First Kingdom

Jack Katz (born 1927) is an American comic book artist and writer, painter and art teacher known for his graphic novel The First Kingdom, a 24-issue epic he began during the era of underground comix.

Moving to California led to Katz’s introduction to underground comics. Through independent publishing he saw the potential to create his own story without editorial interference. The First Kingdom is a 24-issue, 768-page graphic novel that took Katz 12 years to complete, outside of writing the story. He finished two books per year, intentionally totaling 24 in order to mirror the number of books in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.[20] Each issue is dedicated to his then-wife, Carolyn.

The epic was published by Comics & Comix Co. from 1974 to 1977, at which point publication was taken over by Bud Plant (a Comics & Comix co-founder) and completed in 1986. Early praise for Kingdom came from Playboy magazine and the Rocket’s Blast Comicollector fanzine, but it was never a commercial success due in part to the frequency with which it came out and its adult content. Another contributing factor may have been that Kingdom was sold strictly through mail-order and specialty comic stores.

Its genre is science fiction-fantasy with a heavier emphasis on science fiction after issue #6. The story opens on a new, post-nuclear prehistoric era with tribes fighting for survival on a primitive, fantastic Earth filled with gods and monsters. Gods meddle in human affairs, their appearance, temperament and vices resembling the gods of Ancient Greece. The story spans generations and has a huge cast of characters. It abounds with theories to account for religion, evolution, migration and why humans allow themselves to be distracted from the, “plaguing questions of our existence”. The story’s protagonist, Tundran, is introduced in Book Four. He overcomes obstacles in order to return to his father’s usurped kingdom of Moorengan as a liberator. Along the way he falls in love with Fara, a “transgoddess” incarnate, and their adventures together represent the most linear plot line in the story.

The First Kingdom is the first part of a trilogy, which Katz said will include Space Explorers Club and Destiny. He said the first 20 issues are the introduction to the real Kingdom story in issues #21–24. The first 20 issues are filled with histories that are interwoven and repeat the same doomed cycle: a hard-won ascent from primitivity blossoms into a golden age of scientific advancement which inevitably devolves into war and a preoccupation with survival and superstition. Katz’s fears concerning the human condition are revealed here. His characters are unable to transcend their “early programming” born out of environmental stresses and cannot escape such base motivations as greed, envy, and jealousy. The chance for humanity to break this cycle comes with the arrival of Queltar in #20, who encourages a select few to join him and embrace their true potential among the stars.

A number of stylistic touches set Katz’s illustrative style in Kingdom apart from that of other comic artists. It is highly detailed’ all of his human (and humanoid) forms have ideal, heroic bodies rendered with anatomical accuracy; and there are no gutters, with murals filling single-panel pages throughout the work. The quality of Katz’s art matures as he progresses further into the story: the panels get larger and he shifts from pen to brush in the fifth book, a suggestion from Jim Steranko.

Will Eisner and Jerry Siegel among many others considered Kingdom to be innovative in many respects. In the foreword to issue #23, Eisner claims the work helped carve a niche for the graphic-novel medium. Comics historian R. C. Harvey believes Katz was the “…first person in comics to pursue a personal vision at such length'”. Katz’s stated intention in the first issue was to trailblze: “The work I am undertaking…is the first in a series of books in which I hope to extend the dimension of comics to the potential art form that one of its earliest and greatest artists, Hal Foster, laid down the foundations for.”

Attempts have been made to reissue Kingdom as collected volumes. Wallaby Pocket Books published a large-format version of the first six books in 1978. In 2005, Century Comics (under its former name, Mecca Comics Group) released the first volume of an anticipated four-volume set, collecting issues #1–6. The second volume collected issues #7–12 and followed months later, but Century Comics went out of business before it could publish the final two volumes. In May 2013, Titan Comics announced plans to reprint the series in six volumes, remastered from the original art and relettered.

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