More than a few years ago, Steve (not the comic strip cartoonist) Pastis approached our booth at a convention to tell us he interviewed Jack Kirby in late 1993, and if he finds a copy, he’ll send it to us. A few years later, victory was his (and ours)! –he sent us our own copy of the free Happening Magazine from November 1993 for our archive. Many thanks, Steve! – Rand
“If you read my stories, I think you’ll find that the people in them are very real,” said Jack Kirby, talking about a concept he pioneered.
“I never do fairy tale people, I do people just as they are.”
Kirby has always created characters which have human weaknesses and frailties. He often has had his superheroes fighting amongst themselves, because that is what people do. “Superheroes may be superhuman in stature but inside they’re human beings and they act and react as human beings,” he explained. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing legendary characters like Hercules or modern characters, you’ll find that humans are humans and they’ll react the same way in certain situations.”
Kirby is considered by many to be America’s leading comic book artist. Many of his characters have become part of the American culture and his influence is evident in the evolution of the comic book, as well as in the American hero. His 53-year career is celebrated in a new book, The Art of Jack Kirby, written by Ray Wyman, Jr., and co-researched by Catherine Hohlfeld.
The book, which documents Kirby’s life and contains hundreds of color photos of his work, offers some amazing statistics about his prolific career. According to the numbers compiled by Wyman and and that Hohlfeld, Kirby created a total of 20,318 of art and 1,385 covers in his career. He published 1,158 pages in 1962 alone.
When asked what the greatest accomplishment was in his career, Kirby responded modestly, “The fact could sell magazines.” He then turned from the financial aspect to the creative side of his business, saying, “I’m proud of all my characters.”
Captain America, Kirby’s first popular character, was created shortly after meeting and becoming partners with Joe Simon in 1939. “Captain America was my earliest and I was very fond of him because he generated a lot of action scenes. I initially loved action very much.
“Captain America was a product of the way I felt at the time. I come from New York City and – especially on the block where I lived – there was plenty of action. There were fights and people would come from the next block and we would fight and either win or lose. That would be the routine. I grew up with that type of activity and I accepted it in my professional work.
“I believe it was also the times in general. Hitler was in power. The world was immersed in a general atmosphere of war. The war was coming and so there was a lot of turbulence. It was a very turbulent period and people reacted in a turbulent fashion. When I met partner Joe Simon, we immediately got our heads together and came up with Captain America who was typical of times. He was a patriot. He was a fighter. We were Americans and, in our plu cial minds, we were winners. Captain America was a winner. And sales were phenomenal,”
Kirby’s characters, being a very diverse bunch, have been created from very different inspirations.
“Thor is a legendary hero and I love the legends. Thor was the perfect for a comic book hero. Silver Surfer, of course, was a product of California. I opened the paper one day in New York and there were these surfers riding these waves. It seems incredible to me now that I conceived of Silver as surfing around the universe.
“The Incredible Hulk I got from a woman. One night in New York City, I saw this child crawling out from under the fender of a parked car. Suddenly, there was a scream and this woman comes running out. She lifts up the entire rear of this touring car — and this was no small car – So this youngster can crawl out on the sidewalk. It struck me that, in tense situations, human beings can transcend their own strength and do things that they don’t ordinarily think they can do.”
Kirby had more creative ideas for the character he was creating, however, “I put the gamma rays,” he recalled. “These kinds of things were very saleable.” the gamma rays,”
Born in 1917, Kirby gained an interest in storytelling from hearing his mother tell Eastern European folk tales. He was also inspired by authors such as Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. His first job in publishing was for a newspaper as a cartoonist and writer. After a brief period working for Max Fleischer Studios on cartoons such as *Popeye,” he found work with newspaper strip syndicates.
His partnership with Simon led to success with “Boy Commandos” comics, which inspired National Periodical Publications to put the two on contract. Kirby earned a Bronze Star in France during World War II and returned home in 1945 to find a new boom in the comics industry.
By 1950, the Kirby/Simon partnership was considered the most respected comics producing team. Unfortunately, their venture Mainline Comics was soon closed during an era where many comic book publishers fell victim to government censorship. The two turned their efforts to create romance comics and eventually went their separate ways. Kirby once again found himself with National Periodicals, which had since become DC Comics.
Unhappy with his editors, Kirby moved to Marvel Comics in 1959 where he collaborated with Stan Lee on new characters and revived old ones. Over the next decade, characters such as the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, X-Men and Silver Surfer were created. Captain America “came out of retirement” to join a super hero team called “The Avengers.” His early years at Marvel were perhaps his most creative.
“This was a period when we were experimenting with the atom bomb,” he recalled. “People were wondering what the effects would be. Everybody worried ‘Would we all become mutants? We played around with this ‘mutation thing’ and I came up with the X-Men, who were associated with radiation and its effects on humanity.”
In 1970, Kirby left Marvel and rejoined DC Comics in an arrangement which allowed him to work for the New York publisher from his California home. There he created “The Fourth World,” “Mister Miracle” and “The New Gods.” Since then, he has worked for animation studios such as DePatie-Freling and Hanna-Barbera. He is currently overseeing several projects which will carry his name.
Through the years, articles have reported on a feud between Kirby and Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee. When asked to set the record straight on this relationship, Kirby made every effort to offer kind comments about his former boss.
“We always had a good relationship,” he said. “He was an editor and I would simply bring my artwork. I would write the story at home. Stan Lee was involved in a lot of things. He’s a talented man and he was very busy. I did my thing and he did his.
“Stan Lee is a very friendly guy and I’ve always found him to be very congenial. We get along very well. Things are always blown out of proportion by other people. It becomes one thing then another.” For whatever reason, however, Kirby acknowledged that the two comic book legends haven’t spoken to each other in a long time.
His biographer, Wyman, explained the relationship between Kirby and Lee. “At first apparently it worked well. When the relationship initially started, they were doing monster books, they were having a good time. But I think somewhere after the first couple of years or so, the personalities started wearing on each other. Stan was never really close to Jack like Joe (Simon) was. Joe and Jack worked very well. They became friends and there was a lot of interaction. I don’t think that ever happened in the Lee/Kirby relationship.”
However, Wyman found that the two men have great respect for each other. When Lee felt that “something wasn’t right” with the way Spider-man was created, he had Jack Kirby to do the cover. The same thing happened when Iron Man was created; Kirby was again brought in on the original creative stages of a character. Kirby became Marvel Comics’ “touchstone of style,” according to Wyman,
“One of Stan Lee’s comments about Jack was “I can’t get over this guy,” recalled Wyman. “He creates 100 villains at a sitting and then kills off half of them. Any one of these villains I can make a million off of.”
This interview was conducted on March 24th 2018 at WonderCon 2018 in Anaheim, California by Tom Kraft at Mitch Gerads’ booth, exclusively for the Jack Kirby Museum.
Mitch Gerads is the artist of the popular and highly acclaimed comic series, Mister Miracle, based on Jack Kirby’s original characters of his Mister Miracle series. Written by Tom King, this 12-issue series is currently on issue 7 at the time of this interview.
Kirby Museum: Can you tell me your background, how you started, where you went to school, just a general idea.
Mitch Gerads: Yeah. I kind of have that… I’ve been lucky enough in my career where I have that story of, I’ve wanted to be a comic book artist since I was four years old and it worked out, which is awesome. The road there wasn’t always straight there by any means. I always wanted to be a comic book artist, but somewhere in my senior year of high school, I had the cognizance enough where I realized how hard it was to get in the industry and I was very excited to start my new life path of college and being on my own and all these things that I was excited about, so I went with graphic design. I was like, “All right, I can still do art, but it brings me on a more solid career path.” I went to school for graphic design. I did a four year, it took me five, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and then I immediately got hired at a design firm where we did packaging for Trix and Lucky Charms and all the General Mills kind of kid cereals.
What’s kind of funny is that during that job, they constantly recognized how much I was doodling on every paper in every meeting and all these things, and they eventually moved me over to their illustration department so I started illustrating Trix and Lucky Charms and all these fun… Cookie Crisp. Then there was massive lay-offs for the company. We lost the General Mills account, so I was out of a job and I could either reapply for graphic design jobs, which I liked, but whatever, but I did have this time now where I was single, I was renting, I qualified for unemployment. I was like, “All right, I’m gonna give comics a shot and just see. If not, I can go back to design.”
Actually, I got hired as a colorist over at Boom! for a while. Then I did a couple issues of “Dr. Who” over at IDW. Then that brought me right to the “The Activity” at Image, and then from “The Activity,” we went to “Punisher” for 20 issues, and then right after “Punisher,” “Sheriff of Babylon” and “Batman,” and “Mister Miracle,” and here we are.
KM: What city was that? Where were you?
Gerads: I lived in Minnesota. I’ve lived in Minnesota the first 34 years of my life, and now I live in Phoenix.
KM: Phoenix where it’s hot.
Gerads: Yeah, it’s the exact polar opposite.
KM: When you started out, you were doing physical drawing and ink?
Gerads: I was traditional all the way up until about halfway through “Punisher,” so 2012, then I switched to all digital.
KM: What made you switch? Why did you decide to?
Gerads: Yeah, my path there is different than everyone else’s. The reason I switched is actually, I would be in my studio and I’d be working all day long, and then my wife would come home and we would talk and say hi, but then I would go back to my studio and she would go watch TV in the other room, and we didn’t see each other all that much until I went to bed and it kind of bugged me, it kind of weighed on her a little, so then I discovered the Cintiq Companion, it’s a Cintiq but it’s a standalone computer so you can travel with it and go anywhere. I started… I looked into that and I got it, but I still wasn’t happy with how my art looked on it. It looked too fake, it looked too digital. I actually had the technology for about a year and a half until I decided to go all digital. I wanted to wait until my all digital stuff looked like it was traditional. I finally figured that out with the help of the Kyle Webster brushes, and I think I achieved that, and digital has helped me really enjoy my art.
KM: Do you do your art on an iPad or do you still do it on the big display?
Gerads: I still do it on the … I enjoy the 13 inch screen, which is weird. I do it on the 13 inch MobileStudio Pro. It’s their new advanced version of the companion.
KM: Was Jack Kirby an influence in the direction of your art?
Gerads: Yeah, I mean in a lot of non-obvious ways. He’s Jack Kirby, how can you not be influenced by him and be in comics? Obviously, I think everyone is inspired by Kirby in the dynamic poses and all these things, but I knew I didn’t necessarily want to do straight up Kirby. I didn’t want to do that version of super hero comics. I kind of found a niche where I really enjoy bringing humanity and… realism is kind of a dicey word, because people get caught up in it, but I guess realism to kind of these super Kirbyesque characters. I think that’s been kind of… especially “Mister Miracle,” it’s about humanizing gods. Yeah, that’s kind of been my approach, but I mean Kirby, especially working on “Mister Miracle,” it’s never not in my head. He’s ever present.
KM: How did the relationship with you and Tom King come about that allowed you to do “Mister Miracle?”
Gerads: I was just finishing up “Punisher” and Jamie Rich, who was the new head guy of Vertigo at the time, called me up and he’s like, “Hey, can I pitch you some things?” I was like… and Marvel had not really found me anything yet. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll listen to what you got.” He pitched me a couple things, but then all of a sudden the next pitch was, “All right, it’s kind of like “Justified” meets “Homeland,” and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m in.” He’s like, “All right, well, it’s written by Tom King.” I’m like, “Super in.” I was familiar with Tom from his novel, “A Once Crowded Sky,” and then also he was on “Grayson” at the time.
They had me try out. They gave me a couple characters from “Sheriff of Babylon” and were like, “Hey, how would you interpret these?” One of the directives on it was the character Sofia. They’re like, “Oh, Sofia, sitting on a couch holding a tea cup.” So I drew that, and what I found out a while later, Tom telling me of one of the reasons I stood out, because they had tried out a few people on the book and he just wasn’t happy, and one of the reasons I stood out I guess is that I was the only artist of everyone who tried out that actually drew an Iraqi tea cup. Everyone else drew an English tea cup and there’s a difference, so he liked that I cared.
That kind of started our whole relationship and right from the beginning, Tom and I started talking and realized we were on the same wavelength. We’re brothers.
KM: Probably your approach to realism made the tea cup realistic, is what got you the job.
Gerads: Yeah, exactly.
KM: Can you tell me how you got the Mister Miracle assignment with Tom King?
Gerads: Yeah, so how “Mister Miracle” came to be is a real funny story. We had kind of developed “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” that story arc as our kind of, it was gonna be an OGN, out of continuity thing, kind of our “Long Halloween” or something. It got green lit and we’re all good to go. That’s what I was gonna do after “Sheriff,” and then someone at DC decided they liked the story line so much that they wanted it to be part of the main book, which means that they can’t fire Mikel from the book, and obviously they shouldn’t, so they were like “Mitch is out, but we’re willing to… whatever you guys want to do we can do it.”
Tom called me up and he told me the news and I was bummed. I was super bummed. All I wanted to do was Batman. He’s like, “What could we pitch?” I’m like, “I don’t know. All I want is that Batman project. The only other thing I care about is “Mister Miracle.” The line kind of went dead, and he’s like “What are you talking about?” I’m like, “You know, “Mister Miracle,” the kid that Jack Kirby…” He’s like “I know who it is. That’s literally who I’m calling to pitch you right now.” Of all the characters and everything, it was really cool that it kind of happened so natural. I think that excited us both and really kind of made us “Oh, we want to make this something special, not just our next superhero thing, but something that…” I mean, we say this all the time and we mean it, is we want “Mister Miracle,” our aim is the next “Dark Knight Returns,” the next “Watchmen.” I’m sure we can’t attain that, but that’s our goal.
KM: You mentioned yesterday about growing up with Jack Kirby’s “Mister Miracle” comics.
“I really grabbed on to Scott Free because he’s the only New God, he’s a god that doesn’t want to be a god. He’s the reader’s way into the New Gods, because everyone else is pretty un-relatable.”
Gerads: Absolutely. My brother, Greg, he was super into comics and he’s 14 years older than me. I have two brothers, 14 and 15 years older than me. Both super into comics and once I got to a good reading age, they would kind of hand me things and get me excited. One of my most memorable things is “Mister Miracle.” I think the first stuff he actually handed me was the Marshall Rogers run and then that brought me to the Jack Kirby run afterwards. I was just fascinated by it. It’s funny, all the themes that I was fascinated by when I was a kid reading those books are themes in our book where I really grabbed on to Scott Free because he’s the only New God, he’s a god that doesn’t want to be a god. He’s the reader’s way into the New Gods, because everyone else is pretty un-relatable. They’re all big gods, they love being gods, they’re all mighty, and Scott’s the guy who just wants to be like a Suburban dude. That’s kind of the reader’s access to the world.
KM: In the way you approach your art, is there anything in your approach you can describe in drawing Scott Free, Orion, Big Barda, especially Big Barda, she’s like… such a normal woman.
Gerads: Yep. Big Barda in “Mister Miracle” was fun. I’m really glad fans accepted it so quick, because in the past, there really hasn’t… most people don’t draw size difference. That always bugged me. Her name is Big Barda. If you don’t make her big, then what’s the point? So I put a good foot and a half difference. If Scott… if all the DC handbooks say Scott is six one. I think it says, like my Barda’s like seven something, maybe even close to eight. I’m just like, that’s genius, like that’s… not that’s genius. I’m calling myself a genius. Oh my god. To me, it just adds more fun and more… in a way it makes everyone more relatable. Any time you can add traits to characters and make them more relatable and human, I’ll take that all day long.
KM: That’s interesting because it’s a very different approach. A lot of other artists have taken Jack Kirby on and try to make it like an interpretation of how Jack would have done…
“Our idea is you can’t out-Kirby Kirby, so why try? Even if you can get close, you’re never gonna be better than Kirby, so why try? Our idea is like, “Okay, let’s take all of the things Kirby was trying to do, and all the things that Kirby held highest in creativity and all these things and do that in the Tom King, Mitch Gerads way.”
Gerads: Yeah, that’s everyone’s first inclination and the New Gods, across the board, have not been good sellers. Real rough going at almost every stop. Grant Morrison came close to real good selling with it, but… so me and Tom, that was our first thing we came across is that everybody was trying to be Jack Kirby, or really pay homage to Jack Kirby, which we are too, but in a different way. Our idea is you can’t out-Kirby Kirby, so why try? Even if you can get close, you’re never gonna be better than Kirby, so why try? Our idea is like, “Okay, let’s take all of the things Kirby was trying to do, and all the things that Kirby held highest in creativity and all these things and do that in the Tom King, Mitch Gerads way.”
KM: The pacing of the book, what is the process when Tom writes a script? Do you know all the issues, if there’s 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, remaining, are they all laid out for you ahead of time?
Gerads: No. That’s a good question, because I specifically have told Tom that I never want to know the future past whatever script I have, just because I don’t want my foreknowledge to seep into the book, because the whole book is a journey and I don’t want to influence readers. I want to be right there with them. So I try to keep it on the wraps.
KM: When he writes a script how much influence do you have on how the art is laid out? In the Mister Miracle Directors Cut, Tom King’s script was included. it seemed very specific about what panel is what.
Gerads: Yeah, that’s how he does it. I request full script. I like to know exactly what people are saying as close as we can and doing because I get real, hoity-toity and artsy about stuff and I feel like there’s a lot you can do with what people are actually saying, even if it’s not what they mean, but just seeing what’s happening, and so I try to really pay attention to those kind of human nuance, so I want all of it. But the cool thing is Tom and I are so collaborative that he gives me a script, and if I need to change something or I think something works better, he just has me do it. He’ll figure it out with dialog later. So we just kind of feed off each other.
KM: Then for every book, you do the art digitally, you create panels and do all the coloring.
KM: You do literally everything. You just hand off digital files for printing.
Gerads: Yep, and for lettering.
KM: And lettering is digital as well?
Gerads: Yes for sure.
KM: Any previews you want fans to know about in the upcoming issues?
Gerads: Yeah, Issue 8 is supposed to be out April 11th. I don’t know if that’s true as I’m currently at WonderCon finishing it in my hotel room and it’s March whatever, but I think it might still be. I don’t think I missed the actual print deadline. We did announce there will be a skip month between 9 and 10. I recently had a child and I’m very slowly figuring out my schedule and how to make it work and all these things. What’s super cool is I found out from all the fans here, everyone kind of gets it. I think fans would rather have a higher quality book than just kind of like knocking it out as many people have told me, in 10 years when this trade is sitting on a Barnes and Noble, nobody’s gonna remember if a book was a month late, so… but I have a personal pride in my deadlines. I’ve never missed a print deadline my entire career and I don’t want to ever, and if I do, I want to make sure it’s the only time. I get it. If people have problems with it, I get it, but I thank people for understanding.
I had to do it! I dove into TwoMorrows’ Kirby Checklist Gold Edition and pulled all the interviews listed there into a separate chronological list. Since the Checklist was published in 2008, it only contained info up to issue 49 of The Jack Kirby Collector. So, into the Museum’s TJKC archives I went to make sure everything was as up-to-date as possible. From there, I went to YouTube, Facebook, my email archive, and regular ol’ Google searches to find as many entries as I could. I included a few non-interview-but-Kirby’s-words entries, too, well, just because.
This post is a work-in progress. I’ll add to it as more information comes in. Any scans, snapshots, suggestions, pointers welcome via the comments below. OF COURSE there are more Jack Kirby recordings and/or transcripts out there. Please don’t keep them a secret!
Many thanks to the multitude of Kirby fans and scholars who contributed to the Checklist, especially John Morrow and Richard Kolkman – Rand Hoppe
Len Wein, transcript published in Masquerader #6, Spring 1964; later published as “Jack Kirby: An Artist With Impact” in The Jack Kirby Collector #49, Fall 2007.
Interview at drawing board, Wonderama, NY TV. Note: Could be mistaken. Romita and Lee appeared on Wonderama in the 1970s.
Jack Kirby, “Meet Jack Kirby,” Mighty Marvel Messenger #1. Later published as “Jack Kirby by Jack Kirby” in Marvel Age Annual #2, September 1986.
Mike Hodel, Kirby and Stan Lee radio interview titled “Will Success Spoil Spider-man?” conducted 3 March 1967 and broadcast live on WBAI (NY). Transcript published in The Stan Lee Universe, 2011.
Mark Hebert, conducted early 1969. Transcript published in The Nostalgia Journal #30, November 1976, and #31, December 1976. Later published as “There Is Something Stupid In Violence As Violence,” in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby, 2002.
Shel Dorf and fans, conducted 9 November 1969 in the Kirby home in Orange County, CA. Transcript published as “Speak The Language of the ’70s” in The Jack Kirby Collector #42, Spring 2005.
“The Life And Times Of Jack Kirby,” Comic Special. 1969
Bruce Hamilton, conducted shortly after Jack left Marvel in 1970. Transcript published as “A Talk With Artist-Writer-Editor Jack Kirby” in Rocket’s Blast Comicollector #81, 1971; later published in Marvel Collector’s Handbook, 1973, and The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.
various, San Diego Golden State Comic-Con panel, 1 August 1970; Audio published on Comic Con Memories website, 8 January 2010. Transcript published as “It’s Not In The Draftsmanship. It’s In The Man.” The Jack Kirby Collector #57, Summer 2011.
unknown, transcript published as “I Met Kirby: The Thing That Drew” in Train Of Thought #5, February 1971 and in #6, July 1971; #5 excerpted as “Train Of Thought” in The Jack Kirby Collector #17, November 1977. #6 excerpted as “Train Of Thought part 2” in The Jack Kirby Collector #52, Spring 2009.
Shel Dorf, conducted December 1970; transcript and audio published as “Shel Speaks (and Kirby Too)!” on Shel Dorf Tribute website, October 2009.
“Old Comic Heroes Return: For Awhile,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, 4 April 1971.
Saul Braun, transcript excerpts used in “Shazam! Here Comes Captain Relevant”, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 2 May 1971.
Lee Falk and Steve DeJarnatt, conducted at San Diego Comic-Con, edited transcript published as “May 1971 Kirby Interview” in The Jack Kirby Collector #67, Spring 2016.
Manny Maris and Mark Sigal Rosal, conducted 31 January 1971 in the National/DC offices. Transcript published as “Comic & Crypt Interviews Jack Kirby & Carmine Infantino!” in Comic & Crypt #5, 1971. Later published in Fantasy Advertiser (UK) #48, March 1978, as “The King & The Director” in Comic Book Artist #1, Spring 1998, and as “Jack Kirby and Carmine Infantino Interview – 31 January 1971” on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center, June 2013.
Tim Skelly, radio interview conducted 14 May 1971 on “The Great Electric Bird” show broadcast via WNUR-FM, Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). Transcript published as “My School Was Alex Raymond And Milton Caniff,” The Nostalgia Journal 27, August 1976, and as “I Created An Army Of Characters, And Now My Connection With Them Is Lost,” in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby, 2002.
Jack Kirby, “To What It May Concern,” The Los Angeles Times – West magazine, 10 September 1972
Jack Kirby, speech on 29 April 1972 at Vanderbilt University. Transcript published as “Kirby At College: The Transcript Of Jack’s Speech,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #5, May 1995.
various, symposium comments on 29 April 1972 at Vanderbilt University. Transcript of Kirby’s comments published as as “Kirby At College: Excerpt From The Panel Discussion,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #5, May 1995. Later published, with more comments from other attendees, and more context, in Stan Lee: Conversations, 2007.
Jim Steranko, conducted at 1972 Comic Art Convention (NY) Awards Luncheon, published in Comic Art Convention Program Book (NY), 1973; later published as “1972 Comic Art Convention Luncheon,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #8, 1996.
Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman, transcript published in G.A.S. Lite, Vol 2 #10, 1973. later published as “Cleveland Rocks!” in The Jack Kirby Collector #47, Fall 2006.
Russ Maheras, conducted via mail, 13 May 1973. Published in Maelstrom #2, November 1974. Later published as “A Chat With Jack Kirby” in The Jack Kirby Collector #34, March 2002.
Jerry Connelly, conducted 18 September 1974, broadcast live via KNJO radio, Thousand Oaks, CA. Transcript published as “Kirby on Kirby 1974: an Interview with the King of Comics” in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1401, 22 September 2000; later published as “Kirby On Kirby: 1974” in The Jack Kirby Collector #64, Fall 2014.
Steve Sherman and Mark Evanier, conducted “as they planned a follow up to the King Kirby portfolio” (1971), transcribed and compiled into “Kirby: In His Own Right/Kirby Kirby Kirby” in Comic Art Convention Program Book (NY), 1975; later published in The Jack Kirby Collector #8, January 1996.
Shel Dorf, transcript published as “Let’s Visit! Jack Kirby” in The Menomonee Falls Gazette, Vol. 4 #181, 2 June 1975; later published in The Jack Kirby Collector #15, April 1997.
Did Jack Kirby call in to a Stan Lee radio interview? Los Angeles. (Carole Hemingway). Note: Hemingway had a talk show on KABC 1974-1982
Barry Alfonso et al, Jack Kirby and Don Rico interview,. Transcript published as “Jack Kirby & Don Rico Discuss WWII, The Mafia, Watergate, & Comic Art” in Mysticogryfil: Journal of Cosmic Wonder #2, May 1975; later published in The Jack Kirby Collector #20, June 1998.
unknown, Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart, Don Rico, and Jim Steranko interview conducted at the 1975 San Diego Comic-Con. Audio excerpts published as “Jack Kirby/Jim Steranko,” on The 1975 San Diego Comic Con, LP record, 1976. Full transcript published as “The Captain America Panel,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #64, Fall 2014.
“Kirby Speaks,” FOOM #11, September 1975.
David Hamilton and Carl Taylor, conducted at San Diego Comic-Con. Transcript published as “Jack Kirby, Art Critic” in The Jack Kirby Collector #67, Spring 2016.
Phil Seuling, Jack Kirby and Walter Gibson interview, conducted at the 1975 Comic Art Convention Awards Luncheon, New York City, July 1975. Transcript published in Comic Art Convention Program Book (NY), 1976; later published as “Jack Kirby & Walter Gibson Interviewed,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #13, December 1996.
Peter Hansen, conducted late October-early November 1976, Lucca, Italy. Transcript published as “Jack Kirby Interview” in The Jack Kirby Collector #48, Spring 2007.
Nessim Vaturi, conducted late October-early November 1976, Lucca, italy. Italian translation published in WOW! COMICS. English translation of Italian published as “Wow-What An interview!,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #12, October 1996.
Furnell Chatman, appearance at North Hollywood comic shop, 3 October 1976, published as “COMIC ART FILM TRANSFER” on NBCUniversal Archives website, October 2014. Kirby segment starts at 2:09.
Kenn Thomas, et al, conducted November 1976. Transcript published in Whizzard #9, November 1976; later published as “The Day I Spoke With Jack,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #55, Fall 2010.
Shel Dorf, transcript published as “Jack Kirby Recalls Lucca, Italy” in The Buyer’s Guide to Comics Fandom #213, 16 December 1977; later published in The Jack Kirby Collector #12, October 1996.
Annie-Isabelle Baron-Carvais, conducted 8 November 1978 in the Kirby home in Thousand Oaks, California. Transcript published in Baron-Carvais’ Ph.D. thesis, “L’Evolution Des Super-Heros Dans La Bande Dessinee Aux Etats-Unis,” L’Universite De Paris X-Nanterre, 1981. French translation published in DC Spécial, March 2000. Transcript published as “The Lost Kirby Interview” in The Jack Kirby Collector #32, July 2001.
Jack Kirby, signed handwritten notes, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 97, Exhibit RR. Published as “A Note From Jack Kirby” on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center, December 2014.
Robert Golub, Ilan Reuben, and Jason Zalk, telephonic interview, transcript published as “”Talking With” Jack Kirby” in Kidsday section, Newsday, 9 August 1979, later published in The Jack Kirby Collector #23, February 1999.
Will Eisner, transcript published in “Shop Talk”, Will Eisner’s Spirit Magazine 39, February 1983; later published in Will Eisner’s Shop Talk, 2001
Roger Green, transcript published in “Questions And Answers With Jack Kirby,” The Fantastic Four Chronicles, February 1982.
Howard Zimmerman, transcript excerpts published in “Kirby Takes on the Comics” in Comics Scene #2, March 1982. Later published on Barry’ Pearls Of Comic Book Wisdom, 16 March 2013.
Greg Theakston and Tony DiSpoto, video recorded 17 March 1983. Partial transcript published as “Kirby Speaks” in The Complete Jack Kirby 1940-1941 (Vol. 2), 1997. Segments published as “Jack Kirby Draws,” “Jack Kirby On The Lower East Side,” and “Jack Kirby At War” on the Kirby Museum’s YouTube channel, 20 October 2010, 8 May 2014 & 13 May 2014, respectively.
Ronald Levitt Lanyi, conducted 18 September 1976 in the Kirbys’ hotel room in the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA, during Bay Con Two. Transcript published as “Idea & Motive In Jack “King” Kirby’s Comic Books: A Conversation,” Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 17 #2, Fall 1983; later published as “Idea & Motive In Kirby’s Comics” in The Jack Kirby Collector #44, Fall 2005.
James Van Hise, transcript published as “Jack Kirby in The Golden Age” in Golden Age Of Comics #6, November 1983; later published in The Jack Kirby Collector #25, August 1999.
Peter Dodds, transcript excerpts published in “The Gods Themselves,” Amazing Heroes #47, May 1984.
Juanie Lane and Britt Wisenbaker, conducted 15 September 1984 in the Kirby home, Thousand Oaks, CA. Transcript published in Oasis magazine, Pepperdine University, 1984; later published as “Jack Kirby interview” in The Jack Kirby Collector #16, July 1997.
Ray Zone, video interview conducted 10 October 1984, broadcast on The Zone Show on 21 November 1984. Transcript published as “A Battle With The Camera” in The Jack Kirby Collector #45, Winter 2006.
unknown, audio taped response to fan questions. Transcript published as “Kirby on The New Gods” in The Jack Kirby Collector #24, April 1999.
James Van Hise, “Superheroes: The Language That Jack Kirby Wrote,” Comics Feature #34, March-April 1985.
John Hitchcock, video recorded by John Floyd at AcmeCon, Greensboro, NC, 1 June 1985.
Tom Heintjes, transcript published as “The Negotiations” in The Comics Journal #105, February 1986, later published as “I’m A Guy Who Never Gave Anybody Trouble” in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby, 2002
Great Comic Book Artists, video, 1985. Note: can’t find any reference to this.
Mark Borax, transcript published in Comics Interview #41, 1986; later published in Comics Interview Super Special: Masters of Marvel #1, 1989, and Comics Interview: The Complete Collection Volume X,
Mike Hodel, radio interview with Mark Evanier, Frank Miller, Steve Gerber, Arthur Byron Cover, broadcast live on Hour 25, Los Angeles, 17 February 1986; partial transcript published as “Hour Twenty-Five” in The Jack Kirby Collector #19, April 1998.
Mark Evanier with Marv Wolfman, conducted at the Kirby home in Thousand Oaks, transcript published as “The King And I” in Amazing Heroes #100, August 1986
Alain Carrazé, conducted July 1986. broadcast on Temps X, French TV, 27 October 1986.
Sam Enriquez with Daniel Perez, transcript first published as “Trailblazer Of Comic Strips Still Drawing On His Talents” in the Valley section of the Los Angeles Times on 29 November 1986. Later published in four further editions of the LA Times.
James Van Hise, transcript published as “Jack Kirby: Creator” in Comics Feature #50, December 1986.
Ken Viola, filmed interview conducted February, 1987. Included in the documentary The Masters of Comic Book Art, 1987. Transcript published as “Jack Kirby – The Master of Comic Book Art” in The Jack Kirby Collector #7, October 1995.
Greg Theakston, transcript published as “Jack Kirby, The King Of Comics,” Fungus Rodeo, 1987; later published as “1987 – Jack Kirby, The King Of Comics” on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center, June 2012.
Robert Knight, Warren Reece, and Max Schmid, live radio interview conducted 28 August 1987, broadcast on Earthwatch, WBAI, NY. Transcript published as “Jack Kirby and Stan Lee Radio Interview Earth Watch WBAI 1987” on Comic Book Collectors Club, 29 June 2012. Later published as “Kirby on WBAI Radio: 1987,” The Jack Kirby Collector #65, Spring 2015.
Ron Mann, video interview conducted at the Kirby’s Thousand Oaks, CA home, presented in documentary Comic Book Confidential, 1988.
Janet Bode, “A Comic Book Artist KO’d: Jack Kirby’s Six-Year Slugfest with Marvel,” Village Voice Vol 32 #49, 8 December 1987
Ben Schwartz, conducted 4 December 1987, transcript published in UCLA Daily Bruin. 22 January 1988; later published as “Jack Kirby Interview” in The Jack Kirby Collector #23, February 1999.
Greg Theakston, conducted at Pure Imagination Fun Fair, 29 May 1988. Partial video published as “Jack Kirby Discusses Captain America,” on the Kirby Museum’s YouTube channel, July 2009.
Jack Kirby, Self Portrait/Autobiography, National Cartoonist Society Album.
Gary Groth, conducted Summer 1989, transcript published as “Jack Kirby” in The Comics Journal #134, February 1990; later published as “I’ve Never Done Anything Half-Heartedly,” in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby, 2002, partial audio as “Jack Kirby, 1989” on The Comics Journal Library Interview CD Sampler, 2002 and on The Comics Journal website, May 2011.
Ray Wyman, Jr., conducted 24 July and 16 October 1989. transcribed and compiled into “Childhood Stories Part 1: The Block” published in The Jack Kirby Collector #45, Winter 2006.
Will Murray, transcribed and published as “Jack Kirby Remembers” in The Jack Kirby Collector $67,
Ray Wyman, Jr., conducted multiple interviews from 1989 to 1992, transcribed and compiled into “Jack Kirby On: Storytelling, Man, God, Nazis” published in The Jack Kirby Collector #26, November 1999.
Ray Wyman, Jr., conducted August 1989, 5 October 1989, and June 1992, transcribed and compiled into “Conversations With Jack: Roz & Jack (Part I) published in The Jack Kirby Collector #29, August 2000, and “Conversations With Jack: Roz & Jack (Part II)” in The Jack Kirby Collector #46, Summer 2006.
Paul Power, et al, panel discussion with Kirby, Mike Vosburg, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefield, Jim Starin and Jim Valentino at Fred Greenberg Los Angeles convention, transcript published as “For Love Or Money” in Comics Interview #90, 1991.
J. Michael Strazcynski and Larry DiTillio, radio interview conducted 13 April 1990, broadcast live on Mike Hodel’s Hour 25, KPFK FM, Los Angeles. Audio published as “Hour 25 1990” on the Kirby Museum’s YouTube channel, June 2012, Transcript published as “1990 April 13 – Jack Kirby Interview” on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center, June 2012. Later published as “Hour 25 Interview” in The Jack Kirby Collector #68, Summer 2016.
Paul Duncan, transcript published as “Jack Kirby” in ARK 33, 1990; later published as “The ARK Interview,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #61, Summer 2013.
Will Murray, excerpts published in “Project Captain America: Declassified,” Comics Scene #14, August 1990.
various, candid San Diego Comic-Con video appearance, 2-5 August 1990. Published as “JACK KIRBY!!!! SD Comic Con 1990” on ytshawzam’s YouTube channel, 31 May 2010.
Mark Voger, transcript excerpts published as “Comic Genius: The Faces Behind The Funnies – Jack Kirby” in Asbury Park Press, 21 September 1990
Brian Nelson, “Birth Of A Legend: Jack Kirby Talks About Captain America,” Marvel Age #95, December 1990.
Glenn Fleming, video interview, excerpts published in “The Tape” on the Kirby Museum’s YouTube channel, September 2008.
Claudio Piccinini, conducted at the Kirby’s home in Thousand Oaks, in August 1991 transcript published in Marvel Series Notiziario (MSN) (Italy), 1992 and later in Comics Interview #121, 1993.
Rick Green, television interview, broadcast on Prisoners of Gravity, TVOntario in January 1993. Transcript published as “Jack Kirby: Prisoner Of Gravity” in The Jack Kirby Collector #14, February 1997. Video?
Nikola Atchine, transcript published in Scarce #31 (France), Spring 1992.
Andrew Mayer with Randolph Hoppe, conducted 1992 August 14 in the Kirbys’ hotel room during San Diego Comic-Con for unpublished Mondo 2000 article. Transcript published as “Mondo Kirby” in The Jack Kirby Collector #21, October 1998. Audio published as “Mondo Kirby” on the Kirby Museum’s YouTube channel, June 2012. Transcript later published as “1992 August 14 – Jack Kirby interview” on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center, June 2012.
Mark Askwith, video interview conducted at 1992 San Diego Comic-Con. Excerpts broadcast on Prisoners of Gravity, TVOntario on 16 February 1994. Transcript published in 25th Annual San Diego Comic Convention program, 1994.
Previews #?, January 1993.
Donna Whitney?, conducted March 1993. Transcript published as “Interview With The Creators,” in Phantom Force #0, March 1994.
Blair Kramer, conducted via telephone with Roz Kirby, as well. Transcript published as “Interview with Jack Kirby” in Comic Book Collector #5, May 1993.
Mark Voger. transcript published as “Living Legend” in Comics Scene Yearbook #2, 1993.
Mark Voger, transcript published as “The Comeback King” in Asbury Park Press, 16 May 1993
various, appearance at Comics & Comix, Palo Alto, CA, videotaped 14 March 1993. Partial transcript published as “An Afternoon With Jack,” The Jack Kirby Collector #38, February 1997. Partial video published as “A Half Hour With Jack Kirby” on the Kirby Museum’s YouTube channel, August 2013.
Chrissie Harper, conducted via telephone on 10 June 1993. Transcript published in JKQ Newsletter, 14 June 1993, Later published as “Opening Shots” in Jack Kirby Quarterly #15, 2008.
Chrissie Harper, conducted via telephone on 28 July 1993. Transcript published as “An Exclusive Interview: Jack Kirby” in Jack Kirby Quarterly #1, 1993, Later published as “I Always Tried To Do My Best” in Jack Kirby Quarterly #15, 2008.
Charles Band?, video interview in Kirby’s studio in Thousand Oaks, CA. Published as “Jack Kirby Interview,” on Volume 5 of Charles Band’s Cinemaker DVD set, 2004, Monsters Gone Wild DVD, 2004, and via Full Moon Streaming.
Happening, November 1993.
“Jack Kirby Creates A Universe For Topps”, Comics Buyer’s Guide #1044, 19 November 1993.
Will Murray, excerpts published in “Secret City Secrets,” Comics Scene #34, 1993. Later published as “Los Secretos De La Ciudad Secreta” in Comics Scene #14 (Spain), 1993.
First published in 1971’s Comic & Crypt No. 5, this interview is presented here through the courtesy of Manny “Lunch” Maris – Rand
This interview was conducted on January 31st, 1971, in the offices of National Periodical Publications. We were fortunate in getting this interview which might never have taken place without the help of Emanuel Maris, John Shike, and Marc Bilgrey. Thanks very much.
The interview is more of a casual discussion, which is exactly what took place; just the four of us sitting in Carmine’s office talking with him and Jack Kirby. – Mark Sigal
Comic&Crypt: How did you both get your start in comics?
Carmine Infantino: I got into comics the same way Jack did; we were kids of the depression. Now you gentlemen don’t know the depression, or what it was about. It was a period when you starved; your family starved. There wasn’t enough food to go around. This was an outlet for us, a field open to us, and like those who went into prizefighting, we went into comics .
Jack Kirby: I feel the minority people had a lot of drive and went to entertainment or anywhere energy was involved.
C&C: Who did you start off with first?
Infantino: We both started off with Harry Chellan (Chesler – Rand) many years ago. He was a packager – used to package comics, and he used to cheat you like crazy. You were lucky to get paid at the end of the week. It was more fortunate then, as there was time to begin. Now you either have it or you don’t. But then there were always little outfits where you could begin, learn, and grow.
Kirby: Back then I worked for FAMOUS FUNNIES and I did cowboy stories for one of my earlier jobs. I also was with-
Infantino: Yeah! He started that way, and you got nothing for it, but you didn’t care. It was a chance to work, a chance to draw, and that’s all we cared about.
C&C: Were you in a group of independent artists who sold their stories to the publishers?
Infantino: No, I worked for Harry for a while; then I went to QUALITY erasing pages and doing backgrounds. Those were the days of Lou Fine and Reed Crandall on BLACKHAWK, and the genius Jack Cole started on PLASTIC MAN. I used to erase pages all summer just to get a break to start, and that was the beginning.
C&C: You seem to be best known for STRANGE and the FLASH. Which did you enjoy the most?
Infantino: To tell the truth, I did not like doing wssterns, or, strangely enough, the FLASH. As for STRANGE, I enjoyed him at first, but I really liked the ELONGATED NAN. I’m sure this goes for you too Jack; the ones you’re beet known for aren’t the ones you like best.
Kirby: The ones I began weren’t the well-known ones. I began MANHUNTER and MR. SCARLET, which just faded out. Every strip I did was a challenge, as I’m sure it was to Carmine, but I fell what Carmine is trying to say, is that he especially liked one thing but we couldn’t always do that. We did what they gave us to do.
Infantino: I could never do a sci-fi story the way he could.
C&C: But your speed concepts and futuristic cities were amazing.
Infantino: Did you see the ones he did?
C&C: But you’re two different types of artists. You can’t-
Infantino: This isn’t what I’m trying to say. This is not what I enjoyed the most. I enjoyed the ELONGATED MAN because of the satire in there. Well, let me say something. Back in the early days there was quite a lot wrong with my drawing and every once in a while I would go up to this fellow in the city. We’d talk and he’d help me. But the most important thing he helped me do was think, and I feel his was one of the best around. When I went up there, he used to stop his work and look at my stuff and give me suggestions. That person was Jack.
Kirby: Well I’m not going to take credit for that. Carmine was and is a fine artist, but back then Joe Simon and I used to have an apartment up there. All the guys got together and I think we helped each other actually. That was the main purpose back then as none of us had a school; we became each others’ school. There were things that Carmine knew that I didn’t. It was an exchange and that’s basically how artist’s learned back then. We took standards from each other.
C&C: Just what was your relationship with Joe Simon? How did it start?
Kirby: It started the same way all things did in the industry. Some guys gravitated to each other and Joe Simon and I met, liked each other, and decided to work together.
C&C: In a lot of your books, you started the sort of panel within a narrative. How did you get the idea for that?
Infantino: The reason that was done was because we wanted to get as much motion as possible going, so that when you put that little box in with the silhouette of the batter pulling his bat back; in the next panel you had the follow-through which kept ths flow of motion.
C&C: But how did you get the idea? was it a brainstorm of yours or what?
Infantino: Well, Julie Schwartz, the editor at the time, told me to go home and make this book look different.
C&C: Did you enjoy doing that particular series?
Infantino: Yes I did. Maybe it was the sports angle to it. I could design stadiums and futuristic basketball arenas, and the story line made you think. Every book was a challenge.
Kirby: I think you hit on the right gimmick. I feel that sports books are the toughest books to do. To do it in the first place is a challenge. To do it effectively was an achievement of some kind. I never had the opportunity to do it but I still feel that it would be a challenge.
Infantino: I must have pencilled a page a day on that stuff. That’s how rough it was because you had to make sure the action followed through. If you didn’t, the thing didn’t work. It looked terrible. The bat was back and on the next panel, the ball connected. Then the ball moved out. The thing I enjoyed most was when somebody said I want it different.
C&C: We’ve noticed that some comics are featuring covers by you. Do you ever feel like getting back to the drawing board?
Infantino: Jack, do you want to answer that for me?
Kirby: Well, I feel essentially Carmine will always have the urge as anyone involved in a creative activity does. I think it’s a matter of circumstances and if Carmine had the opportunity and the time…
C&C: What led you into becoming Editorial Director?
Infantino: An accident. I was drawing here. I think I was drawing the BATMAN and DEADMAN. It was during that story that the second guy at MARVEL was slaughtering NATIONAL. I think his name was Kirby or something, and the gentleman who happened to be in charge at the time asked me if I would care to stop in and help re-organize. We discussed it and I finally did. I thought it would be interesting.
C&C: Well you tried the new trend books. They failed but I had them all and I thought they had possibilities, especially BATLASH.
Infantino: In BATLASH what bothered me the most was that I wrote it. I plotted every one of them and Sergio took it from there and wrote them down. Then Denny would dialogue them later.
C&C: When a friend of mine met Mr. Weisinger, he was told by him not to go into comics; that it was a dying field. He told him rather to go into painting, and to get out of comics. (This was about five years ago – MS)
Kirby: You should have told him not I’m to knock anything he hasn’t tried.
C&C: Was that the type of attitude that was around then?
Infantino: No. I think it was a personal attitude.
C&C: Has the atmosphere changed? Are new ideas welcome?
Kirby: It’s a different company today. If a company feels that there is an essential need somewhere they get the right executive to fill that need. In othsr words, to expedite that need. You use that need to revitalize the company. Comics are in a transition, as far as I see it. I think this is the most interesting time for comics.
C&C: How long have you had the idea for the NEW GODS?
Kirby: Well, I guess for several years it’s probably been in the back of my mind, but I’ve never sat down and worked it out though I’ve always known it’s been there.
C&C: Do FOREVER PEOPLE come from the same place as the NEW GODS?
Kirby: Yes, but they don’t call the things you see the same things that I do. In other words, I would say great or swell, and you guys would say cool. It’s not New Genesis to them, it’s Supertown. That’s how they see it. There is, though, a lot more to it than that and I think you guys are going to find it pretty interesting.
C&C: According to the sales, the superhero book is on the rocks.
Kirby: I pay attention to the sales occasionally only because I plot the books, and sometimes the sales are my only link with the fans. I feel that the superhero surf is going somewhere. What I’m trying to do is follow its exact trail; that’s my job. I want to entertain you guys and find something new for you – if not just for you, for myself – the challenge of my job is to keep me from getting bored. I feel that if I would want to buy my own book, I have met that challenge.
C&C: The themes in NEW GODS and FOREVER PEOPLE are expansions of the old themes from MARVEL. It seems that you had more ideas, but they wouldn’t let you continue with them.
Kirby: That’s more or less true. It’s not that I was cramped, but there were limitations which stopped me from going on. Over here I have the chance to go beyond them; I feel. that whatever story there is to this “gods” business, the “new” Gods or the “old” Gods, I feel. that there is a story to them. I feel that there was an actual replacement of the “old” Gods by new ones which are relevant to what we see and hear. In other words, Thor may have been great in medieval times, but I feel, somehow, that we have transcended. Once it had a certain glamour, but now we need a new kind of glamour. Not that it isn’t fantastic, but we don’t see it in the same light anymore. I think we see things differently, the same things with an altered interpretation. You know what Thor looked like, what Mercury looked like, what Zeus looked like, and all the rest of them. It’s like everything that’s done and seen. What I’m trying to do is show the things that haven’t been done or seen.
Kirby: We have our “new” GOD today – technology. A new way at looking at things that I have got to represent. How do I represent that new technology? I’ve got Metron. How do I represent the kind of feelings we have today? Maybe some of us are analyzing ourselves, trying to find out why we’re a violent society and how we could be nonviolent, so we all become Orion. Why do these feelings live like that inside of us? Not only do we associate ourselves with them, but these are conflicts. But why do we have conflicts like that inside of us? So we try to analyze it, just like Orion does. That’s what the GODS are. They are just representations of ourselves. At that time, you take a crummy Viking, remove the glamour, and what the heck was he? Some poor guy in bear skins, who never took a bath. He had a beard with lice in it and he says: “Look at me, I’m a really cruddy object.” And I felt the same way. The GI’s feel the same way sometimes when they’re sitting in some hole but suddenly he says: “What the heck am I doing? What am I a symbol of?” And then he begins to idealize the version of all the bravery that goes into the fight. Maybe he begins to see himself as Thor and his captain as Odin. Then he sees what he’s fighting for. He sees why he’s in that hole, why he’s in the dirt, why he’s dressed in that stupid uniform. It’s not only functional – it’s symbolic of what he is; he comes into a whole new world and he feels pretty good about it. That’s what it’s all about. To make everything we see and know around and in us, and give it some meaning.
Kirby: And the GODS are nothing more than that. They are making us see some value in us and we have we have that value. So in order to express that value, we make “new” GODS. We can’t be Thor. We can’t be Odin, anymore. We’re not a bunch of guys running around in bear skins; we’re guys that wear spacesuits and surgeon’s masks. A surgeon is godlike because he handles life and death. If you want to idealize him that’s the way to do it. A nuclear physicist is Metron. A mathematician is Metron. A guy who works a projection booth in a theater is Metron. He’s involved in technology. We’re trying to know everything and we’ve got the equipment to do it. That’s where Metron’s chair comes in. It’s one of our gadgets. That damn chair can do anything!
C&C: There is so much meaning in the strip. I read it and I enjoyed it but I couldn’t place all these things into it, but it’s there.
Kirby: It’s there because I’m trying to interpret us. Nothing more than that. I’m trying to interpret what we’re in. What kind of times we live in. And we should have these versions. I can see this guy in a spacesuit. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to go to Mars. Maybe in ’75. Because we can do it. The materials are there. They’ll be common. And to put it all in one word that’s Metron. And New Genesis. You name it. That’s New York or Chicago; just an idealized version of that. It’s the city.
C&C: Did you ever mention this to MARVEL?
Kirby: No. I was involved in what I was doing there and I feel that this would never have fit into what they were doing. This is a whole new interpretation and it cannot be told with shields and swords; it must be done with what we know and deal with what we worry about.
Pictured above is Jack Kirby in the office of National’s publisher, Carmine Infantino, answering one of the many questions we asked him that afternoon.
Above is Carmine Infantino, the man responsible for the obtaining of Jack Kirby’s fine artistic services, and the man who put National into the position they are today.
This photograph is one of the inker of all of Jack Kirby’s books for National – Vince Colletta. He has recently been replaced by Mike Royer.
Hard at work, John Costanza is lettering one of Jack Kirby’s books. John has left National and has gone to Marvel and Mike Royer now does the lettering on the books.
C&C: So was THOR; when it came out as a mythology in the olden times it was relevant and real to the people then, because people were using the same things: swords, shields, etc.
Kirby: Yes, THOR was very real to the guy in the middle ages and not only that if you think about it; THOR was a religion as well. THOR is not a comic book story – Norse mythology was a religion, just as Greek mythology was. I was being superficial when I did THOR and if I showed it to a guy who was really involved with it he would tell me it wasn’t good enough.
Kirby: Suppose I was to make an interpretation of things you really believed in. It would be weak because those things are on such a grandiose scale, I can’t draw them.
C&C: Who would you classify as your favorite artist?
Kirby: Well, I like them all, especially if they have their own distinct style. Neal Adams is one, Steve Ditko is another.
C&C: And your favorite comic work being done now?
Kirby: I like anything that is trying to do something different. Anything that tries to put new life into the strip, or upgrade the medium is doing a good job.
C&C: Who thought of the Black & White books?
Kirby: I don’t know how these things start. They start with everybody. It might have been in your mind, too!
Infantino: No. It was in yours. It is a completely new approach to the visual medium. It will be composed of photographs, drawings, and writing. It’s very different.
C&C: Isn’t it something like Gil Kane’s BLACK MARK book?
Infantino: Nothing like that at all! This will be large-sized book – with black and white material.
C&C: How big are you going on this? About 150,000?
Infantino: No. Much more,
C&C: That is what happened to SAVAGE TALES. They only printed 150,000 had they were hard to get. Neal Adams told me that MARVEL dished out quite a bit of money because they were trying for a quality effect. They spent $6,000 instead of the usual $3,000. I don’t know if it’s true or not.
Infantino: I’m going to tell you to look at Jack’s books and make up your own mind.
C&C: With the BLACK & WHITE books, are you trying for an adult market?
Kirby: I am trying for a universal market. It’s going to be rational for the adults and exciting for the kids. In other words, if an adult picks it up and he analyzes it as an adult should, he might find it interesting whereas the kids will have the costumes, the action, the strange atmosphere which I think every strip needs. Fantasy is interesting because it is a projection, an idealized version of everything we see and hear. I think that is what makes it interesting. For instance, if you see a tank I’ve drawn, or a car, it could never work, but it’s an interesting looking object. If you want to analyze my machines, they may be nothing more than a fantastic typewriter or a pencil sharpener.
Infantino: This is the beginning for comics. Only comics not as you know them. This is a whole new world; that’s why I’m here. That’s why Jack is here. On June 15th, the first book we were talking about comes out. July 15, the second will be coming out. We’re doing our own thing. Jack wouldn’t be here if we were doing what everyone else is doing.
C&C: Some comics, like SUPERBOY don’t have the same flexibility, or even attempt it. As long as they sell.
Kirby: They are not made for a universal market. They are not aiming for my market.
Infantino: First of all, the SUPERBOY and LOIS LANE books. LOIS LANE is made for the “girl” market. SUPERBOY is the same thing. It’s at another level, though. You don’t mesa around with a book like SUPERBOY, which is selling over 500,000. That’s not saying what will do tomorrow. I don’t know. Jack will develop his own line of books. It will have Jack’s stamp. We have some other stamps. You’ll buy these or you won’t. But to turn out one stamp in a company I can’t feel is very good.
C&C: Did you like Gray Morrow on EL DIABLO?
Infantino: No, I did not like his artwork. I told him I didn’t. That does not mean that Gray is not a talented man. I thought that Gray should be on other things that he could do well.
C&C: What did you think of his work on WITCHING HOUR?
Infantino: Beautiful. That’s Gray’s field.
C&C: Are you considering making the new books monthly?
Infantino: I don’t know. If Jack’s books turn monthly, can Jack do all of the work by himself? I’m not going to ruin him. I’m not going to spread this guy so far that it’ll destroy him. And I won’t let anybody else do his characters. Nobody touches his characters! He knows what he’s doing with them.
Kirby: SILVER SURFER was taken out of my hands. I originated it because I had a reason for the SILVER SURFER. Nobody else had a reason for him; I knew the SILVER SURFER. Nobody else did.
Infantino: Jimmy Steranko was offered the FANTASTIC FOUR but he turned it down. He said he wouldn’t presume to follow Kirby.
C&C: Let’s say in ten years from now the same thing happens at NATIONAL that happened at MARVEL, where your books are selling very well and all of a sudden Jack Kirby says he wants to retire.
Infantino: Then I wouldn’t presume to do those books, because nobody could do them as well.
C&C: You’d drop them?
Infantino: Yes. Wouldn’t it be better for us to drop them then for the books to die themselves?
C&C: How could somebody like MARVEL drop the FANTASTIC FOUR?
Infantino: It’s going to die anyway.
C&C: I know.
Infantino: Would you rather die at your zenith or at your low end? Fir>st of all, he’s not going to retire in ten years anyway; I wouldn’t let him.
Kirby: Second of all, I think that even if I did retire, the comics would continue with the same feeling.
Infantino: He is planning to develop people for these books in case the need comes. He wants people developed to follow his thinking.
C&C: Who got the idea for the Neal Adams GREEN LANTERN book? The sales are dropping. I know they went up and now they’re dropping a little bit. I don’t know how true it is.
Infantino: Who said that?
C&C: Neal Adams. I heard that you are keeping it for prestige. I’d like to know how it got started.
Infantino: The GREEN LANTERN was ready to be turned out when we were told to drop it. Even though I wanted a few more issues. I said to Julie: “There’s something you wanted to try.” I want this book as different as you could possibly make it. We sat down with Denny and came out with it. The book was slowly rising. It went real high at one point. Then it sagged off again. If this book can give to us the public relations, if it can take this business and give us the solid citizen reputation it should have not been considered junk, as it used to be. It will be worth everything we are putting into it.
C&C: Now about your latest race between Superman and the Flash. In all your comics, the final page is the one that decides whom is the fastest. Now I’m not really interested in who is faster. But why did you cop out again in the ending? I bought both issues and after reading the second book I ripped it up.
C&C: Because I found Flash and Superman crawling with both their legs broken, and yet Flash crawled faster than Superman, and pulled the lever that saved the universe. Which proved that Flash can crawl faster than Superman. Why the cop out?
Infantino: Wait. Let me tell you something. Let’s be very realistic. Superman is the ultimate of everything. Now ask yourselves, logically, who could win? Well that’s just it. We don’t know Superman’s limits. He just never’ gets tired. By the way, I thought it was a cute ending: these two guys are so beaten up, yet the race was the important thing, and the Flash did win. There’a no doubt about it.
C&C: On the cover you stated in one blurb this time there had to be a winner.
Infantino: But there was a winner, wasn’t there? I thought this one was the best of the series and honest. Now maybe I’m wrong. That’s why Jack’s here. Denny, Julie, and him. There are some concepts coming with more edge than SUPERMAN that you won’t believe. We can’t give out the information just yet. It’s going to be a thing he’s always wanted to do in the comic business.
C&C: Well, it’s getting late and we’ve taken up enough of your time, and besides we’ve run out of questions to ask you.
Infantino: It’s been strictly our pleasure.
C&C: Thanks very much to both of you.
Due to the fact that this interview was conducted over six months ago, some of the material has become dated, but was still included because we felt that it reflected Jack Kirby’s and Carmine Infantino’s opinions and would prove interesting to the fans.
Leonard Pitts, Jr., a commentator, journalist, and novelist, interviewed Jack Kirby in 1986 or 1987 for a book titled “Conversations With The Comic Book Creators”. A transcript of the interview was included in the papers that Greg Theakston gifted to the Museum a few years ago. A nationally-syndicated columnist, Pitts was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2004. Thank you, Leonard, for allowing this interview to be presented on the Kirby Effect. – Rand
PITTS: Let’s start with a little background-the “origin” of Jack Kirby.
KIRBY: I was born on the Lower East Side of New York. It was a restricted area in the sense that it was an ethnic area. And it was at a time when the immigrants were still coming in and they settled in certain parts of New York City, among their own kind.
We had blocks of Italians and blocks of Irish and blocks of Jews. I was born among the blocks of Jews. Strangely enough, our school curriculum was very good and our subject matter was very good. We had fine teachers. And so, despite the fact that we’d be running loose, just doing what we liked, like any other kids– playing stickball or baseball or boxing somewhere– we had a fine schooling. I had Shakespeare in the eighth grade. I had a really good history course.
I can’t say I was great in math (laughter), but in a very strange sense, my schooling was very good–all through junior high and high school and elementary. Later on, I even went to industrial school, because I understood that they had drawing tables there and I wanted to practice drawing.
PITTS: What years are we talking about?
KIRBY: We’re talking about the middle ’30s. I was born in 1917. I’m a first world war baby and I was brought up with two wing airplanes… the Empire State Building wasn’t there yet, the Chrysler building wasn’t there when I was born, and Von Richthofen was the guy they were all talking about… flying aces and pulp magazines.
The strange fact was that, on my block, we hadn’t even gotten to the pulp magazines. I found my first pulp magazine floating down the gutter on a rainy day toward the sewer and I picked it up because it had a strange looking object on it. It turned out to be a rocket ship. It was one of the first Hugo Gernsback Wonder Stories.
I didn’t dare to be seen with it, so I just picked it up and hid it under my arm, took it home and I began reading it and I learned to love science fiction.
PITTS: That was your first exposure to sci-fi?
KIRBY: Yes. I wouldn’t say it was an intellectual explosion. I’m still bad in math. I’m a lousy electrician– I couldn’t fix a plug. But I am interested in the other side of knowledge, the cultural side of knowledge and the truthful side of knowledge. I’m looking for the gaps that I know exist and of course, I’ll never get the answers, like everybody else. So I feel I live with very interesting questions.
PITTS: It’s more fun living with the questions for you, I gather.
KIRBY: Well, the questions are the things that make good stories, in my opinion.
PITTS: Getting back to your early years, it must have been tough, coming up in an already-poor neighborhood during the Depression.
KIRBY: And I also made another mistake.
PITTS: What was that?
KIRBY: Being born short.
PITTS: Why was that a mistake?
KIRBY: On the East Side that was a mistake because, well, the big guys beat up on the little guys. But I made up for it, as much as I could, in meanness. And of course, that’s very stimulating.
I was still being brought up on peasant stories; my mother came from Europe and she’d been a peasant and that was the area where the Frankensteins and the Draculas came from and it was entertainment for the people. Nobody had TV, and that was the way peasants would entertain themselves– by telling these stories.
PITTS: Was that your main form of entertainment?
KIRBY: My main form of entertainment was the early movies, in which I could see a Cagney, or a Edward G. Robinson or the Marx Brothers– all those old films, which I loved. My mother would have to come get me out of the theatre after the seventh performance.
I like entertainment. I’m an innate admirer of good entertainment. I’ll listen to MTV, I’ll listen to Mozart, I’ll listen to anything that has a good element in it. You know as well as I do that any kind of music can be written badly and it can be written wonderfully. I admire a top performer in any field.
I once drove a beat-up-Chevy, which was given to me by a garage man because he was fixing my car. And that beat-up Chevy was the best car I ever drove, because his son loved engines and he was an artist with an engine. There was nothing, absolutely, wrong with that car except a few dents. It was a joy driving that car, because whatever he did to that engine would transmit itself to the wheel and I could feel that, and I enjoyed it. That fella was an artist in his own right, and he didn’t have to play a note on a flute. An artist, to me, is someone– a professional– who does his work well.
PITTS: There was not a lot of money rolling around your neighborhood, so I guess any entertainment you got could not be too expensive.
KIRBY: I can tell you that I fought my old man for a copy of a quarterly Wonder Stories, which I never got, ’cause it cost 50 cents. I later bought that magazine. Maybe 30 years later, I bought that same magazine for 5 dollars. By chance I came across it in a bookstore. That was the issue I’d wanted, and I’d missed it.
ROZ KIRBY: As a youth, you were working, selling papers and all that stuff…
KIRBY: I admired all the Sunday papers. I admired the comics, because the comics were large and they were colored beautifully and they held an attraction for me. Possibly, that may be the reason I gravitated toward them, like a lot of fans gravitate toward comics today. I get letters from brain surgeons and I get letters from guys in drunk tanks; they all admire comics. That runs a large gamut.
ROZ KIRBY: [TO KIRBY] I think he wants to know what you did in those days to make a dollar.
KIRBY: What I did in those days to make a dollar? Nothing. I played handball, until, at the age of 17, it was traditional for your mother to roll you out of bed and tell you to get a job.
ROZ: [TO KIRBY] Didn’t you help your father with the pushcart? You did a lot of those things.
KIRBY: Oh, yes, I delivered papers. I could go through the whole routine. I drew numbers on paper bags so they could be put on pushcarts– “Onions-10¢ a pound” or something like that. I delivered paper and, being the smallest guy there, when they threw the papers off the truck at the news building, all the big guys would step right over me and get their papers first.
PITTS: That’s the second time you’ve mentioned being a smaller guy and implied something about having to be tough. Did you fancy yourself a scrapper?
KIRBY: Yea. I would wait behind a brick wall for three guys to pass and I’d beat the crap out of them and run like hell. I refined the meanness to help my own ego. I think everybody needs a little ego. I felt that I deserved an ego as well as the next guy. That’s why I also gravitated toward the gym. I was a very good boxer. I was a good wrestler. When I was drafted in the Army, out of a class of 27, just me and another fellow graduated from a judo class.
PITTS: Superman came out when you were in your early teens– your adolescence. Were you at all aware of him at the time?
KIRBY: Everybody was. Superman was an immediate hit. From what I understand, these two messenger boys came in from Ohio and they submitted this 10-page script called Superman. In order to fit it in the magazine, they cut it down to six, and they put the magazine out and the magazine sold out. They didn’t know what sold the magazine out, so they put out another issue and included Superman and the magazine sold out. That went on for three issues, until they found out it was Superman that was doing it. Superman was the psychological backbone for a lot of fellows who couldn’t make it– or felt they couldn’t make it.
PITTS: What did you think of it? Did it encourage you to become involved with comics?
KIRBY: Yes, of course. It galvanized me.
My first job was with Max Fleischer, the Fleischer Studios, animating Popeye. I was about 18. And of course, that meant working at a light table. There were rows and rows of tables, and that began to look like my father’s garment factory. I felt, that’s not what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to work in that kind of place– although it was a very nice place, the executives were fine people. And. of course, the Fleischer Studios were noted for their wonderful animation and Popeye speaks for himself. Their animation speaks for itself. But it wasn’t my kind of thing.
Then I went to a small syndicate called the Lincoln Features syndicate. They had 700 weekly papers, and I had the opportunity to do editorial cartoons, sports cartoons. I did a thing called “Your Health Comes First”, in which I was a doctor and I gathered information on how to cure your colds and what to do for the vapors. Of course, I didn’t do anything that was critical in any way. I don’t think I was knowledgeable enough. I just stuck to the things I knew, and I got as much information on them as I could.
I did a cartoon on Neville Chamberlain when England and the Allies gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler. Having been raised in a gangster area, and knowing gangsters as I did, I knew Hitler. And so, I did a cartoon in which I showed Chamberlain patting this big boa constrictor on the head, and there was a bulge in the center of the boa constrictor, which I labeled Czechoslovakia.
I got bawled out for that. My boss said, “You’re only 19 years old. You don’t know much about politics and these things.” And I said, “That’s true. But I do know a lot about gangsters. And I do know a lot about politicians because I’ve seen them in my friend’s restaurant.” I said, “I feel I can do editorial cartoons fairly well.” He said, “Spring is coming up– why don’t you stick to baseball and spring training?” And of course, I did. I didn’t want to have any large contention with my boss and, times being as they were, I did as I was told.
PITTS: Before we talk about the next step in your career, let’s back up a little and talk about your training.
KIRBY: I went to Industrial school. I had to take auto mechanics in the morning and art in the afternoon. This was after I graduated high school. I understood they had drawing desks there and they had art materials. That was fine for me, because that was what I was looking for. It wasn’t an extensive art course, but I’m glad, because it allowed me to do what I thought was right in my own way. I began to evolve my own style, with the smattering of anatomy that I got.
So, in the morning, I had to haul trucks out of the East River with the other fellas. Then in the afternoon, I took an art course– such as it was.
PITTS: So you were already fascinated by art even before you got to school.
KIRBY: Yes I was. I liked art. I liked good illustrations. They got me praise, they got me trouble. I suppose that’s life.
I belonged to the Boy’s Brotherhood Republic. It still exists today. We had our own mayor. A fella called Harry Slonaker, he came from the Midwest, where they had a BBR. And he organized a BBR there. He got us our own building, and we took care of our own gym, we had our own mayor, we had our own judge and prosecuting attorney. If anyone defiled the building, he went on trial. I became the editor in chief.
And of course, naturally, we began to act out our own opinion of ourselves. We copied the people we saw in the movies, so when a fella came down for trial, they came down with eight lawyers and an overcoat hanging over his shoulder like Edward G. Robinson. That was a lot of fun.
Our athletics consisted of playing football without equipment. That’s where we got bruised up, because we would play teams that did have equipment. It was in that kind of atmosphere that I was brought up. I idolized my mother and father. Everybody else did. You’ll find that the gangsters did. Mothers were sacred.
PITTS: You keep mentioning the gangsters. Were they the heroes of a poor neighborhood like yours?
KIRBY: No. They weren’t the heroes. The gangsters were just guys who wanted the $400 suits, and they wanted them now. I didn’t care when I got mine. I didn’t care what I wore. The gangsters– contrary to people’s opinions– were just ordinary guys who died very young getting their $400 suits. They were guys who wanted money fast, and they paid for it.
PITTS: Are we talking about any of the “name” gangsters?
KIRBY: Yes, there were big-name gangsters. Murder, Inc. came out of my area. A lot of other gangs. There were shootings every Friday night in the candy store. I once got locked in a wooden telephone booth. Fifteen guys began to kick the booth and kick the door down; I was a nine year old kid and scared stiff, but they did it for kicks.
Around the East Side , there wasn’t too much to do, and you had to find something to do. These fellows developed rough games and they lived a rough life and they died in a rough manner.
PITTS: What happened for you careerwise after the Fleischer studios?
KIRBY: Comics is strictly an American invention. The first comic, I believe, was an editorial cartoon done by Benjamin Franklin who had a contention with a businessman. If you add two or three panels to an editorial cartoon, you’ll get a comic strip. In 1903, I think, they had the Yellow Kid which was the first American comic strip. If you add pages onto that, you get a comic book.
PITTS: When was it that you created Captain America?
KIRBY: Captain America actually came in late ’39. I originated Captain America with Joe Simon. Joe Simon and I got a studio apartment and we were turning out comics. Joe is a big guy; he was a middle class guy, and I had never seen middle class guys. They all wore great suits and were taller than I was. I gravitated to Joe, who is a wonderful guy and a good friend, and he had a rapport with the publishers. Joe did the business, actually, for us both. I did the stories and the pencils. Joe was just as good at it as I was– he could pencil and ink and write stories, as well. We were both creating things to sell to publishers and Captain America was one of them. We sold Captain America to Atlas, which later became Marvel.
PITTS: Let me just toss out the names of some of your most famous characters and, if you would, just give me an idea of what thought process went into creating them. Let’s start with Cap.
KIRBY: Captain America was myself. Captain America was my own anger coming to the surface and saying, “What if I could fight 25 guys? How would I do it?” And I figured it out and it would become sort of a ballet, in which Captain America would fight 25 guys and I’d work it out so he could lick ’em all. Of course, in real life, I’d probably get smeared. In real life, it doesn’t work out that way. You can’t keep track of everybody and you don’t know what the next guy ia doing, but over here, I could.
What I did, was an artistic punch-out. That kind of thing was very popular then. I didn’t realize it until I was told about the sales figures.
PITTS: I have heard that you haven’t always been particularly pleased with the way the character has been handled since you created him. I’m thinking specifically of the storyline Steve Englehart did in the ’70s, wherein Steve Rogers was disillusioned by government corruption and gave up his Captain America identity.
KIRBY: Well… I haven’t kept in touch with comics for a long time. I leave Englehart’s version to Englehart. I respect Englehart– Englehart is an individual and I feel every individual should do his own version. Englehart isn’t Jack Kirby. Englehart hasn’t got my background, Englehart hasn’t got my feelings. And so, of course, I’m going to do a different version of Captain America. Englehart will do his own.
I always felt my job was selling magazines, which I did. I put all the ingredients that I thought would sell that magazine, and they sold. Captain America sold 900 thousand a month at one time. Of course, I don’t know what it’s selling today.
Pitts: So, you’re saying you’ve never had any problems with any of the different versions of your characters?
KIRBY: No. I respect the individual. If that’s the way he sees it, he’s got the right to call it, because he’s hired to do it.
Pitts: Let’s talk about the Boy Commandos.
KIRBY: The Commandos were my own friends, my own street gang. Except that at that time, I felt it was timely to make them Europeans because that was what was going on. It was a timely subject. They had commandos at that time. They were small bands against great armies and I respected them. I felt they were a reflection of my own gang. Us against the world. Us against the guys on the next block.
I was the first one to introduce kid gangs in comics, because that’s the way kids are. They’ll hang around in groups and they’ll exclude who they want and they’ll include who they want. It’s the kind of atmosphere I was brought up in and it hadn’t been done in comics. They sold very well. The Newsboy Legion was the same kind of comic strip. They were my own friends. And of course, we all called each other nicknames; we all had nicknames– Spike and Mike, Slink.
PITTS: You weren’t cool without a nickname.
KIRBY: Oh, sure. I was the only one who didn’t; they called me Jackie. But that was the way things were, and I accepted it. I think in a way, it was a good thing. Although different ethnic groups fought each other, we got to know each other. We got to know each other in the classrooms, we got to know each other in the subway.
An Italian woman came over to me and asked directions. And of course, without any knowledge of Italian, I couldn’t tell her. But in a way, I treated her like my own mother. I felt that mothers are wonderful and it didn’t matter what ethnic group they belonged to. I felt if they were the mothers of these boys, there was no reason I couldn’t be friends with them.
PITTS: Let’s skip ahead ·and talk about your time at Marvel in the ’60s. I’d like to get your version of the famous tale of t he creation of the Fantastic Four.
KIRBY: My version is simple: I saved Marvel’s ass. When I came up to Marvel, it was closing that same afternoon, Stan Lee had his head on the desk and was crying. It all looked very dramatic to me, but I needed the job. I was a guy with a wife and three kids and a house, and I wanted to keep it. And so, having no rapport with Martin Goodman, who was the publisher– Stan Lee was his cousin– I told Stan Lee that we could keep the place going. And I told him to try to tell Martin to keep it going, because we could possibly revive it.
It was a bad time. It was a time when major publishers were folding and comics in general suffered bad press. It was a time when the public itself was being anti-comics-ized by people like Frederic Wertham and the movies. It was an unregulated industry. Finally, we did get a board to regulate the industry and put down rules; we formulated an atmosphere of legitimacy, but that had to take time and meanwhile, the comics were folding right and left.
Of course, Marvel had magazines and didn’t need comics, so they were ready to fold. They had other things to rely on. I began with doing monster stories and westerns; I did my best on the Rawhide Kid, and I did my best on the monster stories. This was in ’59. Joe and I had our own publishing company which we dissolved; Joe went to work for one of the Rockefellers and I went back to Marvel. Comics was the only thing I knew, really, and could do well.
They had nothing for me at that time except those particular strips, which were just going on momentum. So, I began to galvanize those strips and they began to sell a little better, but it wasn’t enough to keep the company going. And it suddenly struck me that the thing that hadn’t been done since the days I returned from the service was the superheroes. And so, I came up with Spider-Man. I got it from a strip called the Silver Spider. And I presented Spider-Man to Stan Lee and I presented the Hulk to Stanley. I did a story called “The Hulk”– a small feature, and it was quite different from the Hulk that we know. But I felt that the Hulk had possibilities, and I took this little character from the small feature and I transformed it into the Hulk that we know today.
Of course, I was experimenting with it. I thought the Hulk might be a good-looking Frankenstein. I felt there’s a Frankenstein in all of us; I’ve seen it demonstrated. And I felt that the Hulk had the elem of truth in it, and anything to me with the element of truth is valid and the reader relates to that. And if you dramatize it, the reader will enjoy it.
Sleaziness and reality, you can walk out in the street anywhere and get that. But to get good, dramatized entertainment was very rare. What I did was. take what I know and dramatize it.
PITTS: So, you’re saying the idea for these characters– the F.F., for instance– was yours?
KIRBY: The idea for the F.F. was my idea. My own anger against radiation. Radiation was the big subject at that time, because we still don’t know what radiation can do to people. It can be beneficial, it can be very harmful. In the case of Ben Grimm, Ben Grimm was a college man, he was a World War II flyer. He was everything that was good in America. And radiation made a monster out of him–made an angry monster out of him, because of his own frustration.
If you had to see yourself in the mirror, and the Thing looked back at you, you’d feel frustrated. Let’s say you’d feel alienated from the rest of the species. Of course, radiation had the effect on all of the F.F.– the girl became invisible, Reed became very plastic. And of course, the Human Torch, which was created by Carl Burgos, was thrown in for good measure, to help the entertainment value.
I began to evolve the F.F. I made the Thing a little pimply at first, and I felt that the pimples were a little ugly, so I changed him to a different pattern and that pattern became more popular, so I kept it that way and the Thing has been that way ever since. The element of truth in the Fantastic Four is the radiation– not the characters. And that’s what people relate to, and that’s what we all fight about today.
PITTS: You think people relate more to the radiation aspect than to the characters?
KIRBY: No… Now, they relate to the characters because time has passed and the characters are important.
PITTS: You say you created Spider-Man. How different was your initial concept from the Spider-Man we all know?
KIRBY: My initial concept was practically the same. But the credit for developing Spider-Man goes to Steve Ditko; he wrote it and he drew it and he refined it. Steve Ditko is a thorough professional. And he an intellect. Personality wise, he’s a bit withdrawn, but there are lots of people like that. But Steve Ditko, despite the fact that he doesn’t disco– although he may now; I haven’t seen him for a long time– Steve developed Spider-Man and made a salable item out of it.
There are many others who take credit for it, but Steve Ditko, it was entirely in his hands. I can tell you that Stan Lee had other duties besides writing Spider-Man or developing Spider-Man or even thinking about it.
PITTS: So, you’re saying you had the original idea and presented it to Ditko?
KIRBY: I didn’t present it to Ditko. I presented everything to Stan Lee. I drew up the costume, I gave him the character and I put it in the hands of Marvel. By giving it to Stan Lee, I put it in the hands of Marvel, because Stan Lee had contact with the publisher. I didn’t. Stan Lee gave it to Steve Ditko because I was doing everything else, until Johnny Romita came in to take up some of the slack. There were very few people up at Marvel; Artie Simek did all the lettering and production.
PITTS: Now, Stan has said many times that he conceived Spider-Man and gave it to you and that he turned down the version you came up with because it was too “heroic” and “larger than life”-looking for what he had in mind.
KIRBY: That’s a contradiction and a blatant untruth.
PITTS: What input, then, did Stan Lee have in creating Spider-Man and these other characters?
KIRBY: Stan Lee had never created anything up to that moment. And here was Marvel with characters like the Sub-Mariner, which they never used. Stan Lee didn’t create that; that was created by Bill Everett. Stan Lee didn’t create the Human Torch; that was created by Carl Burgos. It was the artists that were creating everything. Stan Lee– I don’t know if he had other duties… or whatever he did there…
ROZ: Maybe we shouldn’t get into… too much characterization. I mean–
KIRBY: What I’m trying to do is give the atmosphere up at Marvel. I’m not trying to attack Stan Lee. I’m not trying to put any onus on Stan Lee. All I’m saying is; Stan Lee was a busy man with other duties who couldn’t possibly have the time to suddenly create all these ideas that he’s said he created. And I can tell you that he never wrote the stories– although he wouldn’t allow us to write the dialogue in the balloons. He didn’t write my stories.
PITTS: You plotted and he did the dialogue?
KIRBY: You can call it plotted. I call it script. I wrote the script and I drew the story. I mean, there was nothing on the first or second page that Stan Lee ever knew would go there. But I knew what would go there. I knew how to begin the story. I wrote it in my house. Nobody was there around to tell me. I worked strictly in my house; I always did. I worked in a small basement in Long Island.
PITTS: Okay, take me through a typical Lee-Kirby comic. Say, from start to finish, an issue of the F.F.
KIRBY: Okay, I’ll give it to you in very short terms: I told Stan Lee what I wrote and what he was gonna get and Stan Lee accepted it, because Stan Lee knew my reputation. By that time, I had created or helped create so many different other features that Stan Lee had infinite confidence in what I was doing.
Actually, we were pretty good friends. I know Stan Lee better than probably any other person. I know Stan Lee as a person… I never was angry with him in any way. He was never angry with me in any way. We went to the cartoonists’ society together.
Watching Marvel grow was beneficial for both our egos. They wanted to discontinue the Hulk after the third issue and the day they wanted to discontinue it, some college fellas came up from either NYU or Columbia– I forget which college it was– and they had a petition of 200 names and they said the Hulk was the mascot of the dormitory. I didn’t realize up to that moment that we had the college crowd.
PITTS: You’re given credit; both you and Stan, for the first “human” heroes. Where did that concept come from?
KIRBY: What do you mean, the first human heroes?
PITTS: The first heroes that argued amongst themselves, the first heroes where the characterization was more or less believable as opposed to the flawless Superman type.
KIRBY: That was my idea. Strictly my idea. I felt that that was the truth. I had done the same thing for DC. I did a thing called Mile-A-Minute Jones where this black American Ranger had met up with this German SS man. They had been in the 1936 Olympics and nobody knew who won their race because it was a draw. In the story, they act like two friends who had met after a period of years when they suddenly realize that they’re on opposite sides and that to complete their mission, one would have to kill the other. And so, they run along this engineer’s tape–and as they chase each other, it becomes the race all over again. And the element of truth is there.
These two men, although they’re enemies, were once friends. Each one is a patriot for their own country (but) they’re still friends in a past-tense. And of course, that’s a contradiction too, and yet here they are with these feelings. The German runs on the wrong aide of the tape and gets blown up. Mile-A-Minute Jones completes his mission and is taken away by airplane but as he looks down and he knows the German is dead down there, lying in the field, he knows he’ll never know who won that race. It’s a dramatic story of mine… I got a lot of response on it, and yet it’s a very real story, because I myself talked to the S.S. men; and they were people.
ROZ: [TO KIRBY] Honey, what he’s trying to point out is the relationships – like the Fantastic Four… they became more humanized, more complex.
KIRBY: Well of course, I did all the stories. I created all the stories.
PITTS: Okay, but where did you get the inspiration to do–
KIRBY: Because I wanted to do a satire of Stan and I getting thrown out of a wedding, so I got Reed and Sue married. I love satire. I did Fighting American and had a wonderful time with it. So I felt, Stan Lee and I were good friends, it would be·fun to have us thrown out of a wedding.
ROZ: [TO KIRBY] But even at the beginning, you had the Fantastic Four, they were always arguing about–
KIRBY: Yeah. The Thing had problems…
PITTS: Johnny was immature, Reed was a stuffed shirt–
KIRBY: Yes. They were people to me. I write from a people’s point of view. I love people because I understand them. I understand an enemy, I understand a friend, I understand grey areas, and I understand black areas. I understand when it’s you or me and I understand when it’s you and me. I’m a fellow who was raised in that kind of atmosphere, and it will reflect in the kinds of stories that I write.
PITTS: Are there any other Marvel flagship characters that you feel you created and didn’t get the credit for?
KIRBY: Yes, I created the Young Allies.
PITTS: No, I’m talking about the Marvel Age heroes… the X-Men, the Avengers…
KIRBY: All of them. All of them came from my basement. The Avengers, Daredevil, the X-Men… all of them. The X-Men, I did the natural thing there. What would you do with mutants who were just plain boys and girls and certainly not dangerous? You school them. You develop their skills. So I gave them a teacher, Professor X.
Of course, it was the natural thing to do, instead of disorienting or alienating people who were different from us, I made the X-Men part of the human race, which they were. Possibly, radiation, if it is beneficial, may create mutants that’ll save us instead of doing us harm. I felt that if we train the mutants our way, they’ll help us– and not only help us, but achieve a measure of growth in their own sense. And so, we could all live together.
PITTS: You obviously feel that you haven’t gotten the credit that’s due you for the contributions you’ve made. How does that fact set with you?
KIRBY: Well, it’s painful. They’ve kept my pages from me. I have people coming up who want pages signed… a little boy’ll come up with a page of mine that I know is stolen art and I haven’t got the heart not to sign it, so I sign it.
ROZ: What’s painful is that he’s never received his due after helping create Marvel.
PITTS: Yes, that’s what I’m trying to get at.
KIRBY: I’m not interested in the ego trip of creating or not creating. I’m interested in selling a magazine. Rock-bottom, I sell magazines. I’m a thorough professional who does his job. In the Army, I remember, Stan Lee was in the photographic division. They gave him a whole movie studio– this is the story he told me. And Stan Lee didn’t produce one picture. I would’ve produced five. It’s the will to create that tells the truth.
ROZ: [TO KIRBY] What he’s trying to bring out is… we are hurt about how Marvel treated you.
KIRBY: Well, yes, I am hurt because up at Marvel, I’m a non-person. They say Stan Lee created everything. And of course, Stan Lee didn’t. And Ditko is hurt; Ditko never got his due. The fellas who did make all the sales for the magazines were never given credit for them. They were abused in one way or another. I can tell you that that’s painful. You live with that. You live with that all your life. I have to live with the fact of all those lies, which are being done for pure hype.
The people at Marvel (now) weren’t there at that period. The new kids weren’t there. The new kids didn’t feel that desperation– never felt any desperation. In a way, they don’t care. Why should they? They have their lives ahead of them. Nobody will get involved or go on crusades. “Truth, justice and the American way” is just a childish slogan to a lot of people. But I can tell you that a lot of guys died for it. Superman created an attitude that helped many Americans in a very bad spot.
PITTS: If you were that unhappy with Marvel, why did you stay there until over 8 years after the creation of the F.F.?
ROZ: During the time with Marvel, the Fantastic Four, he was making a living. He was building a family, making a living. There weren’t too many places to go in comic books.
KIRBY: Right. And there still isn’t too many places to go. And I had gotten too used to liking to work alone. I don’t like to work in an office. I like to work in my house, to be among my own thoughts. The idea is for an editor to let his artist alone, let them be themselves– an artist or a writer– let them alone, let them exchange their own ideas and you’ll come up with something salable.
PITTS: Why did you leave the F.F. and Marvel that first time?
KIRBY: Because I could see things changing and I could see that Stan Lee was going in directions that I couldn’t. I came in one night and there was Stan Lee talking into a recording machine, sitting in the dark there. It was strange to me and I felt that we were going in different directions.
ROZ: [TO KIRBY] Well, you also wanted to go on to new situations. That’s why–
KIRBY: I wanted to do the same thing I had always done– just sell magazines and create my own ideas. The first thing I did when I got to DC was create the comic novel. The first comic novel was mine. That’s the New Gods. I took four magazines to make an entire novel.
They wanted me to work with Superman, but I didn’t want to interfere with the work that was being done by the other men. I felt I could create my own novel. I love the young people, so I did the Forever People. I had a good planet and an evil planet… a parable on our own society.
Darkseid is a man you will never see; Darkseid runs our world. High Father runs our world. These two men run our world; you’ll never see who they are. I put them together in two individuals. A part of our society runs this world and they run it for good or evil. The evil side will harm us, the good side of it will help us. So far, we’ve been skirting in the middle and making out.
PITTS: Okay, you mentioned earlier walking into an office and seeing Stan talking into a recorder one night and I got the impression that was some sort of turning point for you–
KIRBY: Well, I realized I was creating something I didn’t want to create.
PITTS: But, how did–
KIRBY: Did you ever read “What Makes Sammy Run” by Budd Schulberg?
KIRBY: Read “What Makes Sammy Run”. Sammy, in that book, is the kind of a character you wouldn’t want to be responsible for developing. I felt that I was developing a Sammy– which I was, in Stan Lee. I felt it was my time to go.
PITTS: You’re very cryptic, Mr. Kirby.
KIRBY: Well, I feel I can only be responsible to the company in a business sort of way, never in a personal sort of way. And incidentally, they’ve looked on it differently. I can tell you that, besides being a non-person up there, I’ve had adverse personal incidents… which I won’t tell you about. And they’ve hurt me badly.
It’s something you don’t like to live with. If I cut off your arm, you’re going to live with that forever. Even if they put a false arm on you, you’re never going to have a right or left arm. And that’s what they’ve done to me. They’ve cut off one of my limbs. Keeping my pages… spreading lies. Blatant lies.
They just advertised the fact that Stan Lee created Captain America. This was in Variety. And it said, “Based on a character created by Stan Lee”. Stan Lee didn’t create Captain America.
PITTS: That has to be a mistake.
KIRBY: We’ll show you the ad.
PITTS: Somebody goofed somewhere. I mean, that one is already on the record books as a Kirby-Simon creation.
PITTS: Let’s talk about some of the later creations–again, the story behind the story. Let’s begin with the New Gods.
KIRBY: The New Gods went into my feelings about the world around me. There’s an element of truth in that. The fact that Darkseid exchanged sons with High Father– that’s taken from history. Kings in the past have exchanged sons so that they never have wars in the future, lest they harm these children. A father will not harm his son.
PITTS: The Forever People.
KIRBY: The Forever People were the wonderful people of the ’60s, who I loved. If you’ll watch the actions of the Forever People, you’ll see the reflection of the ’60s in their attitudes, in the backgrounds, in their clothes. You’ll see the ’60s. I felt I would leave a record of the ’60s in their adventures.
PITTS: The Eternals.
KIRBY: The Eternals? The Eternals are the gap that we can’t fill. We don’t know what happened back in the Biblical days. We’ve killed a lot of people because of it, but we don’t know what happened back then. Did Jonah blow down Jericho with 40 trumpets? I’d like to see someone do it. I feel that, from time to time, mankind has risen and destroyed itself and left something for the survivors…
PITTS: What do you think of the current state of comics, as opposed to what it was in your heyday?
KIRBY: I really can’t say. I wish the artists well, I wish the publishers well. It’s an industry that’s given me a good life.
PITTS: But, how do you like the books?
KIRBY: The books? They’re different from the kind of books that we did. I find a little less discipline, a little more illustration. They’re filling up the panels so the eye can’t focus on certain characters. If you go in a New Year’s crowd in New York, you won’t be able to focus on anything, except that ball in the tower, because there’ll be so many people there that you wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything.
PITTS: So, are you saying that the quality of the artwork in comics has deteriorated?
KIRBY: A crowd is faceless. If you put a hero among a crowd, he won’t stand out. He’ll become part of the crowd.
PITTS: Do you read many books?
KIRBY: No I don’t. I used to read a lot of books. I read what’s important me. I’ll read a lot of scientific articles– not a lot of comics. I get a lot of comics, and I can look at a comic and tell immediately whether I’ll enjoy it or not. I’ve had 50 years of doing that.
There are elements in the stories now that I have no rapport with. I see dirty language, I see sleazy backgrounds; I see it reflected in the movies– the movies are comics to me. And I don’t see a sleazy world. I see hope. I see a positive world.
PITTS: Do you read your own characters– the current versions?
KIRBY: Yes I do, because I feel my characters are valid, my characters are people, my characters have hope. Hope is the thing that’ll take us through.
PITTS: Okay, when I say your characters, I’m referring to the ones you created at Marvel in the ’60s.
KIRBY: No. I’m not interested in their version. It has nothing to do with me.
PITTS: With every artist you talk to, if you ask them who their biggest influence is, the name Kirby will be at or very near the top of the list. How does it feel to be so revered by a generation of comics artists?
KIRBY: Well… I wouldn’t consider myself in that light. I feel that every professional is the art school for the next guy. In other words, in my early days, I would cannibalize the shading done by Milton Caniff. I would cannibalize the natural stance of Alex Raymond’s figures, because I felt that’s how people stood, that’s how people gestured.
And of course, I feel that maybe a lot of the dynamism in my own work, having been felt by the rest of the artists, they’ll react to it and put elements of that in their own work, feeling that it’ll help it.
PITTS: Are there any of today’s artists that you’re particularly impressed by?
KIRBY: Well, I’m impressed with the character of Frank Miller, who I feel is a very gutsy and intelligent guy. Frankly, I’m biased in that direction because he seems to feel that I’m right in my demands from Marvel. He sympathizes. He feels that in some way maybe I’ve helped him to make a better deal.
PITTS: What do you think of Byrne?
KIRBY: Byrne, I… I feel that any man that tries, any man that comes out with something we like, is a good man. A man doesn’t have to be Leonardo Da Vinci to be sincere. Everybody can draw, in my estimation. If you give a man 50 years, he’ll come up with the Mona Lisa.
PITTS: What makes you so good?
KIRBY: The willingness to compete. I want to be better than five guys. I was that way when I used to box, I was that way in any sport. I want to compete with five other guys. If I beat five other guys, I’d like to see if I can beat six.
PITTS: There’s not a lot of subtlety in your work. I think that’s what many people have gravitated toward. Everything is larger than life. I remember one artist– I forget which one– talking about how he and everybody else has copied the way in which you draw a punch. It’s where the legs are slightly wider apart in the stance, and there’s more body behind the blow– a real power punch. Where does this larger-than-life outlook come from? When I met you, I was expecting to see a man 7 feet tall.
KIRBY: On the contrary, it’ll come from a man who’s 5′ 6″, 5′ 7″ and has to fight a man 7 feet tall. And of course, he knows he’s gonna get creamed, so he dramatizes his own strength and in dramatizing his own strength, he becomes a lot stronger than he really is.
I’ve bent steel. I’ve done things that I wouldn’t ordinarily seem capable of doing. And I’ve proven myself in situations where there’s life and death at stake. And so, I can live with myself knowing that it’s not a matter of guts or anything like that. It’s a matter of willingness to go the length– to transcend yourself.
PITTS: Do you see life itself in larger-than-life terms?
KIRBY: Yes, I do. I feel that man can transcend himself to a point where he can accomplish greater things than he thinks. I see people depressed and I see people who devalue themselves and I feel that’s a terrible, terrible waste. But I love the people who try. But try fairly, try honestly.
PITTS: Which one of your characters is most like you? I’ve got suspicions of my own, but I’d like to hear what you say.
KIRBY: Oh, I feel that they all have some part of my character. I feel that they’re all me in some way– certainly not in individuality, but they all bear elements of what I feel.
PITTS: You don’t think Ben Grimm’s a little more like you?
KIRBY: (laugh) Yes, everybody I’ve talked to has compared me to Ben Grimm and perhaps I’ve got his temperament, I’ve got his stubbornness, probably, and I suppose if I had his strength, I’d be conservative with it. Ben Grimm is that way. Ben Grimm has always been conservative with his strength. You’ll find that, actually, he’s the original Rambo. If he uses his strength, he’ll use it in a justifiable manner– to save somebody, or to help somebody, or to see that fairness grows and evolves and helps people.
PITTS: Where do you see this medium headed?
KIRBY: I have some ideas, but I wouldn’t like to express them. I’ll save it for my novel.
PITTS: Okay, let’s put it like this, then: in the best of all possible worlds for Jack Kirby, what would be different?
ROZ: He’d be a better businessman.
KIRBY: I would’ve liked to have been a better businessman when I was younger. And of course, I couldn’t, because it wasn’t part of my atmosphere. I never lived with accountants, I never lived with lawyers, I never sued anybody, I never fought anybody or was in conflict or contention with any other party in a legal way. I feel that it hurts people, it hurts their families.
My family’s hurt. It’s not that I consider myself; I’ve been hurt in the past many times, but I never consider myself. My wife is hurt, I know other members of my family will be hurt, and I feel that’s wrong.
PITTS: It’s quite a stupid question, in light of all you’ve said, but let me ask it anyway: can you see yourself working with Stan Lee ever again?
KIRBY: No. No. It’ll never happen. No more than I would work with the S.S. Stan Lee is what he is. I’m not going to change him, I’m not going to dehumanize him, I’m not going to default him. He has his own dreams and he has his own way of getting them. I have my own dreams but I get them my own way. We’re two different people. I feel that he’s in direct opposition to me.
There’s no way I could reach the S.S.. I tried to reach them. I used to talk with them and say, “Hey, fellas, you don’t believe in all this horseshit.” And they said, “Oh, yes, we do.” They were profound beliefs. They became indoctrinated.
And Stan Lee’s the same way. He’s indoctrinated one way and he’s gonna live that way. He’s gonna benefit from it in some ways and I think he’ll lose in others. But he doesn’t have to believe me. Nobody else’ll believe me if they don’t want to, but that’s my opinion. I can only speak for myself.
PITTS: Are you claiming that ego has run away with him?
KIRBY: Not ego. Oh, there’s ego in it, but he’s running away from some deep pain or hurt and I don’t know what it is. I feel sympathy for him in that respect. I have an idea of what it is, but it’s not my right to analyze Stan Lee.
If be wants to lionize himself or if he wants others to lionize him or if be feels a lack of something, it’s a problem.
PITTS: I’m almost done. Is there anything you’d like to add to what we’ve already discussed?
KIRBY: No. The only thing I can add is that I’ve been telling the truth and I’ll never speak to another person without telling the truth. I’ve been a cruel man in my time, I’ve been a devious man in my time, like everybody else. I’ve told lies in my time. But I’ve seen enough suffering to experiment with the truth.
Since I’ve matured, since the war itself–I’ve always been a feisty guy, but since the war itself, there are people that I didn’t like, but I saw them suffer and it changed me. I promised myself that I would never tell a lie, never hurt another human being, and I would try to make the world as positive as I could.
There’s a lot of guys that might feel (laughter)… My own son feels I’m uncool but my grandson loves me. Being cool or uncool is a generational thing. But as a personal thing, I really love everybody in sight. I’d love to see Stan Lee at peace with himself. I mean, really at peace with himself. Not money-wise, not ambition-wise, not being driven–whatever drives him. But I’d like to see him at peace as a human being.
PITTS: If I asked you for one word to describe Jack Kirby, what would that word be?
Artist, pop culture historian, and friend of Jack and Roz Kirby – Greg Theakston gifted many items to the Kirby Museum a few years back. One was a copy of Fungus Rodeo, a zine published by Film Threat’s Chris Gore in 1987, which included a transcript of a Theakston-Kirby phone interview. I posted Fungus Rodeo scans in the “Clipping Service” folder of the Kirby Museum’s website back in 2010, and now offer a web readable transcript of same here on the Kirby Effect. As always, polite corrections welcome! – Rand
God. Jesus Christ. Jack Kirby. He created the Marvel universe along with Stan Lee. He gave birth to characters that are now part of American comic book pop culture; Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer, The Hulk, The X-Men, and so many others we don’t have the space to list them.. Fungus Rodeo confronted Jack soon after his 70th birthday and were bnot disappointed. Paul Zimmerman, Steve Raymond and myself (Chris Gore) posed the questions while Greg theakston conducted the interview via phone to Jack’s wonderful home in Thousand Oaks, California.
Greg Theakston: HELLO? Hello… They’re not home! (Imitates woman’s voice) “Quick, Jack! Back in the car…!”
Answering machine (Jack Kirby’s voice): Hi! This is the Kirby residence. We can’t… get to the phone right now, so… <noise>
Jack Kirby: Greg? GREG?
Theakston: Hi, Jack. Listen, I’m doin’ a couple of my friends a favor…
KIRBY: Yeah, yeah. I had to run for the phone, so, ohh, you probably got my… uh – Oh, wait Rozzie, she’ll shut off that thing <Answering machine still drones on in the background> So we’ll be able to talk…
Theakston:Good! Alright, I’ve got a big list of questions- well, not a BIG list of question. A couple of…
KIRBY: Uh, OK, whatever you like, I’ll try my best to answer
Theakston: Well, they put this list of questions together, and I think they’re pretty good. The first question is: Who would you most like to get a letter from? If you could have anybody in the world write you a letter, who would you like to hear from?
KIRBY: Anybody in the world! Look, I like people in general. If i get a letter from someone intelligent, that’s good enough for me. Even if it’s unkind, and they’re intelligent, that’s good enough.
Theakston: Alright… What’s your favorite pastime? What do you do to relax?
KIRBY: Uh… Speaking to friends. Y’know, what the average guy likes is fine, the ordinary sports and such.
Theakston: What do you watch on TV?
KIRBY: Cops and robbers… I like action shows.
Theakston: What about music? What kind of music do you listen to that might surprise us?
KIRBY: I listen to every kind of music, because, to my mind, there’s only good music, and bad music – you can make good or bad music in any form.
Theakston: Do you… know any musicians?
KIRBY: Well, I know Frank zappa.
Theakston: How did you meet him?
KIRBY: Zappa contacted me. He sought me out and we became very good friends.
Theakston: What did he have to say?
KIRBY: Well, he says… I know he likes comics as well as I like music. Music, like comics, is a media. Americans are very fortunate in the fact that they have a variety of media, which includes all sorts of music, art, literature – a wide variety of very good things.
Theakston: Obviously, then you’ve listened to some Frank Zappa music – what other sorts of progressive music do you listen to?
KIRBY: I’ve listened to many types of progressive music… I’ve listened to Prince… people of that sort.
Theakston: Yes… When we spoke earlier, you mentioned a fellow who plays music with no melody. Does that ring a note?
KIRBY: Yes, there’s a fellow who merely makes sounds of some kind with an instrument, and I listen to that because… it’s a new approach to music. A new approach to anything kinda fascinates me. It doesn’t necessarily have to be termed ”good” or “bad” – It’s “new”, and then you can judge whether YOU like it or not.
Theakston: You’ve always tried to do “new” things, haven’t you?
KIRBY: Always! I’ve tried a new approach to storytelling, new approaches to art, even new approaches to balancing a comic page…
Theakston: If there were one person in all of history you would like to talk to, who would it be?
KIRBY: Probably Noah – Noah was a guy like me. He looked forward to things, he prepared, he forewarned.
Theakston: <phone rings loudly> Oops! Would you grab that other line, please? What do you think about extraterrestrial life?
KIRBY: I think it’s out there, but… who am I to say where it is? I think the universe is a very, very big place!
Theakston: Well, then, what are your views on what that life might be like?
KIRBY: I think that it would be just like it is here. I mean, we can’t tell what an amoeba thinks – it might be instinctive life, it might be intelligent life, it ”might be” anything.
Theakston: Well, speaking about E.T.s and U.F.O.s, did you not see a U.F.O. at one time?
KIRBY: I saw something very strange, but I… it might not necessarily have been a U.F.O…. I saw a light in the sky. It was very, very bright, like a star. There might have been one or more lights. It was right in front of me, right over the Pacific Ocean – it moved forward in a straight line, then it stopped, and then it moved backwards, directly, without varying, just as it had moved forward. It was quite large… it looked like a start-like a cluster.
Theakston: If you had a message for alien beings, what would it be?
KIRBY: <pause> STAY AWAY! <laughs>
Theakston: Why wouldn’t you want aliens to contact us?
KIRBY: Because we can’t… human beings can’t resolve conflicts.
Theakston: So you don’t think we should get any visitors from other planets until we’re more peaceful?
KIRBY: I hope they never come.
Theakston: I suppose one of the downsides would be that they might consider us protein!
KIRBY: Who knows! They could, or they couldn’t. I couldn’t really say.
Theakston: Alright. If you were able to travel back in time and change one thing about your entire life, what would you change?
KIRBY: The point is that I couldn’t. I would be the same type of person I am now, because somewhere in your childhood you’re conditioned by circumstance, and you can’t change that circumstance. I think it’s indifferent to intention.
Theakston: Um-hmmm… Something that you’ve been doing very well for the past fifty or so years is predicting the future – inventions, and what humankind will be up to in the world of tomorrow. Got any projections for what you think the future holds in store for us?
KIRBY: Yes, I have.
Theakston: Would you like to share them with us?
KIRBY: I’d like not to think about them.
THeakston: You think they’re bad?
KIRBY: I just like not to think about them. I think that is good advice for everybody.
Theakston: Has anybody ever commented on your obvious influence on action in modern-day filmmaking, such as in current action films like Commando?
KIRBY: Yes, I’ve discussed that with people, and they seem to feel that there are a lot of films today that operate on my type fo formula
Theakston: Any of those (films) spring to mind, off the top of your head?
KIRBY: No, not necessarily, I wouldn’t want to say which films, because it wouldn’t necessarily be an action film. I’ve done very well with romance stories, with adventure stories, crime stories.
Theakston: Of the current crop of movies, filmmakers, what do you like?
KIRBY: If you could change that word “crop”, you’d be going in the right direction…
Theakston: Oh, alright… you don’t care for any of it too much, huh?
KIRBY: Not really.
Theakston: There must be something you’ve seen over the last couple of years that’s made an impression on you?
KIRBY: Yes, but I… I just wouldn’t like to pick it out, it would be wrong for me to do that.
Theakston: Next question, then – if you are Jack “King” Kirby, who is the Prince?
KIRBY: <chuckles. Yes, uh… I really don’t know I mean… I think everybody, everybody who tries to make comic books better is a prince!
Theakston: Good answer! What do you think of the new generation of comics like “Dark Knight” and “Watchmen”?
KIRBY: I don’t necessarily follow any of the new comics, I’ve been busy with my won stuff…
Theakston: How do you think today’s comics differ from the comics that you were doing?
KIRBY: Well, I think they’re more illustrative, in the first place. You’ll find that the comics in my day were very simple.
Theakston: Is that good or bad?
KIRBY: No, I think that’s good, because doing things simply comes directly to the point. I think sales were very high then, and what’s bad about that?
Theakston: Hmm… What about the content? Do you think that…
KIRBY: The content hasn’t changed, it was just more simply told, more simply constructed.
Theakston: Alright, here;s a good question: Jack, how would you like to settle about a thousand bets right now – if you drew it, who would win – Thor, or the Hulk? Who’s stronger?
KIRBY: <long pause> Well… They’re both people of unlimited power, one is mythical. THerefore, the limits of his power are unknown. The Hulk is a mutant, and his power is unlimited because we can’t gauge it.
Theakston: Wasn’t that one of your principal ideas behind the Hulk? No matter who he was battling, he would get power from… nobody knew where?
KIRBY: Right, because we uh… haven’t run the gamut of full mutation, as of yet, and the power of it is unknown. From out human perspective then, the power of mutation can be unlimited.
Theakston: Well, I guess it’s still an unsettled question then….
KIRBY: Yes, it’s an unsettled question, and nobody could answer that directly.
Theakston: Perhaps there shouldn’t be a definitive answer on that…
KIRBY: I don’t think there are any answers – I think what makes life interesting is the fact that we’re able to wrestle with questions like these and get new viewpoints. I don’t think there’s anybody around who can give you a definitive answer on anything. One and one does not necessarily make two.
Theakston: Uh… A temporary answer is sometimes good, just to have a…
KIRBY: Oh yes, I’m not saying it’s bad to be decisive. I’m saying it’s good to be decisive.
Theakston: OK! If they were going to make “The Jack Kirby Story” into a movie, who would you want to play you in the movie?
KIRBY: <pause> Well, to get on your good side, I would say Greg Theakston…. <laughs>
Theakston: <laughs> No, no., no, give me a real answer…. Who would you like to portray you in a movie? Is there anyone out there who you think would do a good job?
KIRBY: I’m sure there’s a good director around that could get somebody of my type.
Theakston: Nobody that you’d prefer, then?
KIRBY: Not necessarily, no.
Theakston: Speaking of directors, what motivated you to do the 2001 comic book and did you meet Kubrick after or during the time that you were doing that book?
KIRBY: No, I never met him during the time I was doing the book.
Theakston: Did you ever meet him?
KIRBY: I can’t remember… I might have, but I can’t remember.
Theakston: Why 2001? Why that book?
KIRBY: 2001, I thought was a direct departure from the type of science fiction movie that had been shown, and proved to me that Kubrick is an innovative guy… I love innovative people because they try for answers – they’re the ones who come up with something new.
Theakston: And that alone was enough motivation for you to launch a whole 2001 series?
KIRBY: Yes, I like that kind of thinking… it’s innovative thinking.
theakston: Alright, if you could have one superpower, just one, what personal power would you like to have?
KIRBY: Well, uh…. Oh, you mean a…
Theakston: yeah, a comic book superpower…
Theakston: No, you’ve got that already! Give me something you don’t have. Would you like to fly, would you like to throw bolts from your fists, would you like to crawl walls? What would be fun for Jack Kirby?
KIRBY: Oh, uh… to be eternal and watch things develop.
Theakston: Alright, that’s a better answer! What superhero name would you give yourself?
Theakston: Eternus? that’s pretty good! I like that! And for free, no less – we’re getting you to work for free!
KIRBY: Oh listen – take it, and run with it!
Theakston: So what’s the best thing that ever happened to you?
KIRBY: Rosalind Kirby!
Theakston: Well, that’s pretty obvious. Where do good ideas come from?
KIRBY: Good ideas come from the willingness to wrestle with them.
Theakston: Alright, that’s pretty succinct. What’s your favorite movie?
KIRBY: My favorite movie? The one with James Cagney… it was a musical…
Theakston: Yankee Doodle Dandy?
KIRBY: Yankee Doodle Dandy!
Theakston: Who’s your favorite comedian? Who makes you laugh?
KIRBY: My favorite comedian? Oh uh… Gee, I can’t really say, there were so many good ones…
Theakston: Who are some of your favorites?
KIRBY: Jackie Mason. Sid Caesar was wonderful…
Theakston: How about uh… Who were some of your favorite artists?
KIRBY: You mean the comics?
Theakston: Well, whoever… Whatever you like to look at in art…
KIRBY: Well, I… I like to look at interesting art.
Theakston: Anybody specifically? Anyone you could name?
Theakston: How about when you were starting out? What artists influenced you as a kid?
KIRBY: Milton Caniff, anybody who… from the funny papers I loved them all. I loved George McManus, the fellow who did Gasoline Alley, and, of course, Krazy Kat! I think his name was Sullivan.
Theakston: OK… what keeps you up at night?
KIRBY: Nothing bothers me at all! Television keeps me up at night!
Theakston: What do you watch at night?
KIRBY: I watch commentaries, I watch film, I watch anything that’s interesting.
Theakston: Somebody once told me that you watched movies without the sound on… is that true?
KIRBY: That’s just a whim… an occasional whim.
Theakston: You know what they’re saying… There’s no sense in even getting the dialogue. You know that Bogart is calling some copper a dirty rat.
KIRBY: No, I never think the dialogue is that triet. It’s just that sometimes I’ll get a thought in my head when I’m watching TV and I’ll try it.
Theakston: Do any other media sources give you inspiration? Do you draw from other realms?
KIRBY: Of course.
Theakston: Would you say that TV affected you heavily?
KIRBY: Well, you’ll find that my art is movie art. If you read my stories, you’ll find my stories are visual movies.
Theakston: Very cinematic. What’s your best childhood memory?
KIRBY: Oh uh… my parents.
Theakston: Anything happen specifically from the time you were ten or eleven, growing up in New York?
KIRBY: From the time I was ten or eleven? Yeah, when my parents bought me a suit. <laughs>
Theakston: The first time they bought you a suit! I guess that’s right up there… How did you meet Marlene Dietrich?
KIRBY: I didn’t speak to her, I saw her in France.
Theakston: How did you see her? What happened?
KIRBY: Well, she came out to sing for the regiments. I had to travel seven miles from the front line to see her… It really startled me because, here I was, right on the front line and… the sergeant called over to me and ordered me to move back about three or four hundred yards and then someone told me there was truck waiting-they showed me where the truck was, and that truck took us seven miles back from the front lines to a ruined church, and in that ruined church, where I rapidly fell asleep, Marlene Dietrich came out in GI underwear and began to sing for us – I respected her so highly, I actually never thought that performers would come that close to the line. Because I could hear the guns going off…
Theakston: In the distance?
KIRBY: Not in the distance. Very nearby! I can tell you, I think at that moment, there was a barrage coming in, and there was this wonderful woman, without a break, or without showing any signs of fear. She sang for us. It was a wonderful experience.
Theakston: How about Bing Crosby?
KIRBY: Well, Bing Crosby, I, uh… <laughs> I was walking through a ruined house and I looked through one of the broken slats, and there was Bing Crosby! I couldn’t believe it! It was an unbelievable experience.
Theakston: Where were you?
KIRBY: This was just behind the front line, and BIng Crosby was walking parallel with me and I could see him through these broken slats, and then when we came out of what had been the rear of the house, why, there was Bing Crosby and six chorus girls! Singing… and they danced.
Theakston: Very close to being fired on?
KIRBY: Yes, very close to being fired on. I’ll never forget it. I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Theakston: Specifically, did you guys… did you cross the Moselle River?
KIRBY: yes, we crossed the Moselle River.
Theakston: What was the battle like?
KIRBY: Very noisy, and i was rowed across the river by my lieutenant at about three o’clock in the morning. I walked through this town on the other side of the river, where nobody was, nobody had this town. ther Germans didn’t hold it, and we didn’t hold it. It was just me…
Theakston: What were you doing there?
KIRBY: Well, I was… I told my lieutenant I was an artist. I thought that might get me on the newspaper, Yank, but instead it got me this job of making a map of this town…
Theakston: Really not utilizing your talents to their fullest, eh?
KIRBY: Well, it was the lieutenants idea of using my talents, I guess he did the right thing….
Theakston: So what happened? Did you make it into the town and get a map?
KIRBY: <laughs> I ran into the Germans in what had been a very swank hotel!
Theakston: So there were Germans occupying the town?
KIRBY: It wasn’t held at all.
Theakston: So these guys were doing the same thing you were doing?
KIRBY: Yes – nothing happened, though. they got away, and I got away.
Theakston: Anything else you want to relate to us about your war experience?
KIRBY: Well, uh…. all I can say is that it wasn’t very pleasant.
Theakston: Well, it’s kind of hard to ask more questions after hearing stories like that…
KIRBY: Listen, I hope I’ve given you some details… What can I say? I have a great respect for all of you guys that appreciate comics… You’ve given them dimension, I love all of you.
I included the YouTube audio of this interview from Kirby’s 70th birthday in my post on the Kirby Museum home page blog last year acknowledging his 94th, although somewhat buried at the end of the post. Why buried? Well, listen, and/or read. It’s a partial recording (now with transcript below) of a radio interview on WBAI in New York, on Robert Knight’s Earthwatch, with Warren Reece, Max Schmid, and call-in guest Stan Lee. Thanks to J. J. Barney for adding the audio tape to the Museum’s archives.
REECE: …with the Red Skull on it and they came up on in the middle of Ebbets Field and wrecked it, I know you were a Dodgers fan.
KIRBY: <laughs> Yes, I was! I wasn’t a rabid baseball fan, but I went to the games often with friends. And I loved the Dodgers because, well, they’ll always be a colorful team for me. It’s a personal thing, of course. As for the Red Skull, I was growing up. It was a period and I was growing up and I finally asked myself, “Why am I making this Red Skull so evil? Why is he such a bad guy?” And I felt there was a story behind that… behind the Red Skull. And I began to think of him as a person.
KIRBY: And remember, in my early years, he was merely just a villain.
REECE: He had no origin, at first. You gave him characterization, deeper characterization in the Sixties.
KIRBY: Well, I gave him deeper characterization because, well, I was growing up and questioning myself. Remember, I’m a child of my own times.
KIRBY: I was questioning my own times.
REECE: One of the… just as a footnote, one of the objects, one of the grails, you might say, in Captain America and the Red Skull during the Sixties, was an object called the cosmic cube, and I’m sure you must be aware, hopefully with some pride, that now in the field of artificial intelligence and parallel computer processing, and new approaches to computing, that one of the new computing devices that is based on massive parallel structure, is called the cosmic cube.
KIRBY: Well… I mean, it flatters me for you to make the connection. But, however, I‘m sure it’s a technical term today, whereas yesterday, as far as, you know, where storytelling is concerned, it was, I think, a wonderful keystone for many, many good stories. So, I used the cosmic cube as I would use any other gimmick on which to base five or six stories. Or maybe more. The cosmic cube, to me, was certainly a part of the mystery which we’re still trying to solve. “What is there out in space?” and the many other questions that come with it, “Are we the only form of life? If there is life out there, what kind of life will we find?” and the cosmic cube is that clue. It’s that little clue, maybe, left behind in the human mind. Somewhere in the human mind, that question is important. And it was important to me because, well, I was doing that sort of thing. So it became important to me and, therefore, I created the cosmic cube. Probably, it was material from the same fountainhead from which I was asking questions.
KNIGHT: Speaking of cosmic parallelepipeds, this is Earthwatch on WBAI in New York. My name is Robert Knight, here with Warren Reece, celebrating the 70th birthday of Jack Kirby, live on this air. Also with us in the studio is the producer of The Golden Age of Radio here, Max Schmid.
MAX SCHMID: Hi, Jack. Hello. I’ve been sitting in on this conversation, and one or two questions have occurred to me. We’re discussing now the war years of the Forties, and you’ve been saying that you write, very often, to explore your own feelings and thoughts about things, but what market did you feel you were writing for? We consider today, or the general thought is, that comic books are for children was that the thought at the time did you feel you were writing basically for a children’s audience?
KIRBY: Oh, that was not true at all. I was writing for everybody. I was exploring everybody. I wanted to know about everybody. And I’m still doing that today. I, as I said before, people were always important to me. I wanted to know more about them And creating those stories, I was exploring people. And I was exploring the questions that people ask. I was exploring my own self in own reality. And I’m still doing that today
REECE: Got some follow ups on that in a minute, specifically about your years doing the science fiction stories about the aliens. But I just had a couple more quickies about your work on Cap. When you did the covers of Captain America #7 and Young Allies #1, I have line art from house ads that show that they were re-done. The changes that were made on the cover of the Young Allies made sense; the Allies characters were made larger and Joe Stalin was omitted from the cover presumably because the non-aggression pact with Hitler fell through, and he became one of the Allies. But on the cover of Captain America #7, which prominently featured the Red Skull on the inside, the figure of the Red Skull cutting a spiked ball down over Betty Ross was changed on the cover to look like an ordinary Nazi. That’s always been a mystery to me and I was wondering if you can clarify anything about that, Jack.
KIRBY: Well, I can’t recall, you know, that particular issue. I can’t recall it well, today. I’d have to take more time than you give me to define it. However, I can tell you that whatever I drew there made sense to me at the time, and they reflected the times. I can’t recall the particular story. However, if I drew Betsy Ross doing that, it was an essential part of the story and something to keep the reader interested. And it never meant anything more than that.
REECE: And let’s just flip up through… I noticed the early Caps from 1941 and 1942 smacked of your influences of film. The characters and the stories seem to be involved often with movie-making or using projection techniques. but I also noted that some of the costuming, for example, in one story that you did with Ivan the Terrible, very authentically Russian. Were you influenced by any of Sergei Eisenstein’s films, like Alexander Nevsky? Just the overall use of film type characters in Captain America; the Phantom Hound of Cardiff Moor, which was like the Hound of the Baskervilles, the Hunchback of Hollywood, all these things.
KIRBY: Well, I can tell you that you’ve said it all for me. I‘m a movie… I always was and I always will be a movie goer. Essentially, what I’ve always done was a kind of a still movie. It was the reason I dropped editorial cartoons to do comic strips, because comic strips gave me more room to do a movie. And when the comic strips became limited, I did comic books because they gave me more room to do a movie. And I suppose, I‘m probably the type that will probably work on an endless movie, which I’ll never finish, I suppose. But essentially, that’s what I’ve always tried to do. I’ve tried to, from my very early years, I’ve been an inveterate movie goer, and still am, and I love the medium. So, when I draw, and what I’m still doing, it’s part of that particular orientation.
REECE: Uh huh. Also, in that time, in Captain America #7, you had a villain who was called the Toad in the story, wore a bat like costume. But I caught something on the contents page, Jack, and he was called the Bat there. Was anybody worrying about troubles with the Batman people at the time?
KIRBY: Oh, everybody was always worrying about something, I can tell you! <laughs> I never tried to get too close to anybody’s costume. However, I tried to do the kind of character that was being done at the time. Remember, at that time, everybody was thinking alike. Superheroes resembled each other in one way or another. However, we did our best to make them as different as possible.
REECE: Up to the foundations of the Sixties, around 1959 you started doing a lot of these wonderful stories about monsters, which I found coincided with the release of a lot of the classics on Channel 9 here in New York; King Kong, Son of Kong, Godzilla. And then you got into these won… some of my favorite things were about these aliens, for example, the electronic giant, the Blip, who was really a benevolent alien enraged by human savagery. Please comment, Jack, on your use of the monster. Of course, the monster is either the benevolent being or else the misunderstood monster, which is the foundation of the Hulk and the Thing and characters with which the public is all the more familiar today.
KIRBY: Well I don’t think that monsters are ever mysterious. Monsters in human or inhuman form are living things with problems which vex them sorely in some way. And therefore, they’re inevitably involved in some sort of conflict, in which anybody can get hurt. I don’t think monsters zero in on anyone in particular, and I think that’s why they’re generally pitied more than feared. And I felt the same way about them. I felt that monsters in some way had problems.
REECE: Yes. Let’s get right into the Marvel days now, and the Fantastic Four. The powers of the Fantastic Four, with which everyone is already familiar, seem to be reflections of the personalities of each of them. Would this be some manifestation, had the mind that held them together during a cosmic accident that should have disintegrated them, subconsciously guided the instability of their selves, their molecules, to produce this monster that was the gruff Ben Grimm, this totally flexible man who had the totally flexible mind, this hot-headed teenager who literally becomes a hot head, and, in the pre-Women’s Lib days, the defensive female who had the invisibility to hide, and then later the invisible barrier. Were these manifestations of the personalities, Jack?
KIRBY: Well, I think they were manifestations of my own. And they were manifestations of the times. Remember, these were… we were absorbed with the possible and catastrophic results of radiation. Remember, we didn’t know how radiation would affect anybody. Being involved in the sale of comics, I used it in that manner. To sell comic books. I used it in as entertaining way as possible. Psychologically, whatever characters emerged were possibly the way I personally would imagine them.
REECE: Yeah, for example Dr. Doom would seem to show how evil, and indeed even nobility, could come out of the mistreatment of a human being. Or the Hulk, who was the misunderstood monster. Maybe you could talk with us just for a couple of minutes about the genesis of the Hulk, of Dr. Doom, of a few of your, gee everything by you seems a major creation, to me. But you know what I mean, just talk about…
KIRBY: There are Dr. Dooms and Hulks in all of us. If you read every one of your news stories, if you read any dramatic news story, you’ll find there were human beings involved. And you know as well as anybody else, that there have been some pretty weird news stories in our times. And yet, human beings are involved in them. And when you dissect the stories themselves, you’ll find that they’re not really dramatic at all. That the most dramatic part about them was, that inside the human being, there is some sort of problem that we’re constantly trying to solve. And I felt that my villains, as well as my heroes, were human beings, and therefore, could have very bad problems. I had a villain called Dr. Doom and Dr. Doom had a severe problem. He was a perfectionist. And perfectionists never solve their problems. It’s a belief of my own, that none of us can be perfect. And if you’re a perfectionist, you’ve got an inner conflict that can never be solved.
KNIGHT: This is Earthwatch on WBAI, I’m Robert Knight, here in the studio with Warren Reece, and with Jack Kirby live on the phone, celebrating his 70th birthday. And now comes a question about one of my favorite Marvel comics, Spider-man, who was not exactly neurotic but had enough problems to have justifiably been so. How in the world did Spider-man come into being?
KIRBY: Well, if you had been a Spider-man… <laughs> Spider-man was also a creature of radiation. Another version of that type of situation creating a hero instead of a villain. And so Spider-man became a hero. He dealt with his own conflict in a very heroic manner, and he still does today. I think Spider-man is a lesson for all of us. That no matter what our problem is, it’s our problem. And if we make a heroic effort, we could possibly… we possibly may not solve it, but we can live with it. And Spider-man lives with his problem.
REECE: (A quick follow up on that) Jack, you were involved, I know, creatively at the genesis of Spider-man…
…and then legend has it, that you, of course, making everything so much bigger, better and more wonderful than life, Stan wanted him to look like the guy in the street. and therefore Steve Ditko did the interiors, but I know they used some of your covers. Maybe you could clarify for us, though I know how modest you are, try to solve for us without hurting anybody, some of the mystery of your involvement at that time in the genesis of Spider-man in Amazing Fantasy 15. Then, of course, it departed and went another way, but you were there at the beginning. Please tell us about it Jack.
KIRBY: Well, I can tell you that I was deeply involved with creating Spider-man. I can’t go any further than that, really, because there’d been so many variations and different things done with Spider-man, but I can tell you at the beginning, I was deeply involved with him.
KNIGHT: Well, let’s turn then, to the environment, which may be equally as important, the environment out of which Spider-man was created. Of course, you were involved in the historic partnership with Stan Lee at Marvel. So, what was the working environment like there? How was it different from the other companies? What was the Merry Marvel Marching Society like?
KIRBY: Well, it wasn’t… it wasn’t… well, I didn’t consider it merry. I considered it very… well, in those days, it was a professional type thing. You turned in your ideas and you got your wages and you took them home. It was a very, very simple affair. It’s nothing that could be dramatized or glorified or glamorized in any way. It was a very, very simple affair. I created the situation and I analyzed them. I did them panel by panel. I did everything but put the words in the balloons. But all of it was mine, except the words in the balloons.
REECE: But Jack, what about these legendary story conferences of you and Stan, or Stan and whomever, acting the stories out, in the office, jumping up on the desks and so forth, making things considerably more lively than when it was just an office consisting of Stan and Fabulous Flo Steinberg, having people stick their faces in the door, from Magazine Management, going, “Hurry up, little elves, Santa will be coming soon!”
KIRBY: Uh, I’d have to disagree with that. It wasn’t like that at all. It may have been like that after I shut the door and went home.
KNIGHT: <laughs> Well, listen! We’re going to open a door, a very special surprise door, Jack. And let me mention, this is Earthwatch on WBAI in New York. I’m Robert Knight, here with Warren Reece, also with Max Schmid in the studio, and we’re speaking with Jack Kirby, live. And now, we could announce the special surprise guest that we have for tonight’s program. Your colleague in arms, Stan Lee! Good morning, Stan!
LEE: Hi, how are you doing?
LEE: I just… I want to wish Jack a happy birthday. This is a hell of a coincidence. I’m in New York, and I was tuning in the radio, and there I hear him, talking about Marvel, and I figured I might as well call and not let this occasion go by without saying, “Many happy returns, Jack.”
KIRBY: Well, Stanley, I want to thank you for calling. I hope you’re in good health and I hope you stay in good health.
LEE: I’m doin’ my best! and the same to you! You know, you were talking earlier about your drawing and people sometimes criticized your figures, and so forth. I always felt that the most important thing about your drawing was, I remember when I was a kid and I first saw Captain America, it wasn’t the correctness of the anatomy, but it was the emotion that you put in. To me, nobody could convey emotion and drama the way you could. I didn’t care if the drawing was all out of whack, because that wasn’t important. You got your point across and nobody could ever draw a hero like way you could. And I just want to say, without getting too saccharine, that one of the marks, I think, of a really true, great artist, is he has his own style. And you certainly had, and still have, your own style. And it’s a style that nobody has even been able to come close to and I think that’s something you can be very proud of. And I’m proud of you for it.
KIRBY: I have to thank you for helping me to keep that style, Stanley. And helping me to evolve all that. And I’m certain that whatever we did together, we got sales for Marvel. And I…
LEE: I think it was more than that, Jack. We certainly got the sales. But whatever we did together, and no matter who did what, and I guess that’s something that’ll be argued forever, but I think that the product that was produced was really, even more than a sum of its parts. I think that there was some slight magic that came into effect when we worked together. And I am very happy that we’ve had that experience.
KIRBY: Well, I was never sorry for it, Stanley. It was a great experience for me and certainly, if the product was good, that was my satisfaction. I’ve always felt like that. I think it’s the feeling of every good professional. It’s one of the reasons that I respect you, is the fact that you’re certainly a good professional and you’re certainly fond of a good product. And I feel that’s the mark of all of us.
LEE: You notice I never interrupt you when you’re saying something nice about me.
KNIGHT: Let me say something nice about Stan Lee, the editorial piston behind the motor of Marvel Comics. And of course, Stan Lee has been active in so many other areas. Stan, what are some of the things that you are the proudest of and what are you involved in now?
LEE: Well, actually, I guess I’m proud of just about e… I’m the kind of guy I’m proud of everything that has succeeded and I’ve totally forgotten anything that might’ve failed. Right now, I’m… New World Pictures has bought Marvel Comics and they’re really a great outfit, they’re… obviously they do motion pictures. In fact, they’ve changed their name recently to New World Entertainment. They do television series, video cassettes, and I’ve gotten involved in all of those aspects of the business, as well as their animation studio, so I’m only really peripherally involved in the comics. And I’ve never been happier because, I guess I like being busy and I’ve never been busier.
KNIGHT: And out of the fairness doctrine, what, Jack, are you currently doing?
KIRBY: I’m probably involved in the same sort of thing.
KNIGHT: Oh my god! That means that the two of you, who indelibly changed the history of comics when you were both in that field, have a shot of changing the course of animation, perhaps.
KIRBY: Oh, I feel that productive people are always doing something productive. And speaking for myself, I’ve never stopped.
KNIGHT: Well, let me now de-saccharin-ize the conversation and let’s get down to both of your assessments of the state of comics today. I mean, enough can never been said about what you have done in the history of comics, but I’d like for some specific comments, naming of names, in regard to the changes that have taken place in comics. Such as with the new approach to Batman, for instance, the current Spider-man series, the introduction of ambiguity, conflict and contradiction in issues and ethics today. Do you have any views on that?
LEE: Who do you want first?
KNIGHT: You, since you spoke first.
LEE: Okay, well actually, I think that we had plenty of conflict when we were starting our early strips. Certainly there was conflict in the Fantastic Four and in Spider-man and all of them. And we had, I think really, Marvel sort of pioneered playing up the characterization more and playing up the personal problems of the heroes. Making the heroes more believable because they were more realistic and more human. However, today, what has happened and it’s a natural evolution, today, they’ve gone many steps beyond what we started doing in those days, I think the stories, primarily, are much more complex, they’re more adult, they tackle subjects that we couldn’t dream of tackling in the early days and I think we were, it’s strange, when Marvel started, our stories were very much like the motion pictures of those days. Today, the comics, especially, I think Marvel Comics, are very much like the motion pictures of today. Well, the motion pictures of today are so much different than they were then, and the same change, the same evolvement has really taken place in comic books.
KIRBY: Well, I think Stanley is correct on that. Of course, the standards have changed. And the standards have changed in all the fields. I’ll agree with what Stanley says of all the facets of entertainment because he understands it, and he understands it as well as I do. Whatever is evolving, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it’s certainly different from the black and white type of thing that we did in what you refer to as the Golden Age.
KNIGHT: Are there things that you look at with interest these days?
LEE: Oh, sure. Now there is a DC series called The Watchmen, which I think was absolutely superb. There’s the work that John Byrne has been doing. The work that Frank Miller has been doing. There are so many new artists coming up that are… they’re very sophisticated and they’re very dramatic and they’re very cinematic. A lot of them write and draw. They have their own styles. My big regret, really, is I don’t have the time to read the books the way I used to and…
KIRBY: But the younger people have absorbed a lot more than we did, Stan.
LEE: They have what?
KIRBY: I think that, that’s what its all about today.
LEE: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that, Jack.
KIRBY: ..standing of life. They’re a lot more understanding of themselves. And what they produce, what they produce is on a very realistic scale. And I don’t think there’s anything visually around us that the younger people haven’t noticed. That’s why I respect the younger people.
LEE: You know, it’s much more a visual era that we live in now, than it was when we were starting. Because with television today, I mean… you know, as a matter of fact, I don’t know if anybody has brought this up, but comics are like the last bastion, the last defense against creeping illiteracy. If not for comics, I don’t know how many young people there would be who just wouldn’t ever read, because they’re just hooked on television, which is understandable. But luckily, they do get hooked on comics and they do learn to equate reading with pleasure. And after a while, when they get the reading habit, they go on to reading other books, as kids are wont to do, but I think, that, which most people don’t think of, but I that’s a very important function that comics are serving today.
KNIGHT: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, here on Earthwatch. My name is Robert Knight. Also with me is Warren Reece, who has some words for you, but I can’t resist, just some very quick word associations or I guess I should say title associations. First: Dark Knight.
KIRBY: Dark Knight, I understand, is Batman.
LEE: Well, that’s bringing Batman into the 20th Century. I guess. <laughs> An attempt to do so. And it was revolutionary and it was very successful.
KIRBY: It’s still Batman.. It’s Batman of today.
LEE: I always used to wish, I don’t think I ever told this to Jack. Years ago, I always used to wish that he and I could do Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I always thought that we could inject new life into those characters.
KIRBY: They would be highly individualistic and very entertaining.
LEE: I think so.
KNIGHT: Current Spider-man
LEE: The current Spider-man?
KNIGHT: mm hmm
KIRBY: The current Spider-man would be very current. It would be understandably to the people today. It would have the same essence as any other character figure produced in these times. It would have to be timely. You can’t produce superheroes in the old fashion. You have to produce it so it can be understood in the surroundings that we have about us today.
KNIGHT: The ‘Nam
LEE: Great book. Great idea. I never would have thought that it would be okay that anybody would say, “Let’s do a comic book about it.” I think Marvel deserves a lot of credit for going ahead with it. I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
KNIGHT: I am producer of a series here called ContraGate which is an investigative report into the Iran-Contra Affair, which prompts
LEE: Series on radio or television or what?
KNIGHT: It’s on radio. Every day. 8 o’clock am on WBAI in New York and soon to be heard nationally. Now the… that prompts the next association, in which… in a title in which, the plot involves CIA involvement in facilitating the importation of drugs for money for arms for the Contras, explicitly. That occurs in Mike Grell’s current Green Arrow series. Any reaction to that?
LEE: Well, I guess Grell is like everybody else, he stays up with the news. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the series. But you know, today, just as Jack and I did years ago, you try to keep your stories contemporary, and if something is happening that you’re involved in, or you think the public is involved in, it’s very hard to keep a smattering of that out of what you’re writing.
KNIGHT: All right. Warren Reece is also here with us.
REECE: Thank you, Robert. First of all, to both of you gents, I have regards from Fabulous Flo Steinberg who is too shy to be in the studio today. She lives about ten blocks from here but sends happy birthday wishes to you, Jack, and love to both of you.
LEE: That’s terrific, and the same to her. Fabulous Flo thought it was merry when we were working there. <laughs>
REECE: Yes, she did. Now, both of you before were talking a bit about, I think, the responsibility of creators as they create. There is much controversy going on these days over company imposed ratings systems which do not say that people can not have explicit sex and violence, but simply have to have a warning on the cover. And these people seem to be very alarmed, as though nobody in history ever produced a good story without having that type of material in there. And I submit that they need only look back to what you wonderful gentlemen did together, to what Bill Everett did on the Sub-mariner, or indeed, what some other people of contemporary times were doing. I would like your comments on that. I would also like to put to you gentlemen, that what made your work so tremen… you know I, really, when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter whether or not, you know, who exactly did what, although it would be interesting to know whether or not Galactus’ exit speech in FF # 50 was an example of Jack’s dialog or Stan’s. But you j…
LEE: Well, I’ll say this: every word of dialog in those scripts was mine.
REECE: <laughs> I don’t want to..
LEE: Every story.
REECE: I don’t want to get into controversy about that. What I want to stress to you, and to anyone who would be hearing this, is that you two gents together, when you said the whole equals more than the sum of its parts, it is very true. I think that was success behind the Beatles, behind the Byrds, behind many of the rock groups, there seems to be…
KIRBY: I can tell you that I wrote a few lines myself above every panel that I…
REECE: Yes! I’ve seen those…
LEE: They weren’t printed in the book!
REECE: All right, look! Both of you… hey, kids! Both of you guys…
LEE: Jack isn’t wrong, by his own rights, because Jack, answer me truthfully…
KIRBY: I wasn’t allowed to write…
LEE: Did you ever read one of the stories after it was finished? I don’t think you did! I don’t think you ever read one of my stories. I think you were always busy drawing the next one. You never read the book when it was finished.
KIRBY: …dialogue, Stanley
KNIGHT: Let me get in there with them.
KIRBY: … in my own dialogue. And I think that’s the way people are. So, whatever was written in them, was insig.. well, it, you know, it was the action I was interested in
LEE: I know, and I really think, and look, Jack, nobody has more respect for you, than I do, and you know that, but I don’t think you ever felt that the dialogue was that important. And I think you felt well, it doesn’t matter, anybody can put the dialogue in, it’s what I’m drawing that matters. And maybe you’re right! I don’t agree with it, but maybe you’re right
KIRBY: No I, I’m only trying to say is that I, you know, I think that the human being is very important. If one man is writing and drawing and doing a strip, it should come from an individual. I believe that you should have the opportunity to do the entire thing yourself.
REECE: Gentlemen, what we’re seeing here…
KIRBY: …make your own story.
REECE: …is part of the inner dynamics. The bit of conflict from which, obviously, you complimented one another, held one another in check, and a great product emerged. I submit not only on behalf of you, but to creators of today, that the success of Marvel, and the success of Bill Everett’s Sub-mariner, and the success of almost anything that was really great, had to do with the attention to science, to characterization, to detail, to verisimilitude, to keeping a greater attention to the characters, than to the egos of the people creating them and, you know, signing autographs at conventions, and that that pretense, trying to make the thing seem as real as possible, having characters grow, having characters die, having Reed and Sue get married and have a child, whom, by the way, should be an adult by now and dating one of the X-Women, would not only, is not only showing the attention to the detail of the characters, but is an insurance that readers will not outgrow the comics, and will stay with them, because it is not an immutable fact of life that you outgrow comics at thirteen.
LEE: You know, when you mention, when you mention an ego problem, the funny thing is, I’m afraid those problems are only cropping up now. I think when Jack and I did the strips, there was no ego problem, we were just doing the best we could at the time.
KNIGHT: Well, ego is the fuel of creativity, and I’m very proud to have been able to have both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee live on Earthwatch on WBAI New York. My name is Robert Knight joined by Warren Reece and Max Schmid. And as we close this program, I would like each of you to make a concluding statement, and first you, Stan, and then you, Jack, because it’s your birthday.
LEE: Okay, well, since it is Jack’s birthday. I want to make, I wish I had had time to prepare something, I didn’t, but I just want to say that Jack, I think, has made a tremendous mark on American culture, if not on world culture, and I think he should be incredibly proud and pleased with himself and I want to wish him all the best, him and his wife Roz, and his family, and I hope that ten years from now, I’ll be in some town somewhere listening to a tribute to his 80th birthday and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to call at that time and wish him well then, too. Jack, I love ya.
KIRBY: Well, same here, Stan, but, uh… yeah. Thank you very much, Stan. But, uh… Warren? Are you there?
REECE: Yes, I am, Jack.
KIRBY: Yeah. Listen. You can understand now, how things really were. And of course, I want to thank you for inviting me on your show. And…
REECE: You can thank Robert and Max for that.
KIRBY: …thank everybody for their courtesy, and it was very pleasant to talk to you.
KNIGHT: Well, I must inject this one point of disagreement with you, Jack Kirby. And that is, it is we, who have you to thank. You and Stan!.
REECE: Amen for that. Happy birthday, Jack! And thank you, Stan!
KIRBY: Thank you, guys, you’re really great, and if I said any more, it would be, uh…
KNIGHT: You’d be looking at left field, and the surpri.. uh, the right field, excuse me, and the surprises come from left field.
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: 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
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: 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: 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…
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…
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.
Host: Was that a more optimistic time than now?
KIRBY: No. It was less optimistic, but very turbulent.
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?
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
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!
Host: One of your first employers was Victor Fox…
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…
Host: Oh, ok.
KIRBY: I never kill off anybody.
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…
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…
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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?”
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?
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.
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: 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.
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
KIRBY: And I’m rarely idle.
Host: Thank you. Now, you and I, Larry have no business being here at all.
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…
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.
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…
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: 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?
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…
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?
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.
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.
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: 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.
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! 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.
“In the early Nineties I was an avid consumer of Mondo 2000, a wildly glossy magazine filled with digital eye-candy, day-glo tressed and tattooed models draped in computer gear, and techno-hippie political screeds. The folks who published Mondo 2000 from their communal home in the San Francisco Bay area were inspired by the science-fiction novels of Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, the punk DIY ethic, and the seemingly non-stop advances in computer graphics, virtual reality, and smart drug technology. These people seemed to me, at the time, to be the embodiment of some of the future people I’d read about in comic books.
“I was also beginning my travels in cyberspace and became a member of a San Francisco-based conferencing system called The Well, run by the folks who published the Whole Earth Review. Remember, this was before the World Wide Web was invented; it was the time of dial-up entities like bulletin boards, AOL, Prodigy, Genie, and others. Mondo 2000 soon had its own forum on The Well, where one Well-ite made mention of some of the concepts in The Eternals. Our discussion of Kirby’s work went on—his use of Virtual Reality in OMAC, the bio-engineering of Arnim Zola and the High Evolutionary—and one of the editors posted that his interest was piqued and that perhaps there was an article in it. Eventually Andrew Mayer, a writer and programmer, pitched the article to the editorial tribunal and got an OK. Andrew and I felt this was a great opportunity to meet and interview Kirby, so Andrew made arrangements with the Kirbys to meet at that Summer’s San Diego Comic-Con. It was my first San Diego Con, and I was going to interview the King! Life was good!
“Andrew was well prepared. My thought was that simply keeping the ideas driving Mondo2000 in mind, we’d have a great conversation with Kirby. Andrew asked the right Mondo-like questions, and Jack took it from there! We submitted the article, including some pull quotes, but it wasn’t published. We were told one of the editorial tribunal didn’t really like comics. Go figure—Neil Gaiman and Dave Sim were later featured in the mag.”
A photo of my recently found San Diego Comic-Con ’92 badge
Here’s the audio of the interview, via YouTube:
14 August 1992: The Kirbys’ hotel room
ANDREW MAYER: Mondo’s a lot about technology and a lot about the way people, these days, deal with technology and how it’s changing their lives on a personal level and I think that’s why your work speaks to a lot of people there. In fact, I was reading the Hunger Dogs last night and I was really blown away with the way in that book that you were dealing with issues. You were taking some of the issues you were dealt with earlier and then saying what’s happening now?—what’s changed now?
JACK KIRBY: What’s changed now is that storytelling has changed. Like you said, you talk about technology—we don’t write on pads anymore. We write on computers, we write on word processors. Actually, our language may be crisper and maybe a little more urgent. Maybe we’re just not as leisurely as we used to be.
MAYER: Have you noticed a change in the way people…?
KIRBY: No, it’s not a great change. People remain people through all kinds of technologies. Sure, we had technology, too. We called ’em pencils, and we tried for effects, even with pencils. We tried for halftones. Didn’t we have Ben-day?
RAND HOPPE: Sure. Surprints.
KIRBY: Right. So if you wanted a halftone, it was just a series of dots. Really. If you analyze it and put it under a microscope, you’ve got these dots spread all the way out. Put ’em together and you get a nice halftone. In other words, it isn’t black, it isn’t white, but it’ll look great on pants! (laughter) So yes, I believe we had our own technology, but it was a simple technology.
MAYER: For instance, the Micro-Mark you were talking about in the Hunger Dogs book; Darkseid had come up with this new technology that was going to change…!
KIRBY: Yes, I was trying to stay 30 years ahead. I always try to stay about 30 years ahead doing my stories. In other words, I wouldn’t write a story about things people already knew.
MAYER: I came across something that blew my mind in OMAC where he’s got these goggles on and he’s going into this movie in his dreams. That’s predicting something that they’re coming along with now: Virtual Reality.
KIRBY: Of course, of course—but it’s something which at that period could have been ridiculed. “Those things are never going to happen.”
HOPPE: And here we are.
KIRBY: And here we are. The technology is so simple to us that we readily accept it as part of our lives. I can’t use it as well as you, but it’s your generation that’s grown up with it. So, it lives with you fellows and it’s as natural as anything.
MAYER: Like video games or whatever.
KIRBY: I envy you in a way because you can live a lot more reasonably in a contemporary world than I do.
MAYER: But there’s a lot of issues that you brought up through all the work that you did, where sometimes it makes your life more difficult.
KIRBY: Well, of course it would! Because a lot of people wouldn’t accept what you’re doing. They say, “Well, you must be a daydreamer. Give us facts.” And, of course, the facts would be very simple for that particular day. But somehow they accepted mine, because I took those fantastic facts and put them in a good story. And if the story sold magazines, I was doing my job. My job was to sell magazines.
MAYER: When you were doing those, did you think how you were affecting your audience—what somebody would be thinking about when they were reading them?
KIRBY: Sure! I felt that the audience would feel the same astonishment that I did—astonishment in these particular developments. Now, in my day the subway was a big thing, right? But today we have modes of transportation that outstrip the common subway. We can look forward to techno-tubes and things like that. We can look forward to crossing New York in 45 minutes when it takes us 2 hours now.
MAYER: So you were always looking ahead over the horizon and just pulling that back.
KIRBY: Yes, I always drew a story 30 years ahead—what I considered 30 years ahead.
MAYER: So then, somehow you mixed that in with mythology as well.
KIRBY: Oh, yes I did. I brought mythology into modern times. I brought in Hercules. I brought in Samson.
MAYER: And the New Gods.
KIRBY: Well, the New Gods were a 30 years ahead thing! (laughter) The New Gods was, “What was that mythology all about? There’s gotta be a new mythology!”
MAYER: Reading it even now, it’s exciting.
KIRBY: I was creating a mythology for the ’70s, which the ’70s didn’t have. Not only that, it was acceptable in the fact that it was a battle between father and son.
MAYER: That’s very classic.
KIRBY: It is classic! Show me the son that doesn’t defy the father! (laughter)
MAYER: And then you switch them so they have this urge from the other side.
KIRBY: Right, but they’re always afraid. Both father and son will not accept the final confrontation. A son in the end will never hurt his father—that’s my personal belief—and a father will never hurt his son. I know that I never will. My son can do anything to me that he damn pleases. (laughter) It’s just the way I feel. I can’t hurt my own flesh and blood. I feel that even villains, though totally with problems—totally beset by problems, which they have to contend with; their own character and the things that spring from their character; their issues with other people—they have to contend with that. But, they do it in a totally human way. I was talking earlier with some people about Doctor Doom. Doctor Doom is an evil person, but he’s not always been evil. Doctor Doom was a guy who was a thoroughly respected academician; a highly respected chemist, but through a flaw in his own character, he was a perfectionist. Perfectionists cannot accept imperfection. So what happens to Doctor Doom—who wasn’t even Doctor Doom at the time? He was just a chemist. He gets a cut on his chin! The perfectionist suddenly finds himself imperfect, small as that scar may be. So he can’t live with the rest of humanity. (laughter) He can’t live with himself and the rest of humanity. He knows that every man, woman and child who passes him will know that he has this scar on his chin. So he encases his face in an iron mask.
MAYER: I remember that moment. Because even though it’s going to totally scar his face, the one scar and the whole face doesn’t make any difference to him.
KIRBY: No, it doesn’t make a difference to him. Nobody’s ever going to see that scar—but they do! That scar grows so large that it affects his entire brain, and Doctor Doom becomes the ultimate villain. He’ll do anything to anybody. Why? Because you haven’t got that scar! (laughter) He has! And who do you think you are, not having a scar like that? And that’s the point of Doctor Doom. It’s a totally human viewpoint. It’s an inferiority complex. To a guy who’s superior, can you imagine how devastating that must be?
MAYER: He views himself above but he can’t escape.
KIRBY: And here is a guy who is the ultimate in brains, suddenly finding himself on a level with the ordinary guy. Say the ordinary guy walks around, “Sure I got my arm in a sling! So what?” You know? But if Doctor Doom has his arm in a sling, he’d hide the arm in a jacket! (laughter) Or he’d cut it off! He would do the ultimate thing so he could face the world as he believes he should.
MAYER: I’ve talked with other people about your work, and one thing that comes up is the idea of scale. You have Galactus who is above everybody; or the Celestials.
KIRBY: Yes. Galactus is a true god—a god in the meaning of modern mythology. Not god in a spiritual sense, but a god in a mythology that’s very modern in context. It’s a modern mythology. In other words, what I’m taking is the old religions and transforming them into our contemporary lives so we can accept them. Galactus, of course, is the ultimate figure and still he has a human problem, too! He’s got his son, Orion… or is it Darkseid?
MAYER: He deals with the Silver Surfer.
KIRBY: Right. The Silver Surfer himself was a wonderful surprise to me because I know nothing about surfing. I know nothing about surfers! Then one day I saw it in the paper. There was a guy standing on a wooden plank out in California. I was still in New York at the time, OK? And there’s this guy standing on a wooden plank and he’s riding the wave! And that’s fantastic to me! And I said, “Suppose there was a surfer who surfed the universe?” And of course the Surfer does that. He also has to have, in my estimation, a godlike appearance. And him being all silver gives him the kind of aura that makes him different from ourselves.
MAYER: You keep using the word “cosmic,” and I wanted to know what your definition of the word “cosmic” is.
KIRBY: My definition of the word “cosmic” is “everywhere.” Outside of Earth, we have everywhere. They say there’s nothing out there. I say there’s everything out there. We haven’t got the means or the money to reach it, but it’s out there!
MAYER: There was a science program on physics that was talking about how even if you have an empty thing of space, a particle can come into existence, then meet itself and disappear again. They exist for that moment and then they meet each other and go to zero. That made me think of the way you use the word “cosmic.”
KIRBY: Now the Bible itself never mentions evolution. It never says Man evolved over here on Earth. It just says, “…and then there was Man.” God made Man. And of course, Man suddenly appeared and there he was. I don’t think Man evolved from a monkey. A lot of people don’t believe Man evolved from a monkey. I believe the Bible. It says Man was there, Woman was there. Now, we don’t know how many civilizations there might have been on Earth before ours. Nobody has any idea. I can go to the greatest mind in any college. I can go to any college professor and he wouldn’t be able to tell me how many civilizations there were before ours. My guess is there might have been thirty, forty, a hundred. They might go back hundreds of thousands of years—there might have been civilizations before ours. I believe that Man was present in all of them. Man built them. Monkeys can’t do it. Armadillos can’t do it. (laughter)
MAYER: You had the Celestials come and take the ape creatures and turn them—!
KIRBY: Yes, but the Celestials can do it. The Celestials looked human, didn’t they? They had human form. Underneath those helmets was a human being—a celestial human being, someone godlike in our eyes because of the things he could do that we couldn’t.
MAYER: You would always wrap them in this technology.
KIRBY: I tried to give technology the touch of legend; and in doing so, I’m telling a story. I’m not trying to tell a truth or I’m not trying to tell a fable. I’m trying tell an honest-to-goodness understandable story; a story that you would read and understand and interpret in your own way! If you want to make them human, that’s your prerogative! And I respect that. I’ve always respected my reader. My reader’s most important to me. So, I would present a story as I felt I saw it and say, “How do you see it?”
HOPPE: That’s right. A lot of the essays that you had in your comics probed the reader that way.
KIRBY: I never presented my story as the last word to the reader. I’ve always said to myself, “How would you see it?” And if the reader saw it differently, he has a right to say that and show it.
MAYER: That’s why your stuff has so much influence on people.
KIRBY: It’s because I respect other people. I respect human beings. I’ve seen them in very happy circumstances and I’ve seen them in the dregs, believe me. So, I’ve always loved human beings because they have the capacity to suffer! (laughter) Yes, they do! I’ve tried to make my characters human, whether we consider them evil or we consider them good. Even my heroes had human qualities. My superheroes had human qualities. They would have families to defend. They would have friends to defend. They would respect women. I respect women. I felt I was presenting my views to the reader and saying, “What do you think?” I think that’s an imperative for any writer. In other words, no writer should feel that he has the last word on any subject, because he hasn’t got the capacity! He hasn’t got the capacity—he doesn’t know! I don’t know, I’m guessing as well as you are, except I may be a little more descriptive.
MAYER: In the ’70s you were creating more whole worlds and you were putting more issues into it, more concrete ideas into them than you had before. With the New Gods and the Eternals you were going for these ideas in a lot bigger way.
KIRBY: Well, I did. I felt it was incumbent on me to probe them for myself before I presented them to the reader. What do I think? What do I really think? I’m not a show-off who’s gonna say, “Well, you know, take it or leave it. Take my story or leave it”; I’m not that type. I can only say, “This is how I believe they would act.” I put enough chinks into the story to allow the reader to interpret it his way, because I’ve always respected the reader. He’s the next guy, and I’ve always respected the next guy. Sure, it was a matter of selling magazines. That was a big consideration. I had to sell magazines to make a living. So, I sold the magazines—I told the best stories I could, but I didn’t present my stories as the final word. I didn’t say, “This is the final word,” but that’s how my characters act! (laughter) And that’s all I said. That’s how I see human beings. And of course, you’re entitled to analyze my interpretation, as a reader.
MAYER: That’s happening a lot.
KIRBY: I would get letters of all kinds: “How dare you” letters. (laughter) Oh yeah! And I used to get “You’re great” letters. “You’re a great guy.” And I used to get “You’re a wonderful writer.” I used to get letters “Well, not bad.” It was a variety and you could see it in the letter column that there was a variety of people who interpreted the stories in a variety of ways. It impressed a lot of them. It impressed enough to make good sales, and that’s what I prayed for.
MAYER: Did you do a lot of research for this stuff?
KIRBY: I did research as I was growing up. I know people from the start. I love people. I grew up in a place where people suffered, where people laughed, where people had a good time. It was an extreme period. Everything was felt in an almost bodily way. You couldn’t be subtle. In my neighborhood you couldn’t be subtle. You had to act from your own instincts, and we did. If a guy insulted me, I punched him. And if I insulted him, he punched me. It was a reaction, it was a thing to do. You couldn’t do otherwise. There was nothing else you could do.
MAYER: But the world doesn’t seem quite that way now.
KIRBY: Oh, now I think it’s a lot more sensible, it’s a lot more subtle.
MAYER: People get at each other without having to hit each other.
KIRBY: Yes, of course, you learn that along the way. I grew up like everybody else. I felt that I had begun to tell stories in a more mature way. And there was not only fighting in them—I never left the fighting out—besides the fighting, I had the story develop with more mature reason. Why was there a fight? I had to give a mature reason for it.
MAYER: In OMAC, you’d give a little of the future that you were concocting and then you’d have this presentation.
KIRBY: Listen, let’s face it, the future is a mystery! Wouldn’t you love to know what’s in the future? (laughter) And, of course, the reader would, too. And I’d say, “In the future, this is what’s going to happen!” And the reader says, “In the future! Gee! What does this guy know?” (laughter) And of course, I’d present it as if I really knew—to tell a good story. That was to make the story believable. If you make your characters knowledgeable in your own way, make them share your own knowledge, then you’ll have humanized characters. You’ll have characters who are human beings just like yourself. You have foibles. You have great traits. You have things that will make you candidates for Vice- President. (laughter)
MAYER: That may not be so hard these days. (laughter)
KIRBY: There you go! Like, my ambition was, I wanted to be a crooked politician; because coming from a deprived neighborhood, money meant a lot, so I felt that dirty politicians made a lot of it. I told my mother that I’d be a crooked politician.
MAYER: I think you rose to higher things!
KIRBY: My mother would have none of it.
MAYER: The concept I love is the Uni-Mind; do you remember that from the Eternals? When all the Eternals join together?
MAYER: In computers now, people meet over the computer.
KIRBY: That’s what a computer is.
MAYER: The Uni-Mind seemed to be a great symbol of that; of everybody coming together.
KIRBY: And not only that, that computer will someday do it by itself. Because it’ll be on some automatic position, or it might go by itself. I mean, figure it out. If a computer really thinks in its own mechanical way, suppose it really begins to think on its own? Couldn’t that possibly happen? You walk out of the room, and suddenly this thing goes off! And the entire room begins to click.
MAYER: They’re trying to make it happen!
KIRBY: And you come back and the room is changed! (laughter) There are four more lights! The computer likes more lights. The soda you were drinking—the computer likes the soda, so he’s made an opening where the soda is, because the computer has seen you do it and the computer respects you because you’ve run him. You made him.
MAYER: I’m very familiar with this technology and even though I’m more familiar with it, you come out with very simple ways of discussing concepts that really are what people are doing right now. You say that the computer watches what you do and the hottest thing in artificial intelligence now is the computer learns from the input of the user.
KIRBY: Yes, the computer does learn. Where is the end point? Suppose we make the perfect computer? For instance, we can talk into the computer and it types everything out by itself. And the computer in this manner begins to think on its own. Suppose it doesn’t like XXX. You come in and you read this thing—it’s not the thing you gave the computer! You put the paper in and you speak to the computer, and you type out “What’s wrong with this?” and the computer types out “It stinks!” (laughter)
MAYER: It happens now more than you know already!
KIRBY: I don’t know. I just haven’t followed it.
MAYER: You understand it already.
KIRBY: I think there’s a distinct possibility. How far does automation go before you can walk out of this room and this automaton begins to move and think by itself, because it’s built to think?!
MAYER: Do you think it’s good or dangerous?
KIRBY: Sure, it is dangerous! Suppose it closes the door; you can’t get in. (laughter) It wants to be alone! Maybe it doesn’t like you anymore! (laughter)
MAYER: Mister Machine is sort of the end result of that. He’s a machine but he’s suddenly gone so far that he’s dealing with human problems. He’s a human.
KIRBY: Right. Mister Machine is the ultimate machine. He’s a human machine. Ultimately that’s what the machine wants to be.
MAYER: Like Pinocchio, in a way.
KIRBY: Well, the machine knows that we’re responsible for it—that it wouldn’t be there without us. The machine knows that. If it begins to think, “Where would I be if it wasn’t for these guys? I wanna be like them! These guys must know something!” (laughter) It’s not gonna see you as a god because it knows you can get a sniffle, it knows you can twist a finger. The machine knows that. “These guys aren’t perfect. Maybe I’m more perfect than they are. I’ll show these guys something, I’ll test ’em!” And suppose the machine wins the test? So you have that kind of a contest. How far can you go with the computer before the computer begins to start on you? The computer has the possibility of thinking on its own! That possibility exists!
MAYER: That’s what people want them to do!
KIRBY: It’s very real! Suppose a guy walks out of his office and says to his computer, “Don’t forget, I need 25 copies before I get back at two o’clock” and the computer absorbs it.
MAYER: There’s a new handheld gadget coming out now and you write on it “Meet Jack Kirby Friday at noon.” It takes “Jack Kirby”; puts it over there; says, “Friday—this Friday? Noon— twelve o’clock” and puts it in your datebook. And all you’ve written on it is “Meet Jack Friday at noon.”
KIRBY: It’s very possible. I know it’s far out, but it isn’t that far out considering the sophistication of the modern computer.
MAYER: And that’s why I think people are coming back—the stuff you did 20 years ago, suddenly it’s very current.
KIRBY: Oh sure, it is; it’s contemporary. Of course at that time it was very, very far out. If the fellows didn’t like the stories, they could’ve kicked my behind! (laughter)
MAYER: So you told a good story along with it.
KIRBY: I had to sell ’em a good story. That’s what I mean, you have to be a good storyteller, too. Why is the machine doing that? Maybe the machine is lonely. Maybe the machine wants to know what a man does, that makes him smile. The guy’ll sit at the machine and suddenly he’ll think of something and he laughs out loud or he smiles. The machine says, “Why is he doing that? What’s he thinking about that makes him smile? I’ve got to ask him that! I’ve got to ask him that,” because he wants to find out. And suppose the computer starts talking. I mean, reflex action! It’s got a brain, okay? Maybe our brains came into existence because of mere reflex action! We were just creatures walking along, learning our way—I don’t believe that we walked on all fours—we were guys just walking around trying to learn about our own existence, which is what we’re still doing today. And here we have these sophisticated machines who are just being born, who are growing up and suddenly they begin to realize, “What do these guys know that I don’t? I’ve got to ask them!” And suppose you type something on the machine—something that’s very businesslike—and the machine types back “Shit on that! Tell me why you blew your nose!” (laughter) Right?
KIRBY: The machine wants to know that. Why does this guy take out a handkerchief and blow his nose in it? And you have to tell the machine, “Well, there’s mucus in my nose.” Then the machine begins to understand. It says, “Where does this mucous come from?” And then you say, “Well, it just gathers from your body, and it just comes out from your nose.” And the computer says, “Gee, that’s terribly exciting!” (laughter) And the machine may try to build on its own something like that, because it thinks it’s exciting! I think that’s the point we’re at. We’re building machines that are too damn sophisticated. They’re too damn sophisticated, and they’re on the brink of something that we know nothing about.
MAYER: I think it’s already happening.
KIRBY: I don’t know.
MAYER: I go through periods where sometimes it frightens me and sometimes it inspires me.
KIRBY: Yeah. Suppose you come into the office and the machine begins to type and the typewritten sheet says, “I expected you at 2:30!” (laughter)
MAYER: “Where have you been?”
KIRBY: Yeah, “Where have you been?” (laughter)
MAYER: Well, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time.
KIRBY: Well, it’s been my pleasure. You guys are wonderful. I thank you for your kind interest.
MAYER: I want to say thanks for everything you’ve done. I started reading your stuff when I was very young and I’m writing science fiction and doing stuff now…
KIRBY: Well, you guys are on the brink of all that and you can have a wonderful time with it, OK?
MAYER & HOPPE: OK. Thank you.
KIRBY: All right, take care of yourselves and stay healthy.