Looking For The Awesome – 3. Escape To New York

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


Half a world away a low, mean rumble was forming, it came in the roar of fires, the flash of long knives, and the click-clacking of hobnailed boots. The Old Country was once again threatening to intrude on the lives of those who had escaped. In Germany, an expatriated Austrian was raising the specter of Jewish oppression in order to gain political power. Almost immediately upon assuming the Chancellorship of Germany, Hitler began pushing legal actions against Germany’s Jews. In 1933, he proclaimed a one-day boycott against Jewish shops, a law was passed against kosher butchering and Jewish children began experiencing restrictions in public schools. By 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship. By 1936, Jews were prohibited from participation in parliamentary elections and signs reading “Jews Not Welcome” appeared in many German cities. (Incidentally, these signs were taken down in the late summer in preparation for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin). These actions did not go unnoticed.

1933 was a momentous year. It started early when Adolf Hitler became a coalition chancellor of a bitterly divided Germany. FDR was inaugurated as the 32nd president and instituted what became known as the New Deal. Prohibition was appealed. The Dust Bowl swirled. Urban legend says an unemployed Jewish novelty salesman named Max Gaines was cleaning out the attic at his mother’s house. To kill some time, he began reading some Sunday funnies from a collection his father had saved. Suddenly the idea hit him: if he enjoyed reading old comic strips like “Joe Palooka,” and “Mutt and Jeff,” maybe the rest of America would, too!

The truth is somewhat drier and mundane. In 1929, a pulp publisher Dell Publications attempted a weekly tabloid style publication in full color featuring new stories. The cover was soft and pulpy. This was a very early attempt at a newspaper type insert yet sold at newsstands, and died after only 13 issues. Created by George Delacourt in 1921, Dell Publication majored in pulps, but experimented greatly with different formats and themes. These color inserts; remembered only by the company that printed them; Eastern Color Printing Company of Westbury Connecticut were the first market available comic pamphlet ever published. Eastern continued printing odd tabloid, newspaper comic inserts, and broadsized advertizing publications when an employee—probably Harry Wildenberg and or M.C. Gaines–suggested that folding the tabloid size sheets in quarters would economically make for a small book sized pamphlet. The problem of sequencing the individual pages printed 4 at a time on newspaper sized sheets into an orderly stack was solved by Morris Margolis of the competing Charlton Company, who had been hired to do the binding. Charlton was a nearby firm in Derby Connecticut that had started out as a cereal box printing company that also published multiple style publications such as racing forms and music lyric mags.

Eastern was a printer, they had no experience as a publisher, so they approached Dell-the earlier comic publisher to front the new project. A 50/50 split was worked out for Dell to publish.

Source material was worked out through the reprint of syndicate suppliers for 10 dollars a page and customers were found through regular advertisers of Eastern like Milk-O-Malt, Kinney Shoes, P&G and Wheateena. They produced the first modern sized comic.

Their first book was Funnies On Parade (1934) a Procter and Gamble giveaway. The initial run was 10,000 issues which disappeared quickly as kids redeemed the coupons in record time. Gaines quickly worked on other companies to join in. His next was A Carnival Of Comics, marketed as a department store premium. This book had an amazing 100,000 printing of which Gaines saved a few dozen for his own. Gaines hit on the idea of pasting a ten cent price on leftovers of A Carnival of Comics, and as an experiment dropped the remaindered copies at several different newsstands. The test case was a greater success than he had expected; within the weekend they had all sold out. Comic books were on their way as a new force of generating income for publishers. With the success of A Carnival of Comics, Max Gaines followed through with another comic-book title, a one-hundred page comic book called Century of Comics. Between 100,000 and 250,000 copies of both Century of Comics and A Carnival of Comics would be given away as a premium that year of comics’ infancy.

Dell did some research and the results weren’t especially favorable; with complaints about the quality and worries about the attraction of reprints soon fizzling out. Dell to their sad regret backed out of the deal. Eastern decided to self-publish and found a backer when supply leader American News became the newsstand distributor.

Eastern followed in May with Famous Funnies #1, Series 2, the first monthly comic book to be sold on newsstands. The first issue relied upon material borrowed from the earlier books, but by the second issue, they began buying new material at 5 dollars a page. A new dynamic had entered the industry.

After small start-up losses, issue #8 turned a profit (earning $2,664.25), and an industry was born. Like Johnny Appleseed, Gaines took his idea to other pulp, and magazine publishers and new comics sprung up over night. In 1935, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson-as officious as his name- began printing all-new material and named his book New Fun. By 1941 thirty comic-book publishers were producing 150 different titles monthly, with combined sales of 15 million copies and a youth readership of 60 million, making the emerging comic-book industry one of the few commercial bright spots of the Great Depression.

1934 brought the first big change to the Lower East Side. Franklin Roosevelt had released government funding for individuals who wanted to rebuild the cities. The first money went to a river edge section of the Lower East Side sarcastically called “Lung Block” owned by flamboyant developer Frederick French; also the builder of Tudor City. This area had been given that tag due to it having the highest percentage of tuberculosis sufferers in the U.S. This was the worst of the worst, a section so bad that the neighbors shunned it. Its mix of seafaring transients, lowlifes, disease, prostitution and beer joints set it apart from the residential neighborhoods on all sides.

Isaac N. Phelps-Stokes, the noted reformer wrote;

“The Lung Block, as I named it then, was far down on the East Side near the river. In early years, when that quarter was a center of fashion in our town, many of the buildings had been great handsome private homes, but long ago they had been turned into grimy rookeries, the spacious rooms divided into little cell-like chambers, many only stifling closets with no outer light or air. I can still smell the odors there. In what had been large yards behind, cheap rear tenements had been built, leaving between front and rear buildings only deep dank filthy courts. Nearly four thousand people lived on the block and, in rooms, halls, on stairways, in courts and out on fire escapes, were scattered some four hundred babies. Homes and people, good and bad, had only thin partitions between them. A thousand families struggled on, while many sank and polluted the others. The Lung Block had eight thriving barrooms and five houses of ill fame. And with drunkenness, foul air, darkness and filth to feed upon, the living germs of the Great White Plague [tuberculosis], coughed up and spat on floors and walls, had done a thriving business for years.”


Lillian D. Wald recalls a visit to Lung Block that catalyzed her desire to remain and help this part of the city;

“From the schoolroom where I had been giving a lesson in bed-making, a little girl led me one drizzling March morning. She had told me of her sick mother, and gathering from her incoherent account that a child had been born, I caught up the paraphernalia of the bed-making lesson and carried it with me.

The child led me over broken roadways, — there was no asphalt, although its use was well established in other parts of the city — over dirty mattresses and heaps of refuse — it was before Colonel Waring had shown the possibility of clean streets even in that quarter — between tall, reeking houses whose laden fire- escapes, useless for their appointed purpose, bulged with household goods of every description. The rain added to the dismal appearance of the streets and to the discomfort of the crowds which thronged them, intensifying the odors which assailed me from every side. Through Hester and Division streets we went to the end of Ludlow; past odorous fish-stands, for the streets were a market-place, unregulated, unsupervised, unclean; past evil smelling, uncovered garbage cans; and — perhaps worst of all, where so many little children played — past the trucks brought down from more fastidious quarters and stalled on these already overcrowded streets, lending themselves inevitably to many forms of indecency.

The child led me on through a tenement hallway, across a court where open and un- screened closets were promiscuously used by men and women, up into a rear tenement, by slimy steps whose accumulated dirt was augmented that day by the mud of the streets, and finally into the sickroom.

All the maladjustments of our social and economic relations seemed epitomized in this brief journey and what was found at the end of it. The family to which the child led me was neither criminal nor vicious. Although the husband was a cripple, although the family of seven shared their two rooms with boarders, — who were literally boarders, since a piece of timber was placed over the floor for them to sleep on, — and although the sick woman lay on a wretched, unclean bed, soiled with a hemorrhage two days old, they were not degraded human beings, judged by any measure of moral values.

In fact, it was very plain that they were sensitive to their condition, and when, at the end of my ministrations, they kissed my hands (those who have undergone similar experiences will, 1 am sure, understand), it would have been some solace if by any conviction of the moral unworthiness of the family I could have defended myself as a part of a society which permitted such conditions to exist. Indeed, my subsequent acquaintance with them revealed the fact that, miserable as their state was, they were not without ideals for the family life, and for society, of which they were so unloved and unlovely a part.”

That morning’s experience was a baptism of fire. Deserted were the laboratory and the academic work of the college. I never returned to them. On my way from the sick- room to my comfortable student quarters my mind was intent on my own responsibility. To my inexperience it seemed certain that conditions such as these were allowed because people did not know, and for me there was a challenge to know and to tell. When early morning found me still awake, my naive con- viction remained that, if people knew things, — and “things” meant everything implied in the condition of this family — such horrors would cease to exist, and I rejoiced that I had had a training in the care of the sick that in itself would give me an organic relationship to the neighborhood in which this awakening had come.”


Lung Block section was to be torn down and rebuilt as a 4 block higher quality low income housing development; replacing the older tenements. The new development was to be called Knickerbocker Village. The out with the old, in with the new atmosphere wasn’t universally loved. Long time residents knew that thousands of existing homes would be torn down to make way for newer homes, without any promise for the displaced being returned. Some were even nostalgic for the old times, romantically remembering the closeness, and uniqueness of the neighborhood—much like old soldiers telling happy stories of their exploits while conveniently leaving out the dead who never returned.

Knickerbocker Village

The red bare brick 12 story buildings loomed over the 5-7 story tenements

Jimmy Durante, the entertainer, who grew up in the Lung Block ward, reminisced to Joseph Mitchell about a time “‘when the East Side amounted to something’….Sitting there in the dark theater, nursing his hangover, the big-nosed comedian began to talk about his childhood, the days when he used to run wild on Catherine Street, raising hell with the other kids, the days when he liked to go barefooted and they had to run him down and catch him every winter to put shoes on him…” Like most children who were reared in slums, he had a slightly different perspective than the housing reformers. “‘We kids used to have a good time,’ he said. ‘They tore down where my home was and where my pop had his [barber] shop. They tore it down to put up this high-class tenement house, this Knickerbocker Village. Most of the old-timers moved out long ago.” One has only to read the memoirs of Abraham Cahan’s novel, The Rise of David Levinsky (1917) or Mike Gold’s Jews Without Money (1930), both writers from the Lower East Side, to sense their mixed pride in the ghetto they were so desperate to escape. The emotional glue that bound the tenement-dwellers to the Old Country dissolved when the rickety buildings were demolished and replaced by anonymous, modern high-rises. Writer Alfred Kazin wrote; “I miss her old, sly and withered face. I miss all those ratty little wooden tenements, born with the smell of damp in which there grew up so many school teachers, city accountants, rabbis, cancer specialists, functionaries of the revolution, and strong-arm men for Murder, Inc.”

Some of the nostalgia of Durante and others for slum-bred ambitions seems in retrospect a disguised ethnic boasting. A personal feeling of “It was OK for me, and the other Jewish stars that made it from the old neighborhood; the rose colored glasses of the successful. When the great city builder Robert Moses met some local complainers he laughed and scoffed. “the slum is still the chief cause of urban disease and decay,” he contending that its “irredeemable rookeries had to be eradicated.” He did not buy the theory that a few dozen success stories made up for the thousands who suffered disease, lived in poverty and died of malnutrition due to unsanitary conditions. To Moses, the shanties and flop houses needed to be attacked with a meat axe, not a scalpel.

It would be just a matter of time when the majority of the old tenements would give way to the newer gov’t. assisted housing. In some ways better- with their well lighted rooms, and push button elevators- but also lacking in the atmosphere, and emotional bonding found in the ghetto houses. The new residents seemed so hit and miss: more temporary Waspy Wall Street workers, than committed ethnic family people. It has been said that only 2 pre-existing Lung Block families were rented new places in Knickerbocker Village- the rest migrant singles from upper Manhattan looking for cheap rents while they struggled in their bottom rung jobs. By then, many of the young generation also figured out ways to escape the shackles of the Lower East Side. The change would be slow, but the old tenements would soon be giving way to a new style tenement. The old Jewish residents gave way to a new mix of Black, Spanish and Caribbean peoples. The Jews began a new migration- to the suburbs. For the first time, starting in the early 1940’s, the population of the Lower East Side began to subside. People were moving out more rapidly then moving in. After World War II, increasing prosperity and tolerance, along with government housing benefits to returning war veterans, like Jack Kirby, allowed increasing numbers of Jews to fulfill their desire for single-family houses. Upwardly mobile Jews started moving out of their old communities into higher-status suburban areas.

Interestingly, by the mid-forties, the Knickerbocker Village would get its own reputation. It would be considered the Commie Commune. It was the meeting place for The American Labor Party, and other leftist groups. It was a known location to find friendly leftists and agitators. Among the lower-middle-class radicals attracted to Knickerbocker Village were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who moved into a three-room apartment in the spring of 1942. They paid $45.75 a month for their river-view, eleventh-floor accommodations, and made use of the project’s nursery school and playground after they had children, and it was there, the bulk of evidence now suggests, that Julius conspired with Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, to spy for the Soviet Union, but we’ve jumped too far ahead.

In late 1934, the Kurtzberg family was doing poorly; perhaps their worst ever. Work in the clothing factories was sporadic. Jacob was 17 and starting his senior year of high school. The family decided that it was necessary for him to quit school, and help earn a real salary. Jack resisted, but eventually gave in. He tried various jobs, such as sign painting and push cart vending with his Dad, but his dream was always to make his artistry pay off. His artwork for the BBR, now being signed “Jack” Kurtzberg, had improved and his confidence was such that he started submitting gag strips to magazines. Jack dreamed of going out to Hollywood, but Mama Rose swore that there were “naked women” out there just waiting to drag young Jacob down with them. The idea probably held some allure to Jake, but a mother’s word was law. Besides as Jack once mentioned “naked women never seemed drawn to him.” Summer of 1935 would find Jack answering a want ad for the Fleischer Animation Studio. They were looking for animation artists. So with his meager portfolio in tow, and most likely a glowing letter of recommendation from Harry Slonaker, Jack headed up town to 1600 Broadway. His dream of getting out of the ghetto was taking its first tentative steps.


One has to start somewhere!

From the slums of the Bowery to the heart of Times Square and the entertainment district; things were looking up! The Fleischer Animation Studios was created in 1921, when Max and Dave Fleischer broke away from the Bray Cartoon Studios. Max was a technical wizard; he had created the rotoscope, a device that allowed cartoons to be easily transformed from live action films. He also made a staging system, the Three-Dimensional Setback, or Stereoptical Process, which allowed layers of painted transparencies to be manipulated and filmed, creating the illusion of movement and depth. The Fleischer Studios had pioneered sound cartoons several years before The Jazz Singer would revolutionize the industry, and they streamlined the animation process by creating the role of in-betweener so that their main animator, Dick Heumer could produce more work. The studios’ most famous characters were Betty Boop, and Popeye. They were second to only Disney in popularity and quality of cartoons. In 1935, Fleischer suffered a short, but devastating walkout by most of their labor force. Perhaps this was the impetus for the help wanted ad. Lucky for Jacob being Jewish wouldn’t matter to the Fleischers, their family was also from the Galicia sector of Austria, notably Krakow, and their father was a tailor. Jake was awfully young for such a position, but perhaps the Fleischer s looked at Jake and recognized one of their own.

“At one long table there was six or seven people. At the lead table the guy would draw three drawings, and then pass it down to the next person who would add in three more drawings, then he would pass it down to the next person who maybe added in checkers on the suit, and then he would pass it down to me and I would have to put the spats on or maybe the cuffs. This would go on all day and by the end of the day the character took a step—it was animation. It was a method of turning out animated movies, and it looked great at the movies, but to me I was working at a factory, just like my dad, who worked at a clothing factory. After a short period, I just walked out and quit. I didn’t say nothin’ I just quit.”

Work as a trainee in an animation studio was hardly the stuff of dreams. Doing such uncreative jobs as clean-up, and opaquing cells, Jack constantly tried to move up the artistic corporate ladder. Within a couple of months, he tested for and was promoted to in-betweener. This consisted of filling in the frames between major action poses with incremental variations to give the impression of movement. While it did involve drawing, he was still just a cog in an assembly line. Jack remembers, “I worked along a row of tables about 200-300 yards long. It was like a factory. I began to see the studio as a garment factory. I associated the garment factory with my father and I didn’t want to work like my father. I love being an individual.” Though Jack toiled in anonymity, he wanted more.

The Fleischer family pre-Popeye

On the plus side, Jack had a steady salary. He was helping put food on the family table. He could brag to his friends that he was a working artist, and point to the fact that he was partly responsible for the Popeye cartoons they were watching on screen. The other boys, seeing Jake as a success story, would press Jacob to put in a good word for them and help them get work. Concurrently, Jack continued his work for the BBR newspaper. Jack didn’t like the work but he had nothing but love and respect for the Fleischers. “The executives were fine people. Their animation speaks for itself, but it wasn’t my kind of thing.”

While the job of in-betweening may not have been glamorous, it provided Jack a unique perspective of human dynamics, and the art of movement. It taught him how the body flowed from graceful subtlety to sudden exaggerated force. Popeye’s extreme fighting perspectives and jarring explosive power gave him a solid foundation of forced perspective, and action-reaction dynamics from which he would later revolutionize the comic page. The layered depths of animated backgrounds gave Jack a hands-on knowledge of how to attain a three- dimensional effect on a two-dimensional medium. More than anything, it would be these added aspects that would separate his art from the flat illustrative art of most comic strip artists. It was this melding of illustrative art techniques learned from the masters such as Raymond, and Foster, and animation techniques learned from Fleischer that would propel Jack Kirby into the top tier of comic book artists.

In 1936, Harry A Chesler formed the first comic packaging house that hired writers and artist to produce comic material that could be sold as-is to the new books. The Chesler Co soon picked up new accounts such as MLJ and Comics Magazine Company. Within a year, Chesler became his own customer when he published his own series with Star Comics and Star Rangers. His studio features such artists as Will Eisner, George Tuska and Bill Everett. After a year he took his profits and sold his two books to Ultem and later a different book, Feature Funnies to Quality Comics Group. He returned to comic publishing in 1941 in a big way.

For a year, rumors came down that due to the continuing labor problems; Fleischer was considering a move to Florida. Mama Rose made it very clear that Jack would not be accompanying them. Jack put up little fight. So Jack began looking for a new job. With a now more impressive resume, Jack approached the newspaper strip syndicates. In the summer of ‘36, Jack Kurtzberg would go from a job where nobody knew his name, to one where he had more names than you could shake a #5 Windsor Newton at.


Jack showing his class warfare side even the dog has its nose upturned

In the 1930’s, America was awash with newspapers. There were literally thousands of different local papers. A city like New York had over 50 different “rags”; there were dailies, weeklies, Sundays, there were trade papers, school papers, financial papers, ethnic papers, sports papers, foreign language, and political tracts. Even social groups like the BBR had a newspaper. They all sought to carve themselves a market, some within a small niche, and some by major market blanketing. Nothing was more important to reader loyalty and identification than the funny pages. Dr. George Gallup’s first research study, released in 1930, analyzed the preferences of newspaper readers in Des Moines, Iowa. His report produced two startling conclusions concerning the Sunday comics: The least popular comic strip was better read than the main news story, and adults as well as children were avid readers of the Sunday comics section, refuting the assumption that the Sunday comics section was largely the purview of young people. Circulation could rise or fall by thousands of readers with the addition, or loss of a particular comic strip. The creators of the more popular comic strips were better known and more respected than the beat writers, sports columnists and muckrakers– and better paid! Bud Fisher, creator of the popular strip Mutt and Jeff became a millionaire after a nasty copyright fight between competing syndicates. The court awarded him the rights to the cartoon strip plus the profits from the licensed use of his characters. An early example of what would become common; court fights over the copyrights and licensed use of cartoon characters, with a rare win for the actual creator.

Elmo’s only known picture (from passport) Bud Fisher jokes at his prosperity

For every large metropolitan newspaper such as the New York Herald, or San Francisco Chronicle which could afford the cream of the comic strip crop from the major syndicates, there were dozens of small local papers trying to compete any way they could. One answer was to buy knock-off comic features from the many minor league syndicates that had sprung up. Just like the baseball minor leagues, these syndicates attracted has-beens, never will-bes, and the occasional rookie diamond in the rough.

Lincoln Features Syndicate was just such a farm league operation. Run by Horace T. Elmo, it specialized in low grade clones of many of the more popular comic features. Not much is known about H.T. Elmo’s start, born in 1903 and cartooning by 1930 on unknown strips, but by 1935, his syndicate began producing numerous features for smaller market papers.

When Jack started working at Lincoln in late summer of 1936, Elmo’s firm was a thriving, though mediocre concern. They were producing more than a few ongoing strips for a wide range of small papers located all across the country. Elmo himself was a competent cartoonist working on strips such as The Goofus Family and Facts You Never Knew. Other artists were supplying a wide variety of strips such as Little Buddy and Sally Snickers. Perhaps the best of the bunch was a strip credited to Elmo, but drawn by Larry Antonette. Dash Dixon was a Flash Gordon takeoff that ran for several years. Though not as imaginative, or as illustrative as Raymond’s masterpiece, it did have energy and substance. Detective Riley was also a long running strip usually copying Harold Gould’s Dick Tracy, drawn early on by Elmo himself.


Drawn by Elmo-once thought to be early Kirby (probable lettering)

Elmo liked Jack, and was impressed by the variety of styles Jack showed in his portfolio, but Lincoln couldn’t match his salary at Fleischer unless Kirby could produce twice as many features as the other staff artist. Jack assured him he could and jumped at the opportunity. The appearance of a large stable of artists was important to the small syndicates, so the use of multiple names, and styles became common. If one artist’s work could be foisted off as that of several people, than more the better. Thus we would see the work of Jack Kurtzberg credited to Lawrence, Bob Dart, Brady, and Barton and of course, H.T. Elmo. But the name he would use most often, on several different strips was Jack Curtiss. It seemed Jack like short punchy names. Jack would explain. “I wanted to be an all-American. Much to the chagrin of his parents, most of his nom-de-plumes would be short punchy Anglo-styled names.

Jack immediately took over several series such as Facts You Never Knew, Curiosities And Oddities and Laughs From The Days News! These were all gag a day, Ripley’s Believe it or Not style strips that presented trivia or curiosities in a humorous, cartoony vein. On Your Health Comes First Jack used a more realistic style and a ton of research to promote physical well being. He rounded out his work supplying puzzles and riddles for the kids in Our Puzzle Corner using a sometimes goofy big-foot approach.

This variety of styles and mix of genres was just what Jack needed. The discipline learned at BBR, paid off as he applied himself like never before. His learning curve was quick and the improvement was immediately noticeable. Most noticeable was his inking, his line became more varied in width and fluidity, and he became more competent with shading and the spotting of blacks–a necessary skill to give the drawing depth and form.


Early strip note uneven and varied fonts on strip

His lettering, a real weakness early on soon became consistent, controlled, and precise. In fact, his lettering style became so unique that it is one of the easiest aspects to use when trying to trace early unaccredited art to Jack. His placement of dialogue balloons and narrative text became better integrated into the cartoon panels.


Samples of Kirby’s letters assembled by Harry Mendryk—note U, R, !, ? easy give-aways

One of the benefits of working for Lincoln was that Jake was able to draw his strips at home. Gone was the monotonous row upon row assembly line set-up at Fleischer. Jake worked at the kitchen table, around meals and other family gatherings, always under the watchful eyes of a proud Mother. Though it was noisy due to all the traffic, at least Jack had someone to bring him soup and rub his aching shoulders. It is due to Rose, and her personal scrapbook of Jack’s early strips that historians have been able to document so much of Jack’s early work. Jack’s memory for details of his time with Lincoln was sketchy, but he remembered that it was happy time–he was a working artist doing what he loved. The pay wasn’t great, but it was as far from factory work as he could get.

For months, Jack worked on these stand alone cartoon strips, learning and growing. Finally Elmo decided to increase Jack’s workload. Whether it was due to Jack’s pushing to do serial type adventure strips like his idols, Raymond and Foster, is unknown. Perhaps a demand from some of the newspapers for more action strips in addition to the gag a day features, either way, Jack was asked to produce three new action strips with continuing characters and storylines.

On April 8, 1937 Lincoln premiered The Black Buccaneer by Jack Curtiss, “Cyclone” Burke by Bob Brown, and Socko the Seadog signed Teddy, but all drawn by Jack. Continuing Elmo’s method of operation, none of the three strips were innovative. Black Buccaneer was a Captain Blood knock-off. There had been an earlier Black Buccaneer in a juvenile series but there seems to be no connection as a source between the two. “Cyclone” was a two-bit Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon carbon copy, and Socko was offered as a low rent Popeye.


Black Buccaneer lovely wench!


Cyclone Burke nice cinematic vista

Cyclone and Black Buccaneer did not last two full months, but not due to Jack’s art. His art on these two strips was top flight. The period costumes of Buccaneer were spot on, in a Hollywood kind of way. The female lead, Faith Robbins was a not so subtle homage to Olivia de Havilland; the female star of the Captain Blood film from just a year earlier. His backgrounds were exciting and detailed, and his characters were individual and recognizable. The line work was bold in an etched style reminiscent of Will Eisner. Cyclone’s aerial scenes are interesting with varied angles and acrobatics straight out of Wings. His sci-fi machinery, buildings and robot look right out of Metropolis or Shape of Things to Come. Given the chance, Kirby’s many hours in front of a movie screen began to pay off.

Socko the Seadog, on the other hand would continue for several years. There are several hundred samples found in Momma’s stash. Of the three strips, one could make an argument that Socko was initially Jack’s weakest work. The art was flat, with simple or no backgrounds, and little shading. The plots, such as they were, were simple slapstick gags, usually having Socko in a Popeyesque smack-down with another swabbie. It is not surprising that some of the panels were direct swipes of Segar’s squinty eyed sailor. Yet that child-like simplicity might have been its initial strength.


Socko no backgrounds, just action


swipe from Popeye becomes Socko

There was also an oddity that emanated from the Elmo studio. In 1937, there was a small pamphlet put out by banks as a premium. The Romance of Money was a collection of 23 Kirby drawn pages showing the virtues of saving money. It offered a history of money with short vignettes showing how money evolved, and how banking and finance work.

Though released in 1937, the art, format and lettering match up more closely to Jack’s work in his earliest 1936 Lincoln strips. It suggests that this might have been a set of samples for a proposed newspaper feature. When that didn’t work out, Elmo later packaged it and sold it to banks to be used as an advertising premium, not unlike other new-sized comic books. It was reprinted at least once in the 1940’s. However it came about, crude as it was, it is recognized as Kirby’s first published cartoon work in book form.

The artwork is nice but the lettering was terrible, crooked, multi-sized and uneven, barely 24 pages


Kirby letters for sure the rest is unknown probably Kirby from Mama’s stash

There is another oddity. H T Elmo had a long lasting strip called Detective Riley. For the couple years it ran it featured different pencilers—Elmo himself for a while. There is a short period with an unknown penciler, yet this same short period does feature Kirby’s lettering. It’s possible that Kirby also penciled but no evidence. The little mouse tail line for the balloon, the bubble balloon, the double exclamation points and the rounded “U” are just some of the match-ups. The artwork is too generic to tell for sure. Some have said that the ¾ male pose was a Kirby trait. There were examples of Riley in Mama Kirby’s stash book. Kirby certainly could have been aping Elmo’s preceding strips.

The work at Lincoln was steady, but low paying. Promised bonuses never appeared. Jack still had time on his hands, and time meant money. It wasn’t unusual for artists to share new job possibilities. Chesler was just the first. New comic art studios were popping up needing budding artist who would work for cheap.

day gags

A new syndicate was looking for artists. This small outfit had recently contracted with an overseas company to provide strips for a weekly British magazine. From small acorns, big oaks burst forth, or in this case, a whole forest!

Will Eisner had gotten into comic strip work in early 1936 when his friend and fellow Dewitt Clinton High alum, Bob Kane had told him about a new comic book publisher looking for art. The owner was John Henle, who ran a clothing factory, but wanted to expand into publishing. His one and only title was called WOW! What a Magazine. Samuel “Jerry” Iger, a comic veteran dating all the way back to 1934, when he supplied strips to the seminal comic book Famous Funnies, was brought in to edit this book. Iger bought several strips from Will Eisner. Unfortunately this new title and publisher closed down after the fourth issue. Will was desperate. He filled in some by working for Harry A Chesler.

Will in 1941

So in late 1936, with little freelance prospects at hand, this unlikely duo, the 19-year old prodigy, and the veteran, threw caution to the wind. Realizing the need for original material to fill the funny pages, they formed a comic art syndicate titled Universal Phoenix Features. Taking a small office on Madison Ave. and 40th Street, Eisner and Iger hired two sales reps and they hit the streets. Universal Phoenix would most commonly be referred to as Eisner and Iger Studios, or shortened to just E&I. E&I started slowly, supplying some local papers with strips, but soon got a contract with Editor’s Press to produce artwork for their overseas magazines. Its main title was WAGS, a weekly tabloid printed in the U.S. but distributed in the UK, and Australia. Editor’s Press had recently loss some British strips and needed some new features to replace them. E&I’s first strips appeared in WAGS #17, dated April 23, 1937.

Much of the earliest artwork was supplied by Eisner and Iger themselves, some from revamped strips first seen in Famous Funnies and WOW! What a Magazine, and some new. As they expanded, other artists were added such as Eisner’s school friend Bob Kane plus Dick Briefer, and Mort Meskin. Will had a routine of placing want ads in the local papers for artists and interviewing them on Monday mornings. Jack Kurtzberg, answering a newspaper ad, joined in early 1938 and was immediately assigned three strips; quite an accomplishment for an unproven artist.

Start of something big – Hawk of the Seas

Will Eisner was different than Jack’s other bosses. Unlike the older Fleischer’s and H. T. Elmo, Will was a peer, only six months Jack’s senior. Will’s parents were also recent immigrants from Austria. Born in the Williamsburg neighborhood across the city from Jack’s Lower East Side, his family would settle in the Bronx. Will’s father was a painter; he worked at times as a church muralist, and a scenery painter for Yiddish Theater productions. Work was spotty, and after an injury he opened a fur-cutting factory. It didn’t hurt that Eisner was also Jewish. Will Eisner explains, “this business was brand new. It was the bottom of the social ladder, and it was wide open to anybody. Consequently, the Jewish boys who were trying to get into the field of illustration found it very easy to come aboard.” For talented Jewish kids who had no gift for athletics (like, say, heavyweight boxer Max Baer), music (like Benny Goodman), or acting (like John Garfield and the Marx Brothers), creating comic books appeared to be a way out of poverty and into a legitimate, hopefully lucrative, artistic career. For the same reason, the field was also wide open for Jewish comics publishers.”

Will Eisner recalls:

“Jews couldn’t go to college except in rare instances, and they had to have money to do so,” as Eisner explained. “I didn’t come from that kind of background, so I ended up going into comics instead. I was like a lot of Jewish kids in the business. We had greater ambitions. As a result, we ended up expressing them in our work–and expanding the limits of the genre in the process.”

Will’s interest in art began early and like Jack, his artwork covered tablets, floors and sidewalks. When his father’s business failed during the Depression, young Will had to help out with the family finances and like other kids hit the streets selling newspapers, meanwhile grabbing free art lessons from WPA funded programs. He attended Dewitt Clinton High School, a prestigious school known for its art curriculum. Encouraged by his father, Will took some classes at the Art Students League of New York, studying under George Bridgeman and Robert Brachman. While in school, Will worked part time at the New York Journal American doing odd illustrations, and as art editor for a small magazine named Eve.

After graduating, Will found work in the advertising dept. at Hearst’s New York American and at a print shop. Hoping to expand with freelance work, it was providence that Will ran into his old high school chum.

Will possessed a confidence and talent far beyond his years. Though young, the confident 6’2” Eisner was an impressive figure. Jack always marveled at Eisner and Iger’s professionalism and business acumen. More than any other mentor, Will freely shared art techniques and storytelling techniques. The studio mates shared experiences and knowledge. The Eisner/Iger studio was the closest Kirby would ever come to professional training. In a 1982 interview called Shop Talk in Will’s Spirit Magazine between the two masters, Jack confided to Will; “I knew my knowledge was limited. I felt I could increase whatever dimension I was reaching for through men like you and Jerry, because you knew the discipline, you knew your job, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to know my job.” For his part, Will recognized greatness and considered Jack as a “top gun” from the start. Will often humorously remembered Jack Kirby; “He was a quiet young man, short, smart fellow. He always resembled John Garfield and he acted like him, but he was a very hardworking person. I enjoyed having him work for me. He was a good man.” Kirby, like Garfield could not hide his gruff, brooding working man nature.

Shop Talk

The two men talking and drawing

Working for E&I was different than Lincoln. Instead of an artist working alone and being responsible for the complete work, the art was produced piecemeal in a studio where the artists worked assembly line style. Will explained to Canadian artist Marilyn Mercer. “I would write and design the characters, somebody else would pencil them, somebody else would do the backgrounds, somebody else would ink, and somebody else would letter. Will usually wrote the first few chapters of a new character’s story, before turning it over to other writers. “We made $1.50 a page net profit.” Will was seated at a drawing board at one end, and the others in a row of desks along the walls around the perimeter of the large room. At other times, the artist might do the full job, but always under Will’s watchful gaze. While this produced a homogenized finished product with a professional sheen, it sometimes lacked the personality and spontaneity of a singular artistic vision.

Eisner was unique in another way, as the artists improved, Will would give them more latitude to create and write their own features. The artists were the principle storytellers and they were allowed to take the scripts and rework and mould them to fit their particular style. This was unheard of at most other studios where the artists were expected to follow the scripts faithfully. This is an early precursor to the method Jack would use when he had control of his own stories.

Count of Monte Cristo was a faithful adaptation of the Dumas novel of political intrigue and revenge set in post-Napoleonic France. Jack worked in close tandem with Will Eisner on this title as detail and atmosphere were most important. Jack signed this under his adopted nom de plume Jack Curtiss. After 8 episodes, this strip was turned over to new-comer Lou Fine.

The Diary of Dr. Hayward credited to Curt Davis, was a science fiction title dealing with an evil disfigured doctor in a muddied plot involving body transference, and guest starring Death himself. This features some of Kirby’s best work; atmospheric and claustrophobic, the moody art outshone the muddy plot- a classic case of style over substance. The sci-fi milieu spotlights Kirby’s fondness for cinematic effects. Jack used a wide range of inking techniques to evoke texture, mood and depth.

His third strip; Wilton of the West (also called Wilton of West Point) was a routine rough and tumble western, full of gunfights, bushwhacking and dastardly villains. This was signed Fred Sande, and originally drawn in a loose open style, with minimal backgrounds and little detail. Jack quickly tightened up the art and experimented with shading and inking techniques. He even broke away from the rigid grid layout and varied the panel sizes. The early story is typical western lore. The time frame seems to be late 1800s, and the hero, Wiley Wilton, appears to be a generic cowboy caught in a range war. But in episode #8, Jack made a sudden stylistic change. The setting is suddenly modern times, and the ranch is visited by outsiders in a bright shiny 1940 vintage car.

Metromount Productions wants to rent Wilton’s ranch to make a western movie. Wilton, in his best stoic Gary Cooper imitation, regretfully informs them that it can’t be done–it would interfere with the round-up. After a promise that filming would be wrapped before the round-up, and some prodding by the ranch hands, who have been promised jobs as extras, Wilton relents and the production is on.

We are next introduced to the cast of the movie, with several characters of interest. Sheldon Shwartz is the producer in what may be one of the very few times Jack went out of his way to make a character Jewish. Geoffrey Parker is the male lead and, in what would become a Kirby trademark, is portrayed as a conceited, effete snob. And in the romantic lead, we have the beautiful Marcia Merrill, every bit as snobbish, arrogant, and ditsy as her male counterpart.

Unfortunately, Jack’s part in the story ends before the story concludes, but we do get a glimpse of several themes that would play out time and again in Kirby’s storytelling. First, Hollywood sets are places of intrigue and danger. Second, male movie stars are invariably obnoxious, effete blowhards who must be brought down a peg or two by the laconic hero. And third, the female leads are star-struck vixens needing to be saved by a real man, as in Jack’s slow-talking, hard-hitting men of action. This may seem a fairly negative view of Hollywood, and it’s surprising from someone who once dreamt of going there. Perhaps this was Jack’s way of convincing himself he was better off not to have pursued that particular dream. Jack did 12 pages each on both of these strips.

One bit of Kirby iconography first shows up in both Dr Hayward, and Wilton. In both strips there is a scene where the female lead is shown sitting at a dressing table looking in a mirror while fixing her hair. In the mirror’s reflection we see someone entering the room behind her. Most likely swiped from some long lost movie, it became a Kirby staple, used in every comic genre.

Mirror, mirror, who’s in the mirror?

Later in 1937, Editor’s Press published a sister magazine to WAGS. Okay Comics had a similar format, but it also had several long running strips, such as Wash Tubbs, and Tailspin Tommy, so little new material was needed. Will and Jerry provided a few strips, but no art from Jack Kirby has been found.

Spring of 1938 would find Jack Kurtzberg busy with 2 steady accounts, responsible for 4 ongoing strips and many gag features. He was working in a field he loved, and a major contributor to the family’s finances. Life must have looked bright. In April, a new comic magazine premiered; its cover portrayed a stiffly drawn figure clothed in a gaudy circuslike caped costume, singlehandedly lifting a sketchily drawn car and smashing it on some rocks. Its bold title aside, the garish primary coloring, and primitive rendering did little to portend the revolution it would soon ignite. Action Comics #1 was the fuse, and Superman was the spark! Jack would claim that the first appearance of Superman was when he knew that comic books had truly arrived.

Jack’s time at E&I would be short, perhaps no more than three-four months and only producing 32 full pages of art, but the influence was deep and long lived. Why he left so soon has never been explained. While there seems to have been no rancor, there may be some clues in Jack’s recollections. Jack expanded; “Eisner and Iger were energetic, efficient and they weren’t out to be friendly; they were out to produce. Eventually, we all became personal friends. It was a time for thorough professionals.”

When Jack reminisced about Eisner/Iger he never described working there as a “fun” time. It was just a job. Jack said; “I remember all the guys. Although we all liked each other and we’d trade stories and things, we never horsed around. We always felt that we had to do a job.” Will himself realized there was a wall between him and the artists. “There was something of a social life within the studio setting; he reminisced in an interview for the Comics Journal. “But one of the problems I had was that I was about the same age as these guys; and it was a little difficult for me to be part of their social activity. When they’d go out and have a beer at the end of the day, they never invited me along; I learned to keep in my place so to speak.”

Will asked Jack in an interview; “Were you ever close, back then, to Lou Fine?” To which Kirby answered, “No, I don’t feel that I was ever close to anybody.” Lou Fine was perhaps the first superstar draughtsman to come to comic books. Born in 1914 and raised in the Brooklyn area of NY. Hobbled by polio at a young age, the boy turned to art. He attended the prestigious Pratt Institute. He turned up at the Eisner and Iger studios just after Jack Kirby, and immediately impressed with his clean illustrative style reminiscent of J.C. Lyendecker infused with Alex Raymond’s flexibility. His feel for anatomy and dynamics was unparalleled. When Jack left E&I, it was Lou Fine who took over the strips. For the next few years Lou Fine would become the yardstick with which every comic artist was to be measured. His work on Fox’s Flame, and Fiction House’s Red Bee are artistic marvels to behold.

Lou Fine’s elegance and energy

Jack preferred solitude by nature, and while he could admire Eisner’s professionalism, and talent, in his heart he must have rebelled against the assembly line nature of the E&I studio. He liked his fellow artists, but his creativity preferred the quiet of his kitchen table. Perhaps the rows of interchangeable artists working on an assembly line reminded Jack too much of his time at Fleischer, and the gnawing fear of ending up like his father doing piecework in a factory.

There might also have been a financial consideration. The weekly checks from E&I were meager. The long hours spent traveling to, and working at the studio forced Jack to do his Lincoln strips later at night and on weekends. Artist George Tuska talks about the situation at the studio and how the demand became overwhelming. “The artists load continued to grow, requiring them to take work home with them.” At five dollars a page, Tuska recalls that it just wasn’t enough. One day, he went to lunch with some of the other artists when he stood up and told them he had to “meet someone”. He never returned. He ended up over at the Chesler Studio, where he was soon joined by Charlie Sultan, who had left for the same reason.

Summer of 1938 would find Lincoln once again Jack’s sole account. Incredibly, soon after Jack left, Eisner and Iger hit paydirt. The pulp magazine publishers were in a funk. Sales were dropping, and they were looking for a new direction. Comic books offered them just such an avenue. From its halting creation in 1933 as an advertising premium for manufacturers, comic books had grown exponentially. At first reprinting the better known comic strips from the newspapers it quickly reached a point where original material was needed. Who better to look to then those minor league syndicates that already had cheap source material and cheap artists ready and waiting? Cheap being the operative word!

From All In Color For A Dime, (Ace Books 1970) by Ted White;

The early comic book originals were, for the most part, awful. They set out to imitate the reprints and often a six-page story would have a running head on each page in imitation of the Sunday reprints, each page of which required a running head originally. But surely the artists and writers who produced the new material were far more poorly paid—even if they received the same amount which the creators of reprints were paid. The reprints were earning their big money from newspaper syndication; the new material made what little it did solely from comic book publication. Standards quickly fell, and I think it is significant that even now they have not been entirely regained. Today, in most cases, the comic book is no more than a training ground for newspaper-strip artists.

It must also be said that comic book publishers were, all in all, thieving, grasping lot. Not to dwell too long upon the point, they were crooks. In many instances, they were men with a good deal of money, recently earned during Prohibition, who were seeking legitimate businesses into which they might safely move. Comics—and pulp magazines—seemed like a good bet. These men had learned their so-called business ethics in a rough school. They applied them across the board in their new businesses.

The first rule was, Do it cheap. Find cheap labor, pay cheap prices. Low overhead. The results were predictable—in a few short years the bad drove out the good.

Put in simple terms, most of the work being done for comic books by 1940 was being done by teenage boys, some still in high school, some dropouts. Many were enormously talented, but most came from lower-class backgrounds, were willing to work cheap (the Depression was still being felt) and were easily exploitable.”

Lou Fine was one who left the comic business early to work for advertisers.


Jack continued the gag-a-day strips – the last panel looks like a comicscope

Fiction House was just such a pulp publisher, founded by Thurston T. Scott in the early 1920’s. The titles such as Action Stories, Fight Stories and Planet Stories were trite but they filled certain niches. The Great Depression had slowly eroded its sales base, and by the late ‘30’s Scott realized he had to diversify. Whether Scott approached Eisner and Iger, or one of E&I’s salesmen approached Fiction House is unknown, but in the summer of ’38, Scott decided to publish a comic book called Jumbo Comics with Eisner/Iger providing the artwork. The first issue contained reprinted strips from WAGS Magazine. Headlined by Mort Meskin’s Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and Will Eisner’s Hawks of the Seas, it also marked the first published comic work by Jack Kirby when it reprinted 4 pages each of Wilton of the West, Count of Monte Cristo and Diary of Dr. Hayward. Issue number two would feature Jack’s first artwork on a comic book cover, when a panel from Wilton of the West was featured. It is doubtful that Jack was even aware of this. When the WAGS inventory ran out, the Eisner and Iger studio would soon be producing original art for Jumbo Comics, and the careers of many comic book legends would blossom. Lou Fine, Mort Meskin, Dick Briefer, Bob Powell, George Tuska, Reed Crandall, and Nick Cardy are just a few who would erupt from this farm system and go on to dominate their chosen profession. For better or worse, Jack Kirby had left a couple months too soon to be a part of it.

At Lincoln, Kirby continued applying the techniques that he had learned from Eisner. Socko, which began as a simple gag a day Popeye riff, would evolve into a comedic adventure strip with storyline continuity, and recurring characters. The tales became funny little travelogues that would take Socko to all points of the earth. The art became suffused with energy, detail and finesse not found in his previous work. His inking took on subtlety and atmosphere as he experimented with shadows, silhouettes and textures.

In late 1938 Kirby worked on another strip, a cute slapstick adventure strip titled Abdul Jones. Signed Ted Grey, it featured tales of a teenaged wanderer and his bespectacled mule. During their travels, they meet such wacky luminaries as the twelve foot bandit Katchaz Katchkhan, Josef Welchmore the Bagdad bookie, and Myrtle, the toast of a Sultan’s harem. It’s not known if it was ever published, but the existing samples show Jack was developing a facility with broad humor and caricature.

The tenure at Eisner/Iger may not have worked out, but it certainly didn’t turn Jack off to the idea of freelancing. November 1938 would find him moonlighting for another small firm. Associated Features Syndicate was run by a gentleman named Robert Farrell. One of those men that while never a major player would circulate throughout the comic industry for many years. Farrell was an acquaintance of Jerry Iger’s, possibly a writer at E&I, and it may have been via this relationship that he hooked up with Jack Kurtzberg or simply a coincidence when Jack answered an ad. Either way, one must assume that Jack’s work on Wilton of the West impressed Farrell enough to offer a new western strip to him.


Jack’s first Bigfoot strip

Lightnin’ and the Lone Rider was an obvious Lone Ranger replica. This version of the masked vigilante was set in the mythical town of Three Forks, Texas. In place of a trusty Indian partner, we get a trusty, if somewhat befuddled Mexican partner, Diego. Jack signed this as Lance Kirby, his first use of Kirby.

The strip’s most redeeming feature was Kirby’s continually improving art. For the first time, he was working on a daily strip rather than a weekly, and the rhythm seemed to keep the artwork fresh and consistent. His panel constructions were far superior to his earlier work and the variations of angles and perspectives made this a more enjoyable read. His figures were set in a wider variety of poses and depths. Jack was expanding on the cinematic techniques he had learned from Will Eisner. This would also mark the first time that Kirby would work with Craftint Duotone paper, a specially treated paper that when specific chemicals were applied produced fine lines at varying angles. When reproduced it gave the illusion of shading gradations. This added depth gave a more illustrative finish with a more nuanced range of shading.


City boy likes horses!

Work on Lightnin’ was to be short lived. The strip, premiering on Jan. 3, 1939 would feature Kirby art thru the first story arc into mid February. It was customary for comic strip stories to be broken into a six-week format. Jack had started a second story line wherein the time frame mystically changes ala Wilton of the West from late 1880’s to modern day. These never saw print, but thanks to Momma Kurtzberg’s hoarding, these lost strips have been recovered.

Jack was back with Lincoln his sole account. Among his other assignments he supplied some papers with editorial cartoons. In 1937, Kirby had begun doing some of the art chores, usually signing them Davis or Jack Curtiss. These mostly concerned local politics, or social reform and Elmo kept a close eye on the content, yet at least once Kirby was called out for doing some editorializing on his own.

Jack loved his politics and current events

That low rumble back in Europe had erupted into a full scale roar. In early 1938, Germany had annexed Austria, Kirby’s ancestral homeland. By late ’38, Hitler’s might was pointed at Czechoslovakia. The world took notice of this new threat. On Sept. 30, 1938 with the signing of the Munich Dictate, Hitler had wrested control of the Sudetenland territories of Czechoslovakia, and effectively the whole of the Czech state. In an act that would live in infamy, Great Britain’s Neville Chamberlain proclaimed that with the signing of the agreement, they had secured “peace in our time.” Less than a month later, German troops entered Czechoslovakia, and on March 16, 1939 Hitler completed his conquest. An outraged Jack drew and published an editorial cartoon portraying Adolf Hitler as a grinning snake, with his belly full of the swallowed meal of Czechoslovakia. Patting his head in acquiescence was the dapper Neville Chamberlain. Despite the displeasure from Elmo- probably more due to protocol, than to the views expressed- Kirby had become, at least in spirit, the peer of one of his idols, editorial cartoonist Rollin Kirby. “I got bawled out for that. My boss said “You’re only 19 years old. You don’t know enough about politics and those things.” And I said, “That’s true, but I know a lot about gangsters. “ To Kirby, Hitler was just another gangster.

Early 1939 and Robert Farrell had bigger fish to fry, Just as Kirby left to return to Lincoln, Associated closed down; but not before Farrell managed to sell the reprint rights of Lightnin’ to Famous Funnies. In issue #61, cover dated Aug. 1939 there appeared a full page ad telling the readers in big bold letters that Lightnin’ and the Lone Rider was coming in next month’s issue. For the next four issues Jack’s strips appeared, making it the second time that his reprint art was available in the newsstand funny books.

There would be other opportunities—from fly by night outfits hoping to strike it rich. Most promised payment when they sold the product, but few ever made it that far, and Jack had a portfolio of unsold ideas waiting to be used.


Kirby’s Socko improved with age getting shadows, details and backgrounds

For most of 1939, Jack soldiered on at Lincoln; meanwhile the comic book industry was ablaze. The fuse that was lit with Superman in Action Comics #1 finally reached the powder keg. Revolutions don’t begin with great thoughts, or bold actions, they grow from need, organically, slowly, mostly by accident, and usually by the last people expected. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster weren’t revolutionaries; they were small, shy, geeky sons of Jewish immigrants struggling to make a mark in their world. Both born in 1914, they became friends when the 10 year old, Canadian born Shuster moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Both introverted, they shared a love of the sci-fi pulps and while working on the Glenville High School newspaper, they began creating their own characters and stories.

Early S&S plus inspirations

In 1933 Jerry came up with the idea for Superman, based on themes drawn from the pulp character Doc Savage, and some from novelist Philip Wylie’s Gladiator. The idea of a crime fighting avenger was deeply ingrained in young Siegel, ever since his father had been senselessly murdered in 1930. Joe’s art was crude, in a Roy Crane style, but it served the subject matter, and simple tales. Jerry and Joe also created a portfolio of other strip ideas.

The boys sent their strip proposals to many of the publishers, and syndicates; and all of them rejected it. For a while, Jerry thought of replacing Joe as artist. There was a short period where Superman might have been published by a small time publisher, but the company went out of business first. He was pitched unsuccessfully as a newspaper strip for the McClure Syndicate. Jerry and Joe did eventually get work for Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s nascent publishing company, National Allied Publications. In mid 1935, their Doctor Occult and Henri Duval strips would appear in New Fun #6. As Wheeler-Nicholson added titles, the wonder boys kept cranking out new strips; Federal Men for New Comics and Spy and Slam Bradley for Detective Comics. Superman was shunted aside.

Major Nicholson’s concerns floundered and by late 1937 he was forced out. The business ended up in the hands of its printer, Harry Donenfeld and his chief accountant, Jack Liebowitz, who renamed the company Detective Comics Inc.

They decided to expand and add a fourth title. Before leaving, Nicholson had been doodling around with a new title idea, Action Comics. They needed new material, and the editors were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Editor Vin Sullivan talked to his friend M. C. Gaines who remembered the rejected strip that was sitting around gathering dust. With little expectation, Siegel and Shuster were asked to take their rejected Superman strip, cut it up and format it to the size necessary for a comic book. They were paid $130 for the property. They have been portrayed as just teen aged naifs slickered by the big corporation, but in reality, they were both 23 years old and veterans of working three years for this very same corporation. A panel was taken and adapted for the cover. Harry Donenfeld looked at the cover and became chagrined, no one would accept this circus costumed alien. It was too ridiculous, too crazy!

Action Comics #1 sold surprisingly well, not great but better than expected. The next 3 issues would have covers featuring other strips, and the sales continued to spiral up yet no one had a clue as to why. DC published a survey in Action Comics #4 asking what the favorite features were. Issue #4 skyrocketed in sales, quickly reaching the half-million mark. Out of the over 500 replies, over 80% listed Superman. Superman would again be cover featured on Action Comics #7, and the comic’s sales continued to grow. Word from the rack jobbers got back to the editors; the kids were demanding the comic with Superman in it. By issue #9, the cover featured a blurb; “In this issue, another thrilling adventure of Superman”. He got his own book a year later. Comic books had a phenomenon; a character and a genre to call its own. Comics had a recognized creative super team.

Getting one’s own – It’s not Rembrandt, hell, it’s not Foster but it worked.

In an article in Liberty magazine, a writer reflects on Jerry Siegel in words that could just as easily been about Jack Kirby. “Jerry, being undersized and undernourished found himself considerably pushed around by the neighborhood toughs. As he absorbed black eyes and beatings, Siegel lived in a dream world of muscle men, lapping up the deeds of Hercules, Samson, Tarzan, Doug Fairbanks, and sundry dime-novel superheroes, dreaming of a day when he could hang one on the eye of a tormentor himself.” So his response was to create a Man of Steel who, according to Siegel, would “smack down the bullies of the world.” Jerry and Joe became symbols of the little guy fighting back. This would be followed with articles in Saturday Evening Post, and Look magazine. The Cleveland wonder boys were a smash.

Now costumed crime fighters weren’t new, The Shadow, and Black Bat had been favorites in the pulps, the Phantom, a hero in the pulp tradition, first appeared in 1936, in newspaper strips, as did the Clock, in Funny Pages, but a costumed alien who bounced bullets off his chest, and could knock down airplanes, yes this was new, and it was a phenomenon. As with all phenomena, imitations were soon to follow. Publishers are nothing if not mimics, if something sells, duplicate it.


Frank Dorth, an artist who started in the forties and spent a lifetime in comics had this to say;

“My biggest complaint about the New York comic book publishers in the 1940’s was that they were all like a herd of circus elephants. They grabbed the tail of the one in front of them and followed each other around in a circle. They were not interested in quality, only what some accountant told them was selling.”

“I think that there’s a cultural thread underlying the superhero concept,” says Will Eisner, whose The Spirit is still being reprinted, more than 60 years after its creation.

“The superhero has his origins in the folk hero. He represents an attempt to deal with forces that are considered otherwise undefeatable, and that ties in somehow with the n’shama (soul) of the Jewish people. Although we may have thought we were creating Aryan characters, with non-Jewish names like Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and my own Denny Colt, I think we were responding to an inner n’shama that responds to forces around us — just like the story of the golem in Jewish lore.”

“If you think about it,” Eisner continues, “all of Jewish cultural history has been based around Jewish cultural fighters, like Samson and David. Now, in the 40s, we were facing the Nazis, an apparently unstoppable force. And what better ways to deal with an anti-Jewish supervillain like Hitler than with a superhero?”

“I first met (former partner) Joe Simon just as Superman came out,” Kirby recalls. “It was an instant hit. Publishers suddenly came out of nowhere, all wanting someone to create another Superman.

Legend has it that Victor Fox was at various times a dandy, an ex-ballroom dancer, a shipping magnate, a stock broker and an accountant at Detective Comics Inc, (he wasn’t) who, upon seeing the success of Superman dropped his pencil and immediately started his own publishing house. True or not what is known is that Victor Fox had a shady background. Indicted in 1920 for shipping fraud, he was indicted again for a fraudulent stock scheme when the Stock Market fell in 1929, he had gotten into publishing as early as Dec.1936, His offices were in the same building as DC Comics; his on the seventh floor, DC’s on the ninth. There was even a project where DC’s President Donenfeld partnered up with Victor Fox, though the specifics are unknown. The only publication Fox had in early 1939 was an astrology guidebook, published by Bruns Publications and it was distributed by Independent News Company, the distributing arm of DC comics. In testimony from Jack Liebowitz, he and Victor Fox would meet almost daily in the Independent News Postal room and go over the daily sales reports sent in from the sub-distributors. It was no surprise to Victor Fox that Superman’s sales figures were continually rising.


Intrigued by the success of Superman, Fox started his own comic company; Victor Fox, a British émigré, had no art or comic background, but he had a silent partner; Robert Farrell, Jack Kurtzberg’s old boss at Associated Features Syndicate. Farrell contacted his friend Jerry Iger and E&I was put to work creating new characters. It has been reported that Jerry Iger went over to DC and walked away with copies of their books—including Action Comics #1.

The first title was Wonder Comics #1( May 1939). The cover feature was a colorful character named Wonder Man, flying through the air, smashing an airplane. The character was remarkably similar to DC’s Superman; for a very good reason. According to Will Eisner, Victor Fox had been adamant that he wanted a duplicate of Superman. Not surprisingly, DC immediately got a cease and desist injunction and sued Victor Fox. This would be Wonder Man’s only appearance. Issue #2 would feature Zarko the Great, a Mandrake the Magician knock-off. Fox doubtlessly had no worry about the creators of Mandrake suing him, by then there were so many Mandrake copies that no one cared, and besides, Mandrake was a rip-off of a real practicing magician, Leon Mandrake.

The suit by DC may have put the kibosh on Wonder Man, but it didn’t slow down Victor’s demand for super heroes. Retitling Wonder Comics into Wonderworld Comics, issue #3 would introduce the Flame, a hero who could control fire. Elegantly drawn by Lou Fine, this character would last for years. Mystery Men Comics #1 August 1939 would debut three new characters, Green Mask, Blue Beetle, and Rex Dexter of Mars. By the Fall of 1939, Victor Fox was publishing four monthly titles, and Eisner/Iger was working overtime. Jack’s colleagues at E&I had hit the big time. In addition to their work for Fiction House, at Fox, Lou Fine was doing The Flame, Dick Briefer was drawing Rex Dexter, Bob Kane on Spark Stevens, Bob Powell delivered Dr. Fung and Will Eisner was doing more strips than humanly possible. Lou Fine became “the” cover artist at Fox Publishing.

The lawsuit over Wonder Man was heard on April 6, 1939, with Fox losing. He would appeal. Despite Eisner’s testimony backing Victor Fox’s claims the relationship between the two became strained; it slowly deteriorated. After Fox lost his appeal they finally parted in late 1939, with Fox owing Eisner/Iger a large amount of money. Perhaps not coincidently, Eisner and Iger broke up at the same time with Will going off on his own to produce The Spirit, taking half the staff with him. Iger’s half continued on. Victor Fox began hiring his own staff. Pros, such as Bert Whitman, a seasoned newspaper gag man would introduce new strips such as U. S. Navy Jones, and Dr. Mortal, and Don Rico produced Flick Falcon. Rank newcomers like Jim Mooney would bring forth The Moth, soon to be squashed by DC for being too Batman-like. Fox also began raiding E&I’s artists, with Pierce Rice, Dick Briefer and Louis and Arturo Cazeneuve joining ranks.

Fox Publications was slowly taking control of its own material, and had carved a nice market share for itself. Yet Victor Fox wasn’t satisfied; Superman had become a cottage industry! The strip continued in Action Comics, and expanded with its own eponymous title. Superman branched out with a syndicated newspaper strip, and a radio show. The combative Victor Fox would not be outdone. In late 1939, Fox’s most popular character, the Blue Beetle, was given its own title; next in line was a newspaper strip to be followed by a radio show.

It’s not known just when Jack Kurtzberg started at Fox; perhaps Robert Farrell had contacted him early on to help with in-house ads, and production clean-up, or maybe in Fall ’39 when it became obvious that Eisner/Iger would no longer be supplying artwork. What we do know is that by November, Jack was doing production work and ad copy. More important, he was tabbed to draw the new Blue Beetle newspaper strip.

The fabulous Fleischer Cartoons

There appears to have been some overlap with Lincoln, with Kirby drawn Facts You Never Knew, and Socko The Seadog strips dated well into Dec. 1939, but it seems clear that Lincoln closed shop by the end of ’39. Jack once stated that Elmo closed up to head to Canada to mine uranium. There are some samples of Lincoln strips, including Socko the Seadog in papers well into 1940 and ’41, but these appear to be earlier strips running later in new papers.

Working for Victor Fox was a major dose; he was eccentric, volatile, and incredibly full of himself. Will Eisner remembers Fox. “Fox was a very, very shifty, fast-footed business man who would create fictitious names because he was always afraid of being sued.” He sarcastically added; “I learned a lot about “business” from dealing with him.” Al Feldstein recalls; “Victor was short, round, bald and coarsely gruff, with horn-rimmed glasses and a permanent cigar clamped between his teeth. He was the personification of the typical exploiting comic book publisher of his day- grinding out shameless imitations of successful titles and trends, and treating his artists and editors like dirt.”

Jack Kirby recalled Fox slightly differently. “I didn’t respect Fox as a professional. I respected him just as a boss. I thought he was a great character…..He was Edward G. Robinson. I remember him walking back and forth watching the artists all the time like a hawk and just saying, “I’m the King of Comics”. And we would look back at him and actually he was a joy to us because he made working fun. He was a character in the full sense of being a character.” Kirby reiterated; “I couldn’t picture myself liking a guy like Fox, but I did. I genuinely liked Victor Fox.”

Doing the Blue Beetle strip was an important step for Jack; it was his first work in an urban milieu. He could finally draw from his personal experiences when drawing buildings, vehicles, furniture and clothing. The cityscapes and interior scenes became a major part of the series. The Blue Beetle was also Jack’s first attempt at a costumed hero. Created for the Eisner studio by 18 year old Charles Wojtkowski, under the pen name Charles Nicholas, the Beetle was a pulp style vigilante reminiscent of the Green Hornet. While possessing no super powers (yet) he was acrobatic and fearless. He also possessed some neat gadgets that would make for some exciting scenes.


Lots of action, and Alex Raymond swipes

His alter ego–a costumed hero requirement– was Dan Garrett, the ubiquitous Irish flat foot, who when the legal system failed, would don a blue chain mail union suit, a domino mask, and holster his gas gun to ferret out evildoers and beat a confession out of them. Surprisingly, this didn’t sit well with the authorities, and he was hunted as a danger to the good folks of York City

The storyline for this inaugural newspaper strip is disappointing. It offered no back-story, no origin, nothing to explain how and why the Blue Beetle came to be. Surprisingly, the Beetle is out of commission half way through. The main featured character shifts to Charley Storm, a newspaper reporter hot on the trail of the Blue Beetle, and the crooks who killed the D. A. While the Beetle is wounded and out of action, it is Charley who takes over, and tracks down the criminal mastermind. Plus, Charley gets the girl! One would think that an inaugural story would feature the Blue Beetle as the conquering hero. Ignore the plot, the attraction here was not the story, it was Kirby’s first shot at a costumed hero, the genre that would eventually propel him to greatness, and he does not disappoint. The art is energetic, fluid, bold and experimental. Jack’s use of silhouettes, high contrast shadows, close-ups, and large group shots, was miles ahead of his work from just a year earlier. The Blue Beetle never looked better!

While at Fox, Kirby continued to freelance. Bert Whitman, an itinerant cartoonist and one of Jack’s colleagues at Fox decided that he wanted to open his own art studio, ala E&I. He had contracted with Frank Temerson to provide the art for a new publishing venture. Temerson began his publishing career when he teamed up with a gent named Irving Ullman to buy the Comics Magazine Company; an early publisher of newspaper reprint strips style comic books. Frank Temerson, was a former city attorney for Birmingham, Alabama. He and Ullman were suspected Mob men who ran a number of businesses to launder the Mob’s money.


Nice figures, different views and deep perspective

They would often use phony addresses and switch their company’s names frequently to confuse the authorities. After a year, they sold their concerns to Centaur Publications. Jack offered up a sci-fi strip titled Solar Legion. It’s possible that Jack had been tinkering with the idea as a newspaper strip proposal, perhaps one of the earlier unsold ideas he had stashed. Some of the strips appear to be cut and repositioned to fit a comic size page, but as published, in Crash Comics #1, cover dated May 1940, it was Kirby’s first original concept to be featured in a comic book. Whitman would reach higher renown when he became the first person to gain the rights and draw the exploits of the Green Hornet. The art on Solar Legion features Jack’s boldest inking to date; lush and organic. Kirby seems to have come to terms with using a brush instead of a pen. The thickness of the lines and the natural free-hand flow makes a striking contrast to the finer pen delineation on Blue Beetle. The added darkness worked perfectly on the space opera milieu, giving the needed depth, solitude, and high contrast befitting the genre. Kirby’s strip would appear in the first three issues of Crash Comics, and then be continued under another hand. As seen on the original proofs, the work was signed as Jack Kirby, his first time with this pseudonym, unfortunately the signature was stripped out when published.

In December 1939, busily working away at his table, Jack looked up as Robert Farrell walked into the artist’s studio. Farrell was accompanied by a tall, lanky gentleman, in a nice suit who was introduced as the new editor. Jack didn’t know it, but his ticket to the big game had just been punched.

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Looking For The Awesome – 2. A World Divided

Previous1. Jack Kirby’s America | Contents | Next – 3. Escape To New York

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


When the Great War ended, the socio-political landscape had been turned on its head. And from the resulting chaos, the world split into two ever-conflicting political spheres, two ideological philosophies at odds with each other. Democracy vs. the isms; one side led by free people, and freely elected leaders, and democratic principles, the other by the philosophical dictators of Fascism, Communism, Nazism, and Militarism. The ensuing chaos would lead to financial meltdown.

The horror of the Wall St. Crash of Oct. 1929 had quickly filtered down to the bottom of the food chain. Jobs that were once rare and low paying became even rarer and lower paying. Quarters and fifty cent pieces used for pulps, and juvenile series books became scarce, the financial meltdown wiped out whole groups of children’s entertainment. The slick magazines vanished—too expensive. This soon became the age of the radio, a free source of hour upon hour of storytelling and escape. The Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, even strips like Superman soon expanded into the radio waves. Kids would lay endlessly next to the large wooden box listening to endless comedians, adventure stories and the latest jazz tunes.

So strong was the radio as a source that a Halloween scary tale put the nation on high alert. In 1938, Orson Wells presented the sci-fi play The War of the Worlds, based on an H. G. Wells book on a syndicated radio program. Set up in a realistic news-flash manner, people began to believe the play as reality and began flooding the police and military about this strange attack by an alien force. The outrage and impact lasted for days until the other media quieted the mobs down.

Interestingly, a new format magazine moved in to fill the void. A small sized amalgam of newspaper comic strip and text story. Published by Whitman Publications and called Big Little Books, these strange pocket-sized books presented popular newspaper funnies like Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon, as well as radio characters like the Lone Ranger, and Disney characters like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse in long form, hard covered stand alone stories. Although there were numerous variations in outside dimensions and in number of pages, most were 3 5/8″ x 4 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ in size and 432 pages in length. For the most part, the writer and illustrator were anonymous worker drones. The outstanding feature of the books was the captioned picture opposite each page of text. The books originally sold for a dime (later 15¢).

Typical spot illustration (from Tailspin Tommy) They weren’t above T&A

The Big Little Book® was created in 1932 when Sam Lowe conceived of a special book that would be bulky but small so that it could be easily handled and read by a young consumer. He made up three samples using cover and paper stock that would be used in the printing. He had the Art Department do black and white drawings and insert keyline text so that the dummy samples could serve as prototypes. Taking the prototypes to New York, he presented them as a ten-cent retail item, packed one dozen per title in a shipping carton. Retail buyers were intrigued with the concept and were particularly impressed with the titles. Lowe returned to Racine with more than 25,000 books pre-ordered.

Many children learned to read and have an appreciation for illustrated books because of their experiences with BLBs. The poor printing, cheap paper, and small size allowed for the cheapest priced reading material directly for children. In many instances, these small books were the first time these characters were directed to the specific children’s market in a retail format. It didn’t go unnoticed.


New York retail display room Imagine this much room for a .10 cent item

In mid-1938, Whitman changed its logo from Big Little Book® to Better Little Book®, marking the start of the Second Age (mid-1938-1950) in which the books slowly faded away due to economic and societal changes and the stiff competition from comic books. Not surprisingly, the 1938 date matches up with the appearance of Superman and the super-hero phenomenon; one format giving way to the new.

Still in the grasp of the Great Depression, it gave rise to a wealth of fresh Americana based upon inexpensive forms of entertainment. Ten-cent motion pictures, cheap reading materials like BLB’s and comics, and free-radio programs came from a few of the industries that prospered during the decade, and their influence was felt deeply and is remembered warmly by millions of people. It was truly a Golden Age for films, radio programs, and inexpensive reading materials.


Colorful, small and lots of drawings

Jake’s life was also caught in great schisms; old country vs. new, tall vs. short, Haves vs. have-nots, schmoes vs. swells, Jews vs. Gentiles, gangsters and straights. Nothing scarred the youngster’s psyche so much as watching his father struggle to keep the family sheltered and clothed, or watching his mother losing her spark of joy, growing old before her time. The thrill of becoming a Bar Mitzvah would give way to a stark realization that his childhood had come to an end. The stickball games after school, and the long summers soaring over the rooftops, exploring the streets and playing cops and robbers till dark, were over. Jake was no longer a child, the innocent idylls of youth, once taken for granted, gave way to a new truth; he had to take his place as a source of family income.

But being poor wasn’t a death sentence—it could also be an inspiration. Jimmy Cagney put it this way: “Though we were poor, we didn’t know we were poor. We realized we didn’t get three squares on the table every day, and there was no such thing as a good second suit, but we had no objective knowledge that we were poor. We just went from day to day doing the best we could, hoping to get through the really rough periods with a minimum of hunger and want. We simply didn’t have time to realize we were poor, although we did realize the desperation of life around us.” Sometimes life is too immediate to step back and see just how bad it was.

During the height of the Depression, family survival was tantamount and any added income was an important plus. Jake’s time spent drawing and reading was time not spent helping out with the family budget. Jake had no interest in being a tailor, so joining his dad at work, or moonlighting after hours was out of the question. After school, and on the weekends, he managed odd jobs, such as being a gofer for the reporters at the Daily News, drawing bags for shopkeepers and sign-making, but most often he hawked newspapers. Kirby recalls, perhaps apocryphally, “I enrolled at Pratt Institute. When I arrived home after the first day of classes, I discovered my father had lost his job. I was out of Pratt and selling newspapers the next day.” Due to his small stature, when Jacob found honest work to make a few pennies, he ran face first into urban Darwinism. Kirby recounts; “When I’d go to pick up the papers off the truck at the building, I’d be the little kid that got trampled.” Newsboys had a distinct pecking order, with the larger, stronger boys commanding the choicest locations, and largest bundles. Any intrusions into these prime locations were met with immediate and painful consequences. Being a “newsie” was also a gateway to petty crime as the boys would often add pick pocketing and other methods to up their daily take, and then lose it to craps, pitching pennies, or other small ante gambling games. Every newsie spoke of William Lipshitz in revered tones. The newsie turned hitman was just one of the many gangsters that the young hoods idolized. Jews had the same dreams we had. John Garfield would half-joke “If I hadn’t become an actor, I might have become Public Enemy Number One.” Jewish-American organized crime arose among slum kids who in pre-puberty stole from pushcarts, who as adolescents extorted money from store owners,– until as adults they joined well organized gangs, led by luminaries such as Moe Annenberg or Meyer Lansky, and became involved in a wide variety of criminal enterprises boosted by prohibition. The lure of quick money, power and the romance of the criminal lifestyle was as attractive to the second-generation Jewish immigrants as it was to the Irish and the Italians. It didn’t hurt that Meyer Lansky, the big cheese was only a little over 5 ft. tall. Something a short person could dream of– a democratic pursuit.

Newsies at work and play

The soul-robbing endless cycle of poverty, juvenile delinquency, and crime hung over Jake’s Lower East Side like a mourning shroud. The Jewish enclave was tight and offered a sanctuary of commonality for the older family members steeped in the Old World folklore and traditions, but to the children of the urban street who went to public schools with Irish, Italians, Poles, and Blacks, these old country ways offered no guidance.

Kirby told historian Greg Theakston; “I couldn’t accept the poverty. I couldn’t accept my parents in such poor circumstances either. I was a Depression child, and I couldn’t accept the things that were going on around me.” Yet despair is a curious thing, it can break the will, or it can forge a determination that can rise above it. Kirby recalls that life in the ghetto, “gave me a fierce drive to get out of it. It made me so fearful of it, that in an immature way, I fantasized a dream world more realistic than the reality around me.” Jack lived in the Lower East Side, there was no guarantee that he would ever get out; many didn’t. They say a man is the culmination of the choices he makes. The Lower East Side offered many choices for the young man, some good, but an awful lot bad; the easy lure of the con man, the romanticism of the gangster, the easy life of the gambler looked pretty nice compared to the menial factory job, or the drudgery of the assembly line. But Rose and Ben had raised Jacob right, he knew right from wrong and to avoid the detours found in the ghetto. The problem was how to see the straight and narrow with all the roadblocks the slums put in one’s path. Jack understood the realities such as Yedda Goldstein lying face down on a concrete surface rather than burn in her work building, or Louis Cohen- shot down like a rabid animal for crossing the wrong person, or Julius Rosenberg writhing in the electric chair for making just such wrong choices. Jack also knew of Lillian Wald, or Mickey Marcus, Bernard Baruch or Jimmy Cagney and knew there was a path out that didn’t include lying, violence, or scamming. He needed a map.

By 1932, Jacob had to make a decision. He was 15 edging on 16, and the scrapping was taking a nasty turn towards real consequences. Broken bones, incarceration, even death was now a constant companion. A close friend was shot in the neck, while another friend’s Mom jumped to her death from a building top. The rats were not just those hated, furry little rodents, now they were the strong arm bullies taking hard earned movie money, the enemy gangs, the petty hoods, the slum lords and dishonest cops intruding on Jacobs’ turf, and he was helpless to do anything about it. Jake’s parents were good people, but in this new world, they were as lost as Jacob. How could they show him a path out of the ghetto, which they couldn’t find? His father was now 45, and already an old man. The ten to twelve hour shifts, often six days a week, hunched over a sewing machine, in a dimly lit, smoke filled, windowless factory, had left Ben physically and spiritually bent and broken. He had little energy or quality time to give Jake the help and guidance the child needed. In the absence of an adult role model, peer pressure becomes the guiding factor, and the macho posing necessary to survive on the streets can deprive the child of the skills, and desire needed to succeed in the outside world. Education became a waste of time, time better spent in shooting craps, petty crime, or fighting. Reading or drawing? That’s sissy stuff; no real man would be caught dead wasting his time with that. Honest work? It’s a scam, guaranteed to break your spirit and your back. Hustling was quicker, cleaner, and you wore better clothes, if you could get away with it. Jacob had choices; most of them were not very good.

Jakie saw through the petty gangsters. “They weren’t the heroes. The gangsters were just guys who wanted the $400 suits, and they wanted it now. I didn’t care what I wore. They were guys who wanted money fast, and they paid for it.” Gangster Mickey Cohen a local strongarm/bodyguard described the feeling; “I started rooting – you know, sticking up joints – with some older guys. By now I had gotten a taste of what the racket world really was – the glamour, the way they dressed, the way they always had a pocketful of money.” “I got a kick out of having a big bankroll in my pocket. Even if I only made a couple hundred dollars, I’d always keep it in fives and tens so it’d look big.” Jack was lucky, others, such as the well known Louis Cohen were not so lucky. Louis was born Louis Kerzner near Jack’s Suffolk St home. Running the streets pick pocketing and other petty crimes led the youth to meeting up with Jacob “Augie” Orgen a bigger time Jewish mobster, known for his anti-union activities. Louis walked the streets like a god; a role model for all the street hustlers and newsies to admire and emulate. Louis Cohen was a dreamer — he wanted to be a gangster and win respect from the people, and wear those $400 suits. The Little Augie gangsters played on his ambition until he did the dirty work they were loath to tackle. Eager to please, the young hood was hired by Louis Buchalter and Legs Diamond to kill noted rival Nathan Kaplan- another anti-unionist. A gang war between the rival factions broke out resulting in a particularly violent fight on Essex St –in which several innocents were shot. Cohen shot Kaplan in front of the Essex County Court House, and was immediately arrested—he was not a particularly bright young man. Orgen became sole operator of the labor busting rackets. After exiting prison Cohen agreed to finger Buchalter. Along with buddy Isadore Friedman he had made an arrangement with feisty prosecutor Thomas Dewey. Buchalter found out through informants within the states attorney’s office and shot and killed both Cohen and Friedman like dogs on the street; their bodies for all to see as an object lesson in the Lower East Side. Louis Cohen never fulfilled his dream. Such was the education of Jacob Kurtzberg. Historian Michael Sugarman observes with wry humor; “You have to look at the irony of the situation. The immigrants wanted their children to lead a successful, law-abiding life, and live the “American Dream”. Now the irony was, in the time of the Depression and Prohibition, when organized crime flourished, you couldn’t be both successful and law abiding, in most cases. The only real successful people were the gangsters. The law-abiding ones were dirt poor. This is said mostly in jest; truth be told there were many positive influences o the young boy. They were just outnumbered by the relentless presence of the mobster class.

To be fair, the area had its heroes. Lillian D. Wald was born of a German Jewish family in Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated from the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses and then took courses at the Woman’s Medical College.  Spurred on by a close friend, she adopted the Lower East Side and decided the area needed nursing care. Wald’s work, along with her partner Mary Brewster, in the area prompted her to move there to be a visiting nurse and help aid the families who were living in horrible conditions.  After gaining a sponsor, Wald’s practice grew as did her staff, which by 1913 had grown to 92 people She worked in the area for forty years.  Her practice became the Henry Street Settlement and then turned into the Visiting Nurse Service of New York City.  The Settlement expanded its range of services to meet the needs of the local community. This included nursing, the establishment of clubs, a savings bank, a library and vocational training for young people. By 1903 Wald was organizing 18 district nursing service centers that overall treated 4,500 patients in New York. Wald early resolved that the Henry Street nurses would be nonsectarian and would charge fees only to those who could pay. There would be no religious or racial discrimination for their services.

Over the next few years Wald promoted the idea of building public playgrounds and cultural institutions in working class areas. In 1915, Wald founded the Neighborhood Playhouse on Grand St. to serve as a cultural center and later an acting school.  After the war, she expanded into many social concerns. She helped her friend Margaret Sanger, she marched for the right to vote, and she led the fight against the horrible child labor conditions. She fought for medical staff inside the educational buildings. She helped start the NAACP. Her work for civil rights stands as a landmark of tolerance. A confirmed trade Unionist and pacifist. The Henry St. Settlement has become a treasured landmark in the Lower East Side. To this day it continues the fight against disease, poverty, and oppression. The Boys Brotherhood Republic was swallowed up by the Henry Settlement Complex and they share spaces at 888 East 6th Street, It remains one of the cultural centers of the LES. Her work was the perfect compliment to Harry Slonaker and the BBR.

Mickey Marcus was born on Hester St, not far from Jake’s block. Being athletic and bright he earned his way in to West Point. After graduation he returned to New York became a lawyer and won appointments to several prestigious jobs with the D.A. Most importantly, he led the prosecution of Lucky Luciano. He was speculated to become the first Jewish Mayor of New York. But first came World War 2. Mickey reenlisted and was made part of Eisenhower’s brain trust. Marcus helped draw up the surrender terms for Italy and Germany and became part of the occupation government in Berlin after 1945. During that time, Marcus was placed in charge of planning how to sustain the starving millions in areas liberated by the Allies, and clearing out the Nazi concentration camps. After the war he returned to New York where he was approached by the new Israeli Defense Dept and asked to set up a new army; first to win separation from Great Britain and then to keep it from the Arab countries. It was during these early years in Israel that Marcus was killed by friendly fire while touring an encampment. He was returned to New York and buried with honors from two countries. There were heroes, just not as glamorous as the lowlifes.

Running the streets with Morris Cohen or Georgie Comet, Chubby Clee, and the Klinghoffer boys—Albie and Leon, was exciting and energetic, but going nowhere. It all just seemed like dead ends. Some became gangsters, some street hoods and some youths took their anger and frustrations to the streets, joining the anarchists like the Young Communist League who marched and pushed for worker’s rights and social reform. It’s been said that upwards of 12,000 kids were active members of the Commie Bunds in New York by 1939—ever watching the progress being made by the new government in Mother Russia. One such bomb thrower was a neighbor of Jacob Kurtzberg named Julius Rosenberg.

In March, 1931, 9 black youths were arrested after a gang type melee in Scottsboro, Alabama.; some younger than Jacob. 2 white women falsely accused them of raping them. White hysteria erupts and the demand is made to lynch them. The local sheriff puts a stop to the mob, but promised a swift trial. Two weeks later, after a kangaroo court –where their appointed lawyer refused to put up a defense, they were sentenced to die. The prosecuting attorney makes it plain. “Guilty or not, let’s kill these niggers.” The legal arm of the Communist party, the ILD, (perhaps for its own reasons) takes up their case and whips up support from up north. The world soon takes notice. On June 27th upwards of 5000 people both black and white march in protest in Harlem, New York. Among those fellow Communists marching was a first time protester, Julius Rosenberg. After many later trials, several of the boys are freed, and the others faced reduced sentences.


The only paper to come to their aid

His passion for the radical has been ignited. The intertwining of socialism and civil rights was an important ingredient in the rise of both. The black population had no better ally than the equally downtrodden Jewish people. The freedom riders—those northern youths sent south to help blacks vote were a combination of idealistic blacks and Jewish kids– and their fates were often the same.

The Daily Worker had grown into a passable newspaper after some early problems. Though usually a fixture of Soviet propaganda it did find a place in America among the class conscious workers. Dick Briefer-of Frankenstein Comics fame had a regular strip called Pinky Rankin for several years. Surprisingly their baseball coverage was among the best around. It was from this perch that the demand for mixed ball emerged. It is doubtful that baseball would become integrated without the constant haranguing of the Daily Worker.

On Sunday, August 16, 1936, under the headline, “Fans Ask  End of Jim Crow Baseball,” the Sunday Worker pronounced “Jim Crow baseball must end.” Thus began the Communist Party newspaper’s campaign to end discrimination in the national  pastime. The story, written by sports editor Lester Rodney, questioned the fairness of segregated baseball. Rodney believed that black ballplayers from the Negro Leagues would improve the quality of play in the major leagues. He appealed to readers to demand that the national pastime — particularly team owners, or “magnates” as the  newspaper called them — admit black ballplayers. “Fans, it’s up to you! Tell the big league magnates that you’re sick of the poor pitching in the American League.” “Big league ball is on the downgrade, “Rodney declared, “You pay the high prices. Demand better ball. Demand Americanism in baseball, equal opportunities for Negro and white stars.”

It’s an interesting mix, politics, sports, and civil rights.

Ida M Van Etten wrote of the American/Russian Jewish dilemma, their allegiance both to America and their hold from Mother Russia, and the fear of established political parties.

“ Politically, the Jews possess many characteristics of the best citizens. Their respect and desire for education make them most unlikely to follow an ignorant demagogue, while for a still deeper and more radical reason they make an enlightened selfishness their standard of all political worth. The centuries during which every conscious and unconscious tendency of the governments under which they lived has been to make their individual and race advancement their single object, have developed traits of character most unfavorable to that blind partisanship which is requisite for the successful carrying out of the objects of political organizations like Tammany Hall. The education given by the modern labor movement has, in a great degree, transformed their race-feeling into a class-feeling, and they now look with zeal to the advancement of the working people, in whole elevation they recognize that their hope for the future lies. The one or two Jewish political demagogues who strive to create a following on the East Side have met with doubtful success. In fact, there does not exist a more unpromising field in New York for the political trickster than the Jewish quarter of the city. Their cold, critical analysis of political nostrums is most disheartening to the district-leaders of Tammany Hall. Unlike most native or Irish voters, they are proof against the blandishments of the campaign orator and the fascinations of the torchlight procession and brass band. The great mass of Russian Jews are not yet naturalized, but of those who are, the vast majority voted last year with the Socialist Labor party. “

By the early 1900’s several socialist representatives won their seats for the Lower East Side. Jack looked with amazement on the local Tammany Hall pols shoving money at the great unwashed for votes; looked like a job for a young man on the move. “The average politician was crooked. That was my ambition, to be a crooked politician” Jack laughed.

Such was the quandary Jacob found himself; ill-equipped to make it in the outside world, yet too small, too smart, and too sensitive to want to join the world of gangsters, petty crime, or the anarchists. Jake needed a mentor, someone who could help him bridge the gulf that divided his squalid world of limited hope, from a universe of endless possibilities. A positive role model who was every bit the equal to the constant negative reinforcement shoved down a young boys’ throat.


Hard times and gangsters wearing nice suits

How Harry Slonaker, and the Boys Brotherhood Republic happened to be in New York’s Lower East Side at this time, has become the stuff of folklore. Comedian Jerry Stiller, an early member told BusinessWeek magazine in an interview from the Dec. 12, 2003 issue, “The BBR started when some kids in the neighborhood were caught playing dice on the street and were arrested. They were going to be shipped off to reform school when a social worker from Chicago named Harry Slonaker, who had seen what happened, pleaded with the judge. “Give them to me,” he said.”

Harry Slonaker remembered it differently; one day, while walking around the tough neighborhoods of New York’s Lower East Side, Harry happened on a group of kids shooting craps in an alleyway. He approached the kids, with an offer, “I’ll fade you”. The wary kids, suspecting a copper, grabbed their meager cash and the bones and started to run from this man in an overcoat. “Naw, don’t beat it!” Harry pleaded. “Come on, let’s shoot some dice, I’ll fade you”, he pleaded. The boys reluctantly returned, and as the game progressed, he offered forth an idea. “What do you say we form a club?” Despite numerous objections from the boys, that “clubs are sissy stuff”, Harry finally won some of the kids over, and they formed the BBR.

Harry’s reminiscence is accurate, just not complete, for Harry wasn’t just happening by the Lower East Side; he was actually on a mission. Harry Edward Slonaker was not a native New Yorker; he was born on Nov.17th, 1903, in Hammond, Indiana, the only child of James and Bernice Slonaker. Hammond is a small town in the upper Northwest quadrant of the state, just across the border from Illinois. At some period, during his childhood, Harry’s family crossed that border and settled in Chicago. This was the Chicago of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, bloody race riots, drive by shootings, and Al Capone.

In 1914, a Chicago salesman named Jack Robbins ventured into a Chicago courthouse where 7 boys were being sentenced for petty larceny. Robbins spoke up on behalf of the boys, and the court sentenced them to probation under his control. (Interesting how this legend jumps from founder to founder) After talking with the boys, all ex-members of various organized boy’s clubs, Robbins came to the conclusion that they had failed because the clubs had been organized and run totally by grown-ups, and the kids rebelled due to lack of any real responsibility and say. His solution became the Boys Brotherhood Republic.

“Where Boy’s Rule” was not just the club’s motto, it was its raison d’être. The BBR functioned like a self-contained political entity. The boys, from 14 to 18 would elect their own Mayor, and City Council, and other departments. The boys paid taxes and were required to put in time in their chosen committees. There was also training and tutoring in sports, art, and vocational areas. On one wall hung a plaque bearing the words “We are digging a well, where other boys may drink”; a constant reminder that what was learned and lived at BBR must continue to the next generation. The success was astounding, boys petitioned to join by the dozens.


On front of home building

Jack Robbins was thinking about expanding his philosophy to New York City. On Feb. 23, 1931, in the Lower East Side, he held a public meeting attended by over a hundred kids, and several local dignitaries to gauge local support for the club. When asked how soon the kids would like to have a BBR, the answer was a resounding “TOMORROW!”

With this affirmative call to action, Jack Robbins explained his plan to the boys. “It is important that the supervisor of the New York Boys Brotherhood Republic should be an adult who is either a former BBR citizen from Chicago, or who has received substantial training in Chicago.” “This man is to be in sympathy with self-governing ideas, and is to have an understanding of the desires of the elements of the boys to be under his supervision.”

In early Jan, 1932, Harry Slonaker, the former mayor of the NW Chicago BBR set up shop, and hit the NY streets looking for recruits. He started with a small group of kids rolling dice, and by the end of January, a core group was formed and the first meeting of the Boys Brotherhood Republic in NYC was held.


Harry Slonaker by Alfred Eisenstatz

Jacob Kurtzberg joined a couple months later, probably at the urging of Georgie Comet or Chubby Clee, who were among the first to join the group. In fact, Chubby was the first elected Mayor of the Group. The next several years, the BBR would offer him an alternative to the gangs, the rats, and the hopelessness that shrouded his future. At the BBR, he found like-minded friends also looking to improve their lives. The BBR was an island of tranquility amidst the chaos and tumult of his Lower East Side existence. The BBR art club gave him a place where his artistic skills were appreciated, rather than the subject of cruel taunting, and his talents were put to productive use.

“The boys publish and mimeograph a weekly newspaper which sells for one cent. Harry Slonaker never sees it until after it is printed. There is a camera club and art club, which likewise run themselves. If a boy is interested in drawing he joins the club and the other boys take a hand and teach them what they have learned. The professional appearance of their posters speak well for their ability”

Off the Straight and Narrow
Caroline Bayard Colgate 1937

Perhaps even more important, the BBR instilled in him the discipline and work ethic that hopelessness robbed of so many. Jacob didn’t need Harry Slonaker to know right from wrong, his parents had taught him that, but he needed a mentor like Harry Slonaker to show how he could overcome the negative shackles of a street education that taught that doing the right thing was a fool’s game. Jack Kirby recalls; “It was a country that kids ran, this organization that Harry started. He thought that if he gave kids responsibility it would give them hope, and there was so little hope then.”. “We learned responsibility. For the first time it was in our own hands, and we learned how to deal with it.”

Jerry Stiller recalls; “BBR really helped you find something within yourself. It was a place where we found a connection with each other. We were children of immigrants: Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, Chinese, black, and Hispanic. There was no ethnic divide. It was so beautifully connected. There was no prejudice or bigotry.”

Sol Kassen remembers the early days;

“We were so anxious, sometimes we arrived early and would have to wait outside the doors until Harry Slonaker opened up. He would sit upstairs by the window until 4 p.m. sharp, when he’d let in these boys — who now say they otherwise might have stolen, vandalized or cheated for a good time had it not been for the club. It was just so cold that day. Kasson couldn’t wait. “Aw c’mon, Harry, why don’t you let us go in a little earlier? “ To get some attention Kasson picked up a rock and threw it at a window. He didn’t mean to, but he shattered the glass. Out came Slonaker. ”

“Before they started this club we used to steal and get into all kinds of trouble,” said Sol Gelber, the kids of the east side were very poor. We didn`t have anything and we couldn`t feel any hope. The club really changed our lives. It`s like our motto, `when there are boys in trouble we too are in trouble.”

”I think that club was more than fun. It gave a sense of what is good and right,” Hank Walzer, said. “We never lost touch. We went to one another’s bar mitzvahs and weddings. It was like one big family.”

“It was a great time for me,” Jack would claim. “I made lots of friends.” Ralph Hittman, who would go on to lead the BBR recalls Jacob as “a quiet guy.” “Played ball like everyone else, but was usually drawing comic strips.” Hittman recalls an activity called Fighting for Fun where Jake was boxing another boy name Milt Cherry, and Jake lost. “Jake looked pugnacious but he really wasn’t.” Not surprisingly, Jack would tell of a boxing match where one of the boys taunted him, really going after Kirby’s short stature. Jack’s temper reached a boil and as the bell sounded, he threw himself across the ring and the fight was quickly ended with a one punch knockout by the small battler.

Jacob became an integral part of the BBR’s self-published newspaper, providing editorial comment, and original art that accompanied the issues. His K’s Konceptions,–small gag comments– cranked out from a crude mimeograph, were the first published artwork of his now legendary career.

The citizens of the BBR took their responsibilities seriously; the in-house court was a busy place. Missed meetings, returning books late, and major offenses like fighting or gambling would get a member brought before the court. In 1935 they even held an impeachment trial for one of the Judges. George Comet, one of Jake’s closest friends, was the prosecuting attorney, and Jake was the court reporter and court artist. The highlight of the account in the BBR Reporter was Jake’s spot illustrations, and his terse little remarks on the witnesses. Former BBR Judge Morris Kosatzky’s attempt to foist himself off as an authority on BBR laws became “a much disputed fact by both attornies.” “Hercules” Hershberg, who sat in a “spread eagle position”, while answering questions was “the funniest witness ever to occupy a chair.” In response to one question he declared; “Awright so I’ll answer yes or no. Who wants to beat around the bush?” Councilman Spinner “wore a sinister smirk” while Councilman Rosen was taking copious notes because “he couldn’t weigh the evidence in his cranium,” but mostly, he and everyone “were very attentive and devouring every piece of evidence.”

Jake could wax serious too. In a BBR Reporter article he compares the early Reporter with the new version. “Today, The Reporter is one of the greatest BBR institutions. The press room is a scene of buzzing activity. The camera staff is always at work, and experimenting on some new process of turning out pictures for the newspaper. The editor can always be noticed bawling out the art staff plus firing a reporter here and there. The mimeograph squad; with sleeves rolled up and reeking with sweat, turn out page after page. At important events, the BBR Reporter is always represented in the ever present Press Box. Like the BBR itself, the BBR Reporter has risen from a thing of insignificance, to a thing filled with activity, and pulsating with life.”

The English isn’t perfect, the syntax slightly shattered, but Jack’s unique facility with the written word was evident early. Among his friends on the BBR staff was Albie Klinghoffer, who doubled as the BBR Reporter’s Business manager, and cameraman. His brother Leon would become infamous when in 1985 he was murdered on the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists. Supposedly the wheelchair bound Klinghoffer spat in the face of one of the terrorists. Consequently, he was shot and dumped overboard.

Nothing was more important or more time-consuming for Harry Slonaker then his relentless push to help his kids find gainful employment. The members would plaster walls and bridges with posters and placards seeking work. They would send personal letters to business owners pleading for summer job applicants. Many of the BBR youths left to take jobs with President Roosevelt’s new CCC program.

Kirby credits the time spent at the BBR, for giving him the means to escape the slums. “I drew caricatures of other club members, made jokes about the things they did. The others loved it. I drew other things like titles, and other cartoons. I even wrote a couple articles. It was a good experience for me. It’s what finally got me out of the neighborhood and into a real job.” Kirby explained. “Harry Slonaker, who I felt was like my own father, was responsible for making me a decent human being. We came out responsible adults.”


Learn more from their book

Harry Slonaker and the BBR allowed Jacob Kurtzberg to find his dignity and self-worth, and just like the club newspaper, Jacob had “risen from a thing of insignificance, to a thing filled with activity, and pulsating with life.” The boy became a man. This dreamer wouldn’t end up a corpse on the street.

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Looking For The Awesome – 1. Jack Kirby’s America

PreviousPreface | Contents | Next – 2. A World Divided

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


“Winters got real severe and a lot of people passed away. I remember having a lot of sweaters on me. I can tell you. Our idea of preventing disease was to wear four or five sweaters and everything else you could put on.” So what did people depend on? “God. My mother held much faith in God and on folklore. She was also a great storyteller. I got that talent from her and by listening to her every night. The best stories are the ones that can touch you; anytime anyone tells you a good story and it is in person they have a smell, a sound, and they breathe. That is the essence of good storytelling, when it can reach out and touch you. My mother learned storytelling from her mother. Like her mother and her mother’s mother, my mother told me tales about people, God and the land they lived on. That’s the kind of home I grew up in.” Jack swallowed hard after talking about his mother. To his mother, he was always Jacov.

It is not a coincidence that Shalom Aleichem the great Hebrew story writer; called by some the Jewish Mark Twain – though Twain would always claim that he was the American Shalom Aleichem – spent the last years of his illustrious life living and dying in poverty among the Jewish cast-offs in the Lower East Side. After escaping Czarist Russia due to a pogrom, he wearily made his way to New York. He died fitfully spitting out his life among the thousands of Tuberculosis victims suffering there. These people lived Shalom’s stories, they were Shalom’s stories, and they loved their lost homelands. Shalom Aleichem died just as Jacob came into the world. One generation always gave way to the next. Perhaps it was Shalom’s talents that found a new vessel in Jacob’s hands.

They were the stories of a people, a people displaced by nature, and resettled in hell. But they survived, and they passed on their collective knowledge, and their stories never end, they just keep adding new chapters.

Mulberry St. Lower East Side 1920

August 28, 1917, for 4 years Europe had been engulfed in a horrific war—“the War to end all wars”. The United States had joined the bloody conflict four months earlier, and by June, the first Yanks landed in Europe, making this truly a World War. Thousands of miles away, in a stifling cold water flat located in the bowels of New York City, Benjamin and Rose Kurtzberg delivered their first child. Ben had recently emigrated from Austria, where the stench of persecution, war and poverty had been a constant. By the conclusion of this unparalleled cataclysm, an ancient era had passed. Gone were the Czars, Archdukes, and Kaisers, left powerless were Kings and Emperors, whose legacy of absolute authority had stretched for centuries. The age of the feudal lieges, lording over personal fiefdoms had ended. Jacob Kurtzberg, was truly born from the death throes of these Old Gods. Europe’s era had ended.

Ben and Rose were part of the massive Jewish tide that overwhelmed the United States at the turn of the Century. Jack’s romanticized story was that his father escaped Austria in 1907 in order to avoid a duel-of-honor with a German aristocrat. Yeah well, Jack told stories. Landing at Ellis Island, Ben found refuge in America’s Calcutta, New York’s Lower East Side. Ben’s family was from a section of Austria-Hungary known as Galicia. Beginning in the 1880s, a mass emigration of the Galician populace occurred. Caused by an horrible economic condition, and a growing Jewish animosity. Rural poverty was widespread; the emigration began in the western, Polish populated part of Galicia and quickly shifted east to the Ukrainian inhabited Eastern parts. Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, and Germans all participated in this mass movement of countryfolk and villagers. Poles migrated principally to New England and the midwestern states of the United States. Jews mostly emigrated directly to New York and Chicago. A total of several hundred thousand people were involved in this Great Economic Emigration which grew steadily more intense until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.


Immigrants in cattle pens at Ellis Island

Rose’s family had come to America from Russia a few years earlier, possibly to escape the great Kishinev pogroms of 1903-5. Czarist Russia was becoming more and more inhospitable to the Jewish population, even those residing inside the Pale of Settlement.

The New York Times reported: 4.28.1903

“The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “Kill the Jews,” was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep; The dead number 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews.”

Louis B. Marshal, in his 1904 essay on the 250th Anniversary of Jews in the U.S. wrote;

“In 1880 the number of Jews in the city of New York did not exceed 100,000. Since then, owing to the unspeakable horrors of Russian and Romanian oppression, and of the dire poverty in Galicia and the tide of Jewish immigration has increased in volume year after year, until to-day the Jewish population of New York city amounts to well nigh 750,000, and numbers are constantly increasing.

Many of these new arrivals have not as yet attained the highest standard of citizenship, are still struggling with poverty and misery, are yet unacquainted with our vernacular, and have brought with them unfamiliar customs, strange tongues, and ideas which are the product of centuries of unexampled persecution.

But what of that! They have come to this country with the pious purpose of making it their home; of identifying themselves and their children with its future; of worshipping under its protection, according to their consciences; of becoming its citizens; of loving it; of giving to it their energies, their intelligence, their persistent industry.

The Pilgrim Fathers did no more than this. The progenitors of the leading families of this country were not otherwise; The lineage of the Russian Jew runs back much further than theirs. He is the descendent of men who were renowned for learning and for intellectual achievements when from the St. Lawrence to the Rio Grande, from Sandy Hook to the Golden Gate, this was a howling wilderness.


dead children from a pogrom

The Russian Jew is rapidly becoming the American Jew, and we shall live to see the time when the present dwellers in the tenements will, through their thrift and innate moral powers, hitherto repressed and benumbed, step into the very forefront of the great army of American citizenship.”

Between 1900 and 1924, another 1.75 million Jews would immigrate to America’s shores, the bulk from Eastern Europe. Before 1900, American Jews amounted to less than 1 percent of America’s total population, by 1930 Jews formed about 3½ percent. There were more Jews in America by then than there were Episcopalians or Presbyterians.

When they landed at Ellis Island, they were met by the Jewish Aid Society. Landsmanshaften were small groups of individuals; often broken up by their areas of origin. They would help the newcomers make the transition as immigrant as harmless as possible. They would arrange living quarters, help with employment, offer entertainment, education and social interaction between the new arrivals and others of like backgrounds. They provided places of worship, financial assistance, even medical and burial aid when needed. They stressed the need for assimilation as quickly as possible.

Both families had settled in a small but tight knit Austrian-Hungarian Jewish enclave in the Lower East Side. They met while working at a textile mill, and after the appropriate arrangements were made, they eventually married.

The currents of time and events don’t flow smoothly. Society and culture grow in fits and starts. There are eras when tsunamis of influences and change collide and release huge amounts of energy and inspiration. The early 1900’s were just such an epoch. It started slow but by the late teens the wave crashed with such force to wipe everything before it away. Politics, art, music, and cultural changes crashed and fed off each other’s energies. And no where was this more obvious than in New York. This was becoming America’s century, and New York was the loci. New York had become the financial, artistic, fashion, entertainment and communications hub of the world. It was a great world spinning and creating its own gravitational force that drew in every diverse element and influence from the rest of the world. And people by the millions, the lowly immigrant and the high and mighty. And once those elements entered into New York’s fiery cauldron, they were melded and transformed into a new form that became the face of America. New technologies in steel-forging and elevator construction led the way for a new profile for New York; one that stretched hundreds of feet higher than ever seen before. Uptown, The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building cracked the sky. Art Nouveau’s frilliness gave way to Art Deco and Modernism’s angles and geometrics. But this was not Jacob/Jacov’s New York!

Hearst, Pulitzer and Ochs competed for the hearts and minds of New York’s citizenry as their newspapers became the symbols for all that was good and bad in society, and gave rise to a new phrase–yellow journalism. Newspaper comic strips by the likes of Winsor McKay and George Herriman captured the hearts of everyone. Muckrakers like Jacob Riis, and Lilian Wald fought the system to bring equality to the masses. Socialism and Progressive Politics railed against the monolithic power of the Corporate Giants born from the Industrial and technical growth of the late 1800’s, and with it came the call for revolution, civil rights and workers rights.

Women rebelled from the tight structured Victorian fashions and wore looser more casual clothing ala the Gibson girls or even worse, male fashions. The Suffragette Movement grew from a new restless female population forced to work in the factories and raise families torn asunder during the Great War, and with it came a demand for power–political, cultural, and even sexual– never thought possible; culminating in the passing of the 19th Amendment giving women the vote. And it was in New York that the great garment industry would grow–from supplying clothes for slaves, to providing clothing for the masses. And those masses of employees fed into the great demand for workers rights and led the way in Unionism and worker dignity. But this was not Rose’s New York.

The art world had been Eurocentric for several generations, but in the early 1900’s a new generation of American artists and architects and writers arose bringing a new perspective, born of European influences but adapted to America’s baser sensitivities.

Broadway, once the center of European Operettas, and Vaudevillian and Parisian revues gave way to a new amalgam forged by Jewish and Irish immigrants drawing inspiration from roots music and the new idiom of jazz blown in fresh from the South. Victor Herbert gave way to Cohan, Berlin and Gershwin. In 1927, true American Musical Theater was born when two sons of European heritage, Jerome Kerns and Oscar Hammerstein II combined and created a new genre with the creation of Showboat–a musical play as compared to a musical revue, and the first truly integrated show.

European Jews weren’t the only ones fleeing prejudice and ending in New York. For a short period after the Civil War there was a period of increased education and employment of blacks. This led to a growing middle-class population and with it, expectations of a better life. In 1896 this period of enlightenment was crushed with the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling; returning parts of the South to a separate society, and minimizing the rights that had popped up post war. Along with a plague of boll weevils that decimated the Southern agrarian economy the labor market disappeared for the black population.

Blacks headed North to a supposed better life, racism was still a problem, but was more hidden and less brutal than in the South. The Northern states allowed blacks to vote, and education was available, and jobs-especially labor jobs- were much more prevalent in the heavy industrial shops. This migration brought upwards of 7 million blacks to the northern states.

Author Richard Wright (Native Son) wrote of the black immigrant in words that can be seen universally.

“I was leaving the South to fling myself into the unknown . . . I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom”

The black folks who fled Jim Crow in record numbers, into New York and parts North, after the Civil War had brought their own influences from Africa and the Caribbean Isles.

In the early 1900’s these sons of slaves had reached a point where they demanded recognition for these influences, and in New York a new movement took root. The Harlem Renaissance burst forth with a fury and energy that shook all cultural endeavors. Writers like Hughes, Thurston and Harrison, artists like Jacob Lawrence, Aaron Douglas, and Romare Bearden brought their roots and colorful energy and made it American, but mostly it was in the music.

Nowhere was the black influence more apparent than the explosion of jazz upon the canvas of America’s musical life. Birthed in New Orleans, Memphis, and other southern towns, jazz matured when it reached the streets of New York and blended with elegant European Waltzes, Yiddish schmaltz, and the folk music of the immigrant workers. Nowhere was this more prominent than in New York’s nightlife where Cab, Duke and Fats Waller ruled with a strong left hand and a swinging groove. Broadway became captivated with Porgy and Bess.

Even sports seemed to bow to New York as Babe Ruth, the ill-bred son of a Baltimore bar owner, and Lou Gehrig, the gentle son of German immigrants held court in all-white Yankee Stadium, and won adulation and the hearts of children everywhere. No blacks need apply. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that what all the people share is that they were the second generation of people thrown into the horror and poverty of New York City. Immigrant or slave made no difference. There is recognition that the second generation always shows the cream rising to the top. The first generation suffered so the second could achieve and overcome. But this was not Ben’s’ New York.

Ben was a first generation immigrant, thrown into the pit of the monster, where a previous generation of Jews from Western Europe looked down on and mistreated the brothers from Eastern Europe. It was a common occurrence that the new immigrants would get the harshest treatment from their own that came earlier. It was the first Irish that beat down and abused the new Irish immigrants who poured off the ships. And it was the earliest Italians who mistreated and impoverished the later Italian immigrants. And it was the first Jews who had opened up the garment shops and manufacturing plants that kept the new Polish/Russian Jews in such poverty. It was an old story freshly told to the new Jews. American Capitalism required fresh blood forced to work for the lowest salary to keep the costs of manufacturing down and increase the competitive edge of North American trade. William Cutting in the movie The Gangs of New York put it most succinctly while observing poor, starving Irish immigrants coming off a ship. “I don’t see Americans; I see trespassers, Irish harps. Do a job for a nickel what a nigger does for a dime and a white man used to get a quarter for.” All while the immoral politician rubs his hand thanking god for new cheap stock for the grist, and unquestioning votes. It was the same moral force that allowed slavery in the South and sweat labor in the North. Slave labor, whether Irish, Italian, black, or Jewish was the energy source that made the factories run. Even after Unionism started to bring higher wages and safer workplaces, Management simply created a new shadow work force. Using a new second level of manager, the owners created what have become known as sweat shops. Independents with a few sewing machines and presses would set up shops in private homes away from the Government regulations and union scale jobs. This second level was known as “sweaters” thus we got sweat shops. This unregulated force paid lower wages, had no time limits, and hired underage workers that made the clothes for a few pennies less that allowed the sweaters to sell their wares to the manufacturers who kept their profit margins and had no overhead—legal or monetary to speak of. They preyed upon the poorest, to whom any work was a blessing, and who had no power; legal, economic or moral to help them out. Workers who had already put in a 12 hour shift came home and worked another couple hours in the comfort of their slum dwellings for even lower wages just to make a few extra pennies to cover expenses. 10, 12, and thirteen year olds worked alongside their parents learning the skills of the seamstress. Roz Goldstein talks of the times she would sit next to her mother learning the art of hand-stitching fine lace, out of need, not curiosity.


The Sweaters of Jewtown copyright Jacob Riis

Jacob Riis talks of this abomination in his book, How The Other Half Lives;

“Many harsh things have been said of the “sweater,” that really apply to the system in which he is a necessary, logical link. It can at least be said of him that he is no worse than the conditions that created him. The sweater is simply the middleman, the sub-contractor, a workman like his fellows, perhaps with the single distinction from the rest that he knows a little English; perhaps not even that, but with the accidental possession of two or three sewing-machines, or of credit enough to hire them, as his capital, who drums up work among the clothing-houses. Of workmen he can always get enough. Every ship-load from German ports brings them to his door in droves, clamoring for work. The sun sets upon the day of the arrival of many a Polish Jew, finding him at work in an East Side tenement, treading the machine and “learning the trade.” Often there are two, sometimes three, sets of sweaters on one job. They work with the rest when they are not drumming up trade, driving their “hands” as they drive their machine, for all they are worth, and making a profit on their work, of course, though in most cases not nearly as extravagant a percentage, probably, as is often supposed. If it resolves itself into a margin of five or six cents, or even less, on a dozen pairs of boys’ trousers, for instance, it is nevertheless enough to make the contractor with his thrifty instincts independent. The workman growls, not at the hard labor or poor pay, but over the pennies another is coining out of his sweat, and on the first opportunity turns sweater himself, and takes his revenge by driving an even closer bargain than his rival tyrant, thus reducing his profits.”

The sweater knows well that the isolation of the workman in his helpless ignorance is his sure foundation, and he has done what he could—with merciless severity where he could—to smother every symptom of awakening intelligence in his slaves. In this effort to perpetuate his despotism he has had the effectual assistance of his own system and the sharp competition that keep the men on starvation wages; of their constitutional greed, that will not permit the sacrifice of temporary advantage, however slight, for permanent good, and above all, of the hungry hordes of immigrants to whom no argument appeals save the cry for bread. Within very recent times he has, however, been forced to partial surrender by the organization of the men to a considerable extent into trades unions, and by experiments in co-operation, under intelligent leadership, that presage the sweater’s doom. But as long as the ignorant crowds continue to come and to herd in these tenements, his grip can never be shaken off. And the supply across the seas is apparently inexhaustible. Every fresh persecution of the Russian or Polish Jew on his native soil starts greater hordes hitherward to confound economical problems, and recruit the sweater’s phalanx. The curse of bigotry and ignorance reaches halfway across the world, to sow its bitter seed in fertile soil in the East Side tenements. If the Jew himself was to blame for the resentment he aroused over there, he is amply punished. He gathers the first-fruits of the harvest here.

It was a simple and logical outreach that led to the creation of freelancing among the artisans and creative work force; a way for the manufacturers to skirt federal regulations. Allowing publishers to have product while keeping the workers as low as possible—and avoiding all the benefits of hiring them as professionals. Turning the laws of Capitalism on its head; more specialized talents should command a higher price. A small need fed by a larger workforce; people with highly specialized talents selling their souls for a mere pittance of its worth, simply because of competition- and hunger. The owners easily pitted one against the other until the lowest possible price, and least bothersome worker was chosen. These artists would gladly sacrifice their law given rights and privileges for the promise of a few pennies to buy food. There was no “work for hire” scheme to be found in the Copyright laws of 1909. It evolved there as a reaction by the owners demanding the copyrights from impoverished artist without the legal or economic power to demand other. With each success by the workers, the owners found new and devious ways to get around it-often using brute force against helpless workers to win their way. It was not for wanting that comic artist never expected to keep their copyrights, or receive reprint benefits, or residuals when their creation was made into toys or advertising faces. It was simple naked power by wealthier owners that told a weaker work force to shut up and be happy with the crumbs thrown their way—or be replaced by even weaker workers. It was this uneven bargaining power that forced Congress to finally improve the Copyright laws in 1976.


“The Enemies of the Working Girl” women and children work late at night while the “working women” – the factory workers fought for better conditions

Yes, America was the new beast, and New York’s uptown was its beating heart. America was now the center of the universe, and Manhattan the blazing sun. But this was not the immigrant’s New York. The Kurtzberg’s New York was the noisy rotting corpse at the center of the hurricane that blew all around; the belching, stinking, fetid energy source that fed the great engine of New York. The Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the century was a crowded, squalid ghetto, teeming with those huddled masses yearning to be free; the lowlies–the hunger dogs– whose blood, sweat, hopes, broken bones, and corpses lubricated the roaring dynamo. The cheap labor source needed to make Capitalism run. This was the Kurtzbergs’ New York.

Jacob Riis, from his seminal book, How the Other Half Lives (1890)

“The tenements grow taller, and the gaps in their ranks close up rapidly as we cross the Bowery and, leaving Chinatown and the Italians behind, invade the Hebrew quarter. Baxter Street, with its interminable rows of old clothes shops and its brigades of pullers-in. Bayard Street, with its synagogues and its crowds, gave us a foretaste of it. No need of asking here where we are, the jargon of the street, the signs of the sidewalk, the manner and dress of the people, their unmistakable physiognomy betray their race at every step. Men with queer skull-caps, venerable beard, and the outlandish long-skirted kaftan of the Russian Jew, elbow the ugliest and the handsomest women in the land. The contrast is startling; the old women are hags, the young, houris. Wives and mothers at sixteen, at thirty they are old. So thoroughly has the chosen people crowded out the Gentiles in the Tenth Ward that, when the great Jewish holidays come around every year, the public schools in the district have practically to close up. Of their thousands of pupils, scarcely a handful comes to school. Nor is there any suspicion that the rest are playing hooky. They stay honestly home to celebrate. There is no mistaking it: we are in Jewtown.



“Here is one seven stories high. The sanitary policeman whose beat this is will tell you that it contains thirty-six families, but the term has a widely different meaning here and on the avenues. In this house, where a case of small-pox was reported, there were fifty-eight babies and thirty-eight children that were over five years of age. In Essex Street two small rooms in a six-story tenement were made to hold a “family” of father and mother, twelve children and six boarders.“

Benjamin was 20 years old when he landed in New York. Like many of the Jewish immigrants, Benjamin found work among the garment workers and cigar wrappers. He struggled in the garment district sweat shops for long hours and small wages–when there was work. The garment district of New York was a horrific place to work. It was unsanitary, crowded, low paying and dangerous. Four years after Ben started working there, the worst US workplace accident ever occurred when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught fire.


New words needed to describe the horror

An eyewitness account by William G. Shepherd

I was walking through Washington Square when a puff of smoke issuing from the factory building caught my eye. I reached the building before the alarm was turned in. I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound–a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk.

Thud—dead, thud—dead, thud—dead, thud—dead. Sixty-two thud—deads. I call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant. There was plenty of chance to watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.

The first ten thud—deads shocked me. I looked up—saw that there were scores of girls at the windows. The flames from the floor below were beating in their faces. Somehow I knew that they, too, must come down and something within me—something that I didn’t know was there—steeled me.

What made this so horrible was that it was preventable. Supposedly, due to a recent spate of corporate thefts, the management had ordered the main exit door locked and bolted from the outside, and the starting point of the fire forced most of the seamstresses towards that locked exit. Their bodies were found piled one on the other as they clawed their way towards the door. Next, the one emergency fire escape landing collapsed and fell from the mass of humanity trying to make their way out. The owners and management, working on the tenth floor escaped via a private exit to the roof from which they were rescued.

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory was not unique, the same work place environment of oil lamps, over crowding, smoking, fine cloth clippings, lack of ventilation and blacked out windows were the norm for all garment factories. Add to this fatigue from twelve hour work days and no sanitation and you have the perfect recipe for tragedy. Fires were a constant, and the lack of any regulation or real workplace safety guidelines made for a constant pall of fear hanging over the workers.

Joe Simon’s memory is even more blazed into his psyche. His father was also a tailor, fresh off the boat in 1905, and looking for work in Rochester’s garment district. “There was always a lot of conflict between the factories and the laborers, who were openly recruited to join unions such as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the United Garment Workers. As soon as my father arrived, he got himself into trouble as a union organizer and a “socialist”—“You take care of me, and I’ll take care of you.” The manufactures didn’t like it, and I think my father lost some jobs because of it. So he went into business for himself and worked out of his own house.” The Simon’s moved constantly as his father’s economic state drifted uncertainly. New York, Chicago, Detroit and other stops in between until they returned to Rochester. Despite the setbacks, Joe’s father always maintained the immigrants’ optimism and swore that this country’s pavements were paved with gold. But the factory wars continued.

For those that did strike, they faced brutal retaliation; either by being fired, harassed, shadow laborers, or even brutally beaten by hired thugs. Called Slammers—they were gangster strong arm men paid to soften up the opposition. The Unions did what anyone might have done—they hired other strong arm men from rival gangs to beat back the slammers. A horrible gang war erupted that lasted almost 30 years. History shows that the mobs used this practice as a way of infiltrating and finally controlling the unions and their large retirement funds.

A stern, but fiercely proud matron, Rose would help out with the occasional seamstress job, or shift at a bakery. They had settled on the afore-mentioned Essex St, and it was in their packing-box tenement apartment that Jacob was born. The family expanded a few years later with the birth of David, a rather large bundle of joy–the newspaper listed him at 16 lbs. By then they had moved two streets over to a slightly larger, but still dreadful apartment on Suffolk St.

The apartment was a typical tenement flat. Jack recalled: “We had a metal barrel right in the middle of the room that was our stove and that had a chimney pipe that went up into the ceiling. And we had a kneading table right behind the stove and the washtub where we took baths and washed our clothes. There wasn’t a bathroom; we took turns taking baths in the same room where we prepared our food and the toilet was down the hall; the whole floor used the same toilet. We had one little room with a dining room, if you want to call it that, but it was a little room with two windows and all the women would look out those windows and talk to each other from one floor above. But my mother did what she could and she kept the place very clean. She kept it as clean as a whistle.”

Such was the life and surroundings Jacob grew up in. The Lower East Side was a hellhole, possibly the most crowded patch of humanity on Earth, certainly not a fit place to raise a family, but it was not without its unique allure–especially for the children. Kids were resourceful, the stoops, fire escapes, and alleyways transformed into exotic locales for grand adventures. The street became Yankee Stadium, stickball games featuring kids with dreams of the Bambino swinging for the fences; roof tops gave air to dreams of Captain Eddie and “Lucky” Lindy, while Tom Mix chased Black Bart up and down the latticework of fire escapes and landings. The city was a breeding ground of disease, crime and talent—if you could survive.

Jacob Riis describes the neighborhood peaceful assembly at the end of a long day:

“Evening has worn into night as we take up our homeward journey through the streets, now no longer silent. The thousands of lighted windows in the tenements glow like dull red eyes in a huge stone wall. From every door multitudes of tired men and women pour forth for a half-hour’s rest in the open air before sleep closes the eyes weary with incessant working. Crowds of half-naked children tumble in the street and on the sidewalk, or doze fretfully on the stone steps. As we stop in front of a tenement to watch one of these groups, a dirty baby in a single brief garment—yet a sweet, human little baby despite its dirt and tatters—tumbles off the lowest step, rolls over once, clutches my leg with unconscious grip, and goes to sleep on the flagstones, its curly head pillowed on my boot.”

Children of the ghetto did not curl up and die from the fetid stale air of summer, or the agonizing, biting cold of winter. Instead, through innocence, and imagination, they staked out a world of wonder to call their own. In the summer, when PS #20 was closed, the small two room apartment, with the one bed shared by four, expanded when the steel fire escape became a bedroom for the two boys.

tenement layout

Typical tenement layout—close

Jack would recall that the times spent on the fire escape; dreaming under the starry skies was the nearest he would come to a summer vacation. Many an hour was spent up on the roof—just reading a book, or doodling away in a pad of paper. The fire escape was great for looking out at the world and imagining a life outside his immediate surroundings- maybe over the bridge he could see in the distance or the other side of the docks to the East, or maybe past the Allen Street El. It was so easy to daydream when the vantage point is above everything, and the world looks so small. “My mother once wanted me to have a vacation, so she sent me out on the fire escape for two weeks. And I was out on the open air for two weeks, I had a grand time, I assure you!”

It was a short walk down Delancey Street to the East River where the young mothers would go in the early morning nursing their babies along the cool bank watching the early morning trade. This was the only time of comfort and quiet peacefulness as the sun rose over Long Island and their minds drifted away from their stuffy, over-heated little rooms. Too soon they must rise and return to their kitchens and prepare the breakfast for their husbands and children as a new day starts again.

Pretty soon, that same river became the cherished goal of the kids, born in the swelter of the city yearning for a cooler place to escape. Taking their lives in their hands—whether naked, or with a small ragged bathing suit and adventuresome spirit—they sought the docks. It was a risky business, for the tides ran fast in the river and policeman caused no end of trouble. There was always a smaller boy sentinel–usually Jacob- whose “Cheese it, Cops!” fetches brown, slippery little bodies out of the water in quick time to escape the policeman, dressing while running at full speed was an accomplishment; to stay out of the water longer than the policeman remains in the immediate vicinity, unheard of. Drowning occurred of course, but every gang of boys numbered a life-saver. This recreation provided Jack with one useful thing; Greg Theakston explained; a swimming style where he would lead with his hands pointed out in front of his face, shoving trash and debris out of his way while he swam. This style lasted his whole life—even in his later personal swimming pool free of that same trash.

On hot days among the debris, the boys discarded all clothes and waded in among the trash, the fishmongers and bums


Norman Rockwell recalls

After the war, with the growth of anti-Semitism at home and abroad as well as the economic and social challenges posed by the Great Depression of the 1930s, times became harder. Anti-Semitism peaked in America in the interwar years, and was practiced in different ways by even highly respected individuals and institutions. Private schools, camps, colleges, resorts, and places of employment all imposed restrictions and quotas against Jews, often quite blatantly. Signs saying “No Jews, or Dogs Allowed” were common. Leading Americans, including Henry Ford and the widely listened-to radio priest, Father Charles Coughlin, engaged in public attacks upon Jews, impugning their character, designs and patriotism.

“The International Jewish plan to move their money market to the United States was what the American people did not want. We have the warning of history as to what this means. It has meant in turn that Spain, Venice, Germany or Great Britain received the blame or suspicion of the world for what the Jewish financiers have done. It is a most important consideration that most of the national animosities that exist today arose out of resentment against what Jewish money power did under the camouflage of national names.”

The International Jew 1920 Henry Ford


Egged on by Father Charles Coughlin, whose national radio broadcasts and newspaper Social Justice regularly blamed “Jewish bankers and merchants” for the world’s economic woes, groups like the Christian Front and the Christian Mobilizers terrorized Jews. These mostly Irish thugs roamed Jewish neighborhoods like the South Bronx, smashing storefront windows and vandalizing synagogues and cemeteries. On December 18, 1938 two thousand of Coughlin’s followers marched in New York chanting, “Send Jews back where they came from in leaky boats!” and “Wait until Hitler comes over here!” The protests continued for several months. In an ironic twist New York State Judge Nathan Perlman personally contacted mob boss Meyer Lansky to ask him to disrupt the Bund rallies, with the proviso that Lansky’s henchmen stop short of killing any Bundists. Enthusiastic for the assignment, if disappointed by the restraints, Lansky accepted all of Perlman’s terms except one: he would take no money for the work.

Nazi Bund rally in 1939 at Madison Sq. Garden

Lansky later observed, “I was a Jew and felt for those Jews in Europe who were suffering. They were my brothers.” For months, Lansky’s workmen effectively broke up one Nazi rally after another. Meyer notes, “Nazi arms, legs and ribs were broken and skulls were cracked, but no one died.” A tale is told of one such event, Lansky recalled breaking up a Brown Shirt rally in the Yorkville section of Manhattan: “The stage was decorated with a swastika and a picture of Hitler. The speakers started ranting. There were only fifteen of us, but we went into action. We … threw some of them out the windows. . . . Most of the Nazis panicked and ran out. We chased them and beat them up. . . .  We wanted to show them that Jews would not always sit back and accept insults.”

Jack vividly recalls that even as late as 1940, the Bunds would hold rallies in Madison Square Garden. As well as hold summer camps in Long Island.

Ironically, with the rise of the Jewish Mafia, a newer, more independent, wealthier, and politically active Jewish presence grew in prominence as Jews took up roles in politics, finance, construction, social engineering, as well as entertainment. This mix of ambition and power forged a strong alliance. The Jewish Mafia rose and grew in power in direct proportion to its grooming political and judicial power.

The good Dr. Suess speaks out after Coughlin swipes from Goebbels

The good Dr. Suess speaks out after Coughlin swipes from Goebbels

In several major cities, Jews also faced physical danger; attacks on young Jews were commonplace. In 1915, a young Jew named Leo Frank was lynched by a mob of southern whites after his conviction for murder was commuted by the Gov. of Georgia. Frank had been wrongly convicted of killing a young white girl who worked in the pencil factory that Frank ran. The anti-semitism that this stirred was such that Atlanta’s Jewish community formed the Jewish Anti- Defamation League and paid for his legal representation. Though there was no physical evidence against him, the all white, all-Christian jury only took 4 hours to convict him, all the time the public audience screamed “Hang the Jew!”

The case went to the Supreme Court and the decision was upheld, finally the Governor bowing to new evidence and the pleas from many, including the original court Judge commuted his death sentence. A few nights later a mob went to the prison and grabbed Leo Frank, then drove him over a hundred miles to the little girls’ neighborhood and hanged him from a tree. The townsfolk happily posed for pictures beneath the hanging body. A bit of irony as this case is also responsible for the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and a new wave of crimes against blacks and Jews. The mere mention of Leo Frank’s name was enough to invoke fear and terror in the minds of little Jewish children. The Jewish population galvanized itself to fight off such tyranny.

Joe Simon recalls; “The Jewish population of Rochester had strong ties to the tailoring business for many years. The owners of the companies were German Jews, and most of the factory workers were Jewish. As far as anti-semitism, we all learned to live with it the way other minorities have learned to live with their problems, even today. Early on I understood what integration and segregation meant, because it was understood that we wouldn’t move into this section, we wouldn’t move into that house, and so on. But rather than overt anti-semitism, it was in a relatively hidden form. Maybe you didn’t see it, but you knew what was going on. You’d go to a real estate agent and he’d say, “you won’t be happy”, that type of thing.”

Leo Frank swings as the crowd mugs for the camera

It was a rough time, with serious consequences; Jack talked of one day at Hebrew school. “Until the day I die I’ll never forget the wonderful table we used to sit at. One day an airplane flies over head and I get up to watch it. I slide over to the window and everyone was pushing and shoving each other, and some guy really shoved me out of the way—I knocked him clean out.” Even in the halls of religion, the law of the jungle prevailed. Close quarter recreation, that’s how Jack remembered it; everyone on top of each other. “You played handball and by accident somebody would hit the ball and knock a guy’s hat off somewhere and the next thing you know you are running the block while this guy is chasing you, yelling.”

“The block,”–that’s what you called your immediate neighborhood—that was your turf, your sanctuary . The result of a land carved up into small squares by wide avenues and concrete roadways, iron train tracks, and cobblestone streets. “It was a very lively place, but it was a mess.” “The neighbors were wonderful people, and they were fair people. They were the kind of people who spoke their minds, and despite the fact that they might have an argument with you one day; they would protect you the next. Why? Because you were their neighbor and you lived on that block and you lived in that building and you were part of them. That’s the way it was.” The block was an artificial boundary, to those inside; it could be inviting as a lazy rolling river or as harsh as barb wire to an outsider.

Jack hated the block, and the one next to it, and the one next to that. He began to walk, he expanded his world and went uptown, he saw the huge buildings, and the men in all their finery. He saw the champ, Jack Dempsey and had a marvelous conversation, and he met the middle weight champ Mickey Walker, and they sat and showed each other their artwork. He soon realized the world was much larger than his little block.


The Block by Romare Bearden squares and divisions

According to Jack, his father was also a scrappy person; not averse to mixing it up when pushed to his limit. But to Jack, his father was a gentle, kind soul, who doted on him. His heart was still back in his homeland, and he spent many a quiet time dreaming of his life back in Austria.

Mama Rose was more in the here and now, she was only five when she came to the U.S. and this country was what she knew—except for the legends and folk tales handed down by her mother. She spoke English very well. Mama Rose tried to calm down the young lad and bring some refinement to him. Once she purchased a violin for Jacob to learn and enjoy. But the street tough would have none of that and he promptly threw the violin out the window. No sissy stuff for him. Yet, Jacob was also a charmer; another skill a small guy needed on the streets. With an eager smile, on a square full face, full head of thick curly hair, dark flashing eyes, and a ready story, Jake would often talk himself out of a scrap.

As a young street rat he thrilled to the chase over the fences, across the rooftops, and down the alleyways. He loved the toreador-like avoidance of ice wagons and Arab lorries, hopping monuments, dodging missiles and the rush of adrenaline facing down toughs from the next block over. But it wasn’t all fun. “I saw a gang of guys coming up the street, and I was afraid. And so I ducked into this phone booth see? And these guys all started kicking the phone booth to scare the hell out of me, and I was scared out of my wits.” Jack told an interviewer. Street gangs meant an identity, you belonged to something bigger than yourself, and it offered security and status. The need to be accepted as a peer was strong. Jack would tell of a neighbor boy born a hunchback, who wanted so badly to belong to the gang. Since he couldn’t run, maneuver and brawl like the others, the young boy demanded that the members rub his hump for luck before entering a scuffle–it was his badge of honor. “I would start a fight if I thought there was a problem. I would be scrappy on that account. You wanted to show a guy you are just as big as he is, otherwise, they would take you out, and I don’t mean on a date.” But I didn’t like to fight. But I could. I did it very well.”

But being 5’4” small meant you were going to lose sometimes. “I got into one gang fight in the street and I was knocked out; flat unconscious. My guys walked me up five flights of wooden steps and left me at the door of our apartment. They made sure that I looked as good as possible lying there the next morning so the sight wouldn’t shock my mother when she opened the door. “all that for my mother. A mother was sacred.” “I made a mistake.” Jack told a reporter. “What was that?” he asked. “I was born short.” 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.” Jack laughed. “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.”

Actor Jimmy Cagney, a Lower East Side alumnus, talks about the gang warfare in his biography. “About all this street fighting, it’s important to remember that we conformed to the well-established neighborhood pattern…We weren’t anything more than normal kids reacting to our environment–an environment in which street fighting was an acceptable way of life…We had what I suppose could be called colorful young lives.”

Actor John Garfield, was born Julius Garfinkle just a few blocks north on Rivington St. to Russian immigrants. His life was as bad as Jacob’s. He joined the local gang and reached a position of prominence. He says he that he learned “all the meanness, all the toughness it’s possible for kids to acquire.” “Every street had its own gang. That’s the way it was in poor sections… the old safety in numbers.”

Though his brother David was 5 years younger, he was very large and much heavier. His mother often dressed him sort of femininely. This attracted many of the gang members and local toughs to pick on him. Though David could usually handle himself, often the odds hit 3 or 4 to one. After school, it was oftimes that Jack would happen upon his brother in a pile of bodies. Jack would throw down his books, jump in the pile and whale away at the boys. The boys were tight. But being small wasn’t always a bad thing; it meant that often when Jack and David would go to the movies that Jack got in for the children’s fare. This left a penny or two for snacks. Brother Dave remembers it slightly different. He said it was Jack at the bottom of the pile and it was Dave’s bulk pulling him out of the fracas.

Joe Simon tells of the sibling relationship with his sister Beatrice. “Sure my sister and I would fight a lot, but that was normal. I took a lot of crap for her and got into a couple fights protecting her from neighborhood bullies. That’s what brothers do.” Yes, that is what brothers did. Families were important.

Local legends

Yet deep down Jacob was hurting; it was just so much useless macho posing and false bravado. Jake grew to hate the scurrying around like a rat, fighting over turf that didn’t really belong to him, trying to simply fit in. He had another side, a sensitive nature that preferred reading, telling stories, and most of all, drawing. Jake would listen spellbound to the Old World legends lovingly told by his mother. He thrilled to the tales of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Tom Sawyer that he borrowed from the library. His favorite memories are sitting on the fire escape landing on a quiet cool afternoon reading a new book. He really loved the funny pages, spending many an hour absorbed in the riotous adventures of Krazy Kat, Jiggs and Maggie, and Barney Google. It was a short step to his first doodling. Yet his life on the streets required that mask of machismo, and reading and drawing did not fit into that culture. Kirby recalls, “In my neighborhood, book lovers were considered sissies. So I did my best to hide any book I was reading.” This internal conflict between his hard edged exterior, and sensitive nature would tear at him for many years.

In August, 1923 a gangland feud erupted between rival union-busters called the Little Augies, and the Rough Riders. During a massive shoot-out on Essex St, two innocent bystanders were shot and killed. The fighting seemed to end in late August when local gang hero Louis Cohen killed Nat Kaplan- the leader of the Rough Riders. The death of the innocents led to a huge out-pouring of police resolve. The threat to the people led to a harsher legal system and the rise of Thomas Dewey the renowned anti-racketeer. Actions have consequences.

Jack loved books, and the early 1920’s were a Golden Age for children’s literature. But to understand the market you must realize that books for children arose in the mid-1800’s when the steam Rotary web-fed letterpress allowed printers to make large quantity runs in a newspaper format. This led to mass market magazines that could be sold cheaply due to the mass quantities. Very quickly titles aimed at children arose. There were 2 tracks of magazines, the first was a digest sized pamphlet printed on cheap paper and sold for a nickel or dime and aimed at lower class outlets. These were called dime novels, or in England, the penny dreadful, based on their often bloody, vicious and lascivious nature of the books. In the U.S. western stories soon became the major theme, with horrid stories of Jesse James, or Buffalo Bill. They soon were seen as the home of guttersnipes and brigands. These were amazingly successful yet the complaints against them quickly expanded as they were perceived as negative influences. Kids continued reading them, sneaking them unknown into their houses, hiding them under beds, reading them under the covers. Soon zealots arose demanding them banned due to their salacious nature.

The other source was called slick magazines because of the higher quality slick paper. These could cost fifty cents or even higher-shutting out the lower classes. Yet the featured grand adventures by H. G. Wells, or Jules Verne, classics by Cooper, or Longfellow, or Stevenson, all lavishly illustrated by the best of the day; N.C. Wyeth, Mead Schaeffer, Herbert Morton Stoops, Hannes Bok or Frank Godwin sparking the imaginations of children everywhere. Magazines like Blue Book, St Nicholas, Youth Companion or American Boy dazzled children with their mixture of adventure and art. These were considered fine and upstanding examples for the child’s literary consumption.

Once the great depression hit, these mags became cost prohibitive and the two tracks blended into two new forms. The more expensive were printed as hard covered books, but they used the cheap paper that allowed the costs to remain low.

Some publishers took a different tack and produced a better printed book, with a middle range paper, and better binding to look like a quality book, yet the creative process used the cheaper writers and child oriented scripts common to the dime novels. In 1899, the son of a German immigrant wrote a novel; The Rover Boys at School. Edward Stratemeyer was a part time writer supplying short stories to dime novels and boy’s magazines. With the publishing of the Rover Boys novel Stratemeyer created a new genre of storytelling. In the next decade, dozens of Rover Boy novels were published as well as numerous other continuing characters –mostly children –in what became known as the juvenile series. Characters like Tom Swift, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys became hugely popular. The theme was always the same, a group of unsupervised kids having great and wonderful adventures, sans parents. In 1905, under his newly formed Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate, he enlisted the assistance of other authors, mostly journalists, to flesh out a number of serial proposals he had started. They were paid a flat rate per book and he retained all copyright. The writers were to remain anonymous under their pen names, which caused much controversy and confusion in later years in discerning who was behind most of the works. Considered “work for hire” the writers would receive none of the benefits given to artists by the Copyright laws. This assembly-line separation of labor would become a template for much unaccredited fiction work. The juvenile series would come to dominate children’s fiction for the next 30 years.

The other great source of juvenile literature was known as the pulps. The name pulp comes from the cheap pulp paper on which the magazines were printed. By using the cheaper material, during their first decades, pulps were most often priced at ten cents per magazine, while competing slicks were 25 cents apiece. Pulps were the successor to the penny dreadful, or dime novels, and short fiction magazines of the 19th century. Although many respected writers wrote for pulps, the magazines are best remembered for their lurid and exploitative nature and sensational garish cover and inside art. These were considered the lowest form of literary accomplishment, often considered little more than pornography. The best of the pulps was a magazine named Adventure. During its prime period, the magazine was edited by Arthur Sullivan Hoffman. Drawing some of the best new writers, such as H. Rider Haggard, Raphael Sabatini, and Damon Runyon, the stories were a cut above the rest. The covers were from the best of illustrators, and they shied away from the almost pornographic depiction of women on their covers. Adventure was their calling, not torture, and sexual depravity. By the thirties a new group of writers emerged including one who will be mentioned later- Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. The magazine was so successful that they started a letters page, and an in-house group that got together and formed clubs. Adventure‘s letters page, The Camp-Fire featured Hoffman’s editorials, background of the authors to their stories and discussions by the readers. At Hoffman’s suggestion, a number of Camp-Fire Stations – locations where other readers of Adventure could meet up – were established. Robert Kenneth Jones notes that Adventure readers “often wrote in to report on meeting new friends through these stations.”

By 1924, there were Camp-Fire Stations established across the US and in several other countries, including Britain, Australia, Egypt and Cuba. Adventure also offered Camp-Fire buttons which readers wore. No other book was so interactive with its readers.

Though most were of the cheap, lurid, sensationalistic nature, there was no shortage of reading material to stoke little boys’ imaginations. Interactive publishing became acceptable. Juvenile series like Poppy Ott and others added in their own letter pages and reader comments sections.

There was public outcry over the lurid prose, and misogynistic nature of the pulps. Writer Robert Brown wrote;

“Are Pulp Magazines worth reading? Do they cause brain burn? The answer is a simple yes to both questions. Let’s face it fans of the pulp, they are trash. Sorry, I don’t care what half-baked intellectual rebuttal you have to present, the truth about these magazines is that they were put out for the lowest I.Q. in the reading market and they show it.”

Other historians see it differently; Edmund Pearson sees the rancor as a result of competitor in-fighting;

“It is perpetually useful for each generation to see how much unnecessary anguish has been suffered in the past over things which were really harmless . . . They were never immoral; on the contrary, they reeked of morality. . . Indeed, there is reason to believe that many of the superstitious beliefs about the harmfulness of the dime novel were eagerly fostered and circulated by agents of the “respectable” publishing houses, to whom any books which sold for ten cents was grossly immoral, for that very reason.”

In response to these attacks, Street and Smith- a large publisher responded;

“They [other periodicals and story papers of the day] will discover, when it is too late,  perhaps, that the people of the United States will not sustain papers whose editors gather up all the filth from the gutters and dens of infamy to make their columns “spicy.” A paper, to obtain a permanent circulation, must inculcate good morals and pay some regard to decency.

Either way, the kids loved them.


Top writers and the focus on adventure, not heaving breasts

On his way home from school one rainy afternoon, Jacob looked down and in the gutter was a discarded copy of a gaudy science fiction pulp magazine. “Something on the cover I had never seen before—the cover was amazing! One of Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories; space ships and futuristic cities. At that moment, something galvanized in my brain.” Kirby reminisced. “I think it was my first collision with a question. Gee, why couldn’t there be things like that?” A lifelong fascination with science fiction had been ignited.

Garish, colorful and always protruding bosoms

George Comet, a close friend told Greg Theakston: “Jakie and I went to parochial school together when we were about eight years old. He was always telling stories and drawing pictures. One day he did a caricature of one of the Rabbis. Unfortunately, the Rabbi didn’t see the humor and Jake got the strap. He always had a good story to tell. Once in a while the Rabbi would arrive for the day’s lesson in the midst of one; the rabbi would smile and allow him to finish.”

School was a mixed bag for Jacob. The macho posing and fighting was still a constant. “Sometimes we would call the teachers names. Yes, to their faces! They would chase us through the halls. Some guys would do worse. I am not talking about gentlemen. These were rough kids. We would fight in the gym, in the classrooms, in the hall—anywhere we had room enough to swing our fists. We would be out in the yard and some guy would pick a fight with another guy. The next thing you know you would have the whole yard fighting.”

“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.” P.S. 20 (the old school on 45 Rivington St.) had other allures, such as a first rate library, just stocked full of adventure tales, and mythology and any type of book to get a young heart racing. Jack spent many hours searching through the inventory and reading his fill. The school also had a good drama curriculum. Its most famous alumni were Edgar G. Robinson, Paul Muni and the Gershwin Bros. Jack liked the idea of acting, and though he would laugh later and say that his acting consisted of the scenery falling on him, he must have shown some promise. He was given a prized part in the R.C. Sheriff play Journey’s End when the school put on a production. Ironically the role of Raleigh is that of a young naïve but eager soldier who loses the use of his legs during a battle. Hollywood must have looked a bit closer to the budding Cagney.

In Jake’s world there were well-understood social barriers. Fences, both physical and mental, meant to keep the lower classes separated from the swells. There was one great equalizer. The silver screen: nothing inspired the Depression era kids like the thrall of the movies. The local movie houses even let in Jewish kids. As Kirby related to an interviewer; “Movies were my refuge. It (the ghetto) wasn’t a pleasant place to live in, crowded, no place to play ball.” It was this fantasy siren song that called the young Jacob Kurtzberg. Every Jewish kid knew that Jews ran Hollywood. He dreamt of breaking free from his tenement prison and heading to Hollywood to make movies, as had his idols — and fellow East Siders — James Cagney, Jimmy Durante, and Edward G. Robinson. The Little Rascals left an indelible mark. The Marx Bros. and John Garfield made him laugh and cry. “I think I was brought up by Harry Warner. Whatever movie I was watching I would see it about seven times and my mother would have to come and get me out of the theater. I believe the naturalism and the drama that was inherent in the pictures left an impression on me that I wanted to duplicate.” The kid gangs, and the noirish German. expressionist movement really caught his eye. The shadows, the tension the movement of the camera all forged a place in his psyche. The lure of Hollywood, and moviemaking would inspire Jacob all his days. “Our generation was a movie generation. I saw myself as a camera.”


Oh those movies Jack loved them all

Inspired by his mother’s folktales, adventure stories, the comic strips, movies, and now, the garish art of the pulp magazines, the neighborhood became his canvas His artwork filled tablet after tablet, adorned school assignments, even covered the tenement walls and floors. His scribbled images would sometimes get him into trouble, but his easy charm and affable nature often got him off the hook. Jack tells of a meeting between Harold Hinson, the apartment building superintendent and his mother. “After quickly caring for a simmering pot, Rose followed Harold to a landing and looked in amazement at what her little Jakie had done. There it was, black chalk on white painted wood, a diorama from the great imaginings of a child.”

“As she examined the work in earnest, Rose could not resist a breathy “Oh my!” For such a young boy, Jakie’s imagination was on fire. Oddly shaped flying craft soared overhead as strange creatures swarmed over bizarre landscapes and structures. It was a war of creatures and machines, a conflagration of cosmic proportions. Young Jakie had managed to cover more than twenty feet of whitewashed wallboard, from the staircase landing to the water closet door, with extraterrestrial mayhem.”

Jacob’s parents would impress upon the boy the need to learn a trade, they wanted him to put his art behind him and think of his future. They would take his pulp magazines away from him. But Jacob could not stop drawing; it was taking over his life, it was what he knew he had to do to get off of the streets.

Jack’s art schooling was never formal, more an osmosis from the many inspirations found in his reading. Jacob’s teachers were Chester Gould, Hal Foster, Fred Paul, and Milton Caniff, the acknowledged superstars of the funny page adventure strips, alongside book illustrators like N. C. Wyeth, and Howard Pyle. Yet when pressed, it was always Alex Raymond, of Flash Gordon fame, that he would point to as his most significant inspiration. “He was a wonderful illustrator. His bodies had flexibility and he had a beautiful line to his drawing. I guess I wasn‘t the only admirer of Raymond, and I’m proud to say I copied him unmercifully. Well, I didn’t want to take his style exactly, but I took what I liked in his work.” Carl Barks considered Raymond the embodiment of all things good in cartoon art.

Alex Raymond- beautiful figures, fine lines and scary monsters

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Comic Book Apocalypse Gallery Tour by Charles Hatfield

Tom Kraft shot and edited this tour of “Comic Book Apocalypse: The Graphic World of Jack Kirby” by its curator, Professor Charles Hatfield, for those of you who can’t get to Northridge in California’s San Fernando Valley before the show closes on October 10th. Taaru!

The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three

Michael Hill sent us this article, as well the Interviews piece we published in June, for consideration for The Kirby Effect. We’re publishing it here in 3 parts with comments disabled – Rand Hoppe. With thanks to Steven Brower.

Articles in this series:
* Interviews
The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part one
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three (you are here!)

Lee the Creator

Tom Crippen: 1

People compare Lee-Kirby and Lennon-McCartney. I think that misses the point. It was more like Jimi Hendrix was in a band with whoever did the words for “Incense and Peppermints.” Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (the label’s Syd Barrett, I guess) had talent. Lee had knacks: for putting words on pictures, for peanut gallery banter, for gimmicky ear prodding, verbal drumrolls, the hey-gang tone, mock grandiosity… Now he makes a handsome living as an icon while pretending to be a creator. Being Stan Lee means saying the artists do the pictures first and then you put on the balloons, and your wife said to you why not do a story you want to do, and Kirby was the best, a splendid imagination, and comics do a lot for getting young people to read.

From Neal Kirby’s deposition: 2

FLEISCHER Do you have any basis to contradict Mr. Lee’s testimony that the concept for the Iron Man character was his?

A Do I have any basis for that? I have the basis that I know my father’s creativity versus Mr. Lee’s creativity and Mr. Lee was an excellent marketer, he was an excellent manager, excellent self-promoter. I honestly don’t believe he had any creative ability.

Q Do you feel that Mr. Lee’s testimony in some way diminished the contribution that your father made to the various characters that he worked on at Marvel?

A Diminished I think is – I think diminished is the least of it. I think Stan Lee is kind of rewriting history…

Steve Ditko: 3

Such is the power of a prestigious public spotlight and blind faith.

Stan Taylor: 4

Stan Lee says “all the concepts were mine” (Village Voice, Vol.32 #49, Dec. 1987). It is his contention that he singly produced a script [for Spider-Man], offered it to Jack Kirby, and when he didn’t like the look of Kirby’s rendition, he then offered it to Steve Ditko. Can he be believed? Not really. Stan would go so far (or stoop so low!) as to claim that a minor character named The Living Eraser from Tales to Astonish #49 was his creation. This character, had the dubious distinction of being able to wave people out of existence with a swipe of his hand. “I got a big kick out of it when I dreamed up that idea,” Lee is quoted as saying (Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, pg. 97). He then further embellishes this tale by stating how hard it was to come up with an explanation for this power. The fact is, this ignoble power and explanation, first appear in a Jack Kirby story from Black Cat Mystic #59 (Harvey Publications, Sept. 1957). If Lee will take credit for an obvious minor Kirby creation such as The Living Eraser, which nobody cares about, then he certainly would take credit for another’s creation that has become the company’s cash cow.

Mr Miracle_06_02bot

Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon (between 1952 and 1955 Keyes was a prolific contributor to Stan Lee’s fantasy/horror line): 5

MURRAY: Stan Lee is today considered one of the great comic book writers. Was he writing many comics in those days?

KEYES: Not to my knowledge. He edited, I guess. He was a businessman, as far as I was concerned. And a shy businessman is almost an oxymoron. I’ve never thought of Stan as a writer at all. So that surprises me. Of course, he might have been turning in comics for a few extra bucks, doing it under pen names so that Martin Goodman wouldn’t know about it. I never thought of Stan as a writer. He says that he created Spider-Man. I never thought of him as a creative person. It could be that one of the writers created it and sent in a synopsis. And it got picked up. But of course he’s become a multi-millionaire for that stuff.

Richard Kyle: 6

By the way, in discussing just what Jack did and what Stan did, no one seems to refer to that SHIELD story in Strange Tales #148, mentioned by the San Diego panel in another connection. In an editorial, Lee mentions specifically that Jack was going to write the story while Stan took a vacation. I recall turning to the story, wondering if it would be different from the regular SHIELD yarns, and being a little surprised that it read the same as the others—which I had believed Lee wrote. Consequently, I wasn’t surprised when Lee’s attempts to write the FF after Jack left were not only poor but completely unlike any of the Fantastic Four stories done under Jack. By that time, I realized that Lee was simply a dialogue writer, not a story writer—much like the “title-writers” in silent movies, many of whom were extremely talented (and often touched with genius) and highly paid, but whose work was after the fact of the actual creation of the story and filming.

1989 [Groth] 7

KIRBY: Stan was a very rigid type. At least, he is to me. That’s how I sized him up. He’s a very rigid type, and he gets what he wants when the advantage is his. He’s the kind of a guy who will play the advantages. When the advantage isn’t his at all, he’ll lose. He’ll lose with any creative guy. And I could never see Stan Lee as being creative. The only thing he ever knew was he’d say this word “Excelsior!”

Lee’s Inspiration

[see the “Interviews” post for Kirby’s Inspiration]


From Origins: 8

The only one who could top the heroes we already had would be Super-God, but I didn’t think the world was quite ready for that concept yet. So it was back to the ol’ drawing board.

I must have gone through a dozen pencils and a thousand sheets of paper in the days that followed, making notes and sketches, listing names and titles, and jotting down every type of superpower I could think of. But I kept coming back to the same ludicrous idea: the only way to top the others would be with Super-God.

As far as I can remember, Norse mythology always turned me on. There was something about those mighty, horn-helmeted Vikings and their tales of Valhalla, of Ragnarok, of the Aesir, the Fire Demons, and immortal, eternal Asgard, home of the gods. If ever there was a rich lode of material into which Marvel might dip, it was there—and we would mine it.

Historians of the future will wish to note that Larry Lieber acquiesced when asked if he’d pen a new superhero strip for the greater glory of Marveldom. Let the record also show that Jack Kirby did likewise when offered the illustrating chore.

Assorted characters

From Stan Lee’s depositions [emphasis mine]: 9

QUINN: Tell me to the best you can recall, how did the idea for the Fantastic Four come about, and who they were, and what was the back story with regard to the Fantastic Four.

A. Well, as I mentioned, Martin Goodman asked me to create a group of heroes because he found out that National Comics had a group that was selling well. So I went home, and I thought about it, and I – I wanted to make these different than the average comic book heroes.

Q. Let’s talk a little bit about the Spider-Man. How did the idea for Spider-Man come about?

A. Again, I was looking for – Martin said, “We’re doing pretty good. Let’s get some more characters.” So I was trying to think of something different.

Q. And could you tell us how The Incredible Hulk came about? What was your idea for him?

A. Well, same thing. I was trying to – it was my job to come up with new characters and to expand the line as much as I could. So I was trying to think again what can I do that’s different.

Q. Tell us about how Iron Man came about, how he was created, the back story with regard to Iron Man.

A. I will try to make it shorter. It was the same type of thing. I was looking for somebody new.

Q. And how Thor was created and what was your idea behind Thor.

A. Same thing. I was looking for something different and bigger than anything else.

Q. Daredevil. I want to hear about the lawyer.

A. Again I’m trying to think of what can I do that hasn’t been done. And it occurred to me –

Q. Keeping with our discussion, could you tell us about the creation of X-Men? How did that come about?

A. Again, Martin asked me for another team because the Fantastic Four had been doing well. And again I wanted to try something different.

Q. Who created Ant-Man?

A. What could I do that was different?


Nick Fury

From Lee’s depositions: 10

Q. Next Nick Fury. Tell us about Nick Fury.

A. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. There was a television series called The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that I used to watch and I liked it. And I thought it would be fun to get something like that as a comic book.

So I remembered we had done a war series called Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Stories of World War II. And it was quite popular. I don’t really like war stories, so after a few years of doing it I asked Martin if we could drop the book so we could concentrate on superheroes. And he said okay. But we got a lot of fan mail. The kids loved the characters. And we kept reprinting those books, and they sold as well as the originals.

So when I wanted to do the thing like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I thought why don’t I take that popular Sgt. fury that was years ago in World War II, why don’t I say he’s older now and he’s a colonel, and he’s in charge of this new outfit that I made up, S.H.I.E.L.D, which stood for the Supreme Headquarters International Law Enforcement Division. So I took Sgt. Fury, who now has a patch over one eye, and made him in charge of this group.

And again, there was Jack Kirby. I said, “How would you like to draw Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. And it was right up Jack’s alley. He loves that kind of stuff. And he came up with all kind of weapons and things.

As of May 2015, the official version of Nick Fury’s creation differs from Lee’s sworn testimony. Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, quoted on Marvel’s website: 11

“Jack Kirby first broached the idea of doing a modern day strip with Nick Fury, and he produced a two-page ‘pilot sequence’ to show to Stan Lee, titled ‘The Man Called D.E.A.T.H.,’” he says. “Stan liked the idea of a modern day Fury strip, but reworked the basic concept with Kirby to create NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. And that two-page pilot story was never used. In fact, when Jim Steranko turned up at Marvel looking for work, Stan gave it to him as an inking test, which is why those pages are inked by Steranko.”

Kirby the Creator

Joe Sinnott: 12

I got to know Jack Kirby’s work and remarkable creativity quite well and witnessed his characters and stories as they evolved. There is no question in my mind that Jack Kirby was the driving creative force behind most of Marvel’s top characters today including “The Fantastic Four,” “The Mighty Thor,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “X-Men” and “The Avengers.” The prolific Kirby was literally bursting with ideas and these characters and stories have all the markings of his fertile and eclectic imagination.


Jim Woodring: 13

He was like a wild spraying geyser of the substance we struggled pitifully to evoke in driblets. Even those among us who had never read superhero comics and saw Jack without his aura, so to speak, stood in awe of him. He was more than a master; he was the comic book impulse incarnate.

We loved to draw him out in conversation because he was completely unpredictable; his mind was nimble and unfettered by convention. I never heard him tell an anecdote that was not heavily spiced with benign absurdity. As with his drawing, there was something preciously fragile about his sledgehammer approach to storytelling. One sensed that a hard life had made Jack tough, but that the great child’s heart of which he was the custodian had been sheltered and saved at all costs, and that this heart was the force that drove him.

Jim Steranko: 14

More than anyone around him, Kirby was aware of the magnitude of his contributions, yet he never evidenced a moment of public arrogance or conceit.

From Neal Kirby’s deposition: 15

FLEISCHER Of your own firsthand knowledge do you know whether the concept for the Spider-Man character and the basic powers of a Spider-Man character were conceptualized initially by Stan Lee or someone else?

A Well, I would say my firsthand knowledge, my first guess would be my father just because of his – just his knowledge of science, his use of science fiction in stories, just in his if you want to call it pattern, for lack of a better word, of how do you get a human to have super powers, you know, without direct intervention from God. Well, the best way to do it was somehow altering DNA which was the big thing at the time with the Cold War going on and so on.

Q Did your father ever tell you that he was the sole creative force at Marvel during his tenure there?

A I don’t recall him using – again, my father would have been too humble a person to even word anything like that but I know in discussions it just, to me, he certainly seemed that way.

Q What information, if any, do you have concerning the creation of The Fantastic Four?

A In discussions with my father The Fantastic Four basically was a derivative of the, from what he told me, basically he came up with the idea just as a derivative from the Challengers of the Unknown that he had done several years earlier.

Q Apart from the specific instance that you recall with respect to Fantastic Four, can you recall the specifics of any of those instances where your father relayed to you statements made to him or others by Stan Lee that were the subject of concern to your father?

A I can remember one instance, again I do not recall if it was a print interview or, you know, on-the-air interview or what it might have been, but I do recall one instance involving the creation of Thor and I guess Stan had taken – he had created that and my father was very upset about that. He said Thor was his idea, his creation. Honestly, given my father’s interest in mythology and Norse mythology and, again, biblical history and all kind of history, that kind of thing just flowed out of his mind. I mean, to me just from my knowledge of comic history, and I’m not a comic historian by any means, but my knowledge of it and my personal history, the thought of Stan Lee, honestly, coming up with concepts of, you know, Thor, Loki and Ragnarok, The Rainbow Bridge and every other part of Norse mythology coming out of Stan Lee’s mind is relatively inconceivable.

Stan Goldberg (interview with Jim Amash): 16

Jack would sit there at lunch and tell us all these great ideas about what he was going to do next. It was like the ideas were bursting from every pore of his body. It was very fascinating because he was a fountain of ideas.


Ken Viola: 17

When I first began the journey to make my 1987 film The Masters of Comic Book Art, I had no idea it would end up being about The Storyteller — artists who both drew and wrote. It is the supreme challenge of the artist and their ability to tell the story — to break it down visually, in terms of content, time, space, action, emotion, reflection… et al. The accomplishment of that goal is to take the personal and private experience of the artist and give it to the reader. To then be able to communicate that same spark of life to the masses is the rarest of gifts. That achievement is Jack Kirby’s life’s work.

Stan Taylor: 18

Jack Kirby was a conceptualist, an idea man, he felt that creation was the coming up of new ideas.

Michael Vassallo: 19

Only Kirby could have launched the Marvel universe because all the concepts came from him.


Funky Flashman

In Mister Miracle #6, Kirby unleashed a brilliant send-up of Stan Lee called “Funky Flashman.” Lou Mougin called it “one of Kirby’s best satires.” 20 (Mougin knew Kirby was no stranger to satire — 1967’s “This is a Plot?” in Fantastic Four Special #5 was filled with Kirby visual gags, including a book on Lee’s desk entitled Shakespeare Made Simple, perfectly encapsulating Lee’s Thor dialogue.) “Funky Flashman” is a tour de force, showcasing Kirby’s literary abilities as well as his exquisite eye for caricature, and proof that no one was ever better positioned or equipped to give Lee the treatment.


Stephen Bissette: 21

Kirby’s and Ditko’s work after departing Marvel was inherently reactionary, at first. Both writer/artists explicitly autopsied and rejected many of the core principles of the work they’d done at Marvel, countering the compromised heroes of the Marvel Silver Age, and even personifying and vilifying Lee himself via gross caricature (see Kirby’s Funky Flashman character in Mister Miracle). Ditko’s and Kirby’s conscious rejection, even vilification, of key characteristics of their collaborative work with Lee arguably and necessarily eschewed any emulation of Lee’s writing strengths and style.

shadowIn the opening sequence, Funky is taking “bread” out of the mouth of a bust that resembles Kirby. This could be a reference to an event like an increase in Kirby’s page rate—on one such occasion it enabled him to stop doing layouts and cut back on his penciling page count, reducing Lee’s take for Kirby’s writing to just over half what it was.


Kirby examines Funky’s attitude toward the talent.

Roy Thomas once remarked, “Stan is always ‘on’…” 22

Like Funky, the real Stan Lee occasionally comes through with shocking results.


Funky loves the sound of his own voice. Kirby mentioned Lee’s recording device in the Pitts interview. 23


Funky turns out to be a bit of a sexist. In addition to being credited with promoting comic books to teach literacy to young children, Lee gutted Kirby’s strong female characters to allow them to demonstrate traditional gender roles to an impressionable audience.

After causing the estate to go up in flames, Funky heads for Hollywood. Kirby injects another comment regarding the treatment of the talent at the family-run operation.


ROY: 24 I said to Jack, “I don’t take the Houseroy stuff that personally, because you don’t know me. My relationship to Stan was somewhat like what you said, and partly it’s just a caricature because I was there. And the name ‘Houseroy’ is clever as hell, and I kinda like it.” I’m even a sympathetic character because I got tossed to the wolves. (laughter)

Funky had forerunners in the 1960s. Joe Simon depicted him as Sam Me in a 1966 issue of Sick Magazine 25, and Stan Bragg appeared in Angel and the Ape #2 (1968). 26


In both cases, the character took delight in signing his name to other people’s work. Physically, Stan Bragg and his sidekick are the Funky and Houseroy characters reversed, perhaps to add a layer of deniability. Plotting and scripting are credited to Sergio Aragones and Bob Oksner, but it’s not hard to imagine editor Joe Orlando’s input based on his own experience with Lee.

What Makes Stanley Run?

1986 [Pitts] 27

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… I realized I was creating something I didn’t want to create. 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.


What Makes Sammy Run? 28

Sammy was waiting for them when they got home. With a face full of bad news. “Tough luck, kid,” he said. “I’m afraid your scenes didn’t go over like I thought they would.”

When the script was finished and Sammy was waiting for his next assignment, Julian didn’t like to sit around without writing so he started working on an original called Country Doctor because he thought it would help Sammy plead his case at the studio.

Julian wrote easily, and it was his sort of stuff, simple and human, and he had it finished in a week. For the next three days he wondered whether it was good enough to show Sammy. He had decided it wasn’t when Sammy came to him and said, “Say, I read that yarn of yours Blanche showed me. It’s pretty fair–got a couple of nice moments. I’ll see what I can do with it.”

“Well,” Julian said, “weeks went by and it looked like he’d forgotten all about my story, so I started helping him with his next screenplay because there didn’t seem to be anything better to do. And then one day Blanche happened to be reading through the trade paper and found this:

He handed me a ragged little clipping. I was beginning to feel like a district attorney. “Exhibit B,” I said.

Sammy was running through the room again as I started to read: “Sammy Glick makes it two in a row as his latest original, Country Doctor…” and handed the squib back.

“I guess you must have thought I was a little shell-shocked when you saw me after the preview last night. Well, maybe I was. Because that picture was the biggest shock in my life, Mr. Manheim. How do you think you’d feel going in to a movie cold and suddenly starting to realize you’re hearing all your own scenes?”

“The whole picture,” Julian was saying. “All those scenes I thought I was just doing for practice–actually showing on the screen–all mine–every line, mine–you know what I felt like doing, Mr. Manheim? I felt like jumping up right in the middle and screaming. I wanted to tell everybody there that the only line Glick wrote on Girl Steals Boy was the byline on the cover…”

There was no bitterness or anger in Julian’s story. It was full of mild wonder and deep resignation.

Wallace Wood paid tribute to What Makes Sammy Run?, likening Lee to Sammy Glick with his title “What makes Stanley run?” 29 Michael T. Gilbert described it like this: 30

Eventually [Kirby, Ditko and Wood] realized they were effectively co-writing the comics, but without extra credit or extra pay. Wood addressed this very topic in a bitter 1977 article for his Woodwork Gazette newsletter. He described an editor “Stanley” who “came up with two surefire ideas… the first one was ‘Why not let the artists WRITE the stories as well as draw them?’… And the second was… ALWAYS SIGN YOUR NAME ON TOP… BIG.”

The recording machine Kirby mentioned makes an appearance in “Funky Flashman.” Did he accurately capture Lee’s words from that night when he wrote, “Naturally, as your leader, my faithful pets, I can only say… and get this gem…”? Or did he overhear something more sinister? Based on the context of the Sammy reference, Lee might have been reading Kirby plots and ideas into the device.

The “notorious” TCJ interview

Patrick Ford on the interview: 31

The interview is a conversation. In conversation there is almost always use of hyperbole, comments which are exaggerated for humor (even if it’s an insulting humor), and comments which might be understood by the participants but might not be understood by the reader. Far from being angry Kirby was about as even tempered and sweet as any person in the history of the form. In no way does he have a reputation for being bitter or angry. There are numerous video clips of the man anyone can look at and he comes across as soft spoken, controlled, whimsical, anything but angry.

Gary Groth on the interview: 32

Jack’s comments about Stan revealed a lot about Jack’s recollection. I don’t know if his recollections were literally accurate; I guess nobody knows but Jack and Stan, but it certainly reflects how Jack perceived that, and I thought that was important. There’s a section where Jack said Stan didn’t write anything. I don’t think that’s literally true; I think from Jack’s point of view that’s true, because Jack felt he wrote the comic by pacing it, and drawing it, and writing the descriptions in the margins; he considered that writing. And you have to accept that as Jack’s perception, and you have to read between the lines. I think that also reflected a lot of bitterness on Jack’s part, and that revealed the extent of his resentment. He felt betrayed. I also think there was Stan’s public attitude that Jack took offense at, in the sense that Stan took too much credit. There was a feeling that Jack felt betrayed because Stan didn’t stand up for him; that Jack gave all the creative energy he could to Marvel, and he got f*cked as a result.

Neal Kirby on the interview: 33

Though my opinion may be viewed by some as non-objective, I can say that my father spoke the truth in this interview.

When Charles Hatfield declared as his proof, “Lee explicitly denied all this years later,” he went further: 34

In any case [Kirby’s] account seems self-mythologizing and is hard to credit. At one point Kirby refers to Lee as being “just still out of his adolescence,” which is inaccurate, and characterizes him as helpless and childlike, which is unlikely.

Hatfield’s reading of Kirby’s comment is pedantic. Kirby had known Lee since Stan was an adolescent, and was making a comment about his character rather than a statement of fact. A better choice of words would have been, “It’s like he never grew up.” The Kurtzmans had some observations to that effect. Paul Wardle: 35

Harvey Kurtzman claimed that Lee would return his original art to him (strips such as Hey! Look! that Timely published in the 1940s) only after drawing a big “X” through them with a black grease pencil. He also said Lee would sit on top of a filing cabinet and force the employees to bow to him on their way to work. Stan was reportedly an “enfant terrible” in those days, having been promoted when still a teenager by publisher Martin Goodman after the departure of Simon and Kirby.

Adele Kurtzman: 36

He would blow a whistle and everyone would have to start drawing. Frank Giacoia was busy reading The Daily News when this happened, so Stan sent him home. I guess artists were notorious goof-offs.

Hatfield’s charge of self-mythologizing shows Lee’s “history” is so pervasive it’s mistaken for the truth. After he’s spent decades repeating his version of events, Lee’s account is widely taken as fact. (It’s been disputed by Kirby, Ditko, Wood and other creators, but that only served to get them labeled: Liar, Unreliable, Eccentric, Drunk, Bitter, Demented, Senile. The moment one of them is quoted disagreeing with Lee’s claims, the label is the automatic response.) Hatfield has got the players reversed… it would have been closer to the mark if he’d called Lee the self-mythologizer, and stated Kirby used the interview to explicitly deny all of Lee’s claims. Lee’s denial should be taken as an outright endorsement of everything Kirby said.

In a fresh introduction to the interview when it was reprinted in the first volume of The TCJ Library, Groth added the caution, “Some of Kirby’s more extreme statements (e.g., ‘I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything’) should be read with a grain of salt…” 37 The line has been used to discredit any or all of Kirby’s “claims” in the interview. On the occasion of its posting on the TCJ website, for instance, a commenter recalled Groth as saying “some of Jack’s claims… weren’t exactly true.” Dan Nadel replied, 38 “That’s not accurate. Gary Groth published a note saying that some of the claims were possibly exaggerated (Groth never said they were not true), a thought I echoed upon publishing this on Monday.”

Groth later added, “when I said that Kirby’s claims were excessive, I did not mean to say that Kirby’s claim to have ‘written’ his Marvel work was not without merit, only that, as I recall, such claims as his that Lee never wrote a thing in his life were, well, obviously excessive.” 39 Even during the interview Groth made it clear his disclaimer would be unlikely to support the broader interpretation.

1989 [Groth] 40
GROTH: At the risk of sounding partisan, let me ask you this: every time I read something by Stan or see Stan speak publicly, I’m struck by how obvious a bullshit artist he is. Was he always that way?

The only comments on Kirby’s part that call for scrutiny are the ones to which Groth refers, above. “I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything… If Stan Lee ever got a thing dialogued, he would get it from someone working in the office. I would write out the whole story on the back of every page. I would write the dialogue on the back or a description of what was going on. Then Stan Lee would hand them to some guy and he would write in the dialogue.” 41

If the words “for all I know” are taken as implied, everything Kirby said becomes true. Prior to his 1970 departure, Kirby would have been aware that “some guy in the office,” namely Roy Thomas, was doing precisely that on books which Lee had grown tired of dialoguing, or had lost the plotting credit but was still being credited for editing. Thomas states 42 that Lee’s editing on his books was of the hands-off, sight unseen variety.

Fantastic Four #6 is an interesting study: in a Kirby Collector article, 43 Mike Breen shows that Kirby dialogued it himself, and suggests Lee was an absentee editor that month. Dick Ayers, the inker on the issue, once described  his reaction to learning his “Kirby/Ayers” signature was being whited out in production. 44 In this case it was replaced with Lee’s “Stan Lee + J. Kirby” at the beginning of all five chapters, despite the lack of evidence that Lee even laid eyes on the book. There is, however, no question who received the writer’s pay and the editor’s salary for FF #6.

Mr Miracle_06_17c

There is photographic evidence that Lee spent time with some of the pages; some even bear notes and comments in his handwriting. To state, however, with no eyewitness corroboration, that he wrote the copy himself, would be to fall into the same trap that was decried at the beginning of part one of this article. Let’s hedge our bets against some Marvel office worker coming forward in the future to lay claim to the task. To use Lee’s qualifying words to Jonathan Ross regarding Ditko’s creatorship, 45 “I consider” Stan Lee to be the one who added the dialogue and captions.

Filling in the balloons, connecting the dots

Like Piscine Molitor Patel in Life of Pi, Stan Lee is the myth-making, untrustworthy narrator in The Marvel Story. In opposition to Lee’s version of events, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko have provided interviews and writings that form a historical record of immeasurable value based on their first-hand accounts. These are consistent internally and with each other’s, and with those of other of Marvel’s designated pariahs from the 1960s.

Everyone from fans to scholars claims Lee’s genius was the ability to surround himself with artistic talent. In reality, it was the ability to recruit writer-artists who were desperate enough to put up with, not just Marvel’s poor page rates, but also having their pay appropriated for the writing they did. Lee had a tremendous effect on the product Marvel ultimately published, not all of it positive, but his creative work began on Kirby’s books when Kirby first relinquished the pages to him. Lee then made his mark by adding his unique dialogue and by demanding redraws to reconfigure stories in a way that made sense to him.

Stan Lee encourages the belief that the proliferation of margin notes on Kirby’s pages marked the point where Kirby came into his own, plotting-wise, but Stan Taylor proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Kirby plotted the earliest issues of the superhero revival. Other evidence confirms Kirby’s contention that he always did his own plotting.

In his deposition creation accounts, Lee’s stated motivation in every case was the desire to create something different. Astonishingly, none of the creations actually were different. Jack Kirby never said he was trying to do something different, he often simply did a thing that was the same as something he’d already done. The idea that Lee’s “different” creations somehow coincidentally always turned out the same as older Kirby concepts is somewhat improbable.

Kirby portrayed the story conference as the place where he would tell Lee what was happening in the story. Looking at what came out of it, he was being modest. The story conference was where Jack Kirby spun plots for all the stories, even those he wouldn’t draw. Not only did he plot the stories, he created the characters, and he brought superheroes back to Marvel to enable Goodman’s comics division to return from the brink of oblivion. His closed-door meetings with Lee were where he pulled back the curtain on his work to reveal the Marvel Universe to an audience of one.

When Stan Lee wrote the captions and the dialogue based on Kirby’s margin notes, sometimes he used Kirby’s words. At the very least, the Kirby Version should be given the same consideration as the Lee Version, and when we tell the Jack Kirby story, we can’t go wrong using Kirby’s words.


Articles in this series:
* Interviews
The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part one
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three (you are here!)


Repetition of citations allows linking back to individual quotes.

back 1 Tom Crippen, “Stan,” The Hooded Utilitarian, 30 September 2008 (originally ran in The Comics Journal, February 2008).

back 2 Neal Kirby deposition, 30 June 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit G.

back 3 Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History 13: Speculation,” The Comics, v14n8, August 2003.

back 4 Stan Taylor, “Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 5 Daniel Keyes interviewed by Will Murray, Alter Ego #13, March 2002.

back 6 Richard Kyle, letter to the editor, The Jack Kirby Collector #13, December 1996.

back 7 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 8 Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974.

back 9 Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit I, and 8 December 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit J.

back 10 Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit I, and 8 December 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit J.

back 11 Tj Dietsch, “C2E2 2015: S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Comics News blog, Marvel.com, 26 April 2015.

back 12 Joe Sinnott declaration, 25 March 2011, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 92.

back 13 Jim Woodring, “Jack Kirby: Reminiscences, Tributes and Critical Commentary,” The Comics Journal #167, May 1994.

back 14 Jim Steranko, “The Man Who Was The King,” Hogan’s Alley #1, Fall 1994. Reprinted in The Jack Kirby Collector #8, January 1996.

back 15 Neal Kirby deposition, 30 June 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit G.

back 16 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.

back 17 Ken Viola, “Jack Kirby – The Master of Comic Book Art,” introduction to his interview of Kirby for the film, The Masters of Comic Book Art. Published in The Jack Kirby Collector #7, October 1995.

back 18 Stan Taylor, “Spider-Man: The Case for Kirby,” 2003. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 19 Michael Vassallo, by email, 22 October 2014 and 4 January 2015.

back 20 Lou Mougin, “New Gods for Old: A Hero History of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Part II,” Amazing Heroes #21, March 1983.

back 21 Stephen Bissette, “Marvel/Disney v Kirby: Part 2,” SRBissette.com, March 2nd, 2012.

back 22 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 23 Leonard Pitts, Jr., conducted in 1986 or 1987 for a book titled “Conversations With The Comic Book Creators”. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 24 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 25 “The New Age of Comics,” written by Joe Simon, art by Angelo Torres, Sick Magazine, November 1966.

back 26 “Most Fantastic Robbery in History,” plotted by Sergio Aragones, co-written and penciled by Bob Oksner and inked by Wally Wood, Angel and the Ape #2, November 1968.

back 27 Leonard Pitts, Jr., conducted in 1986 or 1987 for a book titled “Conversations With The Comic Book Creators”. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 28 Budd Schulberg, What Makes Sammy Run? Vintage Books, © 1941, 1968, 1990.

back 29 Wallace Wood, “What makes Stanley run?” Woodwork Gazette v1n5, 1980.

back 30 Michael T. Gilbert, “Total Control: A Brief Biography of Wally Wood,” Alter Ego 3 #8, Spring 2001.

back 31 Comments section, “TCJ Archive: Jack Kirby Interview,” The Comics Journal website, 26 May 2011.

back 32 Gary Groth interviewed by Jon B. Cooke, conducted February 1998. The Jack Kirby Collector #19, April 1998.

back 33 Comments section, “TCJ Archive: Jack Kirby Interview,” The Comics Journal website, 2 June 2011.

back 34 Charles Hatfield, Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby. University Press of Mississippi, 2012.

back 35 Paul Wardle, “The Two Faces of Stan Lee,” The Comics Journal #181, October 1995.

back 36 Adele Kurtzman to Blake Bell, I Have to Live with This Guy!, TwoMorrows, 2002.

back 37 Milo George, Editor. The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby. Fantagraphics Books. Seattle. May, 2002.

back 38 Comments section, “TCJ Archive: Jack Kirby Interview,” The Comics Journal website, 25 May 2011.

back 39 Gary Groth, personal email, 1 January 2015.

back 40 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 41 Jack Kirby interviewed by Gary Groth, conducted in summer of 1989, The Comics Journal #134, February 1990.

back 42 GUSTAVESON: Is Stan Lee a “fan”? THOMAS: Lord, I don’t think so! I mean, he probably was when he got into the field as a teenager, but I don’t really think that Stan has enjoyed being in comics… One of the reasons Stan liked my writing, for instance, was that after a few issues he felt he could trust me enough that he virtually never again read anything I wrote—well, at least not more than a page or two in a row, just to keep me honest. Roy Thomas, interviewed by Rob Gustaveson, The Comics Journal #61, Winter 1981.

back 43 Mike Breen, “That is strong talk… whoever you are,” The Jack Kirby Collector #61, Summer 2013.

back 44 “So… regarding those Kirby / Ayers signatures… I always put the signatures on our work together just as I always sign my work. I noticed that the ‘whiteouts’ were happening and it sure didn’t make me happy for I usually had the signature as part of the composition of the drawing. It was a sore point. I’m not keen on the credit boxes that are added to the drawing and confuse the composition of my drawing.” Dick Ayers, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 8 December 1998.

back 45 Jonathan Ross, “In Search of Steve Ditko” (television documentary), BBC Four, 16 September 2007.

Looking For The Awesome – Preface

PreviousTitle, Dedications, and  Notes | Contents | Next1. Jack Kirby’s America

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

Not just another day

What I remember most about the drive to Thousand Oaks was the weather change. Coming from Palm Springs where the air was warm and dry, perhaps warmer than expected in November. Since I had lived in the Los Angeles area before, I had always wondered at just how much and how quickly the weather changes when one goes through one of the mountain ranges. Going East from the ocean cities into the San Fernando Valley, one is always struck by the ten-fifteen degree jump in temperature, and another ten degree jump heading toward the desert locales. But I was on a vacation, five years since my last visit to the City of Angels, and passing from Palm Springs, over the mountain through Banning and Beaumont I was once again amazed at how suddenly the air changed to a nice comfortable coolness. It was still early as we had a four hour trip head of us.

Greg Theakston's first volume

Greg Theakston’s first volume

My wife and I were taking our first vacation back to California in five years. The first priority was visiting friends long forgotten, and taking in all the money grabbing tourist sites. But we also decided to spoil ourselves a little and indulge our hobbies. This meant stopping at every out of the way antique store looking for little tchotchkes, and doodads that caught her eye, while I had mapped out every comic shop in the county. The reason for our spending two days in Palm Springs was for my pleasure. I had seen an ad in either CBG, or the Overstreet book for an art dealer named Tom Horvitz, who always advertised that he had Kirby art available, so we had left Long Beach and traveled to the desert to track Mr. Horvitz down. It wasn’t hard to find Tom, and he invited us over to his apartment to view what he had. Imagine my amazement at seeing a whole batch of Kirby art from a splash page from Vagabond Prince to multiple pages of Thor, the FF, and later Kirby works. I even got the chance to look at a copy of the small digest sized b&w comic of Boy Explorers #2. But what most caught my eye wasn’t even by Jack Kirby; on one of the walls of Tom’s apartment was the original cover art to Hit Comics #5, featuring the Red Bee fighting a huge swordfish under the sea. It was perhaps Lou Fine’s greatest cover–so energetic and fluid–the line work was so delicate but strong at the same time. It was no wonder that Kirby had mentioned him so often as an inspiration.

Lou Fine's incredible Red Bee cover is better in black & white

Lou Fine’s incredible Red Bee cover is better in black & white

While looking through the stack to make a purchase, Tom and I discussed Kirby and what he meant to the industry. This was 1989, and comics were doing ok, the direct market system seemed to be doing just fine, and a lot of new publishers were flooding the market with new and different product. We both agreed that the absence of new Kirby was a minus. I carefully picked out a Thor page that had caught my eye: it wasn’t a great action page with Thor fighting Ulik or Mangog, but one of those gentler more humanistic pages of Thor intermingling with humans- a guy on a motorcycle reacting in disbelief and scorn at a God in his presence. So Thor picks up the cycle and rider and takes him on a real trip, leaving the rider in complete disarray. It was a fun page gently inked by one of my favorite inkers, Vince Colletta in his scratchy, textured manner. After reaching a mutually satisfactory price, I called my ever patient wife and said we were done and we could go shopping. But before I left, almost as a parting nugget, Tom asked if I would like to meet Jack Kirby. Call me a doctor, my heart has left the building! “Of course!” I answered. I knew Jack lived in California, but never expected to possibly meet him. Tom grabbed his wallet and turned to a little note pad and scribbled down a number. “Call him up; he is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. I stammered, “Just call him and invite myself up?” “Yeah, Tom replied, “he does it all the time”

That evening, after some shopping on the Miracle Mile, and eating at a California Pizza restaurant we went back to our hotel room. I was in constant agony debating over whether to actually call Jack and invite myself over or not wanting to disturb the man. My wife was in heaven; calling me a wuss and teasing me about acting like a school boy asking the hot girl in class out on a date. Finally, my wife says to give her the slip of paper and she will call. I ask her what she will say, and she says that she will tell Jack that her idiot husband is in town for his birthday and Tom Horvitz gave him the number and told me to call you up for a birthday present. It wasn’t true since my birthday is in August, but damn she made it sound convincing, so I said for her to go for it. She picked up the paper and dialed the number and the first thing I heard is her saying “Hello Mr. Kirby?” I was apoplectic! After a few minutes of small talk I saw her write down an address and directions and thank him for his time.

She turned to me and said, “Here you go wussburger, he says to come by on Monday around noon, I didn’t even have to use the bullshit birthday story, it was like he was used to people calling and inviting themselves over, sounds like a real nice person.”

Two days later, we loaded up our rental car with some food and the art page I had bought and headed out going west. The time in Palm Springs was great; warm and sunny, we spent a lot of time by the pool. Our internal clocks were haywire; we stayed up till almost three in the morning because people were still partying at the pool. We got hungry around one-thirty and were told that the grocery store a few blocks down was a 24 hour affair and we could get something there. We went into the store and found it half full. We were amazed that anyone was out shopping at this time, but a friendly man told us that it’s uncomfortable to shop during the day when the temperature nears a hundred, so many people wait until early morning to do their weekly food shopping. Apparently there was no dress code either. People were milling about in shorts and tees, bathrobes, even skimpy bikinis with no one the worse for wear. My wife loved the idea. We hated leaving the desert. What we didn’t bring was sweaters.

The trip through the Los Angeles basin was kind of boring, Los Angeles is not a very scenic vista, mostly small town after small town, and then a big town, but one without a very exciting skyline, at least from the freeway. What is noticeable is the constant growth of traffic as one nears Los Angeles, the ever restricting lines of traffic that winds its way around and through the city. Oh how I hated driving in LA when we lived there. Eventually in the distance you see a new horizon line, one that seems to rise and snake until you realize it is the San Fernando Mts, and you are heading into the Valley. The landscape changes from the browns and grays of the city to greens and orange from grass and red tiled Spanish roofed villas. The air was getting warmer and we neared midday. The valley went by quickly as we neared another mountain range. We climbed for a while and it leveled off, but it never got flat again, it became like a sea of swells up and over rise after rise. The view became gorgeous. But the air had gotten cool again, sweater cool, and we weren’t prepared. Finally we saw the exit sign, and took the small streets that led to a road that seemed to head straight up. So up and up we went until we reached the crest, and before us was the house number we were given. We parked in front, slowly got out, working the kinks out and restoring the blood flow to our legs. The house was well appointed but not ostentatious- there was no sign that royalty lived there. We knocked on the door, and in the background we heard a dog barking, not a vicious bark, more a welcoming bark letting his master know that there was someone at the door.

Hard to imagine the view in Southern California

Hard to imagine the view in Southern California

Quickly the door opened and greeting us was a small grey haired man and his lovely wife, holding out their hands to embrace us. We said our hellos and I was struck that his handshake was not strong; in fact it was kind of weak. He must have noticed because he said the he probably wasn’t what I expected. I laughed nervously and said no, but I was expecting someone bulkier and stronger. That’s when he laughed and told me that drawing comics didn’t take or build many muscles, mostly it expanded his seat. I laughed and patted my own big ass. We all laughed. I didn’t know that at the time he was in poor health.

Upon entering you noticed that the walls were full of art, but not cluttered, it was obvious that the pieces were chosen based on personal memories, not career highlights. There was no Fantastic Four or even Fourth World pages noticeable. The most eye-catching was a huge collage made of cars of all sorts, race cars, motorcycles, dragsters, sportscars all arranged willy nilly, but the more you stared the more of a pattern emerged. This was not slapdash; this was well thought out, everything in its rightful place. Across from the collage in a place of honor was the double splash pages of the bar fight from Boy’s Ranch #3.


Jack noticed how quickly I made my way over to it. The original art is breathtaking, so alive and vibrant with those quirky Kirby Kolors. Every square inch was full of action and fun. I think more than any iconic Kirby aspect, the one that most amazed me was his ability to fill up every bit of space with action, yet never make it cluttered and chaotic. If you stare long enough the flow of action is always understandable. “Just a little something Joe and I came up with” Jack said. Now I knew that I was getting the canned spiel. I had read other recollections of people to the Kirby manor and I remember someone else getting the exact same quote. But it was reassuring, almost a realization that he had accepted me into his confidence. He ushered me over to a long hallway, but before we got there I stopped and looked at a small drawing on a side wall. It was the Thing, dressed up in yarmulke, and prayer shawl, holding the Talmud. I was in shock. “Jack, is this a personal drawing or something meant for a comic?” He laughed and said it was something done for a holiday card. I asked him why he never mentioned Ben Grimm being Jewish in the comics. He said that it pretty much a standard of the industry that religion was never mentioned except in the vaguest terms. The editors were always worried about not offending any segment of the buying public, and any mention of one religion might turn off another segment. Jack agreed, “Religion is so personal that unless there was an overriding need to highlight one, than it was best left unmentioned.” He said that only at Christmastime was a story allowed to have a religious overtone, and even then it had to be multicultural; more Santa than Jesus. And yet when we finally reached the hallway, there were four very large pencil and inked drawings of man and God in contention. These four drawings would be offered by Dark Horse as a limited portfolio titled Interpretations of God in 1995. They were mighty, bold, and awesome to behold; just a glimpse of a side of the man never revealed in the funny pages. I stood there for a long time trying to take them all in. The images were of Jewish origin but through a sci-fi prism of unknown bent. But to Kirby, one wore his religion in his heart, not on a sleeve.


Jack asked me if I wanted something to drink and he led me to the kitchen. I didn’t realize it but my wife had not followed me around the rooms, she and Roz had been sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking about their shared Jewish heritage and telling stories of the old country. I could envision my wife and her Grandmother sitting around the table after seder. My wife was raised partly by her grandmother and I often saw the same reassuring peacefulness that I saw in the Kirby kitchen, when we visited her Nanny.

The kitchen was not large but two drawings dominated the room. One was a beautiful splash page of American Eagle, by John Severin; perhaps the only comic art in the house not done by Jack. The colors were amazingly bright. Jack said that it was a page that he asked John for because he loved it so much. I could understand why.

The other drawing simply stopped one in their tracks; I had never seen anything like it before. It was the double splash page from what became known as Street Code, a biographical story of Kirby’s early days.

Hint of why Jack wanted a Severin page

Hint of why Jack wanted a Severin page

The page is like a Rorschach test, images moving from front to back as other images come to the fore. Every inch offered new detail and movement. I asked why there were no open spaces, and Jack looked surprised. “That’s how it was in my neighborhood”, “there were no open spaces, just people everywhere, see? “The parks and trees were uptown.”

After a little coffee break, we went back out to the living area and sat down on the sofa, so I could question Kirby. First though I saw his drawing table, and asked if I could sit at it. Jack laughed and said sure. Looking at it from the uncomfortable chair I began to laugh. Jack asked what was so funny and I picked up the few implements at the table and held them aloft. In my hands were a collection of crayons. I asked if he was experimenting with a new media. He laughed and said his granddaughter Tracy had been up over the weekend, and she always draws on the table; inspiration through osmosis.

Close re-creation

Close re-creation

I excused myself for a minute and went outside to get the art page I had just bought for Jack to look at. Jack took the page, looked it over and began nodding. “It’s all there” he said. I didn’t quite know what he meant but he continued. “It’s all there, all the elements that the story needed” And he was right, the story was told with the art, no words were really needed. Later I would wonder if maybe he was talking about Colletta’s penchant for erasing, but at this time I had no idea there was a debate over Colletta. Jack said that he was sorry but he couldn’t sign the page. I said that was ok, I didn’t need him to, but why? He mentioned the fight for his artwork, which I knew about, and his principle not to sign pages that were never returned to him. We talked about the art battle, and about how dealers got these pages, but I could see it bothered him. It always struck me funny at his hatred of the non-returned pages, yet he was friendly with many art dealers who sold this same un-returned art.

We talked about my childhood and why I read comic books, and what made Jack’s stories so much better. I explained that his art resonated on so many levels, and that his stories seemed truer is many ways, even though they were so fantastic. They ignited my imagination and made me think. I told him that in my small group of comic fans, his style was the one we always copied. It was more dynamic than anyone else’s. He told me that he always copied Alex Raymond. I mentioned that he was this generations Raymond and the FF was our Flash Gordon. He laughed a small laugh; he seemed to not be thrilled with the comparison. He talked about his time in animation, which I really wasn’t aware of. And we talked and laughed about Destroyer Duck. I really loved the irony and spoofing of the industry.

I asked Jack about Stan Lee but it quickly became clear that Stan was not a fit subject for mixed company. Funny though it was Roz who was the most dismissive of Stan, not Jack, and it also became clear that it was Roz who took the lead whenever there was a contentious subject brought up. “I’ll tell you about Stan Lee, if you ever meet him, don’t bend over; if you do he’ll stamp your butt with his name. “He’ll take credit for anything.” Roz spat out. Roz was the spark plug of the couple.

It never changed.

It never changed.

I asked Jack if he was going to write a biography. He said he had thought about it, but there were other books that told his story, and he got up, walked into another room and brought me out a small book titled The Jack Kirby Treasury Vol 1 by Greg Theakston. “He’s a close friend and he tells my early history in this book. You should try to get a copy.” I looked the book over carefully and stared at the art on the cover. Jack said the art was from Simon and Kirby stationary and featured all the great characters that he and Joe created. I looked and quietly named all the characters until I came upon one I didn’t recognize. “Who’s the green woman in the middle?” I asked. Jack looked and I could see his mind searching for an answer, but it wouldn’t come. “I don’t remember her name but she was a very early character, maybe even the first villain we drew.” He asked Roz, but she was of no help. “Hold on” I’ll find out.” He bent over and picked up the phone and punched a number. “Mike, Mike, hey it’s Kirby, How are you? I’m fine, but I have a question. I have a fan over and I showed him Greg’s book. Do you remember who the green woman on the cover was?” About a minute later Jack replied, “Oh yeah, now I remember, thanks. Mike Thibodeaux says she’s the Green Sorceress from Blue Bolt, the first thing Joe and I worked on.” That made sense since I had never seen any Blue Bolt stories before. I asked Jack, what was this penchant for starting every character name with a color? Blue Bolt, Blue Beetle, Green Sorceress? I asked. ‘I think that was to make sure the colorists knew what color to make the hero.” He replied. “Y’know we always called the Hulk the green behemoth, or green colossus so that the colorist would remember he was green and not gray.” I just nodded uncertainly, not sure if he was pulling my leg. “Mike wants’ to know if you have a copy of From Here to Insanity #12?” I assured him I didn’t but said to say hello to him. Jack talked another minute on the phone and then hung up. “He’s been trying to find a copy because he thinks there some S&K work in it. I don’t know for sure.”

We talked for another hour on the sofa, about every stupid fan question one could think of-except who’s stronger Thing or Hulk? Jack loved the questions about his early years, and occasionally threw in a war story, but Roz always stopped him short when he started. “Jackson, he doesn’t want to hear that!” Roz snapped, not realizing I was eating it all up. Once, when I had asked a rather obnoxious question, my wife reached over and slapped me on the head. WHAP!!! Roz and Jack looked at her in mock horror, but she explained that it was an agreed upon signal to alert me if I was getting a little too near to geek territory. I don’t even remember what the question was. Jack said don’t worry; he’s heard all the questions. Finally I asked him. What was the most important influence in your storytelling? What makes your art you? Jack replied. “I needed to make sales.” Now I knew I was getting the boiler plate.

Never at a loss for art this is from the heart no comics

Never at a loss for art this is from the heart no comics

I tried again. “I know that feeding your family was most important, but what separated you from all the others?” Roz joined in, “he wants to know what drove you from your soul?” I thought, “Damn, her question was better than mine, “Oh, you mean what drove me as a person; two things, my childhood in the Lower East Side, and the war. Jack stood up and walked over to a bookshelf full of books, a thunderbolt award, a three dimensional representation of a comic cover, and other artifacts of a life well lived. He grabbed a book, opened it up and showed me a picture I recognized as the planet Apokolips, from the New Gods series. “That’s where I grew up. No one lives in that horror and doesn’t get changed by it. That’s why so many entertainers came out of my neighborhood, because the only way to get out was by making others notice you and making them laugh, see?” And the war, I wasn’t there long, but it didn’t take long to realize what we can do to each other. It never leaves you.” You know what, make that three things, the other is meeting Roz, she is what got me out of the ghetto, and kept me alive in Europe.” I looked at Roz, and saw a softening smile and a quiet nod Jack’s way.

Jack asked if we brought a camera, and I replied yes. He said let’s go outside and take a few shots. I only took two, one with Jack, myself, and my wife, and one with Jack, Roz and me. I also made sure we got one with that old yeller dog. This dog loved Jack, wherever Jack went, this dog was nearby. Jack pretended that the dog was a nuisance, but we caught him a couple times reach down and pet him without even realizing it. You can’t fool a dog.

We finally made our good byes and were shocked at Roz’s soft hug and warm personal wishes to my wife. I thanked them for their time and trouble and told them that were even better in person than I had read about. I literally flew back to the hotel. It would be many years before I decided to actually write a bio of Kirby, but the one thing guiding my every word was to let the reader know that nothing was more important to making Kirby what he was than his childhood in the Lower East Side, and his time at war, plus the woman always at his side. The warmth of those two would be felt for a long time, as we headed to the car, I didn’t even care that we had forgotten to bring a sweater.


The one that started it all


The Man and His Pencil


PreviousTitle, Dedications, and  Notes | top | Next1. Jack Kirby’s America


Jack Kirby’s Own Words: a chronology

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.

Mid-Late 1960s

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.


Sal Caputo and “The Kizer”, transcript published in Excelsior #1, 1968. Later published in “Excelsior Fanzine (1968) Kirby & Lee Interviews” on Kirby Dynamics, April 2012, and
as “Stan and Jack: Excelsior” in The Jack Kirby Collector #60, Winter 2013.


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 Rich Rubenfield, conducted August 1969, published as “We Create Images, And They Just Continue On,” in The Jack Kirby Collector #36, Summer 2002 and as “I Don’t Like To Draw Slingshots, I Like To Draw Cannons” in The Jack Kirby Collector #37, Winter 2003.

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.

Mid 1970s

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.

Early 1980s

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.

Catherine Mann, television interview, broadcast 28 October 1982 on Entertainment Tonight, Transcript published as “Entertainment Tonight” in The Jack Kirby Collector #39, Fall 2003. Video published as “Jack Kirby on Entertainment Tonight – 28 Oct 1982” on the Kirby Museum’s YouTube channel, January 2009.


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.

Mid-to-late 1980s

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.


Leonard Pitts, Jr., conducted for a book titled “Conversations With The Comic Book Creators”. Transcript published as “1986/7 – Jack Kirby interview” on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center, August 2012. Later published as “1986 Kirby Interview” in The Jack Kirby Collector #66, Fall 2015.


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.

Early 1990s

Glenn Danzig with Mike Thibodeaux, transcript published as “Jack Kirby Interview” in The Jack Kirby Collector #22, December 1998.


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.

DogmanDave, candid video interview conducted 28 August 1992 at San Diego Comic-Con. published as “Dogman Presents Jack Kirby’s 75th Birthday” on DogmanDave’s YouTube channel, 31 December 2007.

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.

Looking For The Awesome – Title, Dedications, and Notes

PreviousForeword | Contents | Next – Preface

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

Looking For The Awesome

Jack Kirby: A Life Among The Gods

Stan Lee Shuts Up

Stan Lee Shuts Up


For Jack and Roz
and all the Joes, Stans, Dicks, Wills, Mikes, and Marks etc.
who populated his life and work.


Pieces of pleasantry and mirth have a strange power in them to allay the heats and tumults of our spirits
— Ben Franklin

I realized that people make cartoons for a living. It had never dawned on me that you could do this as a career.
— John Lasseter

I was doing political cartoons and getting angry to the point where I felt I was going to have to start making and throwing bombs. I thought I was probably a better cartoonist than a bomb maker.
— Terry Gilliam

All parts of this book are freely available to be excerpted by anyone. Data must be free to all. I own no data and share what I have learned with all. Crediting me does not strengthen any point of debate or argument.


Hooverville in Central Park – surrounded by dreams 1931

All illustrations in this book are copyrighted by their respective copyright holders (according to the original copyright or publication date as printed) and used per the “fair use” doctrine and are published for historical purposes only. Any omission or incorrect information should be transmitted to the author or publisher so it can be rectified in any future edition of this manuscript.

The views and opinions expressed in this book are solely those of the author and do not reflect anyone else’s.

Copyright 2009 – Stan Taylor

PreviousForeword | top | Preface

The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two

Michael Hill sent us this article, as well the Interviews piece we published in June, for consideration for The Kirby Effect. We’re publishing it here in three parts with comments disabled – Rand Hoppe. With thanks to Steven Brower.

Articles in this series:
* Interviews
The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part one
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two (you are here!)
The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three

The story conference

There were no outside witnesses to a Kirby-Lee story conference; they happened behind closed doors. There was one staged for a reporter, and there were one or more car rides where the two men threw out ideas but ignored each other’s. Still, the real story conferences had only two eyewitnesses, the participants. Flo Steinberg is considered a witness, but she really only heard things.

FLO: 1 Jack would come in and sit around and talk.; then he’d go into Stan’s office and they’d go over plots, make sound effect noises, run around, work things out. Then he’d go back home to work some more.

Steinberg’s testimony is often used to confirm Lee’s make-believe version of his story conference with Kirby, but in an earlier interview she had qualified her observations. “I did not see what came out later. The hostility. I did not see them like that. I saw them working very closely and creatively together on all this great stuff, the Hulk, FF and Thor. I don’t know who actually created what – I wasn’t privy to that.” 2

Jim Amash made a point of asking his interview subjects who chose to speculate on the Lee/Kirby workflow if they had ever actually seen it in progress. (Marc Toberoff needed a similar tack during the 2010 depositions, repeatedly reminding Thomas and John Romita that they were not present during the years covered by the suit.)

1997 [Thomas by Amash] 3

TJKC: Were you around when Stan and Jack were plotting together?

ROY: I remember times where they’d talk briefly, but I wasn’t around for much of that. I remember Stan talking about how he and Jack had been in a car stuck in traffic and had plotted an issue that I think became the first Diablo story, one of the ones he most hated. I was called in more for him and John Romita, to take notes.

2002 [Goldberg by Amash] 4

JA: Were you ever around when Stan was plotting with Kirby or Ditko?

GOLDBERG: No. I was usually at that front desk making corrections when they came in. Stan had that desk at the back in that long, narrow room we worked in, and there were things going on and I didn’t pay much attention to any of that.

Romita, starry-eyed at the idea of witnessing the actual creation process, characterized a couple of car rides as Lee-Kirby plotting sessions. On occasion, he revealed the fact that he knew Jack Kirby was the creative powerhouse (“I don’t consider myself a real creator in a Jack Kirby sense.” 5 ). Most of the time, however, he brought Kirby down to his level, just another artist like him, lacking in confidence, receiving assignments and plots from Lee. From his 2010 deposition: 6

SINGER. Do you know whether Jack Kirby was working from – do you know how he would get his stories in the 1960s?

A. No, no, he was plotting them the same as I was. With Stan.

MR. TOBEROFF: So my objection is vague as to time. Calls for speculation. Calls for opinion testimony.

A. I was present at at least two plotting sessions of John – Jack and Stan Lee. They were the same as my plotting sessions and the same as Gene Colan’s and Herb Trimpe’s and John Buscema… Jack Kirby would come in, I was at the office, we would plot in Stan’s office, and with Stan and Jack, most of the time – some of the times Jack would – Stan would drive both of us home on a Friday night or whatever night he was in plotting. They would finish or almost finish and then Stan would say, “come on, I will drive you guys home.” He would drop me off first and then he would take Jack, who lived about twenty minutes past me in the same general area of Long Island. So I was in the back seat of Stan’s Cadillac on two occasions that I remember distinctly, maybe more, where they were continuing what they had not finished in the office, continued plotting.

Romita misrepresents the extent of his knowledge on these two occasions. Kirby would invest a day to take the train into the city to meet with Lee privately in his office. It’s unlikely that he would chance leaving any part of the real discussion for the ride home. Thomas’s car ride story featured the creation of Diablo, an event that occurred in early 1964. Thomas wasn’t present at the time, so Diablo’s creation may or may not have actually involved Lee, or a car.

The car rides were an example of Lee playing to an audience, in this case Romita. The most egregious example of this is the Nat Freedland Herald Tribune article. Freedland wrote that he witnessed Lee’s “weekly Friday morning summit meeting with Jack ‘King’ Kirby.” At this point, Kirby’s trips to the office were nowhere near weekly in frequency since this was after he began using margin notes. The article’s portrayal of Lee’s act 7 presumably convinced Lee to incorporate it into his “workflow,” because it became a trademark.

“Suppose Alicia, the Thing’s blind girlfriend, is in some kind of trouble. And the Silver Surfer comes to help her.” Lee starts pacing and gesturing as he gets warmed up.

“And meanwhile, the Fantastic Four is in lots of trouble. Doctor Doom has caught them again and they need the Thing’s help.” Lee is lurching around and throwing punches.

“The thing is brokenhearted. He wanders off by himself. He’s too ashamed to face Alicia or go back home to the Fantastic Four. He doesn’t realize how he’s failing for the second time… How much the FF needs him.” Lee sags back on his desk, limp and spent.

As with the car rides, Lee’s act is purely for the audience. As with the FF #8 synopsis, it’s not hard to imagine Lee pretending for the sake of his audience that he was “plotting” one of the stories Kirby had already turned in. Thomas knew it wasn’t a story conference. He stated that he didn’t attend Lee-Kirby story conferences, but on this occasion was invited to attend what he called an interview: 8

There was a big article in the New York Herald-Tribune, where some reporter came in and interviewed Stan and Jack. For some reason, I was called in to be a witness or whatever, because I certainly took no part in it.


Steve Sherman: 9 Jack told me the details of that famous interview with Nat Freedland. Jack said that Stan basically put on a show. As Jack said, “Stanley was jumping on the desk, waving his arms like a crazy man. I just sat there on the couch and watched him. It was nutty. When it was over, I said a few words and went back to work. The article comes out and the guy writes what an amazing writer Stanley is. Who could work like that? By the time he was through jumping around, I had three pages done.”

1987 [Earthwatch] 10

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.

Lee used the Freedland article to lay the groundwork for a disinformation campaign against Ditko. 11 At the time of the interview for the article (December 1965), Ditko (and Wood) had already left the company.

I don’t plot Spider-Man any more. Steve Ditko, the artist, has been doing the stories. I guess I’ll leave him alone until sales start to slip. Since Spidey got so popular, Ditko thinks he’s the genius of the world. We were arguing over plot lines, I told him to start making up his own stories. He won’t let anyone else ink his drawings either. He just drops off the finished pages with notes at the margins and I fill in the dialogue. I never know what he’ll come up with next, but it’s interesting to work that way.

Shortly after Ditko’s departure, Lee’s disinformation campaign was taken to the fan press by John Romita. In the fanzine Web Spinner, 12 he told Bob Sheridan a number of reasons why Steve Ditko had not been the best employee. Some of the assertions were things that could only have been known by Lee, and they were false.


Roy Thomas did his part to disseminate the Lee mythology by claiming Romita made Spider-Man Marvel’s best-selling title: 13

[Romita] was also the man to whom writer/editor Stan Lee turned at the beginning of 1966 when Steve Ditko forsook the Amazing Spider-Man title he’d co-created, and the one who quickly helped Stan turn it from Marvel’s second-best-selling comic into its undisputed #1 seller.

This is almost certainly false. Spider-Man was Marvel’s “undisputed #1 seller,” as Thomas put it, before Steve Ditko left. 14

Neal Adams on the story conference: 15

Arlen: After your run on the X-Men ended, you did a couple of issues of Thor immediately following Kirby’s departure from Marvel; how did that come about?

Neal: I don’t know quite when it was. Stan asked me, “What would you like to do next?” I said, “Y’know, Stan, I would love to work on a Thor with you.” He said, “Really?” So then Stan asks, “What do you think you want to do?” I said, “Well, do you have a story?” Stan would go, “What do you think you want to do?” (rather than say no). So I said, “I’d like to change identities between Thor and Loki.” He said, “Oh, that’s fine. Go ahead and do that.” I said, “I’d like to do that for two issues. Is that okay?” He said, “Yeah, sure, sure. Go ahead and do it.” So that was pretty much the story conference.

2002 [Goldberg/Jim Amash] 16

GOLDBERG: One time I was in Stan’s office and told him, “I haven’t got another plot.” Stan got out of his chair, walked over to me, looked me in the face, and said very seriously, “I don’t ever want to hear you say you can’t think of another plot.” Then he walked back and sat in his chair. He didn’t think he needed to tell me anything more. After that, I could think of a plot in two seconds.

JA: Sounds like you were doing the bulk of the writing then.

GOLDBERG: Well, I was.

Larry Lieber was witness to the aftermath of one story conference. From his 2010 deposition: 17

(break in testimony)

LARRY LIEBER: Well, this must have been a Hulk story and I have the originals at home. I don’t remember when I first got them. I don’t remember the year, but I obtained them when they were discarded.

TOBEROFF: Can you tell me how you came into possession specifically of these drawings?

LARRY LIEBER: They – I was in the office, the Marvel office. It probably was at – no, it must have been at the – on 57th Street when they were there on Madison, and Jack Kirby came out of Stan’s office from – and from the direction of Stan’s office. He may, probably, he had come out of Stan’s office, and he seemed upset. And he took the drawings, he had these drawings, he took them and he tore them in half and he threw them in a trash can, a large trash can.

And I, since I was such a big fan of his, I knew that at the end of the day, they would be discarded, you know, and would be trash. And I – I saw it as an opportunity to have some of his originals to keep, to look at and study, and so I took them out of the trash can.

And there were other people in the office, but nobody else seemed to have noticed this, which I was glad about, and I just took them, walked over to where I was sitting and put them in my case. And I took them home and I taped them together, you know, I taped them all, and I kept them and I’ve kept them all these years to look at them and, as I say, to study them.

Q: What was your understanding of why or your impression of why Jack Kirby was upset when he tore these up and threw them in the trash?

LARRY LIEBER: I didn’t know. I didn’t speak to him. I assumed, seeing a man walk out of the office and tear his artwork up, that – or I thought probably they were rejected and he was annoyed or disgusted. I didn’t, you know, and I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t hear anything, so I just – that was my first assumption, but I didn’t know.

(Lieber Exhibit 6, an excerpt from Jack Kirby Collector Forty-One, marked for identification, as of this date.)

lieberhulkpageAn incident like this might have precipitated Kirby’s decision to reduce the frequency of his face-to-face meetings with Lee and resort to margin notes.

Stan Lee’s credits worked as a voucher system

In December 1962, when Stan Lee’s credit boxes took effect, Lee was already receiving the writing page rate. The credits for the very first story, “Prisoner of the 5th Dimension!” in Strange Tales #103 show Lee as the plotter, remarkable on a story that so obviously bears a Kirby plot.

strangetales103It’s the beginning of a pattern: Lee is credited (and paid) for writing stories that come to him already written by Kirby. The credits worked as a voucher system in the absence of any other accounting records. Mark Evanier: 18

Marvel kept no records of this stuff. In fact, every time there’s a reprint fee due on FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #5 — inked by Giacoia but credit to Sinnott — they pay Sinnott.

Lee disclosed his writing page rate when he was deposed in 2010: 19

STAN LEE: I received a salary which paid me as Editor and Art Director, but I got paid on a freelance basis for the stories that I wrote.

Q. And when you say you were paid on a freelance basis, how were you paid? On what basis?

STAN LEE: The same as every other writer. I was paid per page, so much money per page of script.

Barry Pearl reported on a visit to the home of Dick Ayers: 20

Dick told us how Stan called him one day and said, “I can’t think of a story for Sgt. Fury #23. We won’t have an issue unless you think of something!” A worried Dick could not sleep that night and kept Lindy awake too. They talked about story after story until, in the middle of the night, Lindy came up with the idea of the Howlers saving a nun and her young charges. Dick said, “Stan will never go for that, he wants nothing about religion… But I’ll ask him.” When Dick did, Stan said, “What a great idea, I’ll use it.” So they put together a terrific story. When Dick’s finished pages were shown to him, he saw the credits where he was only listed as artist. He went to Stan’s office and asked if he could also be listed as co-plotter. Stan yelled, “Since when did you develop an ego? Get out of here!”

The credit boxes had multiple facets. The public-facing side told the readers that Stan Lee gave credit to his collaborators. For many, this perception obscures the overwhelming evidence that Lee was misappropriating the pay of the “artists,” and Kirby and Ditko are cast as ingrates. The same credit boxes told the writer-artists that they were being denied credit; the writing credit was only for adding dialogue and captions. Stan Taylor: 21

I think that Stan’s singling out and praising the artists actually upset the artists, more than making them happy. Stan was quick to tell everyone how his artists not only pencilled, but plotted also, yet they knew they were only being paid for pencilling, and at a rate less than the competition, and getting nothing for plotting, while Stan was getting all the glory, and the big bucks for simply putting the finishing sheen on the artists stories. If it was me, I would get pretty mad about doing the work of one and a half people, while being paid less than the competitor paid just for pencilling, and then someone else takes the credit for my stories.

Steve Ditko: 22

Lee started out early with his self-serving, self-claiming, self-gratifying style, of giving credit and then undercutting the giving by taking away or claiming most or all of the credit.

Martin Goodman was evidently under the impression that the plotting credit was part of writing. When this credit was granted, the accompanying page rate was deducted from the writing rate. To keep this from dividing his page rate, Lee concealed his arrangement by spinning it as the Marvel Method.


1982 [Eisner] 23

KIRBY: I’ll tell you from a professional point of view. I was writing them. I was drawing them.

EISNER: But you do not necessarily subscribe to the idea of someone else, regardless of who it is, putting balloons in on a completely penciled page. I have a prejudice on it but I want to get your opinion.

KIRBY: My opinion is this: Stan Lee wrote the credits. I never wrote the credits.

In early 1965, Steve Ditko requested and received plotting credit on Spider-Man. Lee took the hit directly in the wallet, and stopped speaking to him: 24 “Stan Lee claimed (in Comic Book Marketplace, July 1998) that he gave me that ‘idea’ for that ‘famous’ Spider-man lifting sequence (issue #32). I responded (CBM Sept-Oct 1998) that he couldn’t have because he had chosen to stop communicating with me before issue #25 and that I alone was creating the story line and all panel ideas.”

Steve Ditko’s letter to Comic Book Marketplace: 25

In your Comic Book Marketplace #61, July 1998, page 45, Stan Lee talks about “…a very famous scene…” of the trapped Spider-man lifting heavy machinery over his head.

The drama of that sequence was first commented on and popularized by Gil Kane.

Stan says “I just mentioned the idea…I hadn’t thought of devoting that many pages to it…”

I was publicly credited as plotter only starting with issue #26. The lifting sequence is in issue #33.

The fact is we had no story or idea discussion about some Spider-man books even before issue #26 up to when I left the book.

Stan never knew what was in my plotted stories until I took in the penciled story, the cover, my script and Sol Brodsky took the material from me and took it all into Stan’s office, so I had to leave without seeing or talking to Stan.

Steve Ditko, New York

Steve Skeates: 26

It was during one of these frequent visits of mine to the offices that I took note of the fact (it would have been hard NOT to notice) that Stan was fuming and saying he was really gonna have it out with Ditko this time! I asked somebody what was up, and whomever I asked (Marie or Flo or maybe even Roy) explained the whole thing. As you undoubtedly know, the way the Spider-man comic was put together back in those days was that Ditko would turn in his pencils and his plot, Stan would write the dialogue and the captions and make various instructional notations in the margins of the artwork, next the story would be lettered, and then it would be given back to Ditko so he could ink it! It was the finished inks that Stan was fuming about – in the panel I previously spoke of, even though the dialogue was obviously that of Spidey, Ditko had drawn the villain, forcing Stan to either rewrite the dialogue or have the panel redrawn (probably by either Sol or Marie) and I really can’t remember which course of action he chose! I of course have no way of knowing whether Steve simply forgot he was supposed to change the figure while at the same time failing to read the dialogue and missing the notation in the margin, or if he purposely drew the villain because he (Steve) was being obstinate, but I am positive that Stan THOUGHT that the latter was the case! Needless to say, I wasn’t privy to Stan “finally having it out” with Steve! Still and all, the next thing I knew, Ditko was outta there!

Ditko’s Spider-Man creation account is often used to refute Kirby’s creation claim. Strangely, an actual reading of Ditko’s essays reveals statements like, “The ‘original idea’ for S-M was in Jack Kirby’s five pencilled pages and Lee told me that S-M is a teenager with a magic ring that turns him into an adult S-M.” 27 He also makes one thing perfectly clear (something he’s compelled to add because of what he knows of Stan Lee): 28 “Stan never told me who came up with the idea for SM or for the SM story Kirby was pencilling.”

1975 [Sherman] 29

SHERMAN: About your drawing. At your fastest, during that time, do you have any idea how many books you were doing?

KIRBY: I felt, for a while, like I was doing them all. The stuff I wasn’t penciling, I was doing layouts on. I got the books going–I think that was mainly my function–so that, as Marvel acquired a top-notch staff, they could keep them going.

Beginning in 1964, Kirby was writing books for other artists in the way of breakdowns or “layouts,” roughly sketched action broken down into panels with extensive margin notes. Even these figured into Lee’s scheme. Ostensibly the process was designed to show new artists how to work Marvel Method. The small layout page rate was deducted from the penciller’s rate, and Lee was able to retain the full writer’s rate without having to plot for new pencillers. Mike Gartland wrote a detailed article for Kirby Collector: 30

As has been noted on other occasions, Stan never wanted his other artists to draw like Kirby, but to learn his abilities at dynamic storytelling, which is probably why with the border notes/directions, Jack was requested to do the pencil layouts… The artist would do 75% of the work, but only be paid the standard page rate for penciling; Lee, on the other hand, would be paid for writing, editing, and dialoguing a story already fleshed out and drawn. Jack, of course, received a better rate as a penciller, but never as much as he was promised or felt he deserved. The layout work he did just added insult to injury, as Jack was only paid 25% of his usual page rate; near the end it may have been moved up to around a third, but he still felt it was terrible pay. And as with FF and Thor during this period, it also increased the number of comics per month where Jack was contributing story ideas and plots to comics that were published with sole writer credit going to Lee.

Kirby layouts were designed from the start to give Lee more Kirby-written pages for which Lee could be paid the writer’s rate. (Incidentally, the Gartland article was accompanied by page 29 of Tales To Astonish #73, with the caption observing, “A good example of Stan dialoguing almost verbatim from Jack’s notes.”)

John Romita described Kirby being invited to lay out Daredevil for him: 31

[Lee] said, “Wanna help me out? How about penciling this Daredevil story?” Like a dummy, I said, “Okay.” [laughter] I did it, and when I came in with the first four pages, he loved the splash page, but the next three pages he said were very dull, like romance pages. He said, “I’ll tell you what; just to get you rolling…” He calls up Jack Kirby right there and says, “Listen Jack, how quick can you do 10 pages of breakdowns?”

Ultimately an increase in Kirby’s page rate enabled him to say no to Lee’s abusive practice of making him do layouts.

The Marvel Method

Stan Lee has said he created what he called the Marvel Method to keep his “artists” busy while he dialogued multiple books, and that the happy result was that it gave them more freedom. It’s advertised as an assembly line approach to comics production (something that didn’t originate with Lee). Story conference, synopsis, sometimes just the “germ of an idea” passed from the writer/editor to one of the interchangeable artists. In reality, it was having the writer/artist do the plotting without pay to the benefit of the editor’s income.

From Lee’s depositions: 32

QUINN: Okay. Why don’t you describe the Marvel method.

A. There was a time when I was writing so many stories that I couldn’t keep up with the artists. I couldn’t feed them enough work. And, you see, the artists were freelancers. Now, for example, if Jack was working on a story, and Steve was waiting for me to give him a story because he had had finished what he had been doing –

Q. Jack being Jack Kirby?

A. Jack Kirby.

Q. And Steve Ditko?

A. Right. Or it could have been any of the artists. But just using them as an example, if one of them was waiting for a story while I was still finishing writing the story for the other one, I couldn’t keep him waiting because he wasn’t making money.

No mention is made of how the “artist” would continue to not make money for the plotting that now fell to him because Lee wasn’t doing it. Marvel was pretty much the bottom of the barrel, page-rate-wise, so the people applying for work were desperate. Kirby being blacklisted by Schiff at DC forced his return to the company, and John Romita had to be let go by DC in 1965 before he would consider returning. 33 Even under those circumstances, Lee managed to attract and keep some talented writer/artists.

2002 [Goldberg/Jim Amash] 34

JA: Was Stan writing full scripts for you when you started drawing Kathy, your first humor work?

GOLDBERG: He was at the very beginning. Then things started exploding at Marvel, and Stan needed to cut some corners at his end so he could come up with new ideas. That’s when he developed the “Marvel Style” of writing stories, where the artist did most of the plotting and he did the dialogue. He didn’t trust too many other writers, and this was a good way to keep control of the stories. Some people weren’t happy about it, because Stan was putting work on the artist for no extra pay. Some artists resented it, but that was how it was done. I wasn’t happy about it at first, but I learned how to do it.[emphasis mine]

Mr Miracle_06_10c

When Thomas interviewed Lee in 1998, they backdated the Marvel Method into the ’50s and portrayed it as something that ultimately brought happiness and fulfillment to everyone involved: 35

Roy: You probably didn’t write full scripts for Jack for “Fin Fang Foom.”

Stan: I did full scripts in the beginning, but then I found out how good he was just creating his own little sequence of pictures—and I did it in the beginning with Ditko, too—but when I found out how good they were, I realized that, “Gee, I don’t have to do it—I get a better story by just letting them run free.”

Roy: The amazing thing is, not only could you get Jack and Steve to do it, but that other artists who had always worked from scripts—Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and others—could also learn to do it and be quite successful with a little training from you.

Stan: I will admit that a lot of them were very nervous about it, and very unhappy about being asked to do it. But then they loved it after a while.

Mark Evanier’s unpublished interview with Wallace Wood: 36

WW: I enjoyed working with Stan on DAREDEVIL but for one thing. I had to make up the whole story. He was being paid for writing and I was being paid for drawing but he didn’t have any ideas. I’d go in for a plotting session and we’d just stare at each other until I came up with a storyline. I felt that I was writing the book but not being paid for writing.

ME: You did write one issue, as I recall…

WW: One, yes. I persuaded him to let me write one by myself since I was doing 99% of the writing already. I wrote it, handed it in and he said it was hopeless. He said he’d have to rewrite it all and write the next issue himself. Well, I said I couldn’t contribute to the storyline unless I got paid something for writing and Stan said he’d look into it, but after that he only had inking for me. Bob Powell was suddenly pencilling DAREDEVIL.

ME: I believe Powell pencilled an issue before the one you wrote.

WW: Oh? God, you know this stuff better than I do. Well then, I think I complained about it before. That’s right. I complained about not being paid for writing and suddenly I was inking Powell but I managed to talk him into letting me write one… I guess Stan Lee couldn’t stand having me do the whole thing. I do remember that that was his way of dealing with me asking for writing money if I was pencilling. He had me ink other guys who didn’t want to share the writing money. He said it was because the book was going monthly and he didn’t think I could pencil and ink both but I think it was just because I wasn’t going to write the book for nothing. Actually I wouldn’t have minded if their page rate for pencils hadn’t been so awful.

ME: So you wanted to write and pencil?

WW: Yes. I got to do some of that for Tower. But remember that issue of DAREDEVIL I wrote? Stan said it was hopeless and that he’d have to rewrite the whole thing. Then I saw it when it came out and he’d changed five words, less than an editor usually changes. I think that was the last straw.

John Romita had an amusing take on the Marvel Method: 37

It was very difficult for me, very hard, but it turned out to be the greatest thing for the industry and for me, because the comic – the comic medium had been a script first and visual second and this made it visual first and script second, which was probably the greatest innovation, completely done for expediency sake… when [Lee] was behind, when he couldn’t keep up with the artists and he did not want the artists to stay idle, because the deadlines were looming, he would give them a descriptive verbal or written – quickly-written synopsis of what to do. And that’s how the plot first and script second, script third came about, which was called the Marvel method, which I believe made the comic industry what it is today.

Romita has just ascribed to Stan Lee an “innovation” that Jack Kirby and many other cartoonists practiced for their entire careers, and it’s the very definition of cartooning. In his solo work and as part of the Simon & Kirby Studio, Kirby first laid down the pencils, then returned to add the words (“visual first and script second” as Romita described it). The difference at Marvel was that Kirby did everything as usual up to the point where, instead of writing in the captions and balloons himself, he wrote margin notes before turning the pages over to Lee.

Larry Lieber was credited for writing scripts for a number of early Kirby stories. In addition to giving Lee a way to send a little income in his brother’s direction, Larry’s scripts were another mechanism to suggest Kirby wasn’t doing the plotting. Lee was actually feeding Kirby’s own plots, not only to Ditko, but to Lieber so he could script the Kirby stories. There’s no reason to question the assertion that Lieber wrote scripts for Kirby, but why would Kirby even look at a script for a story he had already described to Lee in a story conference?


Marvel Myths


Roy: 38 The story has often been told of this infamous, legendary golf game with Martin Goodman and [DC President] Jack Liebowitz in which Liebowitz bragged about the sales of Justice League of America, and Goodman came back and told you to start a super-hero book. Was that story really true?

Stan: That’s absolutely true. He came in to see me one day and said, “I’ve just been playing golf with Jack Liebowitz”—they were pretty friendly—and he said, “Jack was telling me the Justice League is selling very well, and why don’t we do a book about a group of super-heroes?” That’s how we happened to do Fantastic Four.

Mark Alexander: 39 That’s a great story. In any case, it’s entirely false. The legend of Martin Goodman hearing about JLA‘s impressive sales on a golf outing with Jack Liebowitz has been floating around since the mid-1970s. It’s impossible to determine who fabricated the anecdote. The best guess would be that Stan came up with it. In 2002, Lee was still repeating the story as gospel in his autobiography.

Mark Evanier: 40 Mr. Lee has told this story on many occasions. Mr. Leibowitz, when he was interviewed, said he never played golf with Goodman in his entire life.

“I just don’t know why they left”

Stan Lee has gotten tremendous mileage out of playing the injured party in his dealings with Ditko and Kirby. Evidence indicates, however, that he knew precisely how they felt about his treatment of them. Tom Crippen: 41

Meanwhile Stan was having fun, but having fun with other people’s work can be dangerous. He should have recognized that the Surfer was Kirby’s, since Kirby had drawn him up based on no suggestions whatsoever. But Stan was entranced by his own creativity and had to shanghai the Surfer idea for the sake of Norrin Radd. He was grabby, and I would bet he saw no reason not to be grabby. He never figured out why Kirby left. “I don’t know much of what Jack is talking about these days,” he says grimly in 1981, when the art and credit disputes were heating up. “I don’t know what his problem is.” The same for Ditko: “it was all on Steve’s part. I mean, I felt the same, but he got angry.” Yeah, go figure.

In the title of the seventh installment of “A Failure to Communicate,” Mike Gartland asks, “How could he not know?” 42 The answer is simple: Stan Lee couldn’t not know Kirby would leave, having had a role in driving him away. Lee was complicit with Perfect Film & Chemical in establishing himself as The Creator of The Properties, making Kirby’s continued presence an inconvenience at best, a threat at worst. According to Mark Evanier, after Kirby spent months trying to secure a contract (with nary a good word from his longtime collaborator), what was ultimately offered in the way of a contract was an insult. 43

Putting a spin on Kirby’s departure was on Lee and Thomas’s agenda for the Comic Book Artist interview. Lee: 44 “I think [the relationship] certainly could have been salvaged if I knew what was bothering him. He never really told me, nor did Steve Ditko when he left. You can’t salvage something if you don’t know the cause.”

The imminent event seemed to be common knowledge around the Marvel offices as early as 1968. In a story in Not Brand Echh #11, John Verpoorten drew a gag note pinned to the bulletin board next to Kirby’s drawing board. 45 It reads, “All is forgiven,” and is signed Carmine. Roy Thomas is listed as the writer.


Kirby became a casualty of Lee’s ambition, just as Chip Goodman would a couple of years later. Lee also maintains he knew nothing about Ditko’s reasons for leaving, yet according to Ditko, Lee stopped speaking to him when he demanded plotter credit, over a year before he actually left. From Ditko’s essay about why he quit: 46 “Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material, for a man who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me?”

John Romita revealed that before Ditko quit, Lee intended to replace him on Spider-Man. 47 “Stan asked me to use Spider-Man as a guest star in Daredevil for two issues, number 16 and number 17, I believe, and I put Spider-Man in and drew him as well as I could and it turned out that he was feeling me out as a possible replacement.” Having already taken the plotting pay out of Lee’s pocket for Spider-Man, Ditko’s continued presence might have had a bearing on Kirby’s tolerance for the status quo. In the same way that Kirby would become a threat to the ownership of the properties, Ditko had become a threat to Lee’s arrangement to collect Kirby’s writing pay.

How could Lee not know? It was impossible, since he knowingly drove away Kirby and Ditko. His playing the wronged partner in both cases engendered much rage at the two “ungrateful artists” who abandoned Stan Lee and his Marvel Method.

We weren’t worried about the credit…

The concept of creator/writer/plotter credit is typically given the same treatment as the original art issue. “It wasn’t important back then” may be true of original art, with notable exceptions, but where credit is concerned it doesn’t hold water.

John Romita: 48 Originally nobody thought about plotting credits, except Ditko.

Roy Thomas: 49 They’re really Ditko’s plots, not mine; it’s just the way we did it, and we didn’t question it at the time. Neither did Jack or Ditko. We weren’t worried about the credits, because there wasn’t any money involved. It’s only later you begin to say, “Hey, why didn’t I take credit for this or that? Why didn’t I put my name down as plotter?”

Romita and Thomas misapply the experience of their time at Marvel to earlier events. They profess knowledge regarding the motivations of the three principals, but produce only hearsay. Credit was vitally important to Kirby, Ditko and Lee in the early ’60s: one man went to extreme efforts to appropriate that which didn’t belong to him, and the other two ultimately left their jobs over it.

Thomas’s remark that “there wasn’t any money involved” suggests either that he was complicit in Lee’s system, or unaware of the way it really worked; for Stan Lee, credit was money. If Lee’s assistants, including Thomas, Romita and Goldberg, were fed a constant diet of misinformation, it would explain statements like, “I know Jack was getting detailed outlines even when they started doing The Fantastic Four” (Goldberg); “I figured with Jack as the artist—and maybe Ditko, too—in these minor stories that you mostly wrote, along with Larry Lieber, you must have been doing [the Marvel style] since the monster days” (Thomas); and “[Kirby and Lee’s plotting sessions] were the same as my plotting sessions and the same as Gene Colan’s and Herb Trimpe’s and John Buscema” (Romita).

The Great American Novel

In Origins, Stan Lee described the original motivation for his pseudonym: 50

Myself when born was christened Stanley Martin Lieber—truly an appellation to conjure with… So happy was I being S.M.L., and so certain that I would one day write the great American novel, or the great American motion picture, and so young and witless was I at the time I started writing comics, that I felt I couldn’t sully so proud a name on books for little kiddies.

Lee claims he always intended to leave comics and become a writer of serious literature, and he happened to rub shoulders at the office with a number of people who lived this reality. Bruce Jay Friedman edited fiction magazines for Martin Goodman, and wrote fiction in his spare time. Eventually he left his position at Magazine Management (Goodman gave him an elaborate going-away party), and became a highly successful author. Mickey Spillane, Mario Puzo and Martin Cruz Smith followed the same career path.

Lee himself didn’t make the transition. He continued to write for an audience he described as “drooling juveniles and semicretins.” 51 In 1961, it all changed, as the Lee version has it: Joan Lee told her husband to “write stories that you yourself would enjoy reading.” Lee, concluding that he was above the reading ability of his existing audience, says he then began writing to his own level. His assertion is belied by the fact that throughout the decade, he was editing the greater meaning out of Kirby’s stories, and turning the strong female characters into damsels in distress and submissive housewives. What really happened to change it all in 1961 was Lee hitching his wagon to Jack Kirby.

Mr Miracle_06_07bot

Lee fomented his own novel throughout the ’60s, What I Did (with help from some artists under my direction). It would never be published, but it was at his fingertips for interviews, and excerpts in the Origins books. He began by establishing a narrative in the Letters of Comment pages… fictitious letters at first (signed S. Brodsky and S. Goldberg), then fictitious responses to real letters. First he planted the germ of the idea that Marvel readers were a cut above average intellectually, a mantra that will be chanted by his acolytes into their sixties.

Fantastic Four #3 LOC page, March 1962 [cover date]

Are you the same one who also puts out STRANGE TALES, TALES TO ASTONISH, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, TALES OF SUSPENSE, AMAZING ADULT FANTASY, and a lot of Westerns like KID COLT, OUTLAW, and teen_age titles like, PATSY WALKER? If so, how do you do it?
S. Brodsky, Brooklyn, New York

With great difficulty!

P.S. – We’ve just noticed something… unlike many other collections of letters in different mags, our fans all seem to write well, and intelligently. We assume this denotes that our readers are a cut above average, and that’s the way we like ’em!

Then he laid claim to the innovation of squabbling teammates (easy since none of his readers are old enough to have experienced the Newsboy Legion). Throw in the suggestion that it will take intelligent readers to appreciate it…

Fantastic Four #4 LOC page, May 1962

Are you kidding?? What kind of super-characters are these? They’re always fighting among themselves! They have the same jealousies and personality clashes as real people! Have you flipped your lids?? Do you think comic mag readers are intelligent enough to appreciate all that good writing jazz?? If you want my opinion – you’re darn right!
S. Goldberg, Forest Hills, New York

Too many letter writers seemed to wonder if maybe Kirby was doing the writing, so let’s institute those credits, not to be forthright regarding the breakdown of work, but to have Lee on record as writer.

Hulk #5 LOC page, January 1963

Regarding the art work, Lee, here’s what happened. Jack Kirby draws the strips in pencil and Dick Ayers usually inks them. But Dick was busy inking another strip at the same time as the second ish of the HULK came due, so Steve Ditko helped out by inking that one. To save any future confusion, you have probably noticed that we are starting to name the writer, the artist, and inker (when there IS a separate inker) of all our feature strips from now on. Hope you fans like the idea.

Fantastic Four #11 LOC page, February 1963

Dear Stan and Jack:
Do you mind telling us who wrote the story for FF #8? It was probably the greatest one we’ve ever seen.
James Barnhill & Larry Berry

Thanks, guys. But you must be the only two readers left who don’t know that Stan Lee writes the stories and Jack Kirby draws them.

Mr Miracle_06_10b

The mastermind behind the Marvel Method, which he established to keep his stable of “artists” busy, hasn’t received the next issue’s pages yet from Kirby… Oops, I mean hasn’t thought up a plot for the next issue.

Fantastic Four #23 LOC page, February 1964

Can we level with you? We can’t tell you what the next FF will be because we haven’t decided on a plot yet. So we won’t say “Don’t miss the greatest, most thrilling, etc. etc.” All we’ll say is – we’ve got to dream up a story in the next couple of days, and have it drawn pronto if we wanna make out deadline! So to find out if we succeeded, and how well we succeeded, don’t miss FF #24, on sale around the beginning of December.

Avengers #5 LOC page, May 1964

That’s it for this ish! See you when we present AVENGERS #6! Can’t tell you what the plot is because it’s loaded with surprises, but with Stan writing it, and Jack drawing it, we sort of suspect it will be worth watching for!

Wood begins plotting Daredevil with #5, and Lee gives battle, attacking Wood on the letters page. First he lays the groundwork for explaining any confusion that arises because the copy writer doesn’t understand the plot…

Daredevil #6 LOC page, February 1965

Now before we close, one of the guys in the bullpen gave Stan an idea for a new D.D. story. The plot is so complicated, so off-beat, so utterly impossible to make any sense out of, that Stan immediately decided to adapt it for a script! So, if you want to see either the greatest magazine saga of the century, or the biggest fizzle Marvel’s ever come up with, don’t miss D.D. #7!

Wood quits writing for free, and Lee slags him to the readers. At the same time, he appeals to the audience for insight into understanding Wood’s plots.

Daredevil #10 LOC page, October 1965

Well, if you’ve ever seen a more complicated, mixed-up, madcap mystery yarn than this one, you’ve got US beat a mile! And now, here’s the payoff—Wonderful Wally decided he doesn’t have time to write the conclusion next ish, and he’s forgotten most of the answers we’ll be needing! So, Sorrowful Stan has inherited the job of tying the whole yarn together and finding a way to make it all come out in the wash! And you think you’ve got troubles!

Daredevil #11 LOC page, December 1965

Well, that finally wraps that up! If you understand what these last two ishes were all about, clue us in sometime!

His appeal is answered… a young reader comes to the rescue. Huh, the “writer” doesn’t even remember leaving that clue. To top it off, let’s get one last dig at Wood.

Daredevil #12 LOC page, January 1966

Dear Stan, [it had been “Dear Stan and Wally” up to #10]
If Mr. Jonas isn’t the Organizer, I’ll eat this issue of DAREDEVIL.
Dave Harrer

It’s a funny thing, Dave—literally hundreds of our fantastic fans discovered the Organizer’s identity—but you’re the only one so far who figured it out because Jonas introduced Deb! We didn’t even realize we had left that particular clue in the yarn! So, we’re printing your letter first, because you did it the hard way, lad!

Glad you liked Wally’s story, but we’ll let you in on a little secret—Stan the Man couldn’t keep his hands off the script, and when Our Leader got through editing it, about the only thing left that Wally himself had written was his name!

It’s not about the credit, it’s about the money.

Daredevil #8 LOC page, June 1965

Credit! Credit! Everyone’s always giving us credit! When’s someone going to ante up a little cash around here?

When Perfect Film & Chemical needed Lee to provide a narrative minimizing Kirby’s involvement in property creation, the elaborate groundwork was already in place. He had prepped the “witnesses,” Bails, Goldberg, Lieber, Thomas and Romita among others: they thought they were attesting to the accuracy of his accounts with their second-hand knowledge, but the great American novel they were endorsing was What Stan Said. Lee’s original motivation for building a parallel history had been his need to rationalize the writing credit and accompanying pay, but in the end, just a single critical detail needed to be added for it to perfectly suit the company’s purposes: the claim of “my idea.”

The artist who created…

From books on how to draw “the Marvel way” to court documents sporting shoddy research by judges to a CNN blog trumpeting a book by his daughter, Stan Lee is known as “the artist who created…” followed by a list of Marvel’s most precious properties. In “Digging Ditko, Part 3,” 52 Stephen Bissette drew a comparison between Marvel and the Disney of Richard Schickel’s The Disney Version. Here’s a bit from page 33 of Schickel’s book: 53

Among unsophisticated people there was a common misapprehension that Disney continued to draw at least the important sequences in his animated films, his comic strips, his illustrated books. Although his studio often stressed in its publicity the numbers of people it employed and the beauties of their teamwork, some very unsophisticated people thought he did everything himself—an interesting example of the persistence of a particularly treasured illusion and of the corporation’s ability to keep it alive even while denying it.

These days, Disney similarly keeps the Tale of Stan Lee alive. In Lee’s case they don’t take the trouble to deny it.


Articles in this series:
* Interviews
The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part one
* The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part two (you are here!)
The Marvel Method According To Jack Kirby – part three



Repetition of citations allows linking back to individual quotes.

back 1 Flo Steinberg interviewed by Michael Kraiger, The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 2 Flo Steinberg interviewed by Jim Salicrup and Dwight Jon Zimmerman, Comics Interview #17, November 1984.

back 3 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 4 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.

back 5 John Romita interviewed by Tom Spurgeon, “Spider-Man At 50 Part Four: A John Romita Sr. Interview From 2002,” The Comics Reporter, 10 August 2012.

back 6 John Romita deposition, 21 October 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.

back 7 Nat Freedland, “Super-Heroes with Super Problems,” New York Herald Tribune, 9 January 1966. Reprinted in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 8 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 9 Steve Sherman, by email, 25 February 2015.

back 10 Robert Knight’s Earthwatch, Jack Kirby radio interview conducted by Warren Reece and Max Schmid, WBAI New York, 28 August 1987. Transcript posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 11 Nat Freedland, “Super-Heroes with Super Problems,” New York Herald Tribune,9 January 1966. Reprinted in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 12 Bob Sheridan, “Rambling with Romita,” Web Spinner #5, 1966.

back 13 Roy Thomas & Jim Amash, John Romita… And All That Jazz!, TwoMorrows Publishing, July 2007.

back 14 In Marvel’s first published Statements of Ownership (Spider-Man #47 and Fantastic Four #61, April 1967), filed on 1 October 1966, Spider-Man had an average total paid circulation of 340,155 for the 12 months preceding the filing, and 362,760 for the single issue nearest the filing date. Fantastic Four had an average total paid circulation of 329,379 for the same period, and 361,460 for the single issue nearest the filing date. John Jackson Miller, Curator of ComiChron, said this in a 7 April 2015 email: “I would tend to suspect the numbers would have probably reflected September-ship to August-ship books, or even August-to-July. That would work out to December 1965-to-November 1966 cover dates, or November-to-October.” Steve Ditko’s last issue had the July 1966 cover date, meaning John Romita was responsible for the last three to four issues, and Ditko was responsible for two-thirds to three-quarters of the average. The numbers for “single issue nearest filing date” show that Fantastic Four had closed the gap substantially by the end of the twelve issues tallied.

back 15 Neal Adams interviewed by Arlen Schumer, Comic Book Artist #3, Winter 1999.

back 16 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.

back 17 Larry Lieber deposition, 7 January 2011, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 4.

back 18 Mark Evanier, Jack Kirby Fan Group Facebook Group, 12 August 2013.

back 19 Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit I, and 8 December 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit J.

back 20 Barry Pearl, “The Yancy Street Gang visits Dick & Lindy Ayers,” Alter Ego #90, December 2009.

back 21 Stan Taylor, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 6 November 1999.

back 22 Steve Ditko, “Creative Crediting,” The Avenging Mind, April 2008.

back 23 Shop Talk, Jack Kirby interviewed by Will Eisner, Will Eisner‘s Spirit Magazine 39, July 1982.

back 24 Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History: Wind-up,” The Comics, v14n11, November 2003.

back 25 Steve Ditko, letter to the editor, Comic Book Marketplace #63, October 1998.

back 26 Steve Skeates, “drawing straws, the raw truth…,” Wood-L (Internet mailing list), 15 October 1999.

back 27 Steve Ditko, “He Giveth and He Taketh Away,” The Avenging Mind, April 2008.

back 28 Steve Ditko, “A Mini-History 13: Speculation,” The Comics, v14n8, August 2003.

back 29 Steve Sherman, 1975, The Jack Kirby Collector #8, January 1996. (Originally presented in the 1975 Comic Art Convention program book.)

back 30 Mike Gartland, “A Failure to Communicate: Part 6, The Best Laid (Out) Plans…” The Jack Kirby Collector #29, August 2000. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 31 John Romita interviewed by Jon Cooke, Comic Book Artist #6, Fall 1999.

back 32 Stan Lee deposition, 13 May 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit I, and 8 December 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 102, Exhibit J.

back 33 John Romita deposition, 21 October 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.

back 34 Stan Goldberg interviewed by Jim Amash, Alter Ego v3 #18, October 2002.

back 35 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 36 Mark Evanier’s unpublished interview with Wallace Wood, Kirby-L, the Jack Kirby Internet mailing list, 5 July 1997.

back 37 John Romita deposition, 21 October 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.

back 38 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 39 Mark Alexander, “The Wonder Years,” The Jack Kirby Collector 58, December 2011.

back 40 Mark Evanier deposition, 9 November 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 8.

back 41 Tom Crippen, “Stan,” The Hooded Utilitarian, 30 September 2008 (originally ran in The Comics Journal, February 2008).

back 42 Mike Gartland, “A Failure to Communicate: Part 7, How could he not know?” The Jack Kirby Collector #36, Summer 2002. Posted on The Kirby Effect: The Journal of the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

back 43 Mark Evanier, Kirby: King of Comics, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, NY, 2008.

back 44 “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy,” A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998.

back 45 “Auntie Goose Rhymes,” written by Roy Thomas, drawn by John Verpoorten, Not Brand Ecch #11, December 1968.

back 46 Steve Ditko, “Essay #45: Why I Quit S-M, Marvel,” The Four-Page Series #9, September 2015. Published and © by Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko.

back 47 John Romita deposition, 21 October 2010, Justia, Dockets & Filings, Second Circuit, New York, New York Southern District Court, Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al, Filing 65, Exhibit 2, and Filing 102, Exhibit F.

back 48 John Romita interviewed by Jon Cooke, Comic Book Artist #6, Fall 1999.

back 49 Roy Thomas interviewed by Jim Amash, conducted by phone in September 1997, published The Jack Kirby Collector #18, January 1998.

back 50 Stan Lee, Origins of Marvel Comics, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974.

back 51 Stan Lee, “How I Invented Spider-Man,” Quest Magazine, July/August 1977.

back 52 Stephen Bissette, “Digging Ditko, Part 3,” SRBissette.com, September 14th, 2012.

back 53 Richard Schickel, The Disney Version, Elephant Paperbacks, © 1968, 1985, 1997.

Looking For The Awesome – Foreword

Contents | Next – Title, Dedication, and Notes

As I mentioned when I learned of his passing, the late Stan Taylor and I tried to work out a way for his book, “Looking For The Awesome – Jack Kirby: A Life Among Gods”, to be presented on the Kirby Museum website a few years ago. At the time we weren’t successful, but thanks to his widow Annabelle, I’m now going to serialize it here on the Kirby Effect. It would have been Stan’s 64th birthday today, so I’m pleased to get ball rolling by posting the foreword he wrote at the beginning of 2012 (which I have edited) to get things started. – Rand Hoppe

Happy New Year, y’all!

Thanks to the Kirby Museum for offering me this access. And thanks to you for taking the time to read it.

Jack Kirby was a magician. Not a prestidigitator using sleight of hand or smoke and mirrors; a real magician, a conjurer who produced something of value from nothing. He took blank pieces of paper and created worlds beyond belief; stories of wonder, and pathos, and crime and justice, and humanity.

He didn’t have a wand, a la Harry Potter, he had a simpler more powerful tool; a # 2 graphite pencil, perhaps the most powerful tool ever created. In the hand of a wizard, pencils have righted wrongs, brought down evil, entertained the masses, showed horror and joy and opened doors of the imagination.

People ask me why Jack Kirby? What separated him from every other comic book artist? It’s a hard question. Nothing Kirby did was out of the realm of normal. He didn’t draw anything that any other artist couldn’t reproduce. In fact, I might argue that there were better artists, such as Kubert, Wood, or Frazetta. But they don’t match Kirby. Some claim Kirby was a genius- possessed of some inherent gift that gave him a supra ability that fashioned and guided his work thru the different eras; a sort of X-Men among artists. But in my research, I have found nothing in this man out of the ordinary; truth be told to meet this small man, one was left dumbfounded by just how ordinary he was. When I first met him, in the fall of 1989, I chuckled at just how small and weak his hand was when I shook his hand. I laughed and told him that after 50 years of drawing, I expected his right arm to look like Popeye’s. Kirby laughed and said that “a #2 pencil doesn’t weigh that much.”

But one factor that every Kirby researcher learns is that Kirby did have one super power; the ability to put his seat in a chair and work for 8-10 hours at a stretch, 365 days a year. So why Kirby?, Because no comic artist explored the unknowable and asked those hard questions as much as Kirby. No one exploded the mind and sense of wonder that Kirby’s graphics did. Kirby once described his life as “looking for the awesome” and no one came closer to finding it.

If Thomas Edison was correct-and I think he was- that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, than yes, Jack Kirby was a genius. No one outworked him, whether he was deep into a project that touched his heart or just batting out one of a thousand stories needed to fill some space in a comic book. There were times when Jack Kirby was mad as a hornet at a particular comic company, yet not once did he cut back on production or quality. Other artists would marvel at Kirby’s work ethic. Not one ever said that Kirby had some inherited gene or physical edge, just that he could outwork anyone. It’s hard to know where Kirby got his grit, but it showed up early. A youth spent in the hardscrabble inner city New York ghetto was bound to forge determination and drive. Grow or die; the law of the jungle and the act of evolution. Kirby used his fears and grew from them.

My own fascination with Kirby began in the late 1950’s. I was that grubby little kid collecting empty pop bottles to get the .02 deposit to buy comics; mostly DC’s like Jimmy Olsen, Batman, and Flash. One day I saw a killer comic cover; a huge blue robot fighting a group of humans, and a girl in its hand trying to calm it down. The background was a futuristic cityscape with big black shadows curling thru it. One of the humans was shouting “Ultivac is loose!!” The comic was Showcase #7, the second appearance of the Challengers of the Unknown, and it looked and read like no other comic I had ever seen. It was one lonely story. The action was so gorgeously outrageous, and the robot so terrifying, plus, one of the heroes actually got shot and almost died. The villain was an ex-Nazi- a time still fresh in the human psyche. If pressed, I had probably read a Kirby comic earlier, I have some memory of some comics like Black Magic, or Alarming Tales, but nothing that struck like a thunderclap as the Challs did. I soon found more stories by this artist- fantasy stories in the DC anthology titles. the Fly and the Shield at Archie. More monsters, aliens, and disasters ripped right from my beloved horror movies. The provenance of artist was undeniable. I think the first time I placed a name with the artwork was when I bought an Atlas fantasy comic, but I certainly couldn’t put a name to which one. All I knew was that this artist’s stories were so superior to anyone else. His characters leapt out at the reader, and the special effects were a quantum leap from the usual comic artist. His monsters were menacing and lovable at the same time. His heroes were stalwart and steady. And the stories made sense- not great logic or scientific plausibility, but a sort of cause and effect that Batman and Superman rarely did. I noticed that I was reading Kirby’s stories repeatedly, and rarely ever looking at the Bob Brown, or Gil Kane or Don Heck and Paul Reinman anthology tales sharing the pages.

As a kid, I couldn’t explain just why Kirby’s work appealed to me; in fact, I probably still can’t put it into meaningful and understandable passages what Kirby’s appeal is. It’s not quantifiable, or logical, it is a palpable feeling, purely emotional. It’s magic!

Jump a generation, and I got my first computer. One of the first things I googled (or yahoood) was Jack Kirby. And much to my surprise, there were endless sites spotlighting Jack Kirby. I wasn’t alone as a child in my feelings for Kirby, his appeal I found was world wide.

What I couldn’t find was a satisfactory biography. Everything out there was full of clear misstatements and untruths, false anecdotes and tall tales. I guess it was easier to repeat the same mistakes than to do some actual research and tell the truth. Recently a couple of better bios were published, first Tales to Astonish by Ronin Ro, and then Mark Evanier’s Kirby-King of Comics, I found both to be well done, but ultimately unsatisfactory. Ro’s tome simply repeats the earlier anecdotes of Jack’s life, often repeating word for word mistaken bits from earlier bios. Evanier’s book is great for Jack’s life after 1970 or so, but the early years suffer from a lack of real scholarship. This is understandable since Mark was a part of Kirby’s life from 1970 on.

Another problem is that both books lacked context. Jack Kirby was a man of his time, his actions were often based on or responding to events in the real world, and his career was directed by events in the comic industry not of his making, but unavoidable all the same.

So I was prodded by others tired of my taking shots at the printed bios and decided to write my own tale of Kirby. By nature I am a researcher, I take nothing at face value and dig until I have found what I think is the truth, or at least the kernel of truth. Quotes are of limited use to me as I find them vague, self-serving and often factually incorrect. But in telling Kirby’s story it is impossible not to rely on quotes from his family, friends, and colleagues- simply because Jack was not all that forthcoming and reliable as to his past. He was hardwired for looking forward, not backward. Jack was a storyteller, not a historian. He embellished his tales to the point of their being nothing but a core factual event existing in a cocoon of wonder and bedazzlement. Unweaving a cocoon takes patience, diligence, and often luck. My extensive use of quotes is more to offer a setting, or a proper background; to strike the right mood and set an atmosphere to round out the cold hard facts that I am presenting. Jack had a silly, absent minded quality that is very hard to show except thru excerpts, and anecdotal evidence. It was a most human quality and important to see if you want the real Jack Kirby. So please don’t take my presented quotes as fact, just as part of the veneer of a life.

Another problem with a bio on Kirby is that for the most part, Kirby did not lead an exciting adventurous life. He sat in a chair for 15 hours a day. There is actually very little drama and crisis to draw the reader in. Jack’s life was a simple story of someone working hard and following the rules. Yet there are events that tore at Kirby’s soul and I try not to downplay or overstate them. It’s hard to tell a “warts and all” bio when there are very few warts to be found, but where they were I hopefully looked at them fair and balanced. There are surprisingly few villains in this piece; certainly Stan Lee takes his fair share of hits, but not in a personal way, more as the human face of an industry that never treated its artists in a humane fashion. Stan Lee is not an ogre; Kirby saved that kind of vitriol for just one person- Adolph Hitler. As I said, Kirby was a man of his time. In today’s parlance, Kirby was not a h8ter.


Stan Taylor

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