Monthly Archives: March 2013

70s Kirby – Captain America # 202 Letters Page

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Doesn’t start off good, the first writer talks of his “distaste” for Jack’s DC material. More pro-Lee propaganda: Kirby with Lee text = good; Kirby with anyone else = bad. And I can see not liking Colletta or finding Royer’s faithfulness to Jack’s pencils sort of different, but again, why put any criticisms of Jack in these letters columns even if they are going to segue into praise. The goal is to promote Jack and his work not tear it apart and convince readers to stop buying the books.

The rest of the letters don’t look that brutal. Letter number two is a bunch of typical fanboy questions addressed to Jack. I still wish the “staffer” answering the questions would say, “Stop addressing your letters to Jack, he isn’t reading them I (insert intern name) am.” But I guess that would destroy the illusion that maybe Stan or Jack are reading every word in every letter and that there is some sort of camaraderie and friendship in the bullpen? I continue to find the pseudo-Stan Lee banter from the letter page staffer astoundingly annoying and idiotic.

And finally, the last letter. Here’s a line from it: “Jack is still writing 1940s comics dressed up in just enough pseudo-relevance to cover-up.”

So I guess it’s been 6 months in a row now, almost half a year, where in every “Let’s Rap with Cap” letters column, 1 or sometimes 2 of the letters have been filled with criticisms and condescending “advice” for Jack Kirby. I’m not an expert on the Marvel letter columns, but if anyone out there is I’d love to know: is there a precedent for this anywhere in the comics industry? Has there ever been a comic ever that posted multiple letters that bashed the writer/artist/editor for 6 months straight? I doubt it. Another example of how unprecedented Jack’s career was.

70s Kirby – Captain America # 202

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I think I bought this book at a flea market in the 70s. I remember that cover vividly, somewhere I have a comic book I drew when I was about 11 or 12 where I swiped that composition. If I ever find it maybe I’ll share it here.

I loved this cover, nobody in comics was doing anything like that — Kirby’s unique style and the original way he depicted energy was totally original. Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of Jack’s 70s stuff at that time, I could clearly see that he was a truly innovative artist working in a field where a lot of people were not pushing the boundaries. At least in the comics on the spinner racks, I know in the underground and in Europe and in some circles there was a lot of experimenting and innovating going on, but I never really saw that sort of thing until I got into Heavy Metal. And I think Heavy Metal was considered “adult” content at the time so they had them back behind the counter with Hustler and other porno magazines. So as a kids we were really limited to what was on the spinner rack, and to me it seems like Jack was the only one during the 70s really trying to visually push the boundaries. Today I see cartoonists who still draw in the same style. A reader pointed out John Byrne’s webcomic to me and it looks exactly the same as what he was doing in the 80s. I suppose if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but I enjoy looking at an artist who is always trying new things, and as you can see here, Jack’s 70s Cap is a lot different than what he was doing in the 40s. Or even the 60s.

Here are four random pages from the book, and I included the last page too because of it’s great overabundance of crackle. I wasn’t a massive fan of that cowboy character, but again, in retrospect, it’s full speed ahead freight train Kirby, so I continue to enjoy all the elements of this 70s Captain America run today.

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70s Kirby – Captain America # 201 Letters Page

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A few notes on the letters pages. First of all, did any of you read them? I never did. So for all we know, the only person who cared enough to read them may have been Jack Kirby, and that was after they were printed because Jack had no control of the letters column. And if you did read them, did they effect your experience? They come at the end of the book so they are the last thing you see. Did anyone read them and think, “Man, I agree with these guys who thinks the new Kirby books suck, and I disagree with all these Kirby Kultists who are praising Kirby’s krap?”Or vice versa?

All I can say is that if anyone did read these letters columns, surely they had to detect some serious Kirby kriticims from amongst the True Believers. And sorry how I started the word “criticism” above with a “k” that’s an inside joke — Jack’s kritiks love to kreate disrespektful names for Jack, his work, and his fans that start with “ks”. They are kcreative. I think it’s safe to say that with these letters pages we are literally seeing the beginning of what I’ll call the archetypal Kirby Critic (I’m not going to use a “k” for critic because that’s kinfantile). Their basic credo is: “Everything Jack did without Stan Lee sucked, because Lee was a genius.”

Okay, let’s look at this. I’m hoping whoever was running Marvel had taken a moment to read the letters page at this point to see what the hired-help was up to. Apparently not…

The first letter writer wants more color variation on the covers. Uh… okay. At least he’s not slamming the writer/artist/editor of the book. Second letter? The letter writer say’s when Jack took over Captain America he was “to say the least — disappointed.” So this guy isn’t just disappointed, that’s the least he can say. The rest is typical fanboy bleating, sort of like all the losers who whine about how awful George Lusas’ Star Wars movies are. And as I’ve said throughout this series on the Cap letters pages, I wasn’t a huge fan of Jack’s 70s stuff either because I was a geek who liked Fantastic Four and Hulk, but I still contend the letters page is not the place for this. Every month for about 5 months in a row now Marvel has been publishing these letters slamming Jack. Why in the @#$% would anybody buy the next issue? If Stan Lee had published these kinds of letters in his letters pages slamming himself in his bullpen bulletins, I bet Goodman would’ve booted him out the door.

And of course after the second letter slams Jack, the letter writer ends it with, “I hope you pay attention to all the suggestions you receive…” The Marvel Staffer gushes, “We do Russ! We do indeed!” Who is “we?” It certainly ain’t Jack — he isn’t seeing or approving any of these letters.

The third letter is very sweet: the letter writer apologizes for being overly critical of Jack, and announces amongst other criticisms that Jack has “improved.” How nice of him. 40 years in the business and this guy feels Jack finally improved.

Clearly these letters are pro-Stan Lee propaganda: “Kirby comics were great with Lee adding text; with Kirby adding text they suck.” And again this letter is addressed directly to Jack, but remember some glorified Marvel intern is answering and selecting the letters to publish. Not Jack.

The final letter writer doesn’t like the “Let’s Rap with Cap” title. Well, at least maybe he enjoyed Jack’s work. The intern responding to the letters asks “Marveldom Assembled” to come up with a better name.

So one reader wants more colors on the cover, one reader wants a new name for the letters column, and two readers think Jack sucks. Great way to promote a comic book and encourage people to invest in the next issue. Great way to treat the guy who built the Marvel empire.

I tell you one thing, if I had been some lonely geek who cared what other comic book nerds thought about comics and I had read these letters pages? I would have been convinced Jack sucked and I would have stopped buying the books. I would have written a letter myself and begged Marvel to fire Jack, and hire guys like Russ Pass or Mathew Kraps because clearly they knew a lot more about comic book writing than the likes of Jack Kirby. And who even knows if all these letter writers are real people, I’ve heard rumors some of these letters were written by Marvel staffers themselves, hell bent on getting rid of Jack.

70s Kirby – Captain America # 201

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This was another book I never saw until 2002. A solid Kirby Captain America.

To digress for a moment, when I look at Jack’s 70s work I see that material as his Abbey Road.

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I feel so fortunate that as a comics fan and as a Kirby fan that when I was 10-years-old growing up in the 70s, the greatest artist ever to work in the medium was still cranking out quality product and I was there to see it live. A lot of people complain about Jack’s 70s material for whatever reason, but I see it all as a bonus. We were lucky to get it. It’s icing on the cake of a remarkable career (and of course you could argue Jack’s work for Pacific in the 80s was also a highlight).

Here are a few more random pages from this book. Terrific creative composition for page 6. Fun to see a burst of crackle used to transport the Falcon in page 26. Great Kirby cliffhanger to end the book. Who wouldn’t want to see what happens next?

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2013-03-25_171432A few days ago I was discussing the kind of fun apps you might see on a Kirby Museum website in the future, or any museum site celebrating an artist. Here’s a fun example:

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No, you aren’t going to be the next Picasso using this, but it’s fun to play with for a few minutes. You can see my effort on the digital canvas above.

If you inserted some iconic Kirby eyes, blank faces, ears and some crackle and squiggles into that “drag to canvas” section, you could have a basic KirbyHead app. Over the years I’ve talked about how it would be fun to see some computer animators mathematically create some 3D models based on Jack’s dynamics — that could result in an entertaining cartoon in the future that could pay homage to Jack. I think Jack might make a great superhero — he could bring all sorts of interesting contraptions and characters to life with his cosmic pencil. That might want to be something his family looks into one day.

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Funky Flashman 1962? Part Five

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So is this the evolution of Funky Flashman? Starting with a torn-up rejected Hulk page in 1962, morphing into an older version of Funky in a chopped-up rejected Kirby FF page from 1970? Then the character finally sees print in the early 70s? You be the judge.

Funky Flashman 1962? Part Three

FFLost1 (1)When this page first surfaced I also speculated that Stan may have (in part) rejected this entrie book because Jack was doing Lee satire. I wrote about this art a bit more here. Unpublished Fantastic Four Pencils

I don’t think a single person agreed with me when I made that suggestion years ago on the old Kirby-l (but now that I think about it, I don’t think those guys agreed with anything I ever said), and I admit I might be wrong. But in light of the rejected Hulk pages, don’t you think we might be establishing a pattern here?

Is it possible Jack is once again introducing a Stan Lee caricature into a story? This “archaeologist” character looks a lot lot like the Big-Shot character in the rejected Hulk pages, only he isn’t wearing his toupee. Is the concept of the “Mega Man” a dig at megalomaniac Stan “The Man” Lee? Is the concept of the character who is two-faced Jack’s way of taking a shot at Stan Lee’s phony persona? Does that stature symbolize the way Lee treated Jack, promising him credit and royalties on one hand, and giving him nothing with the other, pretending all the while to be someone he is not — the writer and creator of all Jack’s 60s Marvel stories? Notice both faces are equally ugly and twisted — distorted, creepy. And if Lee had warned Jack before, “Do not make fun of me in my comic books, or else…” how do you think Lee would have reacted  seeing this Lee satire? How dare Jack try to slip something like that past his Leader again!

Of course Lee may have rejected this book because he caught wind of Jack leaving Marvel and this was Lee’s way of teaching Jack a lesson. The idea that Lee couldn’t dialogue this book is a joke; he actually just added dialogue to it a few years ago. There was nothing wrong with Jack’s story — there was something wrong with Lee’s relationship with Jack. I also noticed it almost looks like someone tried to chop that bald character out of the story on the actual original art. Most of the action still got published in that cannibalized issue. It literally looks like someone took scissors, eliminated the bald guy, and the rest of the story was acceptable.

Am I wrong? Am I barking up the wrong tree?

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Am I like on of those nuts who thinks he see’s Jesus’ face in a cornflake?

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Maybe. But it wouldn’t at all surprise me if it turned out a few times Jack introduced a Stan Lee caricature into his stories, and it would appear the Leader was none too happy about it.

It calls to mind another anecdote. I don’t have the source handy, but Jack and Lee were doing a radio interview, and Jack was excited his characters and books were selling well, and Jack expressed his joy. And Lee literally pulled him back and told him they need to act like they were still struggling. They were just small fries. Stan had to put a spin on everything — PT Barnum shtick.

Even if that rejected FF page is not Lee satire, I’m voting yes that in this rejected Hulk panel, these are not just 2 random, inconsequential characters passing each other on the streets of NYC. I strongly suspect on that rare rejected Kirby page — Jack is doing Stan Lee satire. And even if you disagree, you gotta admit… this image does a tremendous job of capturing the Kirby/Lee relationship. And artists have been known to do that on purpose. Maybe I’ll put on my Stan Lee cap and add dialogue to this panel tomorrow…

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Funky Flashman 1962? Part Two

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In the next panel the rich guy is in what looks like his opulent home filled with luxuries. He’s got his hip sunglasses on (indoors). Not sure what’s going on with that tiny little fellow in the chair. Is Jack suggesting the mustached character is some kind of megalomaniac, and the rest of the people in his world are just tiny little underlings? The Mr. Big-Shot guy looks like quite the performer, almost as if he’s putting on a show, or playing a P.T. Barnum role in his own home.

In this panel, it looks almost like the big guy is wearing a toupee. He’s sporting sideburns. You don’t think that looks even a little like a profile of Smilin’ Stan greeting one of his adoring True Believers?

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Stan-Lee-Spider-Man-youngerThe rest of the art is hard to figure out. In panel 5 it looks like he’s looking at a baseball bat and ball. I’m sure Jack had a gag for that panel and he’d verbally explain it to Lee during this phase of the writing process. Lee would make notes for himself in the margins if he needed to.

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Now I know many of you will disagree with what I’m suggesting. You will say that looks nothing like Jack in panel one, and nothing like Lee in the other panels, but I’m still going to suggest Jack is goofing on his boss here. That’s something artists have been doing from the beginning of time. And clearly when Lee saw this page…

….he had a problem with it.

Lee rejected relatively few of Jack’s pages. maybe 200 out of 10,000? Which is nothing. That would be like making 2 outs out of every 100 at bats. The number may be less than that. I’ve only seen about 50 surface.

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I’ve never seen that many Lee margin notes on a page before either — even after the inking process when Lee adds notes in the margins asking Sol Brodsky to make changes — so something strange is happening here. Two main possibilities:

(1) This was a really complex Kirby gag, and Lee needed to make extensive notes for himself so when he went back and added text, he could remember Jack’s story.

(2) Lee was not happy with that Mr. Big-Shot/Funky Flashman character, and the notes are Lee writing down specific things he wants Kirby to change — Jack would have had to take the art home and carry out those changes. That’s something Jack rarely if ever did, Lee tended to accept whatever Jack turned in, and if he wanted minor changes he had Brodsky or later Romita or someone in the office handle it. Jack was way too busy and important to be sitting around and erasing stuff on his work and changing it — Lee needed Jack to design new characters, provide guidance and layouts for his other artists, and Jack had to do upwards of 3 whole books plus covers each month by himself. Making stupid changes to his comics masterpieces was beneath Jack and genuinely a waste of time — so if Lee did want him to make revisions, he must have had a serious problem with this art.

Again, if anyone can send us better scans of these pages in HQ so we can read Lee’s notes that would be great. I guess Larry Lieber still has them? Maybe he would be kind enough to make scans for the Kirby Museum?

I don’t even know if Lee actually “rejected” these pages. He may have simply told Jack to erase the Stan Lee caricature and insert something else, and as Jack stormed out of the office maybe Jack simply tore up the pages in disgust because he felt it would be easier to start from scratch. In essence, Jack had to create a brand new character to replace Mr Big-Shot, or (whatever Kirby/Lee would have called him).

You have to wonder if Jack was trying to sneak this character past Stan. It probably would have been fun for Jack to create a character that would allow him to poke fun at his boss right under his nose. Maybe Lee  saw the similarities and put a stop to it? Lee could have outtirght rejected the pages and told Jack to start over — that would have obviously made Jack pretty angry, especially if he wasn’t getting paid. Maybe Lee was disrespectful to Jack when he rejected the pages and that explains Jack’s anger? In all honesty, if I’m right, I hate to say it, but Jack only had himself to blame if he was picking on Stan with that art. He should have known his boss might not be pleased. And there are other scenarios. I’m sure Lee’s supporters will claim Lee rejected the pages because they were no good.

It would be really interesting to know what took place in that office that day as Kirby/Lee stood shoulder to shoulder and went through that art. Did Lee start going through the story, then a light went on over his head and he saw a bit of himself in that art? Or did Lee pretend he didn’t notice the resemblance and he just give Jack a bunch of notes for revisions? Or did Lee tell Jack, “Don’t you ever @#$%ing make fun of me in one of my comic books again, you little punk.” We’ll never know. All of my speculations could be completely wrong. What I do know is this — to me this page (especially panel one) visually sums up the Kirby/Lee working relationship. Lee was Jack’s boss; Lee was above Jack. Jack was Lee’s employee; Jack was beneath Lee.

We also know Lee’s sister married into wealth. Lee was fond of dressing up in fancy hip outfits, wearing shades (indoors), and strutting around like he was some celebrity. We also know from his autobiography Lee would pretend he was a smoker in photographs because it made him look “cool,” so that was a motif Jack would use when he would do Lee satire, such as the famous “This is a Plot?” story. We also know Jack used the concept of wearing many hats in that story to symbolize Lee’s hairpiece and Lee’s phoniness. This looks a lot like good ol’ Funky Flashman to me, making his first glorious appearance. If this character had appeared in the printed book, I’m sure Lee would have claimed he created the character. He would have said, “I created Mr. Big-Shot because I thought it would be great to give Marveldom Assembled a wacky character based on ME, their Fearless Leader!”

You also have to think about this: what if this was a regular character Jack wanted to introduce into the Marvel mythos. His version of J. Jonah Jameson? What if Jack thought a character like this might be fun to explore and might bring some humor into the Marvel Universe? I bet Jack could have had a lot of fun with Mr. Big-Shot in the 60s. We could be ranking him right up there with Dr. Doom and Galactus today. But clearly you have to think Lee wouldn’t particularly like being fun of, especially in a story he was taking credit for writing and paying himself for writing. And I suspect that is something he made clear to Jack and that is why Jack tore this art in half.

And it should go without saying that this page clearly shows once again that Jack was undoubtedly writing the stories even in the very early 1960s.

So not sure if that is Stan Lee satire or not, but that page torn in half sure does visually and physically symbolize the divide that existed in the Kirby Lee relationship. You can see the tear goes right trough panels 3 – 5.

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Funky Flashman 1962? Part One

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One more tangeant before I get back to the 70s Cap series. Over on his Kirby Kinetics weblog, Norris Burroughs posted this “rejected” Hulk page. You can read Norris’ account of the events at that page. I sent Norris a message and asked if he has higher quality scans of the art, and it would be great to know the source for the images — where they were first published. If anyone has that info, please send it in. It almost looks like some parts of the images are a photograph of Jack’s pencils and others have been traced or digitally enhanced. Also Lee’s margin notes are impossible to read. So if anybody has better scans, please share.

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A couple comments: first of all, I had never seen that page before and my first reaction was, “Wow! That first panel looks like Kirby/Lee satire to me.” Panel one looks like Jack inserting himself and Stan Lee into a story, which is something Jack did several times during his tenure at Marvel. It’s actually a very funny image. I’ll show it again – tell me that doesn’t look like Jack Kirby watching his fearless Leader trotting past.

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You have Jack as the blue collar guy walking to work, smoking a cigar off to the left probably making a wisecrack in that empty dialogue balloon over his head. notice the body language, he’s leaning forward, like he’s trying to get somewhere, but this absurd guy is blocking traffic.

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Then in that old horse and carriage you have some big boss with his bizarre, fake mustache, his expensive top-hat, his gaudy fancy suit.

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I love the details on the carriage like the soft cushion and the wonderful contrast between the horse and carriage and the vehicles and modern architecture. The character looks silly — he’s clearly spoiled, somewhat pompous and completely out of touch with reality. A living anachronism.