You cannot deconstruct unless you know how to construct. - Alexander McQueen

The First Kingdom permalink

Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s what we’re told. This applies to comics as well, as the cover artist is often not the illustrator. But while visiting the Comicshop in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood last weekend I judged a book by it’s cover. Covers. Digging through boxes of deeply-discounted books (the Comicshop is moving after 30+ years in their current location, so a big sale) I found singles of Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom. Not being familiar with this book, I was blown away by one cover after another. Flipping through some of the richest art I’ve ever seen I knew my judgment was sound, that this surely would be a rewarding read. And so it is.

first kingdom cover .jpg
Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom Book 12, published by Bud Plant, Inc., 1980.

Begun in 1974 - when independent comics were scarce - and ending in 1986, The First Kingdom is a sci-fantasy epic which opens on a “post-catastrophic epoch” initiated by atomic holocaust. From Burne Hogarth’s “Jack Katz - An Appraisal” at the end of Book 12:

The world as we know it is unrecognizable. All is gone from that last ferocious encounter, and what Katz is depicting is a ‘negative form of existence’…which sustains paranoia, despotism, degeneracy, atrocity as norms of life…Jack’s theme has one overriding element: He spells out a dream play of life and love. To paraphrase Lucretius: as the lives die and the loves go down - life and love go on; life and love are indomitable and eternal.

Katz’s twelve-year, twenty-four issue run of The First Kingdom takes us through the survival of man, the origin of the gods and migration into space (I haven’t read the whole thing yet and am presently stuck at a two-issue gap in the story, so sorry for the generalities) with startlingly dense art. It is shaped in part by Greek myths in which gods and men alike are subject to fate and frivolity. When Katz undertook his quest he’d been in the comics business for thirty years, pencilling Bulletman, Jughead and Archie, etc. Many consider The First Kingdom to be the first true (independent) graphic novel. Thomas Scortia, in the foreword to Book One says, “It is innovative in more than one sense. It is structured as a novel and spans generations, a concept never before considered by comic artists.” In the introduction to the same book Katz explains, “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.”

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Yes, most pages are this amazing. Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom, Book Six, page 181. Published by Comics & Comix Co. (Bud Plant), 1977.

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Book Three, page 86 of Katz’s The First Kingdom published by Comics & Comix Co. (Bud Plant), 1975

In an effort to learn more about Katz through instant gratification, I mean the Internet, I came across, a site that tells me, loudly, that “Jack Katz the Artist lives still“. Apparently we need reminding, and this is sad. To fill the gaps in my collection, I called around to comics shops in the greater Seattle area, finding that I had to explain what The First Kingdom is to most of them. Perhaps this ignorance is confined to my area. I know there must be keepers of the flame out there. It seems to me, though, that if a book isn’t heavily merchandised it fades into obscurity. The Internet didn’t give me much instant gratification on Katz. I then turned to the forewords from a variety of writers and artists to learn more about him and his art. Some choice quotes from George Clayton Johnson, Thomas Scortia and Burne Hogarth, respectively:

Sitting there at the drawing board so still you can hardly see him breathe, while tortured black ink is laid down with absolute control into delineatories that stun the mind — a full page without a mistake! — Jack Katz builds monuments. The mind-focused work slows him down enough that he has time for the thinking it takes to get it right, his mind leaping ahead coiling through mental constructs of flesh and substance and sometimes his mind gets so full of images that he can no longer think…

Jack Katz is a medium-sized man with an unruly shock of black hair that seems forever to be falling in front of his eyes as he gestures excitedly. With his full black beard he reminds one somehow of Rasputin but, unlike the Mad Monk, Jack’s special madness (or genius…Is there a difference?) is translated into some of the most intricate line drawings ever to appear in the much-maligned comic field.

Jack’s manner of drawing has a nervous, anxious quality. It is not ingratiating for it has no dash, flourish, abandon or largesse…There is a fixation here - a horror vacui - a mistrust of open space, a fixation of unipolar gravity, a private perspective into which everything implodes from a refracted vision.

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For those interested in reading this monumental work, The First Kingdom has been reissued in volumes of standard comic-book size (so likely losing the magazine-sized detail) and may be found in your local comic book shop or on Amazon.

Update: I have been informed by Bob Gill of that the four-volume set of The First Kingdom was never published in full. “Century Comics was the successor to the original re-publisher of The First Kingdom but they folded before they could move past publishing the first half of the 24 volume set. The guy who was engineering the project later joined in with others who founded the Hero’s Initiative. They were the ones who published Jack’s Legacy graphic novel.”

Folks interested in reading The First Kingdom can purchase the singles through Mr. Gill ( or from Mile High Comics - both have all twenty-four books.

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9 Responses to “The First Kingdom” 

  1. Katie Miles Says:

    Not content with the info out there on Jack Katz, I decided to write a Wikipedia entry on him (my first!). Sources materials and input are from Bob Gill ( and Katz himself:

    Hopefully images will be up soon.

  2. David Auerbach Says:

    Damn! I read about The First Kingdom in The Comics Journal as a teenager in the 90s. Maybe the article was by Bob Levin? It sounded insane then and it still looks insane now. No surprise that the Wagner of comics, Burne Hogarth, loves him. Thanks for reminding me.

    Looking at it now, it sort of reminds me of Zulawski’s Silver Globe (the movie–haven’t read the books).

  3. Katie Miles Says:

    Katz told me that the remaining two books of the Kingdom trilogy are awaiting publication, so I hope that materializes soon. I’ll have to check out the Zulawski movie!

  4. Jack Katz Says:

    This is Jack Katz himself!
    I want to thank you for finding my Grafic Novel the “First Kingdom”
    and describing it in your blog. Recently the recognition of my work seems to be coming to the surface. More people have begun to recognize the artwork and concept I have created.
    To contact me further use

    Sincerely: Jack

  5. H. Hansen Says:

    I just found two comic books in the back of an old dresser:-
    “The First Kingdom Adieaum the Bringer of Life” - 1974 and
    “The First Kingdom No. I”
    by Jack Katz

    Are these collectible items? Would anyone be interested in purchasing?


  6. Jim Says:

    It’s late and my mind was wandering to fanciful things. I thought about the First Kingdom and what it meant to me back in the ’70s so I did a Google search and came across this blog. Glad I found it and a message from Jack himself :-))). I have a complete set of the original 24 volumes of the series and the original first of the four volume set. I will cherish them forever.
    Thank you Jack!!

  7. John P. Says:

    I have in my collection the first six plastic sleeves,,i bought these new when they originally came out..between 1973 thru 76…are they collectable..does anyone know..

  8. James N Says:

    Just spent the day reading the first four books of the series. I found a couple of them many years ago and was facinated by the art. For some reason, I never pursued the series, though I loved and studied the art. It’s been in the back of my mind for years. What I have now, is a disjointed collection of nine issues. After reading the first four, I immediatly found and ordered number 5. I feel that Jacks place in the history of independant comics has been muted. Jack, I love your work, and can’t wait, these many years after the work was done, to find out what happened with Tundran and all your other fine characters!

  9. Katie Miles Blogs About The First Kingdom on Style Skilling | Says:

    […] to style and fashion. Read it HERE. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Jack Katz is alive!→ […]

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