Kirby Fourth World Documentary Film?

One of my favorite Kirby characters: the Infinity Man from the last issue of The Forever People # 11 (Nov 1972). Kirby/Royer.

The main reason I started studying Jack Kirby in the early part of the century was because I felt his story would make for a great film. I’m convinced someone will put together a fairly comprehensive documentary on Kirby’s life and work at some point, but unfortunately to really give viewers even a taste of the whole epic scope of Jack’s stories and art, I suspect filmmakers would need to do something like the Beatles Anthology, the 10-Hour, 8-videotape box set was released on September 5, 1996.

I thought the Beatles Anthology was a spectacular example of a lengthy, accessible documentary presentation that examined the artists and their art within the context of the era they lived in. But would there be an audience for a Kirby Documentary of this style and length? My bet is that a 5-hour Kirby documentary project like the one I suggest would be very expensive to make, and based on multiple factors it would be difficult to get investors for the project in the first place.

So how about a 2-hour film that hit the highlights of Jack’s life? A 120-minute presentation could include comments from Jack’s surviving associates, family, current comics professionals, supplemented with audio of Jack from his various interviews. There was a short piece similar to what I propose on the second release of the second Fantastic Four DVD buried on the bonus DVD, but that barely scratched the surface of Jack’s life — so I think something a little more thorough and high-profile is needed.

The question is: how do you pull this off? How do you pack 50 years of comics, plus Jack’s experiences surviving the depression and fighting over in Europe during WW II into one film presentation? Not to mention there are other obstacles: would a company like Disney-Marvel allow the use of Jack’s 60s/70s images? My guess: what is called for is something different than a traditional film. I think what might me more viable now would be a film on one segment of Jack’s career.

Several years ago I was surfing the Jack Kirby Museum website and I noticed one of the goals of the Museum project was to sponsor a documentary film project on Jack. My suggestion was, “How about a documentary on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World?” Quickly, here are the Top-5 reasons I think a documentary film on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World is a great idea.

5. A 4W Film Would be Great Publicity for DC

Obviously DC is the key here. If they aren’t going to allow filmmakers unlimited use of Jack’s stories and artwork from that period, then the project is DOA (and I’m about to waste the next several minutes giving you the next 4 reasons) but, if a producer/filmmaker could put together a convincing case, I can’t imagine why DC would not back such a project. I don’t see what DC could possibly lose from green-lighting a 4W documentary film and conceivably partnering with the filmmakers — obviously DC could release a commemorative 4W book, or another 4W reprint package, or even use the film to springboard a new 4W comic book storyline. A 4W documentary could also create interest in a potential fictional 4W motion picture.

I can think of 100 reasons for DC to back this project and zero why they should not —  this would be the perfect way for DC to honor the legacy of the man many consider the most important comics artist of all time and promote their company and product. This could also help promote the Kirby Estate and educate people who don’t realize the tremendous impact Jack had on comics and the current entertainment industry.

4. A 4W Film is a Very Simple and Straightforward Project

It’s not too ambitious. You’re only covering a period of a few years and exploring the stories and art of Jack’s 4W. Short and sweet. I wouldn’t even worry about the anti-climactic Hunger Dogs (although this could be mentioned briefly). Just discuss the period in the 1970s where Jack was writing/drawing and editing his ground-breaking 4W series.

3. This Type of Film Would be Relatively Inexpensive to Make

75% or more (or all) of the film could be done using inexpensive digital pan-and-scan techniques. Jack’s art can be the star of the film, with voice-over narration explaining the stories and characters. If you’re talking about a 2-hour film, you could use photographs and inexpensive stock footage to do a brief introduction summing up Jack’s life up until 1970, then add a similar bookend at the finish, briefly discussing where Jack went after 4W was cancelled. The only expensive thing would be making your 16mm print to take to Cannes.

2. This Was A Pivotal Moment in Jack’s Life And In Comics History

Jon B. Cooke has a daily weblog on 4W right now on the Jack Kirby Museum site. His weblog gives you an indication of the gold mine of 4W material to be discussed. Jon also has experience working on the Will Eisner documentary so if his schedule allows, he’s someone who could play a key role in such a project.

A Kirby 4W documentary will be a great way to use the film medium to suggest the potential of exploring the history of the comics medium in an audio-visual format. Obviously there are thousands of things about Jack’s 4W that can be discussed and highlighted in a film. There is also some amount of drama: Jack quitting at Marvel, the Colletta controversy, the Superman faces, the inevitable cancellation of 4W, the potential Star Wars connection, etc. the list goes on. It’s a fruitful topic, and Jon’s daily weblog proves this.

I think this period also is a fascinating glimpse into the comics industry in the early 1970s when it was going through a major change in terms of a whole new breed of artists like Neal Adams coming onboard and of course, Jack was there at ground zero transitioning between the two top companies — soon afterwards he would be, in effect, forced out of the industry.

4W also had lots to discuss story-wise, and there are tons of spectacular visuals. It’s a visual feast and an explosion of ideas. A great example of a 50-year-old man at the top of his game proving that creating an entire universe from scratch is child’s play (for Jack).

That brings us to the # 1 reason why I think a documentary on Kirby’s 4W would be a great idea:

1. Jack Deserves It

There is a huge void on the shelves. How can it be that there is still no solid documentary film about Jack Kirby on the shelves? To me this is the time and the perfect vehicle to right this wrong. A simple no-nonsense film talking about the history of Jack’s 4W would be a nice way to give Kirby some well-deserved praise and recognition. I’m sure many comics professionals would back such a project and sit for interviews: Carmine Infantino, Mike Royer, Mark Evanier, and Steve Sherman were there — they have plenty of great anecdotes. Jack’s kids must have memories. My guess is that Jack’s surviving associates, other comics pros, and other people influenced by Jack would be more than happy to add additional commentary — Frank Miller, Bruce Timm, Mike Mignola, etc. This project could bring together the whole industry in order to pay honor to it’s greatest creative force.

To me this is a no-brainer. If DC backs the project and Jack’s Estate is behind it, I think a small team of documentary filmmakers could put together a visually dynamic, and spectacular film on Jack Kirby’s 4W, and this could lead to several things: well-deserved recognition for Jack; a greater understanding of Jack’s impact on the industry amongst non-comics fans — resulting in an inspiring story about a comics writer/artist who initially seemed to have already climbed to the top of the Mount Everest of Creativity in the 1960s, but then he somehow took it to a whole new level in the early 70s, something very few artists of any age or era could conceive of.

The final panel from The Forever People # 11 (Nov 1972)

I hope you all have a great Christmas.