The Myth of the Jolly King

In a recent article in TIME magazine, author Graeme McMillan noted, “At his peak, Kirby created popular culture as we know it today. So many of the ideas and characters that fill today have been shaped in some basic, important way by Kirby’s work… Decades earlier than they happened, Jack Kirby drew the 21st century.” 1

While articles such as this bring to light to the general audience the outstanding accomplishments of Jack Kirby, there continues to be a plethora of misinformation regarding his achievements. Here are a few of the myths that get repeated again and again.

1. Stan Lee made Jack Kirby famous by listing “Jolly Jack” in the credits in the 1960s.

Like so many generations before and since, my own aging baby boomers believe the world begins and ends with them. The reality is Kirby was one half of the best-paid, best-known team in comic books beginning the 1940s. And they consistently received a splash page credit throughout the 40s and 50s. According to comic book historian Jon B. Cooke, “The “Simon & Kirby” brand was the most recognizable art credit amongst avid readers during the 1940s, perhaps second only to “Walt Disney,” and certainly rivaled the Superman Stamp of “Siegel & Shuster.” 2

Fortunately for us, publishers such as Titan, Fantagraphics and Yoe Books are correcting this misconception by reprinting the earlier Simon and Kirby Studio work.

2. Kirby was primarily a penciller.

In fact Kirby was a storyteller who wrote his own scripts from the beginning of his career. As noted by writer and cartoonist Michael Neno, “The proof is in the pudding. All anyone who’s familiar with Jack’s ’70s work has to do is read a lot of the comics Jack drew in the ’40s and ’50s. Those attributes of his ’70s writing were always a part of his writing, though a bit more latent. Just as Jack’s stylistic artistic tics and methods became more pronounced as the decades went on, so with Jack’s writing. He didn’t lose a writing ability, but his writing style did change over a long span of time. From his “Your Health Comes First” newspaper strip in 1938 (using home remedies and tips Jack had learned from his mother) to the potently emotional and hard-edged “Captain Victory” in 1981, Jack wrote, to one extent or another, most of what crossed his desk and much of the dialogue in his Simon and Kirby days is his dialogue.”

Indeed, witnesses to those early days concur. Simon and Kirby writers Kim Aamodt and Walter Geier, in respective interviews with Jim Amash in Alter Ego both stated as much.

Aamodt: “I really sweated out plots, unlike Jack Kirby. Jack just ignited and came out with ideas, and Joe’d just kind of nod his head in agreement. Jack’s face looked so energized when he was plotting that it seemed as if sparks were flying off him. Joe was on the ground, and Jack was on cloud nine. Jack was more of the artist type; he had great instincts.”

Geier: “Jack Kirby was great about that; he always came up with the plots. Jack had a fertile mind. …Jack was the idea man. Joe didn’t talk much. He could come up with decent plots, but it was usually very sketchy stuff. A lot of times Joe would say, “Awww…you figure out the ending.” Jack would give me the ending, because he was good at figuring out stories. It was not hard to work with Jack. They were Jack’s plots. I just supplied the dialogue.” 3

Likewise Gil Kane so noted, in an interview with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal.

Kane: “Simon was business-like. He did all the handling, all the talking, he did all the standing. Jack was always sitting and working. Jack would take the scripts and he’d either write them or re-write them. Jack was simply a workhorse who never sweated. It just came to him. Simon was a nice guy who was much more realistically attuned to the world.

Joe was involved in the creative process and he was the one who made all the deals. He didn’t writeit was Jack who wrote. Jack would either write a script or get one and adjust it as he saw.” 4

This tradition continued at Marvel in the 1960s. According to Archie artist and Marvel colorist Stan Goldberg, “Jack would sit there at lunch, and tell us 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 interesting because he was a fountain of ideas.” 5

Kirby biographer and former assistant Mark Evanier further elaborates, “He didn’t care if people said “ooh, what neat pictures!” That held no joy for him. He wanted them to say “What a great story!” 6

3. Lee and Kirby were the Lennon and McCartney of comics.

While this analogy is used ad nauseam, nothing could be further from the truth. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were teenage friends and band mates who grew up together in Liverpool. Over they years they collaborated on hundreds of songs, sitting side by side, as is typical of songwriting teams.

Jack Kirby was a freelancer who worked at home during the Marvel years. The recent court ruling notwithstanding (which hopefully will be overturned), Kirby was an independent contractor. The myth of the Marvel Bullpen, propagated by Lee in his “Stan’s Soapbox” on the letters page, simply did not exist. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Lee worked on his own in the Marvel offices, and was later joined by Sol Brodsky as production manager. All other artists, writers, inkers, letterers worked freelance elsewhere, until later that decade. Kirby never joined them.

According to Kirby himself, “There were no scripts. I created the characters and wrote the stories in my own home and merely brought them into the office each month.” 7

As evidenced by the research of comics historian Mike Gartland in his ingoing series “A Failure to Communicate” in The Jack Kirby Collector (Twomorrows Publishing) and here on the Kirby Museum site, the work Kirby and Lee did was often at odds with one another, a far cry from Lennon/McCartney.

4. Jack Kirby inked very little of his own work.

For years the assumption was that Joe Simon inked Kirby in the 1940’s and 50’s at S&K. Through the rediscovery of that work a different story emerges. Kirby inked much of his own work over those decades, and continued to do so at DC in the mid-50s. This changed in the 1960s due to the extremely high demand for Kirby to supply plots and pencils at Marvel.

In an interview with Amash, S&K artist Jack Katz describes the inking instruction he received from Kirby. “He showed me how to apply all of that to figures and objects. He said, “You have to make it three-dimensional. What you do is, make sure you have black areas behind a line, always a dark behind a line. It could be feathered. If you bring the light in on the right hand side, you have to make sure the opposite side is carefully outlined. If you want to show real drama, you have a light source from the top, so the eyes and mouth are in shadow, If you want to make a real ghoul…and he turned the page over, and drew a face, he showed me how the light from underneath highlights the bone structure. He showed me how to vary textures, he’d say “curtains should look delicate.” He showed me how to do that with a brush.” 8

Special thanks to Patrick Ford, Michael Neno and Rand Hoppe.


1. Jack Kirby Is The Most Important Artist You Might Not Have Heard Of: The artist who created so many of Marvel’s superheroes cast a big shadow on the world we live in today, By Graeme McMillan. Time Magazine, August 15, 2013.

2. Comic Book Creator #1, spring 2013, Kirby’s Kingdom: The Commerce of Dreams by Jon. B. Cooke.

3. Alter Ego #30, November 2003, interviews by Jim Amash with Kim Aamodt and Walter Geier.

4. The Comics Journal #38, February 1978, interview by Gary Groth.

5. Alter Ego #18, October 2002, interview by Jim Amash.

6. Jack Kirby “The King”, DVD extra on “De Superman à Spider-man – L’Aventure des Super Héros” by Michel Viotte.

7. Handwritten letter by Jack Kirby entered into evidence in the Disney Vs. Kirby Heirs court case, Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Kirby, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 11-3333.

8. Alter Ego #92, March 2010, interview by Jim Amash.

a half hour with Jack Kirby – 14 March 1993

Today would have been Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday, and in addition to the Kirby-Vision portrait gallery that Jason Garrattley’s posted, I’m offering this half hour video of Jack talking with fans at Comics & Comix, in Palo Alto, California in 1993.

Ray Wyman, Jr. says in the YouTube comments:

This was one of four stops we made to promote “The Art of Jack Kirby .” We rented a passenger van and hoofed it around the old fashioned way. The roadtrip crew also included Roz, myself, Catherine Hohlfeld, and Rob Crane. Thanks for the share. Really terrific memories.

Jerry Boyd recounted the day in an article titled “An Afternoon With Jack”, published in Twomorrows Publishing’s Spring 2003 The Jack Kirby Collector 38.

Comics & Comix flyer

How Could He Not Know?

A Failure To Communicate – Part Seven

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 Seven was first published in TwoMorrows’ Summer 2002 Jack Kirby Collector 36.

Detail from Fantastic Four #99 (June 1970), featuring the Inhumans (probably in an effort to reintroduce them to readers before they spun off into Amazing Adventures #1).

“Kirby is leaving Marvel.” Stan Lee passed this information on to the Marvel readership in one of his Bullpen Bulletins editorials, and with his usual glib self-deprecating charm reassured the Marvelites that, although Jack would be seeking his fortunes elsewhere, the best was yet to come. Young readers had no reason to doubt Lee; sales were still going up along much of the Marvel line, and by 1970 the foundation of the “Marvel Zombie” had been laid, as many unsuspecting readers robotically swallowed Lee’s flip preachings. Besides, Lee was still there, and Lee was the man, the creator, the innovator; Lee was Marvel, right? Professionals, hardcore fandom, and industry insiders knew better; they knew that, although Stan was indispensible, this just wasn’t another artist leaving—this was the foundation to the “House of Ideas,” and with a foundation gone, can a “house” stand for long?

As we’ve read in previous articles, Jack had reached a point by 1967 where he was fed up with Marvel, particularly with Goodman and Lee. He had seen his concepts and creations exploited and taken credit for by individuals who promised him much but delivered little or nothing. Goodman was becoming even more wealthy on mass marketing and merchandising the Marvel creations; whereas Lee continued to take credit for characters and concepts he had virtually no input on save to dialogue after the lion’s share of the plot and story had been fleshed out and drawn by the artist. Steve Ditko allegedly left for these selfsame reasons a year before, suggesting to Jack to leave as well, but Jack was still under contract and was still being promised incentives. By the end of ’67, however, Jack realized that outside of an increase in his page rate and contracts that were begun but never finished, he’d been shortchanged again by Goodman and Lee, his contract was coming to an end, and it was time to decide. Stay or go, but if he left, go where? As strange as it seemed, unbeknownst to Jack (or Stan for that matter), television would play an indirect pivotal role in Jack’s decision.

By the end of ’67, due to the tremendous success of the Batman TV show, investors began looking to comic book companies as reasonably good investments. Both Marvel and DC had good sales and had been in the business under the same publishers for decades. DC went first, being purchased by Kinney National, then Marvel was sold to Perfect Film and Chemical. In both instances, publishers Goodman and Liebowitz remained temporarily (approximately four years) as publishers to see through a smooth transition and pave the way for their successors. Lee of course was first in line at Marvel, but at DC things were changing that would eventually help smooth the way for Lee to lose his most valuable asset. During the ’67-’68 period many of the “old guard” of DC’s writers and editors were either retiring, looking elsewhere, or simply being let go. The end result would be that the new editorial structure at DC would be composed of their former artists, with one of their premier artists—Carmine Infantino— taking the helm as editorial director. Carmine knew about Marvel what industry insiders knew for years: That it was creatively driven by its artists, and he wanted to bring that to DC. That wasn’t all he wanted to bring to DC. He had heard that Jack wasn’t happy with his present situation, and what better way to dent the competition than to get their main gun and fire it back at them?

Panels from Fantastic Four #100 (July 1970). Reed erroneously states that only the Puppet Master is capable of making such androids, when he should’ve said it was the Thinker. Since they’d just done a Thinker story in FF #96, it’s an even sloppier mistake.

Panels from Fantastic Four #100 (July 1970). Reed erroneously states that only the Puppet Master is capable of making such androids, when he should’ve said it was the Thinker. Since they’d just done a Thinker story in FF #96, it’s an even sloppier mistake.

Meanwhile at Marvel, Jack had heard about the sale of the company (in late ’68) and both welcomed and dreaded it. He’d hoped that this might give him someone other than Goodman to deal with, but these were corporate investors who knew nothing about the comic book industry and even less about Jack. Lee was nervous as well; he now had more than Goodman to please and might have to prove his worth all over again. By this time Jack’s contract had expired and he was working page-rate, story to story. Despite his attempts to renegotiate for another contract, Jack was either rebuffed or put on hold (indefinitely); he knew he wasn’t going to see any percentage of merchandising or creative control of his work or even proper credit for it, but despite all that, Jack still would’ve stayed with Marvel if they’d only given him the thing that had always been most important to him: A promise of financial security.

More than anything else in his life, Jack had the constant need to make sure he could support his family. Family was everything to him; during this very time, Jack began taking steps to move out of New York where he’d lived all his life, and go to live in California (about as far removed from NY living as one could get), all for the sake of his family. Within the Marvel family however, Jack was becoming more and more isolated; Infantino had met with Jack during this time (while Jack was still in New York) and discussions began about Jack joining another kind of family.

While all of the aforementioned was going on, Stan was beginning to think of greener pastures. The success of the Marvel line had brought him the notoriety and recognition he so desperately sought during the years before the likes of a Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko came his way. Surprisingly, before his association with Jack and Steve which led to the Marvel successes, he languished for two decades pumping out average, topical, saleable plots and scripts for the Timely/Atlas books—but now by the mid-Sixties, he was being recognized by the general public as the creator of all these great characters and concepts. Contrary to what many may think about Lee hogging credit for himself, this may not have been all of Stan’s doing as it most definitely was in the company’s best interest to have one of their employees recognized as creator of the line, rather than a freelancer who might someday leave and try to take some of the creations with him. With the general—and some of the comic bookreading— public believing all of these great ideas came from Stan, offers began to come his way. Artists and Directors were asking to work with him. Colleges were approaching him to lecture to aspiring students on how to create. Newspapers and magazines were asking him for interviews and articles. Stan was finally reaching the point where he realized that his newfound status might be the ticket out of comics and into the big time. As Stan courted his celebrity, he began to slowly relinquish his scripting chores on various Marvel titles one by one.

(next page) Jack’s margin notes from FF #97 (April 1970) show he intended the Lagoon Creature—Jack named him “Eddie”—to speak, but Stan ignored it.

Jack’s margin notes from FF #97 (April 1970) show he intended the Lagoon Creature—Jack named him “Eddie”—to speak, but Stan ignored it.

Shortly before the Marvel purchase by Perfect Film, the title line was expanded; the characters showcased in the “split” books—Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, and Strange Tales—were each given their own respective books, not to mention new titles being created like Captain Marvel, Captain Savage and Combat Kelly, and Not Brand Echh. Lee did the majority of the scripting (towards the end, some editing only) on the split books up until their transition, after which he left virtually all of them, handing the scripting reins over to guys like Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Archie Goodwin, Arnold Drake, and others. He edited only, saving his scripting hand for Daredevil (which he left in March ’69), Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, and Captain America. Lee also had plans to script the upcoming Spider-Man b-&-w magazine, a mentioned Inhumans book, and of course the Silver Surfer. Of the five titles Lee was still scripting, Kirby was drawing three of them: FF, Cap and Thor. One wonders why Lee never relinquished scripting the titles on which he “collaborated” with Kirby. Some speculated that, since Jack was doing the lion’s share of the work on those books with little or no input from Lee, and all Stan had to do was dialogue and edit an already fleshed-out story, it was less work for him than with less experienced artists—but the longer they seemed to be working together, Jack grew more and more frustrated with Lee; their collaborations began to become more like grudging co-operations, with each man trying to put their own plotting into stories that were meant to be agreed upon. The new Surfer book was a particularly stinging slap in Jack’s face; since many believe that Jack could’ve asked for and gotten any title in the Marvel line to work on, and this title was not mentioned or offered to him, it was pretty obvious to him that he wasn’t wanted on it (or his take on the character, at least). Jack had mentioned to Lee his wanting a writing or at least a plotting credit, but getting Lee to give a writing credit to any artist was a difficult task (shockingly, Steranko, a virtual nobody at that time, somehow got Lee to acquiesce after doing only two issues worth of work—another slap in Jack’s face). Jack was situated in California by 1969, even more isolated from Marvel than he had been in previous years, with Stan only talking to him if he had to. The stories Jack worked on that last year for Thor and Fantastic Four (he left Cap in early ’69) were among the most mundane of his run—decent for any other artist, but downright common for Kirby. The lack of collaborating is pretty evident at this stage as there are myriad examples of Stan’s dialogue looking like it makes no sense whatsoever when coupled with Jack’s illustration. Fans thought he and Lee were slipping, but it wasn’t so much slipping on Jack’s part as it was waiting.

Splash page from Astonishing Tales #1 (August 1970).

Splash page from Astonishing Tales #1 (August 1970).

During his last year on Thor, Jack seemed to be preoccupied with getting the origin of Galactus in print. He saw what Lee did to his Surfer and didn’t want the same fate to befall his other great cosmic creation. In FF he seems to have his final fun doing a gangster homage in his last four-part storyline. The rest of the year for the respective books feature retreads of old plots and old foes, and some new ones. Thor introduces Kronin Krask, the Crypto Man, and the Thermal Man; Fantastic Four came in with the Monacle and the Lagoon Creature. The fact that Goodman decreed that there be an end to continued stories for a while didn’t help the situation, as suspense and action then had to be crammed in or reduced. Although it wasn’t showing, Jack was arguably at his artistic height and these restrictions didn’t become so apparent until he left (once he got to DC, it’s almost like Jack’s art exploded out of these confines). Some speculate that towards the end of their association, these last new characters were probably from the plots that Kirby got from Lee, because it was reported that Jack was asking Stan to come up with the plots by this time; but upon reviewing original art from these stories, there is nothing to indicate any difference in the way they had always worked, so it’s entirely possible that Jack came up with them. Of the new characters introduced, only one—Agatha Harkness— would be utilized by Lee as a recurring character. By that time one would think that that was not Jack’s intention, however. It would be the last example of Stan using his editorial savvy to get something marketable out of one of Jack’s “throwaway” characters. Still working without a contract or any type of reassurance for job security, Jack was still doing work for Marvel, good work, but it wasn’t his best work. Some thought Jack was burning out; quite the contrary, he was just burning.

Final panels from Jack’s last issues of Fantastic Four (#102, Sept. 1970) and Thor (#179, August 1970), showing messages of war and hope.

Final panels from Jack’s last issues of Fantastic Four (#102, Sept. 1970) and Thor (#179, August 1970), showing messages of war and hope.

While Marvel refused to talk to Jack, Carmine was ready to listen. He went to California to continue his quest to lure Kirby from the competition. The fact that Jack was on the West Coast meant little to either publisher, although it was unusual at that time for any comic book personnel to not work out of the New York area. Only an artist of Jack’s stature could get away with working clear across the country, working by phone and mail almost exclusively. Carmine asked Jack what would it take to get him for DC. Foremost in Jack’s mind was a contract that would ensure continued financial security, but he wasn’t about to leave out the “little things” that Marvel refused to give him: A writing credit (in fact to write his own books), editorial control (remembering what happened to the Surfer and Him—to name only two—Jack wasn’t going to see his creations stolen from him or twisted into something different ever again), and a percentage of any merchandising from any characters he created. This was a hefty request for its day, but Carmine wanted Kirby at DC; it would be the coup of his editorial career, but he had to get the OK from the new bosses. Leibowitz was “old school” and requests like these were usually shot down, just as they were by his contemporary Goodman, but there was one difference: Goodman promised and reneged, and to Jack that was not very nice!

Final page from Silver Surfer #18, a book that must’ve been particularly galling for Jack to draw. Kirby was initially snubbed for the art chores on the book, and the series floundered for seventeen issues. Then Stan Lee called in Kirby to try to course-correct the book for inker Herb Trimpe to take over with #19, but the series was cancelled with this issue.

Final page from Silver Surfer #18, a book that must’ve been particularly galling for Jack to draw. Kirby was initially snubbed for the art chores on the book, and the series floundered for seventeen issues. Then Stan Lee called in Kirby to try to course-correct the book for inker Herb Trimpe to take over with #19, but the series was cancelled with this issue.

While negotiations continued, Jack got a few final surprises from Lee. Jack was asked to do the stories for the Inhumans in a new anthology (split) book, Amazing Adventures. The Inhumans was a book that originally Stan wanted Jack to put out years earlier, but it never made it to the schedule (some believe that the “Inhumans” back-up stories in Thor were the aforementioned book split-up, with other short “Inhumans” stories added until the back-ups were stopped completely). The surprise was that Jack would get a writing credit for the stories he did. Was this appeasement on Lee’s part, or was this the only way Stan could get Jack to do these stories (in which case, the surprise was on Stan)? Probably the former, as Stan could’ve simply gotten another artist for the book, but unlike the Surfer, Stan wanted Jack’s particular input on the characters he (Jack) created (in a 1968 fanzine, when asked directly, Jack states that he created the Inhumans). Jack also contributed “Ka-Zar” stories for Astonishing Tales, scripted by Roy Thomas, and did what would be the final story/issue for Lee’s failed Surfer comic. Kirby must have looked upon this particular job with mixed emotions to say the least (the last page says it all). The Fantastic Four’s one-hundredth issue, alleged to have been scheduled as a giant-sized story, was truncated to a miserable nineteen pages, a sad epitaph for one of Jack’s greatest series. Reportedly Jack finally got those plots he asked Lee for, in the last couple of FF stories. Jack continued to grind ’em out but, with the return of Infantino, Jack would now, finally (with Marvel anyway), grind to a halt. Jack’s requests were acceptable and it was time to sign. Up to the last minute, Jack waited, hoping he could come to some agreement with Goodman and the new owners at Marvel, but he was just another artist to them. Stan knew his worth, but also knew he wasn’t going to go to bat for him. He was worried enough about his own future with the company, and thought Jack was just disgruntled over the credits and some of the stories; he’d get over it. He was wrong!

Pencils from Astonishing Tales #166 (July 1969), featuring “Him”; like the Silver Surfer, he was another character Jack felt was changed from the direction he had planned for the character.

Pencils from Thor  #166 (July 1969), featuring “Him”; like the Silver Surfer, he was another character Jack felt was changed from the direction he had planned for the character.

The day Jack signed his contract with DC he called Stan and told him he had his last work for Marvel. Stan was indeed surprised for, although he knew Jack was unhappy, he never thought he’d leave. The last Thor and FF stories Jack worked on had themes of hope and war in the respective last panels; one can only wonder about the irony of it all.

What happened after Jack left has been discussed by many. Kirby was gone but sales continued to rise; was it because the new creative teams produced better stories? Hardly! Sales continued to rise on Spider-Man after Ditko left in ’66 also; sales continued to rise on almost all the Marvel books. Stories had little to do with it; it was impetus fueled by Marvel fanatics if anything.

Lee went on without Jack for approximately two years. He stopped scripting Thor one year after Jack’s departure, and finally stopped scripting Spider- Man and Fantastic Four a year after that. Stan went on to become publisher, then president of Marvel, publishing book after book on the Marvel heroes based on his “crazy ideas.” It’s reported that the copies of these books that Jack had were edited by Kirby with a pair of scissors, cutting out falsities, thereby reducing many pages to Swiss cheese. Once at a convention, a fan asked Jack if he’d sign one of the Lee books. Seeing that Lee already signed it, Jack said to the fan that he’d sign his name in ratio to his contributions as opposed to Lee’s; Jack’s signature was five times larger.

Kronin Krask, one of the forgettable villains that populated Kirby’s books his last year at Marvel. Was he Jack’s idea or Stan’s? This page is from Thor #172 (Jan. 1970).

Kronin Krask, one of the forgettable villains that populated Kirby’s books his last year at Marvel. Was he Jack’s idea or Stan’s? This page is from Thor #172 (Jan. 1970).

To this day Lee credits his artists as the most creative people he ever worked with; what they created, however, you rarely hear from Stan. As recently as his new autobiography, Stan continues to relate how Marvel came about, always using the collective “we.” He’ll graciously acknowledge the likes of Kirby and Ditko as two of the best artists he ever worked with, but according to Stan, the “ideas” came from him; they only fleshed them out. (At this point I’d recommend subscribing to Robin Snyder’s The Comics where Steve Ditko is giving his side to the Lee/Ditko “collaborations.”) As far as any problems with Jack, in a recently released DVD with Kevin Smith, all Stan can relate is that Jack was unhappy about some form Marvel wanted him to sign to get his originals back (this happened with Jack in the mid-’80s). For some reason Stan believes Jack blamed him for this problem (Jack didn’t), and that’s all Stan would say about any problems with Kirby—no mention of why Jack left Marvel.

In a 1977 interview, when asked why he embellishes his answers to the point of not really giving the answer, Stan responded in so many words that the public wasn’t interested in boring tales, even if they were the truth. Since he admired Shakespeare so, I think that the best line that suits Stan would be from Measure for Measure: “It oft falls out, To have what we would have, We speak not what we mean.” So the greatest team in the Silver Age of comics was no more. Jack’s heart left Marvel long before his person; a long last year that stretched out over several. In later years, Jack cited why he felt he had to leave, but just as with Ditko (and Wood for that matter), Stan will tell you how he doesn’t know why Jack left. He knew Jack was unhappy, he knew Jack was working with no contract, he knew Goodman reneged on promises made; but he doesn’t know why Jack left. It seemed any artist who contributed significantly to the creation of the Marvel super-heroes had a failure to communicate and eventual falling-out with Lee, but he doesn’t know why!

How could he not know?


While Jack filled in for John Buscema on Silver Surfer #18, Big John took a stab at Thor in issue #178 (July 1970). After Kirby left, Neal Adams drew two issues, and then Buscema became the series’ regular artist.


Jack Kirby and Carmine Infantino Interview – 31 January 1971

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.

C&C: Why?

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.

Infantino: Why?

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.

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More Kirby and McCartney

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.

1 – Sherman, Steve, “Jack Meets Paul McCartney” The Jack Kirby Collector 8, p17, TwoMorrows Publishing, January 1996

2 – Madinger, Chip & Easter, Mark “Eight Arms to Hold You” p201, 44.1 Productions LP, 2000

Discovery at Snake River!

Posted in General.

In late September 2012, Luca Dolcini sent the Kirby Museum an e-mail00c 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 and the Grand Comics Database’s 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 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.

Showdown at Snake River - Front Cover

After a while, Luca found an Australian version of the non-Kirby cover with the title “Showdown At Snake River!” in James Zanotto’s 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.

Australian pages

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.


Early 1970s “Le Legge Del West” does not contain “Partita Finale A Snake River!”

Lord Of Light, Science Fiction Land and Argo

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 - Erroll Morris' First Person. Still from appx. 7:00

The Little Grey Man – Erroll Morris’ First Person. Still from appx. 7:00

“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

Where Jack Kirby lived

A while ago, I compiled a map of known Kirby addresses in the NYC area. Many thanks to Alex Jay for his detailed research.

View Jack Kirby NYC addresses in a larger map

The Genius of Jack Kirby

“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

  1. a plural genii : an attendant spirit of a person or place
    b plural usually genii : a person who influences another for good or bad
  2. a strong leaning or inclination : penchant
  3. 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
  4. plural usually genii : spirit, jinni
  5. 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.”
—Thomas Edison

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:

  1. Pablo Picasso (art)
  2. Martha Graham (dance)
  3. Louis Armstrong (jazz)
  4. Lucien Bernhard (graphic design)
  5. Woody Guthrie (folk music)
  6. Orson Welles (film)
  7. James Joyce (writing)
  8. Bob Dylan (popular song)
  9. Albert Einstein (science)
  10. 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 EyeBlack RiderGunsmoke WesternTwo-Gun KidRawhide Kid and Justice Traps the GuiltyHeadline 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 GodsThe Forever PeopleMr. MiracleThe DemonThe 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.


  1. Comics Journal Interview #134, with Gary Groth,  February 1990.
  2. The Critique of Judgment by Immanuel Kant, page 181.
  3. 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.
  4. Carl Jung, Psychological Types , 1921.
  5. Joy Paul Guilford, Study of Human Intelligence.
  6. American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology, Considering Creativity, Dean Keith Simonton, University of California, Davis, Volume 34, No. 10 November 2003.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones,  pages 200-201.
  10. Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier, page 60.
  11. Hand of Fire by Charles Hatfield, page 22.
  12. Hand of Fire, page 130.


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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.