Thanks to a reader for sending in this scan. I don’t see notes in the margins, so it may have been an editor or staffer who added that “I’ve got to stop them alone!” dialogue. Yes, Jack may have written that and it’s been covered up or erased, but how ironic would it be if one of the Marvel staffers (who were so brutally critical of Jack’s writing) was responsible for what is considered to be one of the most absurd examples of comics captions of all time.
Here are a couple emails from the Kirby Museum Facebook page on the Cap # 200 letters column post:
William Paul Dickenson: Nice to see my letter reprinted here. I bought a lot of copies of #200 because my letter was in it and over the years since then I have given them all away to friends and family. I still have my personal copy in my collection.
That was a great letter. It was exactly what you would expect to see in a Marvel comic. It was gracious and friendly. In fact, I would say William was ahead of the curve on this — when there were fans out there who hated Jack and were slamming Jack, William had the foresight to see that Jack was doing something special.
Letters like his create a positive environment. A friendly atmosphere. And publishing letters like that is great for business — you celebrate your creators and your coworkers. You promote them and accentuate the positive. You encourage fans to support the product and buy the next issue because the people producing it are doing good work together, and the fans enjoy it. If I wrote this letter, I’d be proud of it. If Jack read it, I bet it made him smile.
Jim Ritchey: I’ve heard how terrible some of the Bullpen were, but I don’t think they would have to overpopulate the letters columns with negative feedback. I was around 16 when Jack came back to Marvel, and I stayed disappointed in his work. Steve ‘Engleheart (sic)’ was excellent on Cap–likely still the best writer Cap ever had. He wrote him like a real person, and the current movie depiction owes much to Englehart’s version.
I thought the Captain America movie borrowed a lot of concepts from Jack’s 60s Marvel run. It seemed like Kirby homage to me, literally every single 60s Kirby concept seemed to be in that film (but I guess there are those who will still say all those ideas came from Stan Lee). I never read Engleheart’s comics, so I don’t know if he’s the best writer ever to work on the character or not, or if his interpretation did have an impact on the movie. What I do know is that writers are different, so even if some 70s comics fans preferred Engleheart’s style, I still say it makes no sense to pepper the Kirby Captain America letters columns with readers complaining about Jack’s work unless the people editing the letters column had an agenda.
While Jack brought back with him a feeling of separation from the Marvel universe–a complete disconnect from everything anyone else was doing, like he started over in a separate reality. The writing was simplistic and purely plot-driven–not nearly as good as his DC writing from only a couple years before, and a MILE from FF. It was like he was making it up as he went along, with no clear plan, and no interest in referencing how his character had grown. I still liked his art, but I dropped Cap pretty quick, ’cause I honestly dislike his plotting and writing on it–same with Black Panther. Eternals stayed interesting for the most part, because he was actually interested in it…
It could also be that you were growing up. I know I stopped buying comics altogether when I turned 18. People change and artists change. Here’s an analogy, I was a huge REM fan in the 80s. Saw them live a bunch of times. Listened to their albums over and over. Played their music when I would DJ parties even if the crowd was demanding dance music. I loved their sound, specifically Perter Buck’s simple melodies played on his Rickenbacher.
But in the mid-90s I lost interest in them; I didn’t like most of their new material. In fact I hated a lot of it. I like guitar-driven music; when they started experimenting with keyboards I bailed. Was it because they suddenly sucked? Maybe. But in reality I think we both changed — they were trying new things, and I was interested in new things. I got into Bob Marley at that time.
I think that’s why some readers drifted away from Jack in the 70s. Not because Jack was suddenly turning in half-assed work, but readers were changing and Jack was changing. Jack was no longer Stan Lee’s “penciler.” And Jack’s style started to morph a bit — it became a bit more “cartoony.” I think this probably was a conscious decision on his part because that was his pattern. He was always trying subtle new things. Look at his Fantastic Four art in 1960 compared to 1969. An amazing evolution of style. Why wouldn’t he continue to experiment in the 70s? Maybe readers just didn’t like his new look. Giacoia’s rushed inks didn’t help. Berry’s inks were a little too mechanical for me. Many people never got used to Royer’s remarkably faithful delineation of Jack’s pencils. I know I yearned for Sinnott in the 70s.
Yes, maybe his material was a little rushed because Jack was cranking out a ton of product — 3 monthly books plus treasury editions, annuals and covers. Remember, Jack only had a few hours to dialogue his books, and he didn’t have a trusted confidante who he could count on to edit his material. Jack had other things on his plate: he had a family to support; his health may have been on the decline; he may have felt tremendous stress because his art was being stolen and showing up at conventions; he had no real retirement money stashed away; I don’t think he had health care; he was a child of the depression, so he isn’t going to write stories like a 20-year-old hippie. The double-splashes cut down on the room he had to introduce subplots; the books were literally shorter in terms of the page count as compared to the 60s; he had to focus a lot of time on Falcon since he is one of the main characters. Fans yearned for the “Written by Stan Lee” credit in Jack’s books. Plus Stan was claiming he created all of Jack’s characters. Jack was getting zero royalties on merchandising from Marvel and had to face facts: he never would. And to add insult to injury? In his own books, some anonymous “staffers” are filling the letters columns with “constructive criticism,” and encouraging readers to send in more “to set things right.” All of these things and more may have weighed on Jack and affected his work, and a hundred other things we may never know about. All of these factors may have played a role in Jack’s books becoming less popular.
As I’ve said before, I thought Jack’s stuff was weird when I was 10-years-old, so I was actually a part of the movement away from artists like Jack where we drifted towards artists like John Byrne who ironically is probably Jack’s most successful clone.
But 30 yeas later, I realize I was wrong… what Jack was doing was terrific, it was special — I was just too immature and clueless to appreciate it. I loved Byrnes’s stuff as a teenager; I find it boring now. I found Jack’s stuff bizarre as a kid; now it gives me tremendous joy and inspiration.
Here’s another analogy: I was not a fan of the Beatles when I was a kid. I thought they were overrated. I liked Disco!
But in my 30s I started to listen to the Beatles music and I fell in love with it. Same thing with Kirby. Some things you don’t like as a kid, you learn to appreciate and respect as an adult. Certain things are transcendent. Certain things stand the test of time.
So I think you have to look at Jack’s 70s Marvel comics in context to appreciate it. And to repeat my main point so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle: although I understand kids gravitating away from Kirby in the 70s — that did happen, that is a fact — I just think it was wrong for the Marvel staffers to encourage that exodus in the letters columns of Jack’s books.
I love Jack. I met him twice. He’s a hero, an influence. but he didn’t need a conspiracy for me to notice he wasn’t doing his best when I was a 16 year old, so hopefully folks can use a little objectivity when making up their minds. I KNOW Marvel is evil, but it doesn’t mean Jack was doing his best…
And “conspiracy” really isn’t the right word, it’s a term that’s so loaded and misunderstood. Really what I think happened was this: some Marvel staffers didn’t like Jack’s writing and they expressed this feeling in the choices they made in terms of editing and responding to the letters in the Captain America letters column. There was no secret cabal, it was just some kids who wanted Jack out of the picture and since they didn’t have a real voice in fandom, they used the letters columns as their megaphone. And I think it worked: I think the letters columns did play a role in causing readers to turn away from Jack’s books. I can tell you for a fact that if I had read those negative letters, I would not have bought any more Captain America books. Peer pressure can have a tremendous impact on a kid especially when you only have a dollar or two to spend on comics each month.
…so hopefully folks can use a little objectivity when making up their minds. I KNOW Marvel is evil, but it doesn’t mean Jack was doing his best.
Two things. I personally don’t fall into the “Marvel is evil” camp. I honestly don’t know anyone at Marvel, so I don’t know what they are up to. I do wish they would give Jack’s family a settlement of some sort, but that may never happen. I do think Jack was treated pretty poorly by a lot of his associates at Marvel, but whether they are evil or not is unknown to me. I’m personally not a Marvel fan, I don’t buy their junk (although I do watch the movies when they come on cable), but I have a lot of friends with kids who love Marvel, and if Marvel does settle with Jack’s family at some point, I would praise that move.
As far as Jack concievabley not “dong his best” in the 70s at Marvel: this was a subject that was much debated on the old Kirby-l yahoo forum where you had a lot of comics experts gathered. Why is Jack’s artwork in the 70s a little different than his 60s work? Was he getting lazy? Was he rushing? Was he changing his style? Or was he simply not engaged or interested? Did Jack need Stan Lee? All I can tell you is this: if you look at Jack’s uninked pencils from the 70s, they are terrific. They are full of detail. I personally think Jack was still doing his best. Ultimately, I think Kirby was changing and comics readers were changing in the mid-70s, and that’s the real reason you definitely saw a lot of readers buying other types of comics, specifically books like Heavy Metal.
To give you one more analogy, like most people I stopped listening to disco in the 80s. Remember a lot of people really turned on the disco artists in the same way a lot of fans turned on Kirby. The Bee Gees were ridiculed for decades.
Like a lot of kids I got into rock music, for example AC/DC. That was the first band I ever saw live. I still rock out to them once in awhile. Saw them live again on their last tour.
This is the same type of shift that took place in the late 70s in comics. People were moving away from impressionistic work Like Kirby’s towards more “photorealistic” art like Neal Adams. As comics moved into the 80s, fans moved away from old-school Kirby to new-school guys like Frank Miller and Walt Simonson. Ironically both of them and Byrne (and really everybody in “superhero” comics) were heavily influenced by Jack. It’s interesting to note: one of the main major shifts that took place in comics was from 60s Kirby, to 80’s Kirby homage! So I do think Jack was still giving his best in the 70s, it’s just that a lot of readers were changing. And the times they were changing.
Patrick Ford: You know what I “love” about the Marvel LOCs? It’s how the MMMS pepper their letters with their loyalty oaths. Things like “Make Mine Marvel.” Ever hear of “projection?” You know how Lee’s Lunatics think it’s perfectly appropriate to demean Kirby and his fans. How their favorite ploy is to call anyone who thinks Kirby was producing his best work in the ’70s a “Kirby Kultist?” Well there is a cult. It just isn’t a Kirby cult.
Patrick Ford Jim wrote: “While Jack brought back with him a feeling of separation from the Marvel universe–a complete disconnect from everything anyone else was doing, like he started over in a separate reality. ” Yup. That’s why I like it and think every single other comic book Marvel published at the time was awful or worse.
I liked some of the other stuff Marvel put out back them. I enjoyed Sal Buscema’s simple style. I loved Perez/Sinnott on FF. I enjoyed the Byrne/Austin X-Men books. And there was a lot of forgettable stuff that was disappointing as well — like all of those lame “team-up” books. But one thing is for sure, if you are looking at the history of comics, and you are looking at the big picture, Jack’s books will be the ones people are talking about 100s of years from now. He clearly towers over all of the writers and artists who followed him, most of whom were simply reinterpreting his creations. I hope one day more people consider that Kirby’s 70s books are the conclusion to a grand epic that spanned almost the entire 20th century.
Jack was a pioneer in comics for 50 years, and his 70s work represents his last stand in the industry (in addition to his work in the 80s); the other artists who came after him were simply following the trail he blazed. That’s not to say comics history will forget them (if anyone even cares about comics in the future, which they probably will not), it’s just that there’s no way you can even begin to stress how important Jack Kirby was to that Marvel company. All you have to do is look at the garbage Goodman and Lee were publishing before Jack came onboard, and compare that to what they have been publishing since the Kirby Revolution.