I used to be a member of an old yahoo forum called Kirby-l, and it was kind of like a bar room brawl when I joined.
After someone slammed a metaphorical chair over my head, I used to enjoy posting the occasional rant, because it would really get those geezers riled up, especially the hardcore Marvel fanboys and of course Stan Lee’s adoring fans. I don’t usually do that here, because I want to mainly focus on Jack’s art, but after years on that old Kirby-l listening to those pompous comic “experts” telling me that Jack was paranoid… there was no “conspiracy” to get Jack pushed aside in the 70s by a handful of Marvel “staffers.” No one was trying to sabotage Jack.
Well, you know what? Now that I’m reading the letters myself? It’s time for an old fashioned rant! You’ve been warned…
First of all, I never intended to examine each letter in Jack’s 70s Cap run in detail. I only figured there would be one or two negative letters in 2 or 3 books. Jim Shooter said at some point he caught wind of what was going on and he put a stop to it, so I was hoping that would have happened by now. But maybe Jim hadn’t entered the picture yet so unfortunately, for I think the fourth month straight, whoever this Marvel intern/”staffer” is… he is continuing to post letters slamming Jack, and as you will see — HE’S EVEN ENCOURAGING READERS TO SEND IN LETTERS SLAMMING JACK because that will be the “best way to set things right!”
Secondly, I think this period in Kirby history (and quite frankly comics history) is one that is rarely discussed… but it should be. You need to try and put yourselves in Jack’s shoes for a moment: these “staffers” are messing with his livelihood. They’re screwing with his ability to put food on the table and feed his kids. There is not doubt in my mind that these jealous, ambitions jerks didn’t like what Jack was doing, and they wanted him OUT! So take that scenario a step further: if you bring back “The Fearless Leader” (or let some Lee clone write the stories) that means Jack Kirby is going to lose his writer and his editor paycheck for at least three monthly comic books! And the credit! And it means he’s going to be publicly humiliated. He’s going to have to go back to being somebody’s “penciler.” That’s what these staffers are trying to pull off. This is a mutiny. They want themselves (or anyone else besides Jack) to write a book like Captain America. They were trying to give Jack a major demotion and put his salary in somebody else’s pocket — preferably their own. And these “staffers” are cowards! Do you think they would have done something like this to Jack if was sitting right beside them in the bullpen? Of course not — they did it because Jack was in California and he had no control over what these spineless worms were up to. Jack may not have even noticed for many months.
Thirdly: a lot of kids reading these moronic letters pages probably still thought Stan Lee was editing and writing them! As we saw in an early letter, the staffer literately spoke in Lee’s “Aunt Petunia, ’nuff said, Effendi” gibberish. Plus Lee’s name is plastered on the front page of all the books; he’s doing those soapboxes; and his Origins book; etc., etc., etc. I thought Lee was writing the letters pages. After all, Lee did EVERYTHING, according to Lee. Some fans may have thought their hero, their God, Stan Lee was not only peppering Jack’s Captain America with negative letters, but additionally their Leader was also ENCOURAGING THEM TO SEND IN LETTERS SLAMMING JACK because that will be the “best way to set things right!”
While I’m at it, how about a fourth point: if Stan Lee tells the truth and makes it crystal clear that Jack Kirby played a pivotal role in the creation of all the major 60s Marvel characters, and Lee makes it crystal clear Jack did the lions share of the actual principal writing of every single story he gave to Stan — maybe these “staffers” would have been a little more inclined to treat Jack with a tiny grain of respect. And maybe fandom at this time might have appreciated Jack a bit more.
One final thing to add. This is life. This is what will probably happen to every single one of us if we live to be a certain age. This was a generational shift. The ambitions “staffers” weren’t necessarily bastards (although by all accounts they were creeps), frequently young people stab seniors in the back hoping they can take their jobs. They’ve got ambitions and bills to pay too. So this isn’t me weeping, “Oh po’ po’ Jack Kirby. Oh, boo hoo. He got screwed by those bad, bad creepy Marvel staffers.” This is me saying: look at this period in comics history and learn from it — see it as a cautionary tale, because if this can happen to the greatest artist to ever work in the comics industry? It sure as hell can happen to you in whatever field you are working in. And it probably will.
Here are a few quick observations about the letters and the intern/staffer’s comments in the Cap # 200 letters column:
Notice in the second letter, the writer is “almost convinced” he can embrace Kirby’s Cap. I guess this could be looked upon as a positive letter?
In the third letter, how funny is this yearning for the “subplot-filled days of Steve Engleheart.” No offense to Steve Engleheart (who unfortunately I don’t even remember) but Jack Kirby created Captain America. I’d much rather see Jack putting his own creation through the paces in a straightforward way without a bunch of loose plot-strings hanging about. As I mentioned yesterday, many kids like me couldn’t find every book, so we didn’t want pseudo-complexity. Just give us a simple story.
Was Engleheart the guy that did that whole Nomad story? Or was that somebody else? I bought a copy of one of those Nomad stories (I got it at a flea market) and I remember thinking, “Where the hell is Captain America? I just paid a nickle for this comic, and there’s some dumb new character in here.” I guess Nomad symbolized man’s duality and the struggle between the id, ego, and superego or some other such nonsense? When I was buying comics, I just wanted a comic where Cap punches dudes in the face with lots of debris flying around. If I wanted politics or convoluted characterizations, I could’a gone to the library and checked out War and Peace. But I guess you had a group of pseudo-intellectual college-age kids at that time who wanted more “literary” stories? They wanted their funny books to tackle “real” issues, so they yearned for the old Nomad days?
How’s this for a “real issue?” Newsflash: One of Jack’s most famous comic covers featured the very character in this comic — punching Hitler in the @#$%ing face!
So no offense to whoever created Nomad, or the goobers clamoring for Nomad, or the literati wanting lots of lame supplots, or whatever… when I was 10 years old? Give me Captain America by the creator of Captain America! I’d rather see Jack explore whatever real issues he wants to tackle during the bicentennial. I for one think he earned the right to do so.
And remember, when Jack did the cover for Captain America # 1 (Mar 1941) , he faced very real dangers from Nazi organizations in NYC. And here’s something else that isn’t discussed enough: when he was in Europe during the second World War, what do you think would have happened to Jack if the Nazi’s had captured him, thrown him into a prisoner of war camp, and they found out he created Captain America and illustrated that legendary cover of Cap kicking Der Fuehrer’s arse? You think that ever crossed Jack’s mind when he was a scout crawling around on the battlefields over in France with Nazi bullets flying over his head? The guy was a genuine American hero, plus by all accounts he was an incredibly humble, kindhearted and gracious guy. That’s why I find the behavior of these Marvel staffers contemptible. They were a bunch of spoiled, talentless, utterly forgettable ingrates who won the lottery. Stan bailed out for California, and whoever was lucky enough to show up at the Marvel offices scavenging for autographs ended up being turned into a “staffer.”
Here is the specific comment the staffer made: Jack is “just folks like anybody else,” and “…if you don’t agree with the way Jack is handling Cap… fine! Jack wants to hear about it ’cause good, constructive criticism is the best way to set things right!”
Is this even true? Did Jack tell this Marvel nitwit editing his letters page he wanted constructive criticism, “’cause that’s the best way to set things right?” Or is this a lie. Is this Marvel imbecile who is supposedly giving readers some journalistic fair and balanced sampling of letters actually a total phony and a hypocrite? Jack truthfully wants readers to send in criticism? If some reader says, “Jack, you suck! Your squiggles suck! Your crackle sucks! I miss subplots, and Nomad! And bring back Forbush Man, Excelsior!” or some other stupidity, you really think Jack wants to read that or do that? And who decided things weren’t “right?” This Marvel staffer?
Shame on whoever fell asleep at the wheel and allowed some punks in the 70s Marvel bullpen to slam Jack like this in his own books month, after month, after month, after month. With all of the negativity flooding the letters column, I’m surprised anyone was buying the Captain America book at this point. And remember, this is just a small example of how Jack was treated by his Marvel coworkers during what I consider to be a shameful period in comics history. I didn’t even mention the thousands of pages of his original art being stolen. Jack Kirby deserved a hell of a lot better.
Oh, but don’t worry, there’s still a silver lining.
On the old Kirby-l, a former Marvel Editor (who is now some kind of Vice-President at Marvel) told us that Marvel has indeed made an effort to make up for the shabby way they treated Jack. How does Marvel do this you may ask? The Marvel editor told us this: Marvel honors Jack… by “keeping his work in print.”
How nice of them…