Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted

Nobody Did Debris Like Jack Kirby

By Jamie Shanks

Sweazy looked at the slowly revolving spiral galaxy of cream in his coffee cup. He impulsively thought about spitting into it, obliterating it with a supernova of saliva. Instead he watched it swirl in lazy elegance.

“How do you want your toast?” Manchuk asked him.

“About halfway up the scale on the toaster,” he said. “Not quite warm bread, not quite charcoal. Just somewhere in between.”

“Does anybody even use the highest setting?” Manchuk mused aloud from the kitchen. “This goes from one to six. If you crank it up to six, I guarantee it would burn. This entire motel would be an inferno, and the manager would get strung up for having unsafe appliances in his units. We wouldn’t be liable. It’s not like we were using it for something it wasn’t designed for.”

Sweazy’s stomach was already tense and he could feel the beginnings of a metallic taste returning to his mouth. The leaves in the hedge outside their window in the parking lot were rattling in a growing breeze. Another windy day. Another day of “mechanical turbulence”—that was the term for when wind interacted with ground effects like trees and buildings and swirled up and around it with invisible tentacles of writhing air. And they would be flying through it, over and over. Sweazy sighed deeply. His cheekbone was still sore where the Hasselblad camera had hit it a few days earlier during a photo run through some particularly active mechanical turbulence over an enormous barn. Manchuk, the pilot, had decided to call it a day after that. “It ain’t worth getting your nose broken for 18 cents,” he said, and they’d laughed, since they’d done the math based on their commission per shot per roll of film. The salesmen who later peddled the photographs to the landowners probably did marginally better, and the view admittedly wasn’t as good.

Manchuk slid a plate onto the table and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving some wry comment in his wake, and in a moment there was the hiss of the shower.

Sweazy leaned forward over his cup and dove into it headfirst.

It felt increasingly and pleasantly warm as he descended toward the still-hot coffee, and as his physical form diminished geometrically in size, he penetrated effortlessly through the film of fatty lactose that had spread like an oil slick over the surface of an ocean. He had a curious daydream sensation of floating even though he instinctively knew he was falling. A caffeine molecule, C8H10N4O2, lumbered past him, big as a mountain. Out of the drifting subatomic cosmos a globe appeared below, and as it enveloped him it occurred to him that he had discovered one of those parallel worlds that are so central to comic book physics.

A world where he was king. His feet touched down and he was a millionaire. He was a photographer of world renown, the successor to the throne of Helmut Newton. He had kept playing hockey and was a star rookie, beloved by fans and pundits alike. He was an actor, wallowing in fame. He was marooned on a desert island like a modern Crusoe and while there spun all sorts of thrilling adventures for himself, but primarily growing the kind of wild flowing mane of manly hair he’d always dreamed of having but could never get through that early to middle stage where it looked like hell.

Perhaps he would see Her here. The recurring character of the Girl whose name and face and hair and occupation had changed so many times to suit his mood or his environment—a composite of every girl and woman he’d ever seen and wished he could have known, or known better. They’d talked together over lunch, during walks, while being stuck in airports socked in with snow, on a midnight bus to somewhere far away, discussing everything that was so dear to him and, delightfully, to Her as well.

“The hardest thing about carving the pumpkin was the mouth,” She said, sipping from Her glass of dark red Fin du Monde. Her fingernails were black, he decided, along with Her lipstick. A touch of goth this time. For variety. The restaurant manager had rolled his eyes ever so slightly, but Sweazy knew that since he was such a king-sized tipper the guy had to bite his tongue.

Sweazy was wearing that sweater he’d seen in a fashion ad in a men’s magazine. He’d always wanted a sweater like that. She rolled the wine around in Her mouth until it disappeared and put Her glass down. “Did you cut a chimney hole in the lid?”

“No,” he said.

“Really? Why not? They must have—”

Wait a minute.

“No. I never thought of that, actually.” A bit chattier.

“Really? Why not? They must have smelled awful.”

“They did. I didn’t really mind, I suppose. That smell just smelled like Halloween to me.”

“Very nostalgic.”

“Memories are linked pretty closely to smells. I read it somewhere.”

She put Her elbow on the table and propped up Her chin. “I love the smell of an old book.”

“Do comic books count?”

“Yes, of course they do. I used to collect them.”

Sweazy feigned surprise. “You did?”

“I had every issue of Devil Dinosaur and Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth. I kept them a secret from my girlfriends. I didn’t think they’d understand.”

“A Kirby fan, were you?”

“You know your comics,” She said appreciatively. “His style was so distinctive. It was just so—brawny. It was all in the details, I think. Nobody did debris like Jack Kirby.”

At that point they were interrupted by a cataclysmic event as Sweazy took a sip of his coffee. The spiral galaxy of xanthine alkaloid molecules they were comfortably wining and dining in was dislodged and appropriated by Sweazy’s stomach, where it began to be metabolized, Fin du Monde, bottle, surly manager and all. Sweazy shrugged. He had struck upon an interesting topic for further thought.

A chance arose later to bring it up. “It’s too bad,” Sweazy said after capturing one of Manchuk’s pawns en passant, “they didn’t teach comic book physics in high school.”

“Comic book physics?” They were sitting in the airport lounge. A milky fog was reluctantly lifting outside like a pale smoke getting slowly paler. Manchuk was fully qualified for IFR takeoffs, but you didn’t sell too many pictures of farms buried under a blanket of morning mist.

“Yeah, like how does the Silver Surfer stay on his surfboard, or how does the Flash breathe when he’s running at Mach 10.”

Manchuk sparked up a bit, obviously glad to explore a brief respite from the sorry state of his chess game and apply a bit of his hard-earned, and much-paid-for, technical expertise. “Well, that never bothered me so much as the fact that if he was running at Mach 10, he’d be going over seven thousand miles an hour. If he ran through a shopping mall or something he’d blow it off the face of the earth. If he didn’t melt first.”


“Yeah. At hypersonic speeds over Mach 5 it’s blowtorch city.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I’ll hit the booster switch this afternoon on the way back and show you,” he said with a contemptuous laugh. They frequently joked that the little company Cessna they were flying might do two hundred knots if you dropped it off a cliff. “Actually my dad flew F-104s in the air force way back when. They’re basically a rocket with wings. He used to love reading my comic books.”

“What did you have?”

“Mostly DC stuff. You?

“Marvel. Anything by Kirby.”

“I never liked Kirby that much.”

“What! He was the great granddaddy of comic book artists. I had a stack this high of his Fantastic Four stuff.”

“I preferred Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. He was good. I had a Superman comic of his where Superman looked real, like a bodybuilder or something. He lifted an ocean liner up out of the water and busted the anchor chain with his head.”

“Could he draw debris?”


“Yeah, like wreckage, and bits and pieces of broken whatever laying all over or flying through the air. Nobody did debris like Jack Kirby. You knew when a place was getting torn apart in a fight when Kirby was drawing it. It wasn’t just punches getting thrown and people getting knocked down. There’d be a hell of a mess with fire, busted glass, and parts of the landscape all over kingdom come like a hurricane just blew through. I loved little details like that.”

“I never really noticed that.” Manchuk moved his bishop. He was slyly attempting to set up a fork attack.

“I did,” Sweazy said. He watched, through the dirty and spotted window, the airport manager’s dog pick its way out of the main hangar and flop down on a patch of green grass. The fog was grudgingly giving way to the blue above.

Manchuk radioed their intentions in short, clipped sentences over the frequency for uncontrolled airfields as they taxied the little plane into position and then left the ground with a lawnmower roar. As usual, once they were at altitude and on the correct bearing, Sweazy took the yoke and simply kept them pointed in the right direction while Manchuk checked their maps to plan their attack on the little farms scattered below.

Sweazy gazed dreamily out at the horizon, thinking about anchor chains and hurricanes.

He undid his seat belt, took off his headset and hung it carefully on the yoke, unlatched the door and wedged himself through. The slipstream clutched and caught him and instantly he was free and clear, pointing his arms in front of him and his feet behind, and he soared and flashed like a rocket with wings headed straight for the brilliant, blazing, burning core of a galaxy of adventure.


A former journalist, Jamie Shanks
discovered the joys of reading at a
very early age. Over the years he has brooded with Achilles in his tent, piloted rockets with Bradbury’s boldest space captains, regressed with an amnesiac Tarzan after a plot-advancing crack on the melon, taken a punch with the Continental Op, and battled giant squid upon the hull of the Nautilus.
Currently, he is writing "bits and pieces" of short fiction,
and working on a novella based on a story published serially
in Elsevier Science's online HMS Beagle:BioMedNet Magazine in 2001-02. He lives in Saskatchewan with his amazing wife and two young children and, occasionally, wonders where he went right.
AT notes: Jamie is one of my favourite writers, and people.
One of his short stories will shortly appear in
Strange Pleasure #4, edited by Paul Barnett,
to be published by Prime Books.
Jamie Shanks' upcoming novella is a danger.
Jamie Shanks can be contacted at
shaggy108 (at)

The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"Nobody Did Debris Like Jack Kirby" is copyright © December 2005 by Jamie Shanks. This story is published here for the first time.
It appears here with thanks to Jamie Shanks,  whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This story is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2005