Artist, pop culture historian, and friend of Jack and Roz Kirby – Greg Theakston gifted many items to the Kirby Museum a few years back. One was a copy of Fungus Rodeo, a zine published by Film Threat’s Chris Gore in 1987, which included a transcript of a Theakston-Kirby phone interview. I posted Fungus Rodeo scans in the “Clipping Service” folder of the Kirby Museum’s website back in 2010, and now offer a web readable transcript of same here on the Kirby Effect. As always, polite corrections welcome! – Rand
God. Jesus Christ. Jack Kirby. He created the Marvel universe along with Stan Lee. He gave birth to characters that are now part of American comic book pop culture; Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer, The Hulk, The X-Men, and so many others we don’t have the space to list them.. Fungus Rodeo confronted Jack soon after his 70th birthday and were bnot disappointed. Paul Zimmerman, Steve Raymond and myself (Chris Gore) posed the questions while Greg theakston conducted the interview via phone to Jack’s wonderful home in Thousand Oaks, California.
Greg Theakston: HELLO? Hello… They’re not home! (Imitates woman’s voice) “Quick, Jack! Back in the car…!”
Answering machine (Jack Kirby’s voice): Hi! This is the Kirby residence. We can’t… get to the phone right now, so… <noise>
Jack Kirby: Greg? GREG?
Theakston: Hi, Jack. Listen, I’m doin’ a couple of my friends a favor…
KIRBY: Yeah, yeah. I had to run for the phone, so, ohh, you probably got my… uh – Oh, wait Rozzie, she’ll shut off that thing <Answering machine still drones on in the background> So we’ll be able to talk…
Theakston:Good! Alright, I’ve got a big list of questions- well, not a BIG list of question. A couple of…
KIRBY: Uh, OK, whatever you like, I’ll try my best to answer
Theakston: Well, they put this list of questions together, and I think they’re pretty good. The first question is: Who would you most like to get a letter from? If you could have anybody in the world write you a letter, who would you like to hear from?
KIRBY: Anybody in the world! Look, I like people in general. If i get a letter from someone intelligent, that’s good enough for me. Even if it’s unkind, and they’re intelligent, that’s good enough.
Theakston: Alright… What’s your favorite pastime? What do you do to relax?
KIRBY: Uh… Speaking to friends. Y’know, what the average guy likes is fine, the ordinary sports and such.
Theakston: What do you watch on TV?
KIRBY: Cops and robbers… I like action shows.
Theakston: What about music? What kind of music do you listen to that might surprise us?
KIRBY: I listen to every kind of music, because, to my mind, there’s only good music, and bad music – you can make good or bad music in any form.
Theakston: Do you… know any musicians?
KIRBY: Well, I know Frank zappa.
Theakston: How did you meet him?
KIRBY: Zappa contacted me. He sought me out and we became very good friends.
Theakston: What did he have to say?
KIRBY: Well, he says… I know he likes comics as well as I like music. Music, like comics, is a media. Americans are very fortunate in the fact that they have a variety of media, which includes all sorts of music, art, literature – a wide variety of very good things.
Theakston: Obviously, then you’ve listened to some Frank Zappa music – what other sorts of progressive music do you listen to?
KIRBY: I’ve listened to many types of progressive music… I’ve listened to Prince… people of that sort.
Theakston: Yes… When we spoke earlier, you mentioned a fellow who plays music with no melody. Does that ring a note?
KIRBY: Yes, there’s a fellow who merely makes sounds of some kind with an instrument, and I listen to that because… it’s a new approach to music. A new approach to anything kinda fascinates me. It doesn’t necessarily have to be termed ”good” or “bad” – It’s “new”, and then you can judge whether YOU like it or not.
Theakston: You’ve always tried to do “new” things, haven’t you?
KIRBY: Always! I’ve tried a new approach to storytelling, new approaches to art, even new approaches to balancing a comic page…
Theakston: If there were one person in all of history you would like to talk to, who would it be?
KIRBY: Probably Noah – Noah was a guy like me. He looked forward to things, he prepared, he forewarned.
Theakston: <phone rings loudly> Oops! Would you grab that other line, please? What do you think about extraterrestrial life?
KIRBY: I think it’s out there, but… who am I to say where it is? I think the universe is a very, very big place!
Theakston: Well, then, what are your views on what that life might be like?
KIRBY: I think that it would be just like it is here. I mean, we can’t tell what an amoeba thinks – it might be instinctive life, it might be intelligent life, it ”might be” anything.
Theakston: Well, speaking about E.T.s and U.F.O.s, did you not see a U.F.O. at one time?
KIRBY: I saw something very strange, but I… it might not necessarily have been a U.F.O…. I saw a light in the sky. It was very, very bright, like a star. There might have been one or more lights. It was right in front of me, right over the Pacific Ocean – it moved forward in a straight line, then it stopped, and then it moved backwards, directly, without varying, just as it had moved forward. It was quite large… it looked like a start-like a cluster.
Theakston: If you had a message for alien beings, what would it be?
KIRBY: <pause> STAY AWAY! <laughs>
Theakston: Why wouldn’t you want aliens to contact us?
KIRBY: Because we can’t… human beings can’t resolve conflicts.
Theakston: So you don’t think we should get any visitors from other planets until we’re more peaceful?
KIRBY: I hope they never come.
Theakston: I suppose one of the downsides would be that they might consider us protein!
KIRBY: Who knows! They could, or they couldn’t. I couldn’t really say.
Theakston: Alright. If you were able to travel back in time and change one thing about your entire life, what would you change?
KIRBY: The point is that I couldn’t. I would be the same type of person I am now, because somewhere in your childhood you’re conditioned by circumstance, and you can’t change that circumstance. I think it’s indifferent to intention.
Theakston: Um-hmmm… Something that you’ve been doing very well for the past fifty or so years is predicting the future – inventions, and what humankind will be up to in the world of tomorrow. Got any projections for what you think the future holds in store for us?
KIRBY: Yes, I have.
Theakston: Would you like to share them with us?
KIRBY: I’d like not to think about them.
THeakston: You think they’re bad?
KIRBY: I just like not to think about them. I think that is good advice for everybody.
Theakston: Has anybody ever commented on your obvious influence on action in modern-day filmmaking, such as in current action films like Commando?
KIRBY: Yes, I’ve discussed that with people, and they seem to feel that there are a lot of films today that operate on my type fo formula
Theakston: Any of those (films) spring to mind, off the top of your head?
KIRBY: No, not necessarily, I wouldn’t want to say which films, because it wouldn’t necessarily be an action film. I’ve done very well with romance stories, with adventure stories, crime stories.
Theakston: Of the current crop of movies, filmmakers, what do you like?
KIRBY: If you could change that word “crop”, you’d be going in the right direction…
Theakston: Oh, alright… you don’t care for any of it too much, huh?
KIRBY: Not really.
Theakston: There must be something you’ve seen over the last couple of years that’s made an impression on you?
KIRBY: Yes, but I… I just wouldn’t like to pick it out, it would be wrong for me to do that.
Theakston: Next question, then – if you are Jack “King” Kirby, who is the Prince?
KIRBY: <chuckles. Yes, uh… I really don’t know I mean… I think everybody, everybody who tries to make comic books better is a prince!
Theakston: Good answer! What do you think of the new generation of comics like “Dark Knight” and “Watchmen”?
KIRBY: I don’t necessarily follow any of the new comics, I’ve been busy with my won stuff…
Theakston: How do you think today’s comics differ from the comics that you were doing?
KIRBY: Well, I think they’re more illustrative, in the first place. You’ll find that the comics in my day were very simple.
Theakston: Is that good or bad?
KIRBY: No, I think that’s good, because doing things simply comes directly to the point. I think sales were very high then, and what’s bad about that?
Theakston: Hmm… What about the content? Do you think that…
KIRBY: The content hasn’t changed, it was just more simply told, more simply constructed.
Theakston: Alright, here;s a good question: Jack, how would you like to settle about a thousand bets right now – if you drew it, who would win – Thor, or the Hulk? Who’s stronger?
KIRBY: <long pause> Well… They’re both people of unlimited power, one is mythical. THerefore, the limits of his power are unknown. The Hulk is a mutant, and his power is unlimited because we can’t gauge it.
Theakston: Wasn’t that one of your principal ideas behind the Hulk? No matter who he was battling, he would get power from… nobody knew where?
KIRBY: Right, because we uh… haven’t run the gamut of full mutation, as of yet, and the power of it is unknown. From out human perspective then, the power of mutation can be unlimited.
Theakston: Well, I guess it’s still an unsettled question then….
KIRBY: Yes, it’s an unsettled question, and nobody could answer that directly.
Theakston: Perhaps there shouldn’t be a definitive answer on that…
KIRBY: I don’t think there are any answers – I think what makes life interesting is the fact that we’re able to wrestle with questions like these and get new viewpoints. I don’t think there’s anybody around who can give you a definitive answer on anything. One and one does not necessarily make two.
Theakston: Uh… A temporary answer is sometimes good, just to have a…
KIRBY: Oh yes, I’m not saying it’s bad to be decisive. I’m saying it’s good to be decisive.
Theakston: OK! If they were going to make “The Jack Kirby Story” into a movie, who would you want to play you in the movie?
KIRBY: <pause> Well, to get on your good side, I would say Greg Theakston…. <laughs>
Theakston: <laughs> No, no., no, give me a real answer…. Who would you like to portray you in a movie? Is there anyone out there who you think would do a good job?
KIRBY: I’m sure there’s a good director around that could get somebody of my type.
Theakston: Nobody that you’d prefer, then?
KIRBY: Not necessarily, no.
Theakston: Speaking of directors, what motivated you to do the 2001 comic book and did you meet Kubrick after or during the time that you were doing that book?
KIRBY: No, I never met him during the time I was doing the book.
Theakston: Did you ever meet him?
KIRBY: I can’t remember… I might have, but I can’t remember.
Theakston: Why 2001? Why that book?
KIRBY: 2001, I thought was a direct departure from the type of science fiction movie that had been shown, and proved to me that Kubrick is an innovative guy… I love innovative people because they try for answers – they’re the ones who come up with something new.
Theakston: And that alone was enough motivation for you to launch a whole 2001 series?
KIRBY: Yes, I like that kind of thinking… it’s innovative thinking.
theakston: Alright, if you could have one superpower, just one, what personal power would you like to have?
KIRBY: Well, uh…. Oh, you mean a…
Theakston: yeah, a comic book superpower…
Theakston: No, you’ve got that already! Give me something you don’t have. Would you like to fly, would you like to throw bolts from your fists, would you like to crawl walls? What would be fun for Jack Kirby?
KIRBY: Oh, uh… to be eternal and watch things develop.
Theakston: Alright, that’s a better answer! What superhero name would you give yourself?
Theakston: Eternus? that’s pretty good! I like that! And for free, no less – we’re getting you to work for free!
KIRBY: Oh listen – take it, and run with it!
Theakston: So what’s the best thing that ever happened to you?
KIRBY: Rosalind Kirby!
Theakston: Well, that’s pretty obvious. Where do good ideas come from?
KIRBY: Good ideas come from the willingness to wrestle with them.
Theakston: Alright, that’s pretty succinct. What’s your favorite movie?
KIRBY: My favorite movie? The one with James Cagney… it was a musical…
Theakston: Yankee Doodle Dandy?
KIRBY: Yankee Doodle Dandy!
Theakston: Who’s your favorite comedian? Who makes you laugh?
KIRBY: My favorite comedian? Oh uh… Gee, I can’t really say, there were so many good ones…
Theakston: Who are some of your favorites?
KIRBY: Jackie Mason. Sid Caesar was wonderful…
Theakston: How about uh… Who were some of your favorite artists?
KIRBY: You mean the comics?
Theakston: Well, whoever… Whatever you like to look at in art…
KIRBY: Well, I… I like to look at interesting art.
Theakston: Anybody specifically? Anyone you could name?
Theakston: How about when you were starting out? What artists influenced you as a kid?
KIRBY: Milton Caniff, anybody who… from the funny papers I loved them all. I loved George McManus, the fellow who did Gasoline Alley, and, of course, Krazy Kat! I think his name was Sullivan.
Theakston: OK… what keeps you up at night?
KIRBY: Nothing bothers me at all! Television keeps me up at night!
Theakston: What do you watch at night?
KIRBY: I watch commentaries, I watch film, I watch anything that’s interesting.
Theakston: Somebody once told me that you watched movies without the sound on… is that true?
KIRBY: That’s just a whim… an occasional whim.
Theakston: You know what they’re saying… There’s no sense in even getting the dialogue. You know that Bogart is calling some copper a dirty rat.
KIRBY: No, I never think the dialogue is that triet. It’s just that sometimes I’ll get a thought in my head when I’m watching TV and I’ll try it.
Theakston: Do any other media sources give you inspiration? Do you draw from other realms?
KIRBY: Of course.
Theakston: Would you say that TV affected you heavily?
KIRBY: Well, you’ll find that my art is movie art. If you read my stories, you’ll find my stories are visual movies.
Theakston: Very cinematic. What’s your best childhood memory?
KIRBY: Oh uh… my parents.
Theakston: Anything happen specifically from the time you were ten or eleven, growing up in New York?
KIRBY: From the time I was ten or eleven? Yeah, when my parents bought me a suit. <laughs>
Theakston: The first time they bought you a suit! I guess that’s right up there… How did you meet Marlene Dietrich?
KIRBY: I didn’t speak to her, I saw her in France.
Theakston: How did you see her? What happened?
KIRBY: Well, she came out to sing for the regiments. I had to travel seven miles from the front line to see her… It really startled me because, here I was, right on the front line and… the sergeant called over to me and ordered me to move back about three or four hundred yards and then someone told me there was truck waiting-they showed me where the truck was, and that truck took us seven miles back from the front lines to a ruined church, and in that ruined church, where I rapidly fell asleep, Marlene Dietrich came out in GI underwear and began to sing for us – I respected her so highly, I actually never thought that performers would come that close to the line. Because I could hear the guns going off…
Theakston: In the distance?
KIRBY: Not in the distance. Very nearby! I can tell you, I think at that moment, there was a barrage coming in, and there was this wonderful woman, without a break, or without showing any signs of fear. She sang for us. It was a wonderful experience.
Theakston: How about Bing Crosby?
KIRBY: Well, Bing Crosby, I, uh… <laughs> I was walking through a ruined house and I looked through one of the broken slats, and there was Bing Crosby! I couldn’t believe it! It was an unbelievable experience.
Theakston: Where were you?
KIRBY: This was just behind the front line, and BIng Crosby was walking parallel with me and I could see him through these broken slats, and then when we came out of what had been the rear of the house, why, there was Bing Crosby and six chorus girls! Singing… and they danced.
Theakston: Very close to being fired on?
KIRBY: Yes, very close to being fired on. I’ll never forget it. I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Theakston: Specifically, did you guys… did you cross the Moselle River?
KIRBY: yes, we crossed the Moselle River.
Theakston: What was the battle like?
KIRBY: Very noisy, and i was rowed across the river by my lieutenant at about three o’clock in the morning. I walked through this town on the other side of the river, where nobody was, nobody had this town. ther Germans didn’t hold it, and we didn’t hold it. It was just me…
Theakston: What were you doing there?
KIRBY: Well, I was… I told my lieutenant I was an artist. I thought that might get me on the newspaper, Yank, but instead it got me this job of making a map of this town…
Theakston: Really not utilizing your talents to their fullest, eh?
KIRBY: Well, it was the lieutenants idea of using my talents, I guess he did the right thing….
Theakston: So what happened? Did you make it into the town and get a map?
KIRBY: <laughs> I ran into the Germans in what had been a very swank hotel!
Theakston: So there were Germans occupying the town?
KIRBY: It wasn’t held at all.
Theakston: So these guys were doing the same thing you were doing?
KIRBY: Yes – nothing happened, though. they got away, and I got away.
Theakston: Anything else you want to relate to us about your war experience?
KIRBY: Well, uh…. all I can say is that it wasn’t very pleasant.
Theakston: Well, it’s kind of hard to ask more questions after hearing stories like that…
KIRBY: Listen, I hope I’ve given you some details… What can I say? I have a great respect for all of you guys that appreciate comics… You’ve given them dimension, I love all of you.
I included the YouTube audio of this interview from Kirby’s 70th birthday in my post on the Kirby Museum home page blog last year acknowledging his 94th, although somewhat buried at the end of the post. Why buried? Well, listen, and/or read. It’s a partial recording (now with transcript below) of a radio interview on WBAI in New York, on Robert Knight’s Earthwatch, with Warren Reece, Max Schmid, and call-in guest Stan Lee. Thanks to J. J. Barney for adding the audio tape to the Museum’s archives.
REECE: …with the Red Skull on it and they came up on in the middle of Ebbets Field and wrecked it, I know you were a Dodgers fan.
KIRBY: <laughs> Yes, I was! I wasn’t a rabid baseball fan, but I went to the games often with friends. And I loved the Dodgers because, well, they’ll always be a colorful team for me. It’s a personal thing, of course. As for the Red Skull, I was growing up. It was a period and I was growing up and I finally asked myself, “Why am I making this Red Skull so evil? Why is he such a bad guy?” And I felt there was a story behind that… behind the Red Skull. And I began to think of him as a person.
KIRBY: And remember, in my early years, he was merely just a villain.
REECE: He had no origin, at first. You gave him characterization, deeper characterization in the Sixties.
KIRBY: Well, I gave him deeper characterization because, well, I was growing up and questioning myself. Remember, I’m a child of my own times.
KIRBY: I was questioning my own times.
REECE: One of the… just as a footnote, one of the objects, one of the grails, you might say, in Captain America and the Red Skull during the Sixties, was an object called the cosmic cube, and I’m sure you must be aware, hopefully with some pride, that now in the field of artificial intelligence and parallel computer processing, and new approaches to computing, that one of the new computing devices that is based on massive parallel structure, is called the cosmic cube.
KIRBY: Well… I mean, it flatters me for you to make the connection. But, however, I‘m sure it’s a technical term today, whereas yesterday, as far as, you know, where storytelling is concerned, it was, I think, a wonderful keystone for many, many good stories. So, I used the cosmic cube as I would use any other gimmick on which to base five or six stories. Or maybe more. The cosmic cube, to me, was certainly a part of the mystery which we’re still trying to solve. “What is there out in space?” and the many other questions that come with it, “Are we the only form of life? If there is life out there, what kind of life will we find?” and the cosmic cube is that clue. It’s that little clue, maybe, left behind in the human mind. Somewhere in the human mind, that question is important. And it was important to me because, well, I was doing that sort of thing. So it became important to me and, therefore, I created the cosmic cube. Probably, it was material from the same fountainhead from which I was asking questions.
KNIGHT: Speaking of cosmic parallelepipeds, this is Earthwatch on WBAI in New York. My name is Robert Knight, here with Warren Reece, celebrating the 70th birthday of Jack Kirby, live on this air. Also with us in the studio is the producer of The Golden Age of Radio here, Max Schmid.
MAX SCHMID: Hi, Jack. Hello. I’ve been sitting in on this conversation, and one or two questions have occurred to me. We’re discussing now the war years of the Forties, and you’ve been saying that you write, very often, to explore your own feelings and thoughts about things, but what market did you feel you were writing for? We consider today, or the general thought is, that comic books are for children was that the thought at the time did you feel you were writing basically for a children’s audience?
KIRBY: Oh, that was not true at all. I was writing for everybody. I was exploring everybody. I wanted to know about everybody. And I’m still doing that today. I, as I said before, people were always important to me. I wanted to know more about them And creating those stories, I was exploring people. And I was exploring the questions that people ask. I was exploring my own self in own reality. And I’m still doing that today
REECE: Got some follow ups on that in a minute, specifically about your years doing the science fiction stories about the aliens. But I just had a couple more quickies about your work on Cap. When you did the covers of Captain America #7 and Young Allies #1, I have line art from house ads that show that they were re-done. The changes that were made on the cover of the Young Allies made sense; the Allies characters were made larger and Joe Stalin was omitted from the cover presumably because the non-aggression pact with Hitler fell through, and he became one of the Allies. But on the cover of Captain America #7, which prominently featured the Red Skull on the inside, the figure of the Red Skull cutting a spiked ball down over Betty Ross was changed on the cover to look like an ordinary Nazi. That’s always been a mystery to me and I was wondering if you can clarify anything about that, Jack.
KIRBY: Well, I can’t recall, you know, that particular issue. I can’t recall it well, today. I’d have to take more time than you give me to define it. However, I can tell you that whatever I drew there made sense to me at the time, and they reflected the times. I can’t recall the particular story. However, if I drew Betsy Ross doing that, it was an essential part of the story and something to keep the reader interested. And it never meant anything more than that.
REECE: And let’s just flip up through… I noticed the early Caps from 1941 and 1942 smacked of your influences of film. The characters and the stories seem to be involved often with movie-making or using projection techniques. but I also noted that some of the costuming, for example, in one story that you did with Ivan the Terrible, very authentically Russian. Were you influenced by any of Sergei Eisenstein’s films, like Alexander Nevsky? Just the overall use of film type characters in Captain America; the Phantom Hound of Cardiff Moor, which was like the Hound of the Baskervilles, the Hunchback of Hollywood, all these things.
KIRBY: Well, I can tell you that you’ve said it all for me. I‘m a movie… I always was and I always will be a movie goer. Essentially, what I’ve always done was a kind of a still movie. It was the reason I dropped editorial cartoons to do comic strips, because comic strips gave me more room to do a movie. And when the comic strips became limited, I did comic books because they gave me more room to do a movie. And I suppose, I‘m probably the type that will probably work on an endless movie, which I’ll never finish, I suppose. But essentially, that’s what I’ve always tried to do. I’ve tried to, from my very early years, I’ve been an inveterate movie goer, and still am, and I love the medium. So, when I draw, and what I’m still doing, it’s part of that particular orientation.
REECE: Uh huh. Also, in that time, in Captain America #7, you had a villain who was called the Toad in the story, wore a bat like costume. But I caught something on the contents page, Jack, and he was called the Bat there. Was anybody worrying about troubles with the Batman people at the time?
KIRBY: Oh, everybody was always worrying about something, I can tell you! <laughs> I never tried to get too close to anybody’s costume. However, I tried to do the kind of character that was being done at the time. Remember, at that time, everybody was thinking alike. Superheroes resembled each other in one way or another. However, we did our best to make them as different as possible.
REECE: Up to the foundations of the Sixties, around 1959 you started doing a lot of these wonderful stories about monsters, which I found coincided with the release of a lot of the classics on Channel 9 here in New York; King Kong, Son of Kong, Godzilla. And then you got into these won… some of my favorite things were about these aliens, for example, the electronic giant, the Blip, who was really a benevolent alien enraged by human savagery. Please comment, Jack, on your use of the monster. Of course, the monster is either the benevolent being or else the misunderstood monster, which is the foundation of the Hulk and the Thing and characters with which the public is all the more familiar today.
KIRBY: Well I don’t think that monsters are ever mysterious. Monsters in human or inhuman form are living things with problems which vex them sorely in some way. And therefore, they’re inevitably involved in some sort of conflict, in which anybody can get hurt. I don’t think monsters zero in on anyone in particular, and I think that’s why they’re generally pitied more than feared. And I felt the same way about them. I felt that monsters in some way had problems.
REECE: Yes. Let’s get right into the Marvel days now, and the Fantastic Four. The powers of the Fantastic Four, with which everyone is already familiar, seem to be reflections of the personalities of each of them. Would this be some manifestation, had the mind that held them together during a cosmic accident that should have disintegrated them, subconsciously guided the instability of their selves, their molecules, to produce this monster that was the gruff Ben Grimm, this totally flexible man who had the totally flexible mind, this hot-headed teenager who literally becomes a hot head, and, in the pre-Women’s Lib days, the defensive female who had the invisibility to hide, and then later the invisible barrier. Were these manifestations of the personalities, Jack?
KIRBY: Well, I think they were manifestations of my own. And they were manifestations of the times. Remember, these were… we were absorbed with the possible and catastrophic results of radiation. Remember, we didn’t know how radiation would affect anybody. Being involved in the sale of comics, I used it in that manner. To sell comic books. I used it in as entertaining way as possible. Psychologically, whatever characters emerged were possibly the way I personally would imagine them.
REECE: Yeah, for example Dr. Doom would seem to show how evil, and indeed even nobility, could come out of the mistreatment of a human being. Or the Hulk, who was the misunderstood monster. Maybe you could talk with us just for a couple of minutes about the genesis of the Hulk, of Dr. Doom, of a few of your, gee everything by you seems a major creation, to me. But you know what I mean, just talk about…
KIRBY: There are Dr. Dooms and Hulks in all of us. If you read every one of your news stories, if you read any dramatic news story, you’ll find there were human beings involved. And you know as well as anybody else, that there have been some pretty weird news stories in our times. And yet, human beings are involved in them. And when you dissect the stories themselves, you’ll find that they’re not really dramatic at all. That the most dramatic part about them was, that inside the human being, there is some sort of problem that we’re constantly trying to solve. And I felt that my villains, as well as my heroes, were human beings, and therefore, could have very bad problems. I had a villain called Dr. Doom and Dr. Doom had a severe problem. He was a perfectionist. And perfectionists never solve their problems. It’s a belief of my own, that none of us can be perfect. And if you’re a perfectionist, you’ve got an inner conflict that can never be solved.
KNIGHT: This is Earthwatch on WBAI, I’m Robert Knight, here in the studio with Warren Reece, and with Jack Kirby live on the phone, celebrating his 70th birthday. And now comes a question about one of my favorite Marvel comics, Spider-man, who was not exactly neurotic but had enough problems to have justifiably been so. How in the world did Spider-man come into being?
KIRBY: Well, if you had been a Spider-man… <laughs> Spider-man was also a creature of radiation. Another version of that type of situation creating a hero instead of a villain. And so Spider-man became a hero. He dealt with his own conflict in a very heroic manner, and he still does today. I think Spider-man is a lesson for all of us. That no matter what our problem is, it’s our problem. And if we make a heroic effort, we could possibly… we possibly may not solve it, but we can live with it. And Spider-man lives with his problem.
REECE: (A quick follow up on that) Jack, you were involved, I know, creatively at the genesis of Spider-man…
…and then legend has it, that you, of course, making everything so much bigger, better and more wonderful than life, Stan wanted him to look like the guy in the street. and therefore Steve Ditko did the interiors, but I know they used some of your covers. Maybe you could clarify for us, though I know how modest you are, try to solve for us without hurting anybody, some of the mystery of your involvement at that time in the genesis of Spider-man in Amazing Fantasy 15. Then, of course, it departed and went another way, but you were there at the beginning. Please tell us about it Jack.
KIRBY: Well, I can tell you that I was deeply involved with creating Spider-man. I can’t go any further than that, really, because there’d been so many variations and different things done with Spider-man, but I can tell you at the beginning, I was deeply involved with him.
KNIGHT: Well, let’s turn then, to the environment, which may be equally as important, the environment out of which Spider-man was created. Of course, you were involved in the historic partnership with Stan Lee at Marvel. So, what was the working environment like there? How was it different from the other companies? What was the Merry Marvel Marching Society like?
KIRBY: Well, it wasn’t… it wasn’t… well, I didn’t consider it merry. I considered it very… well, in those days, it was a professional type thing. You turned in your ideas and you got your wages and you took them home. It was a very, very simple affair. It’s nothing that could be dramatized or glorified or glamorized in any way. It was a very, very simple affair. I created the situation and I analyzed them. I did them panel by panel. I did everything but put the words in the balloons. But all of it was mine, except the words in the balloons.
REECE: But Jack, what about these legendary story conferences of you and Stan, or Stan and whomever, acting the stories out, in the office, jumping up on the desks and so forth, making things considerably more lively than when it was just an office consisting of Stan and Fabulous Flo Steinberg, having people stick their faces in the door, from Magazine Management, going, “Hurry up, little elves, Santa will be coming soon!”
KIRBY: Uh, I’d have to disagree with that. It wasn’t like that at all. It may have been like that after I shut the door and went home.
KNIGHT: <laughs> Well, listen! We’re going to open a door, a very special surprise door, Jack. And let me mention, this is Earthwatch on WBAI in New York. I’m Robert Knight, here with Warren Reece, also with Max Schmid in the studio, and we’re speaking with Jack Kirby, live. And now, we could announce the special surprise guest that we have for tonight’s program. Your colleague in arms, Stan Lee! Good morning, Stan!
LEE: Hi, how are you doing?
LEE: I just… I want to wish Jack a happy birthday. This is a hell of a coincidence. I’m in New York, and I was tuning in the radio, and there I hear him, talking about Marvel, and I figured I might as well call and not let this occasion go by without saying, “Many happy returns, Jack.”
KIRBY: Well, Stanley, I want to thank you for calling. I hope you’re in good health and I hope you stay in good health.
LEE: I’m doin’ my best! and the same to you! You know, you were talking earlier about your drawing and people sometimes criticized your figures, and so forth. I always felt that the most important thing about your drawing was, I remember when I was a kid and I first saw Captain America, it wasn’t the correctness of the anatomy, but it was the emotion that you put in. To me, nobody could convey emotion and drama the way you could. I didn’t care if the drawing was all out of whack, because that wasn’t important. You got your point across and nobody could ever draw a hero like way you could. And I just want to say, without getting too saccharine, that one of the marks, I think, of a really true, great artist, is he has his own style. And you certainly had, and still have, your own style. And it’s a style that nobody has even been able to come close to and I think that’s something you can be very proud of. And I’m proud of you for it.
KIRBY: I have to thank you for helping me to keep that style, Stanley. And helping me to evolve all that. And I’m certain that whatever we did together, we got sales for Marvel. And I…
LEE: I think it was more than that, Jack. We certainly got the sales. But whatever we did together, and no matter who did what, and I guess that’s something that’ll be argued forever, but I think that the product that was produced was really, even more than a sum of its parts. I think that there was some slight magic that came into effect when we worked together. And I am very happy that we’ve had that experience.
KIRBY: Well, I was never sorry for it, Stanley. It was a great experience for me and certainly, if the product was good, that was my satisfaction. I’ve always felt like that. I think it’s the feeling of every good professional. It’s one of the reasons that I respect you, is the fact that you’re certainly a good professional and you’re certainly fond of a good product. And I feel that’s the mark of all of us.
LEE: You notice I never interrupt you when you’re saying something nice about me.
KNIGHT: Let me say something nice about Stan Lee, the editorial piston behind the motor of Marvel Comics. And of course, Stan Lee has been active in so many other areas. Stan, what are some of the things that you are the proudest of and what are you involved in now?
LEE: Well, actually, I guess I’m proud of just about e… I’m the kind of guy I’m proud of everything that has succeeded and I’ve totally forgotten anything that might’ve failed. Right now, I’m… New World Pictures has bought Marvel Comics and they’re really a great outfit, they’re… obviously they do motion pictures. In fact, they’ve changed their name recently to New World Entertainment. They do television series, video cassettes, and I’ve gotten involved in all of those aspects of the business, as well as their animation studio, so I’m only really peripherally involved in the comics. And I’ve never been happier because, I guess I like being busy and I’ve never been busier.
KNIGHT: And out of the fairness doctrine, what, Jack, are you currently doing?
KIRBY: I’m probably involved in the same sort of thing.
KNIGHT: Oh my god! That means that the two of you, who indelibly changed the history of comics when you were both in that field, have a shot of changing the course of animation, perhaps.
KIRBY: Oh, I feel that productive people are always doing something productive. And speaking for myself, I’ve never stopped.
KNIGHT: Well, let me now de-saccharin-ize the conversation and let’s get down to both of your assessments of the state of comics today. I mean, enough can never been said about what you have done in the history of comics, but I’d like for some specific comments, naming of names, in regard to the changes that have taken place in comics. Such as with the new approach to Batman, for instance, the current Spider-man series, the introduction of ambiguity, conflict and contradiction in issues and ethics today. Do you have any views on that?
LEE: Who do you want first?
KNIGHT: You, since you spoke first.
LEE: Okay, well actually, I think that we had plenty of conflict when we were starting our early strips. Certainly there was conflict in the Fantastic Four and in Spider-man and all of them. And we had, I think really, Marvel sort of pioneered playing up the characterization more and playing up the personal problems of the heroes. Making the heroes more believable because they were more realistic and more human. However, today, what has happened and it’s a natural evolution, today, they’ve gone many steps beyond what we started doing in those days, I think the stories, primarily, are much more complex, they’re more adult, they tackle subjects that we couldn’t dream of tackling in the early days and I think we were, it’s strange, when Marvel started, our stories were very much like the motion pictures of those days. Today, the comics, especially, I think Marvel Comics, are very much like the motion pictures of today. Well, the motion pictures of today are so much different than they were then, and the same change, the same evolvement has really taken place in comic books.
KIRBY: Well, I think Stanley is correct on that. Of course, the standards have changed. And the standards have changed in all the fields. I’ll agree with what Stanley says of all the facets of entertainment because he understands it, and he understands it as well as I do. Whatever is evolving, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it’s certainly different from the black and white type of thing that we did in what you refer to as the Golden Age.
KNIGHT: Are there things that you look at with interest these days?
LEE: Oh, sure. Now there is a DC series called The Watchmen, which I think was absolutely superb. There’s the work that John Byrne has been doing. The work that Frank Miller has been doing. There are so many new artists coming up that are… they’re very sophisticated and they’re very dramatic and they’re very cinematic. A lot of them write and draw. They have their own styles. My big regret, really, is I don’t have the time to read the books the way I used to and…
KIRBY: But the younger people have absorbed a lot more than we did, Stan.
LEE: They have what?
KIRBY: I think that, that’s what its all about today.
LEE: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that, Jack.
KIRBY: ..standing of life. They’re a lot more understanding of themselves. And what they produce, what they produce is on a very realistic scale. And I don’t think there’s anything visually around us that the younger people haven’t noticed. That’s why I respect the younger people.
LEE: You know, it’s much more a visual era that we live in now, than it was when we were starting. Because with television today, I mean… you know, as a matter of fact, I don’t know if anybody has brought this up, but comics are like the last bastion, the last defense against creeping illiteracy. If not for comics, I don’t know how many young people there would be who just wouldn’t ever read, because they’re just hooked on television, which is understandable. But luckily, they do get hooked on comics and they do learn to equate reading with pleasure. And after a while, when they get the reading habit, they go on to reading other books, as kids are wont to do, but I think, that, which most people don’t think of, but I that’s a very important function that comics are serving today.
KNIGHT: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, here on Earthwatch. My name is Robert Knight. Also with me is Warren Reece, who has some words for you, but I can’t resist, just some very quick word associations or I guess I should say title associations. First: Dark Knight.
KIRBY: Dark Knight, I understand, is Batman.
LEE: Well, that’s bringing Batman into the 20th Century. I guess. <laughs> An attempt to do so. And it was revolutionary and it was very successful.
KIRBY: It’s still Batman.. It’s Batman of today.
LEE: I always used to wish, I don’t think I ever told this to Jack. Years ago, I always used to wish that he and I could do Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. I always thought that we could inject new life into those characters.
KIRBY: They would be highly individualistic and very entertaining.
LEE: I think so.
KNIGHT: Current Spider-man
LEE: The current Spider-man?
KNIGHT: mm hmm
KIRBY: The current Spider-man would be very current. It would be understandably to the people today. It would have the same essence as any other character figure produced in these times. It would have to be timely. You can’t produce superheroes in the old fashion. You have to produce it so it can be understood in the surroundings that we have about us today.
KNIGHT: The ‘Nam
LEE: Great book. Great idea. I never would have thought that it would be okay that anybody would say, “Let’s do a comic book about it.” I think Marvel deserves a lot of credit for going ahead with it. I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
KNIGHT: I am producer of a series here called ContraGate which is an investigative report into the Iran-Contra Affair, which prompts
LEE: Series on radio or television or what?
KNIGHT: It’s on radio. Every day. 8 o’clock am on WBAI in New York and soon to be heard nationally. Now the… that prompts the next association, in which… in a title in which, the plot involves CIA involvement in facilitating the importation of drugs for money for arms for the Contras, explicitly. That occurs in Mike Grell’s current Green Arrow series. Any reaction to that?
LEE: Well, I guess Grell is like everybody else, he stays up with the news. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the series. But you know, today, just as Jack and I did years ago, you try to keep your stories contemporary, and if something is happening that you’re involved in, or you think the public is involved in, it’s very hard to keep a smattering of that out of what you’re writing.
KNIGHT: All right. Warren Reece is also here with us.
REECE: Thank you, Robert. First of all, to both of you gents, I have regards from Fabulous Flo Steinberg who is too shy to be in the studio today. She lives about ten blocks from here but sends happy birthday wishes to you, Jack, and love to both of you.
LEE: That’s terrific, and the same to her. Fabulous Flo thought it was merry when we were working there. <laughs>
REECE: Yes, she did. Now, both of you before were talking a bit about, I think, the responsibility of creators as they create. There is much controversy going on these days over company imposed ratings systems which do not say that people can not have explicit sex and violence, but simply have to have a warning on the cover. And these people seem to be very alarmed, as though nobody in history ever produced a good story without having that type of material in there. And I submit that they need only look back to what you wonderful gentlemen did together, to what Bill Everett did on the Sub-mariner, or indeed, what some other people of contemporary times were doing. I would like your comments on that. I would also like to put to you gentlemen, that what made your work so tremen… you know I, really, when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter whether or not, you know, who exactly did what, although it would be interesting to know whether or not Galactus’ exit speech in FF # 50 was an example of Jack’s dialog or Stan’s. But you j…
LEE: Well, I’ll say this: every word of dialog in those scripts was mine.
REECE: <laughs> I don’t want to..
LEE: Every story.
REECE: I don’t want to get into controversy about that. What I want to stress to you, and to anyone who would be hearing this, is that you two gents together, when you said the whole equals more than the sum of its parts, it is very true. I think that was success behind the Beatles, behind the Byrds, behind many of the rock groups, there seems to be…
KIRBY: I can tell you that I wrote a few lines myself above every panel that I…
REECE: Yes! I’ve seen those…
LEE: They weren’t printed in the book!
REECE: All right, look! Both of you… hey, kids! Both of you guys…
LEE: Jack isn’t wrong, by his own rights, because Jack, answer me truthfully…
KIRBY: I wasn’t allowed to write…
LEE: Did you ever read one of the stories after it was finished? I don’t think you did! I don’t think you ever read one of my stories. I think you were always busy drawing the next one. You never read the book when it was finished.
KIRBY: …dialogue, Stanley
KNIGHT: Let me get in there with them.
KIRBY: … in my own dialogue. And I think that’s the way people are. So, whatever was written in them, was insig.. well, it, you know, it was the action I was interested in
LEE: I know, and I really think, and look, Jack, nobody has more respect for you, than I do, and you know that, but I don’t think you ever felt that the dialogue was that important. And I think you felt well, it doesn’t matter, anybody can put the dialogue in, it’s what I’m drawing that matters. And maybe you’re right! I don’t agree with it, but maybe you’re right
KIRBY: No I, I’m only trying to say is that I, you know, I think that the human being is very important. If one man is writing and drawing and doing a strip, it should come from an individual. I believe that you should have the opportunity to do the entire thing yourself.
REECE: Gentlemen, what we’re seeing here…
KIRBY: …make your own story.
REECE: …is part of the inner dynamics. The bit of conflict from which, obviously, you complimented one another, held one another in check, and a great product emerged. I submit not only on behalf of you, but to creators of today, that the success of Marvel, and the success of Bill Everett’s Sub-mariner, and the success of almost anything that was really great, had to do with the attention to science, to characterization, to detail, to verisimilitude, to keeping a greater attention to the characters, than to the egos of the people creating them and, you know, signing autographs at conventions, and that that pretense, trying to make the thing seem as real as possible, having characters grow, having characters die, having Reed and Sue get married and have a child, whom, by the way, should be an adult by now and dating one of the X-Women, would not only, is not only showing the attention to the detail of the characters, but is an insurance that readers will not outgrow the comics, and will stay with them, because it is not an immutable fact of life that you outgrow comics at thirteen.
LEE: You know, when you mention, when you mention an ego problem, the funny thing is, I’m afraid those problems are only cropping up now. I think when Jack and I did the strips, there was no ego problem, we were just doing the best we could at the time.
KNIGHT: Well, ego is the fuel of creativity, and I’m very proud to have been able to have both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee live on Earthwatch on WBAI New York. My name is Robert Knight joined by Warren Reece and Max Schmid. And as we close this program, I would like each of you to make a concluding statement, and first you, Stan, and then you, Jack, because it’s your birthday.
LEE: Okay, well, since it is Jack’s birthday. I want to make, I wish I had had time to prepare something, I didn’t, but I just want to say that Jack, I think, has made a tremendous mark on American culture, if not on world culture, and I think he should be incredibly proud and pleased with himself and I want to wish him all the best, him and his wife Roz, and his family, and I hope that ten years from now, I’ll be in some town somewhere listening to a tribute to his 80th birthday and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to call at that time and wish him well then, too. Jack, I love ya.
KIRBY: Well, same here, Stan, but, uh… yeah. Thank you very much, Stan. But, uh… Warren? Are you there?
REECE: Yes, I am, Jack.
KIRBY: Yeah. Listen. You can understand now, how things really were. And of course, I want to thank you for inviting me on your show. And…
REECE: You can thank Robert and Max for that.
KIRBY: …thank everybody for their courtesy, and it was very pleasant to talk to you.
KNIGHT: Well, I must inject this one point of disagreement with you, Jack Kirby. And that is, it is we, who have you to thank. You and Stan!.
REECE: Amen for that. Happy birthday, Jack! And thank you, Stan!
KIRBY: Thank you, guys, you’re really great, and if I said any more, it would be, uh…
KNIGHT: You’d be looking at left field, and the surpri.. uh, the right field, excuse me, and the surprises come from left field.
Jack Kirby is interviewed by J. Michael Straczynski and Larry DiTillio on the 13 April 1990 episode of Mike Hodel’s Hour 25. Kirby was 72 years old at the time. I apologize for not taking the time to distinguish between the two hosts. Simply transcribing the interview was quite an effort. Polite corrections welcome! – Rand
Here’s the audio of the interview, via YouTube:
Host: Our guest tonight is someone whose work I’ve been reading since I could read…
Host: Since you were a toddler, which is a frightening concept
Host: It was like two weeks ago… I looked at the pictures before I could see the words, understand the words, and I began to get the stories behind the words, and that’s Jack Kirby. One of the foremost creators and writers and artists in comic book history, quite frankly, who’s given us wonderful books as Fantastic Four, Thor, the Hulk, Spider-man, Sgt. Fury, Captain America, Challengers of the Unknown, the list goes on forever. New Gods. And he’s with us tonight and this is a true pleasure for us to have you here, Mr. Kirby
KIRBY: It’s a pleasure for me to be here and certainly, you fellows seem to feel the same way toward the medium that I do, so I expect it to develop into a kind of kinship that I really enjoy.
Host: We’re looking forward to it. And, let me just start off going into the background a little bit with you. You came out of the Lower East Side originally, is that correct? New York?
KIRBY: Yes, I did. New York’s the Lower East Side. I was born on Essex Street and my family moved to 131 Suffolk Street, which wasn’t a big move in those days and was still the Lower East Side. I grew up there, I grew up on Suffolk Street. I went to PS 20 which was one of the schools there. But the only thing that bothered me as I grew up is, I found out I didn’t like the east side! So, I began to take long walks. I found 42nd Street. I found 44th Street, and I went further uptown and I met the people who turned out the newspapers. I met one reporter who had upended a telephone book, and was shooting golf balls through the book, and I suddenly decided, well that’s a job for me.
Host: <laughs> Now you say that you wanted to get out of there, but certainly in a lot of your books that came later on, the Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos you used those kinds of characters, rough street kind of characters, a lot, as kids.
KIRBY: Well, you’re bound to, because I imagine they become part of what you know, what you grow up with, what life hands to you, and you react that way. And I’m glad, in a way, because later in life I had to use that a kind of an attitude in ways that probably saved my life.
Host: How much of Suffolk is in Yancy Street?
KIRBY: I’m sorry…?
Host: How much of Suffolk is in Yancy Street?
KIRBY: Oh, all of it is there. Oh, it’s all there. But so is the story. I come from a storytelling family. All of the immigrants on the Lower East Side were storytellers. My family happened to be Austrian immigrants and they told their share of stories. I think the young people were closer to their parents, anyway, at that time, and they absorbed all of this. They absorbed the storytelling. Many of them used it to build a professional life. I don’t mean, as writers, exactly. But let’s face it, any businessman has to tell a good story in order to sell his merchandise. And so I think that kind of thing is helpful.
Host: Was it a rough neighborhood?
KIRBY It was a rough neighborhood, and the practice would be that, you would stand out in the gutter while the trucks would try to get around you from both sides. You’d look for somebody to fight or somebody to chase, and see how you could stand up against two guys or three guys and how many of your friends you could find that would help out and, of course, that was the routine. We used to do it when we came out of school. I had a brother, he’s passed away now, he was five years younger than I was, but he was 6’1” and a big, heavy, young fellow. I’d come out of school and there was this large leg sticking out from under a pile of guys. I’d have to pull him out <laughs> the situation would develop along those lines.
Host: While I enjoyed… I found first, the superhero and horror books and found afterward the Newsboy Legion and similar books like that
Host: What always appealed to me about them, was that in most of the comics at that time, the kids were drawn very straight laced, very well dressed, they were blond and blue eyed and they were non-threatening, whereas the kids in Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos were kids, these were rough kids with bowler hats and the rest of it…
KIRBY: Oh yes, I admit that, that I was a bit showy, I felt that putting on a good show was ideal for any kind of entertainment. I was a movie goer. My mother took me to the movies when I was very young. And I remained a movie person. I still am a movie person. I’m still an entertainment person. And so, I’ll put on a show. When I draw, that’s what I’m doing. I’m performing. I’m not drawing. I don’t want to be Rembrandt and live forever. I just want to be Jack Kirby having a great time drawing and putting on a good show that might interest others. And so, that’s the kind of thing that’s been my life. It was my life in New York, it’s my life in California and I enjoy it!
Host: I’ve got a question
Host: We’ve heard how the storytelling started. How did the artwork start? How did the drawing start? What’s your background there?
KIRBY: Well, the drawing started with the fact that I could do it! I know that anybody can draw, if they want to. All you have to do is want to! Now, anybody can be an atomic physicist if they want to. All you have to do is want to. I had no urge to be an atomic physicist. I had no urge to own a clothing store. I had no urge… oh, I was once smitten with the idea of being a crooked politician
Host: Before it was in vogue!
KIRBY: No! It was in vogue! It was a natural way of things where I came from. And the crooked politicians were having a great time. and they were enjoying life! I watched them in the restaurants as I skated by. So, I told my mother many a time, that I wanted to be a crooked politician, and of course, she’d never hear of that! There wasn’t anybody alive in New York at that time, who didn’t listen to their mother. The gangsters would call the cops if you insulted anybody’s mother. And so, mothers were sacred. And what my mother said, was the word! And I said nothing more.
KIRBY: But, the newspapers at that time were very large. The Hearst papers were large and colorful. They had the Daily News… was a wonderfully colorful paper on a sunday. These sunday papers caught my interest. Of course, it was the comics, really, and I would read the comics constantly and I loved the comics because of the color and the brightness displayed by the fellows who drew them. They remained with me always and when comic books first came into being it drew me to them because I could tell a story in twenty two pages much more easily than the six weeks it took to tell a story in a comic strip. And so I gravitated to comics, the early comics when they first came out.
Host: You mentioned outside, before the show, that you also were pulled by the pulps Wonder Stories and the rest of them of the period.
KIRBY: Yes, I loved the pulps because the pulps allowed the authors to think. It wasn’t a matter of just doing a pirate story or a story about the knights, it was a matter of travelling ahead in time. What lay ahead? What‘s out there? Those were the questions that the science fiction magazines fulfilled for the reader. And of course, that, too, caught my attention and I had to hide the pulps <laughs> I had to hide the pulp magazines, which I still have till this day! I’ve got them in cartons in my garage. Pulp magazines from those early years. Wonder Stories. Fantastic Stories.
Host: I had the same problem because when we were growing up, just for few years after that, comic books were deemed to be evil influences on kids and all of the rest of it. I, at that time, 12 year old or thereabouts, had a huge collection of your work, Marvel Comics, Fantastic Four, Challengers of the Unknown…
Host: …and my grades dropped. My father figured well, it was the books, comic books, and in front of me tore up every copy. I’m trying to restore all the copies of your work that I lost in that incident.
KIRBY: Well, that was par for the course. My mother did the same thing. My mother threw out all my books and my father assented. The parents felt that way. They just couldn’t interpret comic books as something to be taken seriously, however they absorbed a child. My father felt that I should gravitate toward business in some way. A lot of my friends did! To be worthy, in my time, as a young man, well, you had to become a doctor, you had to become a lawyer, you had to own a business where you sold pants, with cuffs on them, or if you sold caps. That was a respectable direction to take. So my parents felt that I was spending too much time reading these magazines, when I should be concentrating on the future. What am I going to do when I open a store that sells pants? Or what’ll I do, what kind of caps am I going to manufacture? And of course I never gave that a thought because I just didn’t gravitate to that sort of thing.
Host: To follow up on Larry’s question before, once you were attracted by the comics you saw in the papers, did you teach yourself how to draw or did you take lessons in it?
KIRBY: I taught myself how to… well, I don’t believe in teaching yourself how to draw, you just sit down and draw! And then, if you feel the thing doesn’t look right, you begin to work on it. You begin to work a little harder on it. You straighten the face. You suddenly discover that the eyes have a certain proportion to the nose, and your nose is just about that high from the mouth. If you want a stronger face, you’ll make it wide, with a long chin, with jutting cheekbones. And, of course, you’d have that large, round head with the kind of haircuts that that day would demand. And so, that’s what I did. I felt that my characters were representing real people; although they were far out in nature, they were true to my version of real people. The stories were… as far out as the stories were, under the circumstances, I felt, these stories work because they had a core of truth.
KIRBY: Now in the New Gods, the core of that story was that a father would never hurt his own son. Now here I have Darkseid, the most evil character ever created. I can tell you, he was the epitome of all evil. All this fellow wanted to do was to own everybody’s mind and completely run the universe by himself. You can’t get more affectatious than that. But, he couldn’t control his own son. And of course, his own son became his worst enemy. There was nothing he could do about it. He was continually frustrated. If you look through the books, you’ll find that Darkseid, although his son is one of his worst enemies. They have the fiercest of confrontations, that these confrontations will kind of destabilize… the situation will become destabilized and the father and son will somehow find themselves in other situations in which this confrontation vanishes. Darkseid will suddenly find himself in some other situation where he can feel free to do his deviltry. Of course Orion will try to stop him, but Orion is his son. That’s one of the truths that I always knew existed, a father will never hurt his own son. So that was the core of the New Gods and, of course, it worked, it was true! I did it in The Losers. Those were war stores. I do a story with a white tape. If you walk on one side of the white tape, you’ll be fine. If you walk on the other side of the white tape, you’ll blow up, because it’s a minefield.
Host: As well as the core of truth that goes through your work, one thing that set it apart from most of what else was being done there was there was also a sense of the tragic, as well as the heroic that ran through them. Ben Grimm in the Fantastic Four…
Host: …was caught and tormented in his body. Spider-man’ loss of his Uncle Ben. Captain America’s loss of Bucky. Certainly all through the work, there was that balance which gave a maturity to the comics.
KIRBY: Well, those are experiences that we’ve all been familiar with! We’ve all lost an uncle. We’ve all lost relatives. We lose friends. We move away from places that were completely familiar to us and we suddenly find ourselves in different situations, not knowing what confronts us, trying to feel our way out, so we can make, wherever we are, livable for ourselves, so we can function wherever fate places us. That was the core of truth in my most fantastic situations. How do you deal with these places? How do you fight 16 guys? How would you outwit a monster from Mars? See? Suppose the monster from Mars might look like an ordinary crocodile, yet it can have a human brain. He can outwit you!
Host: We elected him president, unfortunately.
KIRBY: What’s that?
Host: We elected him president, unfortunately.
Hosts & KIRBY: <laugh>
KIRBY: Well, <laughs> I imagine the United States is big enough to have a lot of different opinions on that!
Host: It was the other way around, a man with a crocodile’s brain. One or the other!
KIRBY: Yes, well, at any rate, what I did, my formula was simple. I just took far out situations and give them human conclusions.
Host: You mentioned earlier that you always believed when you were growing up that what you wanted to do, what you were drawn to do, you could do, and become.
Host: Was that a more optimistic time than now?
KIRBY: No. It was less optimistic, but very turbulent.
KIRBY: How would a little unknown like Adolph Hitler suddenly rise to power? He came from nowhere! He was a nothing! In fact, he wasn’t even a lieutenant! He lost the title of lieutenant. He wasn’t even worthy of that title, and yet, he rose from all these masses of people, just to make sidewalk speeches. Somehow, he fascinated them and, of course, the story of Hitler is familiar to, sadly, it’s familiar to the entire world. And yet there he was, a man intent, on… a man intent on, a driven man, being intent on running things! On having his say and suddenly finding that the entire world is giving way. And he’s suddenly got everything from Norway to Spain and from Spain to India. He took Greece, Greece flattened out in a day, you know. So, here was this little man who had conquered all of Europe! By himself! And he had done this just by swaying people. I believe that human beings, if they concentrate on what they really want to do, can accomplish what they want to do. But, you’ve really got to want it bad enough to see it to fruition. And if you have that urge, that urge will materialize. It will materialize in many ways. Perhaps like your station here will someday be a grandiose network. And I’ll be your leading fan, I assure you.
Host: That’s science fiction!
Host: That’s science fiction
Host: Well, how did you conquer New York? How did you bring yourself to fruition? When you first knew this was what you wanted, where’d you go, what did you do? Did you knock on doors?
Host: Did you send artwork out?
KIRBY: No. I didn’t. I simply left where I was. I didn’t like my block. I didn’t like the block next to it. I didn’t like the block next to that one! And so I began to walk. I began to walk uptown where the office buildings were. There were no brick buildings. There were no fire escapes. My mother once wanted to give me a vacation, so she put me on the fire escape for two weeks. And I was out in the open air sleeping for two weeks on the fire escape and having a grand time, I assure you! Of course, that kind of thing, sooner or later, disappointed me. A lot of people liked the block! A lot of people are still there. But I was not content with that kind of environment. I can’t tell you why, but I wasn’t.
KIRBY: I began to walk, and I found myself on 42nd street. I found myself on 57th street. There was one time I met the champion of the world on 57th street, Jack Dempsey came out of a hotel. Here he was. I was working at Marvel at that time and I was taking some strips to Marvel. And Jack Dempsey was coming out this hotel. I love prizefighters. I ran over to greet him and we had a wonderful time. I met Mickey Walker who was the lightweight champion of the world. Every time I went to Broadway I met a different champion, it seemed. Mickey Walker was also an artist and he had artwork. He took me to lunch and we each exchanged artwork, you know, showed each other our artwork and we had a wonderful time. I can’t account for meeting all these fighters, but going uptown was quite an experience for me!
Host: One of the first comics you worked on was Blue Beetle
Host: How’d you get that gig? How’d that come about?
KIRBY: Well, the Blue Beetle was.. well, the first people I worked for was the Fleischer Brothers, who made Betty Boop. Betty Boop was a fine animation strip and extremely popular. Wherever I went, I always got a job. I can’t tell you why, but I did. I got this job at the Fleischer Brothers and they sat me down at a table. At this long table, there were about 6 or 7 people. The guy at the end of the table would make three drawings and pass it down to the next guy, who would make three more. And then he would pass it down to guy next to him who would put the checkers in the suit and then he would pass it down to me and I would have to put the cuffs on and the spats, maybe.
KIRBY: This went on all day until the figure took a full step. It was animation. It was a method of printing out animated movies. They looked great in the movie, but to me it was a factory. And here I was, doing the things my father was. My father worked in a garment factory. Here I was working in a drawing factory. I was at Fleischer’s about two and a half weeks, before I walked out. I walked out without saying a word! I never looked back. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I went to a place called Lincoln Newspaper Feature Syndicate. I did a strip – it was a panel strip – it was called Your Health Comes First. Of course, my name was Jack Curtis on that one. It was a literary license, I assure you. I took things from a medical book and I would illustrate them in this one panel, which went out to about 350 newspapers. They were weekly papers throughout the United State. I continued that for a while, but that’s not what I wanted. I began to know that. I began to know that the salary wasn’t my object. My object was to stay happy. This kind of thing wasn’t making me happy. The boss gave me to do editorial cartoons. He said, “Why don’t you do these editorial cartoons?” I said, “Well, I’ll give them a try!” One day he calls me in. I had handed him an editorial cartoon, and it was about, it showed Neville Chamberlain patting a huge boa constrictor on the head. And the boa constrictor was Hitler. This had been the conference that took place between Neville Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler.
Host: The appeasement
KIRBY: The appeasement. And my boss said, “How dare you make a political cartoon like that? How do you know about Neville Chamberlain and this guy Hitler?” I said, “Well, I don’t have to know a gangster, you know, when I see one.”
Host: You were right!
KIRBY: Well, it was an opinion, and I felt Hitler was a gangster because he was grabbing everything in sight, which is what they did on my block!
Host: One of your first employers was Victor Fox…
Host: …what was he like?
KIRBY: Victor Fox was a very nice guy. He was the guy that created the phrase “King of the Comics.” Sometime, <laughs> it’s… sometime you’ll see the phrase referred to me, and it’s wrong! I was the first to use it, because I was aping Victor Fox. Victor Fox would walk all day long, back and forth. He was a portly, short, portly man. And he’d walk back and forth across the office each day saying, ”I’m the King of the Comics! I’m the King of the Comics!” and that’s all he would say! He wouldn’t talk to the artists <laughs> He wouldn’t talk to the artists. He wouldn’t talk to anybody that came into the office, because he was too busy saying, “I’m the King of the Comics!” One day they discovered uranium up in Canada. That seemed to capture the imagination of Victor Fox. Of course, he closed down the business <laughs> and he went to Canada to become an instant millionaire, which I don’t know if he did or not.
Host: The king of radiation
Well, I hope he knew how to handle it. <laughs> There were jobs on that order, but they weren’t lasting jobs. It was a boon to me when the first comic books came into view. Of course Famous Funnies was the first and it made me feel wonderful because, not because Famous Funnies was my type of comic, it suddenly struck me that they might possibly produce comics that would give me twenty two pages in which to tell a story. And they did! And of course these magazines began to come out. I got jobs at the early companies doing complete stories and it was wonderful for me. It still wasn’t Captain America time yet, but these companies were attracting artists. One of the fellows I met at one of these companies turned out to be Joe Simon and we became partners. We got an office at Tudor City in New York. It was wonderful time. I enjoyed doing the work. I would create the stories and I would create the characters. Joe would help out sometime, but Joe was more business oriented. He’d be up at the Timely office, which later became Marvel. It was owned by Martin Goodman. A fellow named Martin Goodman was a publisher and Martin Goodman had two brothers who were Joe’s age and Joe’s height. Joe’s about six foot three and I was about five foot two. <laughs> So wisdom dictated <laughs> that I stay in the Tudor City office, <laughs> while Joe became friends with Arthur and Abe Goodman. They were all the same height and they had a great time. So whatever strip we brought them, it would come from the Tudor City office. So I did the stories and I did the illustrations. Sometime they would send us scripts. They would have writers. We’d get scripts from DC, and we’d get scripts from Marvel, but I’d throw them out the window. I threw them out the window! Which is what I once did with a violin that my mother brought me. It was something I didn’t want to do. I literally threw the violin out the window.
KIRBY: I happen to be a guy who does what he wants, lives the way he wants to. I love people in general. I see them like, even the villains in my comics, to me, are people. There is something in their lives that makes them become a problem to others. And that’s how I saw everybody. Whatever I put in my comics, I’ve always had this kernel of truth. And maybe I, hopefully, feel that this love for people may have been transmitted to them and help them, not help them in any way, I’m not a psychiatrist, but just given them another friend.
Host: You mentioned Captain America a number of times. How did you and Cap first come together?
KIRBY: Oh, it was easy. The times were, they were screamingly patriotic. What kind of strip would you do, but Captain America? Supeman already was in existence and doing extremely well. And to me, the times were screaming, “War!”. And to me, the enemy was Hiter. The enemy was growing and growing and I didn’t know where it was going to end. But every day, something new would happen, and it was really scary.
KIRBY: This is the kind of event that I felt was ruling our times. And I felt it inside of me and it had to come out in some way. It was scary. It was scary, but it was also a wonderful scare. It’s like waiting for a fight. It was like standing out in the middle of the gutter, waiting for a fight to show up, and of course it was showing up, and it was getting larger and larger. It was right on our doorstep. I had Nazis calling me at the Timely offfice. I once had six Nazis call me up. They said, “Well, we’re waiting for you downstairs and we’re going to beat the daylights out of you for writing the stories about Hitler.” These were New York Nazis. They had a camp out on Long Island. And so I said, “Hold on guys, I’ll be right down!” Of course, I take the elevator down, but there was nobody there. I looked in the street and of course they wouldn’t be there. I didn’t feel disappointed and I felt disappointed, it didn’t matter to me one way or the other. You know, if they wanted to fight, well, what the heck. I would do it.
KIRBY: Leon Klinghoffer, who was recently killed by terrorists, was a personal friend of mine. I remember, when he was on the Achille Lauro, my wife and I read about it in the papers. I told her that when they mentioned Klinghoffer, I knew what he was going to do. It was instinctive with all of us. And it happened that way. Of course, he didn’t have a chance, but you can’t avoid gut-thinking, which is what we lived by in New York City at that time. Klinghoffer and I were raised together on one block. <unintelligible> dry goods store. He and his brother used to work in their father’s dry good store. We didn’t think anything out, we just reacted. We just did what was right.
Host: And what’s right, at the moment, is to mention this is KPFK Los Angeles 90.7 FM, Mike Hodel’s Hour 25. Our guest tonight is Jack Kirby.
Host: Captain America did, I think, embody a lot of your values, in terms of doing what he thinks is right, and always following that.
KIRBY: Yes! Yes, I don’t think Captain America would do anything wrong. He wouldn’t. Even at the cost of his life. I can tell you that’s a true feeling. Although it may sound fictional, it’s a true feeling in everybody. I got my idea for the Hulk, when I created the Hulk… my idea for the Hulk didn’t come from any fanciful place, or anywhere. It came from a mother whose child was crawling out from under the fender of an automobile to the sidewalk. The kid wasn’t any more than two years old. This panicked the mother when she saw her child under the car, so the mother ran to the back of the car and she lifted up the entire car from the back because she had that strength of desperation. When I saw that, it suddenly dawned on me, that there was a character there, that’s inside all of us. That when we become enraged, we can bend steel. I’ve done that myself. And so, there it was right in front of me. And that’s the idea how the Hulk came about.
Host: One more question about Captain America, then we’ll move on. What do you have?
Host: I have a Captain America question.
Host: This is one last one.
KIRBY: I’m sorry if I deviate. If I deviate in any way, forgive me.
Host: It’s alright. Don’t worry about it. I have my own theory about why this is, but now I can ask the source, finally! Why the killing off of Bucky, Captain America’s protege?
KIRBY: I don’t think I was the one that killed him off.
Host: Oh, you weren’t…
Host: Oh, ok.
KIRBY: I never kill off anybody.
KIRBY: I do, at times in the strip, but I bring them back. But you’ll find out that my characters never die. It’s my own, I believe, it’s my ode to humanity itself. We never really die. You live on in your son or you live on in somebody else. I don’t know the answer, but somehow I feel that our lives are endless.
Host: The only reason I asked was I heard that Bucky was killed off because in the course of the Second World War so many sons and brothers were lost, that even Captain America had to lose someone to make it close off properly.
KIRBY: No, it was just story. It was good for the story. It jolted the story
Host: I’m leaving now. My illusions are shattered. You had a question.
Host: Well, my question was also about Captain America. At the time, in the 40s, Captain America, the red, white and blue Avenger, who was the spirit of the country, was very strong. Now, what is Captain America today? I know they’re making a Captain America picture…
Host: …and of course the character was revived back in the 60s.
KIRBY: There is no Captain America today, in my opinion. <cut> too much to lose and we’ve got too many terrible weapons to use. So, to fight is unthinkable. Maybe in developing those weapons we might have done a good thing by subtly confronting each other and saying that to do a thing like that is inhuman. Let’s all try to be human. And I think what we’re witnessing today in Russia and Lithuania and all these countries is a kind of a dissolution of that rigid, turbulent, and, perhaps, dangerous nationalism that existed in my generation when I was younger. You could feel it. You could feel it in the very air. That the will of self, in other words, “I’m an American, and nobody’s going to say that about America and nobody’s going to do that to America, even if I die for it. I’ll defend it.” Of course we all had that will. And it was the same way in every country in the world. And that kind of thing is gone. And were suddenly discovering each other. And I think that’s just wonderful. When I saw those Chinese just trying to get on that pole, acting just like Americans, it was a wonderful, wonderful thing to watch. Despite the fact that it ended in tragedy. But, for one moment, they were American. They were American college kids trying to climb a pole. And somebody went and spoiled it. And perhaps when that kind of an element disappears, too, and it will, it can’t last, it’s human! Maybe something else will have to take its place, because the people will demand it. I think in the end that the world will become American. And we’ll all begin to understand each other. Just like we have over here. Americans represent the entire world. The United States has every nationality you can think of within its boundaries. And here we are getting along just fine. And why it can’t happen in the rest of the world? I don’t see why it can’t, really. And when it does happen, when the rest of the world become Americanized, which it already is… I mean if somebody, a fellow like Deng in China can’t last forever, and when his kind passes I think the demands of the people will overwhelm whoever wants to take his place and you’ll see a democratization, just my own personal view, a democratization of China.
Host: Let’s hope you’re right
Host: Well, I think we can probably take your personal view as having a lot of value, since in a lot of your work you’ve presaged things as you’ve gone on, you’ve invented gimmicks, like all science fiction writers have, you’ve invented gimmicks that have come true. I was told you did a newspaper strip called Sky Masters…
Host: …in the late 50s which presaged the moonwalk and a lot of things happening in the space program.
KIRBY: Well, I presaged the atomic bomb two years before it was built because a fellow named Nicola Tesla was working on it in Hungary and he was experimenting with atomics. He was a physicist. And so, I forget what story I put it in, but there it was, I saw it in the paper, and I used it. I used it in my own way, and I got a good story out of it. Two years later, we had the real thing.
Host: Did anyone come and pay you a visit after that came out, because some writers…
KIRBY: Yes, they sent me a letter from the FBI!
Host: What happened?
Host: What did the letter say?
KIRBY: It was just an inquiry, you know. I had to explain that it was all fictional. That it was my version of the thing. There was no mention of an atomic bomb in any newspaper or anything, except that this fellow Nicola Tesla, it was in a magazine, some obscure magazine that I read it in, was experimenting with atomic physics.
Host: But when the FBI paid you a call did you think something’s up somewhere, they’re making one of these things?
KIRBY: No! I was just annoyed! You know?
Host: <laughter> There’s another fight coming by.
KIRBY: So, I hadn’t done anything. I just did this story and it was pure fiction, of course. But it sold well, and that was my job, just selling magazines. So I’d done my job. I would presage – I would constantly read newspapers and magazines and I would presage the chopper, the helicopter, and a lot of the gimmicks we have today, I would have them two years ahead, because I’d visualize them that way. And of course, mine didn’t look exactly the way ours would emerge, but the principle was the same. And they almost did look the same, really. So, I was kind of proud of that because it’d make good story. And I was doing my job.
Host: Let me read off some titles to you and tell me, where, if you can, where they came from – the characters and the books. Challengers of the Unknown.
KIRBY: Challengers of the Unknown?
KIRBY: They came from their own particular time. They were post-war characters. What the Challengers of the Unknown were saying was, “Where are we going now?” That was a question I asked in all those stories. The challenges, I put into gimmicks… I put them into gimmicks and the machines that we already had, but I took them two or three stages ahead as to… I took them two or three stages ahead as to what we might have. I would take them five years ahead, and if we were… if we had certain generators or something like that I would make a super-generator of some kind and have my story revolve around that. What would it do to human beings? Perhaps it would summon aliens from some foreign planet. Gave us the power to do that. Of course, my aliens weren’t always hostile. The aliens people used to draw, well they’d eat people, they’d look like frogs, they’d never buy you a malted milk or anything like that! But I see aliens very much like us. If they’re intelligent, they’ll do things the things we do.
Host: Or they won’t. <laughs>
KIRBY: Or, you know, it’s their choice, <laughs> I guess!
Host: One of the true breakthrough comics for Marvel was Spider-man. Which you created.
Host: Where’d he come from?
KIRBY: Spider-man is a city character. Show me the perfect character for a city. A guy who will climb all over New York. That’s what Spider-man does. He’s a guy that climbs up and down buildings. He can do it faster and without fear of falling. He’s in his element. He’s exactly in his element where he should be, in the city where you have tall buildings. He doesn’t have to jump in one leap like Superman, but he does it in his own way. He can crawl into places where nobody else can. What may take you a week to do in New York, he can do it in an hour or something like that. Spider-man was perfect in that environment.
Host: He was also, I think, well, two things, very much a product of his time, as well, because that was the Kennedy period, more or less.
Host: And the whole premise of Kennedy’s philosophy was with great power comes great responsibility, toward the world and toward those who aren’t as well equipped as you are, which goes to the heart of Spider-man, as well
KIRBY: Well, believe me, I admired Kennedy like everybody else did at the time, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of Kennedy. I was thinking in terms of adventure and orientation
Host: Of course, at the same time, he was a superhero who, for the first time, would get colds and had to worry about his Aunt May all the time
KIRBY: Oh well, you have to make them human in some way. You can’t rob a man of his humanity. You can wear any kind of a suit you want and call yourself by any other name you like, but when you take that suit off, and you take a bath, you come out whoever you are, as yourself. Of course, Spider-man is the same way. He’s like all the rest of his brothers. They’re instinctive showmen. I think that all human beings are instinctive showmen. Of course, I am, too! I thank the Lord that I had the opportunity to use my life in that manner, as a showman. Not maybe across a stage, but maybe across a comic book, several comic books. Maybe more than that. And I’ve had a wonderful time with it, because it turned out that that’s what I really wanted to do. I was performing. Spider-man is performing.
Host: Another book which you created was, of course, the Fantastic Four
Host: Now where’d they come from?
KIRBY: Fantastic Four… they’re a conglomerate of people. Different types. My job is to sell books. I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t, make the same bunch twice. I wouldn’t draw the same bunch twice. And so the Fantastic Four became a conglomerate of people who did different things. Usually, I’m associated with, the readers have associated me with Ben Grimm!
Host: I wonder why!
KIRBY: And I think in a way they’re right. Now Ben Grimm talks and acts just like I do, but of course, he’s a monstrosity and I can still wear a suit and look like everybody else. Ben Grimm is a natural guy. For showy purposes, he’s perfect! He certainly does the things that I wish that I could do. He can tear an ashcan up like we do paper. He can rescue people in manners that we can’t. He can rip off the side of a building and maybe get the tenants out because it’s going to explode. Ben Grimm can do it. Other people it would take many, many hours and of course make the accidents unavoidable. What Ben Grimm did was shorten that time and solve the problem quicker than most people could.
Host: I suspect there’s also a lot of you in Sgt. Fury.
KIRBY: Sgt. Fury was WW2.
Host: Yeah. A cigar chompin’, no nonsense, get the heck out of my way…
KIRBY: Well, I was a combat infantryman. I was with Patton’s 5th Division and whatever Sgt. Fury did, I did. I did it in The Losers, like I said, I mentioned that tape. And there were other things. I put not exactly my own war experiences, which gave the strip a little authenticity, I put my own feelings down. First of all, I was glad to be back, I was glad to be alive, I don’t know how it happened! <laughs> What happened was, I froze my feet. I was unconscious for days, I was lying in the snow. In fact, my whole battalion just konked out, you can lay in the snow just for so long, without any hotels around. My feet were a nice deep purple. I remember being in the hospital, some of the DC editors came up to visit me. By that time I felt so fiercely annoyed, I told them to get out of my room! <laughs> These guys were editors, here I was an artist talking back to editors!
Host: You were drafted along with Mort Weisinger and other editors.
KIRBY: I was in the same truck with Mort Weisinger. Mort Weisinger didn’t know how he got drafted! <laughs> He was saying it aloud, you know, while we were in the truck and we were all headed for the POE, which is the port of embarkation in Boston. There was a big convoy waiting with 25 ships. But Mort Weisinger didn’t go overseas
Host: He was an editor! <laughs>
KIRBY: He was an editor! <laughs> Yes! Me, they quickly put right on a ship. <laughs> Everybody was lying out on deck. There were 2000, 3000 guys lying on the deck and there was no room to walk! And I had to sleep! SO, I happen to be Jewish, but I know that chaplains are supposed to have mercy on anybody <laughs> So, I asked the chaplain if I could sleep in his room. If he had any space I would just lie down anywhere. Of course the chaplain was very kind to me, and I found space on the ship where I could just fall asleep.
Host: That’s great.
KIRBY: So, it was a wonderful experience to me, to involve myself with humanity in general. People certainly, I met people not of my own kind. And they’d look at me and they’d say, “What’s a brooklyn?”
KIRBY: and things like that! Communications weren’t as they are today. There were no airlines and there were no roadways where thousands of cars would go back and forth across the United States. Communications were rare. Texans never saw New Yorkers. Midwesterners never saw Texans. Californians certainly, didn’t see anybody.
Host: They preferred it that way
KIRBY: Well we got along at any rate. We all had one objective
Host: To get home
KIRBY: Certainly. We did the best we could. I seemed to get along with them. It went on that way aboard ship. It went on that way when we landed in Liverpool. I got to see Liverpool at night. <laughs> It was a grand sight because Liverpool was a wreck. We went on from there.
Host: Before we get to the other question I’ll open up the phone lines to the group mind. Our guest tonight is Jack Kirby, one of the preeminent figures in comic book history. Our phone number is <phone number> if you want to talk to Mr. Jack Kirby and we have some more stuff in the meanwhile.
Host: Oh, you don’t even tell me you’re coming back to me for a question.
Host: I was surprised to see that you’re still awake
Host: When you first started working in comics, in the early days. What were the working conditions like? Your pay… could you make a living, working?
KIRBY: Well, that was the reason I stuck with comics because I managed to bring home some money. That was my mother’s orders: Bring home some money. And of course, whatever your mother told you to do, you did. And of course, in comics, I began to make money! And I found out that the better comics I did, the more money I made. So I worked very very, like I told you, I worked very hard. And my comics began to make money for the publishers and I became deeply involved in the field, with Joe Simon, and whoever else was there. I knew all the early artists and the editors. I knew Mort Weisinger well. I knew Murray Boltinoff, and whoever was at Timely.
Host: Julie Schwartz?
KIRBY: Yes, I knew Julie Schwartz very well. So, it was a good and decent and honest way to make money and doing the thing I liked best: telling stories. So, I was carrying on a sort of family tradition, because that’s what my family did. Telling stories was a way of easing your way of life. My father came from a very rigid discipline. My father was from the Austrian aristocracy, but my mother was a peasant! <laughs>
Host: Thank goodness. <laughs>
KIRBY: <laughs> Thank goodness! But the point is that aristocracy or peasant, what they did best was tell stories. And of course, they would tell stories under the street lamps. They would tell stories, all the folk tales they learned in Europe were transferred to the young people that they bore here. Demons were real! Dracula was a real to me as any horror <?>. That was real horror! Remember there was a time when we never had penicillin. I caught double pneumonia, OK? I’m lying there on a bed. I’m a nine year old boy, and ten rabbis are dancing around my bed.
Host: <laughs> Not a good sign!
KIRBY: And they’re all saying, “Come out of this boy, demon! What’s your name, demon? Don’t hurt this boy, demon!” And they were saying that in Yiddish, of course. This kind of thing was very real. And I think it added to the type of storytelling that I would do later on in life. Because, my characters, to me, were real, just as they were to these Europeans. The Europeans at that time were really aristocracy or peasants who would sit around fires. I’m sure Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula, probably sat in with those peasants in Europe and listened to their stories around the fire and he might have come back with Dracula.
Host: Could very well be. We’re taking calls now at <phone number> and you’re on the air.
Caller: Hi, as long as you’re talking about demon, I was wondering, I think you touched a little bit on what might’ve been your inspiration for that. And also, what do you think about the future of computers in graphics, do you think that’s the way everything is going to go? And have you ever used any for graphics?
KIRBY: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the word – compete-ers, is that it?
KIRBY: Oh, computers! Well, I think computers are machines that are waiting to do something. We don’t know what it is they want to do, but we’re helping them along.
KIRBY: One of these days they won’t need our help. That kind of day is going to be very uncertain for us. It’s going to make things uncertain. I think computers are going to become… in fact, they are very important part of our lives. You’re asking a very, very valid question.
Host: Thank you for calling.
Host: You didn’t answer the other part of the question, Jack.
Host: We’ll take this call first, and then we’ll pick that up.
Host: Let’s take this call.
Host: You’re on Hour 25, go ahead.
Caller: Hi, Jack Kirby, you’re from New York. Are you touring here? Because I went to your comic convention around and you were there, but I missed it. So, why are you here, for vacation, or what?
KIRBY: Oh, I’ve been in California for the last twenty years now.
KIRBY: I’ve enjoyed living in California thoroughly. I don’t know what’ll happen tomorrow, but I think I’m still going to be in California.
Caller: Do you have any business here?
KIRBY: My business has been here for the last twenty years. as I said
KIRBY: And I’m rarely idle.
Host: Thank you. Now, you and I, Larry have no business being here at all.
Host: Now what was the other question that we didn’t follow up on?
Host: I think the gentleman asked, as long as we were talking about demons, if you could say something about the creation of Demon, The Demon comic.
KIRBY: Well, there is no such thing as the creation of demons, all right?
Host: Genesis 1:1
KIRBY: The devil has been here with us a long, long time. In fact, as long as the angels and god. It’s man’s evil and man’s virtue, I believe, living side-by-side. Man has taken evil and virtue and given us many ways to look them over, to examine ourselves. That’s what we really do when we write. We talk to others and we examine ourselves. “What is evil?” and “What is virtue?” We’ll probably never know, but it makes life interesting, and I believe it makes magazines to sell.
Host: OK. You’re on Hour 25 at <phone number> with Jack Kirby, go ahead.
Caller: How do you do? I would like to ask a couple of questions. The first one has to do with… do you know of any good women who are creators of comics? And the second question is, could you please talk about women as heroes in comics? And I will hang up so you can answer.
Host: Thank you.
KIRBY: I’ve always had the highest respect for women as people, certainly. And I’ve always used them in comics in the same manner that I’ve used my male characters. Women are heroines and villainesses and contend with virtue and evil even as men do. There’s no difference between us except physical structure, in my mind.
Host: You’ve actually created some very memorable female characters: Sif, in Thor…
Host: …Barda in the New Gods.
KIRBY: Yes, Big Barda. I happen to like big girls and Big Barda was a natural type of girl for me to draw. If you’ll dig into this a little deeper, in a psychological way, you’ll find that short men like large women. If you’ll notice my wife, she’s maybe an inch or two taller than I am.
Host: And is about to throw a brick at you now, I believe.
Host: And the first part of the question the caller had, was about women working in comics now. Which would you look at being the top…
KIRBY: Well, I’ve always expected women to work in comics. Women always have. I forget her second name, but when I was a young man there was a young woman named Marie who was doing comics. She was a sister of one of the fellow artists. She was one of the first women in comics. and she did excellent work. There’s no reason for women not to do comics
Host: Cause you worked with Jenette Kahn, too, I understand
KIRBY: Yes, Jenette Kahn is another example of women involved in comics. And Jenette Kahn does a wonderful job as a publisher. Women, I think, women should engage and have the chance to engage in whatever kind of profession that they have in mind and do the best they can.
Host: We are at <phone number> KPFK, talking to Jack Kirby
Host: Now, as far as women artists or writers working in comics, Christy Marx is one, Wendy Pini is another…
KIRBY: That’s right
Host: …they’re working on Elfquest. Who? Oh sheez, there was a husband and wife team. Marie is the name I remember… John Romita?
KIRBY: No, no
ROZ KIRBY: Marie Severin
Host: Marie Severin
KIRBY: Marie Severin
Host: Marie and
KIRBY: and John Severin
Host: Ann Nocenti who does Daredevil and many others
Host: There’s not many women working as writers or artists in comics, there’s more working in the publishing or editorial end of it. I don’t know why.
KIRBY: But it’s their prerogative. It’s their prerogative. Drawing comics is not withheld from them. If they want to draw comics, fine. If they want to do other things in comics, I found they are always welcome to do that.
Host: You’re on Hour 25 with Jack Kirby. Go ahead.
Caller: Hello. Hello?
Caller: Let me turn this radio off. Jack, I heard you speaking something about laying in the snow? What were you referring to?
KIRBY: That my feet were purple!
Caller: Uh huh.
KIRBY: In fact, they had to crack open my coat.
Caller: Yeah, well you were lucky they did cut them off
KIRBY: Well, they couldn’t cut my coat off, they had to crack it open.
Caller: Well, I tell you a real quickie since you’re a humor man. We were up there, too, and the snow was pretty bad, and I won’t mention any rats or anything, but someone stole somebody else’s sleeping bag and the only sleeping bag that has feather downs inside of it. So the guy takes and he steals this other guy’s bag and he takes his pants off. He gets in the bag and he had diarrhea. Well, when he woke up…
Host: You’re on Hour 25, go ahead.
Caller: Hi, this is Dave from out in the Inland Empire to say hello to Jack. And I was wondering, I have a question for him, did he ever, have you met Will Eisner?
KIRBY: Will Eisner was one of the people I worked with at a very early date. I worked with Will Eisner when he and Sam Iger ran a studio and I was just a young artist.
Caller: So he helped you out early in your career?
KIRBY: Yes, he did.
Caller: What’s Stan Lee like?
KIRBY: uh… Will Eisner is an industrious guy.
Hosts: <laughter> OK. I got that one. Thanks you for calling, caller. You’re on Hour 25, go ahead.
Caller: Yes, I was wondering, Jack, regarding Captain America, if there’s no need for him today, what would Steve Rogers be doing?
KIRBY: Steve Rogers would be doing something heroic.
Host: For the environment, perhaps?
KIRBY: Yes. He’d probably be testing a new kind of plane, a new vehicle of some kind. or he’d be doing something for the government that would require people who like a dangerous environment. Steve Rogers is that kind of a guy.
Caller: I see. Thank you very much.
KIRBY: You’re welcome.
Host: <phone number> and you’re on the air. Go ahead.
Caller: Yeah, hi, Jack Kirby? Always been a fan of your big splash pages, always loved those. I wanted to ask you two questions. What artists now do you think are hot and which ones aren’t? And what are you going to do now with all your artwork now that you got it back from, who was it, Marvel?
KIRBY: Well, I didn’t get all of it back. But what I did get back I was grateful for. I leave the disposition of the artwork to my wife. In fact, I leave everything to my wife. <laughter> I just draw a bit and eat sandwiches.
Host: And who do you think right now are the up and coming artists or writers?
KIRBY: All the artists that I’ve noticed are just wonderful. They send me the latest magazines from all the publishing houses. They top the magazines of my day to a degree that astound me. The paper is so good. The kind of paper we got, well you could use it in the bathroom and <unintelligible> <laughter>
Host: Like our first caller
KIRBY: So, the magazines produced today are wonderfully produced. they’re wonderfully written, and they’re wonderfully illustrated. I can’t say too much about their quality.
Host: Although I’ve noticed on a number of the artists working today every so often I’ll turn a page in a Marvel comic and you look at Thor in a particular pose and go, “He’s doing Jack Kirby.”
KIRBY: Well, I’ve seen spots once or twice where the figure was actually traced. But you can’t, somehow, I don’t blame the artist for it. He wants to keep that kind of a mood, in the strip.
If it had been a motion picture… he might’ve… for instance if he made another Star Wars, he may want to keep the same mood of the first Star Wars in the second picture. So, I think some of these fellows want to keep that mood and maybe build upon it. I see nothing wrong with it
Host: Allright. Thank you for calling. You’re on Hour 25, go ahead.
Caller: Good evening. Thank you, Jack, for many hours of healthy introspection. I have a question, two questions actually, one on automobility, not referring to the current automobile, but what you think about the future of the automobile, or automobility, in general.
KIRBY: Well, that usually resolves itself. In other words, that’s never up to us. It’s always up to the companies. And what’s… and how conventional they are. Maybe one day they’ll do something radical and we’ll have an automobile that hovers above the street and flies above the traffic.
Host 1 Fantasticar. What’s your next question.
Caller: I was thinking also about energy and things like this and the need for change along those lines and mass consumption.
Host: What’s your second question.
Caller: Second question is, you mentioned something earlier about the Bible and your mentioning Genesis and couple of other things went by. I was wondering how much you draw on the Biblical superheroes. Men like David, and guys like that. Do they figure prominently anywhere?
KIRBY: Yes, they do. Biblical figures have always been self-evident. Everywhere. Samson was your first superhero. Samson, of course, did things other men couldn’t. Samson was your first superman. He could do the same things that Superman did. He could do the same things that Captain America did. Of course, all of us have read the Bible or have been told about the Bible, in some way. We’ve absorbed it and it’s part of us. So it’ll come out in our drawings and whatever we build or talk about.
Host: Alright, thank you
Caller: Thank you
Host: Where was the first tennis game played?
Host: You got me
Host: When David played in King Solomon’s courts.
Host: Get out of here.
KIRBY, Hosts: <chuckle>
Host: You’re on the air, go ahead.
Caller: Hi, yeah, I was reading Jack Kirby teamed up with Stan Lee with Marvel Comics in the early 60s, so it’s sort of an honor for me. My question is, and I don’t think this has been talked about, how was the collaboration, which to me was the modern age of comics started with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby working together. How did that either come about and how did that develop in terms of how you wrote a story?
KIRBY: I wrote the story.
KIRBY: I wrote the complete story. I drew the complete story. And after I came in with the pencils, the story was given to an inker and the inker would ink the story and a letterer would letter it and I would give the story to Stan Lee or whoever had the editor’s chair and I would leave it there. I would tell them the kind of story I would to do follow up and then I went home and I would do that story, and I wouldn’t come into the office until I had that story finished. And nobody else had to work on a story with me.
Caller: Hmm! Ok. That’s actually a little bit of a surprise. Ok, thank you.
Host: Thank you. It’s the revision of history going on at Marvel for the last few years.
KIRBY: Yeah, well…
Host: You’re on Hour 25 with Jack Kirby. Go ahead.
Caller: Ha! I can’t believe it! I’m standing at two pay phones. Oh, Jack Kirby, you’re the greatest! When I was like 13 years old, 12 years old, the whole world opened up to me. A guy Butch Pearl turned me onto these comic books, Captain America, Spider-man, the Incredible Hulk, it was like a whole world, and I stayed with it for years… and …
Host: I take it you’re a fan.
Caller: Jack, you’re the best! I love you, Jack!
KIRBY: Well, believe me, it’s all returned to you. I love you, too. If you read any of my books, I appreciate that fact, and I have no words to express how wonderful that kind of thing, well, helps my own spirit.
Caller: Jack, don’t put those pens down! If you ever hear any story in your head, just do it because It doesn’t matter what anybody else says, there’s people out there who care about what you write. It means a lot to them and there’s kids out there right now who need to hear those stories and wherever you get your inspiration from, Jack, it’s a great place.
Host: All right, thank you for calling.
Caller: Thanks a lot, Jack, I love you. Take care.
Host: Hang up them phones
Host: I think he liked the work
Host: You’re on the air. Go ahead.
Caller: Yeah, this is Bill in West LA?
Host: Hi, Bill.
Caller: Hi. I’m doing art work for myself now, for a living, professionally. I just wanted to say that when I was first starting to be drawn into that back in grammar school, you were a tremendous influence on me, Mr. Kirby. Your work really meant a lot to me. We’d be in class and then kids gluing macaroni onto paper, and I’m over in the corner drawing Darkseid. Kind hard to explain, but… and secondly, I was kind of wondering, I was a great fan of the New Gods saga, the Fourth World series, I was wondering if you could say a few words about the Source, and how the idea for that came about in your mind, because I was always really intrigued by the Source, it was kind of a…
KIRBY: The Source, like everything else, is an everyday fact. We live, the Source is, lives with us day by day. We don’t know what the Source is, where it is, we can’t identify its form, but we know it’s there. This thing, this tremendous thing, governs our lives, and somehow we can all feel it inside. It’s referred to as spiritual, it’s referred to in many other ways, but we know instinctively that it’s there. And that’s what I put down in my stories, because like everybody else, I’ve felt this thing and I felt that it was real and I’ve kept it with me all my life.
Host: All right, thank you for calling.
Caller: Thank you
Host: Bye bye. You’re on Hour 25 with Jack Kirby, go ahead.
Caller: Hi Jack, how are you doing?
KIRBY: Just fine.
Caller: Since Batman’s success there’s been a lot of movies coming around, I guess, with the superhero type thing. Is there anything to do with the Punisher coming out? I understand Dolph Lundgren is going to be some Punisher thing…
KIRBY: Well, that’s a decision of Marvel’s. I don’t know when it’ll be made, or who is going to…
Host: Last I heard it has been made, and is going to cassette, I understand.
KIRBY: Oh, I see.
Caller: It’s going to cassette only?
Host: We shall, because Dolph Lundgren’s last picture Red Scorpion went right into the dumper and they didn’t want to release another picture with Dolph Lundgren.
Caller: Oh, ok. Is there some sort of tie-in with, fascination with, superheroes right now for the movies? or is it just because Batman made so much money, they’re going to start go overboard with this kind of stuff…
KIRBY: Well, my guess it was Batman who generated a trend. I think the trend will continue, and you’ll see good ones made and bad ones made, but the trend will continue. The superhero has, and always will, be part of the American scene. And, of course, today, he’s visual and I believe that he’ll stay visual, and in motion.
Host: Yeah, I agree. Thank you, and, you’re on Hour 25, go ahead.
Caller: Yes, I want to be quick about this because I don’t want to get into Mr. Kirby’s time, but I believe John Severin, whose fine work on King Kull as the artist, and Marie, as a colorist… they’re not, however, husband and wife, I believe they’re brother and sister. I’m fairly sure about that. I’m not positive, but I think they’re brother and sister.
Host: I think you’re right. Yeah. Thank you.
JMS: Now, there’s a connection between you and Mr Kirby which Jack isn’t even aware of.
Larry: No. Jack and I talked about beforehand.
Host: Oh, you did?
Host: Are you going to bring up the giant worms coming out of the earth?
Host: Absolutely, I must bring it up. Explain the background?
Host: When I was working at Ruby Spears as a writer, Jack was working there doing conceptions, models and all of his creative things. And the first day I was there Joe Ruby said, “I have this terrific idea for you to work on, Larry: Giant worms coming up out of the earth, devouring cities.” I said, “why did I ever quit my last job and come here with this cigar smoking madman that wants me to do giant worms coming out of the earth?” Sixty-five episodes of giant worms coming up out of the earth. But the one great thing about it was: Jack Kirby artwork which would come over the transom and I’d get all these wonderful xeroxes of all these terrific machines and these terrific characters, and that was wonderful. Now that series never got made.
Host: What did you think of this worm stuff?
KIRBY: Well, like anything else, it was a story to tell. You could do it well. You could do it in a mediocre fashion. It depends on the storyteller.
Host: But you couldn’t do it for 65 episodes. I was convinced of that.
KIRBY: Well, of course, that’s an opinion. We all have our own opinion, and I think we’re all entitled to them. Somehow, maybe someday, we may see those worms, or we may not. I don’t think it’s going to change our lives one way or the other.
Host: Did you do the conceptions on Centurions, as well?
KIRBY: I believe so.
Host: Because I worked on Centurions as well, at Ruby Spears. Which actually was a very good show, both in artwork and writing, but it went right off the air, because it was the end of the toy days.
KIRBY: Well, it was out of my hands. The conceptions were as far as I went.
Host: How do you like the new superheroes? In the 40s – the 30s, 40s, 50s… even as far as the 60s, the superheroes had a kind innocence to them. They were less human, up until the Fantastic Four started…
KIRBY: Well, they’re deadly now.
Host: Yeah, they’ll kill you!
KIRBY: Yes, and they’re violent now. They want to do the real thing! So, I think that the very pleasant type of feeling’s gone out of the comic…
Host: You almost can’t call them comic anymore
KIRBY: Well, if you see a illustration of somebody choking some guy, it’s going to be the real thing! I mean, this guy’s going to look like he’s being constricted. They’re going to make this one panel stick out of the entire story, and you lose your train of thought, you lose the rest of the story. Some fellow feels that this is the kind of picture he likes to draw. And he’ll draw it so well, that it will attract the reader to this one panel. And in doing so, the artist will lose the rest of the story, because the rest of the story will never match that panel. That panel will jump right out of the story. And the reader will concentrate on it. And of course, I feel that it’s a loss for the artist, that the entire story matters.
Host: We have about two minutes left, three minutes left.
Host: There are those now trying to revive the campaign that comic books are evil, not good for people, and all this sort of thing.
Host: Like Frederic Wertham did in the 50s.
Host: What’s your response to those people who are trying to revive the idea that comics are bad for you?
KIRBY: I think it’s wrong. I think it’s up to us to decide what’s good for us. If it’s going to hurt you, you’ll feel it and you won’t continue it. I think they ought to give you that choice. I think that comic books, like any other literature, when it’s done by good men, will give you the thrill of a lifetime. Who can compare, say, an adventure like Moby Dick and stories like that, with, say, mediocre fiction of the hard book kind. So, there’s outstanding literature and there are stories that fade away. It will always remain that way. We can’t stop it.
Host: All right. We are out of time. It’s been a terrific two hours.
Host: Rats! I know.
Host: We appreciate you coming down here to the station, Mr. Kirby. It’s been a genuine pleasure for all of us.
KIRBY: Oh, it’s been my pleasure, surely. You people have been very nice.
Host: Although I’m sorry you stopped smoking cigars. I know it’s better for you.
KIRBY: No, I’m glad I did. I probably would have melted your wall.
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
In the last article in this series, we read how Galactus first appeared on the scene in Fantastic Four #48’s “The Coming Of Galactus!”, and that after he left he wasn’t supposed to return for a very long time. Perhaps this was why, at the end of that story, a reminder of the mysteries of the Universe was left behind: The Silver Surfer. To Jack this was just another plot thread, to be picked up and used for future stories and adventures; he had no idea at the time of the importance of what he had created. Stan Lee, however, found out soon enough through fan response; the Surfer was sensational.
Initial splash original art for Fantastic Four 74, May 1968.
The Surfer must rank among Kirby’s greatest creations; but believe it or not, Jack’s Surfer was short-lived, lasting about two-and a- half years. One must come to understand that there were actually two Surfers: The version Jack created and the one Lee “re-created.” Many are familiar with the often-repeated story of how Lee was presented with the penciled pages to FF#48 only to be surprised by the new character in the story. (Apparently when Jack discussed the plot with Stan he either neglected, or hadn’t yet thought of, the inclusion of the Surfer.) Roy Thomas was present when this occurred and it is he we have to thank for honestly relating a true story that Marvel historians can be sure of. Had Roy not been there and told the tale to readers, in my opinion the Surfer would have become yet another Kirby creation forever mired in the “co-created” ambiguousness associated with the “Lee/Kirby” creations.
Jack’s Surfer can only be seen in issues of Fantastic Four. We first become aware of the nature of the character in FF #49’s “If This Be Doomsday!”, of which we are again fortunate to have copies of the undiluted pencils. The Surfer is “alien” in every respect, except for the obvious (and understandable) fact that he speaks English. He knows and understands nothing of the Earth or humanity other than they are to be absorbed for Galactus. His credo is “energy is all”; mankind is merely Organic Energy to be converted— to be used constructively or destructively. This was the basis for Jack’s Surfer: A creature of pure energy, formed for exploration and war. According to the Conservation of Energy Law: “Energy can be converted (changed in form), but it cannot be created nor destroyed”; hence the Surfer was “formed,” not created by Galactus, as an extension of the giant, most likely.
“If This Be Doomsday!”
Pencil story art by Jack Kirby, dialogue/captions by Stan Lee, lettering art by Sam Rosen
First published in Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four 49, April 1966
(Also featured in the previous article)
In FF#49 we see Jack’s Surfer in his original function, converting everything around him into energy; and as we can see from Jack’s liner notes, had Alicia not reached something inside him in time, she too would have been converted—a little something left out of the published story. It was Jack’s original intention for the Surfer to enter mankind as a blank slate, absorbing a new lesson about the human condition with every subsequent adventure. This becomes obvious from the early Fantastic Four/Surfer stories: In FF#49 and FF #50’s “The Startling Saga Of The Silver Surfer!”, he learns that life (any life) is precious. In FF #55’s “When Strikes The Silver Surfer!”, he learns about human emotions (through the Thing’s jealousy). In #57-61, he experiences human treachery. Each of these stories is a learning experience for the Surfer, and a reflection on us.
Of course, Stan was on these stories with Jack, with much enthusiasm I might add. We see, according to the Nat Freedland article reprinted in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, that Stan was already working out future Surfer-related plots with Jack while the artwork to FF#50 was still on the board, unpublished. Those plotting sessions became the basis for the story in FF#55 and somewhat touching on #57’s “Enter, Doctor Doom!”. Stan was enchanted with the character; he saw that fan response was so great that the Surfer had the potential to be a moneymaker for Marvel. Stan very much wanted to put out a book on the Surfer, especially while the character was hot. Unfortunately, due to publishing limitations put upon Marvel at the time, there was no room on the schedule; a book would have to wait, for now.
The stories between FF#48 and FF #61’s “Where Stalks The Sandman?” are peppered with either Surfer stories or cameos. It is with the Surfer’s return in FF#55 that Lee begins to have the Surfer espouse his philosophy to the masses. Using timeworn literary and Biblical cliches, the character becomes the comic book version of Billy Graham. Lee realized early on that fans reacted positively to the purity of the character; this made him a conduit to the young adult, college-age audience that was a vital part of Marvel’s readership at that time. It was also Kirby’s rendering of the Surfer as a noble majestic being that helps bring this dialogue off.
Fantastic Four #74, page 6. Kirby had the Torch hide the Surfer from Galactus. In the published book, no mention of it.
After experiencing a plethora of human emotions and states, by FF#61 —approximately a year after his first appearance—the Surfer turns his back on mankind; and Kirby, ever progressive, turns his back on the Surfer temporarily, while pursuing yet newer creations and adventures. Stan, through the fans, never gets too far away from the character and sees to it that the fans are kept satisfied with Surfer appearances, while at the same time being careful not to overexpose the character. Of course during this time fans just couldn’t get enough anyway. Approximately three months after FF#61 the Surfer makes his first appearance in a non-FF book. Stan writes him into a Hulk story in Tales to Astonish #92-93, drawn by Marie Severin. A few months after that, the Surfer gets his first solo story, “The Peerless Power Of The Silver Surfer”, in the pages of FF Annual #5 in, perhaps, a testing of the waters towards a possible series. Stan was growing impatient about getting the Surfer his own book.
By the time the Surfer reappears in FF #72’s “Where Soars The Silver Surfer”, new avenues have opened up at Marvel. The company was changing hands and distribution was finally expanding. The characters who shared the Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, and Strange Tales comics were being given their own books and new titles were finally being discussed for launching—the Surfer book probably among them. Jack wanted to be a part of the Surfer series; it must have stunned him to discover that the Surfer book was already being produced, with Stan writing the origin story and John Buscema as the series’ artist. Needless to say Jack was hurt; it wasn’t the first time and unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last. Jack was preparing to put the Surfer’s origin down himself, and the stories beginning with FF#72 probably would have led into it; now it would be lost to us forever.
Lee glossed over Jack’s “Cosmic Shield” in FF #74.
Some conjecture that Stan may have been keeping Jack off the book so he would have free rein to plot and write the character as he saw fit. A more practical reason may have been that, at the time, Jack was plotting and drawing three full books already: Fantastic Four, Thor, and the newly-expanded Captain America. There was also an Inhumans book that Stan wanted produced, and since Stan obviously enjoyed writing the Surfer more, would’ve deferred the plotting of that book to Kirby. (Jack apparently had been penciled-in for a planned Inhumans book, which was teased to readers in a Bullpen page. One interesting question is whether, when Jack did the Inhumans stories that appear in the back of the Thor books, or for Amazing Adventures, were those pages planned for the new book?) In any event, Jack was annoyed; but with new bosses in the company.—and Jack, ever mindful of supporting his family—he didn’t rock the boat. In what was probably doubly disheartening, Stan apparently asked Jack to do the Surfer story that runs through FF #74-77, helping to kick off the new series. With two exceptions, after FF #77’s “Shall Earth Endure?”, Jack— for whatever reason—doesn’t draw the Surfer anywhere, anymore.
Stan’s take on the Surfer’s origins are almost directly opposite of what Jack had intended. Jack had the Surfer as an alien who progressively learns to become human; Stan turns the story on its ear and has the Surfer as a human who becomes an alien. True, Stan’s origin depicts the Surfer as a being from another planet, but the character is human in every other respect. In writing his origin, Stan throws away all the alien aspects of the character that initially made him so appealing to readers; in fact, as early as “When Strikes The Silver Surfer!”, Stan, through dialogue, represents the Surfer as a being with a silvery coating protecting his body, thereby implying that he initially may not have always been as he appears. Upon learning about Lee’s origin for the Surfer, Jack disavowed any relation to the character. That wasn’t his Surfer, as far as he was concerned.
FF #76, page 14. Kirby takes time to explain that Reed will section off the cabin of their craft so Ben can exit; Lee omits any reference to it.
The Silver Surfer book was successful, but not for very long; after the first issue or two sales began to drop. It appears that the stories were originally intended to be standard 20-page editions, but with Martin Goodman wanting to fill the racks with books of varying price points, the comic became a 25¢ forty-pager (the company was also experimenting with a black-&-white Spider-Man magazine-size comic at the time as well). This meant not only that a book was twice the price of a regular comic, but that standard stories had to be stretched out to twice as many pages, and still hold the readers’ interest. Lee’s writing was well over-the-top dramatically on this book—so much so that many readers were turned off. In making the character human, he became just another angst-ridden Lee super-hero. Although his message was sincere, readers didn’t care to see this once-noble character on his knees with his hands raised in supplication, crying and bemoaning his fate and man’s inhumanity to man in every issue. Lee took his inspired messages from the Surfer/Fantastic Four stories and beat them to death in the Surfer book.
After several issues things were looking bleak for the Surfer mag. According to John Buscema in an interview in The Jack Kirby Collector #18, Stan told him he didn’t know what to do with the book anymore; he had lost the direction of the character. The direction of the Surfer always had been with his creator, Jack Kirby, and Stan would now call upon him to help fix this situation. It is evident from this example that, although the Kirby/Lee books were a collaborative effort, it was Kirby who was the driving force behind the team. Without Kirby, the books he and Lee pioneered were mediocre at best. It is also interesting to note that, after Kirby left Marvel, Lee lasted for about two years on the Lee/Kirby books—about the same time it took him to run out of ideas on the Surfer mag.
FF #76, page 20. Kirby’s notes show he used the Surfer to get rid of the Indestructible, but Lee ignores this, and there is no explanation in the published book of why the Indestructible disappears.
It was decided Herb Trimpe would draw the book, after inking a lead-in story penciled by Jack. This is why the last issue (#18) sports a cover by Trimpe and not Kirby; one would think a Kirby cover would’ve attracted more readers. (The book was to be retitled The Savage Silver Surfer with #19; for the record, the decision to terminate before the Trimpe stories appeared was based on earlier sales, not on Jack’s one issue.) The fact was that Jack didn’t want to have anything to do with the book. It was ironically insulting and irritating to him to be called upon to help save the Surfer at this time. Jack knew he would be leaving Marvel soon and that this story would probably be one of his last. The last two pages of the story may, therefore, be very prophetic. The Surfer was fed up with man and Jack was fed up with Marvel; before he left his creation, they both shared a catharsis. With this issue, the Surfer was left alone; Stan refused to let anyone else use the character for a long time. Others would eventually write the Surfer into guest appearances in various books, but there would be no more Surfer stories, no more inspiration. The Surfer would remain in creative limbo while his “soul” was working at another company.
By 1978, Jack was back at Marvel, finishing up an unpleasant stay. Unlike the Sixties, this time it only took Jack two years to get fed up. To complete his contract with Marvel, he was required to submit a certain amount of pages in a given time frame, and he wanted to complete that as quickly as possible. Once again the Surfer helps his father out. Marvel was touting the character as a saleable commodity to the media. Hollywood responded and a movie project was announced. An offer was made to Jack and Stan to re-unite on a Surfer story. Jack decided to do the book because it was assured to him that the story he and Lee came up with would be copyrighted as theirs alone. Also Jack wanted to make sure his name stayed with his character and did not become “lost” (like it did when a movie poster featuring Captain America listed Lee as creator of the character). It also helped him meet his contractual obligations with Marvel, page-wise. If the book was successful, a possible adaptation of the story to the big screen might be considered; all of this really boiled down to Jack, once again, trying to earn the most he could for his family.
Since the book was considered as a possible vehicle for the movie, the story was kept apart from the general continuity of the comics, with no references to other Surfer-related stories or characters. Jack submitted a fully-typewritten plot along with his pencils for Stan to dialogue. Stan wanted changes made and Jack balked, but as usual, grudgingly gave in. This is why the story reads unevenly and loses impact. This was the last time Kirby would work with Lee in comics; one need not wonder why.
Throughout FF #76, Kirby’s notes show he fully intended the Indestructible to speak. It seems strange that the usually verbose Lee purposely rendered this character mute.
Jack once said in a published interview about why he stopped creating for Marvel: “When I would create something (ie. A character), they would take it away from me and I would lose all association with it.” It is ironic that of all the creations attributed to the Kirby/Lee team, the Silver Surfer—the one character universally acknowledged as Jack’s creation—would be so dominated and changed by Lee into a character no longer acknowledged by his creator. Time would be kinder to Jack’s Surfer in the pages of Fantastic Four than to Lee’s Surfer in the failed first series. Two men with distinctly different versions of the same character end up creating two characters. With no malice on either side, and good intentions gone awry, the Silver Surfer turns out to be the prime example of a failure to communicate.
(Special thanks to Mark Evanier for providing background information for this article.)
While pulling together yesterday’s entry on the Captain America original art in the Museum’s collection, I remembered that we have another interesting Kirby image from the 1977 calendar:
Yes, it’s a Jack Kirby drawing of not only Thor, the Thing, the Hulk, Captain America and Spider-man, but also Howard the Duck, Luke Cage, Conan and Dr. Strange.
I’m sure Kirby was working from a comp drawing sent to him by the Marvel office, which could have been by Marie Severin, John Romita, Sr., or someone else. My guess is that they provided him with a pretty good likeness of Howard the Duck. The published piece was inked by John Romita, Sr. Color artist unknown, although possibly Marie Severin, as well.
Back in TwoMorrows’ Fall 2008 The Jack Kirby Collector 51, the Museum’s newsletter page included a piece of Kirby art that was gifted to the Museum by Greg Theakston. Soon after that issue was published, I received an email from accomplished comic book art style identifier Nick Caputo, who told me it looked like it was inked by Frank Giacoia, and was from The Mighty Marvel Memory Album 1977 calendar. So, I acquired a copy of the calendar for the Museum. Nick also said that it looked like some of the other art on that piece was inked by John Romita, Sr., which may explain why this cut-out piece was by a different artist.
(Thanks to Richard Kolkman, caretaker of the Jack Kirby Checklist for the inspiration for this post!)
1977 Marvel Memory Album, Captain America original art detail
What can be written about Galactus that hasn’t been expressed already by historians far more informed and eloquent than I? But let’s start off within the context of the theme of The Jack Kirby Collector 22: Is he a villain? By textbook definition he is not; he’s more of an adversary or antagonist, and given the previous opponents superheroes had faced up to his appearance, he represents either the ultimate adversary or antagonistic overkill — take your pick!
Original art, “And Now, Galactus!” page 13, Pencil story art by Jack Kirby, dialogue by Stan Lee, ink art by Vince Colletta, lettering art by Sam Rosen first published in Marvel Comics’ The Mighty Thor 160, January 1969. Scan from the Kirby Museum’s Original Art Digital Archive.
Galactus is a prime example of the thinking man’s opponent; i.e. an adversary that is so powerful it quickly becomes apparent that physical opposition will do no good in subduing him. A plan has to be devised or a way found to defeat him. In earlier stories for Marvel, Jack played with the notion of an alien visitor of enormous power, but they were more or less misguided (Impossible Man or Infant Terrible), or they posed no threat to mankind (the Stranger). Galactus, on the other hand, is not misguided — quite the contrary; because of his very reason for being, he poses the ultimate threat to mankind.
In interviews, Jack would say that “Galactus was God”; I always wondered if Jack really meant God. Granted, Galactus was definitely a “god” but surely not The God. To speculate, perhaps Jack was saying that if super-heroes were ever to face God, Galactus would be about as great an adversary as they could encounter. Superheroes have faced aliens before, and powerful ones too; but it was the way Jack interpreted Galactus to the reader that made him the first space god. How he was introduced made all the difference to the history of comics. His coming is heralded by not one, but two powerful aliens before he even arrives, telling the reader in essence that this was not your typical visiting alien menace; this is the menace; this is IT!
Jack introduced Galactus in Fantastic Four #48’s “The Coming Of Galactus!”; the second half of the book is utilized to prepare readers for his arrival, which culminates with the last page. This gives you an idea of what Jack was thinking about; devoting half an issue just to prepare the reader was saying something about this character. Things really get moving with #49’s “If This Be Doomsday!” and we are very fortunate to have these uninked pencils from that historic story. As opposed to Part One of A Failure To Communicate, there is no failure to communicate between Kirby and Lee on this storyline. Stan followed Jack’s direction without making major changes, and the story flows beautifully because Lee stuck to Kirby’s plotting — and let there be no mistake about who plotted and paced this story. Despite whatever input Stan might or might not’ve had at the conceptual phase, these margin notes show the action and dramatic impact of this pivotal episode in Marvel’s history begin with Kirby. But while Jack was the “father” of Galactus, we shall see — to his credit — Lee may have been his savior.
“If This Be Doomsday!”
Pencil story art by Jack Kirby, dialogue/captions by Stan Lee, lettering art by Sam Rosen
First published in Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four 49, April 1966.
As far as Silver Age Marvel history is concerned, there is the period before Galactus, and the period after. With the introduction of this character, Jack entered into a period of cosmic creativity; granted he was always creating technological wonderment, but now he was incorporating the Universe in many of his ideas. After Galactus came Sub- Space, the Kree, the Colonizers, Ego the Living Planet; even the Trolls in Thor had Orikal — a powerful alien — in their company. It was space-age mythology fathered by Kirby, and Kirby’s new “Zeus” was Galactus.
Jack has said that after creating Galactus he had to “step back from him.” According to historian Mark Evanier, Kirby never meant for Galactus to be a recurring menace à la Dr. Doom. He might use him again, but only sparingly, so as to maintain the awesome nature of the character. Needless to say, Galactus became an immediate hit with the readers of the time. Ever in touch with the fan base, Lee undoubtedly heard their pleas for his return. According to Evanier, after prompting from Stan, Jack brought Galactus back in not only Fantastic Four, but Thor as well. So thanks to Lee (and the fans), we have more great Kirby Galactus stories and art than probably would have existed otherwise.
Before returning Galactus to the FF, Jack added a small cameo to his Thor/Ego story in The Mighty Thor #134’s “The People Breeders!”; just as Thor leaves the Black Galaxy (where Ego dwells) we see the great Galactus appear. He is scanning the Black Galaxy, whetting our appetite for a Galactus/Ego confrontation. Jack then “steps back” from Galactus, not using him again until Lee requests a Galactus story in FF. Jack eventually returns to the Galactus/Ego “seed” he planted in Thor #160’s “And Now, Galactus!”, more than two years later, finally bringing his classic mythological figures and space god together for several stories. The Ego story leads to an “Origin of Galactus” plotline that eventually culminates in Thor #169’s “The Awesome Answer!”.
Jack touches on the origin story in Thor #162’s “Galactus Is Born!” but then leaves it, not returning to it until #168’s “Galactus Found!”. It is unclear why this is so; Evanier feels that Jack definitely wanted to pen the origin of this character. But there was, by this time, a failure to communicate with Lee, who may have had his own ideas of the character’s beginnings. As seen in TwoMorrows’ February 1977 The Jack Kirby Collector 14, when the Galactus sequence was completed, there were many unused pages left over, but none of them pertained to the origin part of the storyline itself; so Jack was at least able to put an origin in before “losing” the character to someone else — or leaving Marvel, which he did less than a year later. (It’s still unclear how much of the published origin was Jack’s idea, and how much was Stan’s.)
At the end of the unpublished pages from the origin sequence, Kirby was going to have Galactus battle alongside Thor; perhaps Jack scrapped the idea, or Stan (wisely) rejected it, thinking that it would lead to the character’s denigration (which, as we have seen from subsequent stories after Jack left — and overuse of the character it probably would have). In my opinion, to this day no one has yet been able to capture the awesome nature of Galactus as well as his creator, Jack Kirby.
What made Galactus so riveting a character? From the outset, everyone who knows of him before he appears is rendered in characterizations of fear, dread, and awe: The Skrulls, the Watcher (whom we already knew to be an extremely powerful character), and even after Galactus appears, the Surfer as well. In the uninked splash to “If This Be Doomsday!” we see how awestruck the FF are — much moreso than in the inked version. Most telling was the reaction of the everyday people scattered throughout the storyline. This was indeed the coming of a god — Kirby’s god — and it terrified plenty.
Pencil art with dialog/captions and lettering next to first publication, “If This Be Doomsday!” page 1 Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four 49, April 1966
What made Galactus so terrifying? Was it his power? The fact that he could destroy the entire planet? Probably in part but what made him terrifying to me was more psychological: The fact that Galactus did not even recognize that man existed, or cared if he existed, or needed to exist; the fact that Galactus made man look at himself and say “I kill what I need (or want) to survive; not bothering to rationalize if what I kill has a right to live.” Heck, we don’t worry about a carrot’s right to life, so when we realize that we are as little to Galactus as a carrot is to us, it’s enough to scare the hell out of you — not so much when you read it as a kid, ironically. Only as “rational” adults do we realize how scary this concept is. And the topper is you can’t condemn him without condemning yourself. So in the end we see man as an extension of God; but in the long run Galactus — God — is an extension of man. Galactus is man, pushed to the ultimate degree; a terrifying concept indeed!
This started out simply enough; I was reading FF Annual #3’s “Bedlam At The Baxter Building!” when I noticed on page 2 that Doctor Doom wasn’t using his hands to operate his machine. The owner of the original art was nice enough to send me a copy and upon viewing, my suspicions were confirmed. Kirby’s margin notes had Doom still recovering from his battle with the Thing in FF #40’s “The Battle Of The Baxter Building!”, so he couldn’t fully use his hands yet. To Kirby, this was the reason Doom used a machine to attempt to ruin the wedding. Lee, however, ignored this totally in favor of high drama, thereby changing Kirby’s reasoning for Doom’s motive. Thus Lee has Doom using the machine as a grand gesture of revenge and contempt; Kirby had him use it because he couldn’t attack the FF personally.
detail, “The Battle Of The Baxter Building!”, page 20, first publication, Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four 40, July 1965
Original art detail, “Bedlam At The Baxter Building!” page 2, first publication in Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four Annual 3,1965.
There are many examples of art and dialogue not meshing correctly in the Kirby/Lee books. Some may cite the “Marvel Method” of producing the books as the reason. There are small examples in the early years, becoming more noticeable in the books produced between ’64-’70, books where Kirby was pretty much plotting the stories on his own. This also helps to explain why there are so many more Kirby margin notes on the art from this period. Once Kirby had his story established on paper, he sent it to Lee, who as editor and dialogue writer would keep what he considered essential (or couldn’t change because the accompanying visuals were too obvious to alter through dialogue) and change what he wished for reasons of drama, continuity, or whatever his intention was at the time.
With this in mind, we begin a series of articles showcasing stories and/or separate examples of art and words not mixing correctly; or one man’s view of the story differing from the other’s. We are not attempting to prove that either man was right or wrong, or deserved more credit than the other; it is simply an ongoing dissertation of facts that will be presented for you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions from. Of course, we hope you enjoy it as well.
Before going further, I would advise you to read four pages from “The Reason Why!” by Kirby/Lee. First read it using Jack’s margin notes only, as this is how Kirby intended the story to go and how Lee received it before making changes. Then go over the story again, this time reading Lee’s dialogue. Then if you wish, go back to this article where my opinions are. I want the reader to draw their own conclusions before reading mine.
“The Reason Why!” page 2
“The Reason Why!” page 3
“The Reason Why!” page 4
“The Reason Why!” page 5
That Would Be Inhuman!
Jack’s Inhumans pretty much seemed to be one of his evolving creations. It began with one character, Medusa, eventually segueing into the Inhumans about a year later, finally leading to their origins about two years later. Although Jack did give a brief one page semi-origin in FF #46’s “Those Who Would Destroy Us!”, he would eventually expand on this to give a more detailed origin after the creation of one of his other races—the Kree—connecting the two races through story. Jack introduced his take on the Inhumans in the back-up story section of Thor (although there’s evidence to suggest that Jack originally did one long story for the first issue of a proposed 1960s Inhumans comic, and when it was shelved, the story was split up to make these Thor back-ups). The story printed here was originally published in Thor #147 and is part of Jack’s multi-part Inhumans origin story.
“Those Who Would Destroy Us!”, page 18, first publication, Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four 46, January 1966
As his margin notes bear out, Jack intended for the Inhumans to be already fully aware of their origins. They know that they are advanced humans, descended from the Kree (through technology). They knew what the Sentry was and have dealt with it before. The Kree experiment that changed humans began to go awry when the advanced race separated themselves, rather than develop along with the non-advanced races. They also began conducting dangerous, forbidden experiments. This brings the Sentry, who comes to warn them of the risk and danger, and attempts to halt it, but he arrives too late. Upon this realization, the Sentry warns them that they will be shunned by their fellow man; in essence they are no longer human but have made themselves In-human. As far as the Sentry is concerned, this was a failed Kree experiment.
Lee, for whatever reason, changes the basics of the story. The Sentry is unknown to the Inhumans; it is he who informs them of their link to the Kree for the first time. It was the Kree who separated the race from the other races. The Sentry is there to observe for the Kree. He witnesses the results of the advanced race’s experiments and is pleased; dubbing them Inhumans, he considers the Kree experiment to be successful.
Thus for the sake of drama (or vanity?), Lee turns a tale of foreboding into a success for the greater glory of the advancement of mankind. Where Kirby’s Sentry warns, Lee’s encourages—two takes on one story. Was it that important to change the meaning of Jack’s story simply for the sake of optimistic drama? You be the judge. If anything, it clearly shows two people “collaborating” in different directions!
“In the early Nineties I was an avid consumer of Mondo 2000, a wildly glossy magazine filled with digital eye-candy, day-glo tressed and tattooed models draped in computer gear, and techno-hippie political screeds. The folks who published Mondo 2000 from their communal home in the San Francisco Bay area were inspired by the science-fiction novels of Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, the punk DIY ethic, and the seemingly non-stop advances in computer graphics, virtual reality, and smart drug technology. These people seemed to me, at the time, to be the embodiment of some of the future people I’d read about in comic books.
“I was also beginning my travels in cyberspace and became a member of a San Francisco-based conferencing system called The Well, run by the folks who published the Whole Earth Review. Remember, this was before the World Wide Web was invented; it was the time of dial-up entities like bulletin boards, AOL, Prodigy, Genie, and others. Mondo 2000 soon had its own forum on The Well, where one Well-ite made mention of some of the concepts in The Eternals. Our discussion of Kirby’s work went on—his use of Virtual Reality in OMAC, the bio-engineering of Arnim Zola and the High Evolutionary—and one of the editors posted that his interest was piqued and that perhaps there was an article in it. Eventually Andrew Mayer, a writer and programmer, pitched the article to the editorial tribunal and got an OK. Andrew and I felt this was a great opportunity to meet and interview Kirby, so Andrew made arrangements with the Kirbys to meet at that Summer’s San Diego Comic-Con. It was my first San Diego Con, and I was going to interview the King! Life was good!
“Andrew was well prepared. My thought was that simply keeping the ideas driving Mondo2000 in mind, we’d have a great conversation with Kirby. Andrew asked the right Mondo-like questions, and Jack took it from there! We submitted the article, including some pull quotes, but it wasn’t published. We were told one of the editorial tribunal didn’t really like comics. Go figure—Neil Gaiman and Dave Sim were later featured in the mag.”
A photo of my recently found San Diego Comic-Con ’92 badge
Here’s the audio of the interview, via YouTube:
14 August 1992: The Kirbys’ hotel room
ANDREW MAYER: Mondo’s a lot about technology and a lot about the way people, these days, deal with technology and how it’s changing their lives on a personal level and I think that’s why your work speaks to a lot of people there. In fact, I was reading the Hunger Dogs last night and I was really blown away with the way in that book that you were dealing with issues. You were taking some of the issues you were dealt with earlier and then saying what’s happening now?—what’s changed now?
JACK KIRBY: What’s changed now is that storytelling has changed. Like you said, you talk about technology—we don’t write on pads anymore. We write on computers, we write on word processors. Actually, our language may be crisper and maybe a little more urgent. Maybe we’re just not as leisurely as we used to be.
MAYER: Have you noticed a change in the way people…?
KIRBY: No, it’s not a great change. People remain people through all kinds of technologies. Sure, we had technology, too. We called ’em pencils, and we tried for effects, even with pencils. We tried for halftones. Didn’t we have Ben-day?
RAND HOPPE: Sure. Surprints.
KIRBY: Right. So if you wanted a halftone, it was just a series of dots. Really. If you analyze it and put it under a microscope, you’ve got these dots spread all the way out. Put ’em together and you get a nice halftone. In other words, it isn’t black, it isn’t white, but it’ll look great on pants! (laughter) So yes, I believe we had our own technology, but it was a simple technology.
MAYER: For instance, the Micro-Mark you were talking about in the Hunger Dogs book; Darkseid had come up with this new technology that was going to change…!
KIRBY: Yes, I was trying to stay 30 years ahead. I always try to stay about 30 years ahead doing my stories. In other words, I wouldn’t write a story about things people already knew.
MAYER: I came across something that blew my mind in OMAC where he’s got these goggles on and he’s going into this movie in his dreams. That’s predicting something that they’re coming along with now: Virtual Reality.
KIRBY: Of course, of course—but it’s something which at that period could have been ridiculed. “Those things are never going to happen.”
HOPPE: And here we are.
KIRBY: And here we are. The technology is so simple to us that we readily accept it as part of our lives. I can’t use it as well as you, but it’s your generation that’s grown up with it. So, it lives with you fellows and it’s as natural as anything.
MAYER: Like video games or whatever.
KIRBY: I envy you in a way because you can live a lot more reasonably in a contemporary world than I do.
MAYER: But there’s a lot of issues that you brought up through all the work that you did, where sometimes it makes your life more difficult.
KIRBY: Well, of course it would! Because a lot of people wouldn’t accept what you’re doing. They say, “Well, you must be a daydreamer. Give us facts.” And, of course, the facts would be very simple for that particular day. But somehow they accepted mine, because I took those fantastic facts and put them in a good story. And if the story sold magazines, I was doing my job. My job was to sell magazines.
MAYER: When you were doing those, did you think how you were affecting your audience—what somebody would be thinking about when they were reading them?
KIRBY: Sure! I felt that the audience would feel the same astonishment that I did—astonishment in these particular developments. Now, in my day the subway was a big thing, right? But today we have modes of transportation that outstrip the common subway. We can look forward to techno-tubes and things like that. We can look forward to crossing New York in 45 minutes when it takes us 2 hours now.
MAYER: So you were always looking ahead over the horizon and just pulling that back.
KIRBY: Yes, I always drew a story 30 years ahead—what I considered 30 years ahead.
MAYER: So then, somehow you mixed that in with mythology as well.
KIRBY: Oh, yes I did. I brought mythology into modern times. I brought in Hercules. I brought in Samson.
MAYER: And the New Gods.
KIRBY: Well, the New Gods were a 30 years ahead thing! (laughter) The New Gods was, “What was that mythology all about? There’s gotta be a new mythology!”
MAYER: Reading it even now, it’s exciting.
KIRBY: I was creating a mythology for the ’70s, which the ’70s didn’t have. Not only that, it was acceptable in the fact that it was a battle between father and son.
MAYER: That’s very classic.
KIRBY: It is classic! Show me the son that doesn’t defy the father! (laughter)
MAYER: And then you switch them so they have this urge from the other side.
KIRBY: Right, but they’re always afraid. Both father and son will not accept the final confrontation. A son in the end will never hurt his father—that’s my personal belief—and a father will never hurt his son. I know that I never will. My son can do anything to me that he damn pleases. (laughter) It’s just the way I feel. I can’t hurt my own flesh and blood. I feel that even villains, though totally with problems—totally beset by problems, which they have to contend with; their own character and the things that spring from their character; their issues with other people—they have to contend with that. But, they do it in a totally human way. I was talking earlier with some people about Doctor Doom. Doctor Doom is an evil person, but he’s not always been evil. Doctor Doom was a guy who was a thoroughly respected academician; a highly respected chemist, but through a flaw in his own character, he was a perfectionist. Perfectionists cannot accept imperfection. So what happens to Doctor Doom—who wasn’t even Doctor Doom at the time? He was just a chemist. He gets a cut on his chin! The perfectionist suddenly finds himself imperfect, small as that scar may be. So he can’t live with the rest of humanity. (laughter) He can’t live with himself and the rest of humanity. He knows that every man, woman and child who passes him will know that he has this scar on his chin. So he encases his face in an iron mask.
MAYER: I remember that moment. Because even though it’s going to totally scar his face, the one scar and the whole face doesn’t make any difference to him.
KIRBY: No, it doesn’t make a difference to him. Nobody’s ever going to see that scar—but they do! That scar grows so large that it affects his entire brain, and Doctor Doom becomes the ultimate villain. He’ll do anything to anybody. Why? Because you haven’t got that scar! (laughter) He has! And who do you think you are, not having a scar like that? And that’s the point of Doctor Doom. It’s a totally human viewpoint. It’s an inferiority complex. To a guy who’s superior, can you imagine how devastating that must be?
MAYER: He views himself above but he can’t escape.
KIRBY: And here is a guy who is the ultimate in brains, suddenly finding himself on a level with the ordinary guy. Say the ordinary guy walks around, “Sure I got my arm in a sling! So what?” You know? But if Doctor Doom has his arm in a sling, he’d hide the arm in a jacket! (laughter) Or he’d cut it off! He would do the ultimate thing so he could face the world as he believes he should.
MAYER: I’ve talked with other people about your work, and one thing that comes up is the idea of scale. You have Galactus who is above everybody; or the Celestials.
KIRBY: Yes. Galactus is a true god—a god in the meaning of modern mythology. Not god in a spiritual sense, but a god in a mythology that’s very modern in context. It’s a modern mythology. In other words, what I’m taking is the old religions and transforming them into our contemporary lives so we can accept them. Galactus, of course, is the ultimate figure and still he has a human problem, too! He’s got his son, Orion… or is it Darkseid?
MAYER: He deals with the Silver Surfer.
KIRBY: Right. The Silver Surfer himself was a wonderful surprise to me because I know nothing about surfing. I know nothing about surfers! Then one day I saw it in the paper. There was a guy standing on a wooden plank out in California. I was still in New York at the time, OK? And there’s this guy standing on a wooden plank and he’s riding the wave! And that’s fantastic to me! And I said, “Suppose there was a surfer who surfed the universe?” And of course the Surfer does that. He also has to have, in my estimation, a godlike appearance. And him being all silver gives him the kind of aura that makes him different from ourselves.
MAYER: You keep using the word “cosmic,” and I wanted to know what your definition of the word “cosmic” is.
KIRBY: My definition of the word “cosmic” is “everywhere.” Outside of Earth, we have everywhere. They say there’s nothing out there. I say there’s everything out there. We haven’t got the means or the money to reach it, but it’s out there!
MAYER: There was a science program on physics that was talking about how even if you have an empty thing of space, a particle can come into existence, then meet itself and disappear again. They exist for that moment and then they meet each other and go to zero. That made me think of the way you use the word “cosmic.”
KIRBY: Now the Bible itself never mentions evolution. It never says Man evolved over here on Earth. It just says, “…and then there was Man.” God made Man. And of course, Man suddenly appeared and there he was. I don’t think Man evolved from a monkey. A lot of people don’t believe Man evolved from a monkey. I believe the Bible. It says Man was there, Woman was there. Now, we don’t know how many civilizations there might have been on Earth before ours. Nobody has any idea. I can go to the greatest mind in any college. I can go to any college professor and he wouldn’t be able to tell me how many civilizations there were before ours. My guess is there might have been thirty, forty, a hundred. They might go back hundreds of thousands of years—there might have been civilizations before ours. I believe that Man was present in all of them. Man built them. Monkeys can’t do it. Armadillos can’t do it. (laughter)
MAYER: You had the Celestials come and take the ape creatures and turn them—!
KIRBY: Yes, but the Celestials can do it. The Celestials looked human, didn’t they? They had human form. Underneath those helmets was a human being—a celestial human being, someone godlike in our eyes because of the things he could do that we couldn’t.
MAYER: You would always wrap them in this technology.
KIRBY: I tried to give technology the touch of legend; and in doing so, I’m telling a story. I’m not trying to tell a truth or I’m not trying to tell a fable. I’m trying tell an honest-to-goodness understandable story; a story that you would read and understand and interpret in your own way! If you want to make them human, that’s your prerogative! And I respect that. I’ve always respected my reader. My reader’s most important to me. So, I would present a story as I felt I saw it and say, “How do you see it?”
HOPPE: That’s right. A lot of the essays that you had in your comics probed the reader that way.
KIRBY: I never presented my story as the last word to the reader. I’ve always said to myself, “How would you see it?” And if the reader saw it differently, he has a right to say that and show it.
MAYER: That’s why your stuff has so much influence on people.
KIRBY: It’s because I respect other people. I respect human beings. I’ve seen them in very happy circumstances and I’ve seen them in the dregs, believe me. So, I’ve always loved human beings because they have the capacity to suffer! (laughter) Yes, they do! I’ve tried to make my characters human, whether we consider them evil or we consider them good. Even my heroes had human qualities. My superheroes had human qualities. They would have families to defend. They would have friends to defend. They would respect women. I respect women. I felt I was presenting my views to the reader and saying, “What do you think?” I think that’s an imperative for any writer. In other words, no writer should feel that he has the last word on any subject, because he hasn’t got the capacity! He hasn’t got the capacity—he doesn’t know! I don’t know, I’m guessing as well as you are, except I may be a little more descriptive.
MAYER: In the ’70s you were creating more whole worlds and you were putting more issues into it, more concrete ideas into them than you had before. With the New Gods and the Eternals you were going for these ideas in a lot bigger way.
KIRBY: Well, I did. I felt it was incumbent on me to probe them for myself before I presented them to the reader. What do I think? What do I really think? I’m not a show-off who’s gonna say, “Well, you know, take it or leave it. Take my story or leave it”; I’m not that type. I can only say, “This is how I believe they would act.” I put enough chinks into the story to allow the reader to interpret it his way, because I’ve always respected the reader. He’s the next guy, and I’ve always respected the next guy. Sure, it was a matter of selling magazines. That was a big consideration. I had to sell magazines to make a living. So, I sold the magazines—I told the best stories I could, but I didn’t present my stories as the final word. I didn’t say, “This is the final word,” but that’s how my characters act! (laughter) And that’s all I said. That’s how I see human beings. And of course, you’re entitled to analyze my interpretation, as a reader.
MAYER: That’s happening a lot.
KIRBY: I would get letters of all kinds: “How dare you” letters. (laughter) Oh yeah! And I used to get “You’re great” letters. “You’re a great guy.” And I used to get “You’re a wonderful writer.” I used to get letters “Well, not bad.” It was a variety and you could see it in the letter column that there was a variety of people who interpreted the stories in a variety of ways. It impressed a lot of them. It impressed enough to make good sales, and that’s what I prayed for.
MAYER: Did you do a lot of research for this stuff?
KIRBY: I did research as I was growing up. I know people from the start. I love people. I grew up in a place where people suffered, where people laughed, where people had a good time. It was an extreme period. Everything was felt in an almost bodily way. You couldn’t be subtle. In my neighborhood you couldn’t be subtle. You had to act from your own instincts, and we did. If a guy insulted me, I punched him. And if I insulted him, he punched me. It was a reaction, it was a thing to do. You couldn’t do otherwise. There was nothing else you could do.
MAYER: But the world doesn’t seem quite that way now.
KIRBY: Oh, now I think it’s a lot more sensible, it’s a lot more subtle.
MAYER: People get at each other without having to hit each other.
KIRBY: Yes, of course, you learn that along the way. I grew up like everybody else. I felt that I had begun to tell stories in a more mature way. And there was not only fighting in them—I never left the fighting out—besides the fighting, I had the story develop with more mature reason. Why was there a fight? I had to give a mature reason for it.
MAYER: In OMAC, you’d give a little of the future that you were concocting and then you’d have this presentation.
KIRBY: Listen, let’s face it, the future is a mystery! Wouldn’t you love to know what’s in the future? (laughter) And, of course, the reader would, too. And I’d say, “In the future, this is what’s going to happen!” And the reader says, “In the future! Gee! What does this guy know?” (laughter) And of course, I’d present it as if I really knew—to tell a good story. That was to make the story believable. If you make your characters knowledgeable in your own way, make them share your own knowledge, then you’ll have humanized characters. You’ll have characters who are human beings just like yourself. You have foibles. You have great traits. You have things that will make you candidates for Vice- President. (laughter)
MAYER: That may not be so hard these days. (laughter)
KIRBY: There you go! Like, my ambition was, I wanted to be a crooked politician; because coming from a deprived neighborhood, money meant a lot, so I felt that dirty politicians made a lot of it. I told my mother that I’d be a crooked politician.
MAYER: I think you rose to higher things!
KIRBY: My mother would have none of it.
MAYER: The concept I love is the Uni-Mind; do you remember that from the Eternals? When all the Eternals join together?
MAYER: In computers now, people meet over the computer.
KIRBY: That’s what a computer is.
MAYER: The Uni-Mind seemed to be a great symbol of that; of everybody coming together.
KIRBY: And not only that, that computer will someday do it by itself. Because it’ll be on some automatic position, or it might go by itself. I mean, figure it out. If a computer really thinks in its own mechanical way, suppose it really begins to think on its own? Couldn’t that possibly happen? You walk out of the room, and suddenly this thing goes off! And the entire room begins to click.
MAYER: They’re trying to make it happen!
KIRBY: And you come back and the room is changed! (laughter) There are four more lights! The computer likes more lights. The soda you were drinking—the computer likes the soda, so he’s made an opening where the soda is, because the computer has seen you do it and the computer respects you because you’ve run him. You made him.
MAYER: I’m very familiar with this technology and even though I’m more familiar with it, you come out with very simple ways of discussing concepts that really are what people are doing right now. You say that the computer watches what you do and the hottest thing in artificial intelligence now is the computer learns from the input of the user.
KIRBY: Yes, the computer does learn. Where is the end point? Suppose we make the perfect computer? For instance, we can talk into the computer and it types everything out by itself. And the computer in this manner begins to think on its own. Suppose it doesn’t like XXX. You come in and you read this thing—it’s not the thing you gave the computer! You put the paper in and you speak to the computer, and you type out “What’s wrong with this?” and the computer types out “It stinks!” (laughter)
MAYER: It happens now more than you know already!
KIRBY: I don’t know. I just haven’t followed it.
MAYER: You understand it already.
KIRBY: I think there’s a distinct possibility. How far does automation go before you can walk out of this room and this automaton begins to move and think by itself, because it’s built to think?!
MAYER: Do you think it’s good or dangerous?
KIRBY: Sure, it is dangerous! Suppose it closes the door; you can’t get in. (laughter) It wants to be alone! Maybe it doesn’t like you anymore! (laughter)
MAYER: Mister Machine is sort of the end result of that. He’s a machine but he’s suddenly gone so far that he’s dealing with human problems. He’s a human.
KIRBY: Right. Mister Machine is the ultimate machine. He’s a human machine. Ultimately that’s what the machine wants to be.
MAYER: Like Pinocchio, in a way.
KIRBY: Well, the machine knows that we’re responsible for it—that it wouldn’t be there without us. The machine knows that. If it begins to think, “Where would I be if it wasn’t for these guys? I wanna be like them! These guys must know something!” (laughter) It’s not gonna see you as a god because it knows you can get a sniffle, it knows you can twist a finger. The machine knows that. “These guys aren’t perfect. Maybe I’m more perfect than they are. I’ll show these guys something, I’ll test ’em!” And suppose the machine wins the test? So you have that kind of a contest. How far can you go with the computer before the computer begins to start on you? The computer has the possibility of thinking on its own! That possibility exists!
MAYER: That’s what people want them to do!
KIRBY: It’s very real! Suppose a guy walks out of his office and says to his computer, “Don’t forget, I need 25 copies before I get back at two o’clock” and the computer absorbs it.
MAYER: There’s a new handheld gadget coming out now and you write on it “Meet Jack Kirby Friday at noon.” It takes “Jack Kirby”; puts it over there; says, “Friday—this Friday? Noon— twelve o’clock” and puts it in your datebook. And all you’ve written on it is “Meet Jack Friday at noon.”
KIRBY: It’s very possible. I know it’s far out, but it isn’t that far out considering the sophistication of the modern computer.
MAYER: And that’s why I think people are coming back—the stuff you did 20 years ago, suddenly it’s very current.
KIRBY: Oh sure, it is; it’s contemporary. Of course at that time it was very, very far out. If the fellows didn’t like the stories, they could’ve kicked my behind! (laughter)
MAYER: So you told a good story along with it.
KIRBY: I had to sell ’em a good story. That’s what I mean, you have to be a good storyteller, too. Why is the machine doing that? Maybe the machine is lonely. Maybe the machine wants to know what a man does, that makes him smile. The guy’ll sit at the machine and suddenly he’ll think of something and he laughs out loud or he smiles. The machine says, “Why is he doing that? What’s he thinking about that makes him smile? I’ve got to ask him that! I’ve got to ask him that,” because he wants to find out. And suppose the computer starts talking. I mean, reflex action! It’s got a brain, okay? Maybe our brains came into existence because of mere reflex action! We were just creatures walking along, learning our way—I don’t believe that we walked on all fours—we were guys just walking around trying to learn about our own existence, which is what we’re still doing today. And here we have these sophisticated machines who are just being born, who are growing up and suddenly they begin to realize, “What do these guys know that I don’t? I’ve got to ask them!” And suppose you type something on the machine—something that’s very businesslike—and the machine types back “Shit on that! Tell me why you blew your nose!” (laughter) Right?
KIRBY: The machine wants to know that. Why does this guy take out a handkerchief and blow his nose in it? And you have to tell the machine, “Well, there’s mucus in my nose.” Then the machine begins to understand. It says, “Where does this mucous come from?” And then you say, “Well, it just gathers from your body, and it just comes out from your nose.” And the computer says, “Gee, that’s terribly exciting!” (laughter) And the machine may try to build on its own something like that, because it thinks it’s exciting! I think that’s the point we’re at. We’re building machines that are too damn sophisticated. They’re too damn sophisticated, and they’re on the brink of something that we know nothing about.
MAYER: I think it’s already happening.
KIRBY: I don’t know.
MAYER: I go through periods where sometimes it frightens me and sometimes it inspires me.
KIRBY: Yeah. Suppose you come into the office and the machine begins to type and the typewritten sheet says, “I expected you at 2:30!” (laughter)
MAYER: “Where have you been?”
KIRBY: Yeah, “Where have you been?” (laughter)
MAYER: Well, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time.
KIRBY: Well, it’s been my pleasure. You guys are wonderful. I thank you for your kind interest.
MAYER: I want to say thanks for everything you’ve done. I started reading your stuff when I was very young and I’m writing science fiction and doing stuff now…
KIRBY: Well, you guys are on the brink of all that and you can have a wonderful time with it, OK?
MAYER & HOPPE: OK. Thank you.
KIRBY: All right, take care of yourselves and stay healthy.
I’m inaugurating The Kirby Effect because the Kirby Museum needs a place where Kirby interviews, articles, essays can be placed that don’t necessarily belong on our other venues. For example, I’d posted an article by Alex Jay about Simon & Kirby letterer Howard Ferguson as part of my efforts on the Museum’s Home page blog, and think it would be better either for me to post it here, or, if he were willing, to set Alex up with a writer account here. (No pressure, Alex, just using you as an example!)
I hope that some of you will be interested in participating here, whether through comments, or by answering a call for articles. Yes, if you have a paper, article or media presentation in mind, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.