1990 April 13 – Jack Kirby Interview

Jack Kirby is interviewed by J. Michael Straczynski and Larry DiTillio on the 13 April 1990 episode of Mike Hodel’s Hour 25. Kirby was 72 years old at the time. I apologize for not taking the time to distinguish between the two hosts. Simply transcribing the interview was quite an effort. Polite corrections welcome! – Rand

Here’s the audio of the interview, via YouTube:

Host: Our guest tonight is someone whose work I’ve been reading since I could read…

Host: Since you were a toddler, which is a frightening concept

Host: It was like two weeks ago… I looked at the pictures before I could see the words, understand the words, and I began to get the stories behind the words, and that’s Jack Kirby. One of the foremost creators and writers and artists in comic book history, quite frankly, who’s given us wonderful books as Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk, Spider-man, Sgt. Fury, Captain America, Challengers of the Unknown, the list goes on forever. New Gods. And he’s with us tonight and this is a true pleasure for us to have you here, Mr. Kirby

KIRBY: It’s a pleasure for me to be here and certainly, you fellows seem to feel the same way toward the medium that I do, so I expect it to develop into a kind of kinship that I really enjoy.

Host: OK.

Host: We’re looking forward to it. And, let me just start off going into the background a little bit with you. You came out of the Lower East Side originally, is that correct? New York?

KIRBY: Yes, I did. New York’s the Lower East Side. I was born on Essex Street and my family moved to 131 Suffolk Street, which wasn’t a big move in those days and was still the Lower East Side. I grew up there, I grew up on Suffolk Street. I went to PS 20 which was one of the schools there. But the only thing that bothered me as I grew up is, I found out I didn’t like the east side! So, I began to take long walks. I found 42nd Street. I found 44th Street, and I went further uptown and I met the people who turned out the newspapers. I met one reporter who had upended a telephone book, and was shooting golf balls through the book, and I suddenly decided, well that’s a job for me.

Host: <laughs> Now you say that you wanted to get out of there, but certainly in a lot of your books that came later on, the Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos you used those kinds of characters, rough street kind of characters, a lot, as kids.

KIRBY: Well, you’re bound to, because I imagine they become part of what you know, what you grow up with, what life hands to you, and you react that way. And I’m glad, in a way, because later in life I had to use that a kind of an attitude in ways that probably saved my life.

Host: How much of Suffolk is in Yancy Street?

KIRBY: I’m sorry…?

Host: How much of Suffolk is in Yancy Street?

KIRBY: Oh, all of it is there. Oh, it’s all there. But so is the story. I come from a storytelling family. All of the immigrants on the Lower East Side were storytellers. My family happened to be Austrian immigrants and they told their share of stories. I think the young people were closer to their parents, anyway, at that time, and they absorbed all of this. They absorbed the storytelling. Many of them used it to build a professional life. I don’t mean, as writers, exactly. But let’s face it, any businessman has to tell a good story in order to sell his merchandise. And so I think that kind of thing is helpful.

Host: Was it a rough neighborhood?

KIRBY It was a rough neighborhood, and the practice would be that, you would stand out in the gutter while the trucks would try to get around you from both sides. You’d look for somebody to fight or somebody to chase, and see how you could stand up against two guys or three guys and how many of your friends you could find that would help out and, of course, that was the routine. We used to do it when we came out of school. I had a brother, he’s passed away now, he was five years younger than I was, but he was 6’1” and a big, heavy, young fellow. I’d come out of school and there was this large leg sticking out from under a pile of guys. I’d have to pull him out <laughs> the situation would develop along those lines.

Host: While I enjoyed… I found first, the superhero and horror books and found afterward the Newsboy Legion and similar books like that

KIRBY: Yes

Host: What always appealed to me about them, was that in most of the comics at that time, the kids were drawn very straight laced, very well dressed, they were blond and blue eyed and they were non-threatening, whereas the kids in Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos were kids, these were rough kids with bowler hats and the rest of it…

KIRBY: Oh yes, I admit that, that I was a bit showy, I felt that putting on a good show was ideal for any kind of entertainment. I was a movie goer. My mother took me to the movies when I was very young. And I remained a movie person. I still am a movie person. I’m still an entertainment person. And so, I’ll put on a show. When I draw, that’s what I’m doing. I’m performing. I’m not drawing. I don’t want to be Rembrandt and live forever. I just want to be Jack Kirby having a great time drawing and putting on a good show that might interest others. And so, that’s the kind of thing that’s been my life. It was my life in New York, it’s my life in California and I enjoy it!

Host: I’ve got a question

Host: Sure!

Host: We’ve heard how the storytelling started. How did the artwork start? How did the drawing start? What’s your background there?

KIRBY: Well, the drawing started with the fact that I could do it! I know that anybody can draw, if they want to. All you have to do is want to! Now, anybody can be an atomic physicist if they want to. All you have to do is want to. I had no urge to be an atomic physicist. I had no urge to own a clothing store. I had no urge… oh, I was once smitten with the idea of being a crooked politician

Host: <laughs>

Host: Before it was in vogue!

KIRBY: No! It was in vogue! It was a natural way of things where I came from. And the crooked politicians were having a great time. and they were enjoying life! I watched them in the restaurants as I skated by. So, I told my mother many a time, that I wanted to be a crooked politician, and of course, she’d never hear of that! There wasn’t anybody alive in New York at that time, who didn’t listen to their mother. The gangsters would call the cops if you insulted anybody’s mother. And so, mothers were sacred. And what my mother said, was the word! And I said nothing more.

KIRBY: But, the newspapers at that time were very large. The Hearst papers were large and colorful. They had the Daily News… was a wonderfully colorful paper on a sunday. These sunday papers caught my interest. Of course, it was the comics, really, and I would read the comics constantly and I loved the comics because of the color and the brightness displayed by the fellows who drew them. They remained with me always and when comic books first came into being it drew me to them because I could tell a story in twenty two pages much more easily than the six weeks it took to tell a story in a comic strip. And so I gravitated to comics, the early comics when they first came out.

Host: You mentioned outside, before the show, that you also were pulled by the pulps Wonder Stories and the rest of them of the period.

KIRBY: Yes, I loved the pulps because the pulps allowed the authors to think. It wasn’t a matter of just doing a pirate story or a story about the knights, it was a matter of travelling ahead in time. What lay ahead? What‘s out there? Those were the questions that the science fiction magazines fulfilled for the reader. And of course, that, too, caught my attention and I had to hide the pulps <laughs> I had to hide the pulp magazines, which I still have till this day! I’ve got them in cartons in my garage. Pulp magazines from those early years. Wonder Stories. Fantastic Stories.

Host: I had the same problem because when we were growing up, just for few years after that, comic books were deemed to be evil influences on kids and all of the rest of it. I, at that time, 12 year old or thereabouts, had a huge collection of your work, Marvel Comics, Fantastic Four, Challengers of the Unknown…

KIRBY: Yes

Host: …and my grades dropped. My father figured well, it was the books, comic books, and in front of me tore up every copy. I’m trying to restore all the copies of your work that I lost in that incident.

KIRBY: Well, that was par for the course. My mother did the same thing. My mother threw out all my books and my father assented. The parents felt that way. They just couldn’t interpret comic books as something to be taken seriously, however they absorbed a child. My father felt that I should gravitate toward business in some way. A lot of my friends did! To be worthy, in my time, as a young man, well, you had to become a doctor, you had to become a lawyer, you had to own a business where you sold pants, with cuffs on them, or if you sold caps. That was a respectable direction to take. So my parents felt that I was spending too much time reading these magazines, when I should be concentrating on the future. What am I going to do when I open a store that sells pants? Or what’ll I do, what kind of caps am I going to manufacture? And of course I never gave that a thought because I just didn’t gravitate to that sort of thing.

Host: To follow up on Larry’s question before, once you were attracted by the comics you saw in the papers, did you teach yourself how to draw or did you take lessons in it?

KIRBY: I taught myself how to… well, I don’t believe in teaching yourself how to draw, you just sit down and draw! And then, if you feel the thing doesn’t look right, you begin to work on it. You begin to work a little harder on it. You straighten the face. You suddenly discover that the eyes have a certain proportion to the nose, and your nose is just about that high from the mouth. If you want a stronger face, you’ll make it wide, with a long chin, with jutting cheekbones. And, of course, you’d have that large, round head with the kind of haircuts that that day would demand. And so, that’s what I did. I felt that my characters were representing real people; although they were far out in nature, they were true to my version of real people. The stories were… as far out as the stories were, under the circumstances, I felt, these stories work because they had a core of truth.

KIRBY: Now in the New Gods, the core of that story was that a father would never hurt his own son. Now here I have Darkseid, the most evil character ever created. I can tell you, he was the epitome of all evil. All this fellow wanted to do was to own everybody’s mind and completely run the universe by himself. You can’t get more affectatious than that. But, he couldn’t control his own son. And of course, his own son became his worst enemy. There was nothing he could do about it. He was continually frustrated. If you look through the books, you’ll find that Darkseid, although his son is one of his worst enemies. They have the fiercest of confrontations, that these confrontations will kind of destabilize… the situation will become destabilized and the father and son will somehow find themselves in other situations in which this confrontation vanishes. Darkseid will suddenly find himself in some other situation where he can feel free to do his deviltry. Of course Orion will try to stop him, but Orion is his son. That’s one of the truths that I always knew existed, a father will never hurt his own son. So that was the core of the New Gods and, of course, it worked, it was true! I did it in The Losers. Those were war stores. I do a story with a white tape. If you walk on one side of the white tape, you’ll be fine. If you walk on the other side of the white tape, you’ll blow up, because it’s a minefield.

Host: As well as the core of truth that goes through your work, one thing that set it apart from most of what else was being done there was there was also a sense of the tragic, as well as the heroic that ran through them. Ben Grimm in the Fantastic Four…

KIRBY: Yes

Host: …was caught and tormented in his body. Spider-man’ loss of his Uncle Ben. Captain America’s loss of Bucky. Certainly all through the work, there was that balance which gave a maturity to the comics.

KIRBY: Well, those are experiences that we’ve all been familiar with! We’ve all lost an uncle. We’ve all lost relatives. We lose friends. We move away from places that were completely familiar to us and we suddenly find ourselves in different situations, not knowing what confronts us, trying to feel our way out, so we can make, wherever we are, livable for ourselves, so we can function wherever fate places us. That was the core of truth in my most fantastic situations. How do you deal with these places? How do you fight 16 guys? How would you outwit a monster from Mars? See? Suppose the monster from Mars might look like an ordinary crocodile, yet it can have a human brain. He can outwit you!

Host: We elected him president, unfortunately.

KIRBY: What’s that?

Host: We elected him president, unfortunately.

Hosts & KIRBY: <laugh>

KIRBY: Well, <laughs> I imagine the United States is big enough to have a lot of different opinions on that!

Host: It was the other way around, a man with a crocodile’s brain. One or the other!

KIRBY: Yes, well, at any rate, what I did, my formula was simple. I just took far out situations and give them human conclusions.

Host: You mentioned earlier that you always believed when you were growing up that what you wanted to do, what you were drawn to do, you could do, and become.

KIRBY: Yes

Host: Was that a more optimistic time than now?

KIRBY: No. It was less optimistic, but very turbulent.

Host: OK

KIRBY: How would a little unknown like Adolph Hitler suddenly rise to power? He came from nowhere! He was a nothing! In fact, he wasn’t even a lieutenant! He lost the title of lieutenant. He wasn’t even worthy of that title, and yet, he rose from all these masses of people, just to make sidewalk speeches. Somehow, he fascinated them and, of course, the story of Hitler is familiar to, sadly, it’s familiar to the entire world. And yet there he was, a man intent, on… a man intent on, a driven man, being intent on running things! On having his say and suddenly finding that the entire world is giving way. And he’s suddenly got everything from Norway to Spain and from Spain to India. He took Greece, Greece flattened out in a day, you know. So, here was this little man who had conquered all of Europe! By himself! And he had done this just by swaying people. I believe that human beings, if they concentrate on what they really want to do, can accomplish what they want to do. But, you’ve really got to want it bad enough to see it to fruition. And if you have that urge, that urge will materialize. It will materialize in many ways. Perhaps like your station here will someday be a grandiose network. And I’ll be your leading fan, I assure you.

Host: That’s science fiction!

Host: That’s science fiction

Host: Well, how did you conquer New York? How did you bring yourself to fruition? When you first knew this was what you wanted, where’d you go, what did you do? Did you knock on doors?

KIRBY: No.

Host: Did you send artwork out?

KIRBY: No. I didn’t. I simply left where I was. I didn’t like my block. I didn’t like the block next to it. I didn’t like the block next to that one! And so I began to walk. I began to walk uptown where the office buildings were. There were no brick buildings. There were no fire escapes. My mother once wanted to give me a vacation, so she put me on the fire escape for two weeks. And I was out in the open air sleeping for two weeks on the fire escape and having a grand time, I assure you! Of course, that kind of thing, sooner or later, disappointed me. A lot of people liked the block! A lot of people are still there. But I was not content with that kind of environment. I can’t tell you why, but I wasn’t.

KIRBY: I began to walk, and I found myself on 42nd street. I found myself on 57th street. There was one time I met the champion of the world on 57th street, Jack Dempsey came out of a hotel. Here he was. I was working at Marvel at that time and I was taking some strips to Marvel. And Jack Dempsey was coming out this hotel. I love prizefighters. I ran over to greet him and we had a wonderful time. I met Mickey Walker who was the lightweight champion of the world. Every time I went to Broadway I met a different champion, it seemed. Mickey Walker was also an artist and he had artwork. He took me to lunch and we each exchanged artwork, you know, showed each other our artwork and we had a wonderful time. I can’t account for meeting all these fighters, but going uptown was quite an experience for me!

Host: One of the first comics you worked on was Blue Beetle

KIRBY: Yes

Host: How’d you get that gig? How’d that come about?

KIRBY: Well, the Blue Beetle was.. well, the first people I worked for was the Fleischer Brothers, who made Betty Boop. Betty Boop was a fine animation strip and extremely popular. Wherever I went, I always got a job. I can’t tell you why, but I did. I got this job at the Fleischer Brothers and they sat me down at a table. At this long table, there were about 6 or 7 people. The guy at the end of the table would make three drawings and pass it down to the next guy, who would make three more. And then he would pass it down to guy next to him who would put the checkers in the suit and then he would pass it down to me and I would have to put the cuffs on and the spats, maybe.

KIRBY: This went on all day until the figure took a full step. It was animation. It was a method of printing out animated movies. They looked great in the movie, but to me it was a factory. And here I was,  doing the things my father was. My father worked in a garment factory. Here I was working in a drawing factory. I was at Fleischer’s about two and a half weeks, before I walked out. I walked out without saying a word! I never looked back. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I went to a place called Lincoln Newspaper Feature Syndicate. I did a strip – it was a panel strip – it was called Your Health Comes First. Of course, my name was Jack Curtis on that one. It was a literary license, I assure you. I took things from a medical book and I would illustrate them in this one panel, which went out to about 350 newspapers. They were weekly papers throughout the United State. I continued that for a while, but that’s not what I wanted. I began to know that. I began to know that the salary wasn’t my object. My object was to stay happy. This kind of thing wasn’t making me happy. The boss gave me to do editorial cartoons. He said, “Why don’t you do these editorial cartoons?” I said, “Well, I’ll give them a try!” One day he calls me in. I had handed him an editorial cartoon, and it was about, it showed Neville Chamberlain patting a huge boa constrictor on the head. And the boa constrictor was Hitler. This had been the conference that took place between Neville Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler.

Host: The appeasement

KIRBY: The appeasement. And my boss said, “How dare you make a political cartoon like that? How do you know about Neville Chamberlain and this guy Hitler?” I said, “Well, I don’t have to know a gangster, you know, when I see one.”

Host: You were right!

KIRBY: Well, it was an opinion, and I felt Hitler was a gangster because he was grabbing everything in sight, which is what they did on my block!

Hosts: <laugh>

Host: One of your first employers was Victor Fox…

KIRBY: Yes

Host: …what was he like?

KIRBY: Victor Fox was a very nice guy. He was the guy that created the phrase “King of the Comics.” Sometime, <laughs> it’s… sometime you’ll see the phrase referred to me, and it’s wrong! I was the first to use it, because I was aping Victor Fox. Victor Fox would walk all day long, back and forth. He was a portly, short, portly man. And he’d walk back and forth across the office each day saying, ”I’m the King of the Comics! I’m the King of the Comics!” and that’s all he would say! He wouldn’t talk to the artists <laughs> He wouldn’t talk to the artists. He wouldn’t talk to anybody that came into the office, because he was too busy saying, “I’m the King of the Comics!” One day they discovered uranium up in Canada. That seemed to capture the imagination of Victor Fox. Of course, he closed down the business <laughs> and he went to Canada to become an instant millionaire, which I don’t know if he did or not.

Host: The king of radiation

Well, I hope he knew how to handle it. <laughs> There were jobs on that order, but they weren’t lasting jobs. It was a boon to me when the first comic books came into view. Of course Famous Funnies was the first and it made me feel wonderful because, not because Famous Funnies was my type of comic, it suddenly struck me that they might possibly produce comics that would give me twenty two pages in which to tell a story. And they did! And of course these magazines began to come out. I got jobs at the early companies doing complete stories and it was wonderful for me. It still wasn’t Captain America time yet, but these companies were attracting artists. One of the fellows I met at one of these companies turned out to be Joe Simon and we became partners. We got an office at Tudor City in New York. It was wonderful time. I enjoyed doing the work. I would create the stories and I would create the characters. Joe would help out sometime, but Joe was more business oriented. He’d be up at the Timely office, which later became Marvel. It was owned by Martin Goodman. A fellow named Martin Goodman was a publisher and Martin Goodman had two brothers who were Joe’s age and Joe’s height. Joe’s about six foot three and I was about five foot two. <laughs> So wisdom dictated <laughs> that I stay in the Tudor City office, <laughs> while Joe became friends with Arthur and Abe Goodman. They were all the same height and they had a great time. So whatever strip we brought them, it would come from the Tudor City office. So I did the stories and I did the illustrations. Sometime they would send us scripts. They would have writers. We’d get scripts from DC, and we’d get scripts from Marvel, but I’d throw them out the window. I threw them out the window! Which is what I once did with a violin that my mother brought me. It was something I didn’t want to do. I literally threw the violin out the window.

KIRBY: I happen to be a guy who does what he wants, lives the way he wants to. I love people in general. I see them like, even the villains in my comics, to me, are people. There is something in their lives that makes them become a problem to others. And that’s how I saw everybody. Whatever I put in my comics, I’ve always had this kernel of truth. And maybe I, hopefully, feel that this love for people may have been transmitted to them and help them, not help them in any way, I’m not a psychiatrist, but just given them another friend.

Host: You mentioned Captain America a number of times. How did you and Cap first come together?

KIRBY: Oh, it was easy. The times were, they were screamingly patriotic. What kind of strip would you do, but Captain America? Supeman already was in existence and doing extremely well. And to me, the times were screaming, “War!”. And to me, the enemy was Hiter. The enemy was growing and growing and I didn’t know where it was going to end. But every day, something new would happen, and it was really scary.

KIRBY: This is the kind of event that I felt was ruling our times. And I felt it inside of me and it had to come out in some way. It was scary. It was scary, but it was also a wonderful scare. It’s like waiting for a fight. It was like standing out in the middle of the gutter, waiting for a fight to show up, and of course it was showing up, and it was getting larger and larger. It was right on our doorstep. I had Nazis calling me at the Timely offfice. I once had six Nazis call me up. They said, “Well, we’re waiting for you downstairs and we’re going to beat the daylights out of you for writing the stories about Hitler.” These were New York Nazis. They had a camp out on Long Island. And so I said, “Hold on guys, I’ll be right down!” Of course, I take the elevator down, but there was nobody there. I looked in the street and of course they wouldn’t be there. I didn’t feel disappointed and I felt disappointed, it didn’t matter to me one way or the other. You know, if they wanted to fight, well, what the heck. I would do it.

KIRBY: Leon Klinghoffer, who was recently killed by terrorists, was a personal friend of mine. I remember, when he was on the Achille Lauro, my wife and I read about it in the papers. I told her that when they mentioned Klinghoffer, I knew what he was going to do. It was instinctive with all of us. And it happened that way. Of course, he didn’t have a chance, but you can’t avoid gut-thinking, which is what we lived by in New York City at that time. Klinghoffer and I were raised together on one block. <unintelligible> dry goods store. He and his brother used to work in their father’s dry good store. We didn’t think anything out, we just reacted. We just did what was right.

Host: And what’s right, at the moment, is to mention this is KPFK Los Angeles 90.7 FM, Mike Hodel’s Hour 25. Our guest tonight is Jack Kirby.

Host: Captain America did, I think, embody a lot of your values, in terms of doing what he thinks is right, and always following that.

KIRBY: Yes! Yes, I don’t think Captain America would do anything wrong. He wouldn’t. Even at the cost of his life. I can tell you that’s a true feeling. Although it may sound fictional, it’s a true feeling in everybody. I got my idea for the Hulk, when I created the Hulk… my idea for the Hulk didn’t come from any fanciful place, or anywhere. It came from a mother whose child was crawling out from under the fender of an automobile to the sidewalk. The kid wasn’t any more than two years old. This panicked the mother when she saw her child under the car, so the mother ran to the back of the car and she lifted up the entire car from the back because she had that strength of desperation. When I saw that, it suddenly dawned on me, that there was a character there, that’s inside all of us. That when we become enraged, we can bend steel. I’ve done that myself. And so, there it was right in front of me. And that’s the idea how the Hulk came about.

Host: One more question about Captain America, then we’ll move on. What do you have?

Host: I have a Captain America question.

Host: This is one last one.

KIRBY: I’m sorry if I deviate. If I deviate in any way, forgive me.

Host: It’s alright. Don’t worry about it. I have my own theory about why this is, but now I can ask the source, finally! Why the killing off of Bucky, Captain America’s protege?

KIRBY: I don’t think I was the one that killed him off.

Host: Oh, you weren’t…

KIRBY: No.

Host: Oh, ok.

KIRBY: I never kill off anybody.

Hosts: <laughter>

KIRBY: I do, at times in the strip, but I bring them back. But you’ll find out that my characters never die. It’s my own, I believe, it’s my ode to humanity itself. We never really die. You live on in your son or you live on in somebody else. I don’t know the answer, but somehow I feel that our lives are endless.

Host: The only reason I asked was I heard that Bucky was killed off because in the course of the Second World War so many sons and brothers were lost, that even Captain America had to lose someone to make it close off properly.

KIRBY: No, it was just story. It was good for the story. It jolted the story

Host: I’m leaving now. My illusions are shattered. You had a question.

Host: Well, my question was also about Captain America. At the time, in the 40s, Captain America, the red, white and blue Avenger, who was the spirit of the country, was very strong. Now, what is Captain America today? I know they’re making a Captain America picture…

KIRBY: Yes

Host: …and of course the character was revived back in the 60s.

KIRBY: There is no Captain America today, in my opinion. <cut> too much to lose and we’ve got too many terrible weapons to use. So, to fight is unthinkable. Maybe in developing those weapons we might have done a good thing by subtly confronting each other and saying that to do a thing like that is inhuman. Let’s all try to be human. And I think what we’re witnessing today in Russia and Lithuania and all these countries is a kind of a dissolution of that rigid, turbulent, and, perhaps, dangerous nationalism that existed in my generation when I was younger. You could feel it. You could feel it in the very air. That the will of self, in other words, “I’m an American, and nobody’s going to say that about America and nobody’s going to do that to America, even if I die for it. I’ll defend it.” Of course we all had that will. And it was the same way in every country in the world. And that kind of thing is gone. And were suddenly discovering each other. And I think that’s just wonderful. When I saw those Chinese just trying to get on that pole, acting just like Americans, it was a wonderful, wonderful thing to watch. Despite the fact that it ended in tragedy. But, for one moment, they were American. They were American college kids trying to climb a pole. And somebody went and spoiled it. And perhaps when that kind of an element disappears, too, and it will, it can’t last, it’s human! Maybe something else will have to take its place, because the people will demand it. I think in the end that the world will become American. And we’ll all begin to understand each other. Just like we have over here. Americans represent the entire world. The United States has every nationality you can think of within its boundaries. And here we are getting along just fine. And why it can’t happen in the rest of the world? I don’t see why it can’t, really. And when it does happen, when the rest of the world become Americanized, which it already is… I mean if somebody, a fellow like Deng in China can’t last forever, and when his kind passes I think the demands of the people will overwhelm whoever wants to take his place and you’ll see a democratization, just my own personal view, a democratization of China.

Host: Let’s hope you’re right

Host: Well, I think we can probably take your personal view as having a lot of value, since in a lot of your work you’ve presaged things as you’ve gone on, you’ve invented gimmicks, like all science fiction writers have, you’ve invented gimmicks that have come true. I was told you did a newspaper strip called Sky Masters…

KIRBY: Yes.

Host: …in the late 50s which presaged the moonwalk and a lot of things happening in the space program.

KIRBY: Well, I presaged the atomic bomb two years before it was built because a fellow named Nicola Tesla was working on it in Hungary and he was experimenting with atomics. He was a physicist. And so, I forget what story I put it in, but there it was, I saw it in the paper, and I used it. I used it in my own way, and I got a good story out of it. Two years later, we had the real thing.

Host: Did anyone come and pay you a visit after that came out, because some writers…

KIRBY: Yes, they sent me a letter from the FBI!

Host: What happened?

KIRBY: Nothing!

Host: What did the letter say?

KIRBY: It was just an inquiry, you know. I had to explain that it was all fictional. That it was my version of the thing. There was no mention of an atomic bomb in any newspaper or anything, except that this fellow Nicola Tesla, it was in a magazine, some obscure magazine that I read it in, was experimenting with atomic physics.

Host: But when the FBI paid you a call did you think something’s up somewhere, they’re making one of these things?

KIRBY: No! I was just annoyed! You know?

Host: <laughter> There’s another fight coming by.

KIRBY: So, I hadn’t done anything. I just did this story and it was pure fiction, of course. But it sold well, and that was my job, just selling magazines. So I’d done my job. I would presage –  I would constantly read newspapers and magazines and I would presage the chopper, the helicopter, and a lot of the gimmicks we have today, I would have them two years ahead, because I’d visualize them that way. And of course, mine didn’t look exactly the way ours would emerge, but the principle was the same. And they almost did look the same, really. So, I was kind of proud of that because it’d make good story. And I was doing my job.

Host: Let me read off some titles to you and tell me, where, if you can, where they came from – the characters and the books. Challengers of the Unknown.

KIRBY: Challengers of the Unknown?

Host: Yeah.

KIRBY: They came from their own particular time. They were post-war characters. What the Challengers of the Unknown were saying was, “Where are we going now?” That was a question I asked in all those stories. The challenges, I put into gimmicks… I put them into gimmicks and the machines that we already had, but I took them two or three stages ahead as to… I took them two or three stages ahead as to what we might have. I would take them five years ahead, and if we were… if we had certain generators or something like that I would make a super-generator of some kind and have my story revolve around that. What would it do to human beings? Perhaps it would summon aliens from some foreign planet. Gave us the power to do that. Of course, my aliens weren’t always hostile. The aliens people used to draw, well they’d eat people, they’d look like frogs, they’d never buy you a malted milk or anything like that! But I see aliens very much like us. If they’re intelligent, they’ll do things the things we do.

Host: Or they won’t. <laughs>

KIRBY: Or, you know, it’s their choice, <laughs> I guess!

Host: One of the true breakthrough comics for Marvel was Spider-man. Which you created.

KIRBY: Yes.

Host: Where’d he come from?

KIRBY: Spider-man is a city character. Show me the perfect character for a city. A guy who will climb all over New York. That’s what Spider-man does. He’s a guy that climbs up and down buildings. He can do it faster and without fear of falling. He’s in his element. He’s exactly in his element where he should be, in the city where you have tall buildings. He doesn’t have to jump in one leap like Superman, but he does it in his own way. He can crawl into places where nobody else can. What may take you a week to do in New York, he can do it in an hour or something like that. Spider-man was perfect in that environment.

Host: He was also, I think, well, two things, very much a product of his time, as well, because that was the Kennedy period, more or less.

KIRBY: Yes.

Host: And the whole premise of Kennedy’s philosophy was with great power comes great responsibility, toward the world and toward those who aren’t as well equipped as you are, which goes to the heart of Spider-man, as well

KIRBY: Well, believe me, I admired Kennedy like everybody else did at the time, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of Kennedy. I was thinking in terms of adventure and orientation

Host: Of course, at the same time, he was a superhero who, for the first time, would get colds and had to worry about his Aunt May all the time

KIRBY: Oh well, you have to make them human in some way. You can’t rob a man of his humanity. You can wear any kind of a suit you want and call yourself by any other name you like, but when you take that suit off, and you take a bath, you come out whoever you are, as yourself. Of course, Spider-man is the same way. He’s like all the rest of his brothers. They’re instinctive showmen. I think that all human beings are instinctive showmen. Of course, I am, too! I thank the Lord that I had the opportunity to use my life in that manner, as a showman. Not maybe across a stage, but  maybe across a comic book, several comic books. Maybe more than that. And I’ve had a wonderful time with it, because it turned out that that’s what I really wanted to do. I was performing. Spider-man is performing.

Host: Another book which you created was, of course, the Fantastic Four

KIRBY: Yes.

Host: Now where’d they come from?

KIRBY: Fantastic Four… they’re a conglomerate of people. Different types. My job is to sell books. I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t, make the same bunch twice. I wouldn’t draw the same bunch twice. And so the Fantastic Four became a conglomerate of people who did different things. Usually, I’m associated with, the readers have associated me with Ben Grimm!

Host: I wonder why!

KIRBY: And I think in a way they’re right. Now Ben Grimm talks and acts just like I do, but of course, he’s a monstrosity and I can still wear a suit and look like everybody else. Ben Grimm is a natural guy. For showy purposes, he’s perfect! He certainly does the things that I wish that I could do. He can tear an ashcan up like we do paper. He can rescue people in manners that we can’t. He can rip off the side of a building and maybe get the tenants out because it’s going to explode. Ben Grimm can do it. Other people it would take many, many hours and of course make the accidents unavoidable. What Ben Grimm did was shorten that time and solve the problem quicker than most people could.

Host: I suspect there’s also a lot of you in Sgt. Fury.

KIRBY: Sgt. Fury was WW2.

Host: Yeah. A cigar chompin’, no nonsense, get the heck out of my way…

KIRBY: Well, I was a combat infantryman. I was with Patton’s 5th Division and whatever Sgt. Fury did, I did. I did it in The Losers, like I said, I mentioned that tape. And there were other things. I put not exactly my own war experiences, which gave the strip a little authenticity, I put my own feelings down. First of all, I was glad to be back, I was glad to be alive, I don’t know how it happened! <laughs> What happened was, I froze my feet. I was unconscious for days, I was lying in the snow. In fact, my whole battalion just konked out, you can lay in the snow just for so long, without any hotels around. My feet were a nice deep purple. I remember being in the hospital, some of the DC editors came up to visit me. By that time I felt so fiercely annoyed, I told them to get out of my room! <laughs> These guys were editors, here I was an artist talking back to editors!

Host: You were drafted along with Mort Weisinger and other editors.

KIRBY: I was in the same truck with Mort Weisinger. Mort Weisinger didn’t know how he got drafted! <laughs> He was saying it aloud, you know, while we were in the truck and we were all headed for the POE, which is the port of embarkation in Boston. There was a big convoy waiting with 25 ships. But Mort Weisinger didn’t go overseas

Host: He was an editor! <laughs>

KIRBY: He was an editor! <laughs> Yes! Me, they quickly put right on a ship. <laughs> Everybody was lying out on deck. There were 2000, 3000 guys lying on the deck and there was no room to walk! And I had to sleep! SO, I happen to be Jewish, but I know that chaplains are supposed to have mercy on anybody <laughs> So, I asked the chaplain if I could sleep in his room. If he had any space I would just lie down anywhere. Of course the chaplain was very kind to me, and I found space on the ship where I could just fall asleep.

Host: That’s great.

KIRBY: So, it was a wonderful experience to me, to involve myself with humanity in general. People certainly, I met people not of my own kind. And they’d look at me and they’d say, “What’s a brooklyn?”

Hosts: <laugh>

KIRBY: and things like that! Communications weren’t as they are today. There were no airlines and there were no roadways where thousands of cars would go back and forth across the United States. Communications were rare. Texans never saw New Yorkers. Midwesterners never saw Texans. Californians certainly, didn’t see anybody.

Host: They preferred it that way

KIRBY: Well we got along at any rate. We all had one objective

Host: To get home

KIRBY: Certainly. We did the best we could. I seemed to get along with them. It went on that way aboard ship. It went on that way when we landed in Liverpool. I got to see Liverpool at night. <laughs>  It was a grand sight because Liverpool was a wreck. We went on from there.

Host: Before we get to the other question I’ll open up the phone lines to the group mind. Our guest tonight is Jack Kirby, one of the preeminent figures in comic book history. Our phone number is <phone number> if you want to talk to Mr. Jack Kirby and we have some more stuff in the meanwhile.

Host: Oh, you don’t even tell me you’re coming back to me for a question.

Host: I was surprised to see that you’re still awake

Host: When you first started working in comics, in the early days. What were the working conditions like? Your pay… could you make a living, working?

KIRBY: Well, that was the reason I stuck with comics because I managed to bring home some money. That was my mother’s orders: Bring home some money. And of course, whatever your mother told you to do, you did. And of course, in comics, I began to make money! And I found out that the better comics I did, the more money I made. So I worked very very, like I told you, I worked very hard. And my comics began to make money for the publishers and I became deeply involved in the field, with Joe Simon, and whoever else was there. I knew all the early artists and the editors. I knew Mort Weisinger well. I knew Murray Boltinoff, and whoever was at Timely.

Host: Julie Schwartz?

KIRBY: Yes, I knew Julie Schwartz very well. So, it was a good and decent and honest way to make money and doing the thing I liked best: telling stories. So, I was carrying on a sort of family tradition, because that’s what my family did. Telling stories was a way of easing your way of life. My father came from a very rigid discipline. My father was from the Austrian aristocracy, but my mother was a peasant! <laughs>

Host: Thank goodness. <laughs>

KIRBY: <laughs> Thank goodness! But the point is that aristocracy or peasant, what they did best was tell stories. And of course, they would tell stories under the street lamps. They would tell stories, all the folk tales they learned in Europe were transferred to the young people that they bore here. Demons were real! Dracula was a real to me as any horror <?>. That was real horror! Remember there was a time when we never had penicillin. I caught double pneumonia, OK? I’m lying there on a bed. I’m a nine year old boy, and ten rabbis are dancing around my bed.

Host: <laughs> Not a good sign!

KIRBY: And they’re all saying, “Come out of this boy, demon! What’s your name, demon? Don’t hurt this boy, demon!” And they were saying that in Yiddish, of course. This kind of thing was very real. And I think it added to the type of storytelling that I would do later on in life. Because, my characters, to me, were real, just as they were to these Europeans. The Europeans at that time were really aristocracy or peasants who would sit around fires. I’m sure Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula, probably sat in with those peasants in Europe and listened to their stories around the fire and he might have come back with Dracula.

Host: Could very well be. We’re taking calls now at <phone number> and you’re on the air.

Caller: Hi, as long as you’re talking about demon, I was wondering, I think you touched a little bit on what might’ve been your inspiration for that. And also, what do you think about the future of computers in graphics, do you think that’s the way everything is going to go? And have you ever used any for graphics?

KIRBY: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the word –  compete-ers, is that it?

Host: Computers

Caller: Computers

KIRBY: Oh, computers! Well, I think computers are machines that are waiting to do something. We don’t know what it is they want to do, but we’re helping them along.

Hosts: <laughs>

KIRBY: One of these days they won’t need our help. That kind of day is going to be very uncertain for us. It’s going to make things uncertain. I think computers are going to become… in fact, they are very important part of our lives. You’re asking a very, very valid question.

Host: Thank you for calling.

Host: You didn’t answer the other part of the question, Jack.

Host: We’ll take this call first, and then we’ll pick that up.

Host: Let’s take this call.

Host: You’re on Hour 25, go ahead.

Caller: Hello?

Host: Yes.

Caller: Hi, Jack Kirby, you’re from New York. Are you touring here? Because I went to your comic convention around and you were there, but I missed it. So, why are you here, for vacation, or what?

KIRBY: Oh, I’ve been in California for the last twenty years now.

Caller: Oh.

KIRBY: I’ve enjoyed living in California thoroughly. I don’t know what’ll happen tomorrow, but I think I’m still going to be in California.

Caller: Do you have any business here?

KIRBY: My business has been here for the last twenty years. as I said

Caller: Oh.

KIRBY: And I’m rarely idle.

Host: Thank you. Now, you and I, Larry have no business being here at all.

Host: No.

Host: Now what was the other question that we didn’t follow up on?

Host: I think the gentleman asked, as long as we were talking about demons, if you could say something about the creation of Demon, The Demon comic.

KIRBY: Well, there is no such thing as the creation of demons, all right?

Host: Genesis 1:1

KIRBY: The devil has been here with us a long, long time. In fact, as long as the angels and god. It’s man’s evil and man’s virtue, I believe, living side-by-side. Man has taken evil and virtue and given us many ways to look them over, to examine ourselves. That’s what we really do when we write. We talk to others and we examine ourselves. “What is evil?” and “What is virtue?” We’ll probably never know, but it makes life interesting, and I believe it makes magazines to sell.

Host: OK. You’re on Hour 25 at <phone number> with Jack Kirby, go ahead.

Caller: How do you do? I would like to ask a couple of questions. The first one has to do with…  do you know of any good women who are creators of comics? And the second question is, could you please talk about women as heroes in comics? And I will hang up so you can answer.

Host: Thank you.

KIRBY: I’ve always had the highest respect for women as people, certainly. And I’ve always used them in comics in the same manner that I’ve used my male characters. Women are heroines and villainesses and contend with virtue and evil even as men do. There’s no difference between us except physical structure, in my mind.

Host: You’ve actually created some very memorable female characters: Sif, in Thor…

KIRBY: Yes.

Host: …Barda in the New Gods.

KIRBY: Yes, Big Barda. I happen to like big girls and Big Barda was a natural type of girl for me to draw. If you’ll dig into this a little deeper, in a psychological way, you’ll find that short men like large women. If you’ll notice my wife, she’s maybe an inch or two taller than I am.

Host: And is about to throw a brick at you now, I believe.

KIRBY: Yes.

Host: And the first part of the question the caller had, was about women working in comics now. Which would you look at being the top…

KIRBY: Well, I’ve always expected women to work in comics. Women always have. I forget her second name, but when I was a young man there was a young woman named Marie who was doing comics. She was a sister of one of the fellow artists. She was one of the first women in comics. and she did excellent work. There’s no reason for women not to do comics

Host: Cause you worked with Jenette Kahn, too, I understand

KIRBY: Yes, Jenette Kahn is another example of women involved in comics. And Jenette Kahn does a wonderful job as a publisher. Women, I think, women should engage and have the chance to engage in whatever kind of profession that they have in mind and do the best they can.

Host: We are at <phone number> KPFK, talking to Jack Kirby

Host: Now, as far as women artists or writers working in comics, Christy Marx is one, Wendy Pini is another…

Host: Yeah

KIRBY: That’s right

Host: …they’re working on Elfquest. Who? Oh sheez, there was a husband and wife team. Marie is the name I remember… John Romita?

KIRBY: No, no

ROZ KIRBY: Marie Severin

Host: Marie Severin

KIRBY: Marie Severin

Host: Marie and

KIRBY: and John Severin

Host: right

Host: Ann Nocenti who does Daredevil and many others

Host: There’s not many women working as writers or artists in comics, there’s more working in the publishing or editorial end of it. I don’t know why.

KIRBY: But it’s their prerogative. It’s their prerogative. Drawing comics is not withheld from them. If they want to draw comics, fine. If they want to do other things in comics, I found they are always welcome to do that.

Host: You’re on Hour 25 with Jack Kirby. Go ahead.

Caller: Hello. Hello?

Host: Hello.

Caller: Let me turn this radio off. Jack, I heard you speaking something about laying in the snow? What were you referring to?

KIRBY: That my feet were purple!

Caller: Uh huh.

KIRBY: In fact, they had to crack open my coat.

Caller: Yeah, well you were lucky they did cut them off

KIRBY: Well, they couldn’t cut my coat off, they had to crack it open.

Caller: Well, I tell you a real quickie since you’re a humor man. We were up there, too, and the snow was pretty bad, and I won’t mention any rats or anything, but someone stole somebody else’s sleeping bag and the only sleeping bag that has feather downs inside of it. So the guy takes and he steals this other guy’s bag and he takes his pants off. He gets in the bag and he had diarrhea. Well, when he woke up…

Hosts: <laughter>

Host: You’re on Hour 25, go ahead.

Caller: Hi, this is Dave from out in the Inland Empire to say hello to Jack. And I was wondering, I have a question for him, did he ever, have you met Will Eisner?

KIRBY: Will Eisner was one of the people I worked with at a very early date. I worked with Will Eisner when he and Sam Iger ran a studio and I was just a young artist.

Caller: So he helped you out early in your career?

KIRBY: Yes, he did.

Caller: What’s Stan Lee like?

KIRBY: uh… Will Eisner is an industrious guy.

Hosts:  <laughter> OK. I got that one. Thanks you for calling, caller. You’re on Hour 25, go ahead.

Caller: Yes, I was wondering, Jack, regarding Captain America, if there’s no need for him today, what would Steve Rogers be doing?

KIRBY: Steve Rogers would be doing something heroic.

Host: For the environment, perhaps?

KIRBY: Yes. He’d probably be testing a new kind of plane, a new vehicle of some kind. or he’d be doing something for the government that would require people who like a dangerous environment. Steve Rogers is that kind of a guy.

Caller: I see. Thank you very much.

KIRBY: You’re welcome.

Host: <phone number> and you’re on the air. Go ahead.

Caller: Yeah, hi, Jack Kirby? Always been a fan of your big splash pages, always loved those. I wanted to ask you two questions. What artists now do you think are hot and which ones aren’t? And what are you going to do now with all your artwork now that you got it back from, who was it, Marvel?

Host: Marvel.

KIRBY: Well, I didn’t get all of it back. But what I did get back I was grateful for. I leave the disposition of the artwork to my wife. In fact, I leave everything to my wife. <laughter> I just draw a bit and eat sandwiches.

Host: And who do you think right now are the up and coming artists or writers?

KIRBY: All the artists that I’ve noticed are just wonderful. They send me the latest magazines from all the publishing houses. They top the magazines of my day to a degree that astound me. The paper is so good. The kind of paper we got, well you could use it in the bathroom and <unintelligible> <laughter>

Host: Like our first caller

KIRBY: So, the magazines produced today are wonderfully produced. they’re wonderfully written, and they’re wonderfully illustrated. I can’t say too much about their quality.

Host: Although I’ve noticed on a number of the artists working today every so often I’ll turn a page in a Marvel comic and you look at Thor in a particular pose and go, “He’s doing Jack Kirby.”

KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen spots once or twice where the figure was actually traced. But you can’t, somehow, I don’t blame the artist for it. He wants to keep that kind of a mood, in the strip.

If it had been a motion picture… he might’ve… for instance if he made another Star Wars, he may want to keep the same mood of the first Star Wars in the second picture. So, I think some of these fellows want to keep that mood and maybe build upon it. I see nothing wrong with it

Host: Allright. Thank you for calling. You’re on Hour 25, go ahead.

Caller: Good evening. Thank you, Jack, for many hours of healthy introspection. I have a question, two questions actually, one on automobility, not referring to the current automobile, but what you think about the future of the automobile, or automobility, in general.

KIRBY: Well, that usually resolves itself. In other words, that’s never up to us. It’s always up to the companies. And what’s… and how conventional they are. Maybe one day they’ll do something radical and we’ll have an automobile that hovers above the street and flies above the traffic.

Host 1 Fantasticar. What’s your next question.

Caller: I was thinking also about energy and things like this and the need for change along those lines and mass consumption.

KIRBY: Yes.

Host: What’s your second question.

Caller: Second question is, you mentioned something earlier about the Bible and your mentioning Genesis and couple of other things went by. I was wondering how much you draw on the Biblical superheroes. Men like David, and guys like that. Do they figure prominently anywhere?

KIRBY: Yes, they do. Biblical figures have always been self-evident. Everywhere. Samson was your first superhero. Samson, of course, did things other men couldn’t. Samson was your first superman. He could do the same things that Superman did. He could do the same things that Captain America did. Of course, all of us have read the Bible or have been told about the Bible, in some way. We’ve absorbed it and it’s part of us. So it’ll come out in our drawings and whatever we build or talk about.

Host: Alright, thank you

Caller: Thank you

Host: Where was the first tennis game played?

Host: You got me

Host: When David played in King Solomon’s courts.

Host: Get out of here.

KIRBY, Hosts: <chuckle>

Host: You’re on the air, go ahead.

Caller: Hi, yeah, I was reading Jack Kirby teamed up with Stan Lee with Marvel Comics in the early 60s, so it’s sort of an honor for me. My question is, and I don’t think this has been talked about, how was the collaboration, which to me was the modern age of comics started with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby working together. How did that either come about and how did that develop in terms of how you wrote a story?

KIRBY: I wrote the story.

Caller: Huh?

KIRBY: I wrote the complete story. I drew the complete story. And after I came in with the pencils, the story was given to an inker and the inker would ink the story and a letterer would letter it and I would give the story to Stan Lee or whoever had the editor’s chair and I would leave it there. I would tell them the kind of story I would to do follow up and then I went home and I would do that story, and I wouldn’t come into the office until I had that story finished. And nobody else had to work on a story with me.

Caller: Hmm! Ok. That’s actually a little bit of a surprise. Ok, thank you.

Host: Thank you. It’s the revision of history going on at Marvel for the last few years.

KIRBY: Yeah, well…

Host: You’re on Hour 25 with Jack Kirby. Go ahead.

Caller: Ha! I can’t believe it! I’m standing at two pay phones. Oh, Jack Kirby, you’re the greatest! When I was like 13 years old, 12 years old, the whole world opened up to me. A guy Butch Pearl  turned me onto these comic books, Captain America, Spider-man, the Incredible Hulk, it was like a whole world, and I stayed with it for years… and …

Host: I take it you’re a fan.

Caller: Jack, you’re the best! I love you, Jack!

KIRBY: Well, believe me, it’s all returned to you. I love you, too. If you read any of my books, I appreciate that fact, and I have no words to express how wonderful that kind of thing, well, helps my own spirit.

Caller: Jack, don’t put those pens down! If you ever hear any story in your head, just do it because It doesn’t matter what anybody else says, there’s people out there who care about what you write. It means a lot to them and there’s kids out there right now who need to hear those stories and wherever you get your inspiration from, Jack, it’s a great place.

Host: All right, thank you for calling.

Caller: Thanks a lot, Jack, I love you. Take care.

Host: Hang up them phones

Host: I think he liked the work

Host: You’re on the air. Go ahead.

Caller: Yeah, this is Bill in West LA?

Host: Hi, Bill.

Caller: Hi. I’m doing art work for myself now, for a living, professionally. I just wanted to say that when I was first starting to be drawn into that back in grammar school, you were a tremendous influence on me, Mr. Kirby. Your work really meant a lot to me. We’d be in class and then kids gluing macaroni onto paper, and I’m over in the corner drawing Darkseid. Kind hard to explain, but… and secondly, I was kind of wondering, I was a great fan of the New Gods saga, the Fourth World series, I was wondering if you could say a few words about the Source, and how the idea for that came about in your mind, because I was always really intrigued by the Source, it was kind of a…

KIRBY: The Source, like everything else, is an everyday fact. We live, the Source is, lives with us day by day. We don’t know what the Source is, where it is, we can’t identify its form, but we know it’s there. This thing, this tremendous thing, governs our lives, and somehow we can all feel it inside. It’s referred to as spiritual, it’s referred to in many other ways, but we know instinctively that it’s there. And that’s what I put down in my stories, because like everybody else, I’ve felt this thing and I felt that it was real and I’ve kept it with me all my life.

Host: All right, thank you for calling.

Caller: Thank you

Host: Bye bye. You’re on Hour 25 with Jack Kirby, go ahead.

Caller: Hi Jack, how are you doing?

KIRBY: Just fine.

Caller: Since Batman’s success there’s been a lot of movies coming around, I guess, with the superhero type thing. Is there anything to do with the Punisher coming out? I understand Dolph Lundgren is going to be some Punisher thing…

KIRBY: Well, that’s a decision of Marvel’s. I don’t know when it’ll be made, or who is going to…

Host: Last I heard it has been made, and is going to cassette, I understand.

KIRBY: Oh, I see.

Caller: It’s going to cassette only?

Host: Apparently.

Host: We shall, because Dolph Lundgren’s last picture Red Scorpion went right into the dumper and they didn’t want to release another picture with Dolph Lundgren.

Caller: Oh, ok. Is there some sort of tie-in with, fascination with, superheroes right now for the movies? or is it just because Batman made so much money, they’re going to start go overboard with this kind of stuff…

KIRBY: Well, my guess it was Batman who generated a trend. I think the trend will continue, and you’ll see good ones made and bad ones made, but the trend will continue. The superhero has, and always will, be part of the American scene. And, of course, today, he’s visual and I believe that he’ll stay visual, and in motion.

Host: Yeah, I agree. Thank you, and, you’re on Hour 25, go ahead.

Caller: Yes, I want to be quick about this because I don’t want to get into Mr. Kirby’s time, but I believe John Severin, whose fine work on King Kull as the artist, and Marie, as a colorist… they’re not, however, husband and wife, I believe they’re brother and sister. I’m fairly sure about that. I’m not positive, but I think they’re brother and sister.

Host: I think you’re right. Yeah. Thank you.

JMS: Now, there’s a connection between you and Mr Kirby which Jack isn’t even aware of.

Larry: No. Jack and I talked about beforehand.

Host: Oh, you did?

Host: Are you going to bring up the giant worms coming out of the earth?

Host: Absolutely, I must bring it up. Explain the background?

Host: When I was working at Ruby Spears as a writer, Jack was working there doing conceptions, models and all of his creative things. And the first day I was there Joe Ruby said, “I have this terrific idea for you to work on, Larry: Giant worms coming up out of the earth, devouring cities.” I said, “why did I ever quit my last job and come here with this cigar smoking madman that wants me to do giant worms coming out of the earth?” Sixty-five episodes of giant worms coming up out of the earth. But the one great thing about it was: Jack Kirby artwork which would come over the transom and I’d get all these wonderful xeroxes of all these terrific machines and these terrific characters, and that was wonderful. Now that series never got made.

Host: What did you think of this worm stuff?

KIRBY: Well, like anything else, it was a story to tell. You could do it well. You could do it in a  mediocre fashion. It depends on the storyteller.

Host: But you couldn’t do it for 65 episodes. I was convinced of that.

KIRBY: Well, of course, that’s an opinion. We all have our own opinion, and I think we’re all entitled to them. Somehow, maybe someday, we may see those worms, or we may not. I don’t think it’s going to change our lives one way or the other.

Host: Did you do the conceptions on Centurions, as well?

KIRBY: I believe so.

Host: Because I worked on Centurions as well, at Ruby Spears. Which actually was a very good show, both in artwork and writing, but it went right off the air, because it was the end of the toy days.

KIRBY: Well, it was out of my hands. The conceptions were as far as I went.

Host: How do you like the new superheroes? In the 40s – the 30s, 40s, 50s… even as far as the 60s, the superheroes had a kind innocence to them. They were less human, up until the Fantastic Four started…

KIRBY: Well, they’re deadly now.

Host: Yeah, they’ll kill you!

KIRBY: Yes, and they’re violent now. They want to do the real thing! So, I think that the very pleasant type of feeling’s gone out of the comic…

Host: You almost can’t call them comic anymore

KIRBY: Well, if you see a illustration of somebody choking some guy, it’s going to be the real thing! I mean, this guy’s going to look like he’s being constricted. They’re going to make this one panel stick out of the entire story, and you lose your train of thought, you lose the rest of the story. Some fellow feels that this is the kind of picture he likes to draw. And he’ll draw it so well, that it will attract the reader to this one panel. And in doing so, the artist will lose the rest of the story, because the rest of the story will never match that panel. That panel will jump right out of the story. And the reader will concentrate on it. And of course, I feel that it’s a loss for the artist, that the entire story matters.

Host: We have about two minutes left, three minutes left.

KIRBY: Yes.

Host: There are those now trying to revive the campaign that comic books are evil, not good for people, and all this sort of thing.

Host: Like Frederic Wertham did in the 50s.

Host: What’s your response to those people who are trying to revive the idea that comics are bad for you?

KIRBY: I think it’s wrong. I think it’s up to us to decide what’s good for us. If it’s going to hurt you, you’ll feel it and you won’t continue it. I think they ought to give you that choice. I think that comic books, like any other literature, when it’s done by good men, will give you the thrill of a lifetime. Who can compare, say, an adventure like Moby Dick and stories like that, with, say, mediocre fiction of the hard book kind. So, there’s outstanding literature and there are stories that fade away. It will always remain that way. We can’t stop it.

Host: All right. We are out of time. It’s been a terrific two hours.

Host: Rats!

Host: Rats! I know.

Host: We appreciate you coming down here to the station, Mr. Kirby. It’s been a genuine pleasure for all of us.

KIRBY: Oh, it’s been my pleasure, surely. You people have been very nice.

Host: Although I’m sorry you stopped smoking cigars. I know it’s better for you.

KIRBY: No, I’m glad I did. I probably would have melted your wall.

6 thoughts on “1990 April 13 – Jack Kirby Interview

  1. patrick ford

    Wonderful interview. Thanks for taking the time to transcribe this. What a memory Jack has. Whenever I read an interview with Kirby the thing which stands out is what a mind for detail he had, how much he remembered. There are times when he needs to be allowed to ramble a bit, to grope around, to formulate his thoughts, but that’s all to his credit. In the strict rehearsed P.R. sense where every answer is rote and almost read from a script Kirby may not be the ideal modern “sound-bite” interview.
    In the area of a man trying to respond to questions as if he is talking to a real person across from him, and trying to give an honest answer, he is the best interview ever. Kirby had his little standard answers like: “I just wanted to make sales.” But give him a little room and he was off on a tangent, and it’s those tangents which are the parts of his interviews which have the greatest value.
    For every time someone cut him off and redirected, there is a time when that someone should have kept their mouth shut and listened.

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  2. Rand Post author

    You’re welcome, Pat. There are a a few more interviews in the pipe here – Jack’s interviews need to be available as text on the web, so they are searchable.

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  3. patrick ford

    Not having heard the audio I can’t be sure, but it seems to me the word ” affectatious ” where Kirby is describing Darkseid, should be transcribed as: EFFICACIOUS: effectual, effective, efficient, fruitful, operative, potent, productive

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  4. Rand Post author

    I wish I could agree, but it sure sounds like there’s a “t” sound in there. It’s at 14:35, for those of you playing at home.

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  5. Atom Jones

    I can’t help but wonder what the first caller was going to say after his set up. Was he going to give the bag back? Were they going to catch him because he couldn’t leave the bag? Did they have a sack race? What? If it’s a legitimate WWII story, which it probably wasn’t, it would have been worth it to see it through.

    I’m surprised how unprepared the interviewers are there are many questions I’d like to ask him , where was their show prep!?

    I wonder if a footless Jack would have drawn more or less in that other world where he did lose his feet. I also wonder if Stan could do the same thing to him had that occurred. It occurred to me Stan is essentially an embellisher, not the story originator. People brought him completed work, and he would add a little pizazz on top to try to sell more book. He was more of a marketer, editor that did some dialogue, but the plotting came mostly from the artists. Instead of “Excelsior” it should be “Embellisher” I’m sure he worked his butt off making sure it all worked, but to claim he co-created everything that came across his desk, that’s just wrong, no wonder Ditko left.

    Imagine a world without Intellectual Property, people would quickly be able to discern where the quality product was, and there would be no room for a credit usurper. Originators would never be barred from drawing their own characters elsewhere, and the suits couldn’t manipulate as they do now. The productive, like Kirby, would thrive, and the people related to the Publisher would have to get another job.

    I especially like the part where he comments favorably on Will Eisner when asked “What’s Stan Lee like?”

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