1987 – Jack Kirby, The King of Comics

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 not 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…

KIRBY: Love!

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?

KIRBY: Eternus!

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 trite. 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. The 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.

Theakston: Thanks, Jack, we all love you, too!

3 thoughts on “1987 – Jack Kirby, The King of Comics

  1. joseph flavell

    i am in tears..what a great man..i have been a ditko fan for years..but i am slowly learning what a great and unappreciated man Kirby was during his lifetime.. not a macho idiot as i had to my shame thought before..very moving and thank you sir..x

  2. Jack Brooks

    Thanks for your article on Jack Kirby. I got away from comics when i couldn’t afford them anymore, but reading this reminds me how good they were, and possibly still are. Reading the interview makes me think that Mr. Kirby was not godlike, but a very talented artist and a very nice man.


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