Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Man Behind the Heroes – X-Men

2013-04-13_125451In fandom a lot of folks complain that Kirby and Lee don’t really deserve credit for the “new” X-Men, and you can’t deny the importance of all the creators who added new characters to the Kirby/Lee X-Men pantheon. And despite the incredible importance of the Wolverine character’s success, and the success of other characters like Storm, I contend that Jack really built an incredible framework there to serve as a foundation for introducing new characters. It is a school for mutants after all. Always new people going to school. So I don’t think you can emphasize enough the importance of those first issues of Uncanny X-Men where Kirby/Lee laid the groundwork for this ever-evolving team of characters that resonates with literally billions of people. And when you add X-Men to all of Jack’s other intellectual properties, it’s really almost incomprehensible that one man could have such success creating iconic characters. I think that’s one of the reasons Jack remains virtually unknown among non-comics fans. It’s just too hard to believe (1) someone could accomplish what Jack did and (2) that Marvel and Stan Lee could completely bamboozle billions of people into thinking everything was really their idea.

 

The Man Behind the Heroes – Iron Man

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Iron Man was technically created by Don Heck and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but it’s worth noting that Kirby may have worked on the origin with Stan and Don. Jack may have even pitched the character to Lee. We do know Jack designed the iconic first costume and Iron Man was an integral part of Jack’s Avengers.

The Man Behind the Heroes – Spider-Man?

Kirby warholThese next handful of posts may be redundant. Hopefully you don’t start to hate the terrific Comic Book Creator # 1, Alex Ross painting after this series of posts. But I’m going to do my own version of Andy Warhol for about a week and repeat an image with a slight change to each one.

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I’ll only make a handful — obviously I could do this to literally thousands and thousands of Marvel products released since Jack left the company in the 70s. And I don’t think these next few work quite as well as the one with the Avengers movie poster — I thought that really captured what’s happening right now not just in comics and in film, but in our culture. The real blue collar working class heroes are nothing more than a ghost image obscured by corporate propaganda. And over the last few months we’ve been bombarded by Avengers advertising.

And I know many of you don’t think Jack deserves any credit for his involvement in the creation of Spider-man. But Steve Ditko’s account of the events convinced me that Jack does indeed deserve credit for his work during the development of a character who was a young scientist, living with his Aunt and his Uncle, who transforms into a wall-crawling, web-shooting, crime fighting Spider-man that swings amongst the rooftops of New York City — so I am going to include the image below in this series of “The Man Behind The Heroes” posts, although Ditko’s importance in the creation of that character should never be trivialized and cannot be over-emphasized. Therefore I’ll even include a question mark in the title of this post out of respect for Ditko. But if Jack created the first version of the spider-character and wrote the first story? Maybe that question mark doesn’t need to be there. That debate will rage as long as their are comics fans.

And I’ll only do one from the Iron Man movie and one from the Hulk movie and one of the X-Men movies (specifically the one that featured all of Jack’s X-Men, since I realize some argue Jack didn’t create Wolverine). Maybe these cross-fades are lame, but you know what? Sometimes one picture…

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Kirby’s Ghost

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Facebook comment:

Frank Burbrink: I wouldn’t call Jack the invisible man behind the 60’s Marvel pantheon of characters. It was pretty clear then, through the 70’s and now what he did for Marvel.

Thanks for the comment, Frank. I agree 100% — I think most people who are familiar with comics history agree (although you have an extremist fringe out there who takes everything Stan Lee says literally). The problem is there really are only a small handful of people on the planet who do know about American comics history. A few thousand at the most I would say. And I find they tend to be deeply divided on virtually every issue. Most of my friends and family have no idea who Jack Kirby is, and I write about him every day. Comics just are not on their radar. But they do see the movies and they see the endless barrage of commercials and toys and games and other merchandising.

If Marvel made some effort to use their incredible financial power to simply say “thank-you” to Jack, literally billions of people would get that message. Do I expect Marvel to do that? No, not when they are involved in a lawsuit with his Estate, but my hope is that when that is all wrapped up, maybe they might make some effort to promote Jack’s involvement in the building of the Marvel empire.

Ideally at some point I hope someone puts together a good documentary film on Jack’s life and work. To me, that would be the best way to reach a wide audience. And if Marvel would put their corporate might behind such a project? I suspect it would reach a massive audience. That being  said, I don’t expect them to do that, I think they will emphasize the creations not the creators in the coming decades.

But there are plenty of wealthy people who were influenced by Jack’s work working in the media right now, so hopefully at some point some of them might get together and work with the Kirby Estate to tell Jack’s story using the cinema.

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The Man Behind the Heroes

rJon B. Cooke has put together a new magazine called Comic Book Creator. Download a free PDF preview at this link. Get the print edition (at 15% off with a FREE digital edition) or Digital Only Edition (just $3.95).

Wonderful cover by Alex Ross. I think it really does a terrific job capturing the invisible man behind the 60s Marvel pantheon of characters. Since Jack is no longer with us to fight for himself, he is like a ghost standing beside his creations in a fog created by Stan Lee and the Marvel Machine. I put together a little cross-fade above that I think is pretty self-explanatory. I could put that image behind every one of the Marvel movie posters. I wouldn’t be surprised if I could put it behind just about every new book Marvel is publishing this month and it would be apropos.

After I have a chance to read the issue I’ll be sure to comment on it. I encourage you all to check it out. Jon is doing good work and in this age where magazines are having a hard time staying afloat, I hope you all will consider supporting TwoMorrow’s comics research and reporting. And any time any publication comes out in support of Jack Kirby I also encourage you to pass along links to your friends. The only way non-comics fans are ever going to know Jack Kirby played an important role in the creation of the Marvel Empire is if we continue to use the internet to put that information out there.

And of course, one hopes after the dust settles, Marvel may one day give the Kirby Estate at least some kind of reasonable settlement so that maybe Jack’s grand-kids and great grand-kids might have a college fund. In this age of corporate indifference, I’m not optimistic that will happen, but I remain hopeful. And it is nice to see at least people like John Morrow, Jon Cooke, and Alex Ross care and are willing to express that sentiment on the record when supporting Kirby could make it more difficult for peole like them to find work at the “House of Ideas” or as many call it “The House that Jack Built” if they do not toe the company line.

I think this cover captures their sentiment perfectly, and I also think that image by Ross would be an absolutely perfect movie poster for a future documentary film focused  on the life and work of Jack Kirby.

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Another Avengers Invasion

2013-04-13_113528Working on a new Kirby Dynamics post right now, another Avengers ad invaded my computer. Just doing a google image search for “Comic Book Artist Cover” triggered it. That must have linked somehow to keyword “Avengers.” It is kind of fun to see Jack’s characters have become so iconic. All with pretty humble origins on his beat up old wooden drawing board.

You have to laugh at how the tentacles of the corporate octopus are totally wrapped around everything we touch. I wonder what Kirby would have thought about stuff like this, having his Avengers characters force-fed down our throats at every turn.

I guess these invasive ads are funny until something gets in your system and erases all your data…

Let’s Rap With Cap Facebook Comments

jesus-on-my-pumpkinHere’s a few comments on the recent thread on the “Let’s Rap with Cap” letters columns.

Chris Hlady: I was born too late to get into Jack’s golden area of the 60s. When I leafed through the comics in the 70s, Jack’s stuff came across as odd, so I can definitely relate to those letter-column comments. In retrospect, I definitely missed something amazing, but letter-columns aren’t done in retrospect, but as a reflection of the current comments running around. In that sense, I think that page of letters reflect fair comment. It certainly shouldn’t be a puff piece that does not reflect the common sense of the average reader. I can’t say I see the point of nit-picking people’s honest comments. That said, I really do enjoy these insights into the Kirby phenomenon. Cheers.

Thanks for the comment. First of all, most folks I’ve discussed this with over the years agree with you completely. A lot of the kids who read Jack’s comics in the 1960s grew up, got married, and moved away from comics; kids like me who were around 10-years-old didn’t really like Jack’s weird 70s art, we drifted towards artists like Sal Buscema and Romita who produced pretty, conservative art. So the letters columns were a genuine reflection of a shift in fandom away from Jack. Sort of like how we recently shifted away from rock music to rap in American culture. So I get that.

Here’s the main point I’m trying to make: yeah, sure, some readers were writing in and saying they don’t like Jack’s Cap comic book. That’s inevitable; I’ve never heard of any artist in world history receiving zero criticism. But let’s say Marvel gets 100 letters about Jack’s Cap a month (and that could be either a high or low number, if anyone out there knows the average number of letters a Marvel book got in the 70s, please share) — if Marvel got 100 letters do you really think 5/6 of them were negative? And even if you only get 4 positive letters out of 100 — print the 4 positive ones. If you accentuate the positive, you’re not Hitler encouraging Nazis to load Jewish men, women, and children into a gas chamber; you are a low-level Marvel employee at a comic book company trying to promote your product by praising your co-workers. It’s not like “Marveldom Assembled” would have turned on the company if Scott Edelman printed a few letters praising Jack Kirby.

So in my ever so humble opinion, the “staffers” overloading Jack’s Cap letters columns with negative letters were not trying to provide a public service focused on giving the “Merry Marvel Marching Society” fair and balanced journalism, what we’re witnessing here is a couple staffers who hated Jack Kirby’s writing using the only forum they had to start a mutiny. Remember, this was before the internet, and I know I didn’t read fanzines as a 10-year-old. These letters columns were the only avenue these “staffers” had where they could express their distate for Kirby’s work and reach 10-year-olds like me. And as you will see as I wrap this up — it gets worse…

You also have to understand if you get 96/100 negative letters, if you are the staffer editing the letters page, you can cherry-pick them and pick negative letters that (a) reflect your own agenda and (b) you can create a theme to the letters page. As we are seeing the themes this staffer chose to focus on earlier on were (a) readers want Nomad back, and (b) they want Englehart back, and (c) basically Jack sucks.

Now the new theme we will see in letters columns coming up soon is that (a) supposedly the readers don’t want science-fiction in Cap (which makes no sense since comics are science-fiction), and (b) they want more “Marvel universe” content in Cap, and (c) they want Jack replaced. They want him fired. Clearly the staffers doing this are directing the flow of this pseudo-debate taking place by their selection of the specific content of the negative letters.

And it makes zero sense to do this. What we are seeing in these columns isn’t a couple letters asking Jack to bring back Red Skull, this is about 4/5 letters per month demanding specific change, supplemented with that god-awful fake “Aunt Petunia, face front” gibberish from the Stan Lee clone editing the columns. If you get 100/100 negative letters, run an ad for the Howard the Duck presidential campaign. Your job is to sell the next issue of the comic book. But, in my opinion, the contempt for Jack by these staffers was so great, they absolutely had to try and get rid of that guy. And Scott Edelman admitted on his weblog that 40 years later, to this day, he still feels utter contempt for Jack’s writing; so I contend the staffers aren’t just reflecting fandom, they are influencing fandom — they created this anti-Kirby campaign themselves by the selection of negative letters.

But, of course, obviously tastes were changing too — the fans were drifting to a sort of Jack Kirby/Neal Adams style that Byrne/Austin popularized and to this day permeates the superhero branch of the comics industry. Then you had Miller with his “dark” shadowy Daredevil, and other phases. The point here is, yeah, some fans didn’t like Jack’s 70s stuff, and, yeah, I can understand the staffers putting a few negative letters in the mix so that they aren’t complete and utter phonies (as you said you don’t want to create a “Let’s Rap with Cap” column that’s a “puff piece that does not reflect the common sense of the average reader”) but why so many negative letters? And why so many focusd on getting rid of Jack?

And listen, this is one of those topics where even some of Jack’s most ardent supporters disagree with me, and obviously the Pro-Marvel Corporation camp disagrees with everything I say. I’m just a wacky “conspiracy theorist” who sees a picture of Jesus on a pumpkin.

Savior

All I can do is read the letters for the first time and report on what I see. And in them I see what looks to me to be a concentrated effort on the part of some Marvel “staffers” to get Jack fired. And let me tell you, when I wrote that last post, I had never seen the rest of the letters. Jim Shooter mentioned somewhere (maybe even to me) that when he caught wind of what these staffers were doing he put a stop to it. But as I just found out yesterday as I read all the rest of the letters, not only does this campaign to oust Kirby continue until the very last issue, wait until you see how much worse it gets. What I’ve posted thus far is actually constructive criticism compared to what’s coming next.

So although I agree fans were turning on Jack in the 70s because times change, I’m still going to contend these Marvel staffers used the “Let’s Rap with Cap” letters page as their personal megaphone to try and get Jack Kirby fired, and I think this campaign turned a lot of fans against Jack who may have simply continued to enjoy his books if they hadn’t been subjected to so much peer pressure.

Now, does this mean Edelman and his fellow staffers were evil people? I doubt it. Hell, if I had been a staffer at that time? I might have done the exact same thing. I’m not playing the role of God doling out justice. All I can do is report on my reaction to what I’m reading, and as a fan of Jack, as someone who thinks he was genuinely a great man, I still find what these slimy little rat staffers were doing contemptible. If I had done this myself? I’d be heartbroken and apologetic. But as we saw when I talked to one of the “staffers,” Scott Edelman, he still feels contempt for Jack’s work, he defended his work editing the letters columns, and he basically mocked me for criticizing him and told me to provide “proof” backing up my assertions.

That’s what I’m doing. Read the letters columns for yourselves.

And I’m wondering, where was Jim Shooter during all of this? When did he supposedly put a stop to this? If any of you follow Jim’s blog, maybe ask him for me. If I don’t hear back, I’ll go over there at some point and see if he wants to discuss this with us.

Anyway, I appreciate the feedback, your opinion quite frankly is the one I’ve heard the most frequently. My “conspiracy theory” (I guess I should spell it “konspiracy theory”) is considered speculation by most. But since there isn’t video tape of the staffers discussing their plan to publish  negative letters trying to get Jack fired, if I was a judge and I had to make a decision… based on the evidence at hand, my verdict as of now is this:  some Marvel “staffers” in the 70s did indeed try to use the “Let’s Rap with Cap” letters column to get Jack fired from the book, and at the very least they wanted him replaced as the “scripter.” They used the letters columns as a means to achieve that end. And as you’ll see, the letters columns just keep getting worse…

Finally, here’s a comment from Patrick Ford:

Patrick Ford: Yeah, It’s hysterical the denial. Even Jim Shooter said it was happening. He wrote about it at his blog. As I recall Shooter even mentioned Stan Lee had told him when Romita replaced Ditko on Spider-Man there were a large number of negative letters. Lee told Shooter he didn’t print the negative letters and instead went to extra lengths to praise Romita in the Soapbox, on the LOC page in his answers to letters, and he printed only positive letters. In a short time as was typical at Marvel the fans began singing Romita’s praises using the exact same words Lee had used. There are probably 100s of examples of this. One example is the idea Colletta’s inks look like “old woodcuts.” Well no they don’t, they don’t look anything like woodcuts. Where did the “woodcut” idea come from? Stan Lee of course. Lee knew how important marketing is. “Woodcuts” sounds a lot better than “scratchy.” It sounds respectable. In short order everyone was saying Colletta was “right” for Thor. Even people who didn’t like Colletta inking anything except Thor, said he was “right” for Thor, because his inks looked like “old woodcuts.” Once you notice this it’s comical to see it being mouthed by people over and over again. It’s good evidence of the power of salesmanship.