a manner so expert that perhaps only someone with Kirby’s decades of experience in the field could have done it (he’s not called “The King Of Comics” for nothing), the picture itself definitely being a “startling” one, and the text promising us a “startling look into — the world that’s coming!” Again, as mentioned in our first entry in this series, not the world that “might be coming,” or “could be coming” – the world that most definitely is coming. “Does this shit creep you out, kids? Well, it should, because it’s gonna happen!”
Then we have the stark and impactful nature of the cover’s layout. Our bizarre-looking “hero” (remember that “Mohawk”-style haircuts were even less common back in 1974 than they are now) is rendered way in the background, so far back as to almost be meaningless apart from what he’s doing, which is throwing that box with a female head and limbs suspended in some sort of liquid concoction directly “at” the reader. I heard Howard Chaykin opine at a convention panel last year that the artistic genius of Kirby lies in the fact that he was the first person who understood that the impact an action had was more important to a reader than the actual action itself, and that little axiom is never more clearly illustrated than it is here. “Comin’ at ya!”
The other “startling” feature of this cover is, of course, the almost-overwhelming amount of empty, or “negative,” space that Kirby utilizes. Seldom do comics – or any other publications, for that matter – go for that much “blank” (pun most definitely intended) real estate, and when they do it’s because they want the reader’s eye to be drawn to one thing and one thing only since – hey, that’s all there is. Nothing superfluous. No distractions. This is it, folks.
And yet that “nothing” says a whole lot, doesn’t it? One is left with the distinct notion that the rest of the world doesn’t matter, that this action takes places in a completely clinical, isolated, antiseptic setting – and considering that this comic, as we’re made fully aware from the outset, takes place in the future, that’s a scary commentary on the type of society we’re going to be presented with: namely, that it’s an empty one. We’re told, in no uncertain terms, before even opening up to the first page, that OMAC will be centered on a character that is isolated, minimized, perhaps even flat-out insignificant, in the hollow, cavernous – one might even go so far as to say soulless – future world that he inhabits.
The sexual nature of the cover that Shaw alludes to is debatable, I suppose, and probably has greater resonance once a person has read the contents of the book, so we’ll leave that alone for now, especially since it probably wasn’t Kirby’s explicit intention to create even a covertly – much less overtly – sexualized image anyway, so hopefully you’ll agree with my decision to “table” that for the time being. It’s not due to any “prudeishness” on my part, I promise!
Now, as to what happens when you actually open OMAC #1 up — that’s what we’ll get into next time, and while I freely admit I’ve said that at the end of the last couple of these installments, I thought that this cover was so distinctive, and of such import to the overall proceedings, that it was worth a bit of discussion in and of itself. I hope you’ll agree.
Tell you what, friends – I’ll even go so far as to do my best to make the delay up to you by getting the next segment out pretty quickly here (truth be told it’s already written, it just needs some final touches and editing) so that it doesn’t keep looking like I’m delaying the inevitable forever – it just turns out that there was much more ground to cover before a proper analysis could be given to each of this title’s eight issues than I thought! But we’re finally there, no more dilly-dallying around. Join us right back here at Sequart in a matter of days (whenever their schedule permits), as we finally dive into the contents OMAC #1 good and proper!