Will Eisner, Jack and Roz Kirby, at the 1982 Inkpot Awards. Photograph by Alan Light.
Many comics experts consider Kirby and Eisner to be the two greatest comics storytellers of all time, so it’s interesting seeing the two men together having a chat as equals.
In 1938, Eisner created the Art Syndication Company with Jerry Iger, and one of the first artists they hired was Jack Kirby. Here is an anecdote about Jack from Will (“Will Eisner Speaks!” Jean Depelley. Jack Kirby Collector #16, July 1997)
Will Eisner: “Jack was a little fellow. He thought he was John Garfield, the actor! Very tough, very tough. Everything you see here [Will points to the cover of The Jack Kirby Collector #13 (Dec 1996)] was inside him.”
Will Eisner: “But he was a very little fellow; a very good fellow, but very tough. When we moved to a new office in a nice office building, we had a towel service for the artists to wash their hands, and we would buy a towel for each of the artists so they could wash up. The people who supplied the towels, however, were mafia! They were charging more and more money, so my partner Iger said, ‘Look, let’s find another towel service that’s cheaper,’ because at that time we had ten to fifteen artists and it was beginning to cost money. So I called them and said, ‘Look, we would like to find another towel service.’ So I get a visit from their salesman. He had a white tie, a black hat, a broken nose, y’know? Scarface! And he came in and said, ‘Are you really not happy with the service?’ I said, ‘Well, we want to find another…’ He said, ‘There is nobody else that can service this building’ (laughter).”
“We were beginning to talk loud, and from the other room, in comes Jack Kirby. He says to me, ‘Will, is he giving you a problem? I will beat him up.’ This is little Jack Kirby, and this big guy! I said, ‘Jack, go inside!’ Jack says, No, no.’ He says to the fellow, ‘Look, we don’t have to take your towels! We can take other people’s!’ The guy looked at me and said, ‘Who is he?’ And I said, ‘He’s my chief artist. Don’t get him angry, because…’ So this fellow said, ‘Look, we want to do this friendly. We don’t want to have any trouble.’ And Jack said, ‘If he comes to see you again, call me and I’ll beat him up!’ (laughter).”
After the late 1930s Kirby never worked with Eisner again, although they remained on friendly terms and would see each other at conventions. Will had this to say:
Will Eisner: “After that, I would see him in places like San Diego. He moved to California. In America, up until a few years ago, artists didn’t see each other very often, because they lived in different places. America is a very big place, and we didn’t see each other. So I would see him when I got to San Diego; we would talk and say hello.”
“There is another thing I can tell you. I did a book called The Dreamer [Kitchen Sink, 1986], in which I showed Jack Kirby, and Jack said to somebody, ‘I didn’t think Will liked me that much!’ He always called me ‘boss.’ I said, ‘Jack, we’re old men now, you don’t have to call me boss anymore.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘you’re still my boss (laughter).”
Eisner/Kirby self-portraits from The Jack Kirby Collector # 16, pg. 14 (Jul 1997).