Kirby’s Animation Career, by: Stan Taylor, Part 4
In What If? #11, (Oct. 1978) Jack told a farcical tale of the original Marvel bullpenners as the Fantastic Four. Jack cast Stan Lee as Mr. Fantastic, Flo Steinberg as Fantastic Woman, Sol Brodsky as the Human Torch, and himself as the garrulous Thing with an ever-present stogie.
The book came out just as his Marvel tenure ended. The book hit the stands just as the Fantastic Four cartoon hit the air. Jack was promised more animation work and gave Marvel notice. The finality of his decision hit Jack hard. Jack told Steve Sherman,” Fine, I’m done! I get a pension, I get health benefits, I get treated like a human being.”
Jack said, “That’s it with comics. OK I’m done,” Mostly trying to convince himself. A lifetime of putting pencil to paper ended with a suddenness unimagined, but not unwelcome. With the end of his contract in mid-1978, his time at Marvel was through. He would now devote the rest of his career on animation presentations; with a detour or two along the way.
But the tenure didn’t end on a happy note. The Fantastic Four cartoon series only lasted one year, but Stan Lee immediately followed this up with perhaps the ugliest, least inspired cartoon project ever. Marvel leased the character of the Thing to another Hanna-Barbera animation project titled Fred and Barney Meet the Thing.
Though the Stone Age duo never shared an episode with the Stone hero the concept is widely considered one of the worst cartoon shows ever created. Jack was unhappy as the habit of Marvel projects not crediting him with the creation of characters continued. Worse still was the abomination heaped on Kirby’s iconic character. Instead of the grumpy, anti-hero forever doomed to live in a rock-like exterior, the character was now a normal teenaged boy named Benjy Grimm who becomes a rocky super-hero when he touches two rings together and shouts “Thing rings-do your thing”. (Can you imagine the meeting where this was pitched?).
Jack’s anger over Marvel’s refusal to list him as co-creator in such books as Origins of Marvel Comics and Sons of Origins, plus credit for the Hulk and the Thing in the cartoons concretized into total disdain for Marvel’s practices. When asked if they could use his face on a proposed cover, Jack refused. In response to the growing disrespect, Jack made an agreement with Marvel to never use his likeness as a means of selling a book. If they wouldn’t credit him, he wouldn’t help them sell product.