Aaron Noble’s written an interesting article here:
First published in 1971’s Comic & Crypt No. 5, this interview is presented here through the courtesy of Manny “Lunch” Maris – Rand
This interview was conducted on January 31st, 1971, in the offices of National Periodical Publications. We were fortunate in getting this interview which might never have taken place without the help of Emanuel Maris, John Shike, and Marc Bilgrey. Thanks very much.
The interview is more of a casual discussion, which is exactly what took place; just the four of us sitting in Carmine’s office talking with him and Jack Kirby. – Mark Sigal
Comic&Crypt: How did you both get your start in comics?
Carmine Infantino: I got into comics the same way Jack did; we were kids of the depression. Now you gentlemen don’t know the depression, or what it was about. It was a period when you starved; your family starved. There wasn’t enough food to go around. This was an outlet for us, a field open to us, and like those who went into prizefighting, we went into comics .
Jack Kirby: I feel the minority people had a lot of drive and went to entertainment or anywhere energy was involved.
C&C: Who did you start off with first?
Infantino: We both started off with Harry Chellan (Chesler – Rand) many years ago. He was a packager – used to package comics, and he used to cheat you like crazy. You were lucky to get paid at the end of the week. It was more fortunate then, as there was time to begin. Now you either have it or you don’t. But then there were always little outfits where you could begin, learn, and grow.
Kirby: Back then I worked for FAMOUS FUNNIES and I did cowboy stories for one of my earlier jobs. I also was with-
Infantino: Yeah! He started that way, and you got nothing for it, but you didn’t care. It was a chance to work, a chance to draw, and that’s all we cared about.
C&C: Were you in a group of independent artists who sold their stories to the publishers?
Infantino: No, I worked for Harry for a while; then I went to QUALITY erasing pages and doing backgrounds. Those were the days of Lou Fine and Reed Crandall on BLACKHAWK, and the genius Jack Cole started on PLASTIC MAN. I used to erase pages all summer just to get a break to start, and that was the beginning.
C&C: You seem to be best known for STRANGE and the FLASH. Which did you enjoy the most?
Infantino: To tell the truth, I did not like doing wssterns, or, strangely enough, the FLASH. As for STRANGE, I enjoyed him at first, but I really liked the ELONGATED NAN. I’m sure this goes for you too Jack; the ones you’re beet known for aren’t the ones you like best.
Kirby: The ones I began weren’t the well-known ones. I began MANHUNTER and MR. SCARLET, which just faded out. Every strip I did was a challenge, as I’m sure it was to Carmine, but I fell what Carmine is trying to say, is that he especially liked one thing but we couldn’t always do that. We did what they gave us to do.
Infantino: I could never do a sci-fi story the way he could.
C&C: But your speed concepts and futuristic cities were amazing.
Infantino: Did you see the ones he did?
C&C: But you’re two different types of artists. You can’t-
Infantino: This isn’t what I’m trying to say. This is not what I enjoyed the most. I enjoyed the ELONGATED MAN because of the satire in there. Well, let me say something. Back in the early days there was quite a lot wrong with my drawing and every once in a while I would go up to this fellow in the city. We’d talk and he’d help me. But the most important thing he helped me do was think, and I feel his was one of the best around. When I went up there, he used to stop his work and look at my stuff and give me suggestions. That person was Jack.
Kirby: Well I’m not going to take credit for that. Carmine was and is a fine artist, but back then Joe Simon and I used to have an apartment up there. All the guys got together and I think we helped each other actually. That was the main purpose back then as none of us had a school; we became each others’ school. There were things that Carmine knew that I didn’t. It was an exchange and that’s basically how artist’s learned back then. We took standards from each other.
C&C: Just what was your relationship with Joe Simon? How did it start?
Kirby: It started the same way all things did in the industry. Some guys gravitated to each other and Joe Simon and I met, liked each other, and decided to work together.
C&C: In a lot of your books, you started the sort of panel within a narrative. How did you get the idea for that?
Infantino: The reason that was done was because we wanted to get as much motion as possible going, so that when you put that little box in with the silhouette of the batter pulling his bat back; in the next panel you had the follow-through which kept ths flow of motion.
C&C: But how did you get the idea? was it a brainstorm of yours or what?
Infantino: Well, Julie Schwartz, the editor at the time, told me to go home and make this book look different.
C&C: Did you enjoy doing that particular series?
Infantino: Yes I did. Maybe it was the sports angle to it. I could design stadiums and futuristic basketball arenas, and the story line made you think. Every book was a challenge.
Kirby: I think you hit on the right gimmick. I feel that sports books are the toughest books to do. To do it in the first place is a challenge. To do it effectively was an achievement of some kind. I never had the opportunity to do it but I still feel that it would be a challenge.
Infantino: I must have pencilled a page a day on that stuff. That’s how rough it was because you had to make sure the action followed through. If you didn’t, the thing didn’t work. It looked terrible. The bat was back and on the next panel, the ball connected. Then the ball moved out. The thing I enjoyed most was when somebody said I want it different.
C&C: We’ve noticed that some comics are featuring covers by you. Do you ever feel like getting back to the drawing board?
Infantino: Jack, do you want to answer that for me?
Kirby: Well, I feel essentially Carmine will always have the urge as anyone involved in a creative activity does. I think it’s a matter of circumstances and if Carmine had the opportunity and the time…
C&C: What led you into becoming Editorial Director?
Infantino: An accident. I was drawing here. I think I was drawing the BATMAN and DEADMAN. It was during that story that the second guy at MARVEL was slaughtering NATIONAL. I think his name was Kirby or something, and the gentleman who happened to be in charge at the time asked me if I would care to stop in and help re-organize. We discussed it and I finally did. I thought it would be interesting.
C&C: Well you tried the new trend books. They failed but I had them all and I thought they had possibilities, especially BATLASH.
Infantino: In BATLASH what bothered me the most was that I wrote it. I plotted every one of them and Sergio took it from there and wrote them down. Then Denny would dialogue them later.
C&C: When a friend of mine met Mr. Weisinger, he was told by him not to go into comics; that it was a dying field. He told him rather to go into painting, and to get out of comics. (This was about five years ago – MS)
Kirby: You should have told him not I’m to knock anything he hasn’t tried.
C&C: Was that the type of attitude that was around then?
Infantino: No. I think it was a personal attitude.
C&C: Has the atmosphere changed? Are new ideas welcome?
Kirby: It’s a different company today. If a company feels that there is an essential need somewhere they get the right executive to fill that need. In othsr words, to expedite that need. You use that need to revitalize the company. Comics are in a transition, as far as I see it. I think this is the most interesting time for comics.
C&C: How long have you had the idea for the NEW GODS?
Kirby: Well, I guess for several years it’s probably been in the back of my mind, but I’ve never sat down and worked it out though I’ve always known it’s been there.
C&C: Do FOREVER PEOPLE come from the same place as the NEW GODS?
Kirby: Yes, but they don’t call the things you see the same things that I do. In other words, I would say great or swell, and you guys would say cool. It’s not New Genesis to them, it’s Supertown. That’s how they see it. There is, though, a lot more to it than that and I think you guys are going to find it pretty interesting.
C&C: According to the sales, the superhero book is on the rocks.
Kirby: I pay attention to the sales occasionally only because I plot the books, and sometimes the sales are my only link with the fans. I feel that the superhero surf is going somewhere. What I’m trying to do is follow its exact trail; that’s my job. I want to entertain you guys and find something new for you – if not just for you, for myself – the challenge of my job is to keep me from getting bored. I feel that if I would want to buy my own book, I have met that challenge.
C&C: The themes in NEW GODS and FOREVER PEOPLE are expansions of the old themes from MARVEL. It seems that you had more ideas, but they wouldn’t let you continue with them.
Kirby: That’s more or less true. It’s not that I was cramped, but there were limitations which stopped me from going on. Over here I have the chance to go beyond them; I feel. that whatever story there is to this “gods” business, the “new” Gods or the “old” Gods, I feel. that there is a story to them. I feel that there was an actual replacement of the “old” Gods by new ones which are relevant to what we see and hear. In other words, Thor may have been great in medieval times, but I feel, somehow, that we have transcended. Once it had a certain glamour, but now we need a new kind of glamour. Not that it isn’t fantastic, but we don’t see it in the same light anymore. I think we see things differently, the same things with an altered interpretation. You know what Thor looked like, what Mercury looked like, what Zeus looked like, and all the rest of them. It’s like everything that’s done and seen. What I’m trying to do is show the things that haven’t been done or seen.
Kirby: We have our “new” GOD today – technology. A new way at looking at things that I have got to represent. How do I represent that new technology? I’ve got Metron. How do I represent the kind of feelings we have today? Maybe some of us are analyzing ourselves, trying to find out why we’re a violent society and how we could be nonviolent, so we all become Orion. Why do these feelings live like that inside of us? Not only do we associate ourselves with them, but these are conflicts. But why do we have conflicts like that inside of us? So we try to analyze it, just like Orion does. That’s what the GODS are. They are just representations of ourselves. At that time, you take a crummy Viking, remove the glamour, and what the heck was he? Some poor guy in bear skins, who never took a bath. He had a beard with lice in it and he says: “Look at me, I’m a really cruddy object.” And I felt the same way. The GI’s feel the same way sometimes when they’re sitting in some hole but suddenly he says: “What the heck am I doing? What am I a symbol of?” And then he begins to idealize the version of all the bravery that goes into the fight. Maybe he begins to see himself as Thor and his captain as Odin. Then he sees what he’s fighting for. He sees why he’s in that hole, why he’s in the dirt, why he’s dressed in that stupid uniform. It’s not only functional – it’s symbolic of what he is; he comes into a whole new world and he feels pretty good about it. That’s what it’s all about. To make everything we see and know around and in us, and give it some meaning.
Kirby: And the GODS are nothing more than that. They are making us see some value in us and we have we have that value. So in order to express that value, we make “new” GODS. We can’t be Thor. We can’t be Odin, anymore. We’re not a bunch of guys running around in bear skins; we’re guys that wear spacesuits and surgeon’s masks. A surgeon is godlike because he handles life and death. If you want to idealize him that’s the way to do it. A nuclear physicist is Metron. A mathematician is Metron. A guy who works a projection booth in a theater is Metron. He’s involved in technology. We’re trying to know everything and we’ve got the equipment to do it. That’s where Metron’s chair comes in. It’s one of our gadgets. That damn chair can do anything!
C&C: There is so much meaning in the strip. I read it and I enjoyed it but I couldn’t place all these things into it, but it’s there.
Kirby: It’s there because I’m trying to interpret us. Nothing more than that. I’m trying to interpret what we’re in. What kind of times we live in. And we should have these versions. I can see this guy in a spacesuit. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to go to Mars. Maybe in ’75. Because we can do it. The materials are there. They’ll be common. And to put it all in one word that’s Metron. And New Genesis. You name it. That’s New York or Chicago; just an idealized version of that. It’s the city.
C&C: Did you ever mention this to MARVEL?
Kirby: No. I was involved in what I was doing there and I feel that this would never have fit into what they were doing. This is a whole new interpretation and it cannot be told with shields and swords; it must be done with what we know and deal with what we worry about.
C&C: So was THOR; when it came out as a mythology in the olden times it was relevant and real to the people then, because people were using the same things: swords, shields, etc.
Kirby: Yes, THOR was very real to the guy in the middle ages and not only that if you think about it; THOR was a religion as well. THOR is not a comic book story – Norse mythology was a religion, just as Greek mythology was. I was being superficial when I did THOR and if I showed it to a guy who was really involved with it he would tell me it wasn’t good enough.
Kirby: Suppose I was to make an interpretation of things you really believed in. It would be weak because those things are on such a grandiose scale, I can’t draw them.
C&C: Who would you classify as your favorite artist?
Kirby: Well, I like them all, especially if they have their own distinct style. Neal Adams is one, Steve Ditko is another.
C&C: And your favorite comic work being done now?
Kirby: I like anything that is trying to do something different. Anything that tries to put new life into the strip, or upgrade the medium is doing a good job.
C&C: Who thought of the Black & White books?
Kirby: I don’t know how these things start. They start with everybody. It might have been in your mind, too!
Infantino: No. It was in yours. It is a completely new approach to the visual medium. It will be composed of photographs, drawings, and writing. It’s very different.
C&C: Isn’t it something like Gil Kane’s BLACK MARK book?
Infantino: Nothing like that at all! This will be large-sized book – with black and white material.
C&C: How big are you going on this? About 150,000?
Infantino: No. Much more,
C&C: That is what happened to SAVAGE TALES. They only printed 150,000 had they were hard to get. Neal Adams told me that MARVEL dished out quite a bit of money because they were trying for a quality effect. They spent $6,000 instead of the usual $3,000. I don’t know if it’s true or not.
Infantino: I’m going to tell you to look at Jack’s books and make up your own mind.
C&C: With the BLACK & WHITE books, are you trying for an adult market?
Kirby: I am trying for a universal market. It’s going to be rational for the adults and exciting for the kids. In other words, if an adult picks it up and he analyzes it as an adult should, he might find it interesting whereas the kids will have the costumes, the action, the strange atmosphere which I think every strip needs. Fantasy is interesting because it is a projection, an idealized version of everything we see and hear. I think that is what makes it interesting. For instance, if you see a tank I’ve drawn, or a car, it could never work, but it’s an interesting looking object. If you want to analyze my machines, they may be nothing more than a fantastic typewriter or a pencil sharpener.
Infantino: This is the beginning for comics. Only comics not as you know them. This is a whole new world; that’s why I’m here. That’s why Jack is here. On June 15th, the first book we were talking about comes out. July 15, the second will be coming out. We’re doing our own thing. Jack wouldn’t be here if we were doing what everyone else is doing.
C&C: Some comics, like SUPERBOY don’t have the same flexibility, or even attempt it. As long as they sell.
Kirby: They are not made for a universal market. They are not aiming for my market.
Infantino: First of all, the SUPERBOY and LOIS LANE books. LOIS LANE is made for the “girl” market. SUPERBOY is the same thing. It’s at another level, though. You don’t mesa around with a book like SUPERBOY, which is selling over 500,000. That’s not saying what will do tomorrow. I don’t know. Jack will develop his own line of books. It will have Jack’s stamp. We have some other stamps. You’ll buy these or you won’t. But to turn out one stamp in a company I can’t feel is very good.
C&C: Did you like Gray Morrow on EL DIABLO?
Infantino: No, I did not like his artwork. I told him I didn’t. That does not mean that Gray is not a talented man. I thought that Gray should be on other things that he could do well.
C&C: What did you think of his work on WITCHING HOUR?
Infantino: Beautiful. That’s Gray’s field.
C&C: Are you considering making the new books monthly?
Infantino: I don’t know. If Jack’s books turn monthly, can Jack do all of the work by himself? I’m not going to ruin him. I’m not going to spread this guy so far that it’ll destroy him. And I won’t let anybody else do his characters. Nobody touches his characters! He knows what he’s doing with them.
Kirby: SILVER SURFER was taken out of my hands. I originated it because I had a reason for the SILVER SURFER. Nobody else had a reason for him; I knew the SILVER SURFER. Nobody else did.
Infantino: Jimmy Steranko was offered the FANTASTIC FOUR but he turned it down. He said he wouldn’t presume to follow Kirby.
C&C: Let’s say in ten years from now the same thing happens at NATIONAL that happened at MARVEL, where your books are selling very well and all of a sudden Jack Kirby says he wants to retire.
Infantino: Then I wouldn’t presume to do those books, because nobody could do them as well.
C&C: You’d drop them?
Infantino: Yes. Wouldn’t it be better for us to drop them then for the books to die themselves?
C&C: How could somebody like MARVEL drop the FANTASTIC FOUR?
Infantino: It’s going to die anyway.
C&C: I know.
Infantino: Would you rather die at your zenith or at your low end? Fir>st of all, he’s not going to retire in ten years anyway; I wouldn’t let him.
Kirby: Second of all, I think that even if I did retire, the comics would continue with the same feeling.
Infantino: He is planning to develop people for these books in case the need comes. He wants people developed to follow his thinking.
C&C: Who got the idea for the Neal Adams GREEN LANTERN book? The sales are dropping. I know they went up and now they’re dropping a little bit. I don’t know how true it is.
Infantino: Who said that?
C&C: Neal Adams. I heard that you are keeping it for prestige. I’d like to know how it got started.
Infantino: The GREEN LANTERN was ready to be turned out when we were told to drop it. Even though I wanted a few more issues. I said to Julie: “There’s something you wanted to try.” I want this book as different as you could possibly make it. We sat down with Denny and came out with it. The book was slowly rising. It went real high at one point. Then it sagged off again. If this book can give to us the public relations, if it can take this business and give us the solid citizen reputation it should have not been considered junk, as it used to be. It will be worth everything we are putting into it.
C&C: Now about your latest race between Superman and the Flash. In all your comics, the final page is the one that decides whom is the fastest. Now I’m not really interested in who is faster. But why did you cop out again in the ending? I bought both issues and after reading the second book I ripped it up.
C&C: Because I found Flash and Superman crawling with both their legs broken, and yet Flash crawled faster than Superman, and pulled the lever that saved the universe. Which proved that Flash can crawl faster than Superman. Why the cop out?
Infantino: Wait. Let me tell you something. Let’s be very realistic. Superman is the ultimate of everything. Now ask yourselves, logically, who could win? Well that’s just it. We don’t know Superman’s limits. He just never’ gets tired. By the way, I thought it was a cute ending: these two guys are so beaten up, yet the race was the important thing, and the Flash did win. There’a no doubt about it.
C&C: On the cover you stated in one blurb this time there had to be a winner.
Infantino: But there was a winner, wasn’t there? I thought this one was the best of the series and honest. Now maybe I’m wrong. That’s why Jack’s here. Denny, Julie, and him. There are some concepts coming with more edge than SUPERMAN that you won’t believe. We can’t give out the information just yet. It’s going to be a thing he’s always wanted to do in the comic business.
C&C: Well, it’s getting late and we’ve taken up enough of your time, and besides we’ve run out of questions to ask you.
Infantino: It’s been strictly our pleasure.
C&C: Thanks very much to both of you.
Due to the fact that this interview was conducted over six months ago, some of the material has become dated, but was still included because we felt that it reflected Jack Kirby’s and Carmine Infantino’s opinions and would prove interesting to the fans.
The Kirby Museum was proud to have received some photos from then-Trustee Lisa Kirby of the 1976 backstage meeting of Paul McCartney and Jack Kirby.
Unfortunately, there are some that believe that McCartney hired Kirby to produce the artwork that appeared on stage during the performance of “Magneto & Titanium Man” during that tour.
This is the same artwork that was used as a record sleeve:
I found the sources for this image:
So, there you have it. The source images are, from left to right, by George Tuska & Mike Esposito from Iron Man 22 (February 1970, on sale December 1969) , George Tuska & John Tartaglione from X-Men 91 (December 1974, on sale October 1974) and Sal Buscema & Joe Staton from Avengers 130 (December 1974, on sale October 1974).
Any of these three comics may very well have been some of those that kept McCartney “from going bonkers” by “keeping their kids entertained”1 in Jamaica while he was writing, as McCartney described the genesis of the song. The “Venus and Mars” album on which the song appears was recorded November 1974 – March 19752. Or the comics just may have been those available to the artist who pulled the backdrop together.
In late September 2012, Luca Dolcini sent the Kirby Museum an e-mail query regarding a 25-page Kirby western story he found in an Italian comicbook called “La Legge Del West.” Luca and his fellows on the Blue-Area of the Moon Marvel Continuity Resource could not find an original American printing. Sending along some snapshots of the pages, “Partitia Finale A Snake River!” looked like Kirby’s work, but the job number O-253 in the first panel, while matching the style of Goodman/Lee/Atlas’ numbering, was unknown to both Greg Gatlin’s AtlasTales.com and the Grand Comics Database’s Comics.org. GCD lists O-254 on a story with a publication date of August 1958. Luca mentioned that the main character was the “Silver Kid”, but none of the Silver Kid comics on Comics.org provided any obvious linkage to this story. Was it an unused “Black Rider” story?
Responding to my query on the Timely-Atlas discussion group, Michael Vassallo identified George Klein as the inker since the telltale Klein corona is evident in some backgrounds. Michael also pointed out that according to its US publication history, the Goodman/Lee office did not publish any stories 25 pages long until 1961’s Fantastic Four #1 (which some index as two stories of 13 and 12 pages). It’s interesting that Klein is attached to both of these stories.
After a while, Luca found an Australian version of the non-Kirby cover with the title “Showdown At Snake River!” in James Zanotto’s AusReprints.com database. Kevin Patrick of the blog Comics Down Under, responded to a query that, as luck would have it, the Rare Books Collection at Monash University Library in Melbourne, Australia, where he studies, had a copy of Horwitz Publications’ “Showdown At Snake River!” and sent scans.
The story, a perfectly good one, doesn’t contain any splash pages. The title is only in the top third tier of the first page, and there aren’t any chapters. Could “Showdown…” have been produced for the foreign market? Considering the relatively recent discovery of Kirby’s ghost work on the Davy Crockett, Frontiersman daily strip being printed in comic book form in the UK and France, the story’s lack of splashes and—other than the title tier—all pages having only six panels, could it be a re-worked comic strip? Kirby Collector editor/publisher (and Kirby Museum Trustee) John Morrow pointed out that some of the panel sizes are irregular—which is not something that Kirby would do in that era—so perhaps some cutting and pasting was done.
In his last e-mail, Luca wrote that “La Legge Del West” was published in July 1959. He also found the story printed in strip form, with two panels per page, published in 1962 in Collana della Prateria #6—Pericolo!. There was a second “La Legge Del West” comicbook with the same cover artwork, only this time including the signature of John Severin, published in the early 1970s, but it did not contain “Partita…” If anyone can date the Horwitz “Showdown…”, or find the origin of the Severin cover art, or have any other information to share regarding this fascinating discovery, please post here, or contact me at the Kirby Museum.
Just thought I’d take the opportunity to post some bibliographic information about the Lord of Light, Science Fiction Land and Argo projects that have been getting some recent notice as the movie Argo is being released.
The documentary “Science Fiction Land” is also getting some notice. Be sure to stop by the website.
Below I’m including only items concerned with the secret CIA mission. There were also pieces of note in Jim Steranko’s Mediascene and John Morrows’ Jack Kirby Collector about Kirby’s work for Barry Geller. I may include them in the future.
“CIA 50 Trailblazers” – broadcast on CBS Evening News, 1997.
“Correcting History: The CIA’s Rescue In Iran In A Bold 1980 Masquerade To Flee Iran, Diplomats Posed As A Canadian Film Crew” by Michael E. Ruane – published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 September 1997
“A Classic Case of Deception: CIA Goes Hollywood” by Antonio J. Mendez – published in Studies In Intelligence, Winter 1999-2000
“The Little Grey Man” by Errol Morris – broadcast on Errol Morris’ First Person, 4 May 2000
“C.I.A. Secrets: Escape From Terror” – broadcast on Discovery Channel, 20 May 2001
“Kirby, the CIA and the Lord of Light and Eyewash: About Argo” by James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook – published in Comic Art Forum, Winter 2003. (Romberger notes that the article was written in 2002)
“How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran” by Joshuah Bearman – published in Wired Magazine, 24 April 2007
“I went to Pratt a week. I wasn’t the kind of student that Pratt was looking for. They wanted patient people who would work on something forever. I didn’t want to work on any project forever. I intended to get things done. I did the best drawing I could, and it was very adequate — it had viability, it had flexibility. The people in the art class kind of sympathized with me, and yet they couldn’t abandon their own outlook toward art.”—Jack Kirby1
What Kirby is describing of his early experience here is a clear example of divergent thinking, one of the hallmarks of the creative genius personality (but more on that in a bit). Brent Staples, in an article titled “Jack Kirby, a Comic Book Genius, Is Finally Remembered” published in The New York Times on August 26, 2007 wrote “Mr. Kirby did a lot more than just draw. As the critic Gary Groth so ably put it in The Comics Journal Library, “He barreled like a freight train through the first 50 years of comic books like he owned the place.” He mastered and transformed all the genres, including romance, Westerns, science fiction and supernatural comics, before he landed at Marvel.
He created a new grammar of storytelling and a cinematic style of motion. Once-wooden characters cascaded from one frame to another — or even from page to page — threatening to fall right out of the book into the reader’s lap. The force of punches thrown was visibly and explosively evident. Even at rest, a Kirby character pulsed with tension and energy in a way that makes movie versions of the same characters seem static by comparison.
For the record I believe ‘genius’ is one of the most overused and therefore devalued words in the English language. Just Google “The Genius of…” and add any name that comes to mind and you’ll see what I mean. Kim Kardashian? The Situation? (life & style; and comedy; respectively). Perhaps this has the makings of a new parlor game.
While most agree that Albert Einstein fits the general conception of genius, when it comes to the creative arts there is no clear delineation. In the end it comes down to the definition of the word, which itself isn’t clear. One would think anyone with an IQ of over 160 would qualify for something other than Mensa membership, but that isn’t necessarily so. In fact, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition doesn’t even mention a specific IQ score.
Definition of GENIUS
- a plural genii : an attendant spirit of a person or place
b plural usually genii : a person who influences another for good or bad
- a strong leaning or inclination : penchant
- a : a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit
b : the associations and traditions of a place
c : a personification or embodiment especially of a quality or condition
- plural usually genii : spirit, jinni
- plural usually geniuses
a : a single strongly marked capacity or aptitude <had a genius for getting along with boys — Mary Ross>
b : extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity
c : a person endowed with transcendent mental superiority; especially : a person with a very high IQ.
And from the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia:
“Genius: Person of extraordinary intellectual power. The genius displays originality, creativity, and the ability to think and work in areas not previously explored. Though geniuses have usually left their unique mark in a particular field, studies have shown that the general intelligence of geniuses is also exceptionally high. Genius appears to be a function of both hereditary and environmental factors. See also gifted child.”
Our contemporary concept of genius comes mainly from the writings of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in his The Critique of Judgment (1790) during the Age of Enlightenment. Genius, Kant wrote, is “the exemplary originality of the natural endowments of an individual in the free employment of his cognitive faculties.”2
Still, the problem is, even the definition of “creative” is hard to quantify. It is that very individuality that helps us define genius, for it can thereafter be imitated.
“Before creativity, the psychoanalyst must lay down his arms.”— Sigmund Freud
During the mid- 20th century, psychologists began studying creativity for the first time.3 And not surprisingly, this research yielded little concrete evidence of a strict definition of what it means to be creative or how creative personalities are formed. To be a creative person you had either a strict or liberal upbringing, did well or poorly in school, had lots of friends or none.
However, some major personality traits were established for what defines a creative type.4 The key idea in the psychologist’s conception of creativity has been divergent thinking. By standard measures intelligent people are thought of as convergers, people who given a puzzle can figure it out. In contrast, creative people come up with many different associations, some of which are idiosyncratic and possibly unique.5
A representative study conducted by the Berkeley Institute of Personality Assessment did yield some conclusions: “Creative architects” as distinguished from their less creative peers, exhibited a greater incidence of such personality traits as independence, self-confidence, unconventionality, alertness, ready access to unconscious processes, ambition, and commitment to work.
This willingness to experiment arises from a temperament that’s seeks arousal, from sheer pleasure in working with the medium, from a confidence in one’s own emerging powers, and from the relationship between the ease in own artistic medium and difficulties with standard scholastic practices. If one cannot succeed where they are supposed to, one may combat personal frustrations by blazing a trail in one’s area of strength.
Another study6 has shown that creative solutions to problems occur more often when individuals engage in an activity for its sheer pleasure than when they do so for possible external rewards. Indeed, knowledge that one will be judged on some criterion of “creativity” or “originality” tends to narrow the scope of what one can produce (leading to end products that are conventional). In contrast, the absence of an evaluation seemed to liberate creativity. In other words, you can excel where you have the freedom to.7
It has also been suggested that the most highly esteemed creators not only are more productive in general, but that they produce more “bad” works that have been long ignored as well as more “good” works that are esteemed by posterity.8
The quality of the early years is crucial. If, in early life, children have the opportunity to discover much about their world and to do so in a comfortable, exploring way, they will accumulate invaluable capital of creativity on which they can draw in later life. If, on the other hand, children are restrained from such discovering activities, pushed in only one direction, or burdened with the view that there is only one direction, or one correct answer or correct answers that must be meted out only by those in authority, then the chances that they will ever become creative adults are significantly reduced.
For every one child who decomposes music there are dozens who simply play as they are taught. Young musical performers, for example, often reveal their gift for composing by a constant effort to “rewrite a piece.” Often this adventurousness is interpreted as insubordination. There are individuals who overcome the intervention of authority to go on to become creative in spite of restrictions.
“Hell, there are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.”
However, if one combines the definition of creative as a “divergent” thinking, someone who comes up with “idiosyncratic” solutions and combine that with the definition of genius, “a single strongly marked capacity or aptitude” and “displays originality, creativity, and the ability to think and work in areas not previously explored” I think one has a conclusion as to what comprises a “creative genius.”
According to The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979):
“Genius: The highest level of manifestation of man’s creative forces. The term “genius” is used both to indicate a man’s creative ability and to evaluate the results of his activities. Assuming an innate capability to productive endeavors in some field, genius, as opposed to talent, not only represents the highest degree of giftedness but also is connected with the creation of qualitatively new works and with the discovery of previously unknown creative methods. The activities of genius are achieved in a definite historical context of life in human society, on which genius draws for its creativity.”
I think key here is the notion that creative genius us beyond mere talent, or hard work. They go on to say, “Historical concepts of the nature of genius and its evaluation are related to a general understanding of the creative process. The ancients (Plato and, later, Neoplatonists) viewed genius as a type of irrational, “divine inspiration.” With the Renaissance (Leonardo da Vinci, G. Vasari, J. Scaliger) came the cult of genius as creative individuality, which reached its apogee in the romantic period, as exemplified by the preromantic Sturm und Drang in Germany, romanticism, and the theories, evolved from romanticism and characterized by the opposition of genius and the masses, of T. Carlyle and F. Nietzsche. The concept of genius in the contemporary meaning of the word developed in the 18th century. It became a fundamental aesthetic concept in A. Shaftesbury’s system: genius creates in a like manner to the forces of nature; its creations are original, in contrast to imitative artists. I. Kant also emphasized the originality and naturalness of creative genius: genius is the “natural endowment of the soul …. through which nature gives order to art” (Soch., vol. 5, Moscow, 1966, p. 323). F. Schiller described the nature of genius through the concept of naïveté as the instinctive following of artless nature and the ability to grasp the world spontaneously.”
Therefore, if one were to define genius as someone who diverged from a known path and transformed his or her field of expertise in the 20th century, my list would include, in no particular order:
- Pablo Picasso (art)
- Martha Graham (dance)
- Louis Armstrong (jazz)
- Lucien Bernhard (graphic design)
- Woody Guthrie (folk music)
- Orson Welles (film)
- James Joyce (writing)
- Bob Dylan (popular song)
- Albert Einstein (science)
- Jack Kirby (comics)
If a chart would be created of what came before and after, each would qualify. While we have no way of knowing how Jack Kirby would have scored on an IQ test, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is he transformed his field from the moment he entered it, and unlike many other accepted geniuses, continued to do so for the next 35 years. Consider that Einstein’s breakthroughs occurred when he was still in his 20s.
What I am submitting is that Kirby was a creative genius, one that changed the way comic storytelling was approached going forward.
The closest comparison I can draw is that of Louis Armstrong. While Armstrong did not create jazz, he was there as it emerged. Whilst he recorded in tandem with others throughout his career (King Oliver, Ella Fitzgerald, Jack Teagarden, et al) his singularity always shown, and he managed to influence jazz and popular music for every decade from the ’20s till the ’60s.
Likewise Kirby influenced comics from the moment he hit the ground running and continued to do so for the next four decades. Beginning in early 1941 with Captain America, less than three short years after Superman landed on earth from Krypton, Cap wasn’t the first patriotic costumed hero (that honor belonged to The Shield), nor the first to rely less on superpowers than physical prowess (that would be Batman). Rather it was the dynamism of his advanced storytelling and page design that changed the way comic book stories were told. To continue the Louis Armstrong analogy, Captain America was Kirby’s “Hot Five” and “Hot Seven.”
As Gerard Jones describes in Men of Tomorrow, “What Kirby brought to comics was an opera of line and mass. The stories didn’t matter, so much drama did his anger bring to the figures bursting out of the panels, the bodies hurtling through space as fists and feet drove into them, the faces contort in passion, the camera angles swinging wildly and the panels stretched and bent by the needs of action. His hero’s anatomy made no sense. Kirby had never been able to afford life-drawing lessons; he was making it up. But Captain America came to such life and moved so forcefully through a time and space that existed only because Kirby said they did that he became more real than the carefully drawn heroes of the art school graduates. Kirby celebrated the body, the male body, male sweat and muscles, not with the fetishism of bodybuilding but with savage joy. And countless boys at the brink of puberty loved him for it. Within two issues Captain America was selling a million copies a month. Suddenly every young artist was drawing action like Jack Kirby.”9
However, Kirby’s growing confidence went far beyond his drawing abilities, and in fact the stories did matter. His main interest was in telling stories, and he frequently wrote and plotted the tales he drew. Ever the divergent thinker, even when given a script, according to former assistant and biographer Mark Evanier, Kirby (and partner Joe Simon) would make paper airplanes out of them. “They tried for a while to control us, but we knew how to do comics. Finally they let us do whatever we wanted,” recalled Kirby.10
Soon after Kirby and Simon introduced the kid gang to comics, early in 1942, with The Boy Commandos and The Newsboy Legion, brought over from such popular films such as “Dead End” and Kirby’s own rough and tumble experience growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, leading the way for Charles Biro and others to follow. The kid gang would cross genres at Kirby’s hand in the early 50s with the Western Boys’ Ranch. Western comics are a comic category Kirby did not create, along with the Crime comic (that credit goes to Biro), still his influence was felt on such titles as Bulls Eye, Black Rider, Gunsmoke Western, Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid and Justice Traps the Guilty, Headline and Police Trap, respectively. Indeed, Kirby often cited his favorite story as “Mother Delilah,” in issue number 3 of Boys’ Ranch. Remarkably it manages to cross no less than three genres, the Western and kid gang with the raw emotion and pathos of a Romance comic.
According to Simon and Kirby Studio historian Harry Mendryk, Kirby’s greatest output between 1947 and 1959 was in Romance comics, another genre the team created.
In his Eisner winning 2011 book, Hand of Fire: The Comic Art of Jack Kirby, Charles Hatfield states that Romance comics “…shaped the celebrated superhero narratives that followed, with their emphasis on love, loss and anguish. Kirby never abandoned a genre, but rather reworked earlier genre conventions in new forms, splicing and adapting.”11
This dramatic breakthrough would become an intrinsic ingredient at Marvel in the early ’60s. According to Hatfield, “It was under Kirby, though, that Marvel decisively latched onto the idea of unresolved, never-ending conflict between superpowered opposites, and revealingly, Kirby’s subsequent work often explores this kind of dualistic premise in distilled or exaggerated form. This sort of mirroring obviously appealed to him, as both a storyteller and a designer of characters.
The X-Men series, launched in 1963, is the keystone example. It introduced the germ of the idea that was to emerge full blown in may of Kirby’s later creations: that of superhuman heroes and villains springing from a common origin, vying with each other like rival gods in some epically dysfunctional family. Humankind, of course, was caught in the middle.”12 As Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon noted, “I don’t think it’s any accident that… the entire Marvel universe and the entire DC universe are all pinned or rooted on Kirby’s concepts.”
It was not Kirby who introduced mythological or cosmic elements to comics, rather it was the grand scale and sweep of these elements that resonated throughout the industry, beginning at Marvel and exploding the following decade in his Fourth World magnum opus.
Once at DC, on titles such as The New Gods, The Forever People, Mr. Miracle, The Demon, The Losers and others, Kirby brought a synchronicity to the art and storytelling that few in the industry have achieved, while still working in a highly commercial venue. Artist James Romberger observes, “I do tend to value Kirby’s picture-making skills the highest on the genius scale, I guess….that he is able to do those huge spreads with multiple figures in deep space, all with astounding weight and presence and even more, of tremendous impact, of movement within that space. No other cartoonist has this level of skill and vision. Then I rate his writing and art in tandem from the best of his 4th World books at his peak and there simply is no parallel for how deep and humane and resonant these works are…”
One example of divergent thinking is Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth. Reportedly suggested by publisher Carmine Infantino as a Planet of the Apes knockoff, Kirby riffed on the theme in such inventive ways as to render the source immaterial, as far a field as Charlie Parker’s bebop “Ornithology” is from the jazz standard “How High the Moon,” over which it is written. Kamandi lasted over 40 issues, Kirby’s second longest running title. He returned to Marvel in the mid-seventies and to earlier characters such as Captain America and Black Panther but also explored grander schemes once again in The Eternals and 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on Stanley Kubrick’s seminal film, used as a launching pad for an exploration of the human spirit and follies throughout history and into the future.
In the ‘80s his comic tales took a more personal turn, with Captain Victory and “Street Code”, and while his influence over the comics filed began to wane, Silver Star stands as a coda to an illustrious career, a dark inversion, colored by his World War II experience when compared to that other creative genius’ last hurrah, Satchmo’s “What A Wonderful World.”
Kirby left us in 1994. In the 21st century, with the advent of CGI, his creations have exploded onto the silver screen. Moviegoers who most likely would not recognize his name have spent billions worldwide to watch them in wide screen 3D.
Kirby fits all the definitions of “creative genius:” someone who’s “creations are original,” who had “ability to grasp the world spontaneously,” who “represents the highest degree of giftedness but also is connected with the creation of qualitatively new works and with the discovery of previously unknown creative methods,” someone who’s “originality, creativity, and the ability to think and work in areas not previously explored” and finally as someone who left his unique mark in his particular field, and our culture as well.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”—Albert Einstein
Special thanks to Norris Burroughs, Randolph Hoppe, and James Romberger for their help and guidance.
- Comics Journal Interview #134, with Gary Groth, February 1990.
- The Critique of Judgment by Immanuel Kant, page 181.
- J. P. Guilford, Study of Human Intelligence, According to Guilford’s Structure of Intellect (SI) theory, an individual’s performance on intelligence tests can be traced back to the underlying mental abilities or factors of intelligence. SI theory comprises up to 150 different intellectual abilities organized along three dimensions—Operations, Content, and Products.
- Carl Jung, Psychological Types , 1921.
- Joy Paul Guilford, Study of Human Intelligence.
- American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology, Considering Creativity, Dean Keith Simonton, University of California, Davis, Volume 34, No. 10 November 2003.
- Dr. Teresa Amabile, Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School. Her 30 year research has studied how the work environment can influence creativity and motivation has yielded a theory of creativity and innovation.
- Creating Minds: An Anatomy Of Creativity As Seen Through The Lives Of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, And Gandhi by Howard Gardner, Basic Books, 1994.
- Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones, pages 200-201.
- Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier, page 60.
- Hand of Fire by Charles Hatfield, page 22.
- Hand of Fire, page 130.
Alter Ego, Roy Thomas, editor, Bill Shelly and Jim Amash, co-editors, et al, TwoMorrows, Raleigh, NC.
American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology, Considering Creativity, Volume 34, No. 10 November 2003.
Berkeley Institute of Personality Assessment, http://ipsr.berkeley.edu/about.html
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, http://www.britannica.com
Evanier, Mark, Kirby: King of Comics, Abrams, New York, NY, 2008.
Gagne, Michel, Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics, Fantagraphics, Seattle, WA, 2012.
Gardner, Howard, Creating Minds: An Anatomy Of Creativity As Seen Through The Lives Of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, And Gandhi; Basic Books, New York, 1994.
Great Soviet Encyclopedia, Macmillan, Inc., New York, NY, 1979.
Hatfield, Charles, Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby, University Press of Mississippi, 2011.
Jack Kirby Quarterly, Chrissie Harper, editor, Quality Communications, London, UK.
Jones, Gerard, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Basic Books, New York, 2004.
Jung, Carl, Psychological Types, Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.6, Princeton University Press; Princeton, NJ, 1976
Kant, Immanuel, The Critique of Judgment, Germany, 1790
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, http://www.merriam-webster.com.
Mendryk, Harry, Simon and Kirby (blog), http://kirbymuseum.org/blogs/simonandkirby
Theakston Greg, Comic Strip Kirby; The Complete Jack Kirby, volume 1–5; Jack Kirby Reader, volume 1–2, Pure Imagination, New York.
The Comics Journal, Gary Groth, editor, Kim Thompson, Eric Reynolds, co-editors, et al, Seattle, WA.
The Jack Kirby Collector, John Morrow, editor, TwoMorrows, Raleigh, NC.
Thorpe, Scott, How to Think Like Einstein: Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius; Sourcebooks, Inc, Naperville, IL, 2000.
Wyman, Ray, The Art of Jack Kirby, The Blue Rose Press, Orange, CA 1994.
Steven Brower is an award-winning former Creative Director for Print, a former art director at The New York Times and The Nation, co-author and designer of Woody Guthrie Artworks (Rizzoli, 2005), author of Satchmo: The Wonderful Art and World of Louis Armstrong (Abrams, 2009), and author of two books on Kirby associate Mort Meskin for Fantagraphics. He is on the faculty of Marywood University in Scranton, PA, and The School of Visual Arts in New York City. What an appropriate entry on what would have been Kirby’s 95th birthday! Thanks, Steven. — Rand.
Inspired by Patrick Ford’s comment on today’s “A Failure To Communicate” entry from Mike Gartland, here are three pages with Kirby’s story layouts and notes side-by-side with the printed version. From “If This Be Treason!” (Tales Of Suspense 70, October 1965, Marvel Comics) – Rand
“Story by Stan Lee
Layouts by Jack Kirby
Lettering by S. Rosen
Reintroducing the match-
less artistry of one of
the giants of the great
golden age of comics…
Art by George Tuska”
A Failure To Communicate – Part Six
Thanks to Mike Gartland and John Morrow, The Kirby Effect is offering Mike’s “A Failure To Communicate” series from The Jack Kirby Collector. Captions on the illustrations are written by John Morrow. – Rand
Part Six was first published in TwoMorrows’ August 2000 Jack Kirby Collector 29.
“Less is More.” Never thought about it, really; just another catchy phrase used by advertising people to try and convince you to buy something—that you were getting something special. What could it mean? Well, I guess it could mean something like concentrated fabric softener, or if a seller was trying to convince a buyer that their “new reduced-size” product was just as good as the previous size (except the price remained the same, or was increased, of course). But it wasn’t until I began to research the layout work that Jack Kirby did for Marvel in the Sixties that I realized what it also could mean.
Personnel-wise, Marvel was in a state of flux by the mid-Sixties. Due to the tremendous increase in popularity of the new Marvel line, Stan Lee was in constant search for creative people to help lessen the load; he was also seeking inroads to release new titles while under distribution restrictions. By 1965 books that originally showcased one super-hero found themselves sharing with another; or were dropped totally in favor of a new series. Storylines began to change to a multi-issue, serialistic format. New artists were introduced; some stayed, others didn’t, or stayed but in a different capacity, such as inking, coloring, or production. The artists who were to pencil these books had to be indoctrinated to the “Marvel method” of story production. Due to the pressing deadlines, and foreseeing that some might have problems conforming in so limited a time, Lee decided that the best course to take would be for someone to work with these artists who could help them learn to work “Marvel method.” Well, who better than the one who unknowingly created it, Jack Kirby?
To digress for a moment, it is my opinion that the “Marvel method” was not so much a creation as it was an advantageous development. Lee states in a 1977 interview that it came about in the Sixties, but in a more recent interview with Roy Thomas in Alter Ego, Roy convinces Lee that it must have occurred earlier, during the pre-hero monster era. This makes more sense as it coincides with the return of Kirby to Marvel on a regular basis. In my opinion, once Lee realized that Kirby needed little or no prompting to get a good saleable story out of him, he gave Jack the leeway (no pun intended) to develop characters and concepts that an otherwise full script would have restrained. When Lee also realized that he could adapt that type of collaboration with others, and get better stories from them (and free himself from writing scripts), the “Marvel method” was born.
Chronologically, the precursor of Jack doing layouts might have been as early as 1963. Up until that time, most of the new super-hero line was pure Kirby/Lee, but by the cover date of March 1963, there is only one book, Fantastic Four, with Kirby art produced. On that month, all the other titles drawn by Kirby up until then are handed over to the other resident artists. The Hulk went to Ditko, Strange Tales went to Ayers (which made sense since he was probably even more experienced at drawing Torch stories than Kirby). Journey Into Mystery tried out with Al Hartley (but settled better with Joe Sinnott), and Don Heck jumped in with both feet, premiering his super-hero drawing abilities with Ant-Man in Astonish and a new feature called Iron Man in Suspense (actually, Iron Man was to premiere earlier, but that’s another story). This was the first attempt to have others continue the Kirby/Lee technique, but many of the stories showed the lack of something (or someone). Of course while this was going on, Jack was not idle; he was behind the scenes drawing and developing, in conjunction with Stan, what would become The Avengers, The X-Men, Sgt. Fury, FF Annual #1 and Strange Tales Annual #2. Up front he continued to draw the monthly FF adventures, a Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, or Torch story here and there, and the cover art for almost the complete line.
When Sgt. Fury, The Avengers, and The X-Men premiere, the process begins to repeat itself. Kirby draws approximately the first year of stories and then another artist comes in to continue; but unlike the earlier non-Kirby period, Jack doesn’t leave entirely. We now finally come to 1965; there are more titles to draw than ever before, and unlike two years previous, Stan cannot resort to his resident artists to fill in because they already have their hands full drawing books. Enter the freelancers; some were old friends of Stan from the Timely/Atlas days, some were from competitor companies, some were talented newcomers; but none were experienced at drawing stories “Marvel method.” It is during this time and for this reason that Jack is persuaded to do layouts to help these “new” artists.
Jack is first credited with layouts in Avengers #14 (cover-dated March 1965), but of course this should not infer that Jack didn’t influence plots or artwork for other artists prior to this. There is an excellent article in the Jack Kirby Quarterly by Nigel Kitching which covers Kirby contributing art “help” on stories where his name doesn’t appear, like Avengers #9-13. On copies of the original art to Avengers #14 there is evidence of Jack’s border notes similar to the type we covered on the Journey into Mystery #111 article in TJKC #26, but this particular issue seemed to have many hands in it; Lee, Ivey, Heck, Stone, et. al. Jack also lays out the stories to Avengers #15 and #16, by which time his border notes become much more expansive and descriptive. These three issues appear to be Jack’s “dry run” at leaving pencil and story layouts for other artists to follow.
By May/June 1965 Jack has finished with layouts on The Avengers and with penciling on The X-Men (issue #11 was his last as artist), but he has picked up “The Hulk” in Tales to Astonish (#68). Up until that time, Steve Ditko was drawing and co-plotting the stories. Mark Evanier related to me that it was Ditko who originally pitched the idea of giving The Hulk a series to Lee; perhaps it was Lee who suggested putting The Hulk in the Goblin story in Spider-Man #14 (cover-dated July 1964) that alerted Ditko that the character was being shuffled around looking for a home. Ditko therefore made the suggestion which led to The Hulk series beginning in Astonish #60 (cover-dated October 1964, after Lee and Dick Ayers indoctrinated Astonish readers to The Hulk in Astonish #59). After leaving the Hulk series, the very next month in Spider-Man, Ditko begins receiving a (long-delayed) co-plotting credit (he doesn’t receive co-plotting credit on “Dr. Strange” until two months later); coincidence? Ditko’s problems with Marvel were growing—but back to Jack.
Between June and August 1965, Jack co-plots and draws the Hulk stories for Astonish #68-70 and begins doing layouts—similar to the Avengers stories—for The X-Men; he also adds plot and pencils to help Stan launch the new “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” series in Strange Tales. With The X-Men, Jack leaves layouts and border notes for Alex Toth, in what may have been his “try-out” issue. This is not to say that Toth was new to the field; he was an accomplished draftsman long before this, but working “Marvel method” may not have been his cup of tea. He leaves after only one issue, a shame really. By the way, this particular issue (X-Men #12) is of interest not only for the obvious introduction of The Juggernaut; on the originals Kirby layed-out, The Juggernaut was originally intended to look different, with a flat helmet (à la the Atlas Black Knight), a waist apron similar to Galactus’, and spikes on the breastplate. Obviously someone thought him a little too lethal (or ridiculous) looking and asked for changes. Also it is my opinion that in keeping with the ‘Origin of Professor X’ storyline, Jack intended for Cain Marko (The Juggernaut) to be the cause of Professor X becoming crippled. Although I’ve yet to verify this through the original art, the powerful images on pages 12 and 13 seem to confirm this, and the fact that Jack probably came up with the name Cain Marko (“the mark of Cain”) would fit into the brother vs. brother plot. Stan almost always used alliterative names on characters he was writing. Stan of course would have had to change the “Marko cripples Professor X” plot since he knew he had previously established this in an earlier issue of X-Men (#9) using the villain Lucifer. In reviewing the border notes to the originals from X-Men #9 it is apparent that the crippling of Xavier at Lucifer’s hands was not part of the original plot; there are no border notes by Jack pertaining to the incident, and the notes in the borders by Lee pertaining to it are written over erased Kirby notes. Also there is evidence of Wite-Out correction on word balloons in which the incident is added. So it would seem as though Lee added the crippling plot after the story was handed in, which is why Jack probably didn’t know about it, or remember it if Lee informed him of it; which makes me wonder how much collaboration Kirby and Lee were doing on The X-Men to begin with. (And for those who want to point out that Xavier appears later on walking with Marko in the Korean flashback, you’ll notice by examining the art that there is no evidence that the other soldier was meant to be Xavier in the first place.) Enough with the tangents, back to the story.
It is on the books cover-dated September 1965 that Jack is firmly established as layout artist. Jack begins in tandem plotting and leaving pencil layouts for Strange Tales, Astonish, X-Men, and Suspense (Jack was co-plotting and drawing the Captain America series in Suspense up until that point). He is also co-plotting and doing pencils for Thor and FF, plus cover art for the line. On examples of original art, Jack’s border notes begin to become almost paragraph-length, leaving detailed descriptions and brief dialogue for the resident artist. Jack (and maybe even Stan) wasn’t sure who would be drawing what story at any given month, so these notes were not directed at any of the artists’ abilities. Seasoned veterans to Marvel, like Ayers and Heck, probably only referred to them for the plot or occasional panel dynamics. It was the “new guys” coming in that all of these layouts were for.
With each title Jack was laying out, Stan tried introducing one of the “new” guys as artist. That was, after all, part of the whole idea behind bringing Jack in on this project. Plots were worked out between Kirby and Lee, Jack would then flesh out the story with varying degrees of pencil work, accompanying the pencils with border directions. The artist would follow this lead, in Stan’s hope that he would add his own technique and flair to the finished art. Lee would then add dialogue and captions and make any last-minute editorial changes. This time period in Marvel marks the beginning of the artistic second wave; we’ll take them one at a time.
After Alex Toth left X-Men, Werner Roth, an old friend of Stan’s from the Atlas days (1950-57) came back under the pseudonym Jay Gavin. Moonlighting from his romance work at DC, Roth adapted readily and within six months was working “Marvel method” with Roy Thomas as the regular artist on the title and stayed with it for almost two years. Kirby is credited with layouts on issues #12-17, although it is possible that he stayed on in one capacity or another until Roy came on in issue #20. From the onset, Jack was more devoted to this title than the others he helped launch at the same time and didn’t seem to leave it creatively until another writer came on. Two of the X-Men’s most memorable foes, The Juggernaut and The Sentinels, were created by Jack during this period.
As stated previously, Jack came in on “The Hulk” in Tales To Astonish #68; after drawing the first three chapters he begins doing layouts for Mickey Demeo. Demeo is one of the more recognized pseudonyms in Marvel mythos; the artist’s real name is even more recognized throughout all of comicdom: Mike Esposito. Esposito is one-half of the legendary team of Andru & Esposito, as recognized and loved as Simon & Kirby to many. As with many from DC at that time, Mike took a false name (the Demeo was his then-wife’s maiden name). According to Esposito, Jack’s layouts looked like rough sketches and you had to pull them together as best you could. Sometimes the Kirby layout pencils were defined enough that Mike could draw over them in ink (as opposed to penciling over the layout, then inking it). This may help to explain why, in so many of the stories in the various titles layed-out by Jack, the Kirby look comes through even over another artist’s work. Jack almost always did more defined pencils on the splash and would occasionally pencil a panel here or there. Esposito stays on to pencil a few issues, alternating with Bob Powell, but then opts to ink rather than pencil. In the interim, Gil Kane sneaks in for his first try at “Marvel method,” penciling one story under the pen-name of Scott Edwards. John Romita also comes in for one issue, then “The Hulk” settles down with Bill Everett until issue #84 when he and Jack leave the series. Jack actually was credited with layouts up until issue #83, but #84 credits many Marvel hands so it’s possible he was in on it. Jack stayed with this title for 17 issues; there was only one other title in which he would stay on longer as layout artist. It happened to be the new kid on the block.
Anyone from my generation knows about the James Bond series of the Sixties and the plethora of spin-offs that it gave birth to. Stan, ever commercial, ever topical, naturally jumped onto this bandwagon. He and Jack came up with “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”; this series showcased all of the crazy high-tech gadgetry and far-out scientific concepts that made the secret agent genre popular and Jack was already known for. Stan also resolved the problem of bringing Sgt. Fury into the current Marvel timeline by making him the secret agent in the series (Jack and Stan lightly touched on a present-day Fury in the pages of FF #21, as an operative of the C.I.A., but this brought him back in ernest as a regular Marvel character). Jack penciled the first story in Strange Tales #135 (Aug. ’65), but as with the Hulk series in Astonish, he stops doing full pencils and begins doing layouts with the issue cover-dated Sept. ’65. And with this new title would come another “new” artist.
John Severin was hardly “new” to the medium, well known for his work with EC, Harvey Kurtzman, Mad, and especially Cracked magazine; his association with Marvel dated, like Roth, from the Fifties when he did mostly westerns for Stan. Although his work showed promise, like Esposito, he didn’t stay long as penciler. After three issues Severin was gone; he ironically goes back in time with Fury, ending up inking Dick Ayers’ pencils on the Sgt. Fury book. After Severin leaves, the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” book becomes a virtual revolving door of interim pencilers; it appeared that whoever was free for an assignment or wanted to try out was given a shot. Sinnott, Giacoia, Esposito, Purcell, and even Ogden Whitney of Skyman/ACG fame pitched in for an installment. The dependable Don Heck did a few issues; and John Buscema came back to Marvel in the pages of a “S.H.I.E.L.D.” book. Buscema was also one of Stan’s “friends of the Fifties” group; Buscema likes to relate the story of how, when given the Kirby layouts to the story, he erased them all and drew the book his way. John’s words from The Art of John Buscema: “It was ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’, and I didn’t pencil it. Jack Kirby broke it down. That’s how much confidence Stan had in me. He had Jack Kirby break it down, and I penciled it over, and repenciled the whole thing. I erased every panel and redrew it, because I couldn’t draw like Kirby… and it came out pathetic.” 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. After Buscema, with issue #151, “S.H.I.E.L.D.” finally settles down with an artist who not only stays with it, and is a newcomer, but happens to be perfect for the book.
Jim Steranko cut his comic art teeth at Harvey, but found fame at Marvel. Like Kirby, his art had a cinematic technique, and more importantly, he executed the “pop art/psychedelic”” style into his then-current work, blending perfectly with the secret agent “camp” look; unlike Kirby, his style was sleek and polished, which also contributed to a better look for this particular series. Steranko would become the definitive artist for “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D,” and even though his total work for Marvel would end up being less than thirty issues, it was a testament to his talent that it would be enough to ensure his fame. What is also of interest is that, within three months of his first story, by Strange Tales #154, Steranko begins being credited as writer of the series, making him the first regular artist/writer at Marvel. As with X-Men, it appears that Kirby stays with this title until a new regular writer takes over, and as with X-Men, Stan relinquishes the “writing” credit and only edits the book thereafter. Jack does layouts on “Nick Fury” for 18 months, longer than any other series in which he is credited as layout artist; and seeing as how there seemed to be no regular artist on the series until the arrival of Steranko, it is to Jack’s credit that he was able to maintain story quality throughout.
Since Jack only did layouts on two issues of Daredevil, some would say why even bring it up? There’s an interesting story behind it; Daredevil was, up until that time, in the creative hands of Wally Wood, who made the character more dynamic, visually stunning, and marketable than he ever was previously. Wood was, however, slated to begin work on the new “Sub- Mariner” series debuting in Astonish #70, which is probably why the character last appeared in Daredevil (#7). The Daredevil book was being handled by Wood associate Bob Powell, who was preserving the Wood “look.” In the interim, however, Wood had a huge disagreement with Lee and refused to do any more stories (note: although Daredevil #10 is cover-dated Oct. ’65—two months after Astonish #70—since it was a bi-monthly, it was possible that it was drawn around the same time). By the cover date of Dec. ’65, Wood was gone, and Powell with him. Stan was initially going to bring in Dick Ayers to take over the book, but really didn’t want to take Dick away from his other drawing assignments; as Dick was preparing some pages for the Daredevil book (of which he still has a few), enter John Romita. Romita had just returned to Marvel, having known Stan from the “Timely” days; previous to his return he was grinding out romance work for DC. Stan immediately gave John the Daredevil assignment, but unlike Ayers, John was not used to working Marvel method, so… enter Jack Kirby. Jack layed-out issues #12-13, and by #14 Romita was well on his way, staying on the title until issue #19 when he leaves in order to take over the artistic seat in Spider-Man.
With the “Captain America” series in Tales of Suspense, Jack follows the same program. He was the resident co-plotter and artist from its inception in issue #59 (cover-dated Nov. ’64), until issue #69 when he begins doing layouts. Issue #69 is cover-dated Sept. ’65, just as was Astonish #71 and Strange Tales #136; was this more than just coincidence? (And just as with the Hulk story in Astonish #59, Stan introduces Suspense readers to Cap in a pre-series story in Suspense #58, drawn by Heck, with Kirby art corrections interspersed.) The “new” artist for this series was the indomitable George Tuska. Tuska was well known throughout the industry, drawing every genre imaginable for every known comic book publisher; always on the move, he rarely stayed with any one company exclusively. After issue #69, which was handled by Ayers, Tuska comes in as artist and does his usual yeomanly work for five issues, then he’s on the move again, leaving Marvel for Tower. After another fill-in by dependable Dick Ayers, the series brings in John Romita for two issues, then goes back to Jack doing full pencils by issue #78. Jack stays with the series, co-plotting and penciling until issue #86, then leaves for five issues (Suspense #86 is cover-dated Feb. ’67, the same time he left Strange Tales at #153). Why he left is unclear, but by Feb. ’67, Jack was definitely done with doing layouts.
For two years Jack did layout work for Marvel; for completists, the breakdown went something like this:
- March 1965-May 1965: Avengers #14, #15, & #16
- July 1965-March 1966: X-Men #12-17
- September 1965-May 1966: Tales of Suspense (Captain America) #69-77
- September 1965-September 1966: Tales to Astonish (Hulk) #71-83
- September 1965-February 1967: Strange Tales (Nick Fury) #136-153
- January 1966-February 1966: Daredevil #12 & #13
And these represent only credited layouts; it’s very possible that Jack had story input on one or two issues after he left, until the writer following him either picked up his thread or established his own. With only two exceptions—Avengers #16 and Suspense #77—Jack leaves all of his last layed-out stories open for the writer and artist following to conclude. Even the two exceptions are hardly that, since Avengers #16 leaves the plot thread of the search for The Hulk which is in the following issue (and which also vaguely ties in with the Hulk story in Astonish #69 using Kirby paste-ups), and the Suspense (Cap) storyline is continued by Kirby himself with issue #78. If the aforementioned stories give the appearance of my giving credit to Kirby as writer, it is only in the non-conventional sense, as it is my opinion that the plots and stories at this point were coming from Jack. These layed-out stories coincide with the same period of time when Jack was developing the interwoven plotlines in FF and Thor, along with the introduction of new characters and concepts there. Jack begins doing layouts in ernest at about the same time as the continuing stories of FF #38-up and Thor #116-up are running. The border notes on all of Jack’s stories become more involved and detailed at this point, indicating that he is leaving more direction and being left more on his own than in the earlier years. Stan was there, to be sure, with plot input, editorial corrections, dialogue, and captions. Stan was credited as “writer,” but at this point he was leaving no written synopsis, plot, or script for Jack to follow. Most of the time there were story conferences, and Stan likes to relate how he would only have to give “the germ of an idea” to his collaborator and send him off; with Kirby he once mentioned that even this wasn’t necessary. “Sometimes Jack would tell me what the next story would be,” he once opined. He also referred to Jack as a “conceptualizer,” which, by definition, implies the act of forming notions, ideas, or concepts; and even the ones not originated by Jack were being passed through him for input if time permitted. With this in view it is my opinion that, although they probably worked more closely in the earlier years, with the expansion of the line occupying more of Lee’s time and the previously mentioned changes in how the stories were being done, the majority of the plots and stories on the books Kirby was involved in were probably coming from Jack. In discussing this topic with several of the artists working on the layout books, more than one mentioned that Jack’s border notes were being left for the writer of the dialogue, not the artist. Stan, in an unpublished interview, stated that he couldn’t understand how Jack could say that he (Jack) was doing the writing; well, there are many examples of Jack’s border notes being used by Lee for both dialogue and descriptive purposes (and of course, there are examples of Lee disregarding said notes, sometimes to much better effect). So if co-plotting, dialogue, and captions make Stan the “writer,” I’d have to add that, since Jack co-plotted, broke down, drew (or layed-out), and left writing directions, that made him the “storyteller”; something Jack liked to refer to himself as anyway.
As time went on, Jack was becoming more and more dissatisfied with doing layouts for Marvel. It was mentioned in earlier articles how during this ’65-’67 period, Jack noticed that Stan was getting the lion’s share of the publicity and recognition for all of the characters and concepts that they originally developed together. Others, such as Ditko and Wood, also voiced their dislike of the fact that now, thanks to the “Marvel method,” the artist may have more creative freedom with the stories (to the extent of sometimes doing them virtually solo), but they weren’t receiving any sort of writing credit. 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. This is not to say that Lee didn’t earn his pay, but the “Marvel method” proved that the stories were at the least co-written where people like Kirby, Ditko, and Wood were concerned; but credit arguments concerning Stan are hardly a new topic.
Aside from credits, one topic which Stan strongly supported was a better pay rate for the people working with him. This is where many have come to realize that Martin Goodman was more involved with the new Marvel than had been previously mentioned. One of the main reasons that so many of the artists and inkers that came to Marvel in the mid-Sixties didn’t stay long was because of the terrible pay rates. Although Marvel was becoming financially successful after decades of stagnation, Goodman would not put more money into the comic book division of his holdings; only after the cajoling and sometimes begging of Lee would Goodman relent. He also was eternally pessimistic concerning concepts, often telling Stan to cancel books before the first sales figures would come in (as he did with Hulk and Spider-Man); if not for Stan, they would never have gotten off the ground and their popularity realized. Goodman was also ambivalent about talent. It didn’t bother him if an artist quit; to him they were replaceable commodities. Stan knew where the talent was and must have become increasingly discouraged to not have the financial backing to lure them away. Artists who would come to Marvel during this layout period were offered as much as 30 dollars a page, provided that they penciled and inked it; some were offered less. Joe Sinnott relates the story of how, when he inked the historic FF #5, he was paid seven dollars a page for inks; had he been paid more he may have stayed on and the history of comic art might have been changed. Marvel was notorious for having among the lowest rates in the business, and Goodman tried his best to keep them that way (good business savvy, but terrible on morale).
Jack, of course, received a better rate as a penciler, 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. He felt that he was receiving one fourth of the money for what he considered the important three fourths of the penciler’s job. 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. Jack announced several times that he didn’t want to do layouts any longer, but was persuaded to do a few more, to help out artists who were new to the “Marvel method” of doing comics; and then a few more and a few more until he finally issued an ultimatum that he would not do any more. This is probably why, although the layout work begins at virtually the same time, it doesn’t end abruptly, but rather peters out. Within eight months of the last story Jack lays out, he comes to the conclusion that he’s given enough ideas to “The House of Ideas,” and because of a failure to communicate, rides out the wave until something better comes along—but the secession of creativity is anti-climactic, as it becomes apparent over the years that what he’s left them is enough to sustain them for decades; and he is yet to receive his proper recognition in the company by the company… shame!
(We’d like to thank Dick Ayers, Mike Esposito, Mark Evanier, Richard Howell, John Romita, Joe Sinnott, Clem So, Chic Stone, and George Tuska for supplying information pertinent to the writing of this article.)
A two week run on the “Davy Crockett, Frontiersman” daily strip was recently discovered in a French digest.
by Jean Depelley, with Bernard Joubert
First, Strange comic magazine, which I hope readers are familiar with as Strange has published many Kirby-related subjects and rarities, was gathering a French Kirby checklist. This checklist isn’t as huge as the American one, but it is quite big nonetheless! So, with publisher Reed Man and a couple of contributors (including Jean-Michel Ferragatti, François Soulodre and Dominik Vallet), we had been searching for Kirby art in the enormous number of comic magazines that had come out in France since the end of World War Two. Quite a task! But we expected that even if we made interesting finds, none would surprise the American Kirby followers.
The second event leading to the discovery was the release of the documentary film, “Marvel 14: Superheroes Vs. Censorship”, which Philippe Roure and I directed, explaining why Marvel comics were banned by Communists and Catholics in France in the early 1970s.The film features Kirby by analysing Marvel’s successful style. Philippe and I were attending L’Etrange Festival, a famous movie festival where the film had been scheduled to be screened. The producers of the festival also invited the people interviewed for the documentary, so our friend Bernard Joubert, a noted comics historian and editor, was present at the show.
After the screening (which went over well with the audience, thanks!), Bernard, Reed and I had a moment to chat, and, naturally, we discussed Kirby and the checklist. Bernard told us he remembered an obscure Kirby Western that came out in the late 1960s. As we weren’t familiar with it, two days later Bernard sent me the exact references of the French digest “Zoom” #15 (October 1968, published by Jeunesse et Vacances), and its content. The Kirby piece in it was a Davy Crockett story. Naturally, I associated it with the comic book series published in Harvey’s Western Tales #31 and #32 (October 1955 and March 1956). But Joubert was not convinced: “No, I really think it was a daily strip. It reads like one… Kirby just took over someone else’s strip for a while… There is a copyright to a syndicate and some dated credit boxes.”
Next Bernard emailed me some scans of the aforementioned story and wrote: “Here are the 14 pages of Kirby art as well as pages before and after Jack’s run. They are all copyright Columbia Features Inc. You’ll notice the change of artists in the middle of the story and the dated credit boxes which clearly identify it as a daily strip. It seems unlikely the French publisher put a comic book story right in the middle of a continuing strip. This is certainly the US “Davy Crockett, Frontiersman” daily strip by McArdle.”
Finding a copy of Zoom #15 was no easy task. However, after reading it and comparing it with the Harvey Western Tales stories, I had to admit Bernard was right, of course. After a new search, here are the conclusions on this new entry to be added to the American checklist:
“Davy Crockett, Frontiersman” by Jim McArdle was syndicated by Columbia Features Inc., with writing by France “Ed” Herron. “Davy Crockett, Frontiersman” started as a daily strip in early 1955, right in the middle of the Davy Crockett craze. In fact, it premiered the same time as Harvey’s Western Tales. Presumably it was cancelled in 1959, even though it is said to have been available from Columbia up to 1972.
Ed Herron and Kirby were friends since their 1939 tenure at Fox. Herron, who Kirby credited as a co-creator of the Red Skull, was writing for National (DC) as well as the “Crockett” strip in 1957. Kirby started working at National again right after the 1957 Atlas Implosion. Perhaps Herron and Kirby reacquainted themselves at National around then, which fostered Kirby getting the “Davy Crockett” strip assignment.
Kirby was a trained artist in the genre, having already produced several westerns (“Wilton of the West”, “Lone Rider”, “Western Love”, “Boys’ Ranch”, “Bullseye”), not to mention his recent work on “Davy Crockett” in Harvey’s Western Tales comic book. Jack had also already worked for syndicates (Lincoln, Associated Features Syndicate, Fox) and knew how to handle daily strips.
To sum up, starting in January 1957, Jack Kirby “ghosted” the “Davy Crockett, Frontiersman” daily strip for less than three weeks. He started on a single strip on Thursday, 10 January—probably as a try-out—and went back to it for a 18 day tenure, from Monday, 14 January up to Saturday, 2 February. No evidence points to Kirby working on the larger Sunday strips. He inked the whole run, except the last three strips, which seem to be delineated by Roz. The strips Kirby worked on were not signed by Kirby, nor Herron, nor McArdle.
When Jack left the assignment early February, the art was taken over by Jim Christiansen on the Monday, 4 February strip, who eventually signed it with Herron. A few months later, Herron and Christiansen dropped the Davy Crockett strip for another Columbia Features Inc. property: the detective Nero Wolfe, whose daily strips and Sunday pages they produced between fall 1957 – early 1958. Kirby and Herron would later work together on The Challengers Of the Unknown for National.
So here are some previously unknown Kirby pieces from the late Fifties. Even though it has been terribly mistreated by touch ups for the French magazine, it is still pure Kirby, inked by himself. Now it is up to American collectors to track down unaltered strips, so that we can rediscover them in all their glory!
Editor’s note: The above is a re-worked translation of the article Jean posted on bdzoom.com this past March. I first became aware of this Kirby Davy Crockett work through collector and scholar Tom Morehouse almost a year ago (August 2011), when I scanned the Crockett pages and the cover of Tom’s copy of Marvelman 230 (L Miller, 1958) for future reference. Tom and I thought, as Jean originally did, that it was unpublished work for Harvey’s Western Tales.
In July, there was further discussion of this work by a number of people on Comics.org’s GCD-Chat discussion group, where it was pointed out that in 2002 Matthew Gore discovered and posted Kirby Davy Crockett work from Marvelman 231. Rodrigo Baeza posted about it on his blog in July.
Jean and Bernard really cracked the case by sourcing it back to the daily “Davy Crockett, Frontiersman” strip syndicated by Columbia Features. As Jean ends his article above, let’s hope that unaltered US strips can be found.