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That Time the NFL Paid Jack Kirby to Design an Intergalactic Super Bowl
Football fans and speculative fiction fans are traditionally considered to be on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. But in reality, sports fans and SF/F enthusiasts have plenty in common. Amid all these similarities, one fact demands attention: Jack Kirby’s zany comic book art style

Football fans and speculative fiction fans are traditionally considered to be on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.  As any ’80s movie will tell you, jocks are jocks, nerds are nerds, and the best we can hope for is that they’ll at least respect each other by the end of The Breakfast Club.

But in reality, sports fans and SF/F enthusiasts have plenty in common.  Both groups love to cosplay, and both pay outrageous sums to attend their favorite fan gatherings.  And while Game of Thrones fans are still waiting a few months for the premiere of season six, football fans are settling down to enjoy their 50th season finale.   But amid all these similarities, one fact demands attention: Jack Kirby’s zany comic book art style — he’s famous for his trippy Marvel splash pages — works amazingly when depicting the Super Bowl.

At the height of his power in the 1970s, Kirby was commissioned for a feature in the October 21, 1973 issue of Pro! Magazine, the official publication of the National Football League.  At the time, Kirby had switched to DC comics from Marvel, and presumably had a little spare time to pick up extra commissions.  Hyperbolically titled “Out of Mind’s Reach,” Kirby’s collection of art depicted a future pro football match and debuted bizarre new costume designs for four different teams.

The centerpiece was a double-page spread showing a half-dozen players brawling on an intergalactic grid-iron for a mystic, alien football orb.  Another arresting image displayed visitors making their way towards the match on a precession of hover-boards, no two of which looked alike.  One of the spectators, a bearded gentleman carrying a staff, is strongly reminiscent of Kirby’s take on the Norse god Odin.  Then again, Kirby didn’t earn a legacy by shaking up his style: his signature intricate designs, flashy color schemes, dramatic angles, and “Kirby Krackle” are all on display.

Kirby’s costume designs push the boundaries of “fantasy football.”  The caption explains that, in Kirby’s eyes, “superstars become super beings,” and this is pretty clear in the superhero-like masks and spandex everyone wears.  The San Fransisco 49er is the only one whose eyes are visible, but the Green Bay Packers get the weirdest re-imagining: their costume is straight out of the Black Lagoon, sporting scaled arms and fins for ears.  Either Kirby predicted the effects of global warming would submerge most of  Wisconsin, or he didn’t research beyond the “Green Bay” part of the name.

But that cosmic 1973 issue wasn’t Kirby’s final take on the subject of pro football.  He was commissioned for a 1975 Pro! issue, this time for a much more down-to-earth work: a depiction of real-life quarterback Fran Tarkenton looking for an opening as a group of goonish linebackers charge him.  It’s realistic enough, but Kirby’s kinetic figures still manage to seem otherworldly.

Some of these pieces have resurfaced in issues of The Jack Kirby Collector (#8 and #51, to be specific), but all of Kirby’s football illustrations remain firmly in the “obscure” section of his vast catalog.

Famed Marvel characters Kirby created or co-created — Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Panther — will arrive in theaters later this year, but today’s Super Bowl serves as a reminder that Kirby’s legacy powers not just multi-billion-dollar blockbusters, but the cosmic connection between fans of all types.

If this is what was meant by “fantasy football,” I might could get into it.

10

It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Right now a small city in Italy has been transformed into a unique celebration that has been occurring for centuries. That’s right- it’s Carnival in Venice! We have all seen the photos of the spectacular costumes, always paired with mysterious and alluring masks. Those fortunate enough to have attended the event in person know just how jaw-dropping some of these elaborate costumes can be. The masks are iconic, many instantly recognizable as Venetian. So where did these fantastical looks come from?

To make a long story short, Carnival itself dates all the way back to 1162, and was originally a celebration of the victory over the Patriarch of Aquileia. By the Renaissance, the celebration was made an official annual event, held in the weeks leading up to Lent. Yet the masks date back much earlier in Venetian culture. Though there is no record of when or why masks first became popular in Venice, we do know that by the 13th Century they were already so common that laws were put in place to regulate their use. At this time, masks were an everyday sight, not just reserved for festivals. Masks allowed a person to break social barriers, behaving in ways they might not typically had their identity been known. The nobility was known to take advantage of the anonymity provided by masks to indulge in gambling, brothels, and other such sins. You can understand, then, why throughout the years more and more regulations were put in place over when and where masks were permitted. It is also the reason the raucous Carnival festival was banned from 1797 all the way through 1979.

Due to the freedom they allowed, it is unsurprising that masks became so prevalent In my opinion, it’s surprising that more cities didn’t follow suit! But what about the designs of the masks? Let’s take a look at a few of the most famous mask styles:

For men, the Bauta mask is perhaps the most common style of mask, and most distinctly Venetian. A normal fitted mask on top, it points away from the face on the lower half so that the wearer could eat and drink without removing it. This mask became incredibly popular during the 18th Century, which was also the era when masquerades inspired by Carnival reached peak popularity throughout much of Europe. This is why the bauta mask is still typically paired with 18th century style clothing today, almost always including a tricorn hat and cloak.

The most common between both genders is the Volto (aka larva) mask. This is the mask that covers the entire face, with only the eyes exposed. It is traditionally white, though often ornately decorated.

Another distinctive mask is the Medico della Peste mask, aka the plague doctor mask. This slightly creepy mask, with a dramatic beak, is unique among the masks due to the fact that it is based off of reality, rather than created out of frivolity. In other words, during the days of the plague, doctors actually wore masks that looked like this because they believed it would protect them from the deadly disease.

There are many other styles of masks, including the Gnana cat-like mask, and several based off of Commedia dell'Arte characters such as Pantalone and Arlecchino. I can’t cover them all, but I’ll leave you with one more mask which was all the rage for women in the early 18th Century, yet is almost never seen today. Known as the Moretta mask, this little black mask has a unique circular shaped that covered the face, but not the chin, top of the forehead, or other edges. What made it so infamous, though, was the fact that it traditionally had no strap, and instead was held in place by a little button on the back of the mask which a woman held in her mouth. As a result, a woman could not speak while wearing the moretta mask. It gave women an air of mystery, and in a way, a sense of power. Men would strive to persuade the moretta woman to answer their questions, therefore removing her mask and revealing her identity. Yet due to the extreme impracticality of this style, it is understandable why the moretta mask has not made a revival in modern times.

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